Thursday, March 26, 2015
By Daniel Skye
It was just after nine o’clock when Melanie Stark tucked little Georgie into bed.
“Mom, do I really have to go bed now?” Georgie whined.
“Yes, Melanie said with an assertive tone. “It’s Sunday night and you have to wake up on time for school tomorrow. No more missing the bus.”
“You don’t like driving me?” Georgie asked, sounding a little insulted.
“No, it’s not that,” Melanie assured him. “But you’re getting older now, Georgie. Too old to have your mom driving you to school every day. You need to start taking the bus and be with kids your own age.”
“But I don’t like kids my own age,” Georgie wailed and moaned again. “They tease me and make fun of me.”
“Son, it doesn’t matter what age you are. You’re always going to meet people in this world who are rude or unfriendly. It doesn’t matter what a bully says. What matters is how you deal with it. And remember, if their lives were perfect, they wouldn’t tease you or make fun of you, would they? They do it to make themselves feel better because they have such a low opinion of themselves. Just remember that and don’t let what they say get to you. Okay?”
“Okay, mom,” Georgie sighed, fidgeting under the covers, trying to get comfy.
“Now, no more arguments,” Melanie said. “It’s time for bed.”
“But I don’t want to go to bed,” Georgie told her. “I’m scared.”
“What on earth is there to be afraid of?” Melanie asked.
“The boogeyman,” Georgie said, his voice failing to rise above a whisper.
“Oh, not this again,” Melanie sighed.
“The boogeyman is real, mommy,” Georgie said, still whispering. “Reggie Miller told me all about him.”
“Yeah, well, Reggie Miller probably won’t graduate the fourth grade. Look, if you want, I’ll leave your nightlight on. But you need to go to bed. No more excuses.”
“A nightlight won’t keep the boogeyman away. He’s real, mommy. I’m telling you. I’ve seen him, standing in the corner of my room when I’m all alone. He waits for me to fall asleep so he can get me.”
“Oh, yeah,” Melanie said, playing along. “So what does the boogeyman look like? I’ve always been curious.”
“Oh, he’s hideous, mommy,” Georgie said, still whispering. Now he was shivering under his covers, shaking like the last leaf of an autumn tree. “He has no eyes. No nose. Only teeth. Sharp teeth, and sharper claws. And he always wears black.”
“Uh huh,” Melanie said, rolling her eyes. At least my son has an imagination, she thought. Now if only he could stop using it to terrify himself.
Georgie gasped and drew the covers up to his eyes. “Mommy, don’t turn around,” he gulped.
“Why?” Melanie asked, her head cocked at an inquisitive angle. “What’s wrong, Georgie?”
“He’s standing right behind you,” Georgie squeaked.
A chill shot up her spine as she felt a cold breath fall on the nape of her neck. She turned and saw a tall figure, cloaked in black, towering over her. No eyes. No nose. Only teeth. And claws. Sharp, prodigious claws that slowly crept their way towards her.
Georgie winced and averted his eyes. And Melanie Stark’s screams were heard several blocks away.
Friday, March 20, 2015
By Daniel Skye
The wind ushered in a cacophony of cries from the encompassing wildlife. The forest was teeming with feral, undomesticated animals that had yet to be acclimated to the harsh winter temperatures.
The boys all huddled around the fire pit that Roland Everett had dug and filled with dry leaves and fallen branches, rubbing their tiny hands together for warmth. Three hours had passed since Roland and the boys had sought shelter in Greenkill National Forest.
Roland had banged his knee up something awful in the accident, but he always prepared for the worst. Stashed in the back of his wrecked Volkswagen van was an emergency kitbag with medical supplies, flares, flashlights, batteries, bottled water, and dried fruit. The bag also came equipped with two pop-up tents and ponchos in case they found themselves caught in the rain.
And there was an assortment of tools Roland kept handy–wrenches, screwdrivers, ratchets, pliers–that were utterly useless in this situation. No wrench was going to repair the damage to the front end.
The bag wasn’t something Roland had packed specifically for the trip. He always kept supplies in the back of his van. Better safe than sorry was Roland’s motto. The van was a second generation Volkswagen model from the seventies. One of those big blue-and-white numbers about the size of a miniature school bus. It was constantly breaking down on Roland and giving him grief. Hence the supplies. He never knew when or where he’d end up stranded when he was driving around in that heap.
But this time around, Roland wasn’t so lucky. Instead of stalling or breaking down on him, the brakes on the van failed and Roland lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a utility pole.
None of the boys were harmed in the accident. Kenny Fisher had spilled his Dr. Pepper all over the backseat and Jamie Strode was a little shaken up over it, but none of them were hurt. Just Roland. But he used an Ace bandage he took from the kitbag to wrap his knee as best as he could. And then he examined the map, discovering that Greenkill was just a quarter mile east from the crash site.
“That’ll be a good place to hold up for the night,” Roland told the boys with the darkness approaching rapidly. “I can set up the tents and get a fire going. At least we’ll be warm and dry for the evening. And in the morning, I’ll walk to the nearest town and get help.”
“Why don’t you just call for help?” Jamie Strode had asked.
Roland was embarrassed to admit he didn’t have minutes on his cell phone. He had one of those prepaid jobs and he spent his last few hundred on the concert tickets because he wanted to show his brother a good time. So he had neglected to buy minutes for his phone.
“Does anyone else have a cell phone?” Roland asked and was astonished when none of the boys came forward. All Jamie said in response was, “I don’t have a phone.”
“Yeah, his parents didn’t feel like wasting the money on him,” Tim Johnstone laughed.
These boys were Roland’s responsibility, and with no way to call for help, he just needed to keep them warm and safe for the night and then this nightmare would be over.
“Alright,” Roland said, getting out of the van. “Let’s get moving. It’s getting late.” He tried not to show any signs of pain, but his knee was throbbing and he could barely put any weight on it.
“What if someone drives by and sees the van here?” Roland’s brother, Robert, had asked. “Shouldn’t we leave a note?”
Rob was always thinking. At an age where the boys were maturing and were interested more in girls and sports than academics, Rob was the egghead of the group.
He flourished in all his classes, and scored brownie points with the teachers here and there by bringing them gifts and doing extra work that wasn’t even assigned to him. An attendee of the seventh grade, Rob was already reading at a tenth grade level and often surprised his brother with bits of knowledge even Roland failed to possess.
“This area is pretty deserted, pal,” Roland told his brother. “But you’re right; I’ll leave a note just in case someone passes through and sees the wreckage.”
Roland scribbled a note on a blank page from one of Rob’s notebooks and pinned it down with the windshield wiper. Even on a trip upstate to see his first rock concert, Rob had brought his books along to work on his weekend homework assignments.
If his parents found out what had happened, they’d probably be mortified. So on their quarter mile walk to the forest, Roland begged them not to say anything. “Promise me you’ll tell your parents we made it to the concert and everything was all right.”
“What do we get if we cover for you?” Tim Johnstone asked. He was a gutsy little punk that Roland loved to hate. “Will you let us have some of your beer?”
“In your dreams, puke-face.”
“Fine, I’ll tell my parents you gave us beer anyway,” Tim threatened.
“This is going to be a long night,” Roland muttered. He let the boys walk ahead of him a bit as he hobbled along. His leg wasn’t broken, but he found it difficult to bend his knee or put his full weight on it. And the kitbag only slowed him down further.
With no car, no phone, and no help for miles in either direction, they’d surely miss the concert. But that wasn’t Roland’s primary concern. His concern was being stuck with these hell raisers for the night.
* * *
Greenkill Forest stretched on for miles and miles, but with Roland’s bad knee, they didn’t stray too far from the main road.
“I’m hungry,” Tim moaned, already getting on Roland’s nerves.
“Me too,” Kenny joined in. “Where’s the nearest McDonald’s?”
“Not close enough,” Roland said as he opened the kitbag and tossed Tim a Ziploc bag.
“What the heck are these?” Tim asked.
“Apricots,” Roland told him.
“They look like dried up scraps of puke,” Tim said, sticking out his tongue to accentuate his disgust.
“Well, it’s all I got so you’ll have to share.”
Once Roland dug the pit (he dug it by hand) and got the fire going, he gathered around with the four boys and asked them, “Who wants to hear an old campfire story my grandfather used to tell me?” This was Roland’s grand scheme to get the boys off his back. He was going to scare the wits out of them and he wouldn’t hear a peep for the rest of the night.
“Is it scary?” Jamie Strode asked, his timidity showing.
“Scaredy-cat,” Tim teased Jamie.
“Am not!” Jamie said defiantly.
“Are too!” Tim fired back. Roland remembered this escalating game from when he was a kid. And listening to the two boys bicker back and forth, he realized then just how annoying this so-called game could be.
“Knock it off you two and listen to my story,” Roland told them, his scruffy face illuminated behind orange flames. Roland was twenty-three and though he was only ten years older than most of them, the boys usually listened to him. Maybe it was his size or his tattoos that intimidated them. Or maybe it was the fact that he was–as Robert often boasted–cool.
Roland had that aura about him. That innate coolness that some people are just born with. It was one thing to have that quality when he was in high school, but it didn’t do much for him in the real world except impress his brother and his little friends.
Roland continued with his story until he was interrupted again. “The Grukins were an ancient tribe of nomadic creatures who used–”
“Nomadic?” Jamie repeated the word.
“It means they moved around, never stayed in one place,” Rob explained.
“That’s right,” Roland said. “The Grukins were bred by an ancient, mysterious race for one purpose and one purpose only–To hunt. And the Grukins used to prowl through the forests, hunting and stalking their prey. What did the Grukins hunt, you ask?
“Why humans, of course. You see, Grukins, like vampires, survive on the blood of the living. They engulf their prey and drain them of their essence, their energy, their life-force, and leave you as a hollow, empty shell devoid of any blood, bones, or organs. They especially love the blood of children. They can smell your fear from a mile away.”
These alleged facts sent shivers down Jamie’s spine. Even Kenny Fisher was looking a little pale. And Kenny was the only one of the group who seemed to have any backbone at his age. Tim talked tough, but Roland could see he was no different than the others.
“What did the Grukins look like?” Jamie couldn’t help but ask.
“Nobody knows for sure,” Roland told them beside the fire. “Nobody ever lived to speak of their encounters. But the legends vary. Some claims the Grukins are as tall as a house. Other people say they’re smaller, predatory creatures with the skin of lizards of snakes. Some say they’ve been around since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. One thing’s for sure…they only come out to hunt when it’s dark.”
“Bull crap,” Tim Johnstone called him out. “You probably just made that story up on the spot.”
“Fine, don’t believe the legends,” Roland said. “Find out for yourself. Go wander the forest and see if you make it back in one piece.”
Tim gulped. “I think I’ll pass.”
“That’s what I thought, smart ass” Roland grinned.
* * *
With that chilling tale, Roland let the fire burn out and pitched their tents. With only two tents at their disposal, Roland let the boys share one and took the other, smaller tent for himself. He insisted he wanted to give them their space to talk, joke, play games. But really it was just an excuse to be alone in his tent and smoke pot and drink cheap malt liquor he had originally bought for the concert.
An hour passed before Roland heard the scratching on his tent. He opened it up to see Jamie Strode standing there with a frightened glint in his eyes.
“I’m scared and the boys keep making fun of me,” Jamie told him. “Can I sleep in here with you, please?”
“All right,” Roland sighed. Jamie got in and Roland sealed the tent again.
* * *
“My brother is the coolest,” Rob boasted in the boys’ separate tent. “I know we didn’t get to go to the concert, but at least we got to hang out with him and hear his stories. Isn’t he awesome?” Tim and Kenny had grown weary of Rob’s vaunting, but they were too exhausted to demur.
As they dozed off, Rob decided to let sleeping dogs lie and abandoned them to join Jamie in his brother’s tent.
Roland unzipped the tent when he heard Robert’s calls and closed it up again once Rob was inside with them.
“Great,” Roland muttered. “What did I do to these kids with that story?”
“What’s that smell in here?” Rob inquired as he tried to make himself comfortable in the cramped tent.
“It’s incenses,” Roland lied to cover up for the odor of pot.
“It smells like marijuana,” Jamie pointed out. “My brother got caught smoking it in our garage last year. I know what it smells like.”
“I’ll give you both five bucks if you promise not to tell,” Roland said, biting his upper lip.
“Make it ten,” Rob said.
Roland and Robert Everett: The egghead and the pothead.
“Why you little–” Roland’s sentence was cut off by a strange din that emanated from beyond their tent.
“What was that?” Jamie asked.
“Nothing,” Roland assured him. “Probably just Tim and Kenny messing with us. Either that or the wind.”
“Maybe it’s a Grukin,” Jamie said, shuddering.
“It’s not a Grukin!” Roland said emphatically.
As the din grew louder, Roland and the boys heard the unmistakable screams. First it was just Tim, but then Kenny’s voice could be heard wailing over his. The screams were enough curdle the blood, and they were masked by an even more terrifying sound. The spine-chilling shriek of a Grukin.
The tribe had lived on…and the survivors were extremely famished.
“You two stay put,” Roland said, unzipping the tent. “When I’m gone, you close this tent back up and no matter what you hear, you don’t come until I say so. Got it?”
“Got it,” Rob and Jamie said in unison. Rob zipped the tent back up when Roland climbed out and glanced at Jamie, twitching.
Roland had taken one of the flashlights from his bag and the light beamed across the tent that housed Kenny and Tim. But the tent was ripped open and Tim and Kenny were gone. Not a trace of them remained.
Roland heard movement in the brush and as he spun around, the flashlight spotted a pair of yellow eyes staring back at him from the brush. Then there was another set of piercing yellow eyes. Then another, and another.
They lurched forward, one at a time. Short and stout, these creatures were similar in both size and feature to gargoyles. But these were not the architectural gargoyles seen perched on rooftops. These were not carved out of stone. These grotesque figures were flesh and blood…and claws and fangs.
Their grey lifeless texture seemed to deflect the moonlight as they crept forward, always clinging to the shadows. They were everywhere, and they had him surrounded.
The last thing Roland Everett heard was the sound of his own screams.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
By Daniel Skye
The restaurant is closed for the season and someone knocks on the doors anyway. Probably a tourist, a visitor just in town for the holidays. Probably some spoiled, rich socialite from the city who just rolled into town in their Mercedes or Corvette convertible.
They probably even drove all the way here with the top down, because even when it’s ten degrees Fahrenheit, you just need to show off and draw attention to yourself like the douche-magnet that you are.
They tap on the glass doors, disregarding the big CLOSED FOR THE SEASON sign that hangs on the inside of the door from a few strips of masking tape.
And they say, “I see your car in the parking lot. I know you’re in there.”
And you walk up to the doors and tell them to scram, to beat it, to politely fuck off. That the restaurant is closed for the season and won’t be open again until next spring.
But they’re still pounding their fists against the glass as you walk away, shouting, “Wait, I need your help! Please!”
Shit, you think. You’re not even supposed to be here today.
You got roped into this because Mike Perez, the guy who was supposed to spruce the place up, was a no-show.
Mike didn’t show up the first day and he didn’t show the second day. He called on the third day and made an excuse about sleeping for thirty-six hours straight (heroin is one hell of a drug) and asked if the job was still available. It was not.
It wasn’t available because Mr. Coffey stuck you with the job instead. You just got off for the winter and you figure you could use the money. Unemployment doesn’t exactly pay the bills.
So you’re here, scrubbing bathroom tiles with a toothbrush and getting high off the fumes of Scrubbing Bubbles. In between that, you’re sweeping, mopping, cleaning windows with a squeegee, and polishing wood surfaces to bring back the finish.
Scrub. Sweep. Wipe. Rinse. Mop. Repeat.
This is your chronicle. Your legacy. Your defining contribution to society.
Scrubbing bathroom floors and piss stained toilets.
And Bryan Coffey is probably sitting at home right now, curled up in front of his brick fireplace with a glass of brandy in one hand and a thick cigar in the other, feeling nice and toasty.
Bryan Coffey, who always demands to be called Mr. Coffey. Bryan Coffey, the bastard who laid you off for the season and didn’t even give you a Christmas bonus. Four years you’ve worked for this man and he’s never given you a raise or a bonus.
Bryan Coffey, with his penchant for gaudy yellow neckties. One day he’ll wake up and realize just how ridiculous he looks. Bryan Coffey, with his cleft chin and bushy eyebrows. You should buy the prick a pair of tweezers for Christmas.
But let’s not forget about the tourist who is banging on the doors, pleading with you to let him in.
“Hey, I know you can still hear me!” the tourist screams, his breath fogging up the glass. “I need help! Some lunatic ran our car off the road! My wife is injured! We need an ambulance!”
You sigh and remind yourself again that you’re not even supposed to be here today. If it wasn’t for that junkie Mike Perez, you might actually be enjoying your winter break.
You walk back to the front and tell the man to, “Go around the side, to the other door.” And you walk through the kitchen, to the side door where the young man waits impatiently on the other side.
He’s got a fedora on his plump head and a beige scarf wrapped around his neck. His glasses–the crystal clear lenses, the shiny gold rims–look like they cost more money than you’ll ever make cleaning places like this. And knowing his type, the scarf is probably cashmere.
You told him to go around to the side just in case the guy is full of shit, just in case he’s really a lunatic waiting to attack you the minute you open the door. You’ll be safer in the kitchen.
Plenty of heavy pots and pans and sharp objects to defend yourself with. But that also means plenty of sharp objects for this potential maniac to use against you. Still, at this moment, you feel safer in the kitchen.
This is your area of expertise. You’ve been working and slaving in this kitchen for four years. You know the layout. That gives you an advantage.
But let’s not jump the gun. For all you know, this hipster is telling the truth and he doesn’t mean you any harm.
You open the door slowly, cautiously. You let the young man in and he’s panting and wheezing and trying to catch his breath. Once he does, he explains that he ran all the way here. That he left his wife back at the car. That she banged up her knee and can’t really put any weight on it. That they need a tow truck and an ambulance.
You sigh again. You’re not even supposed to be here today. Of all the days this shit had to happen, it had to happen today.
You show the tourist to the phone. You let him dial 911 and explain the incident to the operator. You watch him hang up, dial another phone number, and make arrangements for a tow truck.
The walk-in, still packed with meat and fish and produce that will surely turn rancid before the next season, turns itself back on when it reaches the end of its defrost cycle. The fans whir and the motor grinds and groans as it kicks back on.
Mr. Coffey, the bastard that he is, he wouldn’t even let anyone take anything home to cook for their families. Even if they offered to pay for it. He’d rather let the food spoil and eat the loss of the money than see anyone enjoy it.
Under the fluorescent lights, you can see the panic registered in the tourist’s eyes. And you ask, “What happened exactly?”
You ask as though you weren’t listening to him talk over the phone, because you honestly weren’t listening.
You don’t need this aggravation. You’re tired, cranky. The holiday season is upon us and you haven’t even started buying Christmas presents yet. You still have to decorate, even though you’re not in the holiday spirit. Your neighbors all decorate their houses, so if you don’t decorate, you’re the odd man out.
And of course you still have to buy a tree. Still have to get wrapping paper. Still have to get cards and stamps and envelopes and cardboard boxes and packing tape to ship presents to distant relatives.
And this tourist stares at you with wide hazelnut eyes behind those exorbitant glasses. The fluorescent lights flicker and hum their insipid tune as the tourist sighs and his lips part as he prepares to tell his story.
“My wife and I are in town to see her family. We’re not going to able to see them on Christmas so we wanted to give them their gifts now. We were on our way over there when, just down the road on Fulton, this maniac came out of nowhere in an Escalade. He was swerving in and out of the lanes, forced us right off the road. I don’t know if he was drunk or just trying to play chicken with me.”
“How bad is the damage?”
“The car will be fine. It’s my wife I’m worried about.”
“Then shouldn’t you be getting back to her?” In other words, you’re asking him to beat it. You were nice enough to let him in, to let him make his phone calls. You’ve done your good deed for the year and now it’s time for this bozo to get back to his wife, his car, and his Armani sweater vests.
The restaurant world is riddled with phrases and terms the kitchen and wait staff use on a daily basis. The most common term being 86.
To 86 something basically means to cross it off the menu. You run out of tuna, you tell the staff to 86 tuna.
And right now you wish this tourist would 86 himself, go back to his wife, go back to the city where he belongs.
“I’m sorry to trouble you further, but do you have a bathroom I could use? It’s been such a long ride and we never had a chance to stop for anything other than gas.”
You walk the tourist from the kitchen, through the dining room past the chairs that are flipped upside down on the table tops, and to the lobby. You show him to the bathroom, ask him to please make it quick. That you have to get back to work.
But he stops just before he reaches the men’s room door.
The sudden change in room temperature tells the tourist that we are not alone.
“We hit a cold spot,” the tourist said.
“Cold spot?” you ask.
“You feel that? How cold it just got over here?”
“It’s just a draft. It’s very windy outside.”
“No, I’m afraid it’s not,” the tourist says. And then he introduces himself, as if you cared to know his life story. “Owen Stillson.”
“Walter Dandridge, but everyone calls me Walt. I guess you can too.”
“Well, Walt, I know it’s weird of me to ask something like this…but has anyone ever died here before?”
You remember hearing a story, back when you first started working there, back when you were bussing tables and scrubbing pots and pans. You heard mutterings about a man who was skinny enough to cram himself inside the dumbwaiter.
The same dumbwaiter that crushed his head when he accidently fell down the shaft one night. They thought he had walked out, that he quit without notice. They found his body three days later at the bottom of the shaft.
“Now that you mention it, I think so.”
“Dumbwaiter shaft. That means he would’ve fell down to the basement.”
“Where’s the basement?”
“Over there,” you point with one finger to the steel door opposite the men’s room that’s clearly marked EMPLOYEES ONLY.
“Then that’s where we’re heading.”
“What about your wife?”
“It’ll only take a minute. Besides, she’s safer in the car than in here.”
“Just who are you?”
“Owen Stillson,” he repeats.
“Yeah, you already said that. I mean, are you like, a ghost hunter or a famous author who writes about haunted places? Why are you so keen on seeing the basement?”
“I’m not famous or special. I just have a great interest on the subject. I’ve read a lot about it.”
“So when you say ghosts, what do you mean exactly? Are we talking Casper or Samara? Can you see them or just hear them? Can you like touch them? Shake their hands or give them a fist bump?”
“Some spirits remain hidden, keep to themselves. Others crave the attention and love to make their presence known. Sometimes, spirits can project themselves in mirrors or other surfaces that reflect.”
“What’d you mean when you said your wife was safer in the car than in here?” you ask as begin your descent into the basement.
“I mean that some spirits can be vile, malevolent.”
“You mean ghosts can hurt you? Like beat you up and take your wallet?”
“No, but you’ve heard of poltergeists right? Ghosts that move things. Well, these poltergeists are not the friendly type. In fact, their goal is to pretty much make your life a living hell.”
And you feel like you’re talking to a poltergeist at this very moment. That’s all this tourist is. A pesky ghost who just won’t take the hint.
You reach the bottom of the stairs. More fluorescent ceiling fixtures illuminate the cold concrete floor. Pipes rattle overhead as Owen, the tourist, scans the room. There’s a locked room where they keep all the wine and liquor bottles. Extra chairs and boxes of excess table clothes and spare candleholders.
There’s a stack of plywood that Mr. Coffey purchased two years ago for some project that never came to fruition. And propped up against the plywood is a long, narrow, dusty mirror with a huge spider web crack in the center that Mr. Coffey had you take down from the men’s room when some pissed off customer decided to smash it with his fist after a fight with his girlfriend.
The lights hum and seem to flicker even more so than the kitchen lights. You excuse yourself to check the circuit breaker, make sure everything looks ok. But before you walk away, you notice that Owen, the tourist, isn’t wearing a wedding ring. And though he is pale, you can still see there’s no tan line.
“What’s your wife’s name?”
“Samantha Stillson…” you trail off, thinking about that name. Where have you heard it before? And why is this man lying? If he’s married, why isn’t he wearing his wedding ring?
You look up and see the letters GAR written in red on a concrete support beam. And you think of Gary Paulson, the bartender who sliced his hand open on a broken gin bottle. It was his last night and he wanted to leave his mark.
So, with the palm of his hand sliced opened, in need of stiches, blood droplets trickling down his fingers, Gary signed his name. Well, most of it. He fainted before he could scribble the Y.
Now all that remains is a blood stained signature of a clumsy alcoholic who cut up his own hand on his last night. A bumbling bartender who couldn’t even finish writing his own name before he passed out from the loss of blood and the alcohol in his system.
This is Gary Paulson’s chronicle. His legacy. His defining contribution to society.
And you start to recall that hot little number that Gary was dating the last season he worked here. She had a slim, hourglass figure and long, smooth legs that distracted from her ample chest and backside. With a body like that, you didn’t know where to focus your eyes.
What was her name?
You check on the circuit breaker. Everything looks fine. You walk back to Owen, the ghost-obsessed tourist. And he kind of reminds you of Gary Paulson in a way. Gary was also into all that spiritual, paranormal garbage.
He believed in ghosts, believed in the afterlife. He used to talk about a coworker that shared his interests. But you can’t for the life of you remember that person’s name. And you still can’t remember the name of the girl Gary was dating that summer.
“Can you feel that?” Owen asks. “Can you feel those negative vibes? That wave of negative energy?”
“I don’t feel a thing other than the cold,” you tell him, shivering slightly. “But what does it mean?”
“It means there’s definitely a spirit present. And this spirit is angry. Discontent. It can’t find rest. It wants to be heard. It wants you to know its story.”
“And what is its story?” you ask, playing along.
“The young man that died here. He’s telling me his death was not accidental.”
The lights dim and brighten. Dim and brighten. The cold envelops you and you can see your breath every time you exhale.
And you finally remember that girl’s name. Gary Paulson’s girlfriend. Samantha Stillson.
Not Owen Stillson’s wife. His sister.
And the name of that unfortunate soul who fell down the dumbwaiter shaft hits you like a kick in the teeth. The one that Gary Paulson used to talk about. The one that shared his interest in the macabre and the paranormal.
You turn to confront him, but he’s gone. Missing. Vanished. 86’d.
The fluorescents flicker rapidly, blinking. The lights dim, then fade out, plunging you into darkness, obscurity. You feel the cold air circulating around your body. And you feel all those tiny little hairs standing up on the back of your neck, like the quills of a porcupine.
The lights pop back on and you jump, scream, stagger backwards. You’ve just seen a reflection in the mirror that was not your own.
The reflection of Owen Stillson. The reflection of what was left of his body after they pulled him out of that dumbwaiter shaft. His skull crushed, face all smashed in, eyes squeezed from the sockets. And you hear him whisper the name of the man who pushed him down that shaft.
The name of the man who killed him.
You can almost smell the shit in your pants from when your bowels evacuated. You just 86’d your underpants. And as quickly as the apparition appeared in the mirror, it vanishes.
And you remember that you weren’t even supposed to be here today… But no matter what happens next, you can't let this rest. If Bryan Coffey is guilty, he should be brought to justice. No, you won't let this rest. You'll question employees who were there the night Owen Stillson died. You'll contact Gary Paulson and see if you can reach his sister, Samantha. You won't let this rest until you find out the truth.
This is your chronicle. Your legacy. Your defining contribution to society.
By Daniel Skye
There’s a payphone on the corner where Essex and Fairview intersect.
Mark Watkins passes that same payphone everyday on his mail route.
Why is this worth noting? Well, with the evolution of cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, these primitive eyesores have been declared obsolete.
Nowadays, when you actually do see a payphone, it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. As did the archaic remnant that was stationed on the corner of Essex and Fairview.
Mark certainly noticed it on his daily walks, as it was the only payphone left standing in Greenville, and probably all of Long Island for that matter.
It was a Friday in December when he turned the corner of the Greenville public library and the payphone that had remained desolate for years astonished Watkins as it began to ring.
He stood slightly aghast as the rings droned on, refusing to cease. Then he looked to the left and to the right, scoping out the area. Whoever this call was meant for, they clearly weren’t there to accept it. So Mark did what felt natural. He stepped up and took the call for them.
Standing under the privacy hood, Mark lifted the black receiver to his ear and said, “Hello?”
He could hear breathing on the other end of the phone, heavy, yet oddly distant, as if the caller had him on speaker phone and was standing quite a distance from where the phone was set.
“Anyone there?” Mark inquired.
“I’m here,” a voice finally spoke with a harsh whisper. It was a man’s voice, Watkins was sure of that.
“Who are you trying to reach, sir?”
“You, Mr. Watkins.”
Mark took another look around, eyes frantically glancing in every direction. The coast seemed clear, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t being monitored.
“Are you watching me?”
“I am incapable of watching, Mark Watkins. Just as I am incapable of enjoying a cold beer or enjoying the company of a beautiful woman. This phone is my only form of interaction.”
“Who are you?”
“Barney Stahl.” The name jarred Watkins. His head shaking back and forth in disbelief, he cringed as it felt as though his inside were being stirred around with a metal whisk.
“Stop playing games,” Mark said, eyes darting around again, trying to nab the culprit. “Barney Stahl is dead. He died right here on this street corner. It happened one year ago.”
“You’re correct,” the voice said. “Now please don’t hang up, because I’m about to tell you something very important.”
“Oh, yeah?” Mark sneered. “What’s that?”
“I’m about to tell you who killed me.”
* * *
It had been four days since Stacy Montgomery had seen the sun or sucked in a breath of fresh air. Her right ankle was raw and purple from the shackle that kept her chained to the cold cellar floor. The chain was ten feet in length, giving Stacy some mobility, but offering no possibility of escape.
Her captor was not a man who could be reasoned with. He didn’t want money. He didn’t want to be on the six o’clock news. This wasn’t about fame or fortune.
He wanted to see seventeen-year-old Stacy Montgomery suffer to her last breath.
Starved and beaten, Stacy had undoubtedly suffered. And the worst was still yet to come.
So she let her nervous mind wander. It kept her from pondering what her sadistic captor had in store for her next.
An image of a five-year-old girl with pigtails skipping rope brought a fleeting smile to her face. It was the younger version of herself. The version of Stacy that hadn’t been robbed of her innocence yet. The version of Stacy that had yet to discover the horrors of the real world. The version that had never experienced fear before; not on a level of this magnitude.
But that smile was short-lived and it evacuated the moment she heard the cellar door open. Light flowed in from the upstairs fixtures, and an imposing shadow was cast over the decaying wooden staircase.
“I’m back,” a chilling voice called down to the cellar. “Did you miss me?”
* * *
In the lengthy conversation that had ensued, Barney Stahl–or the man claiming to be Barney Stahl–had spilled his guts. He had caught his own brother, Darren, red-handed. Literally.
Darren’s hands were covered in blood and one hand was still grasping the straight razor when Barney found him holed up in that soundproof cellar. The girl was a drifter, brown hair, hazel eyes, eighteen or nineteen. And she wasn’t the first. Darren had tearfully confessed to Barney that the drifter was his fifth victim.
He tried talking some sense into Darren. Tried talking to him about getting some help. But Barney could see his brother was beyond help.
That night, Barney snuck out and walked to the nearest payphone on the corner of Essex and Fairview. But Darren had trailed him there. And before Barney could place that call to the police, Darren had pierced his lung with the edge of a sharp blade.
Barney urged Mark Watkins to put a stop to Darren before he killed again. “223 Ridgewood Drive,” was the last thing Barney said before the line went dead.
Watkins was at a crossroads. What could be done? If he went to the police and babbled absurd tales of haunted payphones and vengeful spirits, they’d tell him to beat it or haul him off to the local laughing academy in restraints. And if what Barney said was true and he tried to take on Darren Stahl himself, he could easily wind up dead. It was quite the predicament he had found himself in.
First, he was going to need some proof. “223 Ridgewood Drive,” Mark repeated and jotted the address down on a piece of junk mail from his letter carrier.
That night after work, Mark dressed all in black and took a ride down to Darren Stahl’s neighborhood. He parked across the street from 223 Ridgewood Drive and slid down in his seat, peeked out the window occasionally to watch the house.
It was around nine o’clock when he saw the front door swing open and watched Darren Stahl step out, lock the door with a key he then pocketed, and walked to his green Stingray.
Mark sat back up in his seat and watched Darren take off down the block until the car disappeared into the night.
Once he was sure Stahl was gone, he ran from his car and bypassed the front door. He already knew it was locked, so he snuck around the side of the house and tried the side door, which was also locked.
He tried the back door too, which was locked tight as well. He was about to walk back around the front when he heard the screams.
The basement windows were blacked out, but the shrill cries were unmistakable and they were definitely emanating from the cellar.
Mark froze, momentarily assuming the role of a reticent bystander. What was he to do? Even if he shattered one of the windows, they were too small, too narrow for a man his size to squeeze through. He could bust in the backdoor and check it out himself, and he could end up getting charged with breaking and entering if he did. And he knew that Darren could return at any minute.
So he improvised.
An anonymous call was placed to the Greenville police department from the payphone on the corner of Essex and Fairview. Darren Stahl was arrested one hour later. Stacy Montgomery was found locked inside his damp, soundproof cellar. A few bruises aside, the girl was relatively unharmed.
Physically speaking, that is. Mentally, the scar that Darren Stahl had left on Stacy would not soon fade. But her trauma was soothed when she heard the news that Stahl was looking at seven consecutive life sentences.
She never got to thank her mysterious savior, the one who had placed the call. The cops were able to trace the call, but all it led to was a payphone on the corner of Essex and Fairview.
A week later, Mark Watkins was on his daily route when he turned the corner of Essex and Fairview and the prehistoric payphone began to chime. With no one else around to answer the call, Mark hesitated briefly before lifting the receiver to his ear.
“Hello?” he answered.
“Thank you,” was all Barney said before his voice faded away.