Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
THE FEAR KEEPS US HERE
By Daniel Skye
Stanley Bellinger would periodically get up from the sofa to stoke the logs on the fire with a wrought iron poker.
The power kept cutting in and out, and the heater would click off every time the power went. So Stanley was depending on the roaring fire to keep him warm through the night.
Just past the red brick fireplace was a set of tall, narrow glass sliding doors. Every so often, Stanley would walk around to the doors and peer out. He wanted to see how much his back was going to be suffering after he shoveled himself out of the driveway tomorrow. The last storm they had, Stanley threw his back out shoveling all that snow.
And that was just fourteen inches of snow. This was a mountain. Every time he looked out the glass doors, all he could see was white. More than two feet of snow had accumulated, and the weather stations were predicting another six inches before the storm let up. Before Stanley lost his satellite signal, the local news said this was already a record snowfall for Long Island.
The local authorities had issued a mandatory curfew. They didn’t want anyone driving in these conditions until the storm passed and the trucks had a chance to plow and salt the roads.
You’d have to be bat-shit crazy to drive in this weather, Stanley thought. If he opened those sliding doors and stepped outside, the snow would be up to his knees.
Stanley returned to the sofa, watched the orange flames dance from the wind and listened to the wood crackle and hiss. This was not how he wanted to spend his evening. Staring at the fire was akin to watching paint dry. He was trapped indoors and needed something to occupy his mind before cabin fever set in.
When Shelly was still around, they’d play cards or a board game to pass the time. Or they’d just sit and talk while they rode the storm out. Stanley secretly loved it when they lost power. Shelly would break out her candle collection and Stanley would make a fire. It created a romantic, intimate atmosphere. They’d sip wine by candlelight and cuddle by the fire to keep warm. They’d discuss their futures, or rather, discuss Shelly’s plans for the future.
One of those plans included eventually finding a new place to live. Shelly didn’t care for how secluded the property was. There wasn’t a house in either direction for a quarter of a mile. And with the tall hedges out in front, the driveway was barely visible from the road. They had an alarm system, but that wasn’t enough to put her mind at ease.
And one of the systems biggest faults was that during a power outage, the alarm system would deactivate. It would only reactivate once they regained power.
But the alarm system wasn’t what concerned Stanley. It was the thought of moving. Stanley felt perfectly at home in their spacious, luxurious six-bedroom, three-bathroom Hamptons palace. Stan earned that house.
Stan worked in Hollywood as a movie producer, which was why the living room was adorned with framed movie posters. Shelly had framed them herself with museum glass so there would be no glare from the lights.
But Stanley worked his way up from the bottom. He started out as an assistant for various producers–kissing asses, fetching coffee, answering phones, jotting down messages, polishing screenplays, and polishing cars, too.
Now people were fetching Stanley’s coffee and taking his calls for him. But it wasn’t pride or ego that stopped him from moving. And it certainly wasn’t a money situation. They could easily afford another house of equal grandeur. But Stanley had grown attached to his palace in the Hamptons.
It brought him back to something his father had said years ago: “The fear keeps us here.” In other words, the fear of abandoning your comfort zone. It’s what keeps people grounded, stationary.
Sure, Stanley would jet off to California for meetings and casting calls and film premieres. But when it was over, he always had a place to call home. He could always return to his comfort zone.
“The fear keeps us here.” That’s what Stanley’s father had meant. At least that’s what Stanley chose to take away from it. It could have just been incoherent ramblings. Stanley’s father used to say a lot of things that didn’t make sense. He was suffering from dementia and would often mutter bewildering profanities like “cock burger” and “donkey fuck.”
But Shelly didn’t share her husband’s sentiments. Shelly warned him about that property. She said it was an easy target. And Stanley told her she had seen one too many home invasion movies. “Stuff like that doesn’t happen in the Hamptons,” Stanley assured her.
But all the guarantees in the world could not convince Shelly to stay. Not after Stanley told her the truth about his affair.
They had been divorced for almost a year. Shelly tolerated a lot over the years. She tolerated Stanley’s immature attitude, the way he laughed at inappropriate situations, his lack of self-awareness, and the way he’d always hog the remote and chew with his mouth open.
She even dealt with the PS4 and the movie posters that made her living room resemble the lobby of a movie theater. But what she couldn’t tolerate was his infidelity. Stanley had slept with his secretary. And it was eating him up inside. He had to confess. Deep down, she knew something was wrong. He wore his guilt like a wristwatch.
And when he told her, she packed her bags and was out the door and on a plane to Chicago that same night.
Shelly had hired the best divorce attorney money could buy and got half of Stanley’s assets in the settlement. But that wasn’t what pained Stanley. He’d give all his movie money away for one more day with Shelly.
The wind howled viciously. Sixty-mile-an-hour gusts hammering against the windows. The fire was starting to blow out, so Stanley lifted himself up from the sofa and stoked the logs with the poker and crumpled more newspaper to feed to the flames.
Stanley could hear a soft din over the harsh winds. It was coming from outside.
It wasn’t knocking. It was tapping.
Someone, or something, was tapping against the glass sliding doors.
He heard a loud bang and dropped the fireplace poker, the pointed end nearly impaling his foot. It sounded like a baseball being hurled at his windows. He walked around the fireplace, over to the slider, where he stood in the awe. In the center of the glass was a huge spider web crack.
With all that snow blanketing every surface and no outdoor lights, it took a second for Stan’s eyes to focus and adjust. Through the glass, he saw what looked like tentacles.
Dangling tentacles of an unholy creature that seemed to reach down from the sky. The tentacles extended from the eaves of Stanley’s roof and rested in the white snow below. Stanley didn’t know what they could be attached to. He didn’t want to know.
The tentacles raised themselves from the ground, looking poised to strike. They whipped and lashed through the air, striking the glass again and causing the crack to spread.
Stanley gasped. There was no one to call for help. 911 would connect him to the local police, who would not be able to reach him in time. Not in these hazardous conditions. They hadn’t even started plowing the roads yet.
And even if they could reach him, what would Stanley tell them? If he called them and started frantically spouting off about monsters and tentacles, they’d think he was a drunk, a loon, a crank caller. They end the call before he even had a chance to convince them.
The tentacles struck the glass a third time and the cracks spread from top to bottom. The tentacles rose again, hanging in the air for the briefest of moments, almost staring back at him through the wall of cracked glass. All it took was one more blow for the glass to shatter.
Three long, snake-like tentacles crept inside the house, crawling across the hardwood floor. Their movements caused them to bulge, the way muscles bulge when an arm is flexed. Stanley, biting his lower lip to stifle a scream, inched away slowly. These were no ordinary octopus tentacles. These were something straight of a low budget horror or Sci-Fi flick Stanley could’ve seen himself investing in.
These tentacles had eyes, and mouths, and teeth. They rose and seemed to sniff the air, as if they smelled the fear emanating from his body. Stanley ran around the red brick fireplace and grabbed the poker from the floor.
One of the tentacles crept around the fireplace and Stanley brought the fireplace poker down with force, piercing its grey exterior. He retracted the pointed end and the tentacle drew back. The others rose to meet his height.
One went straight for his face. It got a hold of his glasses and ripped them from his face. It took his spectacles between its needle-like teeth and snapped them in half with one bite, then gulped it down like it was swallowing a piece of candy.
The other tentacle struck, nearly taking a chunk from Stanley’s head. Instead, it took away a mouthful of his jet-black hair. The tentacles danced around as Stanley jabbed and swung at them with the wrought iron poker.
The wounded tentacle–the one oozing yellow puss–returned and coiled around the poker and snatched it from Stanley’s hand, flinging it across the living room. The wrought iron poker shattered one of Stanley’s glass movie poster displays and fell out of reach.
Stanley grabbed a long, jagged chunk of museum glass from the floor. And when the next tentacle went to strike, Stanley stabbed it through the bottom of its mouth. It sagged to the floor and went limp.
Before its brothers–or sisters–could retaliate, Stanley was ascending the staircase. He reached the master bedroom and locked himself in.
Shelly was concerned about being out in the middle of nowhere, but she was also vehemently against guns. And she had won the argument when Stanley suggested getting one. Defenseless, Stan’s eyes searched for an escape route.
He glanced up at the rectangular skylights that should have been buried in snow. But both skylights were painted over with a grey, lifeless texture. This was the source of the tentacles. A creature larger than anything that should rightfully exist. This massive, monstrous abomination had engulfed his entire rooftop.
The skylights shattered from the enormous pressure they were enduring, and the glass rained down on him. Two more tentacles came slithering in. They coiled around his ankles, snatched him off his feet, and sucked Stanley up through the hole in the skylight.
His screams and cries for help were short-lived. It took less than two minutes for the tentacles to devour him. In that time, the only name he screamed out, the only person he cried for, was Shelly.
By Daniel Skye
Meet Aaron Chase and Brent Gage: Part time convenience store clerks, part time paranormal investigators.
In a town full of ghost stories and urban legends, Aaron and Brent were quite the popular duo in Fairview. But don’t let their pseudo-celebrity status keep you awake with envy. They still live with their parents.
And they spend more time working the counter at Quick Stop Convenience than they do investigating and working actual cases. All day long they field moronic questions like, “Is Five Hour Energy considered an aphrodisiac?” Or, “Are Trix really just for kids?”
That Thursday afternoon, Aaron had to bite his lower lip to stop himself from laughing when a female customer said, “I feel so guilty buying a carton of eggs. All those poor chickens that had to die to make these.”
When Aaron went on break, Brent handled the counter by himself. When a customer asked to use the bathroom, Brent responded with an emphatic, “NO.” The last time he let a customer use the bathroom, he got stuck cleaning up the mess.
Who smears shit all over the walls? Brent thought. What goes through a person’s head when they’re doing that?
Another customer, a young man with black jeans, a pleather jacket, and a skull bandana, asked Brent for a pack of Marlboros.
“You know, these things give you lung cancer,” Brent said, albeit sarcastically.
“You’re right,” the young man said, pulling up the sleeves of his jacket that looked two sizes too big. He was practically swimming in it. “Forget about the cigarettes. I’ll just take some chewing tobacco.”
Brent rolled his eyes, but grabbed a can of Skoal from the rack and scanned the barcode. The young man paid, and as he was walking out, an older man strolled in. He was tall, lean, dark skinned, and wearing a charcoal pinstripe suit with an immaculate cut. He was definitely a businessman. He had that air of scumbag entitlement, and he strutted around like he owned everything he set his eyes on.
He approached the counter, and Brent could almost feel the confidence radiating from him. It was overwhelming. Or maybe it was just the smell of the man’s aftershave that overwhelmed him. It was a powerful, musty odor that lingered in the sinuses. Brent imagined there was probably a picture of a little ship on the bottle, like something his grandfather would’ve used.
“I’m Luther Woods,” he said, introducing himself. Brent expected him to follow up with a sales pitch. Luckily, Aaron walked back in and Brent was free to go on break. But before he even left the counter, Luther said, “You might want to stay and hear what I have to say. I’m glad both of you are here. I’ve heard a lot about you guys. As I just told your friend, my name is Luther Woods. And I’m in real estate.”
“If we could afford our own houses, we wouldn’t be living with our parents, dude,” Aaron told him.
“Don’t worry,” Luther chuckled. “I’m not here to sell you anything. Quite the opposite. I’m here to acquire your services.”
“Say what?” Brent muttered.
“I want to hire you both to investigate a piece of property I’m interested in. It’s a potential investment, but it has a dark and infamous past. Before I invest, I want to know exactly what I’m going to be selling. I’ve heard rumors, stories of the place being haunted. Does the name Thomas Thorne mean anything to you?”
“Sounds familiar,” Brent said. Aaron was more than familiar with Thorne and the property that Luther spoke of.
“Thorne murdered twelve people in cold blood. He did it all in that house. I need to know if the house is truly haunted. I’m willing to pay you five hundred dollars each. I know it’s not much. But I assume it’s more you make in a day working here. No disrespect.”
Aaron and Brent looked at one another, then back at Luther. “We’ll take it,” they said in unison and Luther removed two envelopes from his jacket. Then a key.
“As a sign of good faith, I’m paying you both upfront. Here is a copy of the key. Get back to me as soon as you check the place out. And if you could, please make this a top priority. I don’t need someone else making a bid behind my back.”
“We’ll get it done,” Brent assured him.
* * *
They decided to check the place out immediately after work. It was a decaying farmhouse on the edge of Fairview. What remained of its white paint had bubbled and started peeling away. And green mold had devoured the sides of the house.
Beside the farmhouse was a rustic red barn that looked more dilapidated than the house itself. They walked up the lopsided porch and chuckled at the screen door that was hanging on only by its bottom hinge. Aaron used Luther’s key to unlock the door and the rusty hinges screamed as he pushed it forward. Brent forced the door shut behind them and they turned on their flashlights. Luther had mentioned in advance that the house had no running water or electricity for the moment.
Aaron instantly felt a presence. The cold air circulated around him, stinging his ears, his cheeks, and the back of his neck. His skin broke out in goose flesh, and he rolled his sleeves down to hide his apprehension from Brent.
They made their way into the kitchen, which had been stripped off all but its cupboards. “You want to do the honors or should I?” Brent asked.
“Be my guest,” Aaron told him.
Brent, who was raised Catholic, whispered a short prayer to begin. He’d been told that prayer often worked as a seal of protection against angry or malevolent spirits. Then he spoke.
“Is there anyone among us?”
He waited for the answer. But the house was silent.
“We come in peace,” Brent assured them.
“They’re not aliens,” Aaron chuckled.
“Quiet. You’ll disrupt the process. Please, if anyone else is here with us, give us some sign. Trust us, we mean you no harm.”
Silence. But the cold air still lingered in every part of the house.
“If there are any spirts among us, please give us some sign. We just want to help you find rest.”
Silence. A flustered Brent gave it one more shot.
“Thomas Thorne was an evil man. He committed many atrocities. If it offers you any comfort, his crimes did not go unpunished.”
Just at the mention of Thomas Thorne, the house came to life. The ceiling pipes rattled and the floorboards rumbled beneath their feet.
“They don’t seem at rest to me,” Aaron said, no longer able to mask his fright.
There was a loud, thunderous BANG that shook the entire house from its foundation to its eaves.
Aaron had done his research. When the police finally apprehended Thomas Thorne, they found twelve bodies in the crawlspace of the house. The final victim happened to be Thorne’s own partner in crime, Otis Williams. Aaron had briefly considered that they could potentially be disturbing the spirit of a bloodthirsty killer. But had it occurred to Luther Woods?
The rumbling ceased and the entire house was silent again.
“I think your smell scared the spirits away,” Aaron joked, if only to ease his tension.
“I don’t think this is over,” Brent said. “Not by a long shot.”
The hinges of the front door screeched. They heard the door slam shut, followed by footsteps. It sounded like a woman’s heels clicking across the floorboard.
Myra Cobb saw the beam of their flashlights from the hall and shouted, “Who’s there? This is private property. I could have you arrested.”
Brent was the first to step out from the kitchen. “We’re not looking to cause any trouble, ma’am.”
“Who the hell are you? What are you doing here?”
“I’m Brent and this is Aaron,” he said, grabbed Aaron by the arm and pulling him out of the kitchen for Myra to see. “We were hired by a man named Luther Woods. He wanted us to inspect the property before he invested in it. You can call Luther to confirm this. I have his number handy.”
“Oh, boys,” Myra laughed and shook her head. She was furious, but she was strangely amused. “You’ve been duped. My name is Myra Cobb. I’m a real estate agent. Luther Woods is my competition. My agency recently acquired this property. Luther’s been trying to sabotage us for years. And now he’s sent you here in the hopes that you’ll disturb the spirts who are trying to find peace.”
“How do you know about the spirits?”
“I live in Fairview, just like you. I’ve heard the stories, just like you. I’ve felt a presence in this house, just as I’m sure you have.”
“I don’t understand. If you know of its history, why are you trying to sell it? Are you that greedy?”
“I’m afraid you’ve misjudged me. My intention was never to sell this house. The house was acquired through my agency, but it was acquired for me. I purchased it. I bought this house so no other real estate agency could try to sell it. I bought it so Luther wouldn’t get his hands on it. I never intended to live here. I just want the spirits that linger here to find their way towards the light.”
“I don’t understand,” Aaron said.
“My sister was one of Thomas Thorne’s victims. Is that enough motive to satisfy you?”
“Fair enough,” Aaron nodded. Then he added, “Sorry for your loss.”
“But how did Luther get a copy of the key?”
“I work in real estate,” Myra sighed. “Not everyone in real estate is as honest as I am. He most likely paid one of my colleagues off to make him a copy. Don’t worry. I’ll find out who it was and deal with them accordingly. But that Luther is one sneaky bastard. He deserves to rot in hell along with Thomas Thorne.”
The floorboards rumbled under their feet again and the front door snapped open and shut.
“You probably shouldn’t say his name,” Aaron whispered.
“Whatever Luther paid you, I’ll double it if you get him back for this.”
“No, we’ll do this one on the house. We owe you and your sister that much. And Luther has it coming to him.”
“I have an idea,” Brent said, and a malevolent grin spread across his face. “How many doors are there in this house?”
“Just the front,” Myra said.
* * *
Just before midnight, Brent phoned Luther Woods.
“Sorry for calling so late,” Brent feigned an apology. “But Aaron and I discovered something we thought you should know about immediately.”
“What did you find?” Luther asked, unable to contain his giddiness.
“We’re not sure about the place being haunted. We haven’t detected any paranormal activity. What we did find is a cigar box full of gold coins in mint condition. I guess the police must have overlooked it. There was a hidden panel in the bottom kitchen cupboard. I don’t know much about coins, but these look pretty rare. We could be talking about thousands of dollars. Maybe millions. You should get down here soon.”
Luther was already in his car before Brent could finish his last sentence. He arrived just after midnight. Aaron and Brent were waiting for him outside.
Luther didn’t greet them. Didn’t thank them. The first thing he said was, “Where are these coins?”
“In the kitchen,” Aaron said. “After you.”
Luther stepped inside and Aaron slammed the door behind him. He locked the door from the outside, and Brent took a thin block of wood and wedged it underneath the door, so even if Luther had another copy of the key, the door would be jammed. The boys had also boarded up the windows, from the outside.
And Luther didn’t have to speak the name of Thomas Thorne aloud to rattle the spirits. It was written all over the walls. A final fuck you from Brent and Aaron.
“Can I come out now?” Myra called.
“Come on out,” Brent told her. The doors of the red barn opened and Myra stepped out. She joined them and looked back at the house.
“Think he’ll be alright in there?” Aaron asked.
“It won’t kill him,” Brent said. “But he might lose his mind after one night in there.”
“That wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Myra said. “I’ll make an anonymous call tomorrow to the police. Tell them where to find him. You boys did good. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Don’t mention it. Sorry about the walls.”
“I can always paint over them,” Myra said. “Hey, you guys are really into this paranormal stuff, aren’t you? I may have a job for you…”