Tuesday, January 30, 2018

AFTERLIFE





AFTERLIFE
By Daniel Skye



            The man sat on the windowsill, the cool wind against his back. He was a tall, lean man with wavy brown hair and a pallid complexion. His skin had an almost translucent quality. If not for his bones and organs, you’d be able to see right through him.

            The boy in the red-and-green pajamas sat on the carpet, playing with his action figures. He had all the latest WWE figures from Mattel. And his father had bought him a play set for Christmas which included a miniature ring so he could act out all of his favorite matches and bring his fantasies to life.

The boy was short, even for his age. His ruddy cheeks gave him a healthy glow. Though his belly, bloated from too many carbonated beverages, said different. Too much sugar and soda was his problem, but otherwise there was nothing wrong with him physically. He was perfectly healthy, unlike the man who had spent his life pushing his body to the limits.

A life of drugs, booze, pills, misery, and corruption had brought him to this point. And he had no one to blame but himself. But the boy didn’t know this. In fact, he knew little about the man, but he knew enough to be wary, yet slightly curious.

Casey was named after Casey Jones. You can imagine how thrilled his mom was when she found out where his dad got the name from. His dad had attended school with Kevin Eastman and was a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in his youth. He had taken Casey to see the new TMNT movies in theaters, but Casey didn’t see what the big deal was. He preferred the Avengers.

“Mom made spaghetti tonight,” Casey told the man. “Yuck! She always burns the sauce. Dad pretends to like her food. I guess you have to when you’re married. But I mean, the food’s not all bad. My mom makes a pretty decent meatloaf. It’s a lot better than her tuna casserole.” He retched at the thought of that casserole.

The man nodded, as if he understood. Though he offered no verbal confirmation.

            Casey was always warned not to talk to strangers, but this particular stranger had taken up residence in his house, and was kind of hard to ignore. And he didn’t seem like a bad man. But even six-year-old Casey understood that looks could be deceiving, that sometimes strangers had sinister agendas.

            “Wrestlemania is a few months away. My friend told me they might do John Cena versus the Undertaker this year if the Undertaker decides to come back. I like Cena, but I don’t know if he can beat the Undertaker. Reigns beat Undertaker last year, but Reigns beats everybody. I think he’s going to win the title again this year.”

            “Casey,” his mom called from the hallway. The door to his bedroom opened and she peeked in. “Who are you talking to?” She surveyed the empty room, then focused her eyes on Casey.

            “Nobody, mom. I was just playing with my action figures.”

            “Okay, well it’s time to get ready for bed. And close that window before you catch a cold.”

            “Okay, mom. Will do.”

            She closed the door and Casey turned back to the man sitting on the windowsill. The man that only Casey could see. The man who had overdosed in Casey’s bedroom three years before his family moved in.

            “Can I ask you something? Does it hurt to die?”

Thursday, January 25, 2018

THE WITCHING HOUR

Genre: Horror 




THE WITCHING HOUR
By Daniel Skye




“Good evening ladies and germs, and welcome to another edition of ‘Last Call’ with yours truly, Ron Hall. And I’ll be keeping you company all through the witching hour. It’s exactly twelve midnight here on the east coast. And I’ll be here ‘til the break of dawn to take your calls and rant and bitch as much as I please in between. But first, I’ve got a little music for you. This one is a special request and it goes out to Sherri in Bay Shore.”

Hall loved to run his mouth, but he also liked to get paid to sit around and do nothing. Song requests were his favorite. All he had to do was pop in a CD, press a few buttons, sit back and relax. Or he’d chat with Nikki, who was always in the booth with him.

            Hall filled his mug with coffee and decided to Irish it up with a little shot of whiskey from the flask he stashed in the top drawer of his desk.

            “Easy on the booze,” Nikki told him. “I don’t want you slurring your words on the air.”

            “It’s past midnight on a Wednesday. Who else is listening at this hour besides alcoholics?”

            “Loners, insomniacs, horny truck drivers.”

            “Thanks for the lovely image.”

            Nikki Baldwin was Hall’s producer, technical assistant, and station manager all rolled into one. Hall busted her chops on a regular basis, but he had a lot of respect for Nikki. The girl was tough. As tough as nails, Hall thought. She was the only girl that Hall knew who drove a motorcycle. And boy, could she throw a punch. Hall found out the hard way when he accidentally dinged up her bike. He’d been drinking and the roads were icy and he just sort of slid into it. She was pissed, but she didn’t hold any grudges. She slugged him once and told him they were even, and Hall didn’t beg to differ. She didn’t even ask him to pay for the damage.

            The song came to an end, and Hall was back on the air. “I’ll never get tired of that track,” Hall commented, not even sure what song he’d played. Nikki had the lineup, and Hall just pushed the buttons and ranted on-air, mostly about politics or the most recent celebrity scandals.

            “I’ve got another one coming up for you. This song goes out to Otto in Springfield, New Jersey.”

            “I’ve got a caller on line one,” Nikki whispered. Ron looked down at the phone and saw line one was blinking. Nikki held up her notepad. She had written JAKE FROM BAYONNE, NEW JERSEY in all capital letters to let Hall know who was on hold. Hall had gotten used to the rather primitive setup over the years. They still used landlines and they played CDs when most stations were using MP3s or burning songs to their laptops and playing them off of that. And he had also adapted to Nikki’s unique methods of communication. She was constantly scribbling notes and holding them up for him to see.

            “But first, we have a caller. Jake from Bayonne, you’re on the air. What’s on your mind, Jake?”

            “Hey, Ron. How’s it going?”

            “It’ll be going a lot smoother once I get this coffee in me,” Ron said, taking a sip from his Justice League mug.

            “I hear that. But yeah, reason I’m calling is I was listening to your show last night about Pilgrim State. Really scary stuff.”

            “Thanks. It wasn’t meant to be scary, but when I heard the place was being demolished, it brought back a lot of memories from my rebellious teenage years. I’m not ashamed to admit that place always gave me the chills. Do you have a story about Pilgrim State you want to share?”

            “Well, Ron, I personally don’t believe in monsters or demons or vampires. But I’m a firm believer in the afterlife.”

            “So you believe in ghosts or spirits?”

            “Absolutely. So this story goes back to my days in high school. I was a jock and–”

            “We forgive you for that. But please continue.”

            Jake from Bayonne, New Jersey gave a forced chuckle and then went on. “Yeah, so I was a jock and every year, the football team would go up to Pilgrim State and explore the grounds. It was a mandatory thing for new team members, a way to weed out the tough guys from the chicken shits. The place has been closed since I was a kid. The buildings are dilapidated and crumbling. Bums use it for shelter. But anyway, before I ramble on, let me tell my story.”

            “Please do. It’s past midnight and I’m trying to stay awake here.”

            “We were in one of the basement tunnels, and we weren’t looking for it, but we ended up stumbling upon the morgue where they used temporarily store any deceased patients. The place was empty, obviously. But my friend was standing near one of the empty cabinets, and he swears to this day that something reached out and touched his arm.”

            “Was it one of you guys playing a prank on him? Messing around?”

            “It definitely wasn’t me. I was standing all the way across from him. I never knew whether to believe him or not. But it certainly freaked him out and he still talks about it to this day. He remembers that it had dry, coarse, almost scaly skin.”

            “Interesting story, Jake. I’m sure since this was back in high school, there were no drugs involved. No mind altering substances. But thanks for the call, man. Have a great night.”

            “Hey, Ron, before I go, one more story.”

            “Alright, what the hell. Nobody’s listening anyway.”

            “Remember how I said I don’t believe in monsters? Well, I didn’t believe in monsters. But we saw something in the basement of one of the buildings that made me think otherwise. It was this…shapeless mass. Colorless. Odorless. It seemed harmless. But the closer we got, I could swear it was moving. It was like pulsing, like it was breathing or something. I got really close and it started to slither away. And that’s when…hey, what the fuck is that?”

            “Whoa, whoa, Jake, you can’t use that word on the air, buddy. I know I said nobody is listening, but the FCC will have my butt on a platter if they get wind of this.”

            “Ron, I’m walking to my car and there’s something standing at the end of the street. It, it looks like a person, but I see, I see wings. It has freaking wings like jutting out of its shoulder blades. Ron, I-I-I got to call you back. What the…no, no, no! Get away from me! Get the hell away from me! Get off–”

            The call was disconnected and a brief silence filled the air as Nikki and Ron exchanged bewildered glances.

            “Thank you, Jake from Bayonne. And whatever you’re on, please share some. But I think Jake actually raised a good question to explore tonight. Do you believe in monsters? Not the political monsters. Not that monster in the white house. Not the crooks in the street or the cops on the beat. I’m talking about the figurative monsters, not the literal ones. The Frankenstein’s, the Dracula’s, the flesh-craving zombies, the ghosts in the attic, the demons in the cellar. Do you believe in monsters? Do you think monsters are real? Or can we make them real simply by choosing to believe in them? What’s your take on all this?”

            He checked the phone lines, expecting Jake to call back and have the last laugh on him. But he saw no blinking lights. “Otto in Springfield, I haven’t forgotten about you. Here’s a little Iron Maiden coming your way.”

            Ron dropped his headset and swiveled around in his chair to face Nikki. “The hell was that?”

            “Just another crank caller. We got at least ten of those a week. When you come back from this next song, you’ve got another caller on line three that wants to weigh in on your monster debate.”

            The song faded out and Ron rejoined the program. “Hope you all enjoyed that track, if you’re even awake. Rich in Ronkonkoma–boy that’s a mouthful–you’re on the air. What have you got for us?”

            “Evening, Ron. Long time listener, first time caller.”

            “Glad to have you on the air, Rich. What’s on your mind?”

            “A lot, Ron. But I’ll keep this short. Monsters are real. They do exist. I’ve seen them with my own eyes. I watched a neighbors stone gargoyle statue come to life, like something out of Ghostbusters. And before you try to discredit me, there was no drugs involved. I’ve seen many over the years. I’ve been tracking these things for a very long time. Most of them live underground. They live for nights like tonight when the moon is at its darkest and they can blend in with the night. And some of them live within us, dormant, inactive, just waiting for the opportune moment to reveal their true forms. They will come for you. And when they do, there’s no stopping them. They–”

            Ron disconnected the call. “And thank you, Rich from Ronkonkoma. Someone make sure he’s taking his medication. Check South Oaks, I think they’re missing a patient.”

            A blare in the distance gave Ron a jolt and made him drop his headset.

            “What is that?”

            “Sirens.”

            “But we’re in a sound booth. We shouldn’t be able to hear a thing.”

            “Must be serious.”

            “Must be. Well, you’re the technical advisor. See what you can find. Check Patch or something. Or use the police scanner.”

            “Police scanner is fucked. I can’t pick up any frequencies tonight. But I’ll surf the web, see what I can find.”

            Ron returned to the air with another track ready to play, but the phone lit up with three blinking lights. “Guess everyone has insomnia tonight. Tommy in Queens, you’re on the air. Please be sane, unlike the last caller.”

            “Ron, I’ve been trying to get through to the police all night but the lines are busy. So I thought I’d try you.”

            “Good idea. The phones are wide open here. What’s going on, Tommy?”

            “It’s my neighbor…he’s sick. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

            “So call 911, that’s what they’re there for.”

            “I was on hold with 911 for hours. Can’t get through to them, either.”

            “You can’t get through to 911?”

            “Call them if you don’t believe me.”

            “I’ll take your word, for now. What’s wrong with your neighbor, Tommy?”

“Hell if I know. His skin was all discolored. Pus and fluid leaking from every hole in his body. He was trying to get into my apartment, but I couldn’t let him in. He was…my God, he was growing something out of the sides of his body. It looked like…tentacles.”

            “Tentacles? Right.”

            “Oh my God…” Tommy gasped. “He’s at the door again. What should I do?”

            “I think you should give the crack pipe a rest. Is everyone calling in tonight on drugs?”

            “I can see them, slithering around under the door. The tentacles. I can see him through the peephole. God, he looks hideous! Ron, please, you’ve got to get in touch with the police! You’ve got to tell them–”

            Another dead call. Ron Hall took a big gulp of his Irish coffee and noticed the two waiting callers had dwindled to one. He threw a CD on without thinking twice and turned to Nikki for some much needed answers.

            “Well?”

            “Nothing. Nothing on Google, nothing on Patch, Twitter, or Reddit. Nothing on any local news sites. Nothing on Facebook. Radio silence.”

            “What the hell is going on out there?”

            More sirens in the distance, cutting through the sound proof booth. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

            Ron returned to the air and went to the last remaining caller. “Trent from Redfield, you’re on the air.”

            “Ron, my friends and I have been listening to your show since it started and you need to open your eyes, man. These aren’t crank calls. The shit has hit the fan out here. I don’t know what the hell is going on. There are cops everywhere telling people to stay inside their homes. They’re rounding people up and hauling them away. There’s a rumor going around that they’re calling in the National Guard. And my friend, Eric, was attacked.”

            “Attacked? Attacked by who?”

            “Not who, Ron. What. I don’t know what the damn thing was. It had this huge, pear-shaped body and three angular legs on each side, like a spider. But this thing, it had a stinger on its backside. Like a scorpion. It stung my friend. And now he’s writhing on the floor. The police won’t help him. They told us to stay away from him.”

            “How bad is it, Trent?” Ron asked with genuine concern. He was starting to become a believer.

            “It’s bad. His stomach is all black and purple and swollen. It’s, it’s, oh Christ! It’s growing! His stomach is swelling!”

            Ron could hear the agonizing screams. If Trent’s buddy was acting, he deserved an Oscar.

            “Don’t touch him, Trent. Get away from him.”

            “It won’t stop! It just keeps growing! It’s filling up like a balloon!”

            Ron wondered how long the skin could endure, how long his stomach would take the pressure. And he didn’t have to wonder long. He heard a loud pop that sounded like a car exhaust backfiring. Trent gasped, then shrieked. There were several other distinct screams and the patter of footsteps as Trent and his friends scattered.

            “It just burst right out of his stomach! It just ripped right through his fucking chest! Never seen anything like it! Blood everywhere!” Trent was hyperventilating, and sounded on the verge of hysteria.

            “What is it, Trent?”

            “It looks just like the fucking thing that attacked him!”

            Ron didn’t care about the FCC fines at this point. He cared about surviving the night.

            The line went dead and Ron removed his headset, pushed his mic away from his face.

            Silence. Dead air.

            “I think I owe Rich from Ronkonkoma an apology,” he told Nikki.

He reached into his coat pocket and produced a crushed pack of Camels. “I quit four months ago. I never threw the pack away because I wanted to prove to myself that I had the willpower. A lot of good that did me.” He lit one and offered one to Nikki.

            “Why not?” she shrugged and accepted one that wasn’t crushed or broken.

            “That’s the spirit. If the world is going to hell, we might as well go to hell with ourselves, too.”

            Nikki grabbed her laptop. “I found something when you were on the phone. Someone uploaded a video to YouTube, about an hour ago. Ron, you need to see this.”

            She double clicked the video to make it a full screen, then she pressed play and let Hall watch. She had already seen it, and didn’t desire to view it again. So instead, she watched Hall’s terrified reaction.

            The video–shaky and blurry–was clearly shot on someone’s cell phone. The camera was focused on a green door. The man holding the phone sounded quite distraught and a little scared as he pleaded with his friend on the other side of the door.

            “Daryl, please open the door. Come on out, man. We need to get you to a hospital. Whatever’s going on, it’s not your fault. The doctors will know what it is, man. You just have to let them look at you.”

He pounded on the door. No response.

He walked a few feet from the green door and turned the camera on himself. “I know it’s a dick move to film this, but I’ve never seen this shit before. His skin, it just started like, I don’t, know, peeling off. And I don’t know what the hell was underneath, but man, it didn’t look like flesh. It was all, like, bumpy and brown and crusty-looking. He really needs to see a doctor. But he won’t come out.”

The man walked back over, the camera focused on the green door again.

“Daryl, open up!” he shouted. “Let me help you!”

            “You can’t!” Daryl shrieked.

            Nikki turned up the volume so Hall could hear the sound coming from the bathroom. He heard the glass shattering and watched as the man set his phone down. The angle was terrible, but he could still make out what was going on. The man kicked at the knob and used his shoulder as a battering ram until the door swung open. He stepped back a few feet, grabbed his phone, and went in.

The window was smashed to pieces. Shards of glass were sprinkled all over the floor. Daryl was gone. But he left two parting gifts. The first he noticed was the claw marks on the windowsill. The skin was the cocoon of skin he’d left splayed out on the bathroom floor. Daryl, or the thing that used to be Daryl, had shed its skin the way a person would casually remove their coat. That’s where the video ended.

            “Ladies and germs…I have no words to describe the events that have transpired tonight. If you’re indoors, please remain indoors. Don’t go outside. Don’t answer your doors. Don’t trust any strangers. And don’t–”

            Hall looked down at the blinking light and then up at Nikki.

            Nikki held up her notepad. TRENT – LINE ONE

           “Trent, you’re back on the air. Are you there, Trent? What’s happening? Talk to us.”

            “The thing that came out of my friend…it’s growing.”

            “Growing?”

            “Yes, growing. Expanding. And it’s sprouting new appendages. There are…oh, Christ…there are tentacles coming out of its back.”

            “Where is it, Trent? Where is it?”

            “I don’t know. It’s crawling all around the house. I’m in the upstairs bedroom. I locked myself in. I don’t know what happened to the others. I think they bolted out the backdoor. Oh, God, please help me. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.”

            “You’re not going to die, Trent. It’s going to be fine.”

            “Oh, no. Oh, please no.”

            “What’s going on, Trent?”

            “It’s right outside the door,” he whispered. “Wait, I think it’s going away now. I can’t hear it anymore. I think it’s–Oh shit! Help m–”

            That was the last they heard from Trent.

            More silence. More dead air. To fill the gap, Ron chose a CD and put on an appropriate tune. “It’s the End of the World” by R.E.M. came on the air and Ron abandoned his post.

            “I think I’ll clock out early,” Ron said. He took his flask out from his desk. “Join me for a drink?”

            “Might as well. It might be the last drink I ever have.”

            They passed the flask and stared at the door to the booth. “After you,” Ron said.

            “Yeah, right,” Nikki shrugged. It was the first time he’d ever seen her scared. And it was the first time she’d ever seen Ron afraid. Actually, it was the second, if you count the time she punched him.

            “I guess we’re stuck here.”

            “Yeah. Don’t get any bright ideas.”

            “I wouldn’t dream of it. At least we have plenty of music.”

            “You know, why don’t we do that? Be actual DJs for once and forget all this talk radio crap. If anyone is out there listening, the music might cheer people up and help them get through this. We’ll be contributing, doing our part. It’s the least we can do while we’re stuck in here.”

            “I like it,” Hall said. “Did I ever tell you I used to be a musician?”

            “About a million times but I never really listen to the story. I will now though.”

            “You don’t really have a choice,” Hall chuckled. “Well, it all started in my friend’s garage back in 1998. We were sophomores in high school and we–”

            “Did you hear that?”

            “Don’t try to get out of hearing my story.”

            “No, I’m serious. I heard something.”

            “More sirens?”

            “No. It sounded like it was coming from outside the booth.”

            “I can’t see anything through the glass. The door is locked and you can’t see through the glass from the other side, so we’re safe in here as long as we remain quiet.”

            There was a faint knock at the door and for a second, Ron and Nikki forgot how to breathe.

            The rapping persisted. Ron edged closer to the door, his feet barely lifting from the ground. It was knocking they were hearing, it was scratching. Something on the other side of the door was trying to claw its way in. Something big, judging by the shadowy figure Ron could just make out through the glass of the sound booth. Something beyond natural description. Something that wanted desperately to get inside that booth.

            Hall sighed and took a big swig from his flask. “It’s going to be a long night…” 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

MAKE A WISH

Genre: Horror




MAKE A WISH
By Daniel Skye




Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest and came in third place. True story, though nobody can be sure of the date. This has absolutely nothing to do with the story I’m about to tell you, but I guess the moral is that anything is possible, no matter how impossible or unlikely it seems.


***


            “Happy Birthday!” Greg and Cynthia cheered.

            The cake was Black Forest, Hal’s favorite. And though he appreciated the thought, he was clearly in no mood to celebrate. But he feigned a smile for his children and thanked them for the surprise visit.

            “Do you want us to sing?” Cynthia offered.

            “Please don’t,” their father said with a chuckle.

            “Blow out the candles and make a wish,” Greg said.

            Hal Kramer leaned in and blew out the candles with zero enthusiasm.

            “What’d you wish for?” Cynthia asked.

            “Ah, ah, ah,” Greg chided. “He can’t tell us what he wished for or it won’t come true.”

            “It never does anyway,” Hal sighed.

            Hal Kramer had but one wish. To be reunited with his beloved Vanessa.

            “We brought gifts, but maybe we should save it for tomorrow,” Greg suggested.

            “Good idea,” Hal said. “I’ll feel better after I sleep a little.”

“Greg and I are going to spend the night if that’s okay,” Cynthia said. “It’s going to be so weird sleeping in my old bedroom again.”

            “I haven’t changed a thing,” Hal told her. “Even the bedsheets are the same.”

            “Well I hope you still wash them occasionally.”

            “At least once a year,” Hal joked. “Well, I’m off to bed. Goodnight. Make yourselves at home.” 


***


            The smell of fresh coffee woke Hal from his slumber and lured him downstairs to the kitchen.

            “I thought you could use some coffee,” Cynthia said. “Are you okay?”

            “Yeah, why?”

            “I heard you walking around at all hours of the night. Couldn’t sleep?”

            “Actually, I slept like a baby.”

            “Then who was moving around all night?”

            “It was probably your brother. His insomnia was terrible back in high school. Used to stay up till three or four in the morning watching infomercials. I’m surprised that wasn’t enough to put him to sleep.”

            “Greg left last night, after you fell asleep. He had an emergency with one of his patients at the hospital.”

            “Then maybe it was rats. They sneak in and camp out in the garage every winter.”

            “Rats don’t stomp through the house at all hours of the night.”

            “Cynthia, I didn’t hear a thing last night. Maybe it was just your imagination. You’ve been working overtime, you’re tired, you’re stressed, and after your mother–”

            “This has nothing to do with mom,” Cynthia said emphatically. “I heard someone moving around last night. I’m not crazy. And I didn’t imagine it.”

            “Fine,” Hal said and shrugged his sagging shoulders. “Let’s take a look around the house.”

            Cynthia was twenty-six, but she clung to her father’s side like she was five years old again and they were inspecting her closet for monsters and checking under her bed to make sure the boogeyman wasn’t hiding out down there.

            The guestroom was untouched. Greg’s childhood bedroom was empty. They even checked the closets. The garage showed no signs of infestation, but they also didn’t find anything out of place. There was no evidence that anyone else had been in the house with them.

            “Satisfied?”

            “But I could’ve sworn I heard…oh, never mind.”


***


            Vanessa disappeared during Hurricane Sandy, never to be seen again. She should’ve been at home. But Vanessa was stubborn, and sometimes there was just no reasoning with her. If Vanessa had her mind made up, there was no changing it.

            She told Hal that she just needed a few photos for her gallery, that she wouldn’t stray past the dunes. But at eighty-miles-per-hour, the wind was too much for anyone to bear. It ripped Vanessa off her feet and dragged her into the ocean.

The police did not take her disappearance lightly. They searched up and down the shore for her, they searched the waters when it was safe to venture out. But in the end, they found nothing and the search was called off.

            Hal didn’t sleep for days. He wanted answers, he needed them. He needed to know if Vanessa went peacefully or if she suffered. A bit of research was all it took, though it did nothing to ease his grief or alleviate his suffering. Drowning in salt water is not the same as drowning in fresh water.

            When salt water fill the lungs, it draws your blood out of your bloodstream and into your lungs. You don’t drown in the water. You drown in your own blood.

            Hal went from not sleeping, to having nightmares every time he closed his eyes. He had visions of Vanessa standing at the foot of his bed, her skin coated in green algae, seaweed tangled up in her black hair, sea water leaking from hollow eye sockets.

            Several years had passed, and so had the nightmares. But he never stopped thinking of her. Every day, he wished he could see her again, if only for a brief second. When Greg told him to make a wish, it was the first thing that popped into his head.

            But it was the next evening, and his wish had gone unfulfilled. He sat alone at the kitchen table with the last piece of Black Forest cake plopped in front of him. Cynthia was upstairs enjoying a nap. Her father was right; she was stressed and overworked, and she needed rest.

            Hal raised his head at the sound of a thump. “Cynthia? That you?”

            A sound emanated from the hallway that sounded like a leaky faucet, the water dripping in a slow and steady fashion. Drip. Drip. Drip.

            The floorboards creaked. A dark shadow fell over the kitchen, and the cold air followed it in.

The putrid smell of sulfur enveloped the room. He heard the wet squish of seaweed underfoot as the shadowy figure drew closer. He felt the cold, stinging breath on the nape of his neck, and a chill crawled like a poisonous spider down his spine.

His wish had come true. Hal was not alone. But he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to see what was waiting behind him. Hal shut his eyes, but he could not shut off the tears.

“Hal…” a voice croaked, corrupted and distorted. “I’m home.”