“The Map in the Cabinet”
by: Kyle Harrison
Hugh Karington here, co-owner and manager of the Karington Emporium here in downtown Silver Grove.
I don’t normally do this sort of online advertising, but well; thanks to my half brained brother Dalen the store has fallen on some hard times.
It really all started about two months back when Pa died and Dalen cooked up the scheme to reopen the place.
I mean, I get it; this was Dad’s legacy and all but there’s a reason that antique stores don’t last long.
I tried to talk Dalen out of it, but his mind was set. He even managed to get a loan from the credit union to get the utilities back on pretty quickly so I couldn’t argue with that.
Nineteen days later, once all the contracts and legalities were signed my crazy brother called me to tell me that the shop was opening on Thirteenth Street.
“Please tell me this is an April Fools joke and you just forgot what month it is,” I sighed.
“That’s your problem right there big brother. Lack of vision. Dad loved this place. Heck, he loved it more than he loved us,” Dalen argued.
“Well you go live the dream then. Just count me out. I’ve got my own problems to tend to and don’t have time to clean up after you,” I told him as I ended the phone call.
I thought that was the end of it. But with Dalen it’s never that easy. I went camping that weekend and put it out of sight and mind.
Three days later I had missed thirty calls from him.
Most of them had the same general message.
“Yada yada yada I need your help bro, blah blah blah.”
But then one voicemail he left turned a little serious.
“Hugh god damn it you need to pick up your phone. I messed up man, big time. I need your help before it’s too late. You’ve got to come to the shop right away. If you don’t… I don’t know what will happen…”
I hadn’t ever heard Dalen talk like that before. And that was only message 23.
I didn’t bother to listen to the rest. I had this gut feeling something was wrong.
When I made it to the shop, I fully expected there to have been a fire or vandalism or something.
Instead much to my surprise and frustration inside the store was Dalen cleaning off an old antique desk.
“Well… I guess I really do have to be dying to get you down here,” he smirked.
“Do that again and you will wind up like the boy who cried wolf,” I warned him angrily.
“What? I really do need your help!” He argued as he gestured toward the desk and added, “I found some kind of secret compartment.”
I was just about to walk back out the shop door when I heard a strange grinding noise come from the desk.
I turned and saw a long drawer hidden under the main cabinet slide out, revealing what looked to be like some sort of prospector’s map carved in the wood.
I looked at the intricate lettering and symbols, immediately realizing what this was.
“It’s a treasure map.”
“Ah, see I knew it was the smart thing to call you,” Dalen said as he pointed toward different glyphs on the map.
“I been trying to match the image to geographical terrain on Google Earth. Haven’t found anything close to it just yet, but if I had to wager a guess it’s probably somewhere in Arizona,” my brother told me.
“Seriously? Don’t be dense. It was probably made at least two hundred years ago, of course the landscape is going to change,” I muttered.
“Oh… yeah. Damn. Well, what do you think! Can we do anything with it?” he asked.
“I can tell you exactly what we can do with it. Sell it. Immediately. There are idiot gold diggers out there that will pay through the nose for this sort of thing,” I replied.
Dalen wasn’t too happy with that decision of course.
“We can’t just give this treasure away! It’d be like spitting on dad’s grave! Why I bet he wanted us to find this here map!” My little brother insisted.
“That’s just wishful thinking. We could spend the rest of our natural lives trying to find that treasure. And it might not even exist. A fool’s errand,” I told him.
We probably argued for another good two hours until he finally saw reason. Or rather, the pile of debt he had accrued since opening the shop helped him see that he really wasn’t in a position to argue.
So we took some pictures, posted it online and sold the item three weeks ago to a buyer in Salt Lake City.
Dalen was all grumbly about it up until the check got cashed. The buyer had been willing to give us any number that we offered. We settled on a lump sum of 86 thousand.
That night we went to celebrate at the Silver Spoon, a corner pub about ten miles from our shop. I didn’t care what we bought. We both got so shitfaced drunk celebrating our good fortune.
“You know, you’re not half bad bro,” Dalen slurred as we stumbled through the night back home.
“Neither are you, when you listen to me,” I pointed out.
“Wait, I listen to you? Isn’t it the other way around? Why if I had never called you up we wouldn’t be here now!” Dalen pointed out.
“You got me there,” I conceded with a laugh.
I made a call to grab us an Uber and had a driver show up in less than two minutes.
“We should swing by the shop and make sure everything is locked up,” I told him as I gave the driver the address.
“Not very far to go,” the man pointed out.
“Look it’s colder than Hades out there and I ain’t carrying him,” I told him.
The man raised an eyebrow and nodded slightly before driving down the road.
“Man. This is fucking the life. I love you,” Dalen muttered.
“I’m sure that’s not the first time that you’ve said that and regretted it,” I countered.
“Way to be a downer Hugh. Live a little. That’s what dad would want us to do.”
“I don’t need a lecture. My head is killing me,” I whined.
“Your Brother is right,” the driver chimed in.
“Hey nobody asked you buddy,” I muttered.
“You never know what tomorrow might bring. Best to experience the moment. Before you know it, the moment will be gone,” the driver countered.
“See? This guy gets it,” Dalen said.
“It’s a lesson you both should have taken to heart when you sold the map,” the driver added.
I think I must have been in a daze cause I remember thinking that time seemed to slow down.
“Excuse me?” Dalen asked.
“You had no idea what you held in the palm of your hand. And you let it easily slip away. That’s how it goes for the foolish. Life itself is just a waste on them,” the driver rambled.
“Who the hell are you?” I asked.
“One of many but the first to come. I only offer warnings and guidance. But none ever heed them,” he explained.
“Okay…. well thanks for the chat, aren’t we at the store yet?” Dalen asked.
“We are where you want to be, but is that really where you think you belong?” The driver said.
Beyond the window I saw something rising on the night horizon. It was smoke.
I stumbled out of the car and toward the store, a red inferno scorching our valuables to the ground.
Dalen wasn’t long behind me.
He stumbled toward the door trying to save what he could. It took all my strength to stop him.
“God damn it!!” I screamed as I looked toward the road. The driver was gone.
I grabbed my cell phone and contacted emergency services to get someone there right away while Dalen just stood transfixed by the flames.
An hour later though, a third of our emporium was gone save for a few old metal trunks and jewelry that was locked in a fireproof safe.
In the course of one night we went from being rich to beggars again.
I knew that driver we had encountered was somehow involved. But I didn’t understand how until the next morning when I arrived to help Dalen take stock of the remaining inventory.
My Brother was standing there in the middle of the shop staring at the floor, almost like he was seeing a ghost. I walked up toward him to see what the problem was and noticed that there on the wood flooring was a bizarre symbol scorched onto the ground.
It looked like a reverse Pentagram but with extra markings on the side and top. “Well. Bloody hell. I guess we know it was arson,” I muttered.
Dalen shook his head and muttered, “It’s not possible. The police checked everywhere. There was nothing remotely near here that could have caused the fire. It was like it just started all on its own.”
“Magic?” I joked.
He was staring at me dead serious as he walked toward the safe and procured another item that he had managed to save. It looked like dad’s old ledger.
“I think it’s time I was perfectly honest with you, bro,” Dalen said as he sat down and opened the ledger to a page that had an item description matching the cabinet we sold a few weeks back.
“Okay… what is this?” I saw something else in the ledger that I instantly recognized. The same bizarre symbol.
“Okay but don’t get mad,” Dalen told me.
“The faster you talk the less likely I will choke you. Dalen What is this!!”
“Dad… he wasn’t just an antiques dealer for ordinary shit like clocks and jewelry. This was his secret ledger. I found it when I first opened the shop. It detailed the secondary items that he sold… stuff you don’t even find on the black market,” he explained.
He opened it to another page and I saw a strange photograph of a half severed head.
“At first I didn’t know what it was cause he wrote it all in code. But I managed to find the cipher a little before I called you and that’s when I realized what I stumbled upon. All this shit… it was cursed Hugh,” he explained.
“Are you fucking insane?? You can’t possibly believe that,” I muttered.
“The clues are all here in the ledger. And this fire it just confirms it!! I was trying to break the curse by selling one of the key items in the collection. Hugh, dad tried to do the same thing before he died!!” Dalen muttered.
I stared at the ledger. There were twelve items in the supposedly cursed collection.
“How many have you managed to get rid of?” I asked.
“So far just the cabinet. And now you see what good that did,” he explained.
“What uh… exactly does this curse do?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know if I got the translation right but it involved a binding spell and something about possession but I think each item is a little different,” he said with a short laugh.
I couldn’t believe this strange tale my brother had pulled me into. But some parts of it made a certain amount of sense. Actually, since then it’s made a whole ton of sense.
That’s what brings us to now. We managed to get the shop up and running barely this month. Curses be damned.
In fact, I really don’t even know why I bothered to ramble like that cause honestly that’s a horrible sales pitch am I right? Who would want to come shop here? Nobody that’s who. You should probably stay away.
Anyway, we are back to doing what we do best and we’re hankering to make you a deal on some mighty fine antiques. Eleven items are to be sold as is, and we can make you an offer you can’t refuse.
Won’t find a better deal this side of the United States I guarantee that.
We’ll be here a waiting for ya.
We’re… pretty much always here.
by: Scott Savino
Greetings prospective buyers! My name is Dalen Karington and my brother Hugh and I are the co-owners and operators of the newly reopened Karington Emporium on Thirteenth Street in downtown Silver Grove. Despite his characterization of me, I am neither dim-witted nor half brained. While I enjoyed his self-stylization as a manager, he is more the assistant manager of the operation, if anything. I’ve done most of the work thus far, as he’d spent so much time dodging my calls. Being not only the younger, more attractive brother, I am both the brains and beauty behind this endeavor. We wouldn’t be here now without my efforts to reopen … still I need him. This is our legacy and it’s too much to shoulder on my own.
We have several curious items down at the shop, which is manned every day by either one or both of us. I began this posting because I’d planned to advertise for sale the half severed head mentioned in Hugh’s previous post. For starters, it is not “half” anything. “Half” would imply that it’s still attached to something. It’s fully severed and preserved and appears nearly as I presume it must have in life. I believe it’s Colombian in origin–supposedly from an isolated cannibal tribe, but I’m not sure if the documentation saying so has any merit. I’d planned to post it for sale today, but something very strange happened this afternoon and as I think on it, perhaps this retelling would be just as effective of an ad. You don’t want this dried smelly thing. You want a story.
After the fire, I found some more information in father’s ledger about the cursed items and a binding spell to keep them safe. I accidentally misread a few lines and we wound up being unable to leave the premesis for about 3 days. Not a big deal really, but tell that to Hugh who of course threw a shitfit
Hugh and I, being trapped in the store, spent a lot of time ordering Chinese and Pizza and bonding (much to his dismay) as we got ready to reopen again. Luckily we still had a ton of inventory and nothing incredibly important was destroyed. As far as the structural damage, it was easy to call someone in to complete the work for us. Eventually the charm ran its course and I went outside to check the mail and realized I was outside checking the mail.
I called Hugh, “hey bro, I’m outside checking the mail.”
“Good for you,” he said. He had been in a sullen mood off and on since we’d become trapped inside.
“Bro,” I said, “I’m outside.”
And then it dawned on him. We closed up for a day to take some time to shower before getting back to work.
Dad was somewhat of a packrat and prior to Hugh joining me, I’d spent a lot of time moving many pieces, large and small, into a storage unit out back. While we’d been trapped inside, things began to pile at the back door and finally free, we could put them where they belonged in the unit.
When I had initially decided to reopen the place, the first thing I did was clean it out. When Dad was alive, he’d kept it like a claustrophobic hoarder’s den. It was little wonder that business declined along with his health in the past few years. He’d just kept spending his savings to add and add to the collection and to be honest, it was comprised mostly of junk. Previously, when buyers came inside, they were subjected to a maze of bric-a-brac, tchotchkes and furniture stacked to the ceiling; broken records, defunct antique stereo cabinets and crates of books were everywhere. If you’d been shopping with something specific in mind, there was little luck of finding it, and if you did, it was likely to be buried beneath a pile of chipped, ancient vases and board games with missing pieces. The place was like a maze and the potential customers were reduced to overgrown rats. The first thing they wanted to do when they came inside was leave, even before they found their particular flavor of cheese. I’d taken pictures of much of it; and had begun creating a catalog to sort it all and make things easier. It’s not online yet–not even close–but that’s the goal.
Our first customer of the day in question walked in as I was moving some of the storage inventory through the rear door and back into the shop. She brought with her the acrid smell of cigarettes, so pungent that I got a whiff of it even from the back of the store. This was a distressing juxtaposition when paired with her obvious advanced state of pregnancy and made even further shocking by her advanced age. She had to have been in her early 70’s and yet still exhibited the tell-tale signs of an expectant mother in the way she continually caressed her bulging stomach. Her hair was a ratty mess of dyed red, piled at the peak of her head in a bun that shone like a brazier, backlit by the daylight coming through the glass door. The memory of our smoldering mishap brought back to me, I suppressed a shudder and found myself reluctant to greet her as her eyes darted around the room. Thankfully, Hugh arrived for the day entering just after her, and with zealous enthusiasm, greeted her to our shop.
She held in her hands a book, slim and bound in old leather, which she began rifling through. “I’m looking for something. Someone told me it used to be here.” She said as she found the spot in the thin tome, “this.” She pointed at something on the pages.
“Doesn’t look familiar, but not everything’s here. I’ve got a catalog of storage in the computer. It has some of the stuff. We’re still getting it organized.”
We? I rolled my eyes.
“Hey Dalen, does this thing have a search function?”
Couldn’t he see that I was trying to stay out of this one? “The descriptions aren’t all complete but you can try, bro. What is it?”
“A statue,” he replied. He took a seat at the desk up front. The woman seated herself on the opposite side.
“Well,” I said, “start by searching for statues.”
In just a few minutes, he seemed to find whatever it was that he was looking for and the printer whirred to life. He crossed the room, handing me the printout. On the page was a figurine of copper, aged by a patina of green. I recognized this odd statue, the form of two snakes coiled against one another, a fan like embellishment stood between them.
“That’s in storage with the of other items.” I said, “make sure you charge her out the ass. I think it’s part of the collection.” I headed toward the rear exit, telling him I’d be right back with it.
The storage shed was one of those metal containers that you can lease indefinitely. Among the stacks of random accumulations, we’d placed a massive fireproof safe. This, awkward and large enough to fit myself and Hugh shoulder to shoulder–albeit uncomfortably–took several workmen to move. We intended it for locking away anything too valuable to display and to hide the cursed antiquities we had been able to identify until we knew more about them. The problem was they were not easily distinguishable and though the ledger was thorough, it was filled with impertinent information about day-to-day oddities and sales of other, less-than-legal items. Identifying these things amidst the collection of hoarded treasures and locking them away was a time consuming project of which I had only scratched the surface. We’d only distinguished a handful of them from the mountains of inventory and there were still ever more items to categorize and evaluate. Several items in the accursed collection were already stowed away inside–a carved stone headdress, the petrified wooden staff of a Sumerian priestess, and the statuette in question.
The statuette was easy to find inside of the vault. I reflected it was much lighter than it looked. The two snakes were oddly bearded and a strange pectoral fin ran along the bottom of each. I realized, humorously, that they resembled a set of serpentine ovaries; curved in the wrong direction–away from the center.
I knew that all of these items held a strange power, though I couldn’t be certain what each did. I figured that this was probably some sort of fertility talisman. Something to reverse the damage her prenatal cigarette regimen had caused or perhaps diminish the danger I imagine accompanied a septuagenarian into the birthing room.
I tossed it casually in the air, catching it over and over on my walk back. Returning to the shop with it, I placed it between them on the desk and returned to my work near the rear of the store. I wanted to know what it was for, but decided better than to ask.
They settled on the price of $14,000 which she paid on a card. A card! To have that much available credit! Knowing that our own was hyperextended, I found myself envious of her, and yet also greatly relieved. We certainly could use the funds. Hugh ran the card and wisely copied her information and driver’s licence. The amount exchanged was so large, he told her that we had a policy requiring extra precaution. It was quick thinking that provided the assurance of being able to track her down later if there were any problems processing the payment.
As Hugh went to wrap the thing for her, something very strange happened. Something stopped him. He couldn’t lift it from the table. “How did you get this in here?” He asked me, “it weighs a ton!”
I looked at him as though he’d lost his mind, “it barely weighs anything at all,” I said. I mean, I didn’t say it then for fear of shocking the buyer, but I had in fact, been tossing it around on my way back with it. It weighed next to nothing.
He sighed, trying to lift it again and failing, “Can you come wrap this for her?” He said. He held the paper aloft over the desk and his eyes implored me urgently to assist him in completing this transaction.
She then added: “I’ll probably need you to help me to the car with it too.”
I wrapped it, as they asked. It had not grown suspiciously heavy, as Hugh suggested … at least not for me. Perhaps he knew something about it that I didn’t? Something that made him not want to handle it? Was I going to die because I’d touched it? It was too late now in any case, as my hands had been all over it on the way back from the storage unit. Wrapped in the paper, I carried it to the car for her, placing it gently in the passenger seat.
We shook hands and lighting a cigarette that she produced so casually, it seemed to magically appear in the air between her cracked lips, she got inside. The moment she did so, it was as though the thing regained the mysterious weight that Hugh had described it having. The tires on her passenger side exploded and the frame of the car groaned as the axels snapped.
I stood there for a moment, stupefied, before dumbly blurting: “all sales are final,” and running inside.
About fifteen minutes later as the tow truck pulled her car away, I realized when she’d left, she’d made a mistake — or perhaps she’d done it purposefully — but it was a problem that was going to cost Hugh and I dearly if we couldn’t rectify it. She’d left her book behind, having switched it for the similarly-bound ledger. I had no one to blame but myself. I was the idiot who had left it out on the desk in the first place!
“Shit!” I said aloud, wishing I’d realized early enough to catch her, “we have to get that back, bro!”
Hugh just smiled, “don’t worry,” he said. We did have her address after all. I grabbed my keys.
“Wait!” he said as he rifled through the book she’d left. “You have to see this. You’ll never believe what that thing was for.”
He thumbed through the pages to find what he was looking for. Opened before him on the desk, he turned it away from himself and slid it across to me. There in the book was an image, an old wood etching reproduced on the page. SERPENTES TRANSFORMATIO was printed beneath the image in small capital letters.
“This is why I couldn’t lift it,” he said pointing to a line of text on the page.
The Serpentes Transformatio is lightweight to the novice who does not hold the knowledge of its propose. Once the purpose has been revealed, the deception dissolves and the knowledge-bearer experiences its true weight. Yada, yada, yada… It becomes impossibly heavy and may only be lifted by one to whom the purpose has yet to be revealed.
It all began making sense. “What is the purpose?” I asked. He turned the page for me.
On the next page was another etching. This one, of a woman laying on the ground, just as old as our customer and just as visibly pregnant. With legs spread, from the space between, from her womb, slithered a dozen snakes. The text on the page implied that possession of the idol caused the unholy birth depicted. On the page opposite was an illustration of the same woman as the other drawings, peeling away a layer of her skin.
“I couldn’t lift it because I saw these pages,” he said.
“What?! Why in the name of God did we sell this to a pregnant woman?”
He showed me another part of the description. The wording was ambiguous, but basically implied that continuing to possess the artifact after learning of its nature would cause the owner to give birth to a many-headed serpent, male or female, pregnant or otherwise. In order to avoid this fate, it simply must change hands. Unkeen to become the mother-father of a dozen snakes, I wouldn’t have kept it either. He’d sold it because he had to and there was little else needed for explanation. Why keep the cursed thing when you had a willing freak agreeing to pay $14,000 to do it? The reason she’d come for it, I couldn’t fathom. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want such a thing … but I suppose it didn’t matter. I believed that day, that we were here to sell these items, not judge the purchasers…
It didn’t matter more importantly because we needed to get that ledger back. We had accrued almost 20 times the debt that the snake idol fetched and most of those payments were overdue. We needed that ledger to value and identify the other cursed objects — neither of us having very good memories. I could maybe identify two others of the twelve by sight amongst the thousands of strange, small things we possessed in and out of the shop.
I was not prepared for what followed next.
I drove to the house listed on the photocopy of her driver’s license. The ruined car, probably now in it’s new home at the scrap yard, was nowhere to be seen. The place was like something out of a movie–too perfect–a picturesque caricature of Americana. The two story house, a mint green, was the homogenized cousin to those that surrounded it. Each on the block were the same, right down to the white picket fences. I parked at the curb and with her strange volume in hand, exited my car.
As I made my way up the steps, the icy walkway crunched under my feet and I was enveloped by the strange cloying mixture of air perfumed by the breath of cold and some sinister miasma that mingled with the sweet spice and wafted from the front doorway. The door stood ominously ajar.
“Hello?” I called through the entrance, but received no reply from within. I cautiously entered and called out a second time. There was still no reply, but that scent, at once both strangely abhorrent and alluring beckoned me to enter and follow where it led.
From one of the first-floor rooms, meant perhaps to be an office, flickering candlelight spilled from yet another open doorway. Fortunately, I don’t believe I was seen, neither by the neighbors nor any of the wildly strange midwives I encountered inside.
A semicircle of men and women in floor-length dark robes stood silently around a concrete altar in the room. The flickering light was not that of candles, but low-burning torches hanging from the walls. There, between the robed demoniac attendees, lay the woman as naked as the day she was born. Her wrinkled, bloated stomach squirmed and quivered in an indescribable and unnatural way, as though a tangle of animate ropes moved within her. With eyes cast upwards, toward the ceiling, quietly she implored and pled with something unseen in the rafters above. At once she began to scream and the cloaked figures that stood witness began to chant in some unearthly language.
The words sounded like: “Hasekath scarath! Hasekath karotmsh!”
The words were not like those of any I had ever heard. As she screamed, from between her legs came forth the writhing gray forms, scaly and moist, dripping with black ichor; a dozen horrid serpents gnashing and striking at the air. I watched for a moment as their heads swiveled, surveying the room that surrounded them. She lay writhing in the bed just as the things that squirmed out of her. The sound of her screaming slowly devolved into a wild chittering. A clucking animal sound. One of the snakes locked its eyes with my own and as impossible as the notion felt, I could have swore it smiled at me before slowly turning to look up at its progenitor. As the snakes and the cultists and I watched, she reached up with her right hand to her hairline and began to peel. Slowly pulling, her scalp came away like a mask of rubber, stretching with a melted gumminess to reveal a second layer of raw, ruddy pink and red skin, splotchy beneath. There was no blood — just more of that putrescent oily mucus, which she brushed away with her free hand. It was then that I realized the danger I might face if I were seen. I rushed quickly from the house and back to the shop, all thoughts of the ledger chased from my mind by the horrors I felt so urgently the need to escape from..
Hugh could scarcely follow the tale as I related it to him, but he believed every fantastical word of it. How could he not with the things we’d seen since reopening? I knew what I’d seen. We had seen a number of strange things — shared strange occurrences — since reopening the shop. We’d both embraced the notion that nothing was impossible.
Probably, I’ll delete all of this. It doesn’t bode well for either of us that we’re sharing any part of this story to begin with. Probably, that cult with it’s threats is reading every word of this. Probably, I shouldn’t have told any of you any of this. And probably, I should just be making the post I set out to make in the first place… So, are there any takers for this severed head, or what?
by: Kyle Harrison
Hey everyone, Hugh here to talk up a good sale!
Man I wish I could say that.
Sadly though Dalen went and got our ledger lost because some whack job old lady scared him.
I mean I don’t blame him, I’m as eager to get rid of our dad’s apparently cursed collection as quickly as he is.
In fact it was my intention to do that very thing yesterday at the local Silver Grove auction.
The event is only hosted twice a year by the Raleigh family at the downtown community center and I knew it would be an opportunity for us to sell one of the less, how do I put this… questionable items.
Good plan right?
There was just one little snag to this that Dalen pointed out the night before the auction.
“Bro… how the hell are we supposed to know the difference between a cursed antique and a regular one?” he muttered as we looked through all of dad’s junk.
I picked up a yo-yo from one of the boxes and played with it for a minute.
“What about this? Maybe it’s from another dimension?” Dalen suggested as he held up a stuffed doll.
“That’s a teletubby. But I understand the confusion,” I muttered.
“Whelp. This was kind of a dead end bro.”
I glared at him, wishing that both of us had thought of this ahead of time.
“Okay… well maybe we can go big and just sell the whole thing, kitchen sink and all?” I suggested.
My little brothers eyes widened in shock and he put his foot down both literally and figuratively.
“If we sell the whole storage locker we won’t have any business!”
“I’m failing to see a problem here,” I said dryly.
“Jesus! Ok, ok. Look at this way. It’s almost Valentine’s. We’ve got a shit ton of old jewelry in here that we can jack the price up for! Go to the auction and put it all on the ticket. Won’t solve our curse problem, but it sure as hell will get some money flowing,” he suggested.
I had to hand it to him, that was a pretty great idea. And with the binding spell finally worn off I took a few of the better pieces that same evening to register them at the auction.
The man in charge went through the usual rigamarole to make sure they were authentic gold and silver, gave me a ticket and told me bidding would start Thursday at 3:30 in the afternoon.
“Do you think that one of us should be there? Help to boost the bids?” my brother texted me later that same night.
I was trying to have a decent dinner without interruption. So my response was quick and succinct.
“One. You can’t bid on your own stuff. Two, after your last screw up I would rather you steer clear of this.”
I wasn’t trying to be rude to him, but honestly it was his fault we were in this mess to begin with.
Growing up, Dalen was always the favorite of mom and dad. Not because he was doing anything special mind you, just saw me make blunders and mistakes and then knew exactly how to avoid them.
Blessing of being a younger sibling.
And yes, after the divorce Dad always doted on him a little more than me. Why wouldn’t he? Dalen was super close to our mom, and devastated by the separation. It really tore dad up too. He even tossed out every single pic of her that he had.
I guess what frustrated me most was the fact that because of this spoiling, Dalen got it into his head that he was some type of superhero or something. Couldn’t do any wrong, in other words. He was able to fix heaven and earth as far as dad was concerned.
So now, with the store in a money pit and a curse looming over our heads; Dalen seemed to think that a simple fix would make it all better.
I was more of a realist. I knew the auction would provide some sales, but not the ones that Dalen expected.
Still, I went anyways to watch the bids. Mostly just to get away from the shop.
There weren’t but maybe nineteen people in the small auditorium where Jeffrey Busan (that’s our town’s local self proclaimed business magnate of Busan Meats) was already getting everything set up for us to bid on the thirteen items. Another lady was passing out pamphlets that detailed what was going to be in the show that evening.
I opened it and casually skimmed the items. Pausing at the bottom, I frowned as I saw a name on the roster that should not have been there.
Karington- 1 antique painting
That couldn’t be right.
I took my seat and slipped out my smartphone to text Dalen and give him a piece of my mind.
Hey what the hell? First you tell me that we aren’t going to sell anything but the jewelry. Wtf is this??
I snapped him a pic and then sat down across the aisle from a rather well dressed brunette.
She smiled back at me and I felt my phone vibrate and saw my brothers response.
What are you talking about? I didn’t place the painting up for auction. It’s still here at the store.
I frowned in confusion but then Jeffrey made an announcement that all cell phones needed to be silent as the bidding began.
This had to have something to do with the stuff in dad’s collection, it just gave me an odd feeling.
So when it came time to bid on it, I knew that I needed to win the painting by any means necessary. Bidding on your own stuff is actually against the rules but I was desperate. I figure I could sort things out with the auction manager after I got it back.
“LetsstartthebiddingatseventyfivedoIhearseventyfivedollars? Yes to the lady in the back…” the auctioneer began as he pointed to the brunette that had been flirting with me. “DoIheareightyfive?eightfive dollarsthankyousir.”
I raised my hand. I had maybe only three hundred thirty to my name. In less than two minutes it didn’t take long for me to realize that the woman was serious about winning.
“OnefiftyonefiftydoIheartwohundreddollarsonthisprizedpieceofart? Thank you sir. Let’s heartwotwentyfive?”
Each time I bid she didn’t hesitate to make it go higher. Soon I was on my last leg.
I realized that all I could do was keep bidding and maybe explain to the auctioneer the situation. We got all the way up to two thousand when she finally decided to make a final bid that I just didn’t have the chance to go against.
“Onethousandninehundredandthirteendollarsgoingoncegoingtwice!!” He slammed the gavel down.
“SOLD! to the lady with the red umbrella.”
She smiled and walked toward the front of the community center, having a few men carry it outside as I stood up and decided that plan B had to be for me to figure out where that painting had come from and why she was so interested in it.
I moved toward the back hallway where several items of furniture seemed to block my path and I scratched my head in confusion. Hadn’t she just been there?
I was about to leave when I turned around and found a large armoire blocking my path to the main auditorium and the door closed.
I was about to move it out of the way when I heard a low growl come from the furniture.
“Bloody hell,” was the only response I could give as I realized that the items around me were suddenly coming to life.
It sounds crazy but I was in fear for my life as the cabinets and coat racks circled me, enchanted with some form of divination that made them vicious.
It didn’t take long before they were trying to stuff me inside one of the wardrobes, swallowing into their hideous wooden mouths as I struggled to fight and kick at them; but with little success.
I thought this was how I was going to die, attacked by demon furniture all because of a stupid painting. Their wooden teeth snagged my skin and started chewing as I screamed for help.
Then I heard a soft whistle and looked up to see the woman standing there holding a torch. The demon furniture hissed in response, moving to attack her as she warded the evil upholstery off.
A chair caught fire and made a sound out of it’s weaving like a banshee.
Wisely the other demon furniture left down the other hallway, likely to go trap some other poor sap. It was bizarre to watch them waddle away.
The woman walked and extended her hand to help me up.
“Thank you, you saved my life,” I said.
“Don’t go thinking me yet Mister Karington,” she said with a smirk.
When she noticed my surprise she added, “Yes I know who you are. And I knew your father…”
“What is it you want?” I stammered.
“Your soul,” she said with a wicked grin and then laughed and said, “Wow you really can’t take a joke.”
Winking she gestured toward one of the exits.
“Let’s go grab a bite to eat. Then we can talk business.”
by: Scott Savino
Hi, Dalen Karington here, owner of a small antique shop in Silver Grove. The Karington Emporium is located on historic 13th Street downtown. I know what you’re thinking because everyone says that Silver Grove’s historic downtown is dead, but you’re not like everyone else. You’re smart, and the kind of people who say that sort of thing are not. There’s all kinds of interesting things happening downtown on any given day: we’ve had a rash of mysterious fires, one morning this week, the mayor drunkenly ran his car into the founder’s monument at 10am, a woman gave birth to a nest of snakes. A strange artisanal donut shop just opened up next door and my own brother tried to betray our entire legacy by taking a breakfast meeting with some harpy to arrange to sell everything we own … and that’s just this week.
“So let me get this straight, bro,” I said to him, “you met this woman at the auction and she wants to buy the whole collection?” He nodded, grinning. “Absolutely not.”
“Come on, Dalen.” Hugh said, “you’re being ridiculous. Don’t you want to be done with this?”
I stared at him with enough intensity to bore a hole right through his face, “BE DONE WITH IT?” I shouted, “this is our father’s legacy. Our legacy. There’s no ‘done with it.’ There’s a reason for it, and you don’t want to take any responsibility at all, just like when you ran off before. Who knows what happened to Mom after she abandoned us. She’s probably dead by now. Dad was all we had, and he’s gone now. There’s just us. This is it. This is all we have to honor and remember him by, and you just want to wash your hands of it? I don’t get you, bro.” I sighed, “I thought you were finally starting to understand that this is bigger than both of us.”
“I did — and I do. I do understand,” He said, “It’s just that we can be done with all of the evil shit. She wants to buy all of the cursed items.” There was a gleam in his eye as he said it. “All of them.”
I thought about it for a moment. “I don’t think we’re supposed to do that. There was more to the ledger that I’ve not translated yet,” I explained, “I don’t even know if we’re supposed to sell all of these things — or sell any of them at all.” There it was, that feeling again that I couldn’t explain began to rise in my stomach, the unnerving notion that we were missing something. I’d been feeling it all week … then it hit me: “what if he was keeping them safe? What if we’re not supposed to sell any of it?”
“That’s nonsense.” Hugh said, “you’re being an asshole.”
I paused before adding, “well, say we are supposed to sell them … what if we’re not supposed to sell them like this? Don’t you think if he was trying to sell them as one big lot, Dad could have done that before he died? People have been coming out of the woodwork for this crap since the moment we reopened our doors,” I said. “Don’t you think that if he’d have wanted to unload the whole collection in one swift moment, he would have had plenty of opportunities to do that?” I said, adding: “I don’t like it,”
Hugh began to look furious and stomp around like he’d always done when we were kids and he wasn’t allowed to have his way, “But this woman, Eve, she said –”
“I don’t care what she said,” I told him, “I don’t care what she offered you. I don’t trust it. There’s something wrong about this. I don’t understand why you can’t see it. There’s something wrong about — her.”
The door to the shop chimed a man entered. An attractive man, dressed in mostly rags. Even in his disheveled appearance, I thought that he was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen in my entire life — like a renaissance statue come to life, except covered in dirt and a potato sack. Just as I was thinking this, he turned, mouthed the words thank you without saying it out loud and winked at me. He began to browse the shelves as Hugh continued, but I didn’t hear a word of what he’d said, I was stupefied by the uncanny exchange. What had just happened? Did he really wink at me?
He fumbled around with one of the vases as I headed to the front to man the register. Inspecting it inside and out before placing it back and choosing something else to appraise within his massive grip. He did this a few more times before settling finally on a pair of ancient reading glasses and a clown doll with articulated limbs and a chipped ceramic face and bringing both items up to the counter.
“This is a nice shop you boys have here,” he said, as I rang up the purchase. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought … *was he trying to flirt with me?”
He laughed, “I’m not.” he said, “you’re — not really my type.”
I hadn’t said that out loud. I just stared at him for a moment with my mouth open. Finally, when the strange silence began to linger longer than it should have, “beg your pardon?” I said, finding myself slowly falling into the vast pools of his mysterious green eyes.
He laughed again, “You’re right you know.” the strange man said with a smile, “It’s not my business, but you can’t trust her,” and then more seriously, he repeated, “you absolutely can’t. Sake of the world. That sort of thing.”
“What the –” I said. Butterflies filled my stomach and flitted their way into my brain. I was at a loss for words and could only muster a weak: “how?”
He just smiled and headed to the door. As the bell chimed, he turned back moments before I called out to him.
“Hey!” I said, but he was already looking back at me. I was nearly struck dumb again by his uncanniness and almost lost my nerve. Quietly, I asked: “will you say that to him?” I pointed to Hugh.
Hugh had been watching the whole exchange from the back and the strange, handsome stranger locked eyes with him, “Don’t. Trust. Her.” He repeated before stepping out onto the sidewalk. Hugh slowly walked to the front of the store, his eyes trailing the wake of the man as he disappeared from view. Once he was gone, Hugh looked at me curiously.
“I didn’t say anything.” I said, “He came in, pretended to look at that vase over there, and then that mirror and a couple of other things, grabbed something random and came and told me that.” I looked around the room trying to absorb what had just happened, “what would he want with that clown?” I said, “I think he just came in here to tell us what he did.”
“that’s stupid. He wasn’t in the store when we were talking about that.” Hugh said, “there’s no possible –”
“I know, bro. I know.” I replied. “I told you, I have a bad feeling about selling her all of this stuff in one shot like that, and if you don’t feel weird about doing that after that guy came in here, you’re nuts.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that guy’s intent either,” Hugh said, “look at this.” He crossed the room to a rack near the shelf where the vase that the man appraised so curiously was placed. Hugh pointed out a dark outline on the velveteen lining of an adjacent display of ceremonial daggers. The display had once been black but over time, had slowly bleached to gray from exposure to daylight. Against the faded, sunruined fabric an unfaded shadow of soft darkness remained. Something that was obscuring the sunlight before had been removed.
“Goddammit!” I spat.
“You can’t trust every stranger that comes in here, man.” Hugh said laughing, “especially not the ones that make you swoon into stupidity.”
I sighed, “I don’t know what to make of this.”
“I don’t either,” Hugh agreed, “it doesn’t make sense for him to take something and then draw attention to himself before leaving.”
We knew, from the shape above the empty set of pegs that one of the daggers, an Indonesian kris, was missing.
I had a date that evening that filled me with a particular feeling of promise. His name was Daniel Osborne and I’d met him on Tinder, posed in his picture wearing a labcoat and round framed glasses. I swiped not “right” but “up” to make sure he’d know I “superliked” him, whatever that meant. Not only was he handsome, but his medical degree and shared intrigue of the occult had piqued my interest … a biologist and weirdo who seemed just as socially awkward as myself. With the strange goings on at the shop I was excited at the prospect of this date and being able to share the past week with someone who wouldn’t immediately assume I was out of my mind.
I picked up my bag from behind the register just as she came through the door. I’d never met her but I knew who she was the moment she walked in by the way that Hugh had described her. The loathing on my face was no doubt apparent as I abruptly set my things back down at my feet. There was no way I was leaving with this woman in our shop.
Much like our customer earlier in the day, I’d found myself in awe of her, but for different uneasy reasons. Her brown hair was fastened beneath a cream colored wide-brimmed fedora. The outfit she wore was impressive and impractical, better suited on the mannequins in Saks or worn by those in the windows of a Santa Monica boutique. An overcoat of pale white feathers that her legs seemed to grow down from, ending in a pair white studded red-bottomed pumps. The entire ensemble, from top to bottom, probably cost more than a Japanese sedan. She lowered the rose-gold sunglasses she wore, holding them in her hand. I recognized them as Dior. I recognized the rest of the designers as well, but I refuse to turn this into an Ellisesque catalog of money, status, and designers. She cast a smile my direction and I felt my face twist into a harsh scowl to meet it.
“Get out of here.” I said, before I even realized I was saying it.
She laughed, “where is your brother?”
She didn’t see him, but Hugh poked his head out of the back room and shook it left to right, and proceeded to hide as she went to the window displays. She began, with curiosity, to inspect the exact same items that the other customer had inspected earlier, with the exception of the dagger sets which were now behind the register. I glanced toward the backdoor, which was now firmly closed.
My phone vibrated:
Get rid of her until we decide what to do.
Was he actually going to listen to me for once? I couldn’t believe it. “Sorry miss,” I said, “he’s gone for the day.”
She snorted back another laugh, “yea, sure he is,” she said running her finger around the edge of the vase and casually feeling the inside of it absently as she spoke to me. “When will he be done back there?” she asked.
“I told you,” I said, “he’s not here.”
The woman sighed, “well,” she said, indulging the lie “when you see him will you please–” Her face widened in shock and she threw the vase onto the floor so quickly, I could barely react.
“Goddammit!” she shouted as it shattered into shards and porcelain dust against the floor. Inside, much to my shock, was the missing kris, now covered in blood. She put the finger into her mouth and with her free hand, unzipped the leather belt bag she wore around her waist, producing a card and seven $100 bills. “Here,” she said with her finger still in her mouth, “I habe to go. Dis my card. Dis for vase.” Her eyes locked with mine as she replaced her sunglasses, “call me when you done paying games, I don habe time for dis” she mumbled with her finger still in her mouth and stormed out.
I drew the blinds after she left and gave Hugh the all-clear to come into the front. As I began to sweep up the shards of the vase (which she’d grossly overpaid for, I might add) I noticed the broom was sizzling and smoking where it touched her blood smeared on the porcelain. Parts of the rug had melted beneath the mess as well. The more I swept, the more the air stank of burnt hair and rotten eggs.
Hugh went to pick up the dagger by its bloody blade. “Wait!” I said, “don’t touch it.”
It was a moment too late and the blood on the knife seared his fingers. He’d only held it for a moment before throwing it back down to the floor, but it was long enough for blisters to form, “what the fuck?!”
“I told you.” I said.
Taking the dagger by its hilt, I put it into a silicone oven mitt and brought it with me on my date. On reflection, I’ll grant this was an odd choice if conversation-starter, but at a loss for explanation and knowing his background, I thought that the good Doctor Osborne, who’s profile professed a love of horror films and the macabre, might be interested to help. After I’d told him the story, my assumption proved correct and Daniel was very interested, offering to take the dagger back to his lab and run some tests on it.
Not that this bit of detail matters, but dinner was great, and Daniel was a perfect gentleman; paid the bill and everything. For the second time that day, I felt myself swoon.
Daniel text me his findings a few days later:
Not human blood.
I immediately asked for him to clarify, but didn’t receive a response. It just showed that he’d read my message and that he was typing. It stayed that way for hours.
Are you there?
Should I stop by?
But the ellipses on the screen persisted to fade and renew. After nearly three hours of waiting, I felt a sour stone of dread building in the pit of my stomach. Being that I was in the shop alone, I locked up and went to my car.
Under normal circumstances, I doubt I would have done this, I’m not the stalking type, but dark clouds were looming in my thoughts. Clouds that I was unable to ignore. I opened his Facebook profile and found the name of the lab he worked for on the edge of town.
Every word from the GPS sounded as though it had come from beneath dark waters, barely comprehensible and fuzzy to my worried mind. I parked in the lot and headed to the door. At dinner, he’d told me much of his work was secret. So complicated and confidential it would take weeks of explanation. I’d told him I didn’t want him to be in any trouble. He could get to know me better and decide whether he wanted to elaborate at a later time. The lab was not what I’d expected it would be at all, a squat white brick building barely larger than our storefront. Due to the mysterious quality he’d given his work I was unsurprised by the lack of identifying signage anywhere as I entered, though it did strike me as odd that the address was easily found by my GPS. There was nothing in the front room but an empty reception desk on the right and a white door in the left corner. Naturally, I opened it and found that it concealed a brightly white staircase leading down. The descent was strong with the odorous ghost of harsh chemicals and sterility.
At the bottom of the stairs, a hallway stretched out before me. Glass doors hid dark rooms on either side as I quietly moved through the subterranean space. At the end of the hall, light spilled, a square through glass and the silhouette of a man sat within, his back to me, hunched over a long white table. The table scattered with microscopes, computers, vials and machines that looked important but I couldn’t begin to identify. He seemed deep in thought and cautiously, I pushed the door inward.
“Daniel?” I asked, but did not receive a reply. I reached out and touched his shoulder and he shuddered, but not in the way that I expected him to.
His entire body quivered like he was made of jelly. At the shock of the movement from my hand, his entire figure shifted and the room echoed with the sound of his skin rending apart.
Everything fell: my mouth, my stomach, my heart and any hopeful dreams I’d had from the moment I’d met him. It all landed on the floor with the gelatinous mess of his ruined organs. Everything sloshed into a pool of blood beneath his chair, sealed for so many hours within his skin that all of it had grown cold. The pressure of my touch spilled everything he was made of out from taught-pulled skin and into a mess on the clean white floor. My first involuntary thought was to give that puddle the contents of my nerve-rattled stomach as well. It took every ounce of fortitude I held to keep the vomit down.
His phone sat on the lab table. The screen was locked and after two unsuccessful attempts to guess his pin, I reduced myself to the option I would have much rather avoided and knelt down to the floor. Gently lifting the rubbery form, the human glove that once held his hand, I pressed the empty skin of his index finger to the sensor.
The message he’d never finished sending read:
No DNA…not blood at all. Essentially diluted sulphuric acid. It wouldn’t melt the silicone you wrapped it in for a while. No idea why it seems to have no effect on the blade. I’ll get back to you.
Before I left, I used his hand once more to release the setting that engaged the lock screen and placed it in my pocket. I made my way back, as quickly and silently as I could, to my car. In interims of sobs and silence, I drove back to the shop.
My brother, my own flesh and blood, wanted to sell that
woman … that thing everything. She wasn’t even human and from the moment I read the unsent message, I was sure that she was behind this. She’d killed him. Melted him from within into something unrecognizable. I’ve never even heard of anything like this. What was stopping her from doing this to Hugh and me? Without Dad’s ledger we don’t have any idea what we’re even up against.
by: Kyle Harrison
Dear customers, I think we may be in the end times. I say this for two reasons: one because of all the supernatural hijinx that I have had to deal with lately and two, because my brother actually was right about this bitch that is stalking us.
As much as I hate to admit it, after Dalen’s encounter with Eve and the discovery of her possibly inhuman origins, I can see that she is bad news.
I actually learned this for myself a couple of nights ago when I was treating Dalen.i said that these next few days he should take off to recover over his date turning into a pool of blood. I couldn’t even imagine having that scarred on my brain, and he has always been not fond of blood so I did my best to try and just keep his mind off things.
For the most part, my plan wasn’t really working.
“You need to get your wits about you, or this curse is going to end up making you go insane,” I told him after I found out what happened to Daniel.
“What if that’s what happened to Dad..? He went crazy and killed himself after this curse got the better of him,” Dalen stammered as I gave him some warm cocoa.
Around this time of year, even if we see the groundhog’s shadow; for Silver Grove we always get six more weeks of winter. But warming his belly wasn’t going to be enough to calm my brothers nerves.
“We have to do something Hugh, or the same thing that happened to Daniel or to dad is going to happen to us!!” he said grabbing my shirt collar.
“Okay, okay; lets just calm down and think this through. For now she thinks that she is playing us like a fiddle, right? Maybe we just need to… play along, give her what she wants and we can be out of this mess entirely,” I reasoned.
Dalen shook his head firmly from side to side. “Adam was right. She’s just going to kill us and we can’t give the items away.”
“Adam?” I repeated and then recalled the mysterious man who seemed to have some familiarity with our father’s collection. “You think he’s like her rival or something?” I asked him.
“Gotta be. He said the world was at stake if we have the collection to her. After I saw what happened to Daniel, I’m inclined to believe anything that he tells me,” my brother said.
“Too bad we didn’t get a calling card,” I muttered.
Dalen chuckled a bit, the first time he had even cracked a smile since his grisly encounter and then walked toward the front window of the shop while I tried to think of a good plan.
“Oh shit,” he stuttered.
“What? Is it her?” I ran next to him and felt my stomach twist into knots as I saw the woman in the red dress walk down the snowy streets. It was like the blizzard didn’t even bother her.
“Shit, shit shit shit, what do we do?” Dalen asked.
I looked around the shop, trying to figure out what we could do to defend ourselves against a possible mutant. Then a lightbulb went off in my head. It wasn’t a bright idea, but what could I do in only thirty seconds? “Do you trust me?” I asked him. Dalen nodded firmly and I muttered, “Okay, whatever happens; I need you to go along with it… got it?”
My brother didn’t have time to argue, Eve was walking in the door.
“Well, well; if it isn’t my two favorite antique shop managers,” she said with a savage smile as the bell above her head rang gently.
“How many do you know?” Dalen muttered as I took her coat.
“My what a gentleman,” she said batting her eyes at me and then wagging a finger at my brother, “You could learn a thing or two from your older brother.”
Dalen did his best to not roll his eyes as I said, “I’ve been telling him that for years. Now… how can we help you today?”
“In my coat pocket you’ll find a sketch of the next two items I’m interested in along with my checkbook,” Eve proclaimed.
“All righty,” I said as I took out the scrap of paper and unfolded it. It looked like a pair of antique stand up mirror of some sort. I instantly knew where those could be found in the store.
“What’s so special about these two?” Dalen asked.
“Family heirlooms. Goes back about three or four generations before we moved to the States, times were really tough for my great grandfather. He had to sell those mirrors just to feed his family,” she explained. The way she talked about it, I actually almost believed her story.
“That’s uh… in the storage locker out back. Right Dalen?” I said as I passed him the sketch.
He gave me an odd look but he agreed with what I said. I knew he had to be inwardly cussing me out as we walked to the back lot and I rummaged through my pockets for the locker key.
“So have you decided to stay in Silver Grove a little longer than you originally intended?” I asked Eve as I slowly looked for the key. I needed to keep her distracted.
“I think I’ll be taking up roots here, if that’s what you mean,” she replied.
“That’s funny… I thought I remembered you said you were just passing through,” I said as I opened up the locker.
“People can change their minds,” Eve pointed out as she stepped inside.
“Yeah… about that…” I mumbled as she started to walk down the cramped locker to where the mirror stood.
She turned to see what I had to say and I gave her a wink as I slammed the door and locked it tight.
“Changed my mind,” I muttered as I looked at Dalen. He was both dumbfounded and scared out of his mind as I waited to see if Eve would start protesting. Instead the storage locker was surprisingly quiet.
“Well. We’re off to call the authorities now. I think they’ll have a few things to ask you when they get here,” I called out to her as Dalen and I started to walk back inside.
“Have you lost your ever loving mind? She’ll kill us if she gets out,” my brother said nervously.
“Relax. There is no way she can get out of there. It is like made of titanium,” I laughed as we walked inside and added, “I bet she’ll be pissed as hell when she realizes both mirrors are in here too.”
“But Hugh… one of the mirrors was in the locker…” my brother said.
I whipped about and saw a look of panic in his eyes.
“What the hell? Why didn’t you say anything??” I asked him.
“You said to go along with your plan!!” Dalen argued.
I sighed and walked toward the back of the store.
“Well; at least we have the other mirror here so even if she tries any of her voodoo we got the upper hand,” I said as I pulled the drape off of the antique mirror.
My brother and I froze as we found ourselves staring at our reflection… along with that of Eve.
“Fuck,” Dalen and I said simultaneously. Eve gave us a wicked smile.
“It looks like we’ve reached an impasse in our agreement. Too bad cause I really wanted this to end without anyone getting hurt and you seem like such nice boys,” the reflection told us.
“Well we’re the ones laughing now, you’re trapped. And once the police get here we’re going to tell them everything,” I warned.
Eve didn’t seem worried at all about my threat. Instead she pulled out the mysterious jagged dagger she had accidentally cut herself with just days before. Dalen had given it to his date for analysis and he wound up dead. I had no idea how it had made its way into her possession, but my mind raced with hundreds of dreadful scenarios.
“You’re not going to do anything. And I’ll tell you exactly why. Because if you even think of getting in my way again…” she paused and then grabbed my reflection’s hand.
I felt a tug on my wrist and watched as she slowly cut a scar across the crease of my lower arm. I watched in horror as the same cut appeared on my own skin and blood slowly trickled out.
“Stop!” Dalen said frantically as Eve kept cutting and I winced in pain.
She cut a little further and then pointed the knife toward my reflection’s neck. Dalen quickly tried to step in the way, but whatever magic she possessed couldn’t allow my brother to intervene.
“Do we have an understanding now?” she said icily.
I nodded grimly and then watched as the woman smiled at me and gestured toward the mirror.
“Good. Now come let me out and help me get this into my car.”
by: Scott Savino
Dearest Customers, I have a dreadful development regarding Hugh. I didn’t realize anything at first. I hadn’t expected to see him here. It was his day off.
I arrived at the shop early to open for the day. That’s my usual habit. It wasn’t curious or surprising for me when I came around the corner from the alley where I’d parked, to find that that the sign in the window was still lit. The bright neon blue of the word “open” bled from the front window defiantly into the dark of predawn. We’d already had several conversations about leaving lights on, so this wasn’t strange…nor was it strange that nearly the entire place was lit, save for a few bulbs in the back of the store. Hugh was supposed to close up for the night the day before and yet everything stood bright as though he were inside already. He likes to work…sometimes…if I make him…but he doesn’t have that sort of close-to-open spirit. I knew there was little chance I’d find him already here.
Memories of moments too weak to move, left alone in our childhood bedroom to bathe in endless noise and light began to rise up in my stomach. I hadn’t thought about it in years. About the nausea, the pain–about the noise. Our room was always like that but it never seemed to bother me unless I was alone. Maybe he’d gone off to the bathroom or outside to play and everything would be on and I would wake up screaming. He never could seem to remember to switch things off when he’d left a room. We were as thick as thieves then, but he couldn’t always be there with me. He had a life of his own. I’d wake up to an empty room filled with sound and the fury of lamps and scream in pain for someone to come and turn it all off, thinking I was going to die. It seems like the thought of a silly kid now. I didn’t even have a clear understanding of what that meant. The endless onslaught without my brother, my protector there to calm me made that dread worse. As an adult, he’d carried on this tradition, never learning to turn things off as he went.
Composing myself and reserving a bit of anger for Hugh, I reached the door and inserted my key, and that was the moment I became startlingly aware that something was amiss; for the door was already unlocked. A thousand excuses and reasons formed themselves unbidden in my mind. None of them seemed likely and they all seemed equally bad.
Slowly, I swung the door open and called out his name. Unsurprising, the only reply was the silence of the shop battling the chill air that pressed against my back in the doorway.
Still I continued to doubt the growing sense of dread as it grew., The state that the Emporium was left in had to be due to carelessness. I took out my phone and shot off a text admonishing him for it and set about getting ready for my day.
I shouldn’t have ignored that things weren’t adding up. He never would have left the place unlocked after our experiences during the last week or two. He was meticulous in the protection of our business. Moreso now that supernatural forces were making their constant covetous presences known.
Around 9:00 I looked up from my reading and felt my heart lurch and settle somewhere beneath the floorboards. She was back. Again. Trudging up the sidewalk outside in an unseasonably short-cut mini-dress splattered in red and white florals and sheer lace patterned pumps. She swung the door open with a minigloved hand, white-laced to match her expensive shoes.
I sighed exasperated, “will you kindly stop coming here?”
“I’m not here on business,” she said quickly, locking the glass door behind her.
I contained a shudder of anxiety and attempted to remain firm in my facade of virulent dislike for her. Gripping the counter beneath the register to steady myself, I remained reticent to allow her to know how much she continued to rattle me with her constant appearances at the shop. She was terrifying in her inhumanity. Death and chaos flowed from her mere presence, evidenced by the mystery of Daniel’s death, the incident with the mirrors and her menacing constant power-posturing.
“This is personal now,” she began quietly, “notice anything awry when you opened the shop this morning?”
I decided not to answer the question with anything but a narrowed glare and she tossed her wild hair free from the snowflakes that clung to her like her outfit’s accents of lace. “Have you been able to reach your brother?” She asked.
A calm anger rose up past a stifled gulp in my throat, “what have you done with him?” I mumbled.
She looked shocked at the connection and incredulously asked: “me? What in the world would I want with him?” she pinched the small gloves from her hand and produced her cell phone from her bag, opened something on the screen and laid it down on the glass display case that sat between us.
A video played on the screen. It was late evening, shot from the interior of a car as snow fell quietly on the awnings of the street-facing windows of the shop. The storm great to the right billowed with the vapor of heat condensing as it rose from below ground in a steady stream. Slowly, it began to change, to thicken and darken into a black smoke and hover there.
I could see Hugh through the windows at the register. He stood, oblivious to the ominous entity that was forming just outside. He walked over to the thermostat and switched it off, beginning his nightly closing-time ritual. When he headed into the back to shut off the lights, the amorphous form glided towards the door, finding the gaps in the poorly sealed frame and seeping inside. He only managed to turn off the few lights in the back before the incorporeal entity began to take the shape of a man, teetering on the edge of transparent and solid. I watched as Hugh turned and gasped and the thing flew at him with unholy speed, swarming and engulfing him until he disappeared from view. Then it moved back to the doorway and once more through the cracks where it billowed back into the grate outside.
“See?” Eve said. “Couldn’t have been me. I was outside taking this video. I didn’t set a foot near the place the whole time.”
“You watched this all happen and didn’t stop it?!” I asked incredulously. “Why should I believe you?”
“Believe it or don’t,” she said, turning on her heel towards the door. She flipped her hair callously with her hand. “I have things to do…just figured you’d like to know that your brother’s missing, that’s all. Figured you’d care. I care. He’s the more agreeable of the two of you. More willing to make a deal. I’ll be in touch when I have more information.”
With that she left.
I don’t know what compelled me to follow her–any sane person wouldn’t have. Did I forget that my potential love interest had been reduced to a puddle of blood mere days ago? Did I forget she’d somehow managed to hack slices into Hugh from the other side of a mirror? The decision to follow her wasn’t spurned by reason or logic–only adrenaline. I was furious and I wasn’t thinking. I was dead-set to find out everything I could about her so I might use it against her.
I locked the door and clicked off the sign and grabbing my coat, headed out the back and down the side alley where I’d parked. I crept the car slowly down the alley just as she drove past. Deep in conversation on her phone, she didn’t notice when I pulled out behind her red Boxster. I followed a good distance behind in my considerably less extravagant vehicle, enough space for cars to slip between us naturally and remain unseen.
I knew this route. I knew this neighborhood. She pulled into the driveway of a house that I knew as well. The house was too perfect–a picturesque caricature of Americana. The two story house, a mint green, was the homogenized cousin to those that surrounded it. Each on the block were the same, right down to the white picket fences. This was the house I’d come looking for the ledger–where I’d witnessed an old woman give birth to a brood of snakes.
Any semblance of fear or rationality that I might have retained up to this point was quickly forgotten. Eve was climbing out of her car and I stormed up the frost covered path to meet her.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
She didn’t seem surprised to see me in the least and casually responded: “I could ask the same of you. I live here.”
“Bullshit, I saw what happened to the woman who lived here.” I probably shouldn’t have said it, but my hot-headedness had overridden caution entirely.
She returned a questioning look with a slight tilt of her head.
“The snakes!” I said, “I saw it.”
She snorted with laughter, “that was you?”
“You want me to help you? You want us to sell you this shit? You want us to work with you?” I said, “I demand some answers. I want to know what the fuck you are, I want the ledger back and I want to know who took my brother!”
“What the fuck I am?” she said, still laughing.
“I know you’re not human,” I spat.
“So few are anymore.” Her lighthearted tone was infuriating, “come inside. You’re making a scene.”
Once inside, she made a pot of coffee and gave me back our father’s ledger, claiming the theft of it to be an honest mistake. She’d told me she’d never needed our book to identify the items. She returned it to me by way of a peace offering. The items, she’d said, had a way of identifying themselves to her. She’d given up her mortality to hear them. They ‘sang’ to her–called out and made themselves known. I asked her what she wanted with the pieces and she changed the subject with such dexterity of conversation and deaftity, the act was nearly lost on me. It was like listening to a magician cast words in place of slight-of-hand.
She told me about the kidnapper she believed had stolen Hugh away in the billow of smoke–the other faction that stood in her path–opposing her. She told me she’d watched the store all night after the event occurred, leaving only for a few hours once I’d arrived.
“I don’t know if I believe any of this. What could they possibly want with us?”
She rolled her eyes, “they don’t want anything with you. They want to stop me from acquiring the collection.”
I asked her why. She told me they wanted it for themselves and their motives were those of indescribable horror–(her exact words.) Each item held a strange power of its own–powers that could be uncorked by an adept with the knowhow; the right words. Mirrors that could act as doorways. A curio cabinet that shrouded secrets–revealing what lay hidden inside only to its rightful owners, while appearing empty to the world at large. Knives that could liquefy you from the inside with just a cut. Paintings that could bring inanimate objects to life…
She told me of a fertility idol, carved into serpents that brought about renewed youth and vitality–peternatural vitality that would linger on for centuries. The idol of curiously variant weight that we’d sold to an old woman of questionable maternity. A woman who’d reeked of cigarettes, and had taken it home and given birth to snakes and peeled her old skin away before my very eyes–Eve revealed herself to be that woman, one-and-the-same, only rejuvenated. Revitalized.
She’d been trying to get her hands on that item for years.
“Yes years.” She said.
“Why didn’t you just break in and take the whole collection piece by piece?” I asked, “wouldn’t that be easier than–than the way that you’re going about this?”
“Would if I could” she shrugged, “your father tried to stop that from happening at every pass. There’s 12 pieces in all and he had them all protected by some alcolite or other, who knows?…they’re charmed and can’t be stolen. Not anymore. They have to change hands legally and he wouldn’t sell them to me.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Fucked if I know,” she said.
“What would happen if one were stolen?” I asked.
She explained that it would remain in the thieves possession for a few hours at least. As soon as they took their eyes off of it, it would return to the spot from where it had been taken. They had to exchange hands willfully. Between the snake idol, the kriss and the mirrors, she’d come in possession of the pieces she possessed, by purchase or circumstance. She explained to me that my date, Daniel had been an innocent bystander killed by a group that was totally obsessed with her (her words). He’d been trying to understand the things he had learned from her blood and as he examined the sample, one of them crept up to where he was working, snatched the knife from his hands and stabbed him with it.
He was already dead when she’d gone to his lab and the dagger was ownerless, and so she claimed it as her own. She said this had happened hours before I’d come upon the body and claimed no responsibility for his death.
I didn’t believe her. Why would they have left the dagger behind? I knew better than to ask.
I didn’t know what else to say to her. I was shocked by her careless tone in sharing these strange secrets and the curious knowledge she held regarding the items she was bent on collecting. The details had spewed forth from her like she’d been relating the juiciest of gossip.
“Why don’t you just kill us and take the shop.” I asked.
“Can’t,” she said plainly. “You’re both too important. There’s bigger things than you or me at work here, kid.” She said. She rested her elbows on the kitchen counter and began to finger the handle of her coffee mug absently.
At this juncture, I resolved aloud that we’d have to work together to rescue Hugh. “That doesn’t mean that once he’s back, we’re just going to sell you the whole stock of it without knowing what it is you’re after, really. Don’t think I didn’t notice when you changed the subject.”
“I figured as much,” she said, “don’t worry. If it’s any consolation, I don’t want to work with you either. I dislike this little game just as much as you seem to dislike me.”
“I don’t dislike you,” I lied.
She laughed at this. “I can feel the hate radiating from you.”
“Whatever,” I said “so, how do we get him back?”
“We’ll have to find him, I guess. Might take some time. Don’t worry,” she said, “they won’t kill him. Not yet anyway. Probably…”
She paused for a moment and then added: “Well…maybe…”
by: Kyle Harrison
Howdy folks. I am alive! Guaranteed or your money back!
I really owe it to Dalen for getting me out of a messy situation. Bet you never thought you would hear me say those words in a sentence together.
Anyhoo, I bet you’re eager to hear about how the hell I got myself captured and how my brother and his immortal witch friend saved my ass.
So this was about a few days back, after Dalen and I had our little incident with the cursed mirror and Eve had effectively convinced us that she meant business.
I decided it was time we got some help cause let’s face it often times my brother and I can’t even come up with a half brained scheme even with both of our noggins combined.
Dalen seemed to be of the opinion that we should cooperate more with her, that she was hiding something. And while I agreed somewhat with that analysis, I also knew that there was another side to this story.
And the only other person that seemed to have any idea what was going on was that weird guy from a few weeks back. Yeah I didn’t forget about him. I mean it was kind of hard to do so when he kept showing up on a semi-regular basis.
I knew though after the mirror incident that it was time to have a serious talk with this dude and figure out what role he played in whatever the hell was going on.
So the next time he stopped by the shop, pretending to peruse the items and look for something, I offered him a sales paper that had one of the twelve items on it and remarked, “You should come on by this weekend, we’re having a special sale on this dining kit. It’s part of a set that includes a few other items. All of which we are gonna get rid of soon to a potential buyer. But we wanted the public to have one last chance…” I trailed off and then shrugged and added, “But you probably wouldn’t be interested anyway right? I mean, what’s a hobo like you know about antiques?”
Strange man grabbed me roughly by the jacket and pulled me right next to his smelly mouth. “Meet me at the donut shop across the street. Fifteen minutes,” he whispered.
I knew the place that he was talking about. They had the best donuts this side of the county. I knew that he wanted to talk shop and was counting on the pastry to lure me over there.
I came prepared. I had a small Swiss Army knife in my pocket in case things went south. And a few dollars to buy a bear claw. I sat down, drank some cappuccino and waited for my mystery contact to arrive.
He didn’t attempt to hide his arrival, driving up in a bright green Hummer made that nearly impossible. And when he got inside he ordered a burrito and a coffee before sitting down across from me and giving me a big smile. “So you came, I’m not surprised. By now you and your brother must be running around like chickens with your heads cut off to do that woman’s bidding,” he said as he sipped the warm beverage.
“All right, since you seem to know so much how about you change our mind,” I said.
“I told you both once before that the fate of the world is at stake and I meant it. That woman is a part of a cult, a mysterious organization bent on letting all hell break loose here in Silver Grove and the entire world. You see boy, Silver Grove is special. It’s a portal to another world, there is a whole hellhole worth of evil shit just sitting below our streets. And this cult, they want to unplug the hole and let all that chaos burst out,” he explained.
I blinked a few times. Trying to grasp what he was saying. “You’re telling me… that we basically live in a real world version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch?” I guessed.
“Trust me, television wouldn’t be able to even comprehend what is hidden here,” he said.
I sighed and took another gulp of bear claw.
“All right, let’s say I believe you. Where do the cursed items fit into the picture?” I asked.
“They are called the Prometheus Collection. The items are older than any known artifacts on this planet. But that is because they don’t come from our world at all but rather a dark and dangerous place that can only be conjured up in nightmares. They are blighted by the taint of an older world, and the curse that you think you understand so well… it is not a curse at all. But a protection,” he told me as I finished my breakfast.
“A protection. Then what role did my father play?” I asked.
“What matters is that there is a way to stop all of this from happening but you have to go with me right now. Leave everything behind and trust your instincts,” the man said.
I almost said yes. But something didn’t feel right. I had questions still. And this stranger wasn’t answering all of my misgivings.
“Not until I consult my brother. Dalen and I are partners now. He deserves to know about this curse business. He’s more invested in it than I am anyway,” I said.
The man frowned, clearly disappointed in my response and then sighed, “I had really hoped you would cooperate Hugh. But that’s ok. We have ways of making you amicable to our arrangement.”
“Are you threatening me?” I asked eyeing him and fumbling with the Swiss Army knife in my back pocket.
“Trying to give you one last chance,” he countered.
“Sorry. But I think I will just take my chances with the crazy lady,” I told him as I got up and paid for the donuts before walking across the chilly street.
I tried to pretend that I was being macho or some shit like that; but I knew he was watching me. I went into the shop, whistling and handling my work as normal trying to pretend like nothing was happening. I didn’t want to turn around and find that weirdo staring me down, so I pretended to tidy up.
Then I heard this strange whirring noise, like strong breeze was pushing inside the front door. I turned to see what it was and saw the most inhuman thing in my entire life: a massive dark cloud buzzing and writhing toward my body. I screamed when it hit me, but after that the world went black.
I know that when I woke up I was feeling a massive headache. I was also naked.
Tied down and exposed to the elements as I felt the first drop of fresh dew against my skin. I was facing the sky and a circle of black hooded figures surrounded me.
It took me a minute to realize I was in the woods north of town. Possibly even the state park. The stars were shining but I didn’t recognize any constellations. Then I saw the man that had met me in the donut shop arrive and smile thinly toward me.
“I tried to make things easy for you, Karington. I wanted you to give us the collection the easy way. But first and foremost we need your soul,” he said as one of the cloaked figures brought what looked like a scimitar to him.
“My soul?! What the hell is going on!!” I screamed as he placed the blade right against my belly.
“Your father was a guardian of the Prometheus Collection. Until the day he died he protected it the way it protects this world. But now that he is gone… that responsibility falls on you,” the man said as he began to make a small incision on my lower torso.
I struggled and screamed as he kept cutting deeper. “The blood in your veins is sacred. If it becomes ours then so will the collection. Nothing will stop us from rising up again,” he added as he pushed it all the way to my bone. My body was throbbing with pain, I was shaking and trying to fight but the bonds were too tight.
I thought I was going to die. Hell. I was sure I was dead. The world around me just felt like a whirlpool on maximum overdrive. A long thick slimy material oozed out from his skin. It slid down from his fingertips straight into the open wound.
The pain was so bad I begged for death.
Then I felt a knife against the ropes and my body was pushed down to the dirt. A splatter of blood hit my face and then a cloak covered me. I was being dragged. I heard arguing.
That was my first tip that it had to be Dalen.
Sure enough when the bag was opened and I felt the cold rush of air hit my face again Dalen was standing over me. And so was that evil bitch.
Dalen gave me a disgusted look and tossed me a pair of pants.
“Get dressed,” he said.
Eve was just looking without any expression at all.
“We need to talk.”
“Too Many Cults”
by: Scott Savino
“They won’t kill your brother right away because he’s too important. They’ll follow the rules. They’re a cult,” she said. She looked irritated by me. I had to figure it was probably due to my blank look of abject skepticism.
“You’re a cult.” I said.
“I’m a cult? Is that supposed to be an insult, or funny, or something?” She asked. “This is very serious stuff Dalen.” She muttered something quietly that I couldn’t make out.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I said you’re just as immature as your father.”
“Listen, I know cult shit when I see it. You were a pregnant old lady one minute and then you some snakes crawled out of your hoo-ha! Some weird Cthulhu shit happened in this house. That’s cult shit.”
“Yig.” She said.
“Lovecraft’s snake god is Yig. Cthulhu is the octopus bat thing. Fiction. This is much, much older.” She said. “Real.”
“What are you even talking about?” I asked. The only thing that I was concerned with was getting my brother back. I’d convinced myself to go along with whatever ridiculous thing she could concoct with the hope that she would help me do that. But it was hard. Because, well for starters, I couldn’t fucking stand her. “I saw those people in here. I saw the–” my thoughts derailed. “–you’re saying the smoke thing that took Hugh was from some cult, but–”
“Two cults, then.” She said, she stirred the mug in front of her with her finger and stuck it into her mouth, sucking it clean. “A good one and a bad one. The one that has your brother is hellbent on destroying the world. Silver Grove sits over a hotbed of energy. If all of the items from the Prometheus Collection are in the same place, then they can tap it and destroy everything.”
“They are in the same place,” I told her, “or they were…they were all at the shop at one point.”
She shook her head irritatedly, “They need to be at the hotbed. At the rift. You don’t know where that is age you don’t want to destroy the world and you don’t know the ritual to activate them.”
“Why do you want them, then? If I could be so bold as to ask…” I said.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Not for that,” she said plainly. I felt as though she wished to say more, but then deciding otherwise, grew quiet.
We sat for a moment, letting the silence gather in the room. Finally she broke it, asking me if I was ready to find my brother or not.
“Obviously.” I said.
It had gotten to the point that I was nearly ready to give her the keys to the shop and tell her have it all; be done with the whole thing. Yet, I didn’t want to do that without knowing her motives. She’d given the two of us little reason to trust her up until this point, and I could feel a looming sense of loathing hang over me, pressing down harder and harder every time I had to look at her stupid face. Was this even her real face? Was she a red-head, a blonde, a brunette? Was this even her body? The pressing matter at hand was saving Hugh, so I put my reservations about her aside and followed her as she led me down the hallway and to a room I had seen before. The walls were hewn from solid pieces of marble, broken intermittently by sconces holding torches that for the moment, were unlit. In the center of the floor stood a large stone altar covered in splotchy brown stains. There was nothing else in this room–the room where I had witnessed the incident with the cloaked midwives tending to her as she birthed a brood of living snakes.
“I’ve been keeping tabs on both of you,” Eve said reaching under the altar and produced what looked to be an old gas station map of Silver Grove. She laid it on the altar, picking at the edges of it and attempting to fold the corners so that it would lay flat. She walked over to me and took my hand. Before I knew what she was doing, in one fluid motion, she produced the dagger I had given to Daniel to investigate, and sliced open one of my fingers.
“Ow!” I shouted, swatting at her, “what the fuck?” I stood there, expecting to turn into a puddle of blood at any moment.
She rolled her eyes and said: “Stop being a baby. It’s just a tiny cut. It works via intent. It only does the jelly thing if you want it to. You’re fine.” Removing a chain from her neck, she wiped the blood from the kriss onto the pendant that hung from it and holding it over the map, she began mumbling something in an unrecognizable language.
The lights cut out abruptly and fire shot from the sconces that hung from the walls as the torches began to instantly alight on their own accord. I watched in horrified silence as a wind that I could not feel swept into the room and blew about her wild hair, setting it to motion as though it were alive. Eve’s eyes were rolled all the way back into her skull and shone with a pale light that flickered hues of blue and orange. The pendant in her hand began to spin violently over the map and at once the chain it hung from went taught and seemed to pull at a point as though magnetized to it. Eve grew quiet and just as suddenly as the scene began, the room reset. The lights came back on and the torches extinguished, trails of smoke led upwards from the towards the ceiling.
“He’s here,” she said. “In the woods.”
Very soon, we were outside of her house once more, getting into her car and heading uphill and out of the town proper.
We followed a winding dirt road that led off from one of the main thoroughfares. It was completely baffling to me how little she cared for her expensive car. I could feel the hard thumps of loose stone and gravel clinking against the undercarriage as she drove way too fast down the unfinished road and the tires sent it flying. I was holding onto the sides of the door and the dashboard for dear life.
“Hang on,” she said.
“I already am!” I assured her as she yanked the wheel with startling accuracy, sending the tiny Boxster through a thin growth of bushes and into the forest. I closed my eyes. We were going to die. I could hear the branches of the trees smacking and smashing their way across the windscreen and the sides of the car. We were going to die. We were going to die. It was all that I could think, until finally, the vehicle came to an abrupt stop. I heard her getting out, opened my eyes and followed her lead.
She leaned back in and pulled a very familiar pair of glasses from her purse. “Once I put these on,” she said, “they’re fucked.”
“Where did you get those?” I asked. I’d sold them to that man who’d read my mind just the other day.
She sighed and shook her head, “too many questions Dalen. “Why do you have those magic glasses then? Someone bought them from you, gave them to another guy. I killed that guy and took them,” she said, “if the owner is dead then there’s no owner and they’re mine. Finders keepers.”
She opened rummaged under the seat of the car and produced a pair of pants, handing them to me. “Here, she said, take these. Your brother will probably be naked already.”
I nodded and together we trudged through the trees.
“Shouldn’t we be a bit quieter?” I asked.
She laughed. “No need. Most of these assholes are so scared of me they’ll take off running as soon as they see us.”
We came upon the clearing. Hugh was tied to a post surrounded by 5 people. He wore nothing but a potato sack on his head. They had stripped him naked indeed stripped him naked, as she said they would.
A few of the men turned and saw us. Some of them screamed. Eve put on the glasses and her movements became unnaturally fast. She ran at then with such speed that I couldn’t manage to follow. She split through the crowd stabbing each man where he stood before they knew she was on them. When she finally took the glasses off, most of the people we’d approached stood in the same place that they had before, though anyone could see that they were dead. But she’d missed one. I could be see him in the distance running at a full sprint and dodging the trunks of trees.
“Wait!” I said, “you missed one.”
“Knife won’t work on him. He’s like me.” The four that remained stood frozen in place with looks of horrified shock plastered across their faces. A strong breeze blew and they quivered like they were overfull with water, then collapsed, falling in on themselves like Daniel had. Their insides spilling out onto the spotty patches of frost and snow. All that remained of them were puddles of liquefied offal and the pungent, awful stench of rotten meat.
“Cut him free,” Eve said, “no don’t bother with the bag, just cut him free and drag him.”
“I’m not going to drag him,” I said.
“Just do it.” She insisted. “There isn’t time.”
“Time?” I asked irritated, “They’re all gone. We have all the time we need.”
“It’s not the people that I’m worried about,” she said glancing around the frozen trees, “just drag him back into the clearing where we left the car.”
I dragged him for a moment, but demanded that we could make this trip faster if he were allowed to walk. Finally she conceded and let me take the bag from his head. I handed him the pants and told him to get dressed.
“We need to talk.” Eve said, “but not here. Not now.”
“Come on!” She said, leading us back along the path at a sprint.
We came upon the car where we’d left it. I heard Hugh mutter “what the fuck,” under his breath. Suddenly, he doubled over in pain.
“Get in!” Eve demanded.
“Get in?” I said, “but the car only sits two?” Hugh was screaming and clutching at his stomach.
She eyed us both with irritation, already climbing into the driver’s seat. “Get in!”
I pulled Hugh in after me, sitting him on my lap as he continued to scream and flail in pain.
It was the most uncomfortable ride of my life as she whipped the car back through the trees. Never slowing, she shot the car at top speed down the winding roads from the woods and didn’t stop until we were in front of the hospital emergency room. Hugh and I exchanged confused glances with each other for a moment and he clutched at his stomach again, screaming. I turned my glare her direction. “What is going on?” I asked.
“Come on,” she said, leading us through the sliding doors and down a corridor. “My guys are already waiting for you. She said leading Hugh by the hand.
She passed him off to an indian guy who turned to a nurse. He instructed the nurse to “prep him for surgery.”
“Surgery?!” Hugh and I both spat in shock. Hugh then bent forward and screamed again. Eve covered his mouth with her manicured hand and urged him to shush. The nurse wheeled over a wheelchair. The doctor led us down a disused hallway of the hospital. The lights throughout were mostly off as he led us twisting left and right down different corridors until finally, we stopped at a room that was awash in bright fluorescent lights.
Quickly, they hoisted Hugh onto a table. I watched through the window in shock as the doctor and nurse strapped him to the bed.
I looked at Eve, “Wait! What are they doing?”
She looked at me as though I was an idiot, “I told you. He needs surgery.”
“But,” I began, “he’s wide awake.”
Hugh began screaming as the doctor cut into him. His eyes pled with me for help and I went for the door, it wouldn’t budge. “What are they doing?!” I demanded of Eve. “He’s wide awake! They’re cutting into him and he’s wide awake. They can’t do that!”
Hugh continued to scream wildly. His eyes were wet with tears as they pleaded with me to save him. I slammed myself at the door over and over again until Eve pulled me away. “They can’t put him under. There isn’t time.” The doctor and the nurse began chanting.
Eventually, Hugh passed out, probably from shock or blood loss. Maybe a combination of both. The nurse cut the room’s fluorescent lights and struck a match. He slowly circled Hugh lighting candles that were already in place on the floor around the operating table. They raised their arms in unison as the pitch of their chanting grew louder and more rapid. They clasped hands over him and once they released, they began to pull something from his stomach. It coiled and uncoiled endlessly from him. They pulled at the length of it, the two of them working together as it flicked and squirmed trying to escape from them. As Eve and I watched through a window while they worked, she told me the millipede was only a larva. A baby. Slick with blood, it writhed and whipped against the doctor’s grasp, the multitude of legs treading air desperately. Finally the last of it came free. I could see the pincers flexing repetitively as it flopped against them like a fish out of water. The doctor shouted something that I couldn’t hear clearly on the other side of the glass and the nurse cut the head off and slowly, its struggling was reduced to futile flits of nerves still firing, though the thing was dead. They threw it into a biohazard bag.
“What is that?” I asked Eve quietly.
“Soul eater,” she said. “gets inside and takes the soul into itself. Then stays there. They probably would have cut it out of him once it did its thing.” I didn’t ask her what that entailed, “Then they’d feed it some of the victims blood and extract the soul from it for their own uses.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “what?”
Eve just rolled her eyes again, irritated, “you both ask so many fucking questions.” she said, “I’ll be right back. I have to go in there and finish the ritual…”
by: Kyle Harrison
By all logic, my brother Dalen and I should be dead by now.
Growing up, both of us were accident prone. In fact a lot of times we went head first into danger just for the thrill of it. Things became strained as we grew up and went our separate ways… but after these past few weeks of hell together, I think I finally am starting to understand Dalen in a way I never had before.
To put it succinctly, he’s a sucker for a good story. The fact of the matter is we both are actually. Maybe it’s because we still are searching for that childlike thrill that used to draw us so close together? Or it could be some sort of destiny Mumbo jumbo that I don’t give a fuck about.
What matters is that we were fooled. And what matters more is that it was by a woman that we should never have trusted in the first place.
I have to had it to her, the bitch did a pretty impressive job of convincing us we were all on the same page. I mean, she did just save my life from what appeared to be a hellbeast.
As I sat there in the recovery room and her team of cultists finished cleaning me up, I was mentally preparing myself for whatever bombshell she wanted to drop on us next.
And boy. Was it a doozy.
“Hugh, Dalen. I hope you see now how far anyone with knowledge of that collection will go to get it,” Eve said as she walked back in. She looked a little tired from the ritual she had performed to save my skin. A little older, like whatever magic was keeping her alive was now slowly draining.
“So far you told us what the bad guys want with this stuff. But not what you are after,” Dalen pointed out.
I had to hand it to him, he was finally wising up.
“The items must be protected. Your father was supposed to pass this legacy onto you two properly but apparently that didn’t happen. Instead, the forces of evil are crawling out of the woodwork and it needs to stop. The items must be sealed away. Permanently,” she told us.
“I suppose you have a spell for that too?” I asked incredulously.
She gave us a twisted grin and then remarked, “Sadly no. I was hoping that maybe we could let bygones be bygones and you just hand them over?”
“You must think we are the biggest fools that you ever met,” he said.
“You’ve seen how far the Order will go to get that gate unlocked. Next time they come knocking to steal your soul and I’m not there, who is to say that they won’t succeed?” Eve countered.
“So then you are blackmailing us? First you tried to coerce us; then you tried to scare us. You figure that maybe appealing to our own sense of right and wrong is going to finally make us see things your way?” Dalen muttered.
But I couldn’t discount the fact that Eve had a point. We were up against forces that we barely understood or could even try to stop.
“Excuse me for a moment while I talk to my business partner in private,” I said tugging at Dalen’s shirt and pulling him out of her face.
“Of course. Take all the time you need,” she said with a smile and left the room.
“What is the deal? You aren’t seriously considering this??” My brother asked me.
“Look… we’ve tried everything that we can think of. I’m at my wits end. Dalen… I nearly died. How much longer can we keep going like this?” I said with a sigh.
There was frustration and despair in my brother’s face but he knew I was right.
“We need to at least pretend we are going along with this. Maybe seal her up alongside the cursed shit?” I suggested.
“She’s always been one step ahead of us, bro. What makes you think we will even get the chance?” Dalen asked.
“The way I see it, her way is the lesser of two evils,” I responded evenly.
Dalen crossed his arms, trying to figure out a way to win. But there wasn’t one. We were at the end of the line.
So he went out and convinced her that we were ready to make the deal of our lives. She seemed thrilled. But I could tell there was still something she was holding back. I figure keep your enemies close and watch her like a hawk, so over the next few days Dalen and I assisted in any way that we could with the transfer of the cursed items.
That meant a little out of pocket expense of course. Eve claimed she had run dry on her money from the mirror so I rented a UHaul for that Thursday.
Thankfully she was smart enough to get a few goons to act as bodyguards as we moved the final cursed items into the van.
“I think I see why you wanted our cooperation,” Dalen said sarcastically as we moved a couch.
Once it was in place my brother was just about to collapse onto it when Eve hastily pushed his aside.
“Not a good idea,” she advised. We were both too tired to even ask what that was about.
While the others tended to the last of the load I snuck into dads old office to get his service pistol. Always better to be safe than sorry I thought.
Once the final item was in, Eve told us to drive toward the mountains.
“Uh… that area is restricted,” Dalen pointed out.
“I know some back roads.” she reassured us.
We have each other a worried glance. The area she was directing us to is got military testing you see.
Remember those accidents I mentioned back at the beginning of this post? Well see; a lot of them had to do with this damned place. With dad always handling classified shit, two unsupervised kids on a military base just spelled bad news.
Honestly I still don’t know how we are alive especially cause our last stunt nearly blew up the base. I think it was in the 80s or something. Anyway; long story short; the base has been off limits ever since.
“It’s the fact that the place is radioactive,” I pointed out. I wasn’t about to let her take us somewhere that she had a higher chance of slipping away either. So I was using every excuse in the book, but she wouldn’t be swayed.
“That place is special. Has to happen there,” Eve insisted.
My brother and I knew that we had come this far so backing out wasn’t an option. We drove the van together, giving us a chance to come up with some kind of plan for when we did arrive at the base.
“You get the feeling this is a trap?” Dalen asked once we were out of Silver Grove.
“No doubt about it. What are you thinking?” I asked.
“She’s talked a good talk, but we don’t really know what her end game is. Maybe we should just destroy the stuff altogether,” Dalen suggested.
“If it’s even possible, that ain’t a bad idea,” I agreed.
It was getting dark. I could hardly see the road in the wintry slopes. But I remembered the way even after all these years. Eve had programmed the GPS to take us a slightly different way though so that memory didn’t help me forever. I was driving blind in more ways than one.
Eventually the road came to end and I saw a long barbed wire fence run in both directions. We had arrived.
Dalen let out a long sigh as the cult caravan drove around us and parked near the abandoned gate. According to Eve, this was the north lab where a lot of the most secret stuff went down. It didn’t look familiar; but the entire place seemed to reek of death.
Eve was rubbing her hands together gleefully like some sort of cartoon villain as she ordered all of us around toward what appeared to be an old stone grotto. The thing had to be at least three hundred years old and by the looks of things no one had even stepped foot on this supposedly ancient altar for thirty years.
“Get everything ready! It’s almost time!” she barked. There was a sense of urgency in her voice.
“Since when are we on a time table?” Dalen asked.
“By now Adam likely knows what we have done and will be here to stop this from happening. The last thing this ritual needs is another obstacle,” she explained.
The cultists guarded the diet road as Eve arranged all twelve items in that same bizarre pattern we had seen burned into the store floor long ago.
“Everything is set.” She said with a laugh. The moon was nearly at its nightly apex as she stood in the center of the altar and began to perform a strange dance.
Honestly if I didn’t know it I would think she was possessed. It just looked ridiculous.
Then after about nineteen minutes of this dance the items around her started to shake and shimmy. A dark flowing energy was pushing its way from the cursed collection into her body. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she laughed madly. It didn’t sound like the laugh of anyone that was on our side anyway.
Even the ground began to quake as she finished the full ritual and started marveling at her hands as the dark energy rolled back and forth between her palms.
“If I had known it would be this easy, I would have played this card a long time ago,” Eve cackled.
Dalen and I tensed up. The trap we had expected was playing out before our eyes. What Eve said next didnt surprise me though.
“Now that I have the power of a god. You two are just side notes. Kill them,” she instructed her goons.
The cultists encircled us quickly. But I still had my own wild card to play.
I rolled straight toward Eve and pointed the weapon at her head. “Nobody move or I blow her brains out,” I told them.
The cultists hesitated. But Eve only laughed.
“You idiot I said I’m a god! Weren’t you listening?? I could snap you like a twig. You should be worshipping me,” she snarled.
“Fat chance. Okay you got your god like powers. Or whatever. So let Dalen and I go,” I insisted.
“You are wasting your time, I will show you,” she said as she twisted my wrist and snatched the gun away.
Eve held it next to her chest and declared, “Witness the power of an immortal!!”
The air rippled with a sickening noise. The bullet smashed into her chest, bursting her body open in several parts. Blood seeped out of the cavity as she stared in shock at the self inflicted wound.
“But… I don’t… understand. I did… I did everything right,” Eve said in confusion.
She dropped the gun and collapsed to her knees, more blood spilling out as she grabbed at my pants.
“Hugh!! You have to save me!” she shrieked in panic.
I saw fear and panic fill her very soul as she played her own last gambit.
“Please!! You wouldn’t let your own mother die would you??”
My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. Dalen’s did the same.
“M-mom?” He said as he stared into her desperate eyes. It suddenly all made sense why she was connected to this mess in the first place. It was never a coincidence .
“There… is still… time. Hugh, Dalen… make this right…”
It was a lot to impact in a short period of time.
But Dalen had the solution that I think, was a long time coming.
He picked up dad’s gun and blew her head clean off before she could beg again.
As her corpse began to writhe into a pile of ash, he smashed his boot into her skull and declared, “That’s for walking out on us.”
by: Scott Savino
Hugh covered his mouth with his hand and began muttering to himself. He was so quiet, I almost couldn’t hear him. “Shitshitshitshitshit. What did we do? What did we do?”
I waved the gun around the circle of Eve’s shocked sycophants. One of them turned to run and I fired into the ground. He took a tenuous step backward and turned to face me, raising his arms above his head, “Nobody. Moves.” I said through clenched teeth in a quiet tone.
“Shitshitshitshit,” Hugh continued.
“Hugh, shut the fuck up.” I said, “I can’t think.” I put my hands, one still clutching the gun, to my temple. The barrel was hot and smelled sweet and acrid with the recent wisps of death it issued. My skin prickled like bottled lightning. Another of the cultists turned to sprint and as though by reflex, I shot at him. I was aiming for his head but hit a nearby tree instead. Like his brother, he also second guessed his shot at escape and turned back with his hands held high above his head. I looked around at the group of them. “The next one that moves better hope my aim is still bad because I swear to fuck I will kill you all.”
Hugh moved to my side and whispered, “give me the gun.” I looked at him. I felt blank and empty. It was like he was trying to speak to me in another language. I stood there with my mouth ajar before finally blinking my way back to reality and handed him the gun. She left us in the 80’s. I wasn’t surprised that neither of us recognized her at all. We were small. There weren’t pictures. Dad didn’t talk about her. It was too painful. I killed her a moment ago and didn’t feel bad about it. Still, my chest began to feel very heavy the more I thought on it. It didn’t feel like the justice it should have. Hugh told me to go sit it off in the van so I stepped away and climbed into the driver seat.
“I’m a much better shot.” He announced. He forced them to reload the items through the double doors at gunpoint. He slammed the back shut himself before joining me up front.
“What about them?” I asked.
“They’re not going to tell anyone.” He said, “have you forgotten all the fucked up shit that’s been happening? They’re at the center of this. They can’t tell anyone.” His eyes were glassy and far away. “Nobody would believe them.”
I nodded and asked: “what about her?”
“Fuck!” Hugh said unbuckling his belt and getting out of the van once more. The men were still in place. “Why are you all still standing here? Fuck off!” They turned like a pack of kicked dogs with their tails between their legs. Trudging into the woods single-file, they disappeared amongst the bushes and brambles.
I could see Hugh standing behind the van, “Dalennnn,” he said. He was making ‘closer-than-he-appeared’ eye contact with me in the mirror on the door. “Come check this out.”
I got out. It seemed to take forever, like walking underwater. The stress of the day finally reached an apex and I took a moment to lean against the van and puked. I puked until my eyes watered and Hugh came to my side and placed a gentle hand on my back.
“Come look at this,” he said.
“Give me a FUCKIN MINUTE BRO!” I said, but there was a look in his eyes. A wild curiosity growing behind them like a spark setting excitement aflame. I immediately regretted snapping as the mystery of that look washed over me. I spat what remained of the vile taste of bile from my mouth and walked with him up to the altar.
There in the open air, Eve’s body streaming a steady smoking trail. She was smoldering and bubbling as she melted into the snow. Her skin, flecked with open holes, curled and peeled away. Nothing but the breeze ebbed at her; pitting her flesh and revealing a dark and bubbling tar beneath. We watched her insides boil, the pieces falling down and into her and crumbling like wet silt. Every bit of her collapsed in and vanished beneath the roiling blackness. She was like a castle left to erode, flattened by a tide.
“What the fuck?” I said.
Towards the end, there weren’t even bones left to identify her. All that remained was a bubbling puddle that melted the snow away. She shriveled the grass beneath into ash as she seeped into the ground.
We decided then that we needed more answers. If this ritual was to make her immortal as she claimed — then how did she die? We got into the van and headed down the mountain.
We would have driven back to the shop in silence, but I noticed a Towncar keeping pace with us in the dark. It wasn’t quite 1:00 in the morning, so the roads were still crowded here and there with other drivers. The car following us was a few car lengths behind, but they kept close as we made our way back through the downtown area.
As we rolled up to a light, the vehicle switched lanes and came to a halt beside us. The man behind the wheel was trying his best not to make eye contact with us in the van. A glance for a moment too long betrayed him. It was the man who kept coming into the shop with greater and great frequency. This must to be the man who kidnapped Hugh.
I set my jaw. “Hugh,” I said, “really casually, I need you to look to your right and tell me what you see.”
He turned to look out the window and swung his head back with a look of panic. He seemed to resolve to act naturally as he slunk his way down into the passenger seat. The man was staring at us now with a knowing look. It was like he could read our minds.
I glanced down at Hugh’s seatbelt and clenched my teeth to prepare for what I was about to do. The act itself would be completely out of line with the normal restraint and caution that defined me. My heart screamed a tattoo in my chest, rising and rising to a sickening pace. I could feel my stomach turn. I looked at the man again. His face grew wild with fury. He was shaking his head. He mouthed the word, “don’t” but I couldn’t hear it from the other side of the glass.
“Hold on.” I said to Hugh through clenched teeth. I turned then to the driver of the Towncar and whispered “Fuck you.” Then I closed my eyes and let my foot drop.
Hugh began to scream. Time slowed as my stomach lurched. Though I couldn’t see what happened beyond my clenched eyelids, I could feel the tension. The hysteria of what I was doing. Anxiety and my heartbeat rose as I held my breath, clutching at my throat. The moving van didn’t have the horsepower or pickup for what I was doing and I knew it. Blind luck got us so far already. All I hoped for when I pressed my foot to the gas was for a few lucky moments more. Tires squealed and the air filled with the scent of rubber burning against asphalt. The air filled with the blaring of horns. Still, I squeezed my eyes as I heard the sickening crunch of metal on metal. Vehicle after vehicle collided around us with pent inertia and violence.
Hugh yanked the wheel and I opened my eyes. The intersection was past us. Behind us. We’d lived.
“Woooooo-hooo-hooo-hooo” I howled.
Cars filled the rear-viewing mirrors like smashed toys. Still conscious drivers were staring daggers at me in the reflection. Others slumped against steering wheels, injured or dead. The conscious ones got out of their ruined vehicles to scream. And there it was amongst the tangled wreckage of the intersection–that black Towncar. He’d tried for luck as well and failed. The driver got out as the woman who’s truck plowed into it was making her way over to him. She was formidable, thick and of impressive height. When the reflection of her fist flew toward the Towncar driver’s jaw, Hugh began to laugh. Hugh didn’t see and I didn’t tell him that she missed. The man ducked away from her at the last moment and drove two of his fingers into her eyes. All the while, beneath the light of the intersection, his glare never broke from me.
“Watch the fucking road, Dalen!” Hugh said, breaking my gaze from the man and pulling me back.
He began to laugh again and gave his own triumphant victory hoot. Though I never stopped hyperventilating, I managed to laugh a little too.
I wasn’t sure where to go now. I knew we shouldn’t go back to the shop, so I turned off from the main streets and began cutting through neighborhoods. Before long, I began to recognize some of the landmarks. I realized where my subconscious took us.
Eve’s Boxster sat on the left side of the driveway beneath a light layer of snow. I backed the van up the right until the rear of it bumped against the wood of the garage door. The house was dark in the growing light of sunrise, but the darkness was slipping as the sun gained momentum.
I’d only told Hugh about this place. He’d never been here, but I didn’t need to tell him where we were. We headed up the path, and then thinking better of it, went back to the van.
“What’s wrong?” Hugh asked.
I dug around in the back for a moment as he walked over and began to hand him some of the smaller items. “They’ll probably figure out where we’ve gone before long.” I said, “that is to say if that guy hasn’t put it together already. I think he can…nevermind.” I stopped myself from saying what I was thinking out loud. “Just put some of these things in your pockets so everything isn’t all in the same place.”
The smaller items were together in a crate and I began to hand some of them to him. I gave him the ceremonial dagger, a pocket watch and an antique silver key. There was a good idea between the two of us of what about half of these items did but as for the other half, neither of us even cared anymore.
For my own pockets, I took the pair of spectacles, a ring and the map we’d sold early on. I folded it as small as I could make it and tucked it away. At the time there was no idea Eve was the mysterious buyer. We met her afterward. In a way, that map started this whole mess in the first place. In another way, this was set into motion much earlier than when I’d begged Hugh to reopen the shop with me.
The front doors and windows were sealed. I tried opening each of them with no luck. We both were desperate to find a way inside. If our mother was Eve this entire time, we hoped there would be answers within. Everything that happened to us only seemed to raise more and more questions. Trudging through the snow, I went around to the back.
The rear of the house was still dark, bathed in shadows cast by the sun as it rose on the other side. A bird feeder stood empty near the backdoor, hung from a metal crook. I pulled it from the ground and tossed the feeder aside.
As I raised my arm, crook in hand, Hugh grabbed me. He started laughing at me, “what are you doing?” He asked.
“What do you mean?” I said, “we’re going inside.”
“Oh no,” he said, “I’m not trying to stop you. I just don’t understand what has gotten into you today.”
“Shhhh!” He hissed, fighting back more laughter.
“The creepy rich snake bitch who’s been stalking us is the head of a cult and also our mother who we haven’t seen in about 30 years.” I said, “oh and I killed her. Our dad is dead, our lives have been fucking crazy since we reopened a month ago. You got kidnapped, people are splitting open till their guts fall out like mud. You’re over here, you’re over there, you’re getting giant bugs taken out of you. I’m the meek one. I’m the one who panics about everything.” I said, “fuck it. I’m done.”
“Keep your voice down,” he hissed again.
“Everyone’s trying to kill us and I’m tired of playing the victim. I’m tired of being scared Hugh. We’re probably still going to die, don’t you understand?”
He nodded and gave me that look. Not the fake sympathetic eyes of a stranger. Not the gaze of someone who thinks you’re crazy. A different look. That look. That moment that of intuitive connection that only siblings share.
I calmed down a little then. “We don’t even know why.” I stared into his eyes as he stared into my soul, “Hugh don’t you want to know why?”
He nodded. “Go ahead,” he said presenting the window to me with his open palm.
We didn’t know what we were bound to find and we didn’t find much as we combed through Eve’s house. I’d only seen a few of the rooms when I’d been here before, and there wasn’t much in the way of furniture in any of the others.
We started down the basement steps. The smell hit us at the bottom, and covering my face with one hand, I pulled the chain of the bulb overhead with the other. As it swung, it cast a pale orange glow that moved around the room. One moment the far corner loomed in darkness and the next, light washed over what looked like an arm. Then darkness. Then a leg. Darkness. A torso.
“My God.” Hugh whispered, “let’s get out of here.”
I agreed. We’d come here for answers but there were some questions better left unasked.
I gave Hugh the keys to the van and got into the passenger seat. Under the dome light, I emptied my pockets onto the dash. He started the car and began to drive as I looked over the map.
“I think this is Silver Grove, bro.” I said quietly, “but before. Before it was anything. Or backwards, maybe?” I traced my hand along the edge of the mountain on the map, following the path with little fingered steps.
“This spot,” I told him, pointing to the landmark indicated by a small ‘X.’ “This is where we were earlier. I’m almost sure of it.” There were other indicators too. “This could be the river? And this might be Braden Lake.”
I felt sad.
“I was looking at it upside-down.” I said. I folded the map up and tucked it away. I looked over the spectacles again, but remembering what they were capable of doing, I didn’t try them on. Instead, I tucked them into the glovebox with a shudder and began to finger the ring in my hand as Hugh drove.
I slipped it onto my finger and the world around me faded to black.
Every sound died and I was no longer in the van. I wasn’t sitting. I was standing, surrounded by nothing. I blinked and turned a full circle.
The air was silent and cold in the darkness. A silver thread of light traced a line from no clear source above me. It shone down in the nothingness, settling to wash its glow upon a man. He sat with his back to me on a wooden chair.
“Dad?” I whispered and he turned. My heart sprang to life.
We talked for a while and I got answers I’d been searching for. When he’d finished, we hugged and he told me to take the ring off. I closed my eyes and I did.
When I opened my eyes, the van was already parked. Hugh pulled off onto some side street and cut the engine. He said I’d disappeared. I was there one moment, and then I wasn’t. He didn’t know what to do, so he just pulled over on a dirt road and cut the lights. He was visibly both relieved and shaking at once.
“I was talking to dad,” I told him. I held out the ring. “He wants to talk to you too…”
“The End of The World“
by: Kyle Harrison
Has your whole life ever been impacted by a single defining moment? It can be anything really from your first kiss to your graduation or even something as simple as a new donut shop.
Personally I have had a few of them that made me the person I am today. Some not so good, turning me into a somewhat cynical hardass; especially toward my brother Dalen.
Before all this mess started with the cursed collection, I really never even wanted to step foot in Silver Grove at all.
I had done my best to shake away this life, start fresh. Then dad died and Dalen fell to pieces. I know a lot of you think I’m tough on my little brother. The fact is I’ve had to protect him since we were young. Dalen used to get such a lot. And after mom left he had no one but me.
So yeah, Dad’s funeral showed me just how broken my little brother was. And now, here after a months worth of fighting poltergeists and cultists I can see he has reached his limit. So have I really, especially after what happened when we went to our mom’s rental.
Dalen had been rummaging through the smaller items of the bizarre collection when he slipped on a ring. Then he disappeared before my eyes. I didn’t know what to do. I honestly thought he might be gone for good. I know my brother and I fight, and yeah we probably do it more than most siblings; but I know I would be lost without him. So I pulled over, shut off the moving van and said a prayer to whoever was listening.
As dawn peaked over the empty roads outside Silver Grove, he came back to me.
“What the hell? You really had me worried,” I stammered. His face was pale, like he had seen a ghost. As it turned out that was exactly what it was.
“I was talking to dad…” he said as he let the ring slide in between us. “He wants to talk to you too,” Dalen added.
I stared down at the ring, nervous to put it on. I had seen so many strange things because of this man that I despised. I guess it was time for some straight answers.
I told him to watch the roads and then put the ring on myself.
The world was dark, darker than I had ever seen in my whole life. And there in front of me, sitting in a chair like he was king; was my father.
“Looks like Dalen delivered my message,” he said coyly as he waved his hand and another chair appeared for me to sit.
I didn’t bother to ask how this was possible.
“You’ve got a bit of explaining to do. And it better be good or I’m going to send you to whatever is beyond the afterlife,” I said angrily.
“I know son. And there isn’t any easy way for me to make things right. Especially because of all the things I put you through over the years. Having to keep your legacy a secret,” dad said.
“Let’s start there. Why did you keep it a secret? Why not tell us? Did you think we couldn’t handle the truth?” I asked.
“The Prometheus Collection is the most dangerous set of items on the planet. You were children. And I was bound by my duty. I didn’t even want the job myself, but considering the price I paid… I didn’t have a choice,” Dad said in frustration.
“You’re not making sense. What price? What the hell did you do dad?” I asked.
He sighed. “When you were young, I worked near here at a military base…” “Yes I remember. Dalen and I just went there for a sick ritual that mom was trying to do for her immortality,” I said cutting him off. “Shut up for a second and let me talk,” he said angrily.
But beneath that anger I could tell he was in pain, struggling to find the words to say.
“I made a mistake. Cost me everything. But there were people there connected to the project we were working on, they had more knowledge about this… cosmic force that we had unleashed. I made a deal with them, said I would keep the seal in place until they were ready and in exchange… they would save what I cherished most,” he answered.
“That… sounds like you didn’t have an option. What did you lose?” I asked.
“My brother. He had been lost to the rift because of the experiments. So a pact was made, and we became guardians. Neither of us even knew what it meant. But we were quick learners. Just like you and Dalen. Trouble is, the curse worked its way into his heart…”
I remained silent, listening as dad explained what happened next.
“Eventually we were at odds with each other. Couldn’t decide what to do with the collection. Both of us knew that eventually we would need to set up ownership for new guardians. To keep the world from falling into chaos. Naturally I wanted it to be you and your brother. But your Uncle felt differently. He said we had sacrificed too much because of this mad cult, and that we shouldn’t have to keep suffering just to appease them. He wanted to be done with it entirely. He doesn’t even know what that means,” dad said as he shook his head sadly.
“You still haven’t gotten to the part where you choose to keep this from us,” I said icily.
“What other options did I have? The best way to keep the Collection safe was for no one to know about it. Everyone that ever got close to the truth, like your mother; became corrupted by the appeal of the power that these items had. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to you or Dalen,” he said evenly.
“And this Uncle… let me guess. It’s our friend with the beasties?” I asked. “Yes. Which is why I’m so glad that Dalen contacted me. Because time is short, and you need to do exactly as I say to make it through this alive,” Dad said.
“Nice way for you to shove all this responsibility on us. You know you talked so much about duty and honor when you were alive. But that was all a sham wasn’t it? Why did you always make it so hard for us to even please you?” I argued.
“No parent is perfect, Hugh! Please, you have to forgive me!” he insisted.
I looked down at the endless abyss around me, my blood boiling and my eyes watering. I knew the answer to this request for both Dalen and I.
“No. I can’t do that. I won’t. You and mom… you both put us through hell. Nearly drove Dalen and I apart,” I said angrily as I stood up and faced him dead on.
“I won’t ever forgive what you’ve done to us. Because you don’t deserve it. All of this is your fault. So the only thing I’m going to do is make sure that I can make things right, but I won’t be doing it for you. This is for Dalen and myself,” I said firmly.
Dad’s face was first hot with rage. Then he softened and sighed deeply. “I guess, I should have expected that answer…” he admitted.
“Just tell me what I need to know, and then be gone to whatever corner of hell you slithered out of,” I insisted.
“Over the years, as I gathered the Collection; I began to realize one crucial detail about all the items. The spell placed on them is designed to seal up the way to another plane of existence, where they originated from. They had been scattered to the corners of the earth to prevent such a thing from happening, but then I started thinking. What if you could open up the gate? And return the items to the other side without ever releasing the spell. Then the gate would remain closed, from the other side,” Dad explained.
“Okay… let’s assume that’s possible. How can we open the gate? Didn’t mom try that and turn to dust?” I asked.
“She was performing a different ritual. But now… I can teach you the right thing to say when the time comes.”
I listened, repeated the strange phrasing and memorized it. Then I was pulled back into the world of the living with a jolt. The ring fell off my finger and I stared out toward the lake where Dalen had brought us.
Before I asked him why he had gotten me back to the land of the living, I saw several figures moving amid the lakeside shores. Adam was among them. They were waiting for us.
“So… dad told you everything?” Dalen asked. He was stone faced. I swallowed hard. “It was… a lot to take in. But I think I understand. We’ve got a fight on our hands,” I said.
“Good thing we’ve still got this,” Dalen said. And before I could even ask what he was doing, he cranked the moving van into gear and drove straight toward Adam.
“wait!!!” I stammered, Just as he was about to plow into them, I reached across the van and yanked the wheel hard. Dalen shouted at the top of his lungs. The van tumbled up and over as we flew through the air. I held my breath, I felt metal and glass surge into my face as the windshield broke and the whole van fell overtop itself.
As we lay there battered and bruised, I used what little energy I had left to pull Dalen out of the van’s passenger side. Adam and his cultists were advancing quickly.
“Parley!” I shouted out. My Brother was barely conscious himself as Adam froze where he stood.
“What… did you say?” he asked.
“Pirate code. I know that you honor it cause your brother said you did,” I added.
Dalen stood up, putting the pieces together as he stared at our estranged uncle. “Dad didn’t tell me that part,” he admitted.
“So. You know the truth. Then you must also know why I have been so desperate to make this work. To release all of us from the grip of the curse that has plagued our family for two generations now,” Adam answered.
“Yeah. Which is why you tried to get us under your control too. You needed us to cooperate. The guardians are the only ones who can complete this ritual without any problems,” I pointed out.
Adam glared at us and then gestured for his cultists to surround us. “Well it’s a good thing that you came isn’t it? Now we can finally make everything better,” he said.
“Dalen, hold my hand,” I told my brother. He clenched it as hard as he could and I slipped on the ring again. We disappeared from sight and I ran toward the darkness of the world and over to the back of the moving van. While in this ethereal plane I knew that we could move freely without them finding us. But time was short. I needed to find the right item to make certain that we still had the upper hand. “We need that knife,” I explained.
Dalen was there beside me, desperately searching as we held hands for the cursed dagger. He found it and I slipped off the ring again, holding the dagger high as the cultists ran toward us.
I started stabbing each one of them, watching as the dagger worked it’s magic and turned them into pools of burning blood. Dalen had my back, keeping and we passed the dagger back and forth between ourselves; making sure that we could get each of the cultists before they even got close.
Before long it was just Adam and us left. The seething and writhing pools of blood surrounded us on all sides as he laughed madly.
“You know… I actually saw this coming. You two really are something else. I guess your old man was right about choosing you for guardianship,” he said.
“Face it, you’ve lost,” Dalen said.
“Have I?” he said with a twisted grin.
Then my heart skipped a beat as I saw more cultists moving the cursed items away from the van toward him.
He said a phrase in ancient Latin, it sounded even older than anything I had heard before. The ground shook. The sky began to radiate different iridescent colors. Then he proclaimed, “The Hour is upon us boys! The rift will open soon and this Collection can go to the Bowels of Hades itself!” Adam declared. The stars were shimmering. Dalen squeezed my hand again and muttered, “You should have let me run him over when I had the chance.”
“Strange as it sounds. We need him alive. He’s the only one that can open the rift. Then we can seal the items on the other side. So let the Hour come, and then we can dispose of this little family reunion once and for all. Got it?” I said in a low tone.
My little brothers eyes widened. There was fear there. But then it was overwhelmed with resolve. He was with me. “Let’s do it,” Dalen determined.
“Rituals in Black Rain”
by: Scott Savino
They say that when you think you’re going to die, your life flashes before your eyes. I think that’s true, but only the parts that you’ll need to see so you can find your peace. That was certainly what happened to me.
I didn’t know if any of this was going to work. I think before today, I would have probably been too scared to face it at all, but today had changed me. Hugh and I could do this. We could stop him. We stood, shoulder to shoulder, facing down annihilation and as my life began to flash before me like reels of memories, I felt a weight sink over my heart.
The sky began to churn with dark clouds, broken by lightning as it flashed above…and I remembered…
I felt as though I was floating, staring down into the kitchen as the memory flooded back.
”Goddammit,” Dad shouted, shaking a 17 year old Hugh by the shoulders, “do you have any idea how much this is gonna cost!?”
Hugh took the car without asking. Hugh got high. See Hugh drive. Drive Hugh, drive.
17 year old Hugh hit a deer on a winding mountain pass. I remember that day well. It was proof that he was graced by the kiss of luck. Charmed. The car was moving so fast that it flipped over the railing and landed in a tree. Miraculously, though still inside he barely had a scratch on him. He crawled out of the open moonroof and climbed down. Hugh took the car without asking and Dad knew he wasn’t sober. Dad swung his arm back to hit him, but I shoved Hugh out of the way at the last moment. He ran and Dad hit me instead. My eyes flashed with a binding pain.
“You can’t win this.” Adam had his back to us as he yelled over the growing wind, “you two are out of your depth.” He began to laugh like something wild, “the Hour is upon us. We will release ourselves and the world from this curse and bring about the end.”
He turned to us, “You can’t stop me, boys. I’ve been one step ahead of you the entire time. I know what you’re thinking. I can hear all of it. Humanity is a disease. This planet is dying. It’s time to expedite the process and lay it all to waste.” He raised his arms above his head, “This is the culmination of my life’s work. The annihilation and ruination of Earth.” He smiled at us, flashing rows of bleach white teeth.
Another memory came to me. Another scene to find my peace…
”When Dad finds out, he’s gonna murder you,” A 14 year old Hugh said laughing.
”I don’t think he will, bro.” The 12 year old Dalen from my memories said, “maybe you’re right. Do you think he will be mad? I’m not gonna tell him.”
”That’s probably a good idea.” Young Hugh agreed, “I’m not gonna tell him either, that’s for sure.”
”So we’re okay?” I asked.
”Yea man,” he said, “I don’t care if you’re gay. Be gay. Who cares? The only thing I care about is how worried you are about what I think. When are you gonna stop worrying about what other people think? I told you, nothing matters.”
”Some things matter.” I said, and after a pause, I added: “you matter.”
”Yea, but did this have to be so hard?” Hugh asked. “You’re over here crying about something that makes no difference.” He put his hands on my shoulders. “I love you, dude. Don’t you know that?” I scratched at my face, “stop picking at your zits. It makes them worse.”
”I was just worried, I guess.” I said. “Maybe you wouldn’t want to be my brother anymore.”
”The only thing I want you to do is be yourself, Dalen.” He said, “I want you to stop being so scared all the time. I want you to be brave. And I want to kick your ass in Smash Bros so get your controller.”
The Nintendo 64 title screen flashed across the living room television.
Hugh and I began to quietly chant the strange words our father had given us from the other side of death. Adam was at the altar, chanting something else. If he could hear our thoughts now, I couldn’t tell. It was doubtful. He looked lost in deep concentration as though the rest of the world had already blinked out of existence. He laughed as the clouds began to open and cover the drifts of snow below with thick black drops that weren’t rain. His hair batted around his head in time with gales of hurricane strength gusts.
We spoke the words endlessly, hoping that we were saying them right. Something came over us then and he clenched my hand tighter. A spirit or some sort of interplanetary energy, I couldn’t say. The same words we had repeated over and over poured out from us now and we were joined by others voices coming out from thin air, out from someplace new. We began to speak new words that we hadn’t been taught in unison. They came up and out from us unbidden, as if something benevolent and ancient from the earth was guiding us in the speaking of tongues.
In the distance, Adam began to sway as though in a trance. As the black raindrops continued to fall, Hugh and I grew quiet. Something was urging us forward to fulfil the next step. We knew our incantation in this ritual was done. The ground before Adam began to rend. Out of the hole, the flicker of flames flashed gold, and yellow and white.
My frail body was all but a skeleton beneath the sheets and a 12 year old Hugh knelt at my bedside. He promised so many things in our room that day, with the curtains drawn and my breathing shallow in the dark. He promised he would always protect me; he’d always be my hero; he promised he’d never leave the TV and the lights on again…if I just wouldn’t leave him all alone. His eyes were dry and glassy but the tears still found a way.
“Please Dalen,” he begged, “don’t die.” He grasped my small hand in his own and shuddered back a sob, “if you go away, then I don’t have anybody.”
The wind blew at the curtains through the open window and lightning flashed outside.
When the ring took me to the other side, Dad told me that I did die that day. I knew that he hadn’t shared this with Hugh. It was knowledge only for me. We were all there when the accident occurred on the base, Hugh and I had caused it. We were at a company picnic, back when they still did them, on the shore of lake Braden. We were just kids. Nobody saw us wander off. Nobody saw us wander inside. Nobody stopped us. It was the 80’s. When everyone took off for the day for a company picnic, EVERYONE took off for the day. Besides, the entire staff was within a minute’s walk from the place. Hugh and I managed to find our way inside of one of the control rooms. There were so many buttons and we began to press them. When the siren began to blare, we ran. We took one of the side doors and headed into the trees, managing to rejoin the picnic in a matter of moments. Nobody even noticed we were gone, they were all just looking curiously up at the building to see what the trouble was. A few of the men began to run. There was an explosion. A blinding flash. The men that ran towards the blaring alarms died, but most people were fine. We were fine for a while. We didn’t know anything else had happened–it was just an explosion…but the rift became sentient for a moment. That’s the nearest I can place it. It found the Karington family and singled us out from the rest. Like a sentient, manipulative thing, through measured spans of time it tore our family apart.
Whether this was by coincidence or design, I can’t say. Our mother changed and left shortly after to begin her search for the items that sang out to her from the darkness. Our uncle changed in different ways, reading the hearts and minds of mankind and growing to despise the world at large. In the beginning, the cult found them so easy to manipulate, but they became different people. Powerful people. Then not people at all — a sort of evolution. A post-homosapien. They overthrew the cult leaders, killing them. Factions splintered from the original group, with some following Adam and others following Mom. They believed they had been changed into something else. Something better. Their followers agreed.
I changed too and though Dad had kept me hidden from their dark plans, something was pulling me away from this plain. It began to eat me alive at a slow pace. A burning drain that took years to finally run its course as I began to waste away. The sickness had left me so weak that after years of suffering, my tiny body gave out. Never understanding, yet realizing the severity toward the end, Hugh had never left my side.
I watched the memory, as an unseen spectre, as I’d watched the rest.
Our father came into our room and found that I was dead. He told Hugh that everything was fine.
”But why is he so cold?” Hugh sobbed. “He’s not fine. Why isn’t he breathing? Is he dead? What do we do?”
”Your brother is fine.” Dad lied, lifting me into his arms. I was stiff with rigor mortis and the act was awkward as he fought back tears. He couldn’t let Hugh see his panic.
As he carried me from the room, I heard Hugh stutter in a whisper, “what am I gonna to do without a brother?”
Dad took my small corpse to the base where he worked. By the dark of clandestine night, he waved his badge before the electronic reader and used his credentials to gain access to a research lab. Very few people had clearance to this place. He was sure that nobody would notice what he took right away. In the end he was right. Nobody noticed at all. He’d been the one to discover it and discovered what it did to the mice. It hadn’t been properly catalogued because his greatest fear was that he may need to use it himself; that he may need to make use of his findings on me.
The vials shimmered with a liquid that undulated with indescribable colors. Shades and hues that humanity had not yet been given the ability to comprehend, much less the understanding to name. Swirling within each was something small and swimming. Tiny myriapod invertebrates with elongated bodies and a thousand legs. He poured one of these vials down my throat and the millipede made a home.
He carried me outside, to the place where we now stood decades later, and in his grief, he made a pact with something he shouldn’t have acknowledged in order to save me. In order to bring me back.
One moment, I was like our mother. I was like our uncle. But unlike them, I was too small to survive the changes. One moment I was like they were. Only, I was dead. The next moment I was something changed and taking my first breath, one forceful, startled gasp as our father set me down at his feet and wept… it went against the rules. It was playing God. It was wrong. In his grief he’d acted too hastily.
He didn’t understand the consequences of what he’d done. He was still unsure when he told me all of this and yet I felt a flood of remembrance wash over me. I had watched it all play out from someplace out-of-body; outside of myself. I didn’t remember when I woke up, and he kept his rash decision to bring me back to life a secret until he died. The indiscretion, a flash in time, had consigned me to this fate. He kept the cursed Prometheus Collection secret. He begged, borrowed and stole them. He cast protections over them to bind them to him. He kept them safe and now, the responsibility fell to me.
“Come on,” Hugh said, tugging at my arm. “We have to get the items!”
We ran to the van. Hugh went to the glovebox and retrieved the gun. He reloaded it with bullets hidden in his pockets.
“I don’t think the gun is gonna work, Hugh.” I said, “he can read your thoughts.”
“Maybe we can use some of this?” He asked. Trying in vain to wipe them away, he smeared a dozen of the black raindrops across his face as he sifted through the glass of the wrecked van, picking up items from the collection.
We pulled the couch from the back and set it down. “Do you know how this one works?” I told him I didn’t. “What about this one?” He asked, lifting the painting. I remembered what he’d told me about what happened at the auction house and could see where his ideas were going… but sadly, I didn’t know how to activate the secret that it held.
The couch nuzzled against him like a dog might, using one of its arms in place of a head. It shook a little and began to stretch as though it has just woken up. We began to pile the rest of the items onto it. 8 of them in all. I still had the map and the ring in my pocket.
Hugh tried to lift the snake idol, but it was still too mysteriously heavy to be lifted. “Shit!” He shouted over the scream of the wind. “What do we do?”
The couch bent one of its clawed feet around the stone fertility statue and threw it on top. I just shrugged. “That’s one way, I guess.”
In the ground before Adam, the rift was opening wider and his attention remained wrapped and away from us. Small dark hands began to reach up and climb out, revealing disproportionately long arms attached to vantablack torsos. Living shadows crawled up and out towards him like a pack of ghouls. Adam only chanted. His back was still turned to us, but it seemed as though a blinding light was now emitting from his face.
“What next?” I asked him above the roar of the apocalypse around us.
“Now we stop him.” Hugh shouted back, “come on.” As we made our way toward Adam, the couch kept pace at a slow gait behind us. We came to a stop behind our uncle and began to remove some of the items from it quietly while we formulated a plan. We removed one of the mirrors. Hugh took the spectacles for himself to increase his speed. I took the blood boiling kris. In a moment we were ready.
“ADAM!” Hugh had the gun in his hand, aimed at our uncle’s head as he shouted amidst the chaos. Adam turned to face us. His eyes were gone, replaced by pools of pure white light. The fire continued to burn in the rift behind him and the wraiths of darkness that emitted themselves from the swirling tempest continued their slow crawl toward him like predatory spiders.
“Foolish nephews.” Adam said softly. We heard it over the droning cacophony as a whisper. I felt him rooting around in my mind. His words ran through every part of me like veins of ice water. “It is too late!”
“Now!” I shouted. Hugh placed the glasses on the bridge of his nose. While I ran left, the couch galloped to the right with one of the mirrors still bouncing precariously on its back. We believed distracting him long enough would be our only chance. Adam, could only spread his attention so far.
As I charged his flank on one side and the couch on the other, his eyes darted at each of us, unable to choose his first target.
He glanced at the animated couch with utter confusion and I thought for a moment that we might be evenly matched. Adam, Hugh and I all knew that each of the items held their own supernatural, otherworldly power, but none of us could discern what the items did at first glance. It stood to reason that he might not realize which item was going to be the bigger threat. The animalistic movement of the couch puzzled him for a moment and he nearly forgot himself. Hugh fired the gun as I charged toward Adam, clutching the dagger in my hand.
He laughed at both of us, leaping aside, skirting the bullet and my advance in one motion. He landed on his feet, in a crouch, poised for our next move. The couch and I continued to circle him in opposite directions, slowly tightening the space around him like a noose.
“Fools!” Adam shouted spreading his chest wide and rising to his full height. “It has already begun and it will not be stopped.” The rift pulsated behind him, widening as it did, he began to grow broader and taller before our eyes. His laughter issued like thunder, shaking the hills and sending snow toppling down from the trees. “Witness my power! This is the end of all things. Feel the destruction around you, wrought by mine own hands.”
Hugh stepped through the mirror that lay on the ground by his feet, reappearing behind Adam in the reflection of the one that balanced on the seat of the couch and fired, hitting him square in the back. He spun to glare at Hugh and reaching out his hand, the gun flew from Hugh and out of the mirror as if by magnetism. Hugh held onto it long enough to be pulled through and out, toppling onto the ground.
Adam, laughing, fired a shot at Hugh who still wore the glasses. Hugh jumped quickly away and the shot missed. The bullet lodged itself in the cushions of the couch. It began to screech in unholy pain as a dense fog began to billow out from the ruined fabric. Time seemed to slow. I felt as though I were moving through molasses in the snow. Even Adam was effected. The fog that emitted from the couch seemed to slow time to a lazy crawl. Only the swirling flames of the rift and the wraiths that crept through the snow retained their original speed. Most of the shadowy ghouls on the ground stopped their crawling and began spectating with greater intensity.
Adam fired again and looked perplexed and angry as the bullet crawled out of the gun and through the air. The sound of the rapport was an endless agony. Slowly Hugh and I were regaining our momentum and we both covered our ears for the duration of the explosive rumble as we began to move freely once more. Adam remained in slow motion
Hugh and I ran a full sprint toward him with the couch. It bounded towards him with renewed vigor despite it’s injury which still released a steady stream of slowing fog. The couch and I made it to him first, just as Adam began to move more fluidly, we slammed into him, hard. Somehow, in the midst of this, the gun went off. Hugh was in the bullet’s path. His body spun and fell limply to the ground.
Adam toppled backwards sending the gun flying. The wraiths began to move once more. I stabbed at Adam with the dagger and understood why mom hadn’t chased off after him into the woods on the day we rescued Hugh. The blade turned against his chest. It didn’t bend, but somehow it couldn’t penetrate.
He lay precariously close to the edge of the rift and began to laugh, but the final laugh was not his.
The dark hands reached out and took hold of him. The ghouls grasped at him with razored fingers. Those in the snow saw that the show was over. Their speed increased as they advanced, wailing furious cries from their empty faces. Those within the rift dug their nails and pulled. The ones that crawled on this side leapt onto him from every angle. Together, those within and without gave him to the rift and his screams of agony shuddered the fabric of the visible world, sending the mountain and forest around us into tremulous ripples.
I ran to Hugh, who was slowly standing with his hand on his shoulder.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yea.” Hugh whispered. There was a tear in the shoulder of his jacket and lucky Hugh Karington had only the smallest of abrasions beneath where the bullet had grazed him.
The wraiths were finished with Adam and were beginning to climb back out and advance towards us. It seemed they didn’t choose sides in good, vs. evil. There just hungry. Crawling slowly as they did, I managed to slash at a few of them with the dagger. It didn’t work on them as it had on that nice guy who I wanted to date or the cultists, but it deterred their approach just the same.
It was now, or never.
The chaos continued to spin around us as we quickly began to heave the Prometheus Collection through the maw of the rift in the hope that it would close. The ring. One mirror, then the next. The spectacles. The kris. The curio cabinet. The pocket watch. The silver key. The map. And finally, the couch crawled through the opening on its own, taking with it the painting that had given it life and the impossible-to-lift snake idol resting on the seat cushions.
That was when I knew for sure that everything Dad told me in our talk was true. The portal didn’t close and the black rain continued to fall from above.
“Why isn’t it closing?” Hugh asked loudly, “did we miss something? Are the mirrors one item or two?”
“They’re two.” I replied quietly.
“I said: they’re two!” I shouted it. I’d never felt so defeated. Hugh didn’t know why the rift remained, but I did.
Confusion swept across his face, “but that’s 12! I counted them all.”
I looked at him and felt the heavy weight of sadness rise up from my stomach.
“There’s not 12, bro.” I shouted doing my best to be heard above the roar of the rift and fighting back tears, “Those twelve came from the rift. There’s one more–one that was made here. One that comes from this side. Dad didn’t do it on purpose, but it happened.”
“Dalen, what are you on about? There’s 13?” He asked, “what’s the 13th?”
I choked the words out as armageddon continued to rend and swirl against the mountain around us, “It’s me…”
“The 13th Curio“
by: Kyle Harrison
Let me be the first to tell you thank you for being on this journey with Dalen and I. What started out as a mad dash to get rid of these strange trinkets has become quite likely the singular most important event in our lives. Even now, as it’s over and I reflect on everything that’s happened; I can’t even come to terms with it all.
I thought I was ready for anything. But I was wrong.
There on the darkened shores of Braden Lake, as Hell itself opened in front of our eyes and we tossed our sorry uncle into the pit, Dalen had one final secret to tell me. The reason mom had died during her ritual wasn’t cause she did it wrong but because Dad had hid a secret 13th item from everyone, including her.
“You?” I repeated, my mouth going dry as he explained that dad had made the 13th item a part of his very soul.
“Yeah… it’s those weird creatures that mom extracted from you a few nights ago. Well, apparently one is inside me as well. And… the only way to make things right is for me to go across that seal too,” Dalen explained.
“So this is why you’ve been so morbid since you talked to dad. He expected you to sacrifice yourself,” I said softly.
“There isn’t any other way Hugh. We have to keep the world safe. And the only way we do that is making sure the seal is closed on both sides. One of us here and the other over there,” he insisted.
I clenched my fists.
“Then I’ll go! You can’t just walk away from your life!” I said in frustration. Dalen smiled.
“Brother, I already died once. Remember when we were little?” he asked. He was talking about his sickness.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Dad didn’t give you the full scoop? I’m not surprised,” he scoffed.
“What did he not tell me? It’s not like we were having a heart to heart,” I said dryly.
“The accident. When we were kids. He said he lost everything. It wasn’t just Adam that died. It was me too. I was consumed by the rift,” Dalen answered.
“So… wait… you died. And he made the pact to bring you back to life?” I asked.
“It all makes sense now. The reason mom was so doting on me. And the reason dad treated me special. This has always been a part of me,” he said.
“‘Mom left us,” I pointed out.
“Because of what these items do to people close to them! Look at what it did to dad. He literally gave up god whole life for the damned thing,” Dalen argued.
“The way I see it, that’s exactly what you’re doing here,” I shouted back. The sky was rumbling louder. Making it clear that the rift might grow at any second.
“I don’t care. I don’t care what dead dad told you! He didn’t even bother to explain any of this while we were alive so why should we give a flip now?” I muttered as I shoved him.
“Because we need to be better than him Hugh!” Dalen insisted and punched me back. Blood trickled down my cheek.
I sighed and let a tear run down my cheek. “You don’t know what sort of things live there. Look at all this evil that slithered out. How will you even survive?” I asked as I gestured toward the half sliced up hell beasts that were surrounding us on all sides.
“I don’t think the rules work the same way over there. But I have to do this, to keep the world safe. It’s the only way. Or more people like Adam or Eve will show up and try to make trouble for us and for others. The world was lucky this time, Hugh. But eventually that luck will run out unless we act right here and right now,” he said.
I looked toward the portal, it shimmered and shined and shrieked as I spat on the ground.
“So that’s it then? You go ahead and just leave me behind to fulfill a destiny that neither of us asked for? Maybe Adam was right, and we should have destroyed these items in the first place,” I said.
“I think we both know by now that’s the dumbest thing to do. The collection was made for a reason. The seal must stay in place, no matter the cost. This is bigger than us. It always has been,” Dalen insisted.
I turned to him and felt the sudden urge to just slug him. “Goddamnit bro. I’m trying to save your ass here!!”
I was ready to tackle him again. I didn’t want it to be this way. “There’s always another way!”
“Stop!!” he insisted. “I have to do this!!!” He pushed me down to the ground. I tried to spring up and stop him but it was too late. The fissure to the other side closed as he stepped through.
The world shrieked and the beasts around me dissolved into pools of blood themselves as the portal closed. I kicked at the dirt and shouted obscenities.
“Goddamnit Dalen!!!” I shouted angrily. But it was pointless. He was gone.
I shouted his name into the empty air and kicked and clawed at the dirt. But it was pointless. The seal had closed and i was alone. The world suddenly felt so much smaller.
I made my way back to the highway with weary feet. A trucker driving both picked me up and took me back to Silver Grove. Naturally he was a conversationalist at just the time where I didn’t have the words to even convey what I was feeling.
“What’s a fella like you doing out here anyway? Ain’t the lake restricted?” he asked.
“Just… a little family reunion,” I said with a deep sigh as I gave him the address for the antiques shop. I was tired, and battling a wave of emotions. In less than a few days I had officially lost everything. It didn’t seem fair at all.
But I wasn’t about to let myself just fall to pieces. So I stayed busy, I used that evening to make the store look presentable. The way Dalen would want it. I was looking through the DIY ads that he had made that first week we got started.
Karington Emporium. We make you want what you didn’t even know you did
That corny line just made me suddenly come to terms with everything all at once. I crumpled up the paper and sobbed. My Brother was gone. My little baby brother that I was supposed to protect. Sure the world was saved. But I didn’t really give a shit. I wanted Dalen back.
The next day wasn’t any better. I opened shop and tried to go about business as usual. But everything in the shop reminded me of him. Even the dang jingle when customers came inside.
I kept looking at dads old service gun. I wanted to end it all. What was the point of going on anyway? I mean, it’s not like anybody would care. Maybe the world would be better off without me too. I held it close to my temple. I wanted so bad to just pull be trigger. Maybe then Dalen and I could be together?
That night though, I had a dream. And Dalen was there to see me.
“Bro. You’re being an idiot,” he said as we stood across a divide and stared down at each other.
“What the fuck do you care?” I asked angrily.
“Because we’re fam,” he insisted.
“Yeah. Great way to say goodbye,” I still had that fresh blood on my face.
“I’m sorry… I had to. You wouldn’t see reason,” he said.
“Since when did you get to be so brave?” I countered.
I could easily count at least a dozen times when I had come to save his skin.
“I think that this whole… experience has changed us, bro,” Dalen admitted.
I nodded. We were both different people. “At least your change is an improvement,” I pointed out.
“Yours too. Don’t sell yourself short. You used to be the most selfish person I know. And now look, you’re a big softie at heart,” he said.
I smiled half heartedly. “I just miss you bro, damnit,” I said and then gave him a hug. His ghost responded with a half shrug.
Then he relaxed and hugged me back. “I know… and… I think I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. But this… it feels right. It feels like what we are supposed to do,” he replied. We held each other there for a long awkward moment. But it didn’t really feel that way. We were saying goodbye. I didn’t know if I would ever get this chance again
“You’ll be alright, yeah?” I said with a half smile.
“Sure. And you will be too. Just… try to keep a stiff upper lip,” he told me. I could hear screams off in the distance. Wherever he was, there was danger.
“I have to go,” Dalen said. I felt scared for him. But then I remembered what he said about change. He wasn’t the same Dalen. He would be ok.
I woke up with a start. The gun still in my hand. I checked the chamber. I hadn’t committed suicide like I had considered. I went downstairs and looked around the empty storefront.
Maybe I should just go away from all of this, forget it ever happened I thought.
“Dalen…. I hate you,” I said halfheartedly to the empty air. I walked over to the counter and saw Dad’s old ledger sitting there.
“Where’d this thing pop up…?” I muttered as I opened it and considered burning it. Then I saw something etched there on the pages that sent a shiver down my spine. The original cryptic language and drawings was gone replaced with a simple message.
–Hate you too bro. Stay safe.-D
I laughed. So it wasn’t a dream. My Brother was alive somewhere. That meant I needed to stay alive too. No matter what.
And who knows? Maybe I can figure a way to save him eventually.
I have to believe that. Cause I know that’s what I think he would believe if our roles are reversed. So I walked to the front and I switched the closed sign to open.
It was time for me to get to work.