The Caretaker

In anticipation of this year’s Halloween festivities, I figured I’d share some of my favorite creepy stories from last Halloween. This is a good place to start!

 

Today marks the beginning of 20 Tales of Terror, where I’ll be featuring a scary tale every day until the end of the month! Why 20, you ask? Because I got a bit lazy earlier in the month…

But anyways, here’s the first spooky tale to get us started.

Caretaker

I was lost.

The tour map didn’t show anything remotely close to what I was looking at. It was a dismal looking manor house made of stone that had probably been white once, with a black metal fence running around it. It had no windows and one large door. On closer examination, I realized it was a mausoleum. I looked at my map again, hoping to find an answer it couldn’t give me.

“Can I help you, friend?” a voice like old rustling paper asked.

“Um, hello,” I said, looking at the man that stood before me. We were in a wide open space and the gate leading to the mansion was still locked. I hadn’t heard footsteps or seen even the flicker of a shadow, yet there he was. “I, uhh, I appear to be a bit lost.”

“It would appear so,” he said, in his cracked parchment voice. The man was hunched over, dressed in a dark furry coat that seemed to be writhing around his stooped shoulders. His sallow skin was stretched tight over his face, as if his skull were a few sizes too big for it. He smiled, showing off crooked teeth the color of curdled milk, while his hungry eyes were the color of milk that was only a day old.

He extended a bony hand with dirt-colored nails. “I’m the caretaker,” he said.

Not wanting to be rude, I shook his hand, which was as cold as the autumn air around us. I wondered how much care he took of anything, given the decrepit appearance of both the building and its keeper.

“How long have you been watching over this place?” I asked him.

“Oh, I don’t take care of the building.”

I could feel a shiver snaking its way along my spine. “What then?”

His ghoulish grin stretched wider. “Tourists, mostly.”

I didn’t see the shovel until it was inches from my face. I could feel droplets of blood shooting out of my mouth, along with a few teeth. Then there was blackness.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 19: Intruder

  
Michael laughed through another mouthful of popcorn, scattering bits of kernels all over himself and the couch. It was a lazy Friday evening and he’d just settled in to watch a cheap horror B-movie.

The film was a true gem, with buckets of goopy over-the-top gore, actors who were doing the bare minimum to earn their paycheck and costumes that were pretty light when it came to the female characters. All in all, it was the perfect weekend film.

Yet another scantily-clad actress screamed unconvincingly as the shoddily costumed monster advanced on her, rubber claws bared for attack. Michael reached for another handful of popcorn. And that’s when the lights went out.

From a very young age, Michael had been scare of the dark. Not just because of what might lurk in the shadows, but the general sense of powerlessness he felt when he couldn’t see anything. It was a fear that never really left him. Trying not to panic, he tried to make his way into the kitchen, certain that there was a flashlight in one of the drawers. Dim moonlight was streaming in through the window, so at least he wasn’t in total darkness.

As Michael felt around in the dark, he heard a faint scraping noise. He stopped and held his breath, listening more closely. It was definitely a scraping sound, but was it coming from outside? Or was it in the apartment? Instinctively, Michael looked over his shoulder, seeing nothing but darkness. He almost wished that he had seen something other than the black void behind him.

In more recent years, the dark had awakened another fear inside Michael: that someone might be lurking in it. Could an intruder have broken in, taking advantage of the power cut? Or did they cause the power cut in the first place? Michael almost laughed out loud at the silliness of that last notion, but his throat still felt dry.  Looking out the window, he could see lights on in the other apartments, but they were of little consolation to him. He couldn’t cry out for help. Even if he could, it might not arrive on time. If someone had broken in – another scrape, louder this time, and closer – maybe it was best for him to just leave. But he knew he couldn’t do that. He had to stay and face whoever was there.

The kitchen was completely dark. Michael stopped at the doorway, casting furtive glances around him. Once his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could make out the vague outlines of the fridge and the stove. He was also scanning for human silhouettes, but as far as he could tell, there weren’t any. Good. Michael crept carefully into the kitchen, feeling around and opening each draw with as little noise as he could. After what felt like many hours, he had the flashlight and a kitchen knife in hand. Whoever was out there wouldn’t last.

As he stepped out of the kitchen, Michael heard a strangled scream and saw a shape come bounding out of the dark. The figure slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. It was lying on top of him, wheezing and growling under its breath. He managed to push it off and pin it to the ground but it scratched at his face and managed to wrap its fingers around his neck. Struggling against the thing, Michael felt around on the floor until he found the knife, slicing his finger on it. Whatever this thing was, it had a strong grip and he could feel himself growing light headed. Mustering up all his strength, Michael raised the knife above his head and brought it down on. He felt it stab through meat and muscle, and the thing screamed, loosening its grip on him. Michael repeated the same action over and over again, clamping a hand on where the thing’s mouth was to muffle it screams, until it was completely still.

He slid off the corpse and sat back against a wall, gasping and wheezing. The power came back on. At last, Michael got to see the face of his attacker: it was the owner of the apartment. Michael was confused. He thought he’d killed him several hours ago. Apparently, he hadn’t quite finished the job. With a sigh of relief, Michael dragged the man’s body into the bedroom and wrapped him up in old blankets, sheets and newspapers. He dragged his knife along the corpse’s throat, letting him bleed out into his makeshift shroud. He wanted to be absolutely thorough this time.

Michael cleaned himself up, washing as much blood off as he could. He also cleaned up the kitchen and the surrounding area until it was completely spotless. Satisfied with his handiwork, Michael plopped himself down on the couch and resumed watching his movie. A stream of fake blood shot out from a mannequin that was supposed to be a dead man and Michael laughed, spitting out bits of popcorn again.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 18: Looking Glass

  
Demons.

They’re everywhere.

I see them, hiding in their human shells. They may fool the world. But they don’t fool me.

They walk around among us, pretending to be normal and human and good. But secretly, they’re wretched creatures, robbing the world of its goodness as they spread death and decay.

I’ve always seen them, since I was a boy. I knew it was a gift, but not everyone saw it that way. When I was 8, I tried to ‘cleanse’ my aunt with fire, hoping it would reveal her true form. She wound up in the hospital, and I was sent away to a juvenile home for a few years. It taught me to be more discreet.

Throughout high school, I endured the misery of being labeled a ‘freak’. It was a ploy by the demons to cut me off from society. It worked, of course, and I didn’t make any friends. Not even with the other ‘weird’ kids.

I couldn’t sit idle for long, though. After graduation, I went to college and promptly dropped out to pursue a different path in life. I was going to be a demon hunter. If I was the only one that saw them, then that meant I was the only one that could stop them.

I had to start small. Root out the demons in my every day life, in my neighborhood. I had to send a message to the others. That I was onto them. It would make me a target, of course, but that was my burden to bear.

I spent many months working out my plan, gathering and fashioning the weapons that would help me dispatch the creatures. When everything was ready, I made my move.

There were plenty of demons to choose from. My old high school tormentors, or perhaps my neighbors, who willingly annoyed me in a bid to drive me over the edge. The less interaction I had with normal people, the more power the demons would have over me. It didn’t help that childhood had turned me into a shut-in, incapable of speaking to anyone except to try and tell them the truth, a truth they never believed.

I decided to track down my old bullies. With careful research, I discovered where they were spreading their evil in the present. I memorized their schedules and their routines, looking for the points where they were isolated. Armed with this knowledge, I struck. Over weeks, I went to different parts of the country, rooting out the old demons of my childhood, and killed them. Destroying their human bodies rendered them powerless in this world, and it was easy to squash them before they escaped.

As expected, the news of my deeds spread. It took them less time than I had thought to catch on to me. Guess I got sloppy. The authorities came down on me hard, branded me some sort of serial killer and locked me away.

The trial was a sham, as many of the witnesses and experts were demons themselves. Of course they incriminated me and used their dark influence to sway the jury, convincing them that I was insane. I’m surprised they didn’t indict me as a cold-blooded murderer and push for capital punishment. Then again, maybe it’s not so surprising. They want me to suffer. They want me to doubt my sanity, my purpose. They want me to watch them win.

Even at the asylum, I’m a laughing stock among the guards. ‘Demon Boy’, they’ve nicknamed me. Hilarious. I know what’s coming, though. The demons won’t bother to hide any longer. They know I’m on to them and that I’m powerless. They’ll show their real faces now. I shake my head at the guards pityingly. The fools. They laugh and walk away, leaving me alone. I lay down on the cot in my cell, silence and darkness my only companions. As I close my eyes, the screaming starts.

One of the guards smashes into the plexiglass door of the cell, splattering blood all over it. A gaunt, skeletal creature walks up behind him, impaling him on its claws and tearing him in half. It looks at me, eyes burning with flame, and smiles. The end has begun.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 17: Beyond The Veil


Dearest Candice,

I hope this letter finds you in good health.

It has been scarcely two days since my departure, and already I find myself missing you deeply.

This morning, I was formally introduced to Dr. Cavendish, who gave me a personal tour of the institute and explained my duties in greater detail. I cannot describe to you the thrill I felt on meeting such a great man, and knowing that I will be working alongside him to broaden the horizons of human understanding and knowledge.

Dr. Cavendish is a man of great vision. Through his work, we may definitively be able to prove the scientific roots of the supernatural. If we are successful, all those old myths and superstitions will take on a completely new light! I know how dangerous that must sound, but do not worry. Dr. Cavendish is very thorough in his methods.

His behavior can, at times, be quite unorthodox, but that is to be expected of any ingenious mind. They operate on a level of thought we cannot begin to comprehend. He is very fastidious about cleanliness. Why, he even wore gloves while shaking hands with me! During our tour, we came across a stain on the floor. At first, I thought it to be blood, but later reflected it must have been a chemical spill. Dr. Cavendish was absolutely livid, however. He stamped his feet and roared at the top of his voice at everyone in the laboratory, stressing the important of keeping every surface clean.

I must confess, in that moment I felt a pang of fear, and thought I detected madness dancing behind his eyes. Perhaps that is the price of being truly passionate about something. Only moments later, Dr. Cavendish was in a good humor again, and resumed our tour as if the interruption had never occurred.

It was a most uneventful day otherwise. We had many discussions on the afterlife and its scientific implications that were quite fascinating to me, but I shall spare you the details.

Tomorrow, my work begins in earnest, and I greatly look forward to it. The coming weeks will be demanding, but I shall write to you as often as I possibly can.

Do give my love to Annabelle, and let her know that the both of you will always be in my heart.

With love,

Nathan

20 Tales of Terror – Day 16: Prophecy


Bashir fell to his knees and shut his eyes. He knew it was over. The man in the black cloak towered over him, boring into his soul with his dark, fathomless eyes. Death would finally claim Bashir, but he refused to face it. It wasn’t time yet.

Bashir woke up gasping for breath. He was soaked in sweat even though the sun had not yet risen and the air was still cool. His wife, Rukhsana, was fast asleep. Bashir got out of bed and went out into the courtyard. His goats were tethered to the tree that stood in the center of it, idling around.

For the third night in a row, Bashir had had the same dream. The same vision of death. It was an ill omen. The first time it happened, he told his best friend Farzan about it as they were setting up their stalls at the market. Farzan was troubled, but told him not to dwell on such dreams. Death would hardly announce his arrival, after all.

But the dream would not leave him. Whether it was a vision or just a nightmare, it snatched the peace out of Bashir’s mind. He hadn’t told Rukhsana about it, as he didn’t want to worry her, but he wouldn’t be able to hide his anxiety for long. Either death or madness awaited him. Bashir went back inside and lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling until the break of dawn.

That morning was one of the busiest Bashir had seen, as customers surrounded his little spice stall, haggling for the best prices on what they sought. It kept his mind occupied for a while. Bashir was pouring some ground cloves into a small bowl when he saw him.

A man dressed all in black, with a black scarf covering his face. His eyes, dark and fathomless, locked onto his, and he started walking towards him. Bashir panicked. His nightmare had come true.

His heart was trying to ram itself out of his chest as he ran from his stall. The man stopped, but his eyes followed Bashir. On every street, around every corner, Bashir could see those black orbs watching him. He ran, ignoring the pain welling up in his sides, until he reached his house. Rukhsana was feeding the goats and looked up at him, alarmed.

“Bashir! What are you doing home? What’s wrong?”

He stopped, doubled over, trying to catch his breath. In between wheezing gasps, he told Rukhsana everything about his visions and the man dressed in black who was after him.

Rukhsana listened to his tale in shock. She couldn’t believe that her husband was about to die.

“We cannot stay here,” she said, trying to remain calm. “We must leave. We will go to another village, where he will not find you.”

Bashir shook his head. “No…we – ”

Rukhsana took his face in her hands. “I will not let Death take you so easily, husband. We must go.”

Before they had a chance to move, they found their path blocked by a tall shadow.

Bashir fell to his knees and shut his eyes. He knew it was over. The man in the black cloak towered over him, boring into his soul with his dark, fathomless eyes. Death would finally claim Bashir, but he refused to face it. It wasn’t time yet.

“NO!” Rukhsana screamed. “You cannot take him! He still has a long life to live! He will be the father of my children! We have so many years ahead of us…please…you cannot take him…”

Death turned his head to gaze at her and spoke in a soft, clear voice that rose above the dusty wind.

“I have not come to claim your husband, child.”

Bashir’s eyes opened as relief slowly washed over him, but the knot in his stomach refused to untangle itself. Rukhsana was taken aback.

Death pointed a long, pale finger at her.

“I have come for you.”

20 Tales of Terror – Day 15: Haunted

  
She haunts me.

I see her face, jade eyes framed by raven locks, and I yearn for her.

The sight of her ruby lips curving into a smile would make the most arid desert blossom with life.

I remember the touch of her pale skin, like velvet. I can never forget the way she laughed when my fingers caressed her face. I would give anything to touch her again.

But I cannot.

Our love will only live on as a memory now.

All I can do is watch from afar as she walks by. She has a new life ahead of her, while I am doomed to wander the world, forever restless.

Forever haunted by memories of my life.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 14: Faceless

  
You see us every day, but never notice us. We notice you, though.

Were we to walk past you tomorrow, you would not recognize us. But we know you all too well.

Who you are, what you do, who you love, what you hate. We know it all, down to every last detail.

To the world, we are faceless. Anonymity is our cloak and it is our shield. People like yourself, however, have nowhere to hide from us. We know your faces, your bodies and your souls.

Occasionally, we toy with the world by launching an attack. A lone murder, perhaps, or a massacre if we’re feeling particularly playful. One of our number performs a sacrifice, casting off the veil of anonymity to reveal his true face to everyone. It does not matter. Nobody knows who he is. They can only express shock and disbelief. Some say they’ve seen him around, others claim they’ve ridden on the bus with him every day, but nobody saw his true face before. Nobody knew the doom that lay waiting.

That is our true power.

We are the Faceless.

We are everywhere.

We are nowhere.

We will rise up one day.

And you’ll never see us coming.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 13: Misdirection


“You’re an assistant! Your job is just to assist and look pretty!”

Carmen cringed. She hated it when Ernesto went off on her like that.

“You smile, wave at the crowd and flash your legs, but at the end of the day, they’re coming to see me! Ernesto the Magnificent! Don’t ever forget that!”

Ernesto jabbed a finger at her. His lean face was contorted into a scowl unlike the dapper smile that beamed from the poster behind him.

“Y-yes, Ernesto,” she whispered.

“I’m the star of the show! It’s my face on all the billboards, not yours! Try to steal my limelight again, and you’ll end up doing a permanent vanishing act!”

With that last word, he picked up one of the swords that he used in his act and threw it at Carmen, missing her face by mere inches as it embedded itself into the wall behind her. It wasn’t a prop. She screamed and shrank farther back.

Having satisfied his rage, Ernesto relaxed, adopting the sly charming smile that Carmen had first fallen in love with. He picked up his top hat and placed it on his head at a slight angle.

“Now wipe those tears and fix your makeup. We need to prep everything for the show and I can’t have you looking like a mess.”

With a flourish, he turned and walked out of the green room, leaving Carmen quivering.


As she always did, Carmen set up all the props for the evening’s performance, including the ones used in Ernesto’s greatest trick, The Resurrection.

Ernesto would step inside a large trunk. Carmen would lock it and demonstrate the strength of the lock by attempting and failing to pry the trunk open. She would then bring out a table lined with a row of swords. An audience member would be called on stage to verify that the swords were real. Carmen would repeatedly stab the trunk, running the swords all the way through, causing jets of blood to spurt from the holes, and drawing gasps and screams from the crowd. In reality, there was only one real sword, which the audience volunteer examined. The rest were all props. Carmen would remove the swords and open the trunk, revealing traces of blood but no body inside. More gasps would follow, and the audience would break out into an uneasy murmur.

That was when a completely unharmed Ernesto made his grand appearance from the back of the auditorium, to thunderous applause and cheers of delight. It was a true showstopper.

Carmen finished inspecting the trunk and was satisfied. Everything was ready for the show.


“Ladies and gentlemen! We have a most spectacular performance for you tonight! An astounding sorcerer who has honed his craft among the mystical monks of the Himalayas and the shamans of the African jungles – I give you, Ernesto the Magnificent!”

The crowd erupted into applause as Ernesto stepped onto the stage, dressed in a dark silk tuxedo with a flowing cape. He was never short on showmanship. More applause followed as he ran through his usual tricks: producing a flock of doves from his hat, making Carmen levitate and seemingly changing outfits in the blink of an eye.

At last, it was time for the main event, the trick that everyone had anxiously been waiting for since the curtains parted.

Carmen wheeled in the trunk, which was stood upright, while Ernesto started on his usual patter. He warned the audience about the heart-stopping nature of what they were about to see, and trotted out the old line about the Himalayan monks and what they had taught him. Then he proceeded to show off the trunk, its mundane and non-mystical nature. He gestured to the prop swords lying on the table next to it and demonstrated, using the real sword they mixed in with the group, the sharpness of the blades. Carmen stood off to the side and smiled, hands on her hips and bosom thrust out.

As the crowd watched, their breath collectively catching in their throats, Ernesto stepped into the trunk and gave Carmen the signal to close it. She shut the lid, locked it, and turned to face the crowd again. She walked over to the table with a big smile on her face and picked up one of the swords. With an exaggerated show of force, she plunged it through the upper part of the trunk, where Ernesto’s head would be. The blade came out the other side, slick with blood. The audience was already squirming.

She bowed, smile frozen in place, and went to fetch another sword. In total, sixteen swords were stuck into the trunk. After taking a moment to show off her handiwork, Carmen set about removing the swords, one by one. They slid out with a soft squelch, drawing at least one scream from the audience.

Now came the moment of revelation. With a big theatrical gesture, Carmen flung the trunk open. It was covered in blood, but otherwise empty. Everyone gasped in amazement. There was a small smattering of applause and Carmen took a bow.

Some of the audience members who had seen the show before immediately turned to face the back door. Others followed suit, and soon the entire auditorium was facing the back, waiting. Nothing happened.

The crowd grew uneasy. Where was he? This was the big finish, where he would show up again, unharmed. But he never came. Nobody saw him again after he stepped into the trunk that night.

Carmen was interrogated about his disappearance by the police, but they had to let her go. There was no evidence of any wrongdoing and since disappearing was a part of Ernesto’s trick, they couldn’t charge her with anything. Carmen walked away, sobbing into a large silk handkerchief.

Later that night, when the auditorium was empty, Carmen snuck in and opened the carefully concealed trapdoor on the stage. It led to a small chamber that she and Ernesto had installed months before the show; they were the only ones that knew about it. She pressed her handkerchief against her nose tightly as the smell hit her. Lying on the floor of the chamber was the body of Ernesto the Magnificent, covered in stab wounds and rusty, caked blood. Carmen would use the stage riggings to lift his body out and deposit it in the trunk, which she would dispose of some place far off. After that she would rigorously clean the entire stage area until no trace of blood was left. She would also get rid of the real swords that she had used in place of the props (and that she had carefully switched before the police investigation).

Fastidious as ever, Carmen had taken care of every detail. No one would ever know that shedding genuine tears over the disappearance of Ernesto the Magnificent was the greatest trick she’d ever pulled.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 12: The Cursed Stones

  
Crawley knew he was close. He checked the notebook again. According to the crudely drawn map, he should have been standing right on top of the stones. He smiled in spite of the exhaustion that was threatening to overtake him. He had finally done it. Years of research and fruitless expeditions had finally led to this.

His knees threatened to give out from under him, so Crawley appeased them by sitting down on a wide flat-topped boulder. He would rest for a few moments, and then he would find the stones and achieve his ultimate triumph.

Devon Crawley had been obsessed with the mysterious stones of Jankara the very first time he heard about them as a young man. The last relic of a long-forgotten North Indian tribe, the stones were said to have an inscription in their ancient language, and there were always the stories of mystical powers that accompanied these artifacts. Crawley didn’t care for any of that, however. He just wanted the thrill of being the first to find them, to have his own name etched into the fabric of history.

During his college years, he had accompanied his former mentor, along with some fellow grad students and a few avid treasure hunters, on an expedition to find the stones. They all had a general idea of where to look, an area near the border of Nepal, but nothing exact. The trip had ended in failure, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Many of Crawley’s companions, including his mentor, had died. Some had fallen ill, some had been the victims of brutal accidents, and some simply disappeared. It didn’t take long for rumor to spread: the stones were cursed, preserving their own secrets by warding off outsiders. But Crawley wasn’t deterred. No curse would keep him from what he deserved.

As he grew older, Crawley developed a reputation as a brilliant but ornery historian, eventually taking a teaching position at a local university. With access to even greater resources, he pursued his old dream anew.

After 25 years of extensive research and a lot of bargaining with some well-connected friends, he was able to fund an expedition of his own. He had recently acquired a logbook from a marine vessel that had sailed in search of the stones in 1760; it had a map that pinpointed the exact location of the stones. Someone had inscribed a skull-like shape into the book’s cover, perhaps as a warning. Crawley though it best not to share that information with anyone, keeping the book’s presence a secret.

The expedition, like all previous ones Crawley had been on, went poorly. A few of the graduate students that had accompanied him fell ill; their ailments proved to be deadly. When they were climbing a steep hill, their guide met with a gruesome fate. Each time, Crawley forced everyone to press on. There was no turning back anymore. Against all protest, the expedition continued. Eventually, Crawley was the only one left. It didn’t matter.  The stones were his prize. He alone deserved to claim them.

Sitting in the middle of the clearing, Crawley couldn’t help but laugh. Everyone was too busy worrying about curses and mysticism to see what was right in front of them. Crawley was ambitious, more ambitious than anyone could have guessed. He had carefully planned out the deaths of his crew members, to propagate the story of the curse. Forgotten relics were all well and good, but cursed forgotten relics would really make it into the history books. And if Crawley were the sole survivor of a doomed mission? His story would live on forever. The last time he had tried that, he went home empty-handed. But now, he would finally get what he was owed.

After a little digging, Crawley unearthed the stones. There were three of them, no two shaped alike. Various symbols had been roughly carved into the stones; the last living words of a dead tongue. Crawley smiled. He had done it. His smile vanished at once when he saw the symbols started glowing. A sickly green light emanated from the stones, almost blinding in its intensity. Crawley dropped the stones and backed away. It was too late.

With mounting horror, Crawley noticed that his hands had taken on the same sickly green tint. It was spreading over his body. At the same time, he launched into a violent coughing fit. Blood was pooling up in his lungs. His vision was starting to blur. Crawley slid to the ground, which was spinning all around him.


News of Crawley’s doomed expedition spread soon enough, arousing much curiosity. Everyone wanted to know about the mysterious stones of Jankara. The stones came to be recognized as significant historical artifacts, and Professor Devon Crawley became famous as the obsessed historian who had been chasing the relics, and had succumbed to their horrific curse.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 11: Plague


Joanna kept running, even though she could feel her lungs burning. The sheriff’s office was within sight. She stopped just in front of the door as a creature bounded in front of her, screeching in an unnatural pitch. She wasted no time in snuffing the light out of its soulless eyes.

With a quick pump, Sheriff Joanna Wheeler ejected the spent shells from the shotgun and barged into her office. It was empty, except for the blond man, who was still in the holding cell. She pointed her gun through the bars of the cell, breathing hard.

“What the hell’s going on here? What are those things?”

The bedraggled prisoner shook his head sadly. “I toldja you should have let me go.”

“I’m gonna need a better explanation,” Joanna growled.

The blond man looked her square in the eye. His eyes were very blue, the irises standing out against the bloody veins that surrounded them.

“Shoulda let me go, Sheriff,” he repeated.

Perhaps she should have. When Deputy Earl Mason had brought the stranger in for driving drunk, Joanna had expected it to be a fairly routine case. They’d let him sober up in the cell while they tried to find someone to get him. But he didn’t have any ID and was too incoherent to give them a name. He had screamed about how they had to release him and babbled on about monsters before passing out. They didn’t give him a second thought. Until sundown.

Joanna had received a call about some sort of disturbance at the Wilburs’ farmhouse. She knew something was wrong the moment she pulled into the driveway. There was pin drop silence. She walked toward the house, taking her pistol out of his holster. There was some sort of sound coming from the barn just adjacent to the main house. Joanna slowly walked toward it, noticing the door was ajar. She pushed the door open and almost threw up.

All of the animals were dead. Their mutilated pieces lay scattered around the barn, the floor thick with blood. The Wilburs lay near the entrance. Most of the meat had been stripped off May Wilbur’s body, and Henry was in the process of being disemboweled by some sort of troll-like creature. It whipped its head around to look at Joanna, licking its bloodied gums. She emptied an entire round of ammunition into it and ran. As she was getting into her car, she saw more of those same creatures on the roof of the farmhouse. They leapt off and ran towards the town.

Joanna drove after them, hoping she could prevent them from hurting anyone. But she was wrong. Within minutes, there were hundreds of them, attacking anyone in sight. They overwhelmed the squad car and Joanna barely managed to escape, taking her shotgun and a couple of boxes of shells with her. She had come running to the office to collect some more ammunition, and hopefully some answers.

She kept her gun trained on the blond man, contemplating whether to just shoot him and get it over with, when a thought struck her: where was Earl? She heard a screech behind her and turned around just in time to blow the head off the creature trying to attack her. There was blood pooling under the door of the evidence room. Inside, Joanna found what was left of Earl. This time she did throw up.

Composing herself as best she could, Joanna unlocked the cell door and dragged the blond man out.

“Alright, you’re free. Now what?”

He shook his head again. “It’s too late.”

“The hell it is.” She grabbed him by the collar and led him out of the station. The blond man’s car was parked outside, apparently untouched. As they walked toward it, she realized the whole town was silent and completely dark, except for a few flickering street lights. She caught sight of a tall figure under one of the lights by the station. He was dressed in a preacher’s outfit with a wide brimmed hat covering most of his pallid face, leaving only a grinning mouth exposed.

“Good evening, Sheriff,” the creature said in a low twang. “He’s right, you know. It is too late.”

Joanna stepped in front of the blond man and raised her shotgun.

“Is it now? Well, why don’t you step into the light, stranger, and maybe we can talk about that.”

The figure grinned wider, jagged teeth glinting. Its eyes remained hidden.

“I appreciate the offer, Sheriff, but I’m much more comfortable here.”

“What the hell are you?”

It responded with a soft laugh that snaked its way up her spine.

“You may consider me a harbinger. This town is on its last legs, Sheriff. It’s beyond saving now.”

Joanna tried to keep her hands steady. “Why? Why here?”

The figured looked thoughtful. “Well, to be honest, Sheriff, we just wanted him.” It pointed a long finger at the blond man.

“But then your friend came along and took him in. We thought we might wait for his release before continuing our pursuit but, well, we got hungry.”

The figure’s grin widened into a ghastly rictus. Joanna cursed loudly and fired a shot as the street light flicked off. When it came on again, there was nobody there. She snapped her head around to look at the blond man.

“Get in the car.”

“Don’t you see? There’s no point! They’re everywhere!”

“Get. In the goddamned. Car.”

“It’s too late…”

The blond man lunged at Joanna and managed to wrap his fingers around her throat. Reflexively, she pulled the trigger and the back of his head exploded in a shower of blood, flesh and bone. Bloody spittle flew out of his mouth, staining her jacket and her cheek.

“Dammit!”

She stared at the blond man’s corpse and then looked around. She could hear humming. It was a low rumble, like several car engines idling at once. It was coming from every direction, pounding itself into her skull, sapping the energy from her body.

Things were about to get much worse.

Joanna slid into the driver’s seat of the car, taking slow, deep breaths. She laid the shotgun across her lap and started up the engine. The street lights started coming back on, casting deep shadows across the street. She could see that the creatures were perched on the rooftops and crowded along the sidewalk, watching her with unblinking eyes. They were humming in unison. The ground vibrated beneath her. She put the car into gear and drove off, with the creatures still watching.

Joanna said a small prayer under her breath. She was going to drive as far as she could go before the car broke down or was attacked. After that, all she could do was take out as many of the bastards as possible before they ripped her apart.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 10: False Friend

  
While walking to my house last night,

I was greeted by a chilling sight.

There was a girl in a bloody dress,

Who smiled through the scarlet mess.

As I approached the lane’s end,

She asked me, “Will you be my friend?”

This morning I walked down the lane,

And the girl was standing there again.

“Will you be my friend?” she said.

Without a word, I turned and fled.

For if I desired to be her friend,

I wouldn’t have brought about her end.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 9: The Depths

  
I am mesmerized by the ocean. It fills me with wonder. And terror.

Myths and legends tell of monsters that lurk beneath the waves. But even sea serpents and kraken know that they are not masters of the sea. They only serve it, dragging ships and sailors to the depths below to sate its unending hunger.

In the midst of a storm, the ocean shows its true face. A vicious beast, thrashing about and attacking any ship unfortunate enough to be on the water. Its waves foam at the mouth like rabid dogs and roar like thunder. Even the monsters of the sea are afraid of it and retreat to their submerged lairs.

On a calm day, the deep blue waters are a dazzling sight, offering only a small glimpse at what’s under the surface while keeping their deepest and darkest secrets well hidden. Gently rolling waves create a sense of tranquility that belies the dangers lurking below. The waters are deceptive, lulling its victims into a slow, painful death.

She went sailing on a calm morning. She had loved the water since birth. The ocean ran in her blood and called out to her. She answered. I watched the pristine white sailboat recede into the horizon on a sheet of perfect blue. She had a smile on her face, her hair blowing in a gentle breeze.

The boat was reported lost on a calm afternoon. Nobody could find any trace of it, and the ocean would not give up its secrets. After weeks of searching, only one conclusion could be reached: it had been dragged to the depths, with her on it, and that’s where it would remain. I knew I had to find her, give her the dignity of a burial, at least. But I would not go into the water. I refused to be fooled by its majesty.

Yet I cannot help myself from walking along its shore, scanning the horizon in hopes of seeing a white sailboat and young woman whose hair blew around her in the ocean breeze.

I am mesmerized by the ocean. It fills me with wonder. And terror.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 8: Taking Root

  
The flower smelled as beautiful as it looked. William couldn’t resist taking a whiff. It was the worst mistake of his life.

Things started out small. Sneezing, a runny nose, minor headaches. William thought it might be allergies, or some issue that could be taken care of with a few pills and some gulps of water. That didn’t help.

William knew something was very wrong when he tried to clean his ear and pulled out a fistful of dead leaves. He knew things were very wrong when he sneezed and a vine shot out of his nostril.

By the time William caught onto what was happening, leaves and branches were sprouting from every opening on his body. He saw a flower blossom on one of the vines. It smelled as beautiful as it looked.

Perhaps someone would pass by and stop to take a whiff.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 7: Say Goodnight

  
“Daddy…will you check under the bed for monsters?”

Dan mimed whacking himself in the forehead. “Of course! How could I forget?”

He smiled and got on his hands and knees and scanned the empty space under the wooden bed frame intently. His son would grow out of his fears one day, but there was no need to speed up his loss of innocence.

“Well, there’s no monster under here!” he declared triumphantly.

“No, not anymore,” a rasping voice responded from above him.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 6: Came Tumbling After

  
Jill downed another glass of scotch. Half-drunk was the only way she could live anymore. The Thirsty Bandit was like a second home to her. She could barely breathe in her house, let alone live in it. Lenny, the owner of the tavern, was more interested in earning his coins than anything else, though even he often arched an eyebrow at how much booze Jill put away in the evening.

As she poured herself some more scotch, Lenny placed a glass of water in front of her. “Something to wash it down with,” he said, smiling through yellowed teeth.

Jill averted her eyes. Catching just a glimpse of the water made her feel sick. Everyone in the village knew her story. They remembered when she was just a little girl and would often play with her twin brother Jack. There were bouts of sibling rivalry that made people laugh. How typical of children, after all.

Every day, the twins were responsible for collecting water from the well on top of the hill. Jill remembered that one morning when she and Jack had gone up the hill, as always. They had been arguing bitterly before that, and their mother had sent them off just to have some peace in the house. Everything had felt different during the climb up the hill. There was a strange feeling in the air. Jack filled his pail and started to walk back, but Jill lingered. She could see faces floating on the surface of the water, hear voices that spoke directly to her.

Jill had rushed back to the house, almost tumbling down the road, babbling and in tears. Once she had been calmed somewhat, everyone discovered what had happened: Jack had tripped and fallen on the way down, and was lying at the bottom of the hill in a shallow pool of his own blood. Everyone knew the story. But nobody knew about the faces in the water, and the voices that had harnessed her anger towards Jack for their own dark purposes. Nobody suspected even for a moment that innocent young Jill had walked up behind Jack and pushed him down the hill. Nobody knew that Jill had stood by Jack’s body, watching him convulse until he was still. That she had laughed and laughed until forcing the laughter to turn into screams before running back home.

And she could never tell anyone that Jack haunted her. In every lake, every river, every wretched glass of water, she saw his face. She heard his voice, wetly gasping for breath as blood filled his lungs. She drank water only when her thirst grew too desperate, bathed just long enough to wash her skin. But there was a deeper thirst that she could never quench, and her soul would remain unclean. She would forever be plagued by visions of Jack falling down the hill as she tumbled into madness.