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.