I have something special for you today! Remember the big announcement I was dying to make? Well, this is it! The Dark Side of Gaming now has a sister! Below you’ll find a link to the first episode of – The Dark Side of YouTube!
Swamp Dweller has put together top tier team for this one, and I still can’t believe I’m part of it. Yes, you hear Swamp’s name and automatically know it’s legit, but then I tell you Autumn Ivy is the host and the fireworks begin! Joey Sourlis is doing sound, and while I wrote this script – any episodes I don’t write will be done by SinisterDarkSoul – in other words, you’ll never be disappointed!
If you enjoy the true, dark and disturbing – this show was made for you!
I don’t have too much on the update front. There’s a couple of other projects I haven’t announced that should be coming out soon, but I will likely not be able to publish a classic this weekend. Romulus had a surgery and will need our full attention in the coming days. I haven’t reached a point where I can discuss it yet, so I appreciate your understanding in my vagueness. Thankfully, his vet assures he’ll make a full recovery and that’s really all that matters anyway.
I don’t want to keep you from the video any longer, so I’ll conclude this with a big, fat thank you for being here and let you be on your merry way!
W. Somerset Maugham, first published in 1936; translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This is for a Classics in the Rain special; narration coming soon.
For the last thirty years, I have been studying my fellow-men. I do not know very much about them. I suppose that is because we tend to judge people when we meet them. We draw conclusions based on the shape of their jaw, the look in their eyes, and the shape of their mouth. I shrug my shoulders when people say their first impressions are always right. I find the longer I know someone, the more they puzzle me; my oldest friends are those I know nothing about.
These thoughts occur to me because this morning’s paper reported that Edward Hyde Burton died at Kobe. He was a merchant, and he had been in Japan for many years. I knew very little of him, but he surprised me once, so I found him interesting. If I had not heard the story from his own lips, I never would have believed he was capable of such a thing. It was even more startling because his appearance and his behavior gave a very different impression. He was a tiny, slender fellow with white hair, a wrinkled, red face, and blue eyes. He was about sixty when I knew him, and he was always dressed in accordance with his age and station.
Though his offices were in Kobe, Burton often came down to Yokohama. On one occasion, I spent a few days there while waiting for a ship, and I met him at the British Club. He played a good game of bridge, but he did not talk very much – not then or later when we had drinks – though what he did say was sensible.
He had a quiet, dry humor, and he was quite popular at the club; after he left, they described him as one of the best. We were both staying at the Grand Hotel, and he asked me to have dinner with him the next day. I met his fat, old, smiling wife along with his two daughters, and they were clearly a close, loving family.
The main thing that struck me about Burton was his kindness; there was something very pleasing in his mild, blue eyes and easy smile. His voice was gentle; you could not imagine him raising it in anger. This was a man you admired because you could feel the love he had for others. He was charming, but there was nothing sentimental about him; he liked cards and cocktails, he could tell a good, spicy story, he was somewhat of an athlete in his youth, and he was a self-made wealthy man. He was also small and frail – it made you want to protect him; he seemed like the type who would never hurt a fly.
One afternoon, I was sitting in the hotel lounge, admiring an excellent view of the harbor and its crowded traffic. There were great liners, merchant ships from every nation, and boats sailing all about. It was a busy scene, yet somehow calming to the soul. Burton saw me when he entered the lounge, and he sat in the chair next to mine.
“What do you say to a little drink?” He clapped and ordered two drinks. As a boy brought them, a man passing by on the street waved to me.
“Do you know Turner?” Burton said as I nodded a greeting.
“I’ve met him at the club. I’m told he’s a remittance man – you know – one of those immigrants whose family sent them away for being an embarrassment.”
“Yes, I believe he is; there are a good many here.”
“He plays bridge well.” I added.
“They usually do. A namesake of mine was here last year, and he was the best bridge player I ever met. You likely never came across him in London, but he called himself Lenny Burton.”
“No, I’m not familiar with the name.”
“He was a remarkable player; he had an uncanny instinct for cards. We used to play a lot when he was in Kobe.”
Burton sipped his gin. “It’s rather a funny story,” he said. “I liked him… He wasn’t a bad kid. He always dressed well, and he was handsome with his curly hair and light-pink cheeks. Women were very fond of him; he was a wild one but harmless… Of course, he drank too much… Fellows like him always do… He received a small quarterly income and made a bit more playing cards; at least, I know he won a good deal of mine.”
Burton chuckled kindly. “I suppose that’s why he came to me when he was broke… Well, that and the fact he was my namesake. One day, he came to my office and asked for a job; I was rather surprised. He said there was no more money coming from home, and he wanted to work; so, I asked how old he was, and he said 35.
“Then, I asked what he could do, but he’d never done anything! I couldn’t help but laugh. I tried sending him away – told him to come back and see me in another 35 years, and I’d see what I could do! He went pale and stood frozen, but – after a moment’s hesitation – he said he’d been having bad luck at cards for some time. He didn’t have a penny left, and he’d already pawned everything he owned. He couldn’t pay his hotel bill, and they wouldn’t give him any more credit. He was at rock bottom; if he couldn’t get a job, he’d have to commit suicide.
“I looked at him for a minute, and I could see he was falling to pieces. He’d been drinking more than usual, too; he looked 50-years-old. I asked again – wasn’t there something he could do besides play cards?! And do you know what he said? Swim! I could hardly believe my ears; it seemed like such a silly answer, but apparently he swam in college.
“Well, I was a pretty good swimmer myself as a young man, so – I said as much – and, suddenly, I had an idea!” Burton paused his story, turned to me, and asked, “have you been to Kobe?”
“I’ve passed through it, but I’ve only spent one night there.” I said.
“Then you wouldn’t know the Shioya Club. In my younger years, I would start there and swim around the beacon to the Tarumi creek. It’s over three miles, and it’s fairly difficult due to the currents near the beacon. I told my young namesake that if he did it, I’d give him a job. He seemed rather surprised, so I asked again – was really a swimmer – and he confessed to being in less than perfect condition.
“I shrugged without saying anything, and he studied me for a moment before finally agreeing. He asked when I wanted him to do it, and I checked my watch to see it was just past 10:00. Since the swim wouldn’t take more than an hour and fifteen minutes, I said that I would meet him at the creek at 12:30, and – afterwards – I would take him to get dressed so we could have lunch.
“He agreed, and we shook hands; then, I wished him good luck, and he left. I had a lot of work to do that morning, and I barely managed to get to the creek on time. I waited for him, but in vain…”
“Did he chicken out at the last minute?” I asked.
“No; he’d already started swimming, but he ruined his health with alcohol. The currents around the beacon were more than he could handle, but his body wasn’t found until about three days later.”
I didn’t say anything at first; I was a little shocked. Then, I asked Burton a question… “When you offered him the job, did you know that he’d drown?”
He gave a mild chuckle, looked at me with those kind, blue eyes, and rubbed his chin. “Well, I didn’t have a vacancy at the time.”
M.R. James, first published in 1925; translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
The story you are about to hear take’s place in the east coast town of Seaburgh. It has not changed much since my childhood. There were marshlands to the south, and the flat fields in the north merged with acres of heath trees and fir woods further inland. Between the long sea-front and street was a spacious, flint church with a large western tower and six bells. I remember how they sounded on a hot Sunday in August as our group walked up the steep, dusty hill towards the church. They rang with a flat, clacking sound when it was hot, but when the air was cooler they were softer.
The railway ran to a small terminal farther along the same road. Identical bright, white windmills could be found all over town; one was right before the station, another was near the beach, and the rest were on higher ground to the north. There were red, brick cottages with slate roofs— but why do I bother you with these boring details? Honestly, I can’t seem to help myself when it comes to writing about Seaburgh; I like to ensure the right words make it onto the paper, and I have not quite finished painting the scene yet.
If you walked past the station – away from the town and the sea – and take a right turn, you would reach a sandy road parallel to the railway. It stretches uphill with heath trees to the west, and a thicket of wind-beaten fir trees at the top – facing the sea. There is also a line of these fir trees running towards the sea atop my little hill; they crown the well-shaped mound surrounded by flat, grassy fields. It’s a fine place to sit on a hot, spring day and look at the blue sea, the white windmills, the red cottages, the green grass, and the distant martello tower to the south.
I said I knew Seaburgh from my childhood, but it has been many years since then. I am still quite fond of the town, and I enjoy any news of it I might hear. One story came to me by accident in a place very far from Seaburgh; I helped the man who shared it with me, and I have recorded it below.
I used to golf in Seaburgh pretty regularly in the spring. I usually stayed at the Bear Hotel with my friend, Henry Long… You might have known him… We used to enjoy talking together in the lounge, but – since he died – I haven’t wanted to go back, and I don’t think I will after what happened last time.
We were there on April 19th, and there were not many guests in the hotel. The public areas were practically empty, and, after dinner, we were surprised when a young man – Paxton was his name – stuck his head into our room. He was pale and rabbit-faced with light hair and eyes, but he wasn’t ugly. “Is this a private room?” He asked.
“No; please, join us.” We invited him in, and he seemed relieved. It was obvious he wanted company, and since he wasn’t the sort to dump his whole family history on you – we urged him to make himself at home. “You would find the other rooms rather dull, anyway.” I added.
“Thank you; yes, I already did.” He confirmed, and – once the pleasantries were finished – he began reading a book while Long played cards, and I worked on my writing. Within a few minutes, it became obvious that our visitor was quite nervous, so I put away my work and began a conversation.
After the initial remarks, he became oddly secretive and said we would think him crazy if he shared his concerns. I recommended a drink for courage, and we all had one; though, when the waiter entered, Paxton seemed very jumpy.
He didn’t know anyone in the hotel, but we shared a common acquaintance in town, and he was hoping for some advice. Of course, we agreed, and Long put his cards away as we settled down to hear the young man’s story.
“It started over a week ago when I biked the 5-6 miles to Froston…” He began. “Just to see the church; I’m fascinated by architecture, and it’s got one of those pretty porches with beams and gables. I took a picture of it, and an old man who was cleaning the churchyard asked if I wanted to look inside… So, I said yes, and he pulled out a key to let me in. There wasn’t much in there, but the caretaker liked to keep it clean, and I pointed to the porch, saying it was my favorite part.”
“Ah, it is a nice porch, but do you know what that coat-of-arms means?” The caretaker asked, indicating the one with three crowns.
While Paxton was no expert, he thought it belonged to East Anglia. “That’s right, sir, and do you know the meaning of those three crowns?” The caretaker pressed, but the young man did not know.
“Well, then, I can tell the scholar something he doesn’t know! They’re the three holy crowns that were buried near the coast to keep the Germans from landing… I can see you don’t believe that, but if it hadn’t been those crowns – the German ships would of landed here over and over, and they would have killed men, women, and children! That’s the truth, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask the cleric— Here he comes, you go ahead and ask.”
A nice-looking, older man was coming up the path, and before Paxton could assure the excited caretaker that he did believe him – the cleric spoke first. “What’s going on, John? And good day, sir. Have you been looking at our little church?”‘
John calmed down during the conversation that followed, and the cleric tried asking him once more what was wrong. “Oh, nothing… I was only telling this gentleman he should ask you about the holy crowns.”
‘”Ah, yes, of course,” the cleric said. “That’s an intriguing matter, isn’t it? But I don’t know if the gentleman is interested in our old stories, eh?”
“Oh, he’ll be interested fast enough, and he’ll believe what you tell him, sir! You knew William Ager personally – the father and son!” John said.
“I would like to hear about it.” Paxton said, and the cleric led him down the village street to the rectory – occasionally stopping to speak with a parishioner.
Then, they went into his study where he was happy to share the legend. “The locals have always believed in the three holy crowns. The old people say they were buried in different places near the coast to keep the foreigners away; one was removed a long time ago, another has disappeared beneath the rising sea, and the last is still keeping invaders at bay. If you have read our history, you may remember that in 1687, the crown of Redwald – King of the East Angles – was dug up in Rendlesham and tragically melted down before it could be properly described or drawn; it had been buried farther inland. The second crown was buried to the south where a Saxon royal palace used to be, but it’s at the bottom of the sea now. Finally, the third crown lies beyond those two.”
“Do they know where it is?” Paxton asked, unable to believe such a story had not been made into a book.
“Yes, but they won’t tell.” The cleric answered, and his manner discouraged the young man from asking why.
Instead, he waited a moment before asking, “what did the old man mean when he said you knew William Ager like it had something to do with the crowns?”
“That’s another strange story.” The cleric began. “Ager is a very old name in these parts, but I can’t find proof they were ever high-class people, or that their ancestors were the last crown’s guardians. Nathaniel Ager was the first one I knew; I was born and raised nearby, and he was camping there for the duration of the Franco-Prussian War. His son, William, did the same during the South African War, and his recently deceased grandson, young William, lived in the cottage closest to the place it’s buried. He was deathly ill, and the last of his line; I have no doubt that knowledge quickened his death. He was devastated to know there would be no one else to keep watch, but he couldn’t do anything about it; his relatives were all far away, in the colonies. I wrote letters to them on his behalf – begging them to come for a visit and discuss important family matters – but there hasn’t been a reply. If the last of the holy crowns is really there – it has no guardian now.”
“I found the cleric’s story fascinating. When I left, the only thing I could think about was finding that crown, but I wish I’d left it alone.” Paxton began. “The whole thing seemed like fate; as I biked back past the churchyard wall, my eye caught a fairly new gravestone bearing the name William Ager. I had to stop for a closer look, and it said he died in Seaburgh at age 28. With that information, I thought I could at least ask about cottages in the area, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Then, fate struck again; it took me to a curio-shop, and I found some old books – one of which was a fancy prayer-book from 1740– Wait one moment while I get it from my room.”
He left us somewhat speechless, but we hardly had time to exchange any remarks before he was back. Panting, he handed us the book opened to someone’s scraggly hand-writing; it said:
“Nathaniel Ager is my name, and England is my nation; Seaburgh is my home, and Christ is my salvation. When I am in my grave, and all my bones are rotten – I hope the Lord will think of me when I am quite forgotten.”
The poem was dated 1754, and there were many more entries of Agers, Nathaniel, Frederick, and so on, until eventually ending with William.
“You see,” he said, “anybody would think it was luck. I did at first, but not anymore. I asked the shop clerk about William Ager, and he remembered the man died in a cottage on the North Field. This told me exactly which one it must be: there’s only one big enough to live in. The next thing was to make friends with the locals, and a dog helped me get started; he came at me so fiercely, people had to come out and run him off. When they apologized, I only had to mention Ager’s name and pretend I knew something about him. Then, a woman saddened by his untimely demise said it happened because he slept outside during the winter. I asked if he went out to sea at night, but she said he stayed on the hill with all the trees – so that’s where I went.
“I know how to dig into those mounds; I’ve opened plenty of them in the country, but that was with owner’s permission and during the day with men helping. I had to think very carefully before I began; I couldn’t dig across the mound, and I knew those old firs trees would have awkward roots in the way. The soil was light and sandy, and I turned a rabbit hole into the start of a tunnel. Coming and going to the hotel at odd hours was going to be the hard part. When I decided how to dig, I told everyone I was called away for the night and spent it out there. I made my tunnel, but I won’t bore you with how I supported it and filled it in afterwards; the important thing is that I got the crown.” Paxton finished.
Naturally, we were both shocked and full of interest. I had already known someone found the crown at Rendlesham and often grieved over its fate. No one had ever seen the Anglo-Saxon crown – at least, not until he dug it up…
The young man’s gaze was filled with sorrow. “The worst part is – I don’t know how to put it back.”
“Put it back?” We cried out. “But you’ve made one of the most exciting finds ever heard of in this country. It should go to the Jewel House at the Tower. What’s troubling you? If you’re worried about the land owner, we can certainly help you. Nobody’s going to make a fuss about technicalities in a case like this.”
We probably said more, but he only dropped his face into his hands, muttering, “I don’t know how to put it back.”
Finally, Long said, “I hope you’ll forgive me if I sound rude, but… Are you sure you’ve found it?”
I had wanted to ask the same question; the story did sound like a madman’s fantasy, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to hurt the poor man’s feelings. However, he took it rather calmly.
“Oh, yes, there’s no doubt; it’s in my room – locked in my bag. You can come look if you like, but I won’t offer to bring it here.” He said, sitting up.
We couldn’t miss such a chance; obviously, we went with him. His room was only a few doors over, and he was shaking more than ever as we hurried inside. He turned on the light, carefully shut the door, unlocked his bag, and produced something wrapped in a handkerchief. He opened it on the bed, and I can now say I have seen an actual Anglo-Saxon crown. It was silver – like the one from Rendlesham – and it was decorated with antique gems, but it was also plain and roughly made. It was like the crowns you see on coins and in manuscripts; I saw no reason to think it was later than the ninth century.
I was extremely interested, and I wanted to hold it in my hands, but Paxton wouldn’t let me. “Don’t touch it; I’ll do that.” He said with a dreadful sigh as he lifted and turned it to show us every side. “Seen enough?” He finally asked. We nodded as he returned it to his bag and stared dumbly at us.
“Come back to our room, and tell us what the problem is.” Long said.
“Thank you… But, could you check to see if— if the coast is clear?” His response was confusing since our actions hadn’t been particularly suspicious, and the hotel was practically empty… but we were beginning to feel… Well, we’re not sure what we felt, but nerves are infectious so we did check first.
We peeked out as we opened the door, and we both thought a silent shadow – or maybe more than a shadow – passed by as we entered the hall. “It’s clear,” we whispered and returned to our room. I was ecstatic to discuss what we had seen, but when I looked at Paxton – I saw my excitement would be terribly out of place, and I let him speak first.
“What can we do?” He said.
Long thought it best to be vague. “Why not find out who the owner of the land is, and tell him—”
“Oh, no! Absolutely not!” Paxton interrupted impatiently, “I’m sorry: you’ve been very kind, but you don’t understand; it must go back. I dare not go at night, and it’s impossible to go during the day… I haven’t been alone since touching it.”
I started to make some random comment but stopped when Long caught my eye and said, “I think I do see, but wouldn’t you feel better if you explained a little more?”
Then, he told us everything… Paxton looked over his shoulder and motioned for us to come closer. He spoke in a low voice, and we listened intently – knowing we would compare notes afterwards. I wrote down our recollections, so I am confident I have his story almost word for word.
“It began when I was first prospecting, and it happened again and again. A man was always standing by one of the fir trees, and this was in broad daylight. He was never in front of me; I only saw him from the corners of my eye, and he was always gone when I turned to get a better look. I would lie down for long periods of time and watch carefully to make sure no one was there… But when I returned to prospecting – there he was. Then, he started giving me hints; no matter where I left that prayer-book – when I came back – it would be on my table, opened to the list of names with one of my razors on top to hold it in place. In the end, I had to start locking it up. He must not be able to open my bag, or something more would have happened. He’s small and weak, but I dare not face him. It was even worse when I was making the tunnel, and if I hadn’t been so determined, I would have dropped everything and ran. It felt like someone was scratching at my back the whole time; at first, I thought it was only dirt falling on me, but as I got closer to the crown… It was unmistakable.
“When I actually pulled it out, there was some kind of horrible, desolate cry behind me; I can’t express how threatening it felt. It instantly ruined all of the excitement over my discovery, and if I weren’t such a wretched fool – I would have put it back right then… But I didn’t, and the rest of the adventure was just as awful; I had to wait hours before returning to the hotel. First, I filled the tunnel and covered my tracks, but the man was trying to thwart me the whole time. Sometimes, you see him – sometimes you don’t, and I think that’s what he intends. He’s always there, but he has power over what you see. It was almost sunrise when I left, and I still had to catch the train back to Seaburgh. There were hedges and fences along the road, and I was not easily seen. Then, when I began meeting people headed to work, they would stare behind me with strange expressions; it’s possible they were surprised to see someone so early, but I don’t think that’s the reason. They didn’t look at me directly, and neither did the train’s porter or guard. The guard even held open the door after I entered the carriage – like there was somebody else coming… You can be certain it’s not my imagination.” He gave a dull laugh before finishing. “Even if I do put it back, he won’t forgive me; I can tell… I was so happy two weeks ago.” He dropped into a chair and began to cry.
We didn’t know what to say, but we wanted to do something… So, we said if he was determined to put the crown back, we would help him, and he welcomed our offer. After hearing his story, it seemed like the right thing to do. If these horrible events happened to this poor man, couldn’t there be some truth to the legends? Could the crown have some curious power to guard the coast? At least, that was how I felt at the time, and I think Long felt that way, too.
It was almost 10:30; we looked out of the window to see a brilliant, full moon. We were regulars at the hotel, and the servants considered us to be good tippers; they arranged for a cab to take us to the beach and wait to watch over us, but we left before realizing how far away we would be going.
Paxton had the crown hidden in a large coat placed over his arm. “The shortest route is up the hill and through the churchyard,” he said as we stood in front of the hotel, looking each way; there was nobody around. Seaburgh is a quiet place in the off season. “We can’t follow the ditch by the cottage because of the dog.” He added when I pointed to the shorter way across two fields. It was a good enough reason.
We went up the road, and turned at the churchyard gate. I worried someone who knew of our intentions might be waiting there, but if they were – we saw no sign of them. Even so, we felt like we were being watched – especially when we entered a narrow path with high hedges. We hurried through and out into the open fields. Then, we traveled along the hedges, over a gate or two, turned left, climbed the ridge, and we were on the mound.
As we got closer, Long and I felt like there was some kind of dim presence waiting for us, and a much more real one already with us. I cannot adequately describe Paxton’s disposition; he was breathing like a hunted animal, and we could not bear to look at his face. We hadn’t bothered to think of how he would manage once we arrived; he seemed so sure it would be easy… which it was. I never saw anything like it; he flung himself at the side of the mound, and began digging furiously. In only a few minutes, most of his body was already out of sight. I admit, we were terrified as we stood by holding the bundle and looking all around us.
There was nothing to be seen. A line of dark fir trees stood behind us and trailed for half a mile to our right – ending by the church tower. To the left were cottages and a distant windmill, and in front was a calm sea beneath the full moon. Only a dog by a gleaming creek stood between us and it. Yet, in the silence, there was an intensely sharp awareness of something hostile very close by – like a hound on a leash that might be let go at any moment.
Paxton pulled himself out of the hole and reached a hand back. “Unwrap it, and give it to me,” he whispered. The moonlight illuminated the crown for a brief second before he snatched it away.
We didn’t touch it ourselves, and I think we are fortunate for that. Paxton was soon out of the hole again, and he immediately began shoveling the dirt back in with hands that were already bleeding. He wouldn’t let us help, and making the ground appear undisturbed was the longest part of the job. I don’t know how, but he managed it wonderfully. When he was finally satisfied, we turned back.
We were roughly two-hundred yards from the hill when Long suddenly looked back and said, “you’ve left your coat there. That won’t do.” He was right, but Paxton never slowed; he only shook his head and held up the coat on his arm.
When we re-joined him, he explained, “that wasn’t my coat.” We looked back again, and the dark thing was gone.
We made it onto the road, and hurried back. It was well before midnight when we got in, and we tried to play it off in front of the door-man by saying it was a lovely night for a walk. He gave another look around before locking the front door, and said, “you didn’t meet many people out there, did you, sir?”
“No, not a soul.” I said, and Paxton looked at me rather strangely.
“I thought I saw someone turn onto the station road after you gentlemen, but since you three were together, I don’t suppose he meant any mischief.” The door-man said. I didn’t know what to say; Long merely said goodnight, and we went upstairs – promising to turn out the lights before going to bed.
Back in our room, we tried to cheer up Paxton. “The crown is back safe, and though it’s likely you’d have done better by not touching it – no real harm was done, and we’ll never tell anyone else of its location.” We said.
“I don’t mind admitting that I also felt like we were being followed on the way there, but coming back wasn’t like that at all, was it?” I said, but it was no use.
“You have nothing to worry about, but I haven’t been forgiven. I still have to pay for that miserable sacrilege. I know what you are going to say, and yes, the Church might help, but it’s the body that must suffer. It’s true… he’s waiting outside for me just now, but—” Paxton stopped suddenly and began thanking us.
We delayed him as long as we could; we encouraged him to spend the night in our room and said we would be happy to take him golfing with us the next day, but he didn’t think it would matter. Then, we recommended he stay anyway and remain inside while we played. He was very submissive – he would have done just about anything we suggested – but he knew he couldn’t avoid what was coming. You probably wonder why we didn’t escort him home – or to the safety of some brother’s care… The fact was, he didn’t have any.
He used to have an apartment in town, but he decided to move to Sweden; his possessions had been shipped off weeks before. Anyway, we couldn’t think of anything better to do than sleep on it… Or – in my case – not sleep.
Long and I felt very different the next morning. It was a beautiful April day, and Paxton also looked very different when we saw him at breakfast. “That was the best night’s sleep I ever had.” He said, and he decided to stay in our room as we had suggested. Long and I met some others for golf and had an early lunch so we could return sooner… But death still claimed its prize. I don’t know if it could have been prevented… I think he would have died no matter what we did, but – either way – this is what happened.
We went straight to our room, where Paxton was reading quietly. “Will you be ready to come out with us in half an hour?” Long asked.
He agreed, and I said we would need to clean ourselves up first. I bathed and napped for ten minutes; then, Long and I met in the sitting-room, but only Paxton’s book remained; he wasn’t in his room or downstairs, so we shouted for him. A servant appeared and said, “The other gentleman and I thought you left already. He heard you calling from the path over there, and he hurried out. I looked out of the coffee-room window, but I didn’t see you. Anyway, he went down towards the beach.”
Without a word we ran that way, too – in the opposite direction of last night’s expedition. It was almost 4:00, and the weather was fair. There was really no reason to worry; with so many people around, surely a man couldn’t come to much harm… The looks on our faces must have frightened the servant; she came out onto the steps, pointed, and said, “yes, that’s the way he went!”
We ran to the top of the bank and stopped. We could either go past the houses on the sea-front, along the sand at the bottom of the beach, or we could stay in the middle and have a view of both. We chose the sand because it was the most secluded, and someone could get hurt without being seen.
The idea of Paxton running off was dreadful; we feared the thing he was following might suddenly stop and turn on him… I wondered what face it would show – half-seen in the thickening mist – and I continued to run, wondering how the poor wretch could have mistaken that thing for us. I remembered him saying it had some kind of power over your eyes, and I wondered what the end would be like for him; I had lost all hope of saving him, and— Well, there is no need to voice the horrible thoughts that raced through my mind as we ran into the mist.
The sun was still bright in the sky, yet we could see nothing. We only knew we were past the houses – somewhere in the gap between them and the old martello tower. Past the tower, there is nothing but rocky seashore for a long way – not a house or human – only a bit of land with the river on your right and the sea on your left.
Just before that, right by the martello tower, there were old blocks of concrete by the sea, leftover from some ruin – but, now, only a few are left… The rest were washed away. When we got there, we climbed to the top of this wall as quickly as we could, and we looked out over the shore hoping to somehow see through the mist, but we also needed a moment’s rest after running at least a mile. Nothing was visible, and we began turning back when we heard what I can only call a laugh… It was a breathless, lungless laugh; it came from below and was lost in the mist. We leaned back over the wall, and Paxton was suddenly at the bottom.
You don’t need to be told he was dead. His tracks ran alongside the wall and made a sharp turn around the corner; There is little doubt he must have run straight into the open arms of someone lying in wait. His mouth was full of sand and stones, and his jaw and teeth were broken to bits… I only glanced at his face once.
Then, as we were scrambling down to the body, we heard someone shout and saw a man running towards us from the martello tower. It was the caretaker, and his keen, old eyes managed to see something was wrong even through the mist. He saw Paxton fall and saw us appear a moment after. This was fortunate, because surely, people would have suspected us of being involved – given the circumstances. We asked if he saw anybody attack our friend, but he could not be sure.
He went for help, and we stayed with Paxton until he could be carried away. That is when we back-tracked the way he came along the narrow strip of sand under the wall. It was impossible to determine where the assailant went.
What were we to say at the hearing? We felt it was our duty to keep the crown a secret. I don’t know how much you would have revealed, but we decided to say we only met Paxton the day before, and he was anxious about a man called William Ager. We also mentioned there were other tracks besides Paxton’s when we followed him along the beach. Of course, by that time, everything was washed away.
Long said he saw Paxton far ahead – running and waving his stick, as if signaling to people ahead of him. I couldn’t be sure because of the mist, but someone was there; we also saw tracks from someone running in shoes and someone barefoot. Of course, I only have my word as proof. Long is dead, now, and we had no way to make sketches or take casts before the tide erased them. All we could do was notice them as we hurried on, but they were everywhere, and we knew what we saw was made by a bare foot – one that showed more bones than flesh.
No one had any knowledge of William Ager living in the area. The man at the martello tower freed us from all suspicion, and authorities reached a verdict of wilful murder by some unknown person or persons. Paxton was so totally without connections that all inquiries ended without much fanfare, and I have never been to Seaburgh or even near it, since.
I’m here for two reasons; first I have a new… let’s call it a mini-series – to announce, and second, I have a true life story to tell you like in the good old days. If you aren’t a fan of the dark and mysterious – scroll past the link to begin a good, old-fashioned blog post!
It’s just a short tale with a bit of a lesson. I think it may benefit some to understand what caller ID spoofing is and how dangerous it can be to throw accusations at strangers through random phone numbers. But first – the series.
Swamp Dweller, and I will be researching true missing person’s cases, and the first video is already uploaded! We’re not trying to say we solved anything, we’ve simply collected the facts and prevailing theories in order to pass them along to you in podcast form!
And more are on the way!
So, the blog post. This actually happened to me last year, but I recently discussed it with a friend and thought it would be nice to share.
First, I want to begin by explaining caller ID spoofing. You see, many years ago, telemarketers would call with 1-800 numbers or some off the wall area codes most people didn’t recognize.
It didn’t take long at all for people to catch on, and they stopped answering completely. Then, came the age of ID-spoofing. This means they can make any number show up on your phone. It’s usually one with your own area-code so you think it’s a legitimate call.
Obviously, this presents its own problems. If you receive one of these calls but don’t answer – you’ll see the number they spoofed on your missed calls. Then, when you return the call, you’re going to reach the actual person it belongs to. This inevitably leads to:
“Hey, I had a missed call from this number…”
“Umm… no you didn’t.”
“Uh, yes I did!”
Both people are telling the truth so you have two strangers getting aggravated as hell because they think the other person is messing with them.
For this reason alone – I stopped answering all unknown numbers and it worked wonderfully… until Martha.
One evening, I got a call from a number only a few digits off from my own and ignored it. It called back-to-back 3x in a row. On the last call, I blocked the number.
Then I received a text from another number that explained why these calls were coming. A woman we’ll call Martha used her husband’s phone to say she knew I was Amber (I’m totally not Amber) and she was – very bluntly – calling me out for trying to scam her. She wanted to let me know it didn’t work, she knew it was me, and she would make sure everyone had my new number.
Guys, if you’ve read my blogs at all, you know I don’t handle strangers well, but I actually started off in a good mood so I tried to be nice. I understood by the grammatically accurate text that I was dealing with an elderly lady who didn’t understand spoofing. I explained it to her in nice, easy to understand language much like I did here… then she called bullshit.
I didn’t particularly care; I blocked the number and went on about my business. Twenty minutes later, I receive an email through text that included a ridiculously long explanation detailing how she was able to email me even though I had the number blocked. At that point, I became annoyed.
Her email had her first and last name in it; I knew she was from my hometown because of her area code. It took less than sixty seconds to find her Facebook and know exactly who she was.
Now, maybe if I were a little more mature I would have contacted her that way to prove I wasn’t Amber… but then other numbers started texting “Amber” — like if I were this person, I would be stupid enough to fall for answering another number right away… The whole thing really got under my skin.
I replied to her email stating she should have at least googled caller ID spoofing (as originally advised) before continuing to harass a complete stranger. I then explained how incredibly dangerous it was to give said random stranger all of your personal information and recommended she set her Facebook to private. Then, I blocked her email along with the new numbers (which were still appearing).
Obviously, I would never actually do anything to harm someone – it was legitimate advice. Anyway, she started using her husband’s email, and… I don’t know who Amber is or why Martha thought she would do her hair… But I’m willing to bet Amber had some legitimate reasons… I fully lost my temper on this woman.
After an extremely rude reply I’m a little ashamed of now – I then proceeded to Google every gag-gift shop site I could find (there’s some magical stuff out there) and made special inquiries on Martha’s behalf. Each were roughly as follows:
I’m searching for a women’s plus size full-body cat suit, but I need it to be an exact match to my Princess Cutie-Booty. Would you be able to help me?
Which – as I said earlier – if I were more mature, maybe I could have kept blocking her and let it go… Alas, I’m not.
I’m not sure if she finally googled spoofing or if she ran out of ways to communicate, but I never heard from Martha again.
On a very real note – you never know who will do what with your information. Never trust an unknown number, please never give strangers personal information, and above all – please never click on random links. It doesn’t matter what they look like or how normal they seem – just don’t. Especially when “Amazon” or “UPS” texts you.
That’s it guys. Thanks for hanging out! I have another classic publishing soon and I’ll be starting special Halloween commissions next week, but they won’t publish until next month, so my schedule will be sporadic to say the least. The usual scripts will still be coming though!
Hey again! It seems like everything is coming out back to back all of a sudden, but that’s definitely not a complaint!
This week’s Dark Side of YouTube is the longest yet. We’re discussing an OG YouTuber who lost his channel over some very serious allegations. Whether you’re familiar with EDP445 or not, this episode will teach you everything there is to know!
As for what’s coming up – I hope to publish a classic this weekend, and I’m not sure when the third Backroads will be finished, but it’s coming along nicely.
Since we are entering Halloween season I will be switching my focus to exclusive work only meaning I’ll have no way to anticipate my publishing schedule. If a bit of time passes with nothing new, don’t worry that only means there’s more piling up for later.
I have a few special projects already on schedule and I can’t wait to share them, but in the meantime don’t forget my linktree can take you to Twitter or YouTube for regular updates. Now that I’m over 500 subscribers I’ll be able to make community posts once my week wait is over (which should be Thursday night)!
When I started writing last August, I was only blogging about my life as a form of therapy, but now – thanks to all of you – this is my career. I appreciate you guys more than I can express; when I am able to free myself of the financial hole Young, Ignorant, Past Me has dug – I truly do intend to return to regular blogging as a hobby.
Until then, I think – at the very least – it’ll be interesting to see what comes along. Look how quickly we added true crime to mix – who knows what’s next! … Not romance…. It’ll never be romance.
This story is a Midnight Chills exclusive; it may not be used in any way/shape/form for any reason. Click here to enjoy the full experience!
Every night, when I’m on my rounds, giant, orange clouds suddenly roll across the sky until all the stars are hidden from view. I can tell they’re orange because the constant flashes of lightning make them glow bright as day. If I weren’t so frightened, I could appreciate the eerie beauty of it, but soon, the clouds begin turning black, and the booming thunder rattles my bones.
That’s when the portal opens; it’s too perfect to be formed by nature, but I watch as the clouds break apart to leave a large void in the center, and strange, white strands pour forth to create this… hole. It’s darker than black inside, and in the back of my mind, I know it’s the gateway to Oblivion; that’s when I wake up soaked in a cold sweat.
I have one goal in life – to be content. I don’t care about riches, fame, or success – only paying rent. Why the universe chooses me for its random acts of chaos is a question I ask myself each night while lying awake. I’m a lot of things, but crazy isn’t one of them; my luck isn’t just bad – it’s statistically impossible. Most of the time, I feel like my life has been scripted for a movie – like I only exist to entertain some faceless audience.
I suppose context would be useful in this situation – sorry about that… I’ve never been much on writing. Anyways, I’m Luke – a thirty-year-old security guard with a proclivity for random trouble; nice to meet you.
The company I work for doesn’t like having their name thrown around, but I’m paid a very nice salary to babysit a warehouse full of shipping containers. I’m not sure what’s in them, but I have a pretty good guess. From everything I’ve seen over the past three years, I’m almost positive this is a holding facility for patent pending technology.
Honestly, even if they’re holding dead bodies, proof of aliens, or some other shocking conspiracy – I don’t give a damn. There’s only three things I gotta do to stay away from bartending:
Complete my rounds every two hours
Don’t leave before your relief shows up
Never open a container
As long as I follow those rules – I get a cozy job with benefits and tons of downtime. The night shift can get a little spooky since the building makes strange noises, but it’s only settling; being alone in the middle of nowhere just makes it feel a little sinister. It bothers a couple of the other guys, but I don’t mind.
Until last week, there were six of us working solo eight-hour shifts. We only see each other at the time-clock, but I knew something terrible happened when I came in that day. Our boss was here instead of Brian, and none of us had seen Mr. Cabrini since the day we were hired.
I understand some people are curious, but losing a gig like this because you couldn’t resist looking into a box is plain pathetic. Plus, they have cameras everywhere; Brian knew that, but the idiot thought he could erase the tape and blame a malfunction. Needless to say, he was fired on the spot. I focused on appearing outraged and disgusted while yessir’ing my heart out, but a few things didn’t add up.
When Mr. Cabrini seemed content that I wouldn’t make the same mistake – he hopped in his helicopter and flew away; the man doesn’t even trust pilots. That’s when my mind really started going into overdrive. I shouldn’t care, but the logistics of this just aren’t making sense.
We’re over an hour from the nearest gas station, and the closest town is almost two hours further. How early did Brian look in that container? Let’s assume someone is monitoring our cameras around the clock and spotted him right away… What happened from there? Even if Cabrini hopped into a helicopter immediately, it would have taken hours to reach the warehouse. Did they let him snoop around until they could catch him red-handed; did they call him and say, “freeze, buster”? I had to know.
When my shift finally ended, John was the one to relieve me, and he already knew about Brian. We were careful of what was said on site, but soon, we were all in a group chat discussing – not what could be in the container, but – management’s reaction; if that makes us sound like a bunch of women, so be it.
In the beginning, we thought it was funny how offended these rich guys were over a dumbass seeing one of their toys; Brian probably has no clue what he saw. Don’t get me wrong – he deserved to be fired – I just think the dramatics were a touch over the top.
We all tried contacting him over the next few days. A couple of the others were growing curious, but I was prepared to hang up if he tried to say what he saw; I simply wanted to know how they fired him… But he never answered…
I wasn’t surprised at first; I wouldn’t have been in a chatty mood, either, and we weren’t exactly close. Eventually, John drove to Brian’s house hoping to corner the man and be done with it… We thought he was just embarrassed… I know that sounds terrible, but we never dreamed he might be dead!
He was killed in a car crash on his way home from the warehouse… His wife and two sons are still in shock, and his parents are staying in town for the foreseeable future to help as best they can; the rest of us pitched in for a donation towards funeral expenses, but I wish we could do more. Obviously, we didn’t ask about work; we wouldn’t have even if we thought she had answers… It’s a hell of a coincidence though, isn’t it?
The place where it occurred isn’t a high traffic area. The only witness is a corner-store’s low quality security footage, and the police say a white van clearly ran a stop sign. It collided with the driver’s side of Brian’s small car, and both vehicles came to a stop outside of the camera’s view. Thirteen minutes later, a truck pulled onto the scene and dialed 911. First responders arrived soon after, but they were too late to save Brian; meanwhile, the abandoned van was filled with paint and tequila.
The police are investigating this as a hit and run, but we think that’s how it was meant to look. The detective didn’t care about the circumstances from work; in his mind, a van full of illegal immigrants fled the scene of an accident to avoid deportation. His only concern is finding the driver – which yea – that’s obviously the place to start, but it might not end there! Maybe we are jumping to conclusions – maybe this is a mother of coincidences – but they should at least look into the possibility there’s more!
Well, that’s it; that’s my story. I guess I’m asking if you guys think we’re overreacting or if I should get the hell out of dodge. It’s really hard to see myself letting go of this place… I mean… even if they are murderers – everything was fine until Brian peeked…
Ugh, see? This is why I need help!
Two days later:
Hey again, this is Luke the security guard… I hope you remember me because I don’t have time to retype my first post. I’m on a new account because Reddit has decided my other one doesn’t exist anymore; it’s over five-years-old, yet I can’t even get through the Forgot Password options. I wanted to link the first post and see the new comments, but I can’t find it, either! How could my entire profile have been deleted?!
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to dwell on that mystery. So much has happened, I don’t know where to begin… The company hired a man to replace Brian, and we think he’s a spy. So far, Romero has met John, Tobin, and myself; during the shift change, he asked each of us a ton of personal questions. Maybe he’s a curious guy who tries too hard when it comes to making friends, but it doesn’t feel that way when a six-foot-two, three-hundred pound man is looming over you; it feels like he’s deciding whether you get to live or die. Needless to say, we didn’t add him to the group chat.
Tonight, I’m on the midnight to 8:00 shift; I listen to true crime podcasts when I work nights, and it’s especially enjoyable when there’s a good storm for ambience. It’s been raining all day, but the weather turned severe an hour ago. The lightning is near constant, the thunder shakes the ground, and the wind sounds like it’s trying to tear the building in half. Mr. Cabrini obviously cares a great deal for whatever we’re guarding, and I don’t see him storing it in something that would fall apart easily.
As for the electricity – there are enough generators here to power the warehouse for 48 hours after an outage; that’s why I’m extremely surprised to be typing this in the dark. Everything went black after the loudest boom of the night; I’m fairly certain a transformer blew, but I don’t understand why the generators aren’t working.
One thing is for sure, though; Someone is definitely monitoring those cameras 24/7. The second we lost power, my phone rang. “What in the hell is going on over there?!” A loud, gruff voice screamed in my ear. “Why aren’t the generators doing their damn jobs?!”
Thank goodness he could see those as well, or he would probably think I sabotaged them. A team of technicians will be here soon, but there’s absolutely no way to monitor me before they arrive. Mr. Cabrini’s voice remained confident, but he was clearly terrified of what I might do.
With his arsenal of threats rendered useless, he turned to flattery. “I’m glad it happened while our best man was on the job; it’s about time we look into getting you a raise! I feel a little guilty over the whole thing… He didn’t need to bribe me; I was never planning to snoop… It happened by accident…
I was excited about the raise and decided a power outage was no excuse to skip rounds – especially when I have a flashlight. A few minutes later, I was in the holding area with my heart plummeting into my stomach like an Olympic diver. A blue container’s door was open, and I felt like someone kicked my feet out from under me. What was I supposed to do? How could someone have opened it without being seen? If they were lucky enough to get away with it, how could they forget to close it?! How does this happen the one time the cameras are off? I stood there for a solid five minutes, terrified the power would kick on the moment I was in front of the box.
I eventually forced myself forward, but instead of approaching the door from behind and slamming it shut like an intelligent person might have – I walked directly to the opening. Before my hand could reach the door, a bright, orange light flashed from within the container. Though it nearly blinded me, I caught a glimpse of the contents before my vision flooded with spots; there was nothing…
Would anyone believe I found it that way? Would it matter if they did? Should I keep my mouth shut? What if it’s all a test? What could have made that flash if not a camera?! I’m not sure what kind of camera has an orange flash, but something made that light! Oh well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough; it won’t be too much longer before I hear the helicopter…
Ok, now, I’m scared; my phone has no service – I can’t even get these posts to upload – the storm is down to a steady rain, but the technicians never arrived, and Rick is over an hour late to relieve me. I feel a little better since the sun rose, but I don’t know what to do; I can’t sit here all day trying to call Mr. Cabrini… I’m absolutely terrified of what he must think… Not one word of this bullshit is believable! Where the fuck is Rick! How could he and the technicians just not show up?!
You know what? I’m screwed no matter what; I’m at least going to find out what it was all for. I should probably be conserving my battery, anyway.
If I don’t calm down, I really am going to die here… I had no clue how desperate my situation actually is until I walked through the rest of the warehouse… I hadn’t made it past the first few containers before, but now…
I knew something was wrong the moment I stepped through those double-doors; the boxes have never been moved since I started working here, yet suddenly, their numbers have doubled, and some are black! They’re only supposed to be blue and red! It’s like I’m in an entirely different building. I’m not sure how I worked up the courage to open a container after that, but I wish I hadn’t.
Maybe I should have tried another blue one, but I went straight for a black. It was caked in thick layers of dust, and the door was nearly rusted shut. I thought it was locked at first, but it finally began to creak open a little more with each pull. Inside was a sleek, metal box I couldn’t help but relate to a coffin. The lid was much heavier than it looked and crashed to the floor with an ear-splitting echo loud enough to drown out my scream.
Inside was a… shit, how do I describe that thing? It was humanoid in the sense it had two arms, legs, eyes, and ears… but everything else was just… wrong. Its skin was a pasty gray/green covered in a strange pattern that was either scales or a tattoo, but I wasn’t going to touch it to find out which. The eye lids split vertically, and the nose was only two small slits in its face. A cloth was covering it from chest to thighs, and I had no desire to see beneath it.
It must be an alien, right? I mean, I’m in Nevada, so what the fuck else is it going to be? I’m suddenly much less concerned with people figuring out where this place is; if I make it out of here – there’s no way I’m ever coming back. Bartending wasn’t that bad. Maybe I’ll check myself into a psych ward and spend the rest of my days in a padded room… That kinda sounds like heaven…
So, this is the part where you’re wondering, “why the hell are you still there?! Hit the road, dumbass!” Right? Well, I ran outside to do just that only to find my car gone! What am I going to do? I can’t call anyone, I can’t go wandering through the desert, but I have to face it; no one is coming…
Maybe I should do myself a favor and—
Shit, shit, shit… I was writing in the office area, but now I’m hiding in the bathroom. I clearly heard a metal door creaking – it was unmistakable. Those doors are way too heavy for one to randomly open by itself. Why? Why the hell is this happening?!
Oh god no, please, no! I can hear footsteps out there… It doesn’t sound like shoes on concrete; it’s closer to the slap of bare, wet feet. There’s no entrance where it came from… only those damn boxes… Oh god, it’s getting closer; I really am going to die here…
That was the longest thirty minutes of my life. There’s no way I’m spending another night in that warehouse; I don’t care what’s in the desert or how far I walk. Who— or what— ever was walking around stopped right outside the bathroom and stood there for several minutes – sniffing. It sounded like a congested dog trying to get the scent of its meal. If it was the same thing as I saw in the container, I’m sure that’s exactly what it would think of me as – food.
The door doesn’t lock; all I could do was sit with my feet against it while bracing my back to the wall. My eyes were glued to the knob, waiting for it to turn… but, it didn’t. The wet feet returned to the containers, and that was it. As I pulled the door open to a crack, I worried it was a trap; that the alien was only pretending to leave. This time, I was halfway right. The main room was empty, but the double-doors leading to the storage area were wide open, and four sets of glowing, yellow eyes watched me from the darkness.
I didn’t wait around to see how they reacted; I ran outside and just kept going. When I got this job, I had to be driven to the location for the first week because the road ends twenty miles before reaching the warehouse; a series of landmarks gets you the rest of the way. Running into the desert was probably suicide, but I would rather be here than locked in a dark building with those things. I was hoping to find a camera crew that would tell me I’m on Scare Tactics, but I think I ran far enough to disprove that theory.
It was just after 2:00 when I hid in the bathroom, and it’s almost 6:00 now; this is the first time I’ve stopped, and I don’t think I can go one step further. I wasn’t able to find the first two landmarks, but I’ve found the third. It’s a giant rock formation and huge relief; I almost turned back several times, but now I’m positive I’m heading towards the road. If I survive this, I never want to be near sand again. The wind blows constantly, and thousands of tiny grains shoot through my clothes and into my skin; these rocks are the only shelter I’ve seen since coming outside.
The sun is setting, and while I’m desperate to find help, I feel like wandering through a desert at night would be extremely dangerous. I’m frightened of sleeping in the open, but I’ve been awake for twenty-four hours; I’m so exhausted my eyes won’t stay open much longer regardless of how I feel—
Fuck my life, what now?!
Either I’m hallucinating or several figures are walking towards me… they aren’t coming from the warehouse… they’re coming from the opposite direction! They must be hikers or campers! I want to call out, but with everything that’s happened, that may not be a good idea. They haven’t seen me yet – I’ll wait to see their faces before they see mine…
Five days later…
I don’t have much time; I’m escaping tonight, and my battery is down to fifteen percent, but I’m surprised it turned on at all. I want there to be a record in case I don’t survive; hopefully, it will find its way back to my world even if I’m not the one to deliver it…
There’s no way to say this without sounding crazy, but the multiverse theory is true! I’m in an alternate universe right now; the people of this world have created doorways to other realities, and I’ve been trapped here ever since approaching that open container the night of the storm.
I was right about that group in the desert; they weren’t people! They wore scarves around their faces – exactly like someone in the desert needs to wear. When I saw those, I thought they must be humans… But my mind only saw what it wanted to see…
They spoke kindly… sympathized with my situation… had a camp nearby… and a phone with signal! I didn’t even notice them surround me when we started walking, but there was nowhere to run, anyway. I realized something was wrong when their camp was actually a large, stone tower looming in the distance. I stopped in my tracks and was immediately grabbed from behind. Two of them dragged me the rest of the way. Their bodies were unnaturally hard and solid; it was like struggling against a steel straight jacket.
After that, they didn’t speak kindly anymore – in fact, they didn’t speak at all. No matter what I said or how I struggled – I was still dragged to the top of the tower. What I thought was a solid wall was actually a doorway; it split down the middle and slid open at our approach just like at a supermarket. None of the escorts followed me into the new room, but someone in a black robe and faceless, white mask already stood waiting inside.
The doors slid shut behind me, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to open them again. The figure remained so still, I was beginning to wonder if it was a statue when it suddenly stepped forward. Every instinct within me wanted to shrink back into a corner, but I forced myself to stand in place; there was no chance of escape, and I hoped to die with some form of dignity.
When we were only six feet apart, the figure asked, “have you figured it out yet?” I shook my head. The man sounded very familiar; I was positive I knew his voice, but my mind wouldn’t let me accept it until his mask was removed.
He was me, and he greatly enjoyed my reaction to seeing him. “Be honest, could you recognize my voice? Most think it’s familiar, but people don’t understand how different they sound outside their own head until they hear a recording… or meet an alternate universe’s version of themselves!” He laughed.
I barely understood what he told me about this place and what’s going on, but I’ll do my best to explain it. Everyone needs to know about this before it’s too late.
There was a vast difference between this world and our own when the Dinosaurs went extinct. In this world – not all of them died. A cluster of Raptors were able to survive, and just as we evolved from apes – another species evolved from the Raptors. I can’t pronounce what they call themselves, and I wouldn’t know how to spell it if I could, but the first half of the word sounds like Retarious.
They thrived as the alpha species and continued evolving to become what I saw in that coffin. When the cavemen finally came along, the Retarious enslaved what they saw as an inferior race; over the centuries, humans continued to evolve and eventually rebelled against their overlords. The wars lasted for centuries and millions died until a tenuous truce was finally called.
The peace lasted for a short time, but new wars were always started and the cycle would go on to repeat itself throughout their history. Only in the last century have the Retarious pushed humanity to their final breaking point. Most humans live under peaceful subjugation – like Fake Me – and are provided with comfortable lives in return. Their problem is the planet itself.
Global warming has had a major impact on the Retarious; the last thirty years have been especially brutal. They’ve lost a quarter of their population since 1990, and their numbers are still dropping rapidly. I believe this universe is in even worse shape than our own. I tried not to show surprise when Fake Me mentioned three volcano eruptions in the last year; I don’t want him to think ours is any better.
Apparently, I’m a brilliant scientist in this universe; when he got going with the technical talk I couldn’t follow half of what he said, but I understood enough to know how important it is to escape. Fake Me has dedicated his life to studying the multiverse theory and believes this world is too far gone to save; their only hope is to find a better one in another universe.
Now that he knows how to open portals between worlds, he only needs to keep checking them one after another. He says I can go home as soon as I’m willing to show him which container I came from. The ones in the old warehouse were thought to be duds, so he was especially fascinated by me. Overall, he questioned me for what felt like hours before finally leaving, but I wasn’t going to waste battery just to see the clock. Speaking of which, I’m down to five percent – fuck.
They feed me once a day – when Fake Me comes in for evening chats and asks if I’m ready to cooperate. I always refuse, and then I’m left alone for another twenty-four hours. My bathroom is a bucket that hasn’t been emptied since day one, and I’m so used to the stench I don’t smell it anymore. Most of my time is spent pacing, and even though the doors seem to open automatically for Fake Me, they haven’t budged at all for Real Me… until tonight.
I learned it by accident – I paced by like always, only this time, it started to open! I leapt back so fast I fell on my ass; if they realize they left it unlocked I’ll never get a chance like this again. I’m hoping their sleep schedule is similar to humans, and they don’t feel the need to leave guards outside. If they do…
The next morning…
I’m home, guys! Holy shit, I’m really home; I can’t believe I made it! Or how easy it was! I kept finding reasons to procrastinate – leaving this record, writing letters to my family – but when my phone finally died I didn’t have any more excuses! I marched right out of the tower and into the dark desert without seeing a soul. I worried about finding my way back, but it was a clear, beautiful night with a full moon, and the moment I saw that ugly warehouse in the distance – I ran for it. I didn’t care what was inside. I mentally mapped out where my container was, but I didn’t need the extra seconds; it was completely silent inside – no monsters, no footsteps, no open containers.
When I opened the blue one, I saw more of the portal form this time; it’s exactly like a miniature version of what I saw in my dreams. If I weren’t so exhausted – I would have a lot of questions about how that’s possible, but my brain feels like mush. As badly as I want this to be over – deep down – I know it’s not. There’s no one at the warehouse in my world, either, and the power is still out… But this is definitely my universe because my Reddit account and car exist once again.
I drove for twenty minutes – just far enough to be away from the warehouse but still have a clear view in every direction. I want to get this story posted before anything else has a chance to happen… especially since I’ve just realized something terrifying…
My escape really was easy… Do you guys think maybe it was too easy… could I have been followed? If you live in Nevada, please consider getting out of the area for a while; I sure am.
Today, we have a new episode of The Dark Side of Gaming, and tomorrow I’ll have a new Dark Side of YouTube for you! I also have an exclusive to publish after the narration premieres in a few hours.
We’ve had a more-hectic-than-usual week, so that’s all for now, but hopefully I’ll have new classic out this weekend. Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll have the new story up soon! Never forget – I appreciate the hell out of you!
This time, I have two announcements. There’s a new episode for the Dark Side of YouTube, and a new show called The Halloween Episodes.
Prefer Podcast or Spotify? No problem, and while Samantha is only my second episode to script, there are two other episodes that have come out since the Randy Stair pilot. If you’re drawn to the darker things in life, I know you’ll enjoy them, too!
The Halloween Episodes will be hosted and produced by my very talented friend (and Dark Side of Gaming co-host), Darek Webber! A link to the pilot episode is below, and if you’re a fan of 90’s sitcoms you’ll love these bite-sized looks into the best Halloween Episodes the times had to offer.
As we move into fall, I will need to focus on upcoming Halloween projects so my publishing schedule will likely become a bit more out of sorts than usual. I have one more classic that’s almost finished, but it will be the last for several weeks unless there’s a Classic in the Rain special.
I do intend to start the third Backroads soon since the second narration is almost finished, but any others will likely be for Halloween exclusives.
Thanks again for stopping by; I really do appreciate the hell out of you guys! And please remember to stay safe out there; people can be straight up crazy!
Maurice Level, first published in 1920; translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Listen to Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!
He was not evil or cruel, but he craved the unknown. He was not a fan of the theater, yet he often went in hopes of seeing it burn down. He was not interested in the circus, either, though he went in case one of the animals mangled its trainer. Once, he even visited the bull-ring, but bloodshed in a controlled setting was too dull, and he was disgusted by pointless suffering; he wanted the thrill of a sudden catastrophe.
Then, after a ten year wait, a fire ravaged the Opera house. He escaped without injury, and it was not long before he also witnessed a famous lion-tamer being torn to pieces by his own cats. The Madman was only a few feet away from the cage when it happened, and – unable to match that thrill again – he fell into a deep depression until the morning he discovered gaudy posters littering the streets of Paris.
The background was blue, and a strange, slanted race-track ran down a ways, curled into a loop, and dropped straight down. The top of the poster showed a tiny cyclist about to dare the dangerous route, and the newspapers said a man actually intended to attempt such a course. “When I reach the loop, you’ll actually see me go upside-down!” He told reporters.
The press was invited to inspect the track and the bicycle. “I use no mechanical tricks – only precise scientific calculation— and my unshakable nerve.” The daredevil bragged.
When the Madman read the article, his good spirits returned. He purchased his ticket immediately, and – to ensure he was not distracted when the rider looped the loop – he purchased the entire box of seats across from the track and sat alone on the big night. The cyclist appeared high above the audience at the top of the track. After a tense moment of anticipation, he sped down the slope and circled the loop with his feet in the air; then, it was all over.
The Madman was thrilled by the performance, but he would only be able to enjoy the show a couple more times before becoming bored. Still… bicycles break… tracks wear out… and no man’s skills are perfect. Sooner or later, there must be an accident.
The cyclist was scheduled to perform in Paris for three months, and then, he was going to tour the provinces. The Madman decided to attend every single performance, even if he had to follow the show when it traveled. He bought the same box and sat in the same seat every night.
One evening, two months later, the Madman was leaving after a performance when he saw the cyclist standing alone in a corridor and approached him; before he could say a word, the daredevil greeted him kindly.
“I know you; you come to my show every night.”
“That’s true; your remarkable stunt is fascinating, but who told you about me?”
“No one,” the cyclist smiled. “I see you at each performance.”
“But how can you see me from so high up? Are you actually able to study the audience at such a moment?”
The cyclist laughed. “Hardly. It would be dangerous to look down at a crowd, but – just between us – there’s a little trick to what I do.”
“A trick?” The Madman was surprised and disappointed.
“No, no, I don’t mean a hoax, but there’s something the public doesn’t know.” The cyclist winked. “This will be our little secret, yes? You see, this stunt requires total concentration – which can be very intimidating since it’s nearly impossible for me to clear my mind of random thoughts. Plus, the greatest danger comes from losing my balance if I were to start looking around – but I have a wonderful strategy to avoid this. I choose one spot in the auditorium and focus all of my attention there. The first time I rode in this hall, I used you as my spot, and then, you were here again the following evening…”
At the next show, the Madman sat in his usual seat, and a hush fell over the excited fans when the cyclist made his entrance; he was only a black speck standing high above the audience. Two men held his bicycle as the daredevil gripped the handlebars, stared out over the heads of the crowd, and shouted the signal.
The men gave him a shove, and – at that instant – the Madman stood up and walked to the opposite side of his box. The audience screamed as the cyclist and his bike shot off the track and plunged into the crowd.
The Madman put on his coat, smoothed his hat against one sleeve, and left.
Since that last post actually went through, I should probably let everyone know what happened. Consider it a public service; if you find yourselves getting lost on any backroads – just stop and GPS your way home before it’s too late. You get nothing from that place… except PTSD.
Fuck’s sake where do I even start? Well, with the Station, I suppose. You know you’re a lost cause when you start thinking of a shitty convenience store as home… Though, to be fair, getting drunk everyday was a big help… I freely admit I was half belligerent writing that last post, and I understand that what I’m about to tell you sounds crazy – but this is what happened.
I don’t think I mentioned it before – I didn’t mention a lot of things – but that last store constantly played some weird radio station over the speakers, and I couldn’t figure out how to shut it off. The music was unsettling… there was never any singing, just instrumentals… The tunes were slow – almost soothing in the mornings, and then, they would become more upbeat in the afternoons, but at night, they would play dark, bone-chilling symphonies… Those were far beyond simple elevator music… Those sounded like Satan’s personal orchestra.
I was usually relieved when the woman came on to talk – she was the same one from the gas pumps. A monitor hanging in the back corner would turn on to show her reports, but I couldn’t change the channel or get it to turn on any other time. She usually doesn’t appear after the evening news, but I guess it makes sense there would be a final call… Though, the haunting rendition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was almost more than my fragile heart could bear until it was interrupted by an Emergency Broadcast; then, Olivia O’Neal was back with another special announcement.
GreetingsGrass Grovers; thank you for choosing Last Stop Station. The store will be closing in ten minutes. Please gather your final purchases and calmly proceed to the exit in single-file. There is no need to shove or shout. The Cleaners will not arrive until 12:01 AM.Sirus be with you.
It was hard to focus on what she said; I was too busy looking at her eyes. I could have been hallucinating, but it looked like they had turned black. I don’t know what color they used to be, but they were definitely normal eyes all the other times I saw her— not pitch-black orbs.
I was hoping it would end quickly – like a shot to the head – there one second and gone the next… Hell, the only time I tried to eat a bullet, I couldn’t pull the trigger; I kept talking myself out of it and ended up stashing the gun under the counter. I couldn’t get rid of it, but I didn’t want to look at it anymore, either…
At 11:59, I was racing the clock to drink myself unconscious and thought I had succeeded when everything suddenly went dark, but it only lasted for a second. Just as quickly, a silent, red siren descended from the ceiling, and the strobing light made me so dizzy, I puked all over my shoes.
I glanced at the clock in time to watch the last five seconds tick down, and – at the stroke of midnight – the siren receded into the ceiling. The lights came back brighter than ever, and while spots were still dancing in my vision – the automatic doors slid open; I almost puked again as several white, blurry blobs entered the Station and split off in every direction.
Seeing them file in was a sobering moment, but I was too far gone to articulate sensible speech while panicking. I tried to ask who they were – what they wanted – but there’s no telling what I actually said, and they were never going to talk, regardless.
They advanced, and I retreated; when I backed into the counter, I went over and continued crawling for as much distance as possible. My vision was finally clearing, and I felt a slight relief upon realizing the intruders were only humans wearing some kind of hazmat suits and not Stranded. I’m not sure why, but I’ve named the one who came at me, Al.
He was the only one to acknowledge my existence; none of the others even glanced my way. Some were restocking shelves while others were cleaning, and that’s when I remembered the thing about “Cleaners” arriving at 12:01.
Have you ever seen a movie where they check for radiation with little machines that click and beep. Well, these guys had some that looked like they were from the 50’s. I thought they were little radios at first; they had handles sticking out of the top with a few dials on either side, and there was a detachment that looked like a microphone without the mouthpiece.
I couldn’t help but let out a slight yelp when Al finally had me cornered. I begged him not to hurt me, and it took several seconds to realize – he wasn’t; he was scanning me. After his machine failed to detect whatever it was looking for, he put it away and reached towards me. Not in a fast or threatening manner – but casual – and placed both hands on my hips…
When I felt his fingers close… I just… I thought— Ugh, it’s not important what I thought, but I screamed for real that time. Every head in the Station turned to stare; they didn’t seem angry – only creepy. All the machines were turned off by this point, so there was complete silence when Al replaced his hands on my hips, and – in one, smooth motion – pulled my shirt over my head. I’m not sure why I lifted my arms… I guess it was a reflex…
After dropping my shirt onto the ground, Al tried to unbutton my pants. I was outnumbered more than 10 to 1, and there was no question those people meant to have their way. I salvaged what little dignity remained by throwing my own pants to the ground; it was my only choice.
I think I would have been ok if it had ended there, but I found new depths of unexplored terror when my pants were added to the pile yet Al was still coming back for more. More?! All I had left were socks, shoes, and boxers! Even my gun and bag were being added to the pile.
I threw my socks and shoes at their feet in a desperate attempt to keep my boxers and began walking towards the exit, but I barely made it three steps before being detained. Two men took hold of my arms while a third stripped away my last shred of humanity…
I was scanned and cleared once more before being pushed outside. It hadn’t felt like I went anywhere, but the Station was suddenly in a warehouse with enough lighting to imitate the sun. The surrounding metal walls were a perfect fit – as if they were built after the Station was placed there. It felt like being on the set of a movie studio.
My car was still parked next to the pump, and a team of Cleaners were busy going through it. I was considering a way to get one of them alone – finding clothes was my top priority even if it was one of those weird suits. That’s when I noticed what was beyond the parking lot – a wide, concrete path… I could follow it to the right or to the left. There were no doors, just trimmed openings in the walls, and – when standing on the path – I could see for miles in either direction with no end in sight.
I didn’t know what to do, but thankfully I didn’t have to wonder for too long. As I looked to the left once more – what I thought to be a solid wall opened up into a doorway. It scared me at first, and I was prepared to run in the other direction when a man suddenly stepped out and waved me over. It was comforting to see he wasn’t dressed like a Cleaner, but that’s not what made me trust him; I trusted him because he wore the same look of terror I imagined wearing myself.
His eyes searched the tunnels like something could appear any second, and I wasn’t ready to learn what put that terror on his face. When I was close enough, he pulled me through the door and slammed it shut.
I found myself in what I can only describe as an Amazon warehouse; it was like the mother of all Sam’s Clubs, and we were surrounded by shelves of trash bags and paper towels. I didn’t know what to say, so I opted for standing silently with my hands awkwardly covering my junk.
“Here, man. Use this for now, and I’ll take you to grab some clothes before we split. I’m Doug, by the way.” He ripped open a box of industrial-sized trash bags and tossed one over.
I wrapped it around my waist and introduced myself as he led us through endless aisles of random supplies. Occasionally, he paused to put something into his bag, but we never stopped for more than a few seconds. He was thin and a few inches taller than me with long hair pulled back into a man-bun, and he wore an orange shirt with white and blue flower-print board-shorts; I’d think he were my age, but his deep voice made him sound older. His pack was the kind campers take on week-long excursions, and it looked like it couldn’t fit one more item without bursting a seam.
I had countless questions but no clue where— or how – to begin. Finally, I settled for, “where are we?”
“That’s a pretty loaded question, my friend. If you’re here, you must have stayed in a Station past the midnight countdown – which means the Cleaners came and took your clothes away. That was the worst part for me, but it doesn’t look like you fought back – smart man. Check this out.” He lifted his shirt to reveal a nasty, circular, burn scar slightly larger than a quarter.
When a Cleaner reached for his pants, Doug punched him in the head; this resulted in a second Cleaner producing what appeared to be a police baton – but it was actually something closer to a cattle-prod. Doug described the sensation as being electrocuted with a branding iron, and it instantly rendered him unconscious. When he woke, he was lying in a concrete pathway just beyond the Station’s parking lot, and his entire body felt like it was on fire; knowing he couldn’t stay there – he began crawling through the tunnel.
“Exactly how long have you been here?” The realization he had been trapped there long enough for that wound to heal added a new layer of fear to the situation.
“No telling; it’s too easy to lose track of time around here. You’ll try to count the Sundays for a while, but it’s impossible. There’s no windows to know if it’s day or night, and if you get a new watch or phone – you’ll find they’re useless in most places. Watches don’t work at all, and phones seem to change at random pending your location.”
It was difficult to appreciate the magnitude of his words; a sea of clothes racks were just ahead, and walking through a store naked can be terribly distracting. “Are we alone here? Are there more Cleaners? What about the Stranded?! Please tell me those other things—”
“We’re alone for now.” He cut me off before I could talk about the real monsters. “All the Cleaners are out prepping the Stations for another week of service, and we’ll be long gone before the first groups return. I only come here once a week to restock supplies, and – sometimes – I pick up bits of information along the way. On this occasion, I heard there was another Quitter in the Tunnels and decided to see if I could catch your eye. I wouldn’t have come out or shouted to you, though; nothing personal – I just can’t take those kinds of risks… Anyway, put on some clothes, and don’t leave this spot; I’ll be back in sixty seconds.”
“Wait, no—.” I didn’t have a clue what he was doing; I thought he was leaving me, but I had to get dressed before chasing after him. There was no telling when – or if – I would have another opportunity. I grabbed the first of everything I saw in my size and dressed as quickly as possible. In the end, I had an electric blue version of Doug’s Station shirt, a gray and red version of his shorts, and black flip-flops. I still can’t believe there wasn’t a single pair of jeans. It all looked typical of what you expect to find in the gas stations off busy interstates that sell unusual souvenirs to travelers.
I was debating on what to do about Doug when I saw him headed back with an extra bag slung over his shoulder. “Here – pack some extra clothes.” He tossed me the pack before continuing. “Sundays are the only day it’s safe to enter the Hub; essentially, this is where the Cleaners live, and if you’re caught in their home – they’ll put you on the shelves, too. I promise, you don’t want that…” He cringed just thinking about it, and I didn’t press the issue.
“But how do we get out? I’ve been away from home for too long; my family must think I’m dead!”
“Sorry, man; you may want to say goodbye to your old life. It’s easier that way; some people even choose a new name, but we all grieve differently. Just do what feels right for you.”
“But whatis this place?! It doesn’t make any sense? Whereare we?!” I didn’t care if my voice was cracking – I needed real answers.
Doug checked his watch for the hundredth time and let out a long, deep sigh. “I’ll tell you what I’ve heard, but it’s up to you whether or not to believe it… Plus, we’re almost out of time, so keep moving or get left behind.”
That was fine; after everything I had experienced – I thought I was ready to believe anything…
“Have you ever heard any of the Game legends? The ones where you do something incredibly dangerous for a chance to win something from the devil? It’s usually a wish or some kind of fortune, but there’s a ton of them; the Infinity Game and Midnight Game are fairly popular, for example.”
“Like Bloody Mary or Candyman?” I did not like where this was going.
“Well, sort of… you’re on the right track, but those are fake and only for a scare. The ones I’m talking about are all too real. The first thing you need to accept is that demons exist; they come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a group of elite that are uncontested in power – almost god-like. Souls are the currency, nourishment, and fuel that sustain their powers, but collecting them can get a little tricky. A demon can’t simply take a soul by force – it must be freely given, and even the humans who don’t believe in souls tend to get protective when asked point-blank to part with one. So, what do they do? They create a situation that makes you want to give it away. You follow me?”
“Uh, sort of… you mean it’s like the Devil’s Crossroads or the thing with the golden fiddle?”
He considered that for a moment. “Closer… but they haven’t done things that way for decades. Business was slow – people weren’t buying into it anymore. You know what they say about things too good to be true… But if you add an element of challenge – something to balance the effort with the reward – then, people believe it.”
“So, somewhere in this maze of madness – you’re saying there’s a demon who will send me home in exchange for my soul?!” It was a shitty deal, but one I was prepared to take; that’s how badly I missed my family.
“Pft, hell no, man. This game isn’t active; it’s just a relic of the past no one bothered to shut down. There was no rhyme or reason to getting here – it was practically based on chance; the asshole running it made himself a new game where suckers alternate turning left and right in order to play. I don’t know what happens after that, but it’s clearly more lucrative than this place. Now, we’re just stuck here while everything essentially runs on auto-pilot.”
It took me a few minutes to respond… It’s not that I didn’t believe him; no other explanation fit the scenario. I was just shocked. “…Does that mean the Cleaners are the only danger down here?”
I knew it was too good to be true when I said it, but… I don’t know – what else do you say at a time like that? He could have simply said no; he didn’t have to laugh…
“Ha, I wish! This place wouldn’t be half bad if—” He stopped suddenly and reversed, pulling me with him; the sound of footsteps could be heard in the distance, and they were getting louder. The aisle we were on contained packs of bottled water lined beneath the bottom shelf, and Doug rushed to clear a space among them. I helped as soon as I understood his intent, but I never thought we would actually fit; thank goodness I was wrong.
There was a four-foot space behind the stack, and it ran the full length of the aisles we were sandwiched between. Once we crawled under the shelf, we pulled the water back in to cover our entrance and waited in silence as the Cleaners continued to draw closer. That’s when we realized there was another sound mixed in with the footsteps – one we couldn’t quite identify until it was only a few yards away… It was the sound of something wet and sticky being dragged across the floor, but nothing was distinguishable between the small cracks of our hiding place.
Doug already knew what it was; I could tell by the look on his face – but he only shook his head at my curious stare. We waited until they were well out of our vicinity before crawling out, and the thick blood streaks confirmed the fear I wouldn’t acknowledge.
“Why didn’t they just kill me right away if this is the endgame?” I didn’t expect to get an answer, but there actually was one.
“Because they weren’t programmed to kill humans collected from Stations – they’re meant to strip us for conversion. When the game was still active, it was crawling with low-level demons who would take the humans away once they were naked; nobody knows exactly what was done to them, but when they came back – they were Cleaners. They don’t speak; they just do as they’re programmed – no exceptions.”
“Then why did they kill whoever this was?! There’s no way someone survived that much blood loss…”
“That person must have been in here – getting supplies like we are… every Tunnel connects to this place; it’s the Supply Hub. In here, Cleaners are only programmed to re-stock loose items, and, as far as they can tell – humans are basically livestock, so they’re taken to meat processing…”
With each shocking revelation, I became slightly more numb to the panic. I had already reached that very point less than 24 hours before, but when I survived the countdown – it restored a sliver of hope. Then, I saw people in hazmat suits like some kind of officials, and – for the briefest moment – I thought they were there to help.
I wanted to crush that sliver of hope when my clothes were taken, but Doug appeared, and the damn thing grew; it took a minute for everything he said to really sink in and snuff the hope out at its roots. Part of me just wanted to assess the easiest way to die and get it over with. “How big is this place? What else is out there?”
“It’s endless; don’t you get it? We aren’t on earth – we aren’t even in the same universe! We’re basically in limbo; you can look behind every door, but you’re never going to find a way out. No matter what kind of room you stumble across, you’re still in the Tunnels – never forget that.” He showed a little emotion with the last sentence, and I realized he had probably been an entirely different man before that place.
We turned down an aisle of garden supplies, and there was an EXIT sign above a rusty door on the back wall. Doug took one last look around and handed me a pair of shears before removing a large hunting knife that had been concealed beneath his shirt. “Sorry we didn’t have time for a real weapon, but this is better than nothing.”
“Are guns the only thing they don’t stock in this place? Or are you just really good with that thing?” I nodded towards his knife while trying to find a comfortable way to wield my shears.
“Oh, there’s plenty of guns and ammo… But you don’t want to use it. Some of the low-level demons stayed behind to play Alpha. If they hear a gunshot, they call for backup, and everyone comes running… We’ve lost a lot of good people that way, and now, we avoid firearms completely. Never forget – they don’t have the power to grant big wishes, but that won’t stop them from saying they do—.”
“Wait – ‘we’? So, you’re with a group? How many? We could probably take down the Cleaners without guns! If we can take over the Hub—”
“Don’t talk that way – it’s suicide; you think it hasn’t been tried? You think you’re the first person desperate to get home? There were seven people in the group that found us, but today – there’s five – and not one of them are the same! Within the first year, each of the original seven died – along with quite a few others – and most of it can’t even be blamed on demons!” He was whispering, and I could barely make out his words over the creaking door, but there was no mistaking that tone.
We crept out, and we were in an identical tunnel as before – endless in each direction. “I’m sorry about your friends…” I didn’t know what else to say.
“Listen, I’m going to tell you the most important rule to survival; never let them see you. They won’t tolerate humans running loose in their deranged kingdom. Once they know you exist – the entire pack won’t rest until they’ve hunted you down, and – Jesse – they don’t need to sleep…”
That struck some life back into my terror. “So what else is down here?! Where are we supposed to hide when we can’t be in the Hub?”
“The other rooms; I’m going to show you how to find them. Look at where we just came from – do you see the door’s outline? Your eyes will get used to spotting the straight lines faster than you think. You’ll want to pick something close to a Hub entrance, but never stay in one place too long… And if you ever see a thick, black, slimy residue or smell rotten meat – leave the area as quickly and quietly as possible; that means a demon is nearby.”
That time, his choice of words was unmistakable; I wasn’t being invited to join the group. I’m not a particularly sensitive or petty man, but the prospect of being alone in those tunnels… I couldn’t process it. “Oh, I get it… I guess I didn’t make the cut for your exclusive club, huh?”
The face he made in return was raw and powerful; I almost wanted to apologize, but it was hard to feel sympathetic under the circumstances. Then, his words cut me to the bone. “No disrespect – you seem like a nice guy, but I don’t trust strangers anymore. All I have left is my wife, and no othermanis ever going near her again. Ok? Whether you understand it yet or not – you’re fucking lucky to be alone!”
It didn’t take a detective to put those pieces together, and it was an impossible point to argue; I wouldn’t have trusted him, either. There was only one thing left to say… “Got any more tips?”
“Play the odds; the Tunnels are endless. We don’t know how many demons are out there, but as long as you keep moving, you probably won’t run into one. If you bunker down in one place – something will eventually stumble across you. When we change locations, we walk six hours before looking for the next Hub entrance; then, we check the doors closest to it for a place to rest until the next Station Clean. And be very careful about who you trust. New people show up every week, and even good people can do horrible things when they’re desperate.” His words brought back memories of Rob, but I pushed them down deep where they belong.
“Wait… But how do I keep track of the days… And when we first met… you said you heard there was a new Quitter… What did that mean? Who did you hear it from?” We were walking side by side with our heads close together – whispering in hushed tones, but I had to restrain myself from shouting at the end. I was being expected to process too much too quickly, and the threat of a full-blown panic attack was looming ever closer.
“Every room plays the same radio channel you heard in the Station; I’m not sure why it doesn’t work in the Hub, but I guess the Cleaners don’t need it… And we are Quitters; we stayed in the Station because we wanted to quit playing without making it through the final level. It’s practically a Game Over screen… As for who told me about you… Well, there are a few people who want to put the Cleaners out of their misery, and they don’t care if they die in the process; they tend to take extreme risks like stealing Cleaner uniforms and infiltrating their ranks… If one ever approaches you with both hands palms up – that’s the signal. Try to help them if you can; they’re doing good work. I know I would want to be put down if it were me.”
I was trying to commit each word to memory, but I could only think of walking those dim Tunnels alone; so much so that I nearly missed the fine, door-shaped cracks next to where Doug had stopped. “I guess this is where we go our separate ways… Thanks for everything, really. I’d already be dead without you. Do you mind demonstrating how these things open before I go?” My voice came out less steady than I hoped.
“Just push.” The wall opened like a swinging door with the slightest effort, and he gave me one last warning. “Don’t forget about the sludge; if you need to escape – run through the closest door and immediately find a different exit. Then, find another door and another exit. Do it at least 4-5 times. All the Tunnels are straight; the only way to change direction is by cutting through a room… And good luck.”
We shook hands before he disappeared into what looked like a 90’s hotel lobby, and I caught a glimpse of his wife as the door closed. She had a jagged scar across her throat, and that’s when I knew Doug had been right; I was lucky to be alone.
I wandered the endless Tunnel for hours hoping I’d have the willpower to resist running away when I finally crossed paths with a demon. I wasn’t interested in living out the rest of my life in a monster’s playground, but I was still terrified of dying. Since I wouldn’t be able to hang or shoot myself, I hoped a demon could take the matter out of my hands…
Never underestimate your survival instincts, folks. I continued walking under the dim, blinking lights, and the first time they went completely dark – I thought something was coming; all my big talk vanished as I began throwing myself into the wall, searching for a door. In that moment, there was noremembering ‘but this is what I wanted.’ I was in a full panic – running off pure instinct and fighting to survive with everything I had.
Then, the lights suddenly flickered back to life, and there was nothing in sight. As it turns out – this was a fairly common occurrence in the Tunnels. I wasn’t too worried about failing my first test though – after all, what chance did I stand out there alone? I didn’t expect to make it another day – let alone weeks! Though, it seemed like a lot longer… It was Thursday, June 16th, when I got lost on the Backroads, and I came home yesterday, August 11th. That’s just under a month, but it felt like years.
Those rooms really could be anything, and they were completely random. The first night, I stayed in a rundown bowling alley, but they had things from the past and present – fantasy and reality – nothing was off limits. I’ve slept in the Millennium Falcon, and I’ve slept on benches in bus stations; when you have no one to share the good things with – stuff like that loses all meaning fast.
I was leaving the White House yesterday when I noticed clumps of black sludge staining the walls ahead and dripping from the ceiling. The first spots were only twenty to thirty feet away, and they extended at least that much further. The lights near it were going out, and the ones still lit were dimming by the second, but at the very edge of the darkness, I could just make out a tall, humanoid shape…
I threw myself into the closest room – which happened to be an old rubber factory – wound my way through broken machinery, and found the other exit. The new Tunnel was clean, but I went through a bank, airport, and carnival, too; when I entered the third clean Tunnel – I walked ahead a few yards and chose one more door… I had no clue if the shape I saw really was a demon or if it saw me, but the fresh terror I felt at the prospect erased any lingering notions of running into one on purpose.
Though, with the way things turned out, I should probably be thanking the damn thing; that last door led outside! It wasn’t like the Station or airport where the small, outdoor areas were still under a roof – there was an actual sky, and it looked exactly like the Paved Streets of the Backroads! The fresh air was absolutely delicious, and I took my time searching for the exit; in fact, I was still searching two hours later. At one point, I even let myself believe I was actually out of the Tunnels, but that hope was squashed when I reached the crossroads.
Dark clouds rolled across the sky, and it grew darker by the second as I advanced; I knew it was different from the Backroads then, and I knew I should turn back, but I couldn’t. The door was gone and there was nothing but miles of deserted highway behind me.
A bright flash of lightning revealed a dark figure in the center of the crossroads. There was something about the way it stood – facing me – that made it seem like it was waiting to speak. The one in the Tunnel had been hunched over like a rabid beast – waiting to strike out for its next meal… Or maybe that’s what the new one wanted me to think… Either way, I walked right up to him because I was fairly certain he only wanted to talk… because of how he was standing… Damn, that sounds really bad when I hear it out loud…
… Sorry, I’m getting pretty tired; I’ve been at this a while, now… It’s hard to describe, but I drew a picture… It was like looking into a human-shaped black-hole. Where its face should be was only a vortex of even blacker swirls, and looking at it was like falling into a bottomless pit. Yet, somehow, it kinda sounded like Samuel L. Jackson when it spoke…
It said it was the original game owner and still preferred to operate in the old ways when possible. It wanted to know if I’d be interested in trading my soul for being with my family again, and boy – was I interested! All it took was a simple prick of the finger, a few drops of blood on a dotted line, and we were good to go!
With a wave of its hand the sky cleared, and a new door suddenly appeared behind us. It opened onto my front yard, and I ran through it without another glance at the demon. Everything looked and smelled exactly how it should, and my wife’s car was in the driveway. She knew there was more to my story than getting lost, but she gave me time with the kids before making me explain, and I appreciated that. I also appreciate the fact she doesn’t know about my Reddit account…
I did my best to tell her what happened, but now, she wants me to see a psychologist. She’s been on the phone all day trying to schedule one around the police visit; an officer was supposed to stop by to speak with us so we can officially close the missing person’s report, but I guess he’s running late. I’m not complaining, though, I never want to leave this house again. Call it PTSD or whatever you want – I just have this overwhelming sense of dread that something awful will happen the second we try to go somewhere…
This whole thing really messed up my dad, too; he didn’t sound like himself, and even my mother-in-law seems shaken by the ordeal. I feel horrible for the trouble I caused everyone, but— Shit, I gotta go; there’s another problem. My wife called the police station and they’re saying the cop already came by, but nobody answered the door! Can you believe this crap? Then, the call dropped in the middle of their conversation, and now the lines are busy! What a joke!
If you prefer Podcast or Spotify, you can follow these links, and don’t forget to check out the other episodes while you’re there – they all came our wonderfully!
This week’s Dark Side of Gaming episode is an inside look to the shadier dealings of Rockstar games, and – as always – I hope you enjoy! The Dark Side of YouTube will be out with a new episode in just a few days as well so be sure to keep an eye open!
The Backroads sequel will also be finished in the next day or so, but while we’re here – I would like to share something strange that happened last week. It’s been far too long since I shared life stuff with you guys, and while this one isn’t filled with drama – it’s seriously weird as hell. If you’re a cat person – please, read this and tell me if you’ve ever experienced a similar situation.
For those who may not be aware, we currently have 19 cats due to living in an area where people abandon them— which is a whole thing unto itself but not today’s focus.
Despite having cats my entire life – only recently did I learn about “interrupted labor.” Apparently cats are able to hit a pause button when giving birth if they need to relocate to a safer space or something to that effect.
I learned this because four months ago, Tsu gave birth to three kittens. Then, after a full day passed, she had one more. Needless to say, it was a surprise to find four in the nest that morning, but whatever. It happened.
Tsu never really lost pregnancy weight. We thought it was strange, but she was happy, seemed healthy, and we planned to ask the vet about it when we took her to get spayed. Of course, that kept getting put on the back burner due to a kitten with pneumonia and Romulus’ emergency surgery.
Now, that litter of kittens was four months old on July 23, 2022. Today, they are happy, healthy, hyperactive little girls, and this should be the end of the story… But it’s not. Because it never is.
I woke on the morning of August 3rd to find a (roughly) week old kitten in the middle of our living room floor. Tsu has NOT been outside since giving birth and EVERY male is neutered. There was a second kitten under the couch. Their eyes are open which makes me think they’re at least 1-2 weeks old.
They appear to be completely healthy, but all of this means they were in the womb for 6 months!! How is that possible?! It’s like the universe literally said, “holy crap no one has abandoned a cat here in months! We better do something drastic!” Has anyone else heard of a 4 month interrupted labor?!
Anyway, that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your weeks!!