Black and Blue
Caroline staggers out of the swamp, her clothes pissing the brackish water onto the ground around her. She holds the hole in her stomach, for fear that her organs might comes spilling out. She doubts that it will make much of a difference if they do; she is dead after all.
Things are coming back to her slowly. She remembers getting sick. She remembers Michael hunched over her, fucking her. She remembers him sucking the life out of her. She can still feel it distantly, like a torch on the horizon. She knows where it is—where he is. She’ll follow it like a beacon, say hello.
She trudges out towards a stream of lights: a road. She wanders through the charcoal-sketch trees in a state of shock. She didn’t mean to leave those two men in the boat that way, screaming in fear. She just didn’t know what else to do, so she slid back into the water. She doesn’t need to breathe anymore, so this wasn’t too much of a problem.
They’re probably still out there, maybe hightailing it back to whatever shack they came from. She wonders, vaguely, what they were doing out there in the first place. Fishing, maybe.
She stumbles out into the road. Michael is somewhere to the north. She can feel him in her chest, where her heart should be. It’s almost like a pulse. Almost.
The pavement is rough and inviting under her feet, each step slopping mud like splatters of blood.
She begins walking.
Red and Black
Michael doesn’t exactly remember how he got involved with Daesell or, for that matter, all that black magic that now surrounds him. He knows it has something to do with his great uncle’s strange little bookstore in downtown Sandford. Uncle Bryson’s shop always held some power over him, got into his head somehow. All the books seemed to speak to him, call to him. But one in particular, that little black book he now casually consults, it spoke to him in a voice that demanded rather than suggested like all the others.
He doesn’t know how the book found its way into his possession. Logically, he thinks, he must’ve stolen it, but he doesn’t remember how or when. One day he looked down to realize he was holding it in his hands, reading it. He dropped the book suddenly, leaving it in the middle of the street. But as soon as he got home, it was sitting patiently on his bookshelf, like an obedient pet.
The ideas the book put in his head, it made him a little funny. He started saying and doing strange things, and not just in the privacy of his own apartment, but out in public, people staring at him, horrified, repulsed. He would wake up, blood running from his nose and from gashes in his face, gashes that would mysteriously close up by the time the morning rolled around only a few hours later.
Black and Red
Caroline can’t remember the last time she was so happy. She’s been sleeping normally, eating normally. Feeling normal. She feels for the first time since high school like she can actually talk to someone and carry out a normal conversation. And it all started when she started dating Michael.
She never saw herself being with someone like him, someone so confident and fearless. He is everything that intimidates her in people. Loud, challenging, sometimes overwhelmingly cheerful. When she talks to him, he gives her his full attention and actually listens, actually participates. And it scares her.
But she’s getting better.
He’s started staying over at her place now. Actually staying the night, staying until morning and then helping with breakfast. His stuff litters her bathroom and bedroom floor. They’ve gone to his place a few times, but Caroline doesn’t like it very much. Dank little hole in the wall studio apartment way across town. It’s dark and the whole building smells bad. It reminds her of her old dorm back in Sandford U. with her terrible roommate and her roommate’s obnoxious boyfriend. She hated that dorm, too afraid to say anything when they walked all over her, her privacy, her kindness and consideration.
But Michael isn’t like that. He cares about her.
Red and Blue
She wakes up facedown in the mud, blowing bubbles. And when she sits up, she sits up suddenly, taking a deep gasp of air and screams in terror and confusion. Her world has been torn out from under her and now she is in the swamp.
The water is deep and her legs are dangling over the edge, buried in black muck. She draws them up under her and clambers to her feet, fingernails digging into the trunk of the tree growing beside her. It is dark but the moon is shining through the sparse branches overhead, creating patches and pools of pale white light.
She clutches at her chest and covers her mouth, stifling another scream. How did she get here? One moment in her bed and the next half submerged in brackish water, the taste of salt and grit in her mouth. She’s mostly naked, but the air is warm and humid and clings to her skin like a damp cloth, smothering her, gagging her. The water smells putrid and it makes her stomach churn.
She has to get out of here. She has to get home.
Behind every building, between every fence, there is a space. Some are graffiti-choked, garbage strewn across grass and concrete. Some are barren, and, besides the surrounding structures and detritus building up around the edges, you would swear no human had ever taken a step into its sphere.
Strange things grow out of these places, naturally, like weeds out of a crack in the sidewalk. Holes that appear overnight that seem to plummet straight through the center of the Earth, bottomless, lightless. Structures built out of rebar and concrete that look eerily human. Slight warps in time and space, like the shimmering of summer heat.
These places and things exist everywhere, in the corner of you backyard, behind your workplace, in the storm drain beneath you street, in the crawlspace that you don’t know about. They exist because you don’t visit them, because you don’t know they are there.
They are spaces were the Seen becomes the Unseen.
Sometimes lives will seep through these spaces because it is here that the walls between worlds are thinnest. Where the dark meets the darker-than-dark.
The border wanes like the surface of a soap bubble, weakening and growing thinner and thinner until, finally, it pops.
And then something comes crawling through.
- Bryson Hesse, The Unseen, unpublished
Christian slithered through the crack in the wall and landed feet-first on the concrete. The slap of his soles echoed around him, through the dark space. He swung his flashlight around to the far wall as he righted himself, shifting his backpack back up to his shoulders.
He stared out his window, through the graying yard to the tunnel. He could tell by looking—he had been born there.
It was the nicest place he’d ever lived—nicer than the rotting, water-stained apartments, nicer than the cracker box house his parents had owned back in Willow Hills. This was a testament to his success. He’d made it, eclipsed his parents, his brothers. He was on his own, straight out of law school.
It was only an apartment, true, but this was just the beginning. There was a lot of room to grow in the firm where he’d been hired as an associate. He was going places, he’d been told that in confidence by Alec Johansen, one of the partners in the firm and the man who had given him the job in the first place. It would be a long, difficult road, Alec Johansen had told him, but if he stuck with it, kept his head on straight, his chances of making partner were excellent.
He rubbed his forehead, wiping the sweat away from his eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been to work or the last time he’d received a phone call from the firm, first asking where he was in a stern business-like tone, then with an element of worry, maybe even fear, and then, finally, pure bitter disappointment. It was right around then that the calls stopped.
You wake up.
The familiar dusty light coming through your window is absent. For a moment, you think maybe there’s an eclipse. Or maybe the sun has disappeared suddenly and you only have a few minutes before the planet snap-freezes, extinguishing all life.
You get up. Your windows have been painted black from the inside. But you don’t remember anything from last night, not after you got home from work. Fingerprints. There are handprints and fingerprints all along the frame of the window. You squint at them. Are these yours?
In between the noise, in between the static, radiation emitted from every device, you feel me. I know you’re there.
You’re pressed against the glass, trying to feel the ghosts on the other side. Your love, your enemy, acquaintance, friend. Stranger. Tags and identifiers you’ve applied to the people you’ve surrounded yourself with. Freak, fuck-up, beautiful, wanted. And I’m with you.
You wake up.
Warning: this story is graphic and abound with explicit mental, physical and sexual abuse.If you have a problem with any of these themes, you should avoid this story like the plague. Fair warning.
“Open your mouth; here’s your money.”
- Swans, “A Screw”
It’s easy money, and it’s only once a month or so. That’s what I tell myself; that’s what I tell Caitlin. Caitlin doesn’t say anything. She just stares at the ground like she’s seeing through it, like it’s the glass at the bottom of a boat and she’s watching all the little fish swimming beneath her feet. She bites her lip or she bites a knuckle and I just laugh a little, waiting for her to stop.
I’ve taken to wearing long sleeve shirts to cover all the burns and the bruises and the scars. It’s over a hundred degrees down here, but I don’t want people to see. I’m afraid they might recognize me. Like these disfigurements are some kind of signal, a reflective sign on the side of a highway or Morse code transcribed into my skin. I keep expecting a knowing flash in someone’s eye, a moment of sly recognition and then they’ll cut my tongue out because I know too much. But it hasn’t come yet. I can’t imagine what kind of circles these people travel in, but I don’t think they do their shopping at Whole Foods.
It’s very simple really:
I receive a letter in my mailbox. It’s always in a blood red envelope, so I know what’s coming when I see it and my stomach tightens up and I feel a little like throwing up. The paper is black and inside is a time and date written in silver ink.
Curt staggered through into the hallway. The dim reddish electric lights trailed down the walls, perforating the darkness every few meters. Empty shell doorways—slightly skewed, staggered at faintly different intervals—filled in the gaps between. His breath poured out of him in great plumes of vapor, dissipating into the stale air. He clutched his arms to his chest and shivered.
He didn’t know where he was or how he’d gotten here. One minute, he’d been on 3rd and Stanton, then he’d taken a turn at the intersection, on his way to Eliza’s apartment, and the next thing he’d known he’d been in a dark concrete room, streaks of blackish sludge staining the walls. There ‘d been light bulbs along the walls, but they were so faint that they hardly blemished the darkness. They looked hand-blown, dusty, so ancient.
The ceiling in the room—if there had been one—had been so high that it had disappeared into shadows above. Directly ahead had been one doorway, open wide, doorless, hingeless. It was through this that he had just stumbled.
“Hello!” he shouted, stuffing his hand into his armpits. His voice echoed down and down. No response. “Hello!” he shouted again, taking his first tentative steps into the hallway. He listened.
Faintly, in the distance, he heard a rumbling sound. The pulse and pound of machinery. Or perhaps a giant’s heart.
Rain pounded everything around him like a waterfall, an overwhelming roar of innumerable voices screaming chaos. He held his umbrella tightly with both hands, though there was no wind. Without this protection, he was sure he would be obliterated in an instant. Thunder clapped overhead, causing him to duck and swear loudly. He doubled his pace to the far end of the park, to where his car sat, safe and grounded against the lighting that was making him sweat so.
To his left, the jumble of trees and brush trembled under the downpour, trunks and branches stained black while their leaves glowed a translucent green. The shade beneath their canopies was amplified tenfold under the cloud cover, taking on an extra dimension of murkiness. Like he was peering through the rabbit hole, looking into somewhere else.
To his right, the normally tranquil creek was dyed a stormy gray, bulging and threatening to overflow its banks. He glanced at it nervously, just in time to spot a deer watching him from the far bank. It was crouched beneath a low overhang of branches, staring at him with its dull black eyes, head cocked. It was rare to see deer in the park and so he did a double take and nearly stopped dead in his tracks. But another peel of thunder tore through the air and the deer started, turned tail and disappeared into the darkness beneath the trees.
“Nothing ominous about that,” he muttered beneath his breath as he fought the urge to just break into a run, his own voice lost to the roar of the rain. “Just a deer in the woods. Nothing ominous about that at all,”
Jon sits in his chair, his shotgun clutched tightly in his hands. She’s making noise again, louder this time. He stares up at the ceiling; it sounds like she’s rolling around on the floor, limbs smacking the ground, limp and lifeless. A thump loud enough to dislodge tiny granules of paint and drywall. They fall to the ground at his feet with the sound of shifting sand. He squeezes his eyes shut and holds the gun closer.
Blue light filters through the snow-choked windows. It’s been nearly a week since the blizzard buried them, digging them in a grave more than eight feet deep. Jon was able to clear a path to the woodpile, so he’s managed to keep a fire going most days, but the supply is dwindling. The pantry is still largely stocked, though, and there’s no shortage of water. Jon estimates he could live in the house for another month at least. He’d be cold, but he could survive. Shelly on the other hand…
Moaning. She’s moaning now. Her voice sounds sharp and strangled, metallic. It’s so far from human that he finds himself shaking, gun rattling and he has to take his finger away from the trigger in case it slips.
“It’s not your fault,” he mutters. “It’s not your fault.”
Her motorcycle roared through the night, through her helmet. It was nearly three in the morning and the first wave of fall leaves drifted from the trees, scattering in white flashes across her headlights. Every house she passed was dark and silent, everyone asleep and warm inside. Outside it was freezing, but at this speed Hanna didn’t care. It was just her, the noise and the empty streets.
She was sure that Marc had heard her leave because his bedroom light had been on when she’d driven off. But it was a Friday and she didn’t have school tomorrow, so he had nothing to complain about. She’d be home in the morning, before the sun peeked over the horizon. That was the unspoken promise.
She knew it bothered Marc that he didn’t know where she drove off night after night, but he respected her enough to not to bother her about it. If she wanted to tell him, she’d tell him. Simple as that.
Marc was a very understanding father.
Hanna turned towards Tyler Park. Its treetops loomed over the houses, a few skeletal branches protruding through, silhouetted against the moonlight. Some nights she liked to take the longer route to the park. She had to unwind and get in the right frame of mind before she could she set foot in the forest. But not tonight. Tonight the forest called to her, eager.
A dense forest, ferns brushing across his ankles, dampening his skin. Dark green light filtered through the canopy. He looked up towards the sky and smelled the air. It smelled like Kat.
Someone rustled through the brush behind him and then suddenly his head was filled with noise, bright and sharp TV static.
“I’m outside, Bon.”
The static cleared and the night became pure darkness. A voice calling to him from far away, echoing across a black divide. The voice grew until it stretched far overhead, blanketing like boiling thunderclouds, became a shriek that shredded his ears.
Bon sat up and gasped, sticky with sweat. He’d stopped breathing in his sleep, a fist gripped tightly around his lungs. He put his hand to his chest until the sensation drifted away and then he ran a hand though his hair. He looked to Kat sleeping beside him, the light purple of her eyelids, the soft curve of her jaw line and her lips, half open. Her skin practically glowed in the dim light.
I got out of bed and looked out my window into the backyard. Sometime during the night, the temperature had dipped below freezing. All the dew on the lawn was frosted over, coating the thin layer of leaves scattered across the dying grass. I got up, and took a long shower. It was the weekend and I was bound and determined to spend it doing absolutely nothing productive.
I got dressed and wandered downstairs to make coffee. The dogs were waiting for me, pressed up against the door, noses jostling for a spot against the crack. They were trying to sniff the air. The moment I opened it for them, they tore across the yard, howling and barking, gathering in an excited circle around something at the edge of the woods.
Cold tile beneath his face, gravel and shards of ceramic digging into his cheek. He rolled over and groaned. He felt like he’d been beat up, bruised back, a rock pressing uncomfortably into his spine. The air was cold and he shivered. He was so cold it made his body ache. He reached for his blanket, but it wasn’t there. He wasn’t home; he wasn’t in bed. He was somewhere else.
Todd sat up, vision swirling into focus in his dim surroundings. It was early morning and pale blue light poured weakly through the high, shattered windows. He was sitting in the middle of a derelict natatorium, lying dead center in what had once been the shallow end of an empty Olympic-sized swimming pool. Everything around him was rotted and peeling, covered in debris that had fallen from the crumbling ceiling. Something loomed before him in the deep end, drawing his eye. It shimmered as he stared at it, but he couldn’t tell if it was a trick of the light or if…
A massive tower of wires and cobbled electronics, growing, pouring out of the ground, chewed up and shattered like it had suddenly thrust itself through the floor of the pool. It loomed silently above him, a megaton of potential energy and movement frozen into a single twisted pillar. At the top was a figure. At first he thought it was a person, dead and half rotted, run through with lines of rebar and tubes but as he stared up at it, he realized it was part of the structure, a form in the flood of metal and plastic. But it was so eerily human, so lifelike. It stared down at him with a palpable pressure, the weight of its crystalline eyes.