Never Fear
Episode Four - Never Fear Part Four - Horror Story for Halloween

Episode Four - Never Fear Part Four - Horror Story for Halloween

October 31, 2020

Never Fear Part Four

The air went out of my lungs. My bladder threatened to release. Somehow I was again looking into the face of the thing that had haunted both my waking and sleeping mind. Neither Alice nor Phillips had noticed how my face had fallen, and I couldn’t move or make a sound to alert them. It didn’t move either, just looked back at me with its crippling stare. Before I could force myself to take action, a deafening crash came from the direction of the front door.

In the fraction of a second it took to look toward the sound and back, the thing disappeared. Alice had stood up already, and I was distantly aware that Detective Phillips had grabbed our glasses off of the table, and thrown them into the kitchen sink. She then threw open the door of a walk-in pantry, grabbing each of us by the collar to shove us inside. I could hear footsteps coming from the front room as I scrambled in behind Alice. Phillips closed the door softly, trying not to make a sound.

Once we were inside the pantry, Phillips called out to the intruder. “Police, identify yourself!” The footsteps stopped, but there was no answer. “I’m armed. Make yourself known. I will use lethal force.”

Footsteps could be heard again; the pace was slower now. The sound of them changed as the intruder entered the kitchen, the footfalls now coming into contact with the yellowed linoleum of the kitchen floor. Alice grabbed my hand as we stood face-to-face in the back of the pantry. With stuttering breath, we watched the line of light under the closet door, listening.

“Billy?” Phillips said, surprised. Then, obviously for our benefit, she added, “Stevenson?” There was no response. “Billy, don’t do anything you might…” The bravado in her voice was penetrated with uncertainty as she said, “Wh-why are you here?”

A hollow, hoarse voice responded to this. “It won’t leave me alone.”

“What won’t leave you alone?” Phillips responded, but her tone communicated that she knew exactly what he meant.

“It’s made me do things,” Billy said, ignoring her question. “It gets in my head and stirs up my brain like a mixer dipped in a bowl of bread dough. It doesn’t stop until I… do what it wants.”

Billy kept speaking in a rambling manner, but I wasn’t able to listen to what he was saying. A swampy smell had filled the small space in which Alice and I cowered, prompting me to turn my gaze away from the sliver of light under the door to look at Alice. My breath caught as I realized that something was standing behind her. The face of the creature that was what remained of Samuel Higgins was mostly eclipsed by hers, but one wide eye could be seen, boring into mine. The now-familiar feeling of paralysis came over me. Alice must have felt it. In a barely audible whisper, she asked, “Is it here?” I couldn’t answer. In my heightened state of panic, I kept my focus on the eye which was still locked with mine, while still managing to listen to the conversation happening just outside the door.

Lieutenant Phillips was speaking again. “Billy… What’s your plan here, huh?” Silence was the only answer. After a few seconds, she spoke again. “Don’t do something stupid.” Her voice was edged with solemn intent. “Put the knife on the table.”

I watched, helpless, as a slimy gray arm snaked out around Alice now. A twitching gray hand began reaching toward her throat. More urgently now, Alice whispered, “Where is it?” The hand was right in front of her face, which led me to believe the thing was only making itself visible to me. I sat there contemplating whether it was safer to stay inside the pantry, or to take our chances with Billy out in the kitchen.

Billy could be heard making noises that almost made it sound like he was retching. After a moment of confusion, I realized it was actually sobbing. “I just want it to be over, you know?” He said. “So, I have no choice. It sees you now.” He blubbered for a moment, then said, “It knows you see it too. It doesn’t like that.” He breathed heavily, then stopped his sobbing. “I… I have to… “

The whole house shook from the force of Billy’s stomping as apparently he rushed the lieutenant. Phillips could be heard yelling, “Billy, don’t!” A sound much lower and louder than I expected cracked the air as Phillips fired her service revolver once. Through the ringing in my ears I could hear them continue their scuffle. My heart fell as I heard Phillips yelp in pain.

The creature’s hand was now closing around Alice’s throat, and, as it did so, Alice looked in my eyes. I saw the hope in them drown, dying as the sound of Phillips’ struggling faded. I looked back to the creature’s face, which had moved slightly, only half obscured behind Alice now. For the first time, the vengeful face curled into a smile.

I looked back to Alice to see her expression had changed from one of fear to one of resolution. I felt that same resolution fill my chest, replacing my fear. I realized I could move again, and looked at the closet door, then back to Alice. The creature was gone now. Alice put her hand on the doorknob, and flung the door open.

We burst into the kitchen, and a wide-eyed Billy Stevenson looked up in utter confusion from his gruesome task. He was hunched over Phillips’ limp body. His hand, which he held high in the air, gripped a long kitchen knife, its bloodied tip pointed toward the lieutenant. Phillips didn’t open her eyes. She had been stabbed at least a few times, and blood was beginning to pool beneath her. Though she was unconscious, she appeared to be breathing.

Billy stood slowly, eyes darting between the two of us. When he turned his body toward us, I noticed that his free hand was pressed tightly against his abdomen. The white t-shirt he wore was reddening beneath his clutch. I understood with a grim satisfaction that Phillips must have hit him with the shot we heard. Billy’s hateful eyes softened, and his sunken features rearranged into a profane contriteness. His left eye twitched, and he looked right through me as he said, “You don’t know. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

            A glint of light caused me to break gaze with Billy. I looked down to see the light was a reflection coming off of Phillip’s pistol, which had been knocked under the kitchen table. The gun was close enough that I knew I could grab it before Billy had a chance to stop me. He followed my gaze. Having come to the same conclusion as me, he shifted his feet, brought his arm back, and hurled his knife in my direction. It hit the wall flat and clattered to the floor. In the same motion, I ducked his throw, and grabbed the revolver out from under the table. Staggering back to my feet, I managed to squeeze the heavy trigger only once before Billy escaped through the kitchen door, still clutching his stomach. My shot left a hole in the wall about a yard to the left of him.

            We could hear Billy’s truck, which he had left running, rev its engine and drive away. Before the sound of the truck had faded, Alice and I were kneeling next to Phillips’ side. I grabbed her hand, and yelped her name, noting that her breathing had become shallow. I focused intently for a few moments, watching for signs of vitality while Alice called her name a few more times. After what felt like too long, Phillips’ eyes opened into slits. Her unfocused pupils found me, and she whispered something inaudible. Alice and I leaned our heads down to hear her better.

            “Time is up for this geriatric old cop,” She said. I started to shake my head, but she continued. “This nightmare is finally over for me.” Her eyes opened fully, and seemed to exert a great effort to come back to lucidity. “Listen to me, kids. There are some things you can’t fight.” She winced in pain. “Get yourselves away from this place, somewhere so far you’ll forget you were ever here, forget this ever happened. Some evils can’t follow you, if you run fast enough.” Then she grabbed my wrist with one hand, pushing an old flip phone into my hand with the other. “Call Officer Tibbits. He’s the one you two met at the front desk at the station. He’ll be able to…” She couldn’t finish her thought. Her eyes rolled back, and her head, which leaned up against the wall, slumped to the side.

            Alice yelled trying to keep her awake as I scrolled the contacts on Phillips’ phone. I came to one titled Tibbits, Alex. I heard a dial tone as I looked back to Phillips, who wasn’t responding to Alice’s attempts to bring her back to consciousness.

 

 

            The red lights of the parked ambulance flashed across our vision as Alice and I sat on the curb outside Lieutenant Phillips’ house. EMTs had wrapped blankets around us when the Officer we now knew was called Tibbits came out to speak with us.

            He stood to our side, not looking at either of us directly as he said. “They called it.”

            Having resigned ourselves to this possibility, and in obvious shock, the idea that Leah was gone didn’t have much visible effect on us. Through the fog in my mind, I could find here and there thoughts about how tragic it all was. But, in my current state, trying to focus on these thoughts was like trying to catch a mosquito in a windstorm.

            We didn’t respond, so Tibbits spoke again. “I’m headed over to Billy’s place. Are you two gonna be ok?”

            “Take us with you.” I was surprised to realize this voice was mine. I wanted nothing more than to heed Phillips’ final warning, and get the hell away from everything that had happened to us in the last couple of days, but some morbidly curious part of me wanted to know what had happened to Billy.

            I looked up to see that I was being heavily scrutinized by Officer Tibbits. The thin, younger man seemed to waffle for a minute, deciding how to respond. He was still in his uniform, and he stuck his thumbs into his belt as he thought. Then he ran a hand through thick brown hair and scratched the back of his head before he asked simply, “Why, kid?”

            I didn’t know how to convey what I was thinking, so I shook my head, and shrugged.

            He looked at Alice, who said, “We just want to stay with you, Officer. Phillips told us we could trust you.” When he still didn’t look convinced, Alice added, “It would make us feel safe.”

            Tibbits winced and breathed out a sharp sigh, nodded his assent.

It took us about fifteen minutes to make our way to the home of Billy Stevenson. Like Phillips’ house, there were police cars and an ambulance outside the run-down home. Officers and crime scene investigators moved in and out of the dark brown front door. Officer Tibbits reminded us that he was breaking rules to have us here, admonishing us again to stay in the back of his squad car. He then went to speak with another officer who stood by the door of the house. Alice and I sat in the backseat of the car in silence. Neither of us was able to process the circumstances in which we found ourselves, much less discuss them.

After a few minutes of watching the people at work outside, I said, “It would have been hard for Phillips to hold on to this secret herself for so many years. It must have been nice to finally have someone to talk to about it all.”

To my left, in the corner of my eye, I could see Alice had turned to face me. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m glad she had someone to share the burden with.”

It was then that I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. In the back of the ambulance, which could be seen through the windshield of the cop car, sat a young boy. I didn’t know him personally, but I thought I had seen him at school before. He looked familiar. I thought maybe he was a year ahead of Alice and me. He had a gray blanket wrapped around his shoulders just like we had back at Phillips’ house. It became clear that he must live here in the house with Billy Stevenson. Under the blanket, I could see that he clung tightly to a silver laptop which was covered in stickers.

There was one sticker on the laptop that caught my attention, an Egyptian-styled eye inside a pentagram. The gears in my brain grinded together, fueled by recognition. I waved my arms spastically to get Alice’s attention, and, when I had it, pointed to the boy in the ambulance. “What?” She asked. I just kept pointing, and she put the pieces together for herself after a few moments. We looked at each other, stunned. We knew we needed to speak with him. Surreptitiously, we exited Tibbits’ car and made our way to the ambulance, using the cars in between to hide ourselves in case Tibbits was watching us.

When we made it to the ambulance, I got the boy’s attention. His eyes narrowed when they met mine, and he had a curious expression, but gave no response.

Alice spoke now, pointing. “Where did you get that laptop?”

Uncertainty flickered across the boy’s expression before he asked, “Why do you care?”

“That sticker,” I said. “It’s the symbol a… friend of mine used to use on his website. I think you stole this from him.”

The boy’s eyes went wide at this, but then a knowing smile flowed into his features. “You’re not friends of his.” The smile became a pompous grin. I wanted to punch him, and I wasn’t even entirely sure why yet. “One of you must be the person I sent the links to. The links to Evan’s podcast, I mean.”

“You sent…” I looked at the ground as I tried to process what he was saying. Coming back to myself, I said, “So, it is Evan’s laptop. That’s where you got his podcast audio from. Where is Evan now?” His eyebrows cocked in an almost whimsical expression, then looked toward the house. “Oh, it looks like they’re bringing him out now.”

When we followed his gaze, I was crestfallen. Two investigators, both wearing solemn expressions, were carrying a white freezer chest out of the basement door on the side of the house. Neither of us had to ask the boy what he meant.

I was barely aware of his voice as the boy spoke again. “My name is William, by the way.” I could hear the smirk in his voice. “William Stevenson the second. I go by Will, unlike my ridiculous father, Billy

It was all becoming clear. Evan had been researching the creature that dwelt in the woods of our small town. He learned too much, and, as Billy had said, it doesn’t like when people “see” it. Billy must have killed Evan, and then given Evan’s laptop to his son.

“You learned about the creature, went to the forest where you took the pictures you sent us. You…” I faltered for a moment “…accepted the creature’s offer,” I said. It wasn’t a question. “I assume your dad died from the gunshot wound Lieutenant Phillips gave him.”

“Mmhmm, they took him away a while ago.” He said. “As for my mom, they’ll find her body just outside the woods. She always drove drunk; it was just a matter of time. No one will question anything.”

Just then, Officer Tibbits stepped out from behind the open door of the ambulance. His mouth was agape in a shocked expression. He had obviously been eavesdropping from his hiding spot on the side of the ambulance, and I was grateful for this fact.

Will adopted a sort of disgusted expression upon realizing the officer had been listening. Before he could say anything, Tibbits said, “You killed them.” I could almost hear his heart beating through his ballistic vest as he said this. “Shit, she was right. Phillips was right this whole time, and we all treated her like she was crazy.”

Still looking disgusted, Will said, “Prove it in a court of law, Officer,

Tibbits looked at the boy in horror. It took him a moment to recover as he was obviously taken aback by how callously Will was discussing the murder of his own parents. “I may not be able to prove it,” he said. “But… I can hound you for the rest of your life, just like Phillips did to your dad.”

Will snorted. “I’m not a fool like my dad. I’ll escape you. I’ll escape all of this.”

Will said nothing more. None of us said anything. There was almost a minute of terribly awkward silence as we all contemplated the situation. Will glared at each of us in equal measure, making the moment all the more unnerving. Ultimately, Officer Tibbits must have decided it was better to get away from this situation. He put a hand on each of our shoulders and led us back to his car. He stopped another officer to tell him something, then he glanced back toward Will with an indecipherable expression. Will returned the gaze without, unblinking.

Officer Tibbits drove us back to my house, and stood guard at the front door overnight until my parents finally came home.

 

 

Alice and I were as honest as we could be with our parents. The only truths we held back were, of course, the most important ones. My mom was distraught that her little boy had been exposed to not one, but two murders in the last forty-eight hours. She alternated between crying, fawning over me, and thanking God for having saved me.

My father’s reaction to the whole thing was much more enigmatic. He listened intently to the whole story as I told it, putting a hand on my mom’s knee every time she tried to interrupt me. His expression never changed from one of intense focus. When I was done explaining everything that happened, he left the living room without a word while my mom erupted in a storm of emotions. I watched him go, confused by his reaction. I watched him throughout the rest of the day. He seemed to be avoiding me, and wouldn’t make eye contact with me whenever we crossed paths. I thought maybe he was angry with me, so I tried not to bother him.

Later that day, I was laying in my bed, tossing a baseball at the ceiling of my room, when I heard a knock at my door. My dad entered the room and I immediately got to my feet. He hesitated just inside the door, then walked over and embraced me in a bear hug. The hug felt different than the ones I normally received from my dad. Instead of having just one arm wrapped lightly around me, he held me tightly with both arms. His hand pressed my head against his shoulder. Overwhelmed, and still a little confused, I felt tears well up in my eyes.

I was startled when he spoke. “You thought I was angry with you, didn’t you?” After a moment, I nodded against his shoulder. “I’m not,” he said. “I’m sorry I was so quiet. I was just thinking about a lot of things.”

“What things?” I asked.

I heard him swallow before he continued. “I was thinking… how terrible it would be if I lost you.”

He didn’t continue, so I said, “But you didn’t lose me.”

Neither of us spoke for what seemed like forever while I cried into his shoulder. I felt him heaving deep breaths. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he said.

I broke off the embrace, and looked up into his eyes, which were red and puffy now. “Sorry for what?” I asked.

“Sorry I wasn’t here for you.”

I looked down at the floor, unsure how to respond. My eyes followed the lines of the hardwood floor as I said, “I don’t want to live here anymore. I want to go somewhere else, far away.”

My dad didn’t seem surprised by this. He nodded, and said, “I think we can do that.”

I looked up at him, surprised myself that he had agreed so easily, then said, “We can’t let Alice stay either.”

He laughed at this as he slid the back of his hand across his reddened eyes. “I can talk to her parents, but that’s not a choice we can make for them. Let’s just focus on us for now, ok?”

We sat on my bed and talked until the police came to the house to speak with my dad again. When he left, my brain veered into thoughts of Alice. I felt a responsibility for her, for having dragged her into this whole thing. I knew her parents would be more difficult to convince about moving away. But I also knew that I wouldn’t rest until they did. Someday I knew we would find a way to destroy the creature that had haunted the forest for the last century, but, for now, we would follow the advice of Lieutenant Leah Phillips. We would get far away from the thing. We would outrun it.

Episode Three - Never Fear Part Three - Horror Story for Halloween

Episode Three - Never Fear Part Three - Horror Story for Halloween

October 31, 2020

Never Fear Part Three

We decided we should try to get some sleep, even though we knew it was going to be elusive. We hadn’t a clue how to protect ourselves, so we had to be satisfied with barricading my bedroom door with my desk and bookcase. Once we had done that, I rolled out my sleeping bag on the floor, and let Alice take the bed. We laid there in silence for what felt like hours. Each of us knew the other was still awake, but we didn’t speak. Eventually, sleep swept us away.

When we awoke late the next morning, I threw open the curtains, happy to let the sunlight wash over my room. It seemed to have a cleansing effect, pushing the events of the night before away.

We weren’t sure how to get ahold of Leah Phillips, but we figured that someone at the police station might know how to contact her. Knowing that driving a car illegally to a police station was a terrible idea, we decided to walk there. It was only about one and a half miles from my house.

The officer at the front desk was immediately apprehensive when we approached. “What’s up, guys?” He asked.

“Um…” I looked from the officer, to Alice, then back. “We’re looking to talk to Officer Leah Phillips.”         

The officer frowned. “Lieutenant Leah Phillips, you mean.”

Alice spoke this time. “Yeah, is she still here?”

“Still here as in not retired?” The officer asked. “Yeah, believe it or not, she’s still kicking around. Longest tenure on the force by far. Most cops retire once their pension kicks in, but not her.” He tapped his pen, thinking. “You know, normally she wouldn’t be here on a Saturday, but I think I actually saw her this morning. What do you need her for?”

I shared another glance with Alice, then said, “We just want to talk to her.”

The officer stared at us for a long moment, then clicked his tongue on the roof of his mouth a couple of times. “Alrighty,” he said. “Let me see if she’s available.”

He disappeared down the hall, and returned a couple minutes later. He waved for us to follow him.

My mind raced as the officer led us down the hall. I never expected her to actually be here. I thought the most we could hope for was that someone had an address or a phone number for her. What were we going to ask her? Hey, remember this case from decades ago? Yeah, we were thinking maybe an evil monster was responsible. Your thoughts?

Lieutenant Phillips stood up as we approached. She gave the other officer a nod, and he left. There were piles of papers and manuals and other junk on Phillips’ desk which varied in height. The stacks looked like little skyscrapers on the tiny metropolis of her desk. There wasn’t a single section of brown desk space that was uncovered. And yet, it all looked meticulously organized. The stacks were level, and even, and there were pens and pencils and staplers all within her reach, tucked neatly into corners here and there. I got the impression she could find anything she wanted even with a blindfold on.

“How can I help you kids,” She asked in a gruff voice.

I was startled by the question, as I had been intently studying her appearance. She was older than any police officer I had ever seen. My first thought was that she looked like she should be playing the organ in a church somewhere, not here doing… I realized in that moment I didn’t really know much about what police Lieutenants did.

“Uh…” I stammered. “We wanted to talk to you about a case you worked on from a long time ago.”

She blinked, but didn’t stop me.

“Well, actually, several cases. The disappearances and murder that happened in the forest just outside town,” I said.

Phillips’ tensed her face at this, dropping her eyes to scrutinize one of the piles on her desk. “What about them?”

I looked at Alice, not sure how to continue. She took over. “Was there anything weird about them?”

The lieutenant sat back in her chair, and breathed deeply through her nose, shifting her gaze between the two of us. Then she picked up a cup of coffee from a stack of manila folders, revealing a ring that would make my mother shiver. She took a heavy sip before she continued. “Have you two seen something?” She asked. Her expression and tone were casual, but the pace of her speech was slower now, and she carefully enunciated each word.

I wasn’t sure how to best answer the question, so I just said. “We’ve definitely seen something.”

Her next question came with a little more force. “Have you done something?”

Alice gave a measured response to this one. “We haven’t done anything… bad.”

Phillips leaned forward again, appearing somewhat relieved by this answer, and placed her coffee cup back on its stack of files. “Why don’t you start from the beginning.”

I told Phillips about the messages I had received which had set everything in motion, then Alice and I traded off describing the sequence of events up until now. Except to ask a clarifying question now and again, she let us tell the story uninterrupted. She didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow throughout the whole thing, not even at the most outrageous details.

When we were satisfied we had conveyed all the relevant details, I told her that was all we knew. She nodded at this, and sat back in her chair in apparent contemplation.

I couldn’t handle the suspense anymore. “So? Do you think we’re crazy, or what?”

“No,” She said, with a frown. She looked around the room, then said “I don’t.”

“Well I… That’s good,” I said, a little surprised. “So what do we do?”

“Who sent you Evan’s audio?” Phillips asked, ignoring my question.

“Like I said, it was anonymous. Here, I’ll show you.” I pulled up the message on my phone, and she pulled out her reading glasses.

“Do you know him?” Asked Alice. “Do you know where Evan is now?”

“You must not have listened to all of the files,” She said. “I know him; he interviewed me for his whatever-it’s-called. As for where he is.” She scanned her desk, pulling a file out of one of the stacks. She held it up for us to see. The name on the folder’s tab read Evan Sampson, and printed on the side of the folder in large letters were the words Missing Person.

“Holy shit,” Alice said.

“Watch you’re language, young lady,” Phillips said, but her rebuke was half-hearted, and she wasn’t looking at Alice. She flipped through the few pages the report held, stopping on a page about halfway through. I noticed the page was a printout of Evan’s website. I recognized the symbol in the top left, the Egyptian eye inside of a pentagram which I had taken note of when I had pulled up the site myself.

Phillips’ eyes were on the file, which now sat open on her desk. She took another deep breath through her nose, she then handed me a sticky note “Write your address down on this. I have some work to do here, but there are things I’d rather discuss with you two in private. Go home, and I’ll come pick you up in a few hours.” She looked to be considering something for a second, then asked, “Could you also give me your login information for the website where you received the messages?” I nodded to her, and wrote it down next to my address on the sticky note.

It was about noon, and the sun was high in the sky as we walked back to my house. She had told us it would be hours before she came for us, so we were surprised when Lieutenant Phillips rolled into my driveway in an unmarked police car just as we were getting back. We obeyed when she instructed us to hop in the backseat.

“We’re gonna head to my place,” She said. When I asked why she had come so quickly, she answered, “Well, there’s only one copy of Evan Sampson’s audio files. They were on his laptop.” She looked at us in her rear-view mirror before continuing. “The laptop was in our evidence locker along with his other belongings we recovered from his hotel room after he was reported missing. After you two left, I went to check on the laptop.”

Alice shifted in her seat. “And?”

“It’s gone. And not just the laptop, it’s all gone.”

I stammered, “Who would… how could someone…”

Phillips cut me off. “I dunno, kid. It’s possible it was just moved, or lost, but that seems unlikely.”

We rolled onto the cracked concrete of Phillips’ driveway, parking in the carport of a shabby rambler after a few minutes of driving. Grass and seeded dandelions grew unchecked in her shallow front lawn, and a cat could be seen scurrying away with what looked like a dead mouse in its mouth as we walked to her front door. The house itself was squat, covered in siding from which a scarlet paint was flaking. I looked up to see there were several spots on the roof where shingles were missing in action, and plywood shone through in one place.

Inside, Phillips’ house was organized similar to her desk at work. There were piles of boxes and papers and folders covering up almost all of the brown and red carpet of the living room. Also like her desk, even though she was most certainly a hoarder, it all had a definite sense of organization. I shared a wide-eyed glance with Alice behind Phillips’ back, and we each silently wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. We followed her into the kitchen, and she cleared off the round dinner table. She put two glasses of lemonade on the table for us, and a bottle of beer for herself. Even though it was only the afternoon, the kitchen was somewhat dark, as the only window in the kitchen was covered with a thick, gray curtain, and the kitchen light only had one working bulb that emitted a dull glow.

After a few gulps of her Budweiser, Phillips let out an ahhh, and said, “Well, where to begin?” Alice and I just shrugged, so she asked, “So, you seen it?”

I looked to Alice, then back to Phillips, and nodded.

Phillips coughed up a mirthless laugh. “Do you understand what it does?”

Alice answered this, “We think so. It convinces angry kids to… you know.”

Phillips nodded, raising her eyebrows, but didn’t say anything, so I asked, “What is it, Officer?... I mean lieutenant, sorry.”

“Call me Leah, son,” she answered. “And I don’t know. I helped Evan with his research, lord, it was nice to have someone around who didn’t think I was crazy. Anyway, he had a theory; it was far-fetched, but…”

“What did he think it was?” I asked.

“You still have his audio files, right?” She asked. When I nodded, she said, “It’s on there. I’ll show you in a minute. Go ahead and pull up the audio.” She paused. “But first, I all but asked you this back at the station, but… you two didn’t let this thing inside your minds, right? You didn’t choose to pay its price.” We both shook our heads. “That’s good. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to track down all the kids who did choose to pay its price. Most of them, when they turned eighteen, took whatever money they inherited from their parents and disappeared, so I wasn’t able to track down many of them. But of the ones I did find, only one didn’t appear to regret what they did.”

“Who was that?” I asked her.

Phillips frowned, and shook her head. “Billy Stevenson. Remember the first case Evan covered, Diane and Victor Stevenson?”

I narrowed my eyes in thought. “I remember, but didn’t Evan say they had twin grandchildren?”

Phillips nodded. “Yep, Billy’s twin sister Ophelia died under… suspicious circumstances just after Diane and Victor. Billy was suspected to have killed her for her share of their parents’ life insurance, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him on this.”

“Did Billy kill her, or was it the…” Alice began,

Phillips said, “No, or at least Evan didn’t think so.” She stood up, and left the kitchen, reappearing with a small boombox. She sat it on the table and handed me an auxiliary cable to plug into my phone. She instructed me to play the fifth audio file, and skip to the three-minute mark.

It was strange to hear Evan’s voice now after everything we had learned. When we found the spot Phillips wanted us to listen to, I hit the pause button. “Before we hear it,” I said. “Can I ask, did you find out what happened to Evan?”

Phillips’ face became stone. She looked sideways at the now-empty beer bottle in her hand, and said, “Never found a trace.” She chuckled, and a wry smile tugged momentarily at the corner of her mouth. “A shame, he was such a smart kid. Real full of life. Like I said, it was nice havin’ somebody who didn’t think I was nuts to look at everything with a fresh pair of eyes, but…” She trailed off, and tossed her bottle onto the overflowing trash can a few feet away. I nodded, understanding, and I thought I could see a tear forming in the corner of her eye before she swept it away.

I could see that she didn’t have any more to say on the issue, so I went ahead and hit play on my phone. Evan’s voice came over the boombox’s speakers once again.

“I think I’ve had a breakthrough on the origin of the creature I’ve been hunting. There’s an older gentleman who works at the local library here. He’s been helping me go through the newspapers archived on microfilm. He was curious as to what I was researching, so I told him I was looking into the claims about their town’s haunted forest. With most people, their reaction is pretty typical when I tell them this, they write me off as a crackpot, but not good ol’ Mr. Williamson. He happens to be a fellow paranormal enthusiast, and very informed about his hometown’s local legend’s.

When I asked him what he knew about the claims that the forest was inhabited by some kind of otherworldly being, his eyes lit up. There were other people asking to be attended to, but he let me know he had a story I would be very interested in, and that he would tell me once the library was closed. It was already late, and I knew the library would be closing soon, so I agreed to wait.

When Mr. Williamson had finished closing things up, and the other library employees had gone, he seated himself at the table where I still had various articles and books spread out. Most of the lights had been shut down when everyone else left except the reading lamps at the tables where we sat. There, in the parchment-yellow light, the librarian told me the cautionary tale of Samuel Higgins.

According to the legend, as Mr. Williamson tells it, Samuel Higgins came to inhabit the town sometime in the mid-to-late eighteen hundreds. He was the son of Irish immigrants who had chosen to move to a more rural area to escape the anti-immigrant sentiments of the bigger cities. Samuel’s father purchased a small farm, and after a while, also opened up a store in town. Being a hard-working farmer, and a savvy businessman, Samuel’s father found success, becoming one of the town’s most well-to-do citizens.

Here’s Mr. Williamson telling the story in his own words:”

After a few seconds of silence, there was a subtle change in the audio. An older man’s voice could now be heard, presumably Mr. Williamson. I had been to this library many times, and I knew the librarian. He was a silver-haired, thin man, who always wore the same decayed old gray sweater, which seemed to hang too heavily off his matchstick bones.

 I closed my eyes and tried to see the scene in my mind’s eye. I saw the cavernous ceiling that I knew arched up above the reading tables. I imagined Evan and the librarian hunched over the pile of books and old newspaper articles. Mr. Williamson spoke with a loud tenor in a way that reminded me of how my old U.S. history teacher spoke when the curriculum veered into territory he found interesting. His voice echoed off of the ancient walls of the library.

After a brief preamble, the old man said, “Mrs. Higgins, Samuel’s mother, had long believed she was infertile, as, after about ten years of marriage, she had never conceived. According to the town gossip, this fact was agreeable to her. She enjoyed her wealth and status, and the idea of raising a child was something she thought would get in the way of their lifestyle. Because of this, she was shocked when it came to her attention that she was with child. She had no desire to give birth, but, of course, at the time abortion wasn’t an option. The unwanted child was born, and given the name Samuel Higgins. In some versions of the story, it’s said that while Samuel’s mother was in labor, one of the nurses in the hospital knocked a pair of very sharp scissors to the floor, cutting her foot. Samuel’s mother, having come from a superstitious Irish family, saw this as a bad omen.

Over the years, Samuel grew into an unruly child. He had a father who was perpetually absent due to his work, and a mother who resented his very existence. Understandably, having grown up in such a cold environment, Samuel became quite cold himself. Though largely ignored as a child, having been raised in wealth, he saw himself as better and more intelligent than the other children, a fact he repeatedly reminded them of. Samuel’s parents frequently left him in the care of other townspeople, who observed that Samuel could be mean and manipulative when playing with their children.

The town put up with Samuel’s antics over the years because of his old man’s influence. But a feud with his schoolteacher when Samuel was about thirteen is what really brought things to a tipping point. His teacher, a Ms. Harriet Hampton, had complained to Samuel’s parents many times about his disruptive and disrespectful classroom conduct. He was regularly disciplined, with no change in behavior. Well, as the legend goes, one day, Samuel made one disruption too many. While the teacher’s back was turned, Samuel pulled a stone from his pocket and tossed it at her. She turned just as the rock left Samuel’s fingers, and it hit her right in the eye. Well, Ms. Hampton just…” The snap of Mr. Williamson’s fingers coming through the speakers was loud, causing me to jump a little. My now-empty glass of lemonade rattled on the table.

Mr. Williamson continued in most cinematic voice, “At the end of her rope, the teacher grabbed a thick meter-stick from beside her desk at the front of the room, and stood before the boy, screeching for him to put his hands on his desk, and ignoring his frantic attempts to apologize. The teacher had never been known to use corporal punishment, so the class froze in mesmerized shock and watched as the woman raised the stick high in the air and brought it down on the boy’s knuckles with a loud smack. She brought the ruler down again and again each time with more force. Once his knuckles bled from the teacher’s repeated strikes, Samuel hid his hands under the desk, and refused to take them out again against the teacher’s orders. When it became clear the boy wasn’t going to obey, she slapped him across the face instead.

Not satisfied she had gotten her point across, Ms. Hampton then took the boy to the front of the room, where he was instructed to write on the chalkboard repeatedly the phrase, ‘I cried like a maid when Ms. Hampton tapped my knuckles with her ruler,’ while the rest of the class watched in a silence so thick you could have sliced it up like a stick of cold butter. The remainder of the day was spent in this manner, with Ms. Hampton watching from the back of the room. Samuel, who was keeping an eye on the clock, fled the classroom the second it struck three. Ms. Hampton didn’t try to stop him.

Samuel ran straight home and told his mother and father what had happened. Ms. Hampton arrived at the house not long after, and Samuel was asked to leave the room as they spoke. He was sure his parents would take his side after the obscene treatment he had received at the hands of the sadistic teacher.

Ms. Hampton walked past Samuel without looking at him on her way out. Once she was gone, His mother and father sat him down at the kitchen table. To his horror, rather than offering their sympathy to the distraught child, his parents proceeded to tell him how angry and humiliated they were. Samuel was ordered to his room, where he spent the rest of the night.”

Mr. Williamson paused here for dramatic effect, then said, “Well, it’s said that Samuel stewed in his hatred and anger well into the night. The door of his bedroom was locked, so he climbed out of his second story window down to the kitchen, where he grabbed his father’s butcher knife. He then snuck into his parents’ room and used this knife to…” The librarian paused here again. “…slaughter his parents in their sleep. The story goes that his father didn’t wake up, never realized he was about to die, but Samuel’s mother was woken up by the sound of her husband being killed. Before Samuel was able to kill her too, she recited an old Irish curse on her son. Roughly translated, it’s supposed to mean something like ‘May you live forever, and be as happy as you made those around you.’”

Mr. Williamson cleared his throat before continuing. “Samuel buried the bodies somewhere on the farm – they were never found – and cleaned up the blood in the house, hoping to claim they disappeared. Well of course Ms. Hampton raised suspicion with the local sheriff. There was no real trial, as Samuel had cleaned up most of the evidence of the crime. The town wasn’t satisfied, however. A few weeks after his parents’ murder, a good ol’ fashioned torch-and-pitchforks mob showed up at the home of Samuel Higgins.

Samuel was dragged into the forest, the one you are interested in, Evan, where he was hanged. His body was tied to a rock, and thrown out into a large pond. From there on, the pond was known to be haunted by the unrepentant spirit of Samuel Higgins.”

The audio continued now with Evan debriefing what we’d just heard. But I was no longer listening. I had become aware of a white face watching me from the living room.

Episode Two - Never Fear Part Two- Horror Story for Halloween

Episode Two - Never Fear Part Two- Horror Story for Halloween

October 31, 2020

Never Fear Part 2

Alice was still bugged that I had ignored her messages the night before, but she seemed to forget her annoyance once I told her about what I had found. She listened intently as I gave her a rundown of what I had listened to so far. I sent her the link to the audio, and she said she would start listening to it during her free period later that day.

I was halfway through my Spanish class when my phone buzzed. The message from Alice read, “You must have sent me the wrong link, when I follow this one it gives me a ‘page not found’ error.”

I frowned, and pulled up the original forum message the anonymous user had sent me. When I selected the link, I was greeted with the same error. I narrowed my eyes in confusion. Why would this person direct me to this page if they were just going to kill it the next day? Luckily, I had downloaded all of the audio files, so I sent Alice a message saying I would just show her later. This earned me another eye-roll emoji.

Between the content of the podcast itself, and the mysterious user who had sent it to me in the first place, I had too much on my mind to focus in my remaining classes. The person knew where I was from, which means they had read through my post history. Now they had deleted the link to the audio, which led me to believe that I was the only one they had sent it to. I was starting to get really creeped out.

Alice didn’t share my concern when I explained this to her as we waited for the bus after school. “Maybe they’re just trying to screen it to a small audience, and they set the link to expire so it could only go to a few people,” she said. I wasn’t convinced by this, but I let it go with a shrug. I looked over at the kids who were getting picked up by their parents. I could suddenly feel Alice looking at me, my cheeks burned and I turned my gaze to the concrete. “Soon we’ll be able to drive ourselves,” she said.

On the bus ride back, Alice listened to the podcast on my phone. I had given her a summary of the first few cases Evan covered, so she could start at the good part. I was satisfied to hear her gasp in surprise every now and again as she listened.

            The bus arrived at my stop, and this time both Alice and I got off. We decided we would listen to the rest of Evan’s podcast at my house. It was a Friday, so we didn’t have to worry about school the next day. I asked Alice if she needed to let her parents know she was going to be home late. She shrugged and said, “They’re in Mexico, remember?” I nodded, and she continued, “Besides, they don’t care where I’m at even when they’re home.”

            “Oh, come on. That can’t be true,” I said.

            “Oh, yeah?” She asked. “Do you remember that field trip to Washington DC we did last year?”

            “Yeah, I remember.”

            She laughed. “I forged their signature on the permission slip, and didn’t tell them I was going. I thought for sure they were gonna cuss me out for having been gone so long without telling them. When I walked through the door after the trip, my mom just asked me why I was getting home from school so late, then sent me to the store to buy her tampons. She didn’t even realize I’d been gone.”

            I stopped walking to look at her with wide eyes. “That trip was three days long! How could they not notice?” I shook my head, and looked at the concrete, trying to figure out how that could even be possible, then gave her a skeptical look. “You’re making that up.”

            She stopped walking long enough to look back at me with eyebrows raised. “Believe what you want,” She said. Then she spun on her heel and started walking again.

            When we got to my house, we entered through the side door which opened up into the kitchen. I hung my housekey on the hook next to my mom’s nature views calendar, and noted with a smile the circled date, which was Sunday, two days away. My mom’s work trip was the seventh one this year. It was last minute, and I had begged her not to go. I had tried many times to convey to my parents how much I hated when they were gone for work, but it was no use. I nagged my mom for days, and, while I couldn’t get her to stay home, we did come to a compromise. I would stop bothering her, and, in return, she promised that when she and Dad got back we would all go to Scream Kingdom, the local amusement park, for the day. I turned away from the calendar and looked out the window, then nodded, satisfied with the deal I had negotiated.

I made Alice and I grilled cheese sandwiches, and we spent a few minutes eating and discussing everything we’d heard on Evan’s podcast up until now. We were talking about what kind of creature could have been haunting Annette, when I realized my phone’s notification light was blinking. I checked it to find I had another message on the same discussion forum through which I had received the link to Evan’s podcast.

            This message was also anonymous; it read, “I hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast up until now. If you’re brave enough to visit, here’s a map to the clearing.”

            I showed Alice, who had no choice but to admit the creepy factor of the whole thing was on the rise. She suggested I message the user to ask who they were, but the site didn’t allow for responding to anonymous messages. I followed the link in the message and was taken to a folder. At first, I was confused. There was no map, only a selection of photos. I knew they were pictures of the forest from Evan’s podcast, because I recognized the trailhead in the first picture. After the trailhead photo were pictures along the trail of rocks and marked trees. It became clear that this sequence of landmarks was the “map” to which the sender of the message had been referring. The last few photos were of the clearing itself, which appeared to be about twenty yards in diameter. It wasn’t as daunting as Evan’s caustic narration had made it sound. It looked like the pictures had been taken during the winter; the trees had no leaves, and there were small patches of snow on the ground.

            We spent several minutes marveling over the strangeness of the situation we found ourselves in. I had never found myself so excited and creeped out at the same time.

That was when Alice voiced the crazy idea I was too afraid to say out loud. “We should go see it.”

I shook my head. “That’s crazy. What if the person who sent this is a psycho who’s there waiting to kill us?”

“Chad, when does something like this ever happen?” She said. “I feel like we don’t really have a choice. Let’s go while we’ve still got some daylight, then we’ll come back and binge the rest of the audio.”

I knew I was out of my mind for even considering it, and yet I was. “How would we even get there?” I asked.

In response, Alice pointed to my dad’s car keys hanging up in the kitchen. “I know you’ve been practicing,” She said.

I didn’t so much as have a learner’s permit, but the idea of stealing my dad’s SUV wasn’t unprecedented. In the numerous times my parents had been away, I had surreptitiously used the vehicle to take my friends out to get fast food here and there.

I opened the garage, and looked around carefully to make sure none of my neighbors were out and about. Then, with shaking hands, I started my dad’s car, put on some music, and rolled quietly out of the driveway.

Because of the anxiety I felt about driving illegally, the ride to the forest seemed to take longer than usual. By the time we arrived at the trailhead from the photos, my palms were extra clammy, and my armpits were dark with sweat. Despite my stressed-out state, I was actually pretty proud of myself. I had only been honked at for drifting out of my lane once.

The trailhead was one of two that led into the wooded area of the park. Alice and I each pulled up the series of pictures, and we started our hike. We disturbed a flock of crows, who flew from the trees as we started down the path. Finding the spot wasn’t as easy as I’d expected it to be. The trail branched off in several places, and we kept having to backtrack after taking wrong turns. For the last hundred feet or so, there was no trail to follow at all. We checked every so often to make sure we still had cell service in case we managed to get lost. All-in-all, it took us about forty-five minutes to follow the markers to the clearing. When we arrived, I thought It seemed bigger than it appeared in the photos. I held up my phone to compare what I was seeing to the last few photos, it was definitely the right place.

We wandered the clearing and the surrounding trees for fifteen minutes or so, not really knowing what we were looking for. I looked up at the tree branches that stretched over the clearing. They looked like reaching, white arms, making the leafless twigs at the end of each branch look like crooked, clawed fingers. Marbled rocks and boulders stuck out of the dirt in a few places.

After the initial excitement had worn off, we stood there in the middle of the clearing for a minute or two. Neither of us voiced it, but we were coming to the realization that there probably wasn’t anything to find. Alice was the first to break, and say we should go home. I told her I wasn’t ready to go yet, so she sat down on one of the larger boulders and started scrolling through the photos again. While she did that, I started to venture farther outside the clearing. I walked in a large circle around the area, looking intently for anything interesting. About fifty feet away from the clearing I found a large pond. I had actually seen the pond on the online maps of the area I had called up before our trip, but had forgotten about it. I climbed up on a very large boulder that overlooked the water to get a better view. The murky green water was perfectly placid, which I somehow felt both calming and maddening. I reached down to pick up a pebble, then tossed out into the middle of the pond. The ripples distorted the reflection of the white trees.

As I stood there watching the ripples die out, I heard Alice calling me. At first I couldn’t make out what she was saying.

“What?” I yelled.

“Chad, we need to go, now!” Alice yelled back.

The note of panic in Alice’s voice was enough to send a shot of adrenaline through me. I jerked my body around to look in her direction, and, in doing so, managed to slip on the dirt and pebbles between my feet and the boulder on which I stood. I fell, and my thigh connected with the boulder on the way down with a loud thud, flipping me headfirst into the water.

The area of the pond into which I had fallen was impossibly deep. I was only a few feet from the shore, and yet I seemed to have fallen at least ten feet deep into the cold water. I opened my eyes to try and find a way back to the surface, but the waning light of the evening barely made it this deep; I couldn’t see anything. I could feel moss slipping through my fingers as I jerked my arms in panic-stricken swimming motions. Gravity seemed to have disappeared, and I didn’t know which way was up. I hadn’t had a chance to take in a proper breath before being submerged, so I was already running out of air. After what seemed like forever, I managed to get my bearings. I found the dim night-light that I knew represented the sun, and swam toward it. The muscles in my arms burned under the strain of my frenzied strokes. Just as I was about to break the surface something caught the corner of my eye. I looked over, and what I saw was enough to cause me to forget that I was drowning for a moment.

A face white enough to be seen through the occluded water stared at me with wide eyes only about ten feet away. I could see long, wispy strands of black hair floating among the seaweed. Wide, piercing eyes stared out from the face. They seemed to be looking right into the core of my being. Stripping my thoughts naked as it rifled through the darkest corners of my mind. I couldn’t look away; I couldn’t move at all. As the combination of my paralysis and my horror coalesced into a waking nightmare, I heard something. A ragged whisper like the one I had heard in my dream the night before.

“Do you see me, Chad?”

The next thing I knew I was being dragged out of the water by Alice. With one hand, she had a fistful of my hair, and with the other, she had grabbed onto the shoulder of my jacket. Coming to myself, I flailed about until she let me go, then crab-walked back onto the shore, not taking my eyes off the water. When I was firmly on dry ground, I stood up, barely aware that Alice was screaming in my ear. I walked backwards into the trees, still not willing to look away from the green sludge I had just come out of.

When I was able to speak again, I said, “Run, Alice.”

We turned and sprinted away. Our wet sneakers made sloshing sounds as we ran back through the clearing. We didn’t stop running. By some miracle we managed to find our way back to the trail, and followed it back out of the forest. By the time we made it back to the parking lot we were both completely winded. I turned back to look at the trailhead, convinced whatever I had seen would be looking out from the trees with its wide, pale eyes, but there was nothing. I doubled over and put my hands on my knees, breathing heavily for a few moments. Alice was already in the car, and was yelling for me to come get in. I did as she said, never looking away from the tree line.

I got in the driver’s seat, not caring that I was caking it in mud, and drove us away.

When we got back to the house, I told Alice what I had seen under the water. My fingers shook as I spoke, partially from fear, partially from cold; I still hadn’t removed my wet clothes. She was also shaken, but seemed unsurprised. She acknowledged all of this with a nod, and asked if I was feeling ok. I told her I was, and, after a moment, remembered something. I asked her what had caused her to come running over to me in the forest. She sighed and told me to pull out my laptop and call up the pictures we had been sent. She took the computer and scrolled over to the last photo. She was shaking too, having been soaked from stomach down trying to pull me out of the water.

I watched intently and she zoomed in on the trees behind the clearing. It took me a minute to figure out what she was trying to show me. Then, with a heart-withering jolt, I saw it. The same pale face with wide eyes and long black hair stared out from the trees at me, though I was somewhat relieved that the image didn’t have the same mind-piercing effect as the real thing.

“I came running because, as I was taking another look at the photos, I found this,” Alice said. “It looks like a face. Is this what you saw?”

My breathing stuttered as I nodded my head, not able to pry my eyes away. “It’s really blurry, but that could definitely be it,” I said.

I was bordering on hyperventilating now, and looked down to find my hands were wringing themselves together. Alice followed my eyes with a grimace. “I think we should shower. The hot water will make us feel better.” Though I didn’t feel like it was going to better my emotional state, I knew at some point we needed to get out of our drenched clothes.

Our fear wasn’t enough to trump propriety; we decided each of us would stand guard outside the bathroom while the other showered. I went first. Once the shower curtain had enclosed me in the small space, I reached for the silver knob with a shaking hand. As I waited for the water to heat up, I peaked from behind the curtain to check once again that I was alone. I continued to look around long after steam had started to fog up the mirror. I could feel the water smoothing out the goosebumps on my back, and my lungs expelled a long breath. My eyes closed in a momentary lapse of vigilance. I opened them again after only a split second, sliding the curtain back for another bathroom check. I was so engaged in my examination, that when Alice yelled through the door to ask what was taking me so long I nearly slipped and fell.

I sat outside the bathroom door in a towel while I waited for Alice to take her turn. When she was done, we put our clothes in the wash, and went to my room to change. I put on a fresh outfit, and put out a pair of basketball shorts and a t-shirt on the bed for Alice. I made a point of not looking directly at her in her towel. I tried to be oblivious to the fact that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath it, and became annoyed with myself when I couldn’t.

            I left her alone in my bedroom so she could change, and went downstairs to wait for her on the couch, wrapping myself in the warmest blanket I could find. I grabbed the folding knife I knew my parents kept above the fridge, hoping this might make me feel safer. It didn’t, but I sat it on the end table next to me anyway. Now that the cold had been purged from my bones, fatigue settled in to take its place. I laid back on the couch, and though I was determined to keep my eyes open, they had other plans. I stopped fighting them, thinking I would just rest my eyes until Alice came down. I saw blissful darkness for only a few moments before I felt Alice shaking my shoulders. I yelled that I was awake and looked around.

It was a few seconds before I realized that Alice was speaking to me, and a few more before I could focus enough to understand what she was saying. She looked intently into my eyes as she spoke. “I promise it will be ok, Chad,” She said.

            “What?” I narrowed my eyes, trying to focus on her. “What will be ok?”

            “It will be ok,” She said again.

            I blinked my eyes to force them to focus, and Alice’s face came into view. Her eyes were wide. Her lips pressed together, and one cheek twitched sporadically. Confused, I tried to move, but Alice straddled my torso, pinning my arms down. “Alice, get off me!”

            She brought a finger to her lips. I was about to protest again, when she lifted her other hand. In it she gripped my dad’s knife, its smooth, silver blade now unfolded. I looked back into Alice’s eyes, and shook my head. “What’s happening?” I asked.

            “You were going to kill me,” She said. “Why else would you have grabbed this knife? Don’t worry, I don’t blame you. I’m the only one who knows your secret.”

            I opened my mouth, but I was at a loss as to how to respond. I could hear my own pulse now.

            Alice closed her eyes for a moment, then let her head fall back and opened them again to look at the ceiling. When she looked back at me, her eyes were no longer wide. They looked sadder now. “It’s going to be ok, Chad. I’ll be right behind you.”

            “Stop saying that!” I yelled.

            In response, Alice reached down to run the knife blade over my cheek, slicing it open. A Burning sensation radiated from the wound, and I could feel the blood run down my face. Alice moved her eyes to follow the blood as it trailed down to my neck, contemplating it as a painter might contemplate the first stroke on a canvas. I tried to move my arms again, but they were lead under Alice’s thighs. Feeling my resistance, Alice met my eyes again. After a moment’s silent contemplation, she grabbed my hair and pushed my head back against the couch cushion, exposing my neck. I tried to scream, but my lungs were constricted. Alice put the tip of the knife to my neck and slowly pushed the blade through the soft flesh there.

            Pain flooded my consciousness. I tried to keep my thoughts coherent, but it was like trying to hear a single voice whispering among a screaming mob. I was barely aware as Alice plunged the knife into my neck again and again. How many times was it now? In a moment of excruciating clarity, I became aware that my vision was now spotted with what I could only imagine was my own blood. Air gurgled in my throat as I tried to breathe through the blood that now obstructed my severed windpipe.

            I closed my eyes and was prepared to resign myself to the fact that I was going to be murdered by my best friend, when Alice leaned down to put her lips against my ear. All in one moment, the pain disappeared and I was only aware of her voice.

            “Chad!” I came back to consciousness to find Alice screaming in my ear. “Chad, wake up!” Her voice was higher than normal, and cracked a little.

            I reached for my throat to find it was whole. It’d been another nightmare. I sucked in a deep breath, relieved when air flowed through to my lungs unobstructed. We were no longer on the couch. It appeared that Alice had dragged me across the living room, and we now sat in the corner. Alice had her back to the wall and had her arms around me, holding me close to her chest.

            I was suddenly tense, remembering the Alice from my dream with a pang of fear. It was ridiculous for me to hold her responsible for what her dream self had done to me, but I was finding it hard to shake. “Alice, what’s happening?” She loosened her grip, allowing me to turn and face her. My brow furrowed when I saw her face.

            Tears streaked down her cheeks, and she was shaking. I tensed again when I saw she held my dad’s knife, just as she had in my dream.

            “Alice?” I asked carefully.

            She took a shuddering breath before speaking. “I know what you saw.” She must have seen the lack of comprehension in my face, because she added, “Under the water.”

            Startled by this information, I turned to scan the room. Seeing nothing, I looked back at her. “Are you sure?” I asked. In answer to my question, Alice turned her gaze to look at something out of the corner of her eye, not willing to look directly at whatever it was.

I looked in the same direction, finding nothing at first. I didn’t see what she was seeing until I looked through the door to the kitchen. The kitchen light was off, but the window above the sink was dimly illuminated by the moonlight coming through the open blinds. In the bottom left corner of the window, two wide eyes peeked over the bottom of the pane, staring right into mine. The unblinking orbs were outlined by dark circles, with tiny irises that were swallowed up in pools of white. Black hair slithered down to frame the pale face, of which only the top half was visible.

My chest tightened. My fists clenched. But this time, somehow, I wasn’t just consumed by fear. Mixed in with the fear was anger. “What do you want?” I asked, intending to yell, but only managed a whisper.

As if to answer my question, the eyes looked down, breaking their contact with mine. They appeared to be looking at my phone, which sat on the table next to the couch. The phone rang, causing Alice and I to nearly jump out of our skin. I looked back to the kitchen window, but the thing was gone. I couldn’t make my legs carry me to answer the phone, so I let it go to voicemail.

Once the phone chimed to indicate the new message. I forced myself to walk slowly over to the phone, and played the voicemail on speaker. “Hey, honey,” Came my mother’s voice. “I hope you’re not answering the phone because you’re in bed. I’ll have Mrs. Randolph check on you later.” She paused for a minute. “Listen, I wanted to let you know… We won’t be able to make it to Scream Kingdom this weekend.” I blinked as this grabbed my attention. “Please don’t be mad.” My mom continued, “It’s really kinda crazy. You’re dad won a getaway package from a raffle at his work retreat, and it’s only good for this weekend. It’s a really nice resort and we don’t have to pay for anything. I promise we’ll go to the park soon. I’ve already got the tickets and their only good for about a month, so don’t worry. And, how about this, I’ll pay for pizza for you and as many friends as you want tomorrow to make up for it, ok?” She sighed, “Anyway, hopefully I’ll talk to you more tomorrow. Bye, honey,” the message ended.

I stood staring at the phone for a long minute. My narrowed eyes started to burn, and I felt them well up. I walked to the kitchen, and wet spots began to appear on the dark gray tiles that lined the floor. My lungs sucked in air in bursts as I relinquished control to my emotions. My thoughts swirled into tempests, dredging up all of the things I had labored to wall up behind levees in my mind. Every time my parents had disappointed me; every missed event; every broken promise; every time I felt a pang in my stomach watching a friend be supported and congratulated by loving, present, parents broke free from the barriers I had built. Hell, even now, when I was being haunted by some otherworldly being, were they here to protect me? All these thoughts stung like hornets as they paraded past the forefront of my brain. The images flicked by like slides on a presentation, rolling toward a fever pitch.

It was a few minutes before my thoughts were interrupted; the thing began to make its presence known again. I took in one last heaving breath and looked away from the phone in my hand, through the still dark kitchen at the hallway which led to the garage. This time I wasn’t surprised to find the pale face staring at me. It tilted to one side, and a fire erupted inside of my chest. It was like someone had dropped a match into an ocean of gasoline, and the force of the feeling caused me to collapse onto the tile floor.  The fire had a will of its own; its intent was to expand out, consuming everything in my world to create something new. I longed for the new world I could see through the fire: a world that contained everything I never knew I wanted, a world where every decision made would be my own. All in a moment, I understood what it meant to control one’s own destiny, and I became aware that was a power I could have.

Coming back to a momentary awareness of myself, I got up onto my hands and knees and looked over to where Alice still sat curled up in the corner of the living room with her eyes closed. Her hands were clamped against the sides of her head, and she rocked back and forth. Seemingly feeling my gaze, she opened her eyes and they met mine with a knowing expression. She said nothing, but shook her head.

Confused, and a little annoyed, but undeterred, I turned back toward the creature who still stood in the hallway. It was no longer a disembodied face. It held out a pale hand as I felt the offer being extended in my mind. The flames licked pleasantly at my insides, reminding me of just how much I stood to gain, and how small the price was.

My moment of clarity was interrupted when I felt something in my hand. Surprised, I looked down to see my hand held another hand. I turned up to find Alice had come to my side. She looked through my eyes, and somehow I knew she could see the blaze that was raging inside me.

“Please, no.” She said.

 

 

It took a few minutes before the turbulence inside my mind could subside. Alice and I stood in the kitchen with our hands clasped during that time. Somehow, our minds became connected in that moment. As we both explored this connection, I was overwhelmed by what I saw and felt inside her. I perceived that Alice had been weathering a storm just like I had. It was disorienting to feel emotions that weren’t my own. It was like I was stumbling across a previously undiscovered section of my brain full of fresh memories and feelings, and using it for the first time. I might have enjoyed the experience if the emotions she was sharing with me were more pleasant. It was just a glance, but I felt her pains and anxieties and insecurities just as I had my own, only in a more abstract sense. Beneath the surface, Alice was harboring a pain which appeared to be perpetually shredding her from the inside out, though I wasn’t able to see the cause of this pain. Did she even know what was causing it? I knew that she had been extended an offer just as I had. I could feel the desire she’d felt to accept. My eyes softened as comprehension of Alice’s suffering, as incomplete as it was, set in.

The creature’s influence fell away from both of us as we stood there in the kitchen, and, as it did so, fear took its place. We still didn’t know what we were dealing with. Now that we had rejected its offer, what would it do to us? I forced myself to look toward the hallway where it had stood before. A cloud must have covered the moon, because the kitchen window no longer illuminated the space. If the thing was still there; it could no longer be seen. After sharing a glance with Alice, I took a hesitant step toward the hallway.

An inhuman scream filled our minds as the lights in the living room went out, plunging us into complete darkness. Dread sunk into my stomach, and I could only think to run. We stumbled through the kitchen, knocking over chairs and shattering a vase along the way. Still holding her hand, I pulled Alice along, my goal being to get us to the front door, and away from the thing. In the back of my mind, however, I didn’t know what could possibly make us safe from this thing. Once we were through the door to the living room, I turned on my phone’s flashlight. I wielded the phone in front of me like a torch, moving it back and forth in an attempt to see everywhere at once.

            When I came to a stop with a jolt, Alice yelled that we were almost to the door, and pulled on my arm. Despite Alice’s coaxing, I couldn’t move. The light from the phone only illuminated a small patch of space in front of us, but as I was waving the phone around something up on the ceiling had been caught in the light’s periphery. Alice’s pleas stopped as I moved the light up to illuminate the vaulted ceiling. The creature hung from corner where the wall met the ceiling, directly above the front door, projecting down and out like a mangled root. It was different now. It’s face was still pale, but its wide eyes were now replaced with black holes that seemed to suck in the space around them. The mouth, thin and expressionless before, now yawned open to reveal a maw with several rows of matchstick-thin teeth. The full weight of the thing’s malice now weighed down upon us.

            Prompted by a scream from Alice, the creature vaulted forward to bridge the fifteen feet that separated us. It did so by extending its arms and neck, stretching them out like a sickly gray taffy to propel its hands and its head toward us. Our attempts to shrink away were in vain. The hand intended for me wrapped itself around my throat when it reached me. The slimy fingers squelched against my skin as they stretched around to envelope my neck. A swampy stench filled my nostrils for only a moment before the hand clenched, closing my windpipe. My feet left the ground as the creature lifted me up, and I could see out of the corner of my eye that Alice had been lifted as well.

            I was hanging in the air like raw beef from a meat hook, when, for reasons that were unclear to me at the time, the grip on my neck released, dropping me to the floor. The lights came back on, and I looked up to see the creature was gone. I coughed, and reached up to put my hand to my throat, which was throbbing. Unlike the dream from earlier, I knew I wasn’t going to wake up and be free of the pain this time.

            I crawled over to Alice, who was also assessing her injury, but before we had time to process what we had just experienced, the doorbell rang. A voice could be heard through the door. “Chad!” The voice belonged to our neighbor, Mrs. Randolph; I figured my mother had followed through on her promise to call her. “Sweetheart, open the door.” The tone of her voice was a little higher than normal. “I thought I heard someone screaming.” I gave Alice a moment to hide in the kitchen before I opened the door.

             “Oh hey, Mrs. Randolph,” I said a little too quickly. I had an intense desire to let Mrs. Randolph inside the house and tell her everything, to have her stay the night and protect us, but I knew how any normal person would react to such a story. She would, of course think me insane, and being in my house alone with a girl at this hour wouldn’t look so good either.

            The woman’s old leathery face wrinkled with concern as she narrowed her eyes. “What’s going on in there?”

            “Nothing, just hanging out, getting ready for bed.”

            “Who’s here?” Her suspicious look intensified. “What was that screaming?”

            “No one, uh, that was me screaming actually. I’m just watching a scary movie.”

            She leaned her head in to look at the TV, which was off, then turned to scrutinize me again. “It sounded like a girl screaming.”

            I blinked a few times, trying to decide what to say. “I think I’m still going through puberty,” I said.

Mrs. Randolph winced at this. Mercifully, my comment made her uncomfortable enough to discontinue the conversation. She asked if she could come in and look around, to which I assented, and when she had ushered herself back onto the porch, she turned back to face me. Some of the hardness had now left her face.

            She bit her lip as she thought for a moment. “Alright, I’ll go, I guess.” I tried to conceal my relief as she turned away, but she quickly turned back to say, “My kids are all grown up, Chad, but I still remember what they were like when they were your age.” I expected her to continue, but it became clear that this was the end of what she was going to say. I wasn’t sure how to answer, so I just put on a half-grimace, half-smile, nodding. She looked unimpressed, but said, “Good night, sweetheart. Remember that nothing good happens after midnight.” She turned and left.

            When she was gone, Alice and I did a room-by-room search of the house, turning all of the lights on as we went. There was no sign of the creature we had seen.

            When our search was done, we sat down on my bed, each lost in our own thoughts. After what I felt like an appropriate amount of time, I said, “What do we do?”

            She pursed her lips for a second, then said, “I don’t know. I mean, we checked everywhere and didn’t find it, so… it’s gone right?”

            “Right,” I said in a faint voice, then frowned and furrowed my brows in thought. We both looked down at the floor, and didn’t speak again for a couple minutes.

            Alice broke the silence this time. “Maybe we can find the cop from Evan’s story.”

            It took me a moment to remember. “Officer… Phillips,” I said. “She probably won’t believe us. That’s if she’s even still around.”

            Alice’s brow raised as she shrugged. “Maybe,” She said. “But…”

            “Yeah,” I said.

            I was thinking about how to approach a conversation with Officer Phillips, if she was even still alive, when a thought crossed my mind. I was surprised, given everything that had happened so far, that neither of us had asked the question yet.

            I looked up at Alice again, and she noticed the look on my face. “What?” She asked.

            “What do you think happened to Evan?”

Episode One - Never Fear Part One - Horror Story for Halloween

Episode One - Never Fear Part One - Horror Story for Halloween

October 30, 2020

Part one of our first ever original story, Never Fear!

All four parts are dropping today, Halloween 2020.

Never Fear Part One

The audiobook I was listening to ended about five minutes into the bus ride home from school. The book told the story of a fictional haunting in Chicago. It was an okay read, but this was the third time I had listened to it because I couldn’t find anything else that looked interesting. I pulled out my earbuds with a sigh.

My friend, Alice, looked over and said, “It’s about time, Chad.” When I gave her a confused look, she continued, “Maybe now you’ll stop ignoring me for a while.”

“Whatever, I haven’t been doing that,” I said.

She raised an eyebrow and said, “I’m the one who recommended that book in the first place. In fact, if it weren’t for me, you’d still be reading your little kid stories.”

I shrugged in response, and laid back in my chair to look up at the pieces of gum on the bus’s ceiling. “I need something new,” I said. “I’ve read all the stuff I have a million times already.”

When the bus finally got to my house, I trudged up the stairs to my room and kicked off my sneakers. I laid down in my bed and called my mom to check in; her and my dad were both away for work, and wouldn’t be home for several days. When I was done talking to her, I thought maybe I would walk to the library, but the frost that framed my window reminded me just how cold it was outside. This fact made the two-mile trek to the library much less appealing, and I didn’t feel like I should risk taking my dad’s car again. So I set about scrolling through forums, hoping to find something short to get me by until I could get a new book. I spent several hours commenting on the forums, watching random YouTube videos, and generally wasting time the way only a teenager can, but I couldn’t find anything that looked interesting. I was about to give up, when my phone chimed with a notification. Someone had sent me a direct message in response to a post I’d left on a horror discussion forum asking for book recommendations. The sender was an anonymous user.

The message read, “if you’re looking for something that will give you a genuine thrill, check this out. You should be especially interested because it is a true story about your hometown.”

I sat upright in my bed as I read this. How did this person know where I lived? I was bewildered for a moment until I remembered that I had mentioned my hometown in a previous post on the site. Now realizing that this was a stupid thing to do, I went back and deleted this post and a few others. I was too intrigued, however, to ignore the message I’d received. The user had sent me a link to a file-sharing site. I switched over to my laptop to download the folder the link had led me to, and found it contained several sequenced audio files. I pressed play on the first one, and a voice began playing over the speaker on my desk.

“Hello, and welcome back to the Never Fear Podcast. I’m paranormal detective Evan Sampson, and I’m back with a new story for you freaks,” said the voice through my speakers.

I hit pause and immediately did a search for Evan Sampson. It took more clicks than I expected, but eventually I was able to find an Evan Sampson that seemed to match who I was looking for. Sampson had a website that looked amateur enough that I figured he had put it together himself. There was a symbol in the top left of the page that was an Egyptian-styled eye inside a pentagram. The site advertised his podcast, and had forums for discussing the various episodes. He also had a couple of social media pages each with a link to the podcast which only had about fifteen published episodes. It looked like it hadn’t been updated in about two years. I played one of the episodes, and sure enough, it was the same voice. The sound was different though; the episodes online were more polished, with intro music and sound effects. I spent the next half-hour skipping back and forth between the audio files the anonymous sender had given me, and the podcast episodes online; After a while of doing this, I came to the conclusion that the files I had received were not part of the published podcast. They contained raw audio for something the creator had never put online. I wondered briefly if maybe the person who had sent them was the creator himself spamming out his audio as some kind of advance-screening.

I transferred the audio files to my phone, connected my headphones, and settled into my bed with a two-day-old bucket of theater popcorn I had in my room. Salt is a preservative, I thought to myself, as I grabbed a fistful of the stale popcorn. At that moment, Alice sent me a “What’s up?” text, apparently hoping to get a conversation going. I was too excited to dive into the audio the anonymous user had sent me however, so I didn’t reply.

I tapped the play button on the first file, and listened as Sampson’s scratchy, low voice began its narration. I was immediately intrigued; the story was indeed about my hometown. Evan began with the obligatory summarized history of my town. He rattled off a few interesting facts and mentioned a few semi-notable people who had connections to the town. The intro didn’t last long however, as my hometown is pretty small.

Once this was out of the way, Evan revealed the reason he had decided to come check out the town.

This place off the beaten path has been the site of some strange disappearances and murders over the last few decades.” He paused, cleared his throat, and continued, “These occurrences have not been frequent or similar enough to warrant any kind of large-scale investigation, mostly because there was too much about them that was unexplainable and, maybe, paranormal. Having researched these events as much as I can from afar, I decided to visit the town and find out for myself what really happened.”

Evan started with a disappearance that had occurred in 1976. In November of that year, an older couple had been taking a nighttime stroll through a large, forested park just outside of town. My curiosity piqued further, as it was a place I knew well. The forest was always rumored to be haunted, so naturally my friends and I had been there a few times to kill boredom. We would bring girls and tell scary stories around a fire and convince ourselves that we had seen a ghost here or there for the adrenaline of it all.

Evan’s overly breathy voice told of how a couple, Diane and Victor Stevenson, had inexplicably left their home that night in 1976. They left without bothering to tell their twin grandchildren, who lived with them, where they were going.

The next day, a jogger on a morning run through the forest came across Victor’s frozen body.

The woman described the scene in an article that ran in the local paper the next day: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it… or rather, I’ve never felt anything like it. The body itself was unremarkable. He lay on his back with his eyes closed, one arm laid over his chest, and the other down at his side. If it weren’t for the frost that coated his skin and sparkled at the ends of his eyelashes, I’d have thought he was asleep. What’s strange though is that my chance encounter with the man’s corpse isn’t what will haunt me for the rest of my life. There was this heaviness in the air, a cold that had nothing to do with the temperature. I don’t even know how to describe the emotion I felt. I was terrified. I was horrified, but I couldn’t tell you why. That’s what will haunt me.’”

Sampson explained a police search had located Diane’s body about a hundred yards away, off the path in a small clearing. Hypothermia was determined to be the cause of death for both of them, which I found almost boring enough to make me turn off the podcast. But, remembering I had nothing else to listen to, and still not tired enough to go to sleep, I kept listening.

The next two stories Evan covered involved individuals rather than couples, and had occurred in the winters of 1979 and 1981 respectively. In both cases, the victims were middle aged, one female, one male. They were both single parents, who’d left behind teenage children. One of them had died under similar circumstances to the first couple, leaving in the middle of the night then dying of apparent exposure to the elements. The second, who had previously shown signs of depression died of a self-inflicted knife wound to the stomach. The two cases were completely unrelated to each other and the deaths in the first story, except for one small detail. They had been found in the exact same small clearing as the woman years earlier.

            I was underwhelmed by this coincidence, and really hoped Evan was going somewhere with all of this. About half-way through the suicide case, my eyes were starting to get heavy. I was vaguely aware of Evan discussing quotes from the woman’s teenage daughter that he had found in another local article. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back into my pillow. My breathing slowed. Evan’s low voice had become nothing more than background noise as sleep started to pull me away.

            The audio was morphing into one of those weird dreams that sometimes crop up in the abstract moments before you’re completely asleep. My surroundings were too ambiguous to know anything by sight alone, but, as often happens in dreams, I didn’t need to see with my eyes to know that I was in the woods from the story I had been listening to. There was something behind me. I couldn’t see whatever it was because every time I turned around to look it was somehow still behind me. Disconcerted by this fact, I began to look around in a frantic attempt to identify what was stalking me. I began yelling at the thing. I don’t remember what I was yelling, but it was something my dream self thought would project bravery, and hopefully scare the thing away.

            My awareness of the presence began to fade, which led me to believe I had been successful in getting it to leave. I was about to congratulate myself on this feat when I felt a sharp pain in my gut. I looked down to identify the source of the pain to find a gaping hole had been ripped through my stomach. I reached down to stem the free flow of blood which had begun pouring out of me when I felt the pain spike again. This time it was constricting in my chest, writhing as if a particularly agitated snake was trying to uncoil itself inside. With one hand on my midsection to keep my insides from spilling out, and the other clutching at my chest to keep whatever was in there from getting out, I fell to the ground in a pained heap.

            Just when I thought I could no longer contain the thing struggling to free itself from my chest, the pain stopped. Surprised, I rolled onto my back and ran my hands over my body. It was intact again. I was still breathing heavily, but let my arms fall to the dirt at my sides. I was allowed to take a few strained breaths before tree roots sprang from the ground to wrap themselves around my wrists, ankles, and neck. Once I was sufficiently constrained, an arm erupted out of my chest in a spray of blood and rib fragments. At least, at first I thought it was an arm. It appeared to change first into a snake, then a jagged tree branch. After that I couldn’t see any more because whatever it was covered my face, obscuring my vision.

            I struggled against my confusingly abstract enemy for a few more moments to no avail. I stopped only when I heard a voice. It was a ragged whisper that seemed to come from all directions at once.

            “Are you listening, Chad?”

            I woke with a loud gasp. After looking wildly around the room to make sure I was alone, I put a hand to my chest to make sure there wasn’t a gaping hole. I removed the headphones which were still playing Evan’s droning voice. After a few more deep breaths, I rubbed my face in my hands, and let out a strained laugh. What the hell was that? I thought.

            The small release of adrenaline my nightmare had caused meant that I was now back to being fully awake. Even though Evan’s story hadn’t exactly been gripping so far, I decided to listen to a little more. The first thing I heard after replacing the headphones was something about multiple stab wounds. Finding this promising, I rewound the file to a little after where I had left off.

            The next story Evan told was much more interesting and… honestly bizarre.

            He said, “This is where we get our first apparent murder of the story. It happened after a six-year quiet period, in 1987. On a Friday afternoon toward the end of November that year, Henry and Sally Rosenberg left their house to pick up their fourteen-year-old daughter, Annette, up from her school. Their bags were packed, and they had their wheels pointed toward warmer weather. They had told family and friends the planned trip to Florida was an attempt to re-connect with their daughter, with whom they’d been in conflict over your run-of-the-mill teenage angst.

            They never made it to the school. Annette waited outside with her friends until they’d all been picked up. She went to the school’s front office to try calling them at the home phone, but her calls went unanswered. The office lady would later say she thought Annette was exhibiting an excessive amount of anxiety about her parents not showing up, pacing the office, and musing aloud to herself what could have happened to them. Eventually, Annette called her aunt Rosalie to come pick her up.

            Rosalie took Annette to spend the night with her kids, and reported her sister and brother-in-law missing the next day. The detective who took the missing persons report, Leah Phillips, though she hadn’t been a cop at the time, remembered the earlier disappearances. She decided the first place she would look was the forest clearing where the people had disappeared years earlier. Later, in explaining her reasoning for having gone to look for the couple in the forest, she said, ‘When people go missing in this town, they usually turn up in that forest. I think the place is cursed.’

            Her hunch turned out to be a good one. She would later find Henry and Sally Rosenberg stabbed to death in the now-infamous forest clearing. What at first looked like a murder-suicide, turned into a murder investigation, when no knife was found on the scene.

This scene was sinister, but it was an incident that occurred in the forest before the discovery of the bodies that I found most interesting.” Evan continued.

            “I managed to find a copy of the police report in one of hundreds of dusty boxes down at the county records office. I missed the small detail at first, but on a second reading, it stuck out. In Officer Phillips’ statement, she mentions that they encountered two people along the trail to the clearing. One of these two people Phillips described in detail. He was a slight, middle-aged man with a shaved head, heavily tattooed arms, and a short beard. This man was David Thomas Rey, and he would go on to be tried and convicted of the grisly murders of Henry and Sally. The second individual is never described, and as far as I can tell, is never mentioned again in any official reports, nor are they ever mentioned in court transcripts.”

As if he was reading my mind, Evan said, “I know that doesn’t sound like much, but here’s the weird thing about it. Officer Phillips and her partner, Officer Paul Johnson, who was with her when they discovered the bodies, don’t agree on the number of people they encountered on the forest path that day. In Officer Johnson’s statement, he says that their murder suspect, David Thomas Rey, was alone when they came upon him.

This discrepancy in the accounts bothered me. It seemed like such a strange thing to disagree on. Were there really two people, or just one? Why didn’t the two cops get their story straight in their official statements? I needed to do some more digging on this.”

At this point, Evan stopped speaking for a few minutes, apparently forgetting to pause the recording while he shuffled some notes around. I used this time to clean up the popcorn I had spilled on the floor in my dream-induced spaz-out.

After a few minutes, Evan spoke again. “It took hours of pouring over microfilm records, but finally I found a news story where Officer Phillips describes the incident in better detail. In the article she says, ‘My partner, officer Johnson, and I made our way down the main path through the trees toward the clearing. It’s about a mile and a half walk, so it takes maybe fifteen minutes to get there. Along the way, we came across two people walking the opposite direction.’ She goes on to describe David Parker Rey just as she does in her statement, adding, ‘He had a backpack with a sleeping bag attached which lead me to believe maybe he was transient, and had been sleeping in the forest.’

 

 

Evan let out a breath of excitement, then said, “So, to recap, we have a double murder where the perpetrator is seen walking away from the scene of the crime with a second individual who is never seen again. Not only are they never seen again, but one of the witnesses at the scene, doesn’t remember seeing them at all! The only description we get of this second person is the fact that they have long black hair and pale skin.”

From the excitement in Evan’s voice I could tell he was finally getting to whatever his point was, and it was about time. The story was getting more interesting, but I was starting to worry he never submitted this particular story to his official podcast because there was nothing to it.

He said, “This takes me back full circle to the reason I started to look into this story in the first place. A few months ago, before I knew anything about the murder of Henry and Sally, at a used book store, I came across a stack of old issues of a magazine called ‘The Fates,’ which is an old publication that covered all things paranormal until it went out of print in the late nineties. The bookstore owner said I could take the whole stack for free, so naturally I took them home and read through them all.”

I rolled my eyes at this and said aloud, “Get to the point.”

He continued, “In an issue that was published about a year after they were killed, sandwiched between stories about a UFO sighting in southern California, and a possession in New Jersey, was a three-page spread about the deaths of Henry and Sally Rosenberg. Annette herself asked to be interviewed by the author. The title of the article read, ‘Teenager Claims Deal with Demon Caused Murder of Parents.’”

I raised my eyebrows at this, surprised that Evan had managed to pique my interest once again.

Evan said, “Remember the couple’s daughter from the start of the story, Annette, whom they never got the chance to pick up from school? The daughter with whom the couple was trying to reconnect as their relationship had been rocky? Yeah.

The author of the article writes of how Annette reached out to him to tell her story, hoping that, given the nature of the magazine, they would take her seriously. The article is in the form of an interview, allowing Annette to tell her story in first person. First, she details the reasons for which she had grown to resent her mother and father. She talks about the unrealistic expectations they had for her academic performance, and how they felt the hours she spent at school were inadequate. She talks about how she would come home from school only to spend hours completing the additional reading and writing assignments her mother prepared for her, and how weekends, when other kids were out playing, were reserved for piano and violin lessons with her father. Whenever she would ask why she wasn’t allowed to go out and make friends like a ‘normal kid’, her mother would tell her, ‘You’re destined for great things; those ‘normal kids’ will never accomplish anything great, but you will.’

Annette tells the interviewer there were two main reasons why she went along with her parents’ rigorous study schedules. First, they told her all along that they wanted her to be searching for her passions and that they would be supportive of whatever she chose to do in life; and second, her parents had instilled in her a sense of ambition. She truly believed them when they said she was destined for great things, and she wanted herself to accomplish those things just as badly as her parents did.

What Annette’s mom and dad didn’t know is that Annette’s aspirations had started to shift. Just as they had told her to, she was trying to find what she was passionate about. In one of her classes, she felt she had found that passion. In this class, they had spent the past semester studying Shakespeare. She says, ‘The course met one of my requirements, otherwise my parents wouldn’t have allowed me to take it. I was surprised to be so moved by the plays we read. They were so emotional, especially the tragedies. It was such a dramatic contrast to the logical world my mom and dad lived in.’

One day, Annette got up the courage to sit her parents down and tell them she had decided her dream was to become a stage actress, and how she had dropped one of her math classes to enroll in musical theater. They were not happy to hear this, furious actually. They spent the next hours berating her for believing in a dream so unrealistic. She was confined to her bedroom for the rest of the night, and her mother called the school the next day to let them know the registration change had been a mistake.

It was that night, as Annette sat steeped in anger, curled up in the corner of her room, that she says she first met ‘it.’ She says, ‘I was hurt. I felt so betrayed. All this talk about how they wanted me to choose my path, and that they would support whatever I chose to do, and this is how they react to me spilling my heart out? I had always felt like my parents were strict because they wanted what was best for me, but that night I could only feel like a prisoner. I felt like I was just a prized hog to be paraded around to satisfy their own pride. It was like I wasn’t my own person; you know? I just sat there in my room, watching my tears turn to dark spots on the knees of my jeans.’

Annette goes on to talk about how in her emotional state she started to hear what she described as a whisper inside her mind. She says, ‘It didn’t use words. It’s like it was somehow speaking to me through my emotions.’ When the interviewer asks her if she was frightened by this voice, she says, ‘I probably should have been, but it actually felt… good. It was like this presence had taken all of my anger and outrage and multiplied them exponentially in a way that was so satisfying. It was like all of a sudden I was so much bigger and more powerful than I had ever been. It made me feel like my anger was justified, good even, and that I needed to go wherever that anger took me. It promised me that it could help me get whatever I wanted, If I let it.’

Annette barely slept that night. She says she isn’t sure how long she spent staring at the brown shag carpet in her room, but eventually she fell asleep. She talks about how the next morning, the intense emotions she had been feeling the previous night had been replaced with a different feeling. She says, ‘I felt so calm. I got ready for school like it was any other day. My dad ignored me at breakfast, and my mom hardly spoke on the drive to school. Normally, I would have been annoyed at their attempts to guilt me, but my feeling of calm only grew.

For the next few weeks everything went back to normal. I would go to school each day, come home to do the work my mother assigned in the evenings, then practice music on the weekends. All the while my sense of calm endured. I didn’t bring up my desire to enroll in theater to my parents again, which almost seemed to bother them. There were a few times where my mom or dad would raise the issue at random, like they felt a need to continually explain themselves. It was in these moments when my calm would slip, to reveal the anger that still boiled beneath. I was careful, however, not to let my parents see this.

What they did notice was how closed off I had become. Whenever they tried to speak to me I would only give short, curt responses, not shutting them down, but not really allowing conversations to go anywhere, either. Their concern grew until, one day, they announced we would be going on a trip to Florida. They told me it was a reward for how hard I had been working, but I knew it was just an attempt to connect with me again. I wasn’t interested, but they weren’t about to take no for an answer.’”

            At this point, Evan could be heard shuffling papers again. After a moment, he stopped, and the audio was silent for a while. When he finally spoke again he whispered, “Let’s see, where was I?” He said. “Annette, yeah.” He cleared his throat and adopted his podcaster voice again. “This trip, of course, never happened. As we know, for unknown reasons, Henry and Sally Rosenberg detoured on their way to pick Annette up from school, and ended up in the forest. Annette talks about how, in the days leading up to the trip, an expectant tension grew inside her. The calm she had started to feel the night after her argument with her parents dissipated over this time. Now, whenever she looked them in the eyes, the now-familiar anger threatened to boil over.

            It was the day of the murders that Annette started to experience doubt. She says, ‘Up until that point, the other consciousness helped me keep my emotions pretty clear and focused. I had moved back and forth between anger and the sense of calm. But the day they were killed, it was almost as if the thing had to transfer its attention to their murder, leaving me to fend for myself emotionally and mentally. The anger was dampened, but still there. The calm, however, was replaced with anxiety; you know? I started asking myself questions like, “What have I done? But I could feel that it was already too late.”’

            After Annette describes the events of the murder, and the aftermath, the author asks her if she knew that the entity with which she had been conversing was actually going to kill them. When she answers that she did, he follows up this question by asking her how she felt now about what she had done. She says, ‘I know that it was wrong, and I regret it all. I take all the blame for what I did; I don’t put any fault on the thing that was inside my mind. But, you have to understand… or rather, you can’t understand how that other presence made it feel. It’s like the thing took all of my feelings of betrayal and anger and amplified them until that’s all I could feel. It all just felt so good. It felt… right.’”

            Evan let out a breath and said, “Pretty cold, right?” I nodded in agreement.

Evan continued, “Skipping forward a little, Annette describes how the presence came back to her after the murders, but she had learned her lesson. She no longer wanted anything to do with it. She says, ‘I could feel it trying to get back in my mind. I could even hear the strange whispers from time to time, but I never let it back in.’

After the interview section of the article, the author went on to speculate on what kind of creature Annette could have come in contact with. He listed off a few of the usual things like vampires, poltergeists, aliens even. I found the author’s ideas intriguing, but there wasn’t enough evidence to support any of his theories as to what had been influencing Annette. If you’ve listened to the show before, you’ll know that I don’t believe paranormal creatures fit into neat categories. Every haunting is unique. And now, even after all I’ve learned from my research since I’ve been here in town, I only have more questions than ever.

The evidence against Rey, into which I won’t go into detail here, is pretty compelling. So if Annette’s otherworldly friend really caused the killings, how did it do it? How did it make sure Rey was in the forest that day? How was it able to influence Rey into killing them? And also, who was the second individual in the forest that Officer Phillips saw? Was this mystery person some kind of physical manifestation of the creature that influenced Annette? And, most importantly, why? Whatever this thing was, what did it stand to gain by the killings? And then, taking a step back, the other question I hope to get answered is this: Is this same creature responsible for all of the people who’ve turned up dead in that same forest clearing, or was it all a big coincidence? I’ll be back in the town’s library tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll turn up more answers. For now, I’ll sign off for the night.”

As Evan’s voice cut off, I checked the time on my phone. It was after two in the morning. I wanted to play the next audio file, but with school in the morning, I knew I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t get some sleep. I thought briefly that maybe I would skip school the next day, and give myself a long weekend, but this idea was quickly tossed aside. Even though my parents were away, I knew my mom received notifications whenever I missed school.

I realized I had received another message from Alice, probably while I was asleep earlier. I knew she was going to be annoyed at me for ignoring her messages. I fired off a quick message telling her I was sorry and that I had something I was excited to show her. I knew she would be just as interested as I was in the audio I had found. I figured that she would be asleep given the hour, so I let out a surprised chuckle when she sent me an eye-roll emoji seconds later. After that, I plugged my phone into its charger, and went to bed.

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