Night Terrors

The newscaster announced it was now time for the ten o’ clock news and a series of graphics flashed across his screen. He had to be up at 5:30am, he was exhausted, the logical course of action was to turn off the tv and go to bed. He sat there for a few more minutes, trying to combat the dread that was threatening to bubble up inside. Every night it was the same, he would have to force himself to walk to his room, shut off the light and lay down. It seemed pointless, he wasn’t going to sleep, but staying out in the living room watching late night tv didn’t make him feel any more rested when his alarm went off in the morning. All of his life he had struggled with insomnia. As a child his parents thought he was being difficult. They couldn’t understand, and he couldn’t explain, why it was he simply couldn’t fall asleep until the rays of morning light began to shine through his window. As a result of cycles of little sleep he had struggled through school and failed to learn normal social behavior. He was prescribed sleep aids by a doctor, but they didn’t work. He exhausted himself and tried all suggestions to find sleep at night, but it seemed that when “the cycle” started he would just have to deal with months of zero REM. After almost a year of peaceful slumber, the knowledge that he was in for numerous nights of laying there with his thoughts was almost more than he could bear.

Perhaps it was because he had spent the last year resting up, but the first week of insomnia hit him harder than normal. He started slipping at work, wasn’t sure how he made it to his destinations when he drove anywhere and his inability to remember simple things reached a new high. Three weeks into “the cycle’ the first hallucination happened. He was laying in the dark trying to count backwards from 1000 when he noticed movement out of the corner of his eyes. He chalked it up to shadows from the street light outside and resumed his count. All of a sudden he couldn’t concentrate on counting, his mind started to wander and latch onto topics that inspired anxiety and fear. He desperately tried to divert his thoughts and calm down, but his heart was racing, his palms were sweating…he was as wide awake as one can be. He wanted to cry. His body was screaming that it was tired, but his mind would not allow rest. Again he thought he noticed movement on his ceiling but was too distracted to really register the observation. He got up and walked out to the living room couch. Almost as soon as he laid down on it he felt his eyes growing heavy. His relief was enormous, he pulled himself up and padded towards the bedroom again. Unfortunately, when his head hit the pillow he was awake again. Instantly he felt despair well up in him and the anxiety soon joined in until he was once again filled with a mixture of stressful feelings. As he laid there, thinking about all the pressure of life, he began to pick up an odd sound above him, not quite a slither, or a rustle, but perhaps a soft suckling sound coming from the ceiling. He closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down. I am imagining things he told himself, there is nothing on the ceiling, no sounds, no movement. He was about to open his eyes again when he was struck with a certainty that if he looked up he would see something terrifying. His mind’s eye showed him a preview of a creature that was black and dripping silvery smokey wisps from its upside down mushroom-shaped body. It was hanging from the ceiling by a large root, with smaller thinner root strands clinging to the nooks and crannies of his orange peel texture. With trepidation he opened his eyes and looked up…nothing was there.

Over the next week his anxiety grew with each passing night, soon his eyes couldn’t close without seeing those creatures swarming above him. He felt like he was going mad, plagued by monsters that disappeared as soon as he opened his eyes. Sleep was impossible, his life was starting to unravel at a rapid pace. By the fifth day he could no longer even pretend he was able to drive to work. He called in sick and decided he needed to get some professional help. After seeing his doctor he came home armed with a bottle of extremely powerful sleeping pills. He wasn’t going to wait till dark, he took two and headed towards his bed. As he lay there waiting for the pills to take effect, he thought he could once again sense movement above him. A soft rustling sound began to grow in his ears. He prayed that the pills would kick in soon. The rustling began to turn into the sound of something sucking air in, the sound of spongy material opening and closing over and over again. He looked up and thought he saw a shimmer all over his ceiling, could almost make out shadowy blobs hanging down all above him. Panic began to well up inside him, fighting against the fast acting Halcion in his system. As he felt himself starting to fade into the blackness of sleep the shimmering blobs began to solidify overhead, the last thing he saw before the pills overtook him was what looked like a colony made up of something that appeared to be a hybrid virus cell, mushroom, jellyfish concoction. Much more terrifying was his knowledge that its true form was far more horrifying and this was as close as his brain could process without going completely mad. Sleep chased away the terror and as he slept the creatures above him feasted on his energy. Soon they would have enough to transform into the next stage of their life. They had followed him all his life but while he was awake they could do little more than cause his subconscious to awake in fear and send waves of panic coursing through his system. When he was asleep they could suck up the electrical charges that made up his thoughts, dreams and soul. It had taken 27 long years, but they were finally reaching the end of their meal, with a final inhale the last of Eric Johnson was absorbed by the entities above him and in the dark a new demon was born.

Quietly Into the Dark

In the fall of 2019 the human race was defeated and enslaved. They fell not with a bang but with a whimper, barely a hand was raised in defense of the planetary takeover. The alien race that had been observing Earth for decades had devised a clever plan for domination. Their strategy allowed them to conquer without a single casualty on their end and also kept the majority of the human population intact for slave labor. Only a handful of humans were able to avoid capture. They hid underground and in caves, living as their ancient ancestors did, with no electronic devices, rudimentary tools and at the mercy of the land. A refusal to embrace technology was the only thing that had spared them the fate of their brothers. For it was through technology that the aliens had found a way to make willing slaves of humanity.

The aliens, a race known in other parts of the galaxy as Coaxians, prefered to work smarter, not harder in their goal to find resources. They had found that in the past, hostile takeovers were messy and to be avoided at all costs. The chief commander, Eyreal, had devised a strategy of observation to pinpoint the weakness of the inhabitants of any planet deemed worth overtaking. Humans had been found to possess a troublesome attitude towards invasion and the ability to band together and overpower enemies even against great odds. They hadn’t evolved intellectually to the level of the Coaxians but still showed flashes of ingenuity and cleverness that presented the opportunity for them to potentially be victorious. This was a chance that Eyreal was not willing to take. He studied different humans from all over the world. He sent small ships to capture samples so he could run experiments and figure out a plan that would not fail. Eyreal was pleased to discover that the human collective would often refuse to believe things they could not see and touch and thus he grew more confident and bold in his capture and release experiments with humans. Even when one of his ships was captured by one of the human governments, the humans did not realize what they had found, or the danger that it represented. The two team members that were held captive by the humans acted like spies, sending all visual and audio back the main ship for years before they feigned death and escaped. It was this information that gave Eyreal the idea for how he would conquer Earth.

Eyreal had observed that humans were often emotionally contradictive but could be easily manipulated if they felt that they were in control. Pride could be used against them quite successfully, as well as the need for adoration. If given the chance, most humans would avoid hard work and choose to be lazy and gluttonous. Eyreal captured a human and implanted an idea in his head that would advance the primitive technology the humans currently had. He sent the human back and watched the effect the new technology had on the civilization. Humanity embraced what the technology allowed them to do. Eyreal grew impatient, however, at the slow speed of tech advancement. He captured several more humans and implanted the specs for even more advanced electronics. This time the influx of new advancements in technology spurred the desired effect Eyreal had wanted. Humans began to try to outdo each other and create better and more powerful electronics and machines. They sought ways for technology to take over all the mundane tasks their bodies and brains previously did. Machines were designed to do the physical labor and programs were created to take over all the complex thinking. By the second decade of the 21st century humans relied so heavily on technology, computers and machines that there were very few who could live without it. The cumulative IQ of the planet, which had been steadily rising for centuries, began to decline. The drive to do better and be better began to cease, instead people just wanted to get paid to watch videos of cats on the internet and type complaints in 140 characters or less to put out into the social media. Entertainment was prized over intellect, amusement over integrity. Creativity morphed into nothing more than creating the next meme. The only scientific advancements were for how to make life easier for humans, so they had even less to do themselves. Eventually people forgot how to do simple math, grow food in a garden, hand write letters, sew clothes, make things by hand and even how to interact in person with each other.

Eyreal began the takeover in early 2019 with the introduction of a new type of personal computer. He had planted the suggestion in all the world leaders to make this personal computer a mandated device for all humans. This computer would be implanted into the brain and would allow the person to sit back and do next to nothing because the computer would take care of everything. It would also contain the person’s currency, allow for long distance communication and access to the human collective of knowledge, thus replacing the need for formal education. With this computer implanted in the brain anyone could solve complex math problems, pick up heavy items, take a photograph with their eyes and so much more. Humanity embraced the technology with open arms, lining up and even fighting to get the computer implanted in them before their neighbors. There was almost no opposition and by the fall of 2019 99.9% of the world had the technology inside them. Once all humans with any ability to command military had been “chipped” Eyreal launched his attack. He sent out a test signal first to a high-ranking earth military general commanding him to pull out a gun and shoot his entire family. The general complied without a single glitch. Eyreal sent several other test signal commands out to the general population and each command was obeyed with no resistance. He broadcast the signal world-wide and the humans became puppets in his hands.

There was a small percentage of people who didn’t trust technology, they had rejected society and lived in the woods or countryside, farming and living off the land. Some called themselves Amish and did it for religious reasons, others just placed a high value on hard work and self-sufficiency. These were the humans who watched the rest of society fall to the aliens, the only free humans left on the planet by 2020. They were the only ones who fully understood what was happening and left written copies of the story in as many safe places as they could find. Each cave drawing the same, each story scribbled down warning future generations of how the aliens manipulated humanity through technology. Over time their numbers dwindled. Living off the land, hiding from aliens, was hard and many didn’t procreate. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to free the enslaved humans. The slaves would refuse to even listen and often times the effort would only cost the free humans their lives. Eventually all attempts stopped and the last free men retreated quietly into the dark, the flame of humanity fading out with them.

Summoning

Jasmine had always been jealous of Micah because he had a good life, and she had to struggle for everything. Whatever Micah wanted he got, one way or the other, and it just wasn’t fair. Why should siblings have such a different experience when they had the same parents and grew up in the same house she often thought to herself, why can’t I be happy all the time like my brother. One day, after Micah came home gloating about how he had found a twenty-dollar bill on the ground, Jasmine decided she’d had enough. That week only Jasmine had gotten her allowance because Micah had failed to complete his chores and she had been secretly pleased that he wasn’t going to have the money to go see the new movie coming out that he had been raving about for a month. Jasmine had decided it would serve him right to miss out for once, that it would be good for him to see how it felt to be deprived of something. Now that lesson would be lost on him, his luck would allow him to go see the movie anyway and he got to skip taking out the garbage and walking the dog. Jasmine devised a plan to sneak into Micah’s room and steal the twenty-dollar bill. She figured he hadn’t earned it and it wouldn’t really be stealing, besides she would put it in their mother’s purse so he would get it back eventually. After dinner Jasmine waited until Micah was deeply engrossed in his favorite show and then excused herself to go do homework. She crept into his room and began looking for the money. She was in the middle of searching through his desk drawer when she heard his feet pounding up the stairs. There wasn’t enough time to sneak out so she shoved the drawer closed and dove under his bed. Her feet had just disappeared underneath when his door slammed open and he strode quickly towards his closet. Jasmine quietly sighed with relief that she hadn’t chosen to hide in there but it was short-lived when she realized that Micah was obviously looking for something, something he didn’t seem to be finding in his closet. She pulled herself forward just enough to peek out and see what he was doing. As he came into view she noticed he was holding his cell phone and in between flinging clothes around he would say a word or two into the phone. Jasmine saw he had left the door open and wondered if she could make a run for the door while his back was turned. She was just about to chance it when Micah backed out of his closet and headed towards the bed. Jasmine felt a stab of panic hit her and she shrank back, hoping he hadn’t seen her and wouldn’t look under his bed. Micah crossed over to the bed and laid down, Jasmine could feel the bottom of the bed push down on her back as the weight of her brother made the mattress sag. He was talking on his phone and with no chance of escape Jasmine began to listen to the one side of the conversation she could hear. “I don’t know where it went man, I looked in all my pants pockets but it’s gone…Yeah, yeah, I know it’s important. I’ll find it, come on, you know… dude…yeah I got it…yeah I know you’ll…I get it man, stop worrying, you know how good I am at finding things. I will call you when I find it…soon…I don’t have a specific time frame…soon as I can dude…yeah, bye.” Jasmine heard him tap his phone and felt the shift as he sat up. Micah let out a loud sigh and stood up. He walked to the doorway and shut his door. He walked back towards his closet and stood staring into it for a minute, idly shifting from foot to foot and tapping his fingers on the door frame. She heard another sigh escape him and then he walked into his closet. Jasmine decided to creep forward again to see what he was doing. She peered out and noticed he was sitting on the floor of his closet. He had his legs crossed and was staring at a pair of jeans lying next to him. She could see his lips moving but couldn’t hear what he was saying. His eyes closed and he continued to mumble something. After several minutes she began to grow bored watching him and was just about to try sneaking out again when he opened his eyes. Micah reached down towards the pair of jeans and felt inside the pockets. She saw him pull something out of the pocket and heard a chuckle of relief emit from his mouth. Micah stood up and walked back out of the closet and headed towards his door. Jasmine waited a couple of minutes after he left to pull herself from underneath his bed. She hurried out of his room and into her own.

Once safe on her own bed she contemplated the situation she had just witnessed. Had Micah lied to his friend about losing something? Had he just not looked very well the first time? What was he doing sitting on the floor, meditating maybe? If Micah talked about wanting something, he always seemed to get it, even when their parents wouldn’t get it for him. It was actually the main reason Jasmine didn’t like to be around him and he never shared his good fortune with her. Jasmine thought back to the family trips and the few times that she was forced to endure her brother’s company. One time they had gone to Disneyland and near the end of the day both Micah and Jasmine had wanted to go on different rides that both had impossibly long lines. Their parents had told them they weren’t willing to wait and they had been so upset. Twenty minutes later a guy had walked up to the family and handed Micah a VIP pass that allowed a person to go to the front of the line. Jasmine was still too short to go on the rides she really wanted to go on by herself so Micah got to go on his ride and she was forced to sit there with her parents, stewing in the unfairness of it all. Things like that were always happening for him and it made her mad that she never seemed to luck out. Plus he was always the one finding whatever their mother would lose. Jasmine had always assumed in the past that Micah had simply hidden the items so he could find them later to gain favor with their mother, but maybe that wasn’t the case. She decided she needed to do some investigating, maybe conduct a test or two, and figure out what was going on with her brother…maybe he wasn’t just lucky.

Almost a week passed before Jasmine was able to devise a plan to test her brother’s abilities. She waited until he was in the shower and she went and grabbed his cell phone off his desk. She turned the sound off so he couldn’t call it and put it deep into the cushions of the couch. Then Jasmine headed towards the kitchen to pour herself a bowl of cereal. She sat at the table, slowly eating and waiting for her brother to notice his phone was gone and come looking for it. Almost thirty minutes passed before Micah came downstairs and Jasmine had given up trying to maintain the ruse of eating breakfast. She waited to see if Micah would ask any of the family about his missing phone, but he simply headed towards the toaster to make a pop tart. Micah grabbed his breakfast and backpack and without a word headed towards the car so their dad could drive them to school. Jasmine was disappointed she wasn’t going to get any results before school and just hoped their mom didn’t find the phone while cleaning before they got home that afternoon. Jasmine was thinking up another test on the ride to school when, to her surprise, she saw Micah pull his phone out of his backpack and start texting someone. He hadn’t gone into the living room, she could see the couch from the kitchen and he hadn’t gone anywhere near it. How did he have his phone? The mystery haunted her all day in school, she could barely concentrate on what the teachers would say. She couldn’t wait to get home and check the couch. As soon as school was over she waited impatiently for her mother to pick her up. Micah wasn’t in the car when her mother showed up, he was apparently going to a friend’s house to work on a project and wouldn’t be home for hours. Jasmine was relieved, this would give her the time she needed. Once home, she ran to the living room and began digging in the couch cushions. She pulled them all off but couldn’t find the phone anywhere. Jasmine asked her mom if she had cleaned the living room that day but her mother said no. Jasmine ignored the follow-up questions her mother was asking and headed up to her room. What did it mean, she thought? How did he get his phone? Jasmine decided on another test before confronting her brother.

This time Jasmine took her mother’s favorite ring from her jewelry box and put it in her pocket, she would keep it on her until the test was over. As soon as their mother noticed the ring was gone she would make the whole family look until it was found and Jasmine wanted to see just how good Micah really was at finding things. It took two days before her mother noticed the missing ring, it was a Saturday and the whole family was home. Jasmine heard her mother yelling about the ring from the kitchen and reached her hand into her pocket to make sure it was still there. She ran her fingers over the smooth band and smiled, eager for the test results. The whole family began to look for the ring, after ten minutes Jasmine noticed Micah head upstairs. She stayed downstairs with their mother, looking in drawers even though she knew the ring was in her pocket. Another ten minutes passed and Micah came back downstairs and handed their mother her ring. Jasmine stared in shock. She felt inside her pocket but the ring was no longer there. Through her daze she could hear Micah saying he found it in a pile of laundry and her mother thanking him for finding it for her. A million questions flooded her mind, and only one person had the answers.

Jasmine followed her brother upstairs and into his room. He gave her a look of annoyance and told her to get out. Jasmine crossed her arms and shook her head no. “I have some questions for you and I’m not leaving until I get answers.” Jasmine exclaimed. “First, how did you really find mom’s ring?” She thought she saw a flicker of fear cross his face before he told her the same story he had told their mother. “No,” she shot back, “I want the truth, I know you didn’t find it in the laundry and I know because I took the ring and I had it in my pocket. How did you get the ring out of my pocket when we were never near each other?” Micah stared at his sister and then stood up. Jasmine prepared herself to fight against getting kicked out of his room, but Micah was only getting up to shut his door. He turned back towards his sister and motioned for her to sit down on the bed. “It started when I was really young,” he began, “I would think about wanting something and then it would appear. At first I just thought that’s how things worked in the world, but as I got older I realized that it only happened for me and depended on what I wanted and how badly I wanted it. Eventually I gave it a name, called it summoning, and tried not use it unless I really needed something. It doesn’t always work, usually only on small things, but it has definitely been a tool I’ve grown to depend on.” Micah finished his explanation and looked over at his sister, “you probably won’t believe me,” he stated, “no one does, but that is how I found mom’s ring. I came up to my room and concentrated on finding the ring, envisioning it, and then yes I did actually find it underneath a shirt on the floor.” Jasmine sat there quietly for a moment, trying to wrap her head around what her brother had just told her. Was it possible? Was he really able to “summon” things? If he was able to, could she? Finally she looked up at her brother and said three simple words, “teach me how.”

Micah and Jasmine talked long into the night. It was the most they had ever talked in their whole life and the first time that Jasmine wasn’t consumed with jealousy. Finally Jasmine headed towards her own room, exhausted but feeling like a weight had been lifted from her. She slept soundly and awoke feeling refreshed and optimistic. She was confident that she would soon be able to summon things just like her brother and couldn’t wait to begin practicing. Over the next couple of days Micah spent all his free time helping his sister practice. Even though she hadn’t been successful yet, a bond was beginning to form between the siblings and even their parents noticed that they seemed to be getting along much better. One night, as they sat in Micah’s room Jasmine was beginning to get visibly discouraged. She kept concentrating but the quarter she was trying to make appear wouldn’t show up. “What am I doing wrong?” she asked Micah, “Why is this taking so long?” Micah thought for a moment and then asked her a question. “What do you want more than anything? What have you wanted for a long time?” “To be happy,” Jasmine responded without thinking, “to be happy like you always seem to be, to not have to spend my life being jealous of all your good fortune.” After hearing her response Micah started to smile. “How do you feel Jazzy?” he asked, “Are you currently jealous of me?” “I’m actually not jealous of you right now,” Jasmine replied, “and it’s been fun practicing with you, I like the  thought of learning to summon things and I would be really happy once I succeed.” “Then you should be happy dear sister,” Micah said, “because you have gotten what you just claimed you have wanted for so long. You summoned a different outlook on life and that is bigger than anything I have ever done.” Jasmine thought about what he said and she started to smile too. He was right, she had summoned freedom from the cage she had locked herself in and that was a happy realization indeed.

Remember

“Evil exists, it is very real and the wall between darkness and us has been growing thinner as we give in to greed, jealousy and selfish desires.” Erika whispered to her cousin Tim as they were sitting on the couch surrounded by their mingling family after a Sunday dinner. “You wouldn’t believe the stories I’ve uncovered working in the library digitizing all the old prints,” she continued. Tim rolled his eyes at her, Erika had been obsessed with magic and the occult since she was little and most of the family ignored her when she tried to engage them on the subject. Tim was the last one to still humor her, but even he had his limits and right then he was far more interested in watching the football game then listening to his older cousin spout on about ghosts or demons. Maybe he could get her to tell a story and he could tune her out and catch the next play. “Tell me what you found,” he whispered back, hoping she would take long enough to get through a quarter. Erika turned towards him and began her story and soon Tim forgot about the football game, forgot he didn’t believe in ghosts, he was too caught up in the words issuing from his cousin and the tinge of fear that was forming in the pit of his stomach.

“I first noticed a pattern when I was told to go through the old newspaper archives,” Erika began. “Every so often there would be a story that was similar, but with years in between and involving different families and places. Only over the course of a hundred and fifty years, with it laid out in front of you at once, would you notice it. At first they were just short obituary blurbs about people who drowned that were afraid of water. People who had fallen to their deaths who were afraid of heights. A couple had been killed by walking out in front of trains but had no history of depression or suicidal tendencies. Unexplained deaths, they happen more often than people think. Then the stories became longer, more detailed. There was a middle-aged couple who were found asphyxiated in their car. They had been active in the church and community, close with their children and had no financial or marital problems that anyone was aware of. It was a great mystery with no details to explain why they would sit in their car and let the carbon monoxide rob them of their life. The only common denominator was that the unexplained deaths were always of people who led decent lives and contributed in a positive manner to their community. As I counted up the growing number of deaths I noticed that in the weeks before or after there were public warnings to avoid interacting with noted strangers passing through the area. I became curious about these warnings, usually on the police blotter section of the papers. Occasionally there would be mention of children who had gone missing and even more strange, of children who didn’t seem to belong to anyone, pestering adults to help them but no one could figure out where they came from or where they stayed. I tried to rationalize that these were all normal occurrences but as the newspapers got newer the stories got more consistent. Starting in the sixties there was a weekly column that dealt with weird but true eye-witness accounts. One of the first stories was about a woman who swore that there had been a small child that appeared at her back door, begging her to let her in and that she was scared and needed help. The old woman didn’t recognize her from the neighborhood and there seemed to be something odd about the girl, a flatness to her that scared the woman enough that she refused the plea and said she would call the police to come help her instead. When the girl heard the old woman deny her request she backed away from the door and just stood there staring at the woman through the side window. After a moment she started to grin and as her lips parted the old woman noticed her teeth were blackened and rotting and all the old woman could think was that this little girl was dead inside, not human. The old woman hurried towards the kitchen and called the police, but when they showed up there was no sign of the little girl anywhere. Another story told of a couple out hiking and they saw three kids who appeared to be around 12 hovering over something in the middle of a side trail. As they approached the kids stood up and beckoned them to come over, but none of them spoke, just motioned with their hands. The couple started to veer towards them, but before they got too close another couple with three large dogs came around the bend distracting them for a moment. When the couple turned back towards the kids they had disappeared. They walked over to where the kids had been but there was no sign of them and the trail was dirt and still soft from a recent rain, but there were no tracks to show they had ever been there. A man who lived alone with his dog told of an experience he had where his dog had suddenly gotten very agitated and went to the front door barking furiously. He had looked out his window and didn’t see anyone. His dog continued to bark and growl at the door. He decided to go outside and figure out what was riling up his dog. When he opened his door there was a woman standing there, she mouthed the word help and held her hands out towards him. He instinctively reached out towards her but before he could grab her hand his dog rushed out and knocked him back. The dog got between him and the woman and started barking and growling at her. The man noticed the woman was glaring at the dog and thought he heard her hiss as she took a step back, he looked closer and as her lips pulled back her teeth were black, her skin too pale. He grabbed his dog by the collar and pulled it back inside, slamming his door and locking it behind him. He called the police, but once again, there was no sign of anyone when they came out to investigate. There were dozens of similar stories about encounters with these strangers of all ages and gender, all with the rotted teeth and disappearing without a trace when other people showed up. Individually these people were crazy, together they were a compelling story showcasing some type of entity who seemed intent on luring innocent people away from safety to do who knows what. After reading the newspapers I searched the internet to see if there were any accounts of these strangers in other cities and there are correlating stories dating back hundreds of years all over the world, some have black eyes, some black teeth, some talk, some just motion, but none of them are human and they do not appear to be nice. Whatever they are, I hope I never see them,” Erika concluded.

Tim nodded and mumbled an agreement, but inside all he could think about was the time he was playing outside one afternoon a couple of years ago and there had been another boy who had stepped out of the field across the street from his house. The boy wasn’t familiar and he just stood there, grinning at Tim, slowly waving his hand. Tim had stared back, unsure of what was happening, thinking in the back of his head that he might want to head back inside. He went to turn around and was surprised to discover that he was no longer in his yard, but was halfway across the street feet pointed in the direction of the field and the boy was much closer…close enough to notice there was something wrong with him. He had a maniacal look in his eyes and the sun didn’t seem to shine on him. Tim was gripped with a fear so deep he almost peed himself, he turned and ran for his house as fast as he could. He had locked the door behind him and had gone and sat by his mother for the rest of the night, trying to forget about his weird experience. He had never seen anything like it again, had in fact pushed it from his memory, but Erika’s story had brought it back as fresh as the day it happened.

Erika was still talking about her theory on how the wall between the living and dead was growing thinner because people were forgetting what they needed to do to keep the barrier strong when Tim’s dad came over and told him it was time to head home. Tim was relieved to be getting away from the topic of evil and muttered a quick goodbye to his cousin as he put his jacket on and followed his parents to the car. That night Tim had no trouble falling asleep, but around one a.m. he thought he heard a sound at his door, he opened his eyes and saw a shadow by his door. Just a trick of the light he told himself, there is nothing there. He heard a step on the floor and hit the flip switch on his bedside lamp. There at the foot of his bed was that grinning boy from the field…grinning with teeth black and rotting. Tim began to scream…

Limbo

Today felt like a dream again he thought as he poured some water from his filtered pitcher and took a long sip. He stood in his brand new kitchen, looking at the cabinets he built and installed himself and the sense of it all being a facade washed over him again, even stronger than before. He tried to push the thought away as his cat winded around his legs and he bent down to scratch her ears. No matter how boring life might be right now, that doesn’t mean I can escape it by pretending this isn’t real he told himself. He looked over at the clock and noticed it was time to get to bed. He set his alarm and laid down, taking a moment to enjoy the feel of freshly cleaned sheets against his body as he tried to find the most comfortable position. He slept the deep dreamless sleep of the dead till his alarm blared loudly in his ear, announcing the morning obligations. He rolled off the bed, feeling exhausted despite having slept for close to eight hours and headed towards the bathroom to begin his morning ritual. He stared at himself in the mirror, running his hands over the stubble that had formed overnight. He debated shaving and decided not to waste time, the sense of unreality was starting to steal over him again. As he continued to get ready for work he tried to think back to his childhood, to when life seemed real and full of possibilities. He got snatches of memories, but they were faded and nothing seemed to flow together. It is all part of getting older he rationalized. One can’t remember every day of their life. He tried to recall the feelings of love for past friends and couldn’t. Tried to think about his childhood dog and all that was there was indifference. This isn’t helping me he decided and headed out the door for another day that would blend into the background of his life.

As he drove towards the city he noticed how blank everyone passing him looked. They could be puppets, he mused, or robots, for all the expression they have. He left his parked car and began the two block walk to his downtown office building. There was a dirty older woman standing by the entrance to the parking ramp. As he got closer he could hear her mumbling to people passing by her. He reached in his pocket for a dollar, hoping to buy his way past her quickly. When he reached out to hand her the crumpled bill she grabbed his arm and pulled him into the personal bubble of her unwashed and rancid odor. She squinted at him and then pushed him away violently and screamed, “Unrepentant still, you will never escape until you learn, your soul is still a prisoner!” She backed away from him, leaving the dollar that had fallen and crossing her fingers at him as she tried to put distance between them. He stood for a moment, stunned by the encounter, unsure of how to process it. Just a crazy homeless woman, he told himself, probably on drugs or drunk, just hurry up and get to work before the boss notices you’re late.

He walked into the building he’d worked at for the past five years thinking about all the mornings he had walked over the same carpet, same tile, waved at the same guard. He couldn’t pinpoint the dates of the memories he recalled as he passed through the expansive lobby towards the elevators. The repetitive days had blended together until he couldn’t remember what was real, or a memory he was making up at that moment. It was a metaphor for how he viewed his entire life. With a sigh, he pushed the up button and hoped the day would be over quickly. The fake smile he put on at work stayed on his face through a pointless meeting, through banal chatter in the break room, through lunch with colleges and popped back up every time someone passed by his office window. Finally the clock granted him reprieve and he grabbed his keys and headed towards the elevators again. He was planning which restaurant to order take out from as the elevator descended. Lost in thought he didn’t notice the attractive girl smiling at him as they stood inches apart in the crowded confines. The doors opened, revealing the lobby, he pushed out and made a beeline for the revolving front doors. He had almost made it when he saw the guard trying to flag him down. He briefly thought about pretending not to notice, but Tom had always been decent to him and he couldn’t bring himself to ignore the man.

Walking over to the desk he caught a flash of movement and observed a woman on the verge of tripping, grasping at nothing as her heels slid out from underneath her. In slow motion he saw her hit the ground, heard the prolonged thud as both her and her briefcase hit the tile. He rushed over to help her up, with Tom right behind him. She seemed embarrassed and tried to wave away his outstretched hand. An awkward moment ensued as the woman tried to gather her composure and he wasn’t sure what to do next. Tom asked her if she was alright and she laughed and said she was fine, her shoes were just new and she should’ve been paying more attention. She stuck her hand out and shook Tom’s, thanking him for his concern before turning back around. As her body turned towards him he finally caught a good look at her, and felt his breath catch in his throat. She seemed familiar, yet he couldn’t place her in any memory. She stuck her hand out again, smiling, as she thanked him and introduced herself as Eve. Without thinking about it he found himself shaking her hand and informing her he was Adam. Eve burst out laughing, “what are the odds” she said, “can I tempt you with an apple…cider, the hard kind, as repayment for your kindness?” Adam’s first instinct was to say no, but the words yes came bursting forth from his mouth before he could even think about how he didn’t like to drink, wasn’t a fan of biblical stories and wasn’t accustomed to being picked up by beautiful women. Eve asked him if he was familiar with the North Star Pub down the block and Adam found himself nodding, despite having never entered it before. He felt like he was in a daze, but for once the world around him felt real.

Somehow he managed to carry on a conversation with her all the way to the Pub, he barely noticed his surrounds he was so engrossed with what she was saying. Her words were like magic, enveloping him in comfort with every syllable. They sat down at a table and she held up two fingers to the waitress while continuing to chatter on about where she had just moved from. Adam briefly wondered how someone who was new to the city was already on such familiar terms with a bar waitress but there was something so enticing about Eve that he soon forgot his questions and was content to just stare at her mouth as it formed each word spoken. A bottle of hard apple cider appeared before him and Eve tipped hers towards him to toast his chivalry. He reached for his bottle but as his fingertips touched the cool glass he suddenly felt a stab of misgivings. He shook his head, as if to clear away the spell Eve had put on him. As his mind regained a bit of focus he thought he saw a glimpse of a different face imposed on Eve’s for a split second. It wasn’t a human face, he felt a jolt of fear grip him. He set the bottle down, without clinking Eve’s, without taking a sip. He excused himself for a moment and headed to the bathroom. The farther away he got from Eve the more his fear and misgivings faded, but the sense of the world being an illusion began to once again grow stronger. He splashed some cold water on his face and tried to get a grip on the situation. A day that had started out like so many others, with the exception of the crazy homeless woman, was turning into quite a confusing mess. Why did Eve seem familiar? How could she be both comforting and enticing yet instill unease and fear into him at the same time? This is what dreams feel like to me, he thought, confusing emotions that contradict each other and don’t make sense. Adam stared at his reflection in the mirror for a moment debating his course of action. With a nod to himself he headed back out to face Eve, determined to politely thank her for the drink and head home. That was the safest choice, after all, and Adam was big on making safe choices.

When he got back to their table he saw that Eve was gone, but she had left a note scribbled on a napkin. He read the message, noting her perfect penmanship, and simultaneously felt both relief and regret. “Sorry if I came on too strong, it’s hard being in new city and when I’m nervous I tend to overcompensate by talking too much. Perhaps we will meet again, Eve.” Adam flipped the note over to see if she had left a number but it was blank. He headed home, stopping to grab his favorite Chinese take-out on the way. His cat greeted him at the door and demanded dinner as well. He fed the cat and sat down to watch tv and enjoy his sesame chicken for one. His evening, like so many others, passed by and soon he was asleep again, alarm set to start the cycle over again.

As Adam slept, Eve watched him on one of the monitors in an array that captured every angle of Adam’s life. She had been sure that this time would be different, this time he would break free from his fear and she could finally get his case off her desk. She was growing frustrated with him, this was the 382nd time she had tried to find a way to remove Adam from purgatory, but he continued to let fear rule his life. He had never done anything egregious enough to go to hell, but he lived so cautiously he had wasted the life given to him, a sin big enough to land him in her domain. All he had to do was to take a chance on something, overcome a fear, any fear, and he would be free to ascend. Adam, however, had been proving to be a stubborn soul and he was taking up valuable space and resources. Having to create a reality for so long, come up with so many tests, was detracting from her ability to help other souls move on. Eve had never failed to get her job done and she wasn’t going to let Adam be the first. She would just have to find a way to get through to him. An idea began to form in her mind, a test so simple there was no way he could fail. Next time I will do it she vowed, next time he will pass.

Shift

It started when she was young…an observation that sometimes things just seemed slightly off, slightly different. She had memories no one else could verify for events that she experienced, even when other people were part of the memory. When she was young she didn’t dwell on it for long, but developed a deep secret fear of getting Alzheimer’s when she grew older because it seemed to be the closest thing to an explanation she could find for what she kept experiencing.

When she was older she had a brief, but intense, obsession with theoretical physics. With the new information at her disposal she began to rethink her idea of what she was experiencing. She started keeping a journal, strengthening her memory and keeping multiple recollections of her day-to-day activities. Over time she noticed a pattern. A concrete theory began to form, an explanation that explained everything. Unfortunately it was a theory she couldn’t prove and one she couldn’t talk about without sounding crazy.

The theory was that there are hundreds, thousands, perhaps an infinite amount of parallel dimensions or universes, each one with their own signature vibration. With the multitude of choices each person can make each moment of their life it stood to reason that there was a dimension for every possible occurrence. Some dimensions are identical to the one you are born into with only one different choice, the more the choices differ from yours the greater the difference in the vibration signature.

For whatever reason, she could shift between some of the closer dimensions, between the vibrations that were extremely similar to one another. The problem with shifting between is that one different choice creates a ripple effect you can’t predict that can change relationships and the memories of others. Over time, she learned to sense when the shift would happen, the problem was she never knew which dimension she was in until she interacted with others. Over time her relationships started to suffer because she would talk about things that hadn’t happened in their dimension, she would treat them like the people from her true dimension and they would assume she was losing her mind. Over time she started to shift between dimensions multiple times a day until she gave up trying to figure out which one she was in. Over time the shift began to affect her ability to think clearly…the memories from other dimensions started to overlap and she couldn’t differentiate between them anymore. Over time the shift stole her sanity.