The Beacon Jar is a supernatural horror/thriller anthology podcast written and produced by Doryen Chin.
29:57The captain of a deep space freighter stumbles upon the salvage of several lifetimes. Credits: Narrated by Rebecca Gambino-Harris Written and produced by Doryen Chin ----more---- Music: "They Call It Nature" "Raise Your Hand If You Think Evil Is Increasing in This World" "I Used to Need the Violence" "Last Night I Dreamt I Saw True Love in Your Eyes" by Chris Zabriskie Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ "Awaiting Return" "Departure - Ghostpocalypse" "Echoes of Time v2" "Heartbeat of the Hood" "Lightless Dawn" "Magic Forest" "New Direction" "Thunder Dreams" "Tranquility" "With The Sea" by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ "Sad Past" by Silent Partner https://soundcloud.com/silentpartnermusic Transcript: My name is Evelyn Parr. The date is December 29th, 1484. I've been an operator for T.K.I. for eight wake-years. For the last three, I've run internetwork shipping lanes through colonial systems. Primarily towing petroleum barges and the like. My operational record and qualifications aside, I've passed every single quarterly C.T. scan, amyloid screening, and telomere checkup with flying colors. So let there be no doubt whatsoever that I am of sound mind, regardless of what you may think after hearing this report. --- I was on a wake cycle returning from Chiron. I'd already checked all the Trident's operational systems. It was nearly time to go back on ice when we picked up the signal. By "we" I mean me... And my ship. Long-range scanners detected an A.S.O.S - automated distress beacon. Per Network contract, I was obligated to respond under penalty of forfeit. --- When you pick up any sort of distress call, the system is designed to make sure you know. They say it's because the company "values every human life," but we all know the odds of live rescue out here in the black. --- The alarm came out of nowhere. I was doing last-minute spot checks on my crasket -- cryogenic sleeping pod -- when all of a sudden there's this odd... rumbling sensation in my chest. The cabin goes black. Emergency lights come on. Klaxons ringing in my ears. And it startles me so bad I bust my head on a railing. I climb over to the nearest terminal. It's flashing an all-hands bulletin. "S.O.S. detected. Procedural intercept in progress." That rumbling I felt was the inertial dampers straining against the main engines. The Trident was already en-route to answer the call. --- When I got to the bridge, I disabled the alarm and checked the sit-rep. Depending how far off this thing was, I might've had to go back into cryo for several weeks before we even reached it. I couldn't believe it when I saw that we only had six hours until intercept. Six hours. Something that close would be well-inside visual range. Do you know what the odds are? Astronomical is... an understatement. --- The Trident had a periscope. I never used it. I forgot it was even there. But, apparently when the Salvage Protocols kick in, the periscope automatically deploys and orients straight to the source. I could barely make out the object, even at full zoom. A pale fleck drifting against the endless void. An escape pod. Not much more than a crasket. --- The rendezvous would be done by remote. A repair drone would deploy, fly out to the pod, then guide it straight into the Trident's path as we fly by. That way we don't waste any fuel trying to match its velocity. --- I consulted the Protocol Binder and refreshed myself on the recovery procedures. First, the recovered article -- in this case an escape pod -- must be checked for known contaminants. Radiation, toxic materials, and biological hazards. Then the interior of the pod would be slowly warmed up to room temperature. This allows any hidden or dormant biological contaminants to show themselves. If the pod is clear, recovery begins. If the pod is contaminated, we push it out to a safe distance and neutralize it with an asymmetric nuclear charge. --- A little after eighteen hundred hours, the repair drone successfully docked the pod to the Trident. --- I couldn't find any record of the pod's serial number in the T.K.I. database. But, there was a name painted on the side of the power-cell. "Rode Kruis." Whatever it as, it wasn't commercial. --- Dimensions of the pod were about 25 cubic meters. Most of the bulk was taken up by the power cell. Bio scans showed one living creature. A person. This meant the chances of a valuable recovery were slim. It also meant I'd be sharing my life support, water, and nutrients with another person for the foreseeable future. --- Halfway through the scan, the Trident detected a foreign biological substance on the pod. It appeared to be contained to a small area. Something no bigger than a suitcase. Just as I was about to turn the key to terminate the recovery, the system disabled my access. Locked me out. Apparently, it didn't see the foreign bio-mat as a threat. I was... Unimpressed with that assessment. --- The Trident's medical systems took over control of the pod and began a thorough checkup of its inhabitant. Whatever it was the sensors picked up on that pod, I didn't trust it, and I needed to ensure the safety of both myself and my cargo. --- Locked out of the recovery system, I could attempt to bypass it and force the Trident to undock the pod. But even if I succeeded, I could lose my license. However, as captain of the Trident, I had the power to arrest and interrogate any individuals which present a reasonable threat to myself, my crew, or company assets. Therefore, acting within my full rights as a contractor for T.K.I. under the laws and jurisdiction of the Colonial Alliance, I pursued the only course of action available to me. I woke them up. --- From the medical bay, I was able to access the crasket controls and perform an emergency override. A face appeared on the tiny monitor. A woman, barely in her twenties. As she came out of cryo-sleep, her breath began to fog the glass lid of the crasket. I switched on the intercom and went to pour myself some coffee while I waited for her to come to. --- As I returned, I could hear her voice, calling out for help. Coffee in hand, I pressed the talk button and told her it was alright, that she had been rescued. She breathed a sigh of relief and smiled into the camera. Then she asked if I could come let her out of the crasket. I told her that I'd do that as soon as I could, but I needed to clear some things up first. Standard procedure. She said she understood. I told her that while running safety scans, the Trident picked up an unidentified biological substance on her pod, and asked her if she knew anything about it. A look of panic washed over her face, and before she could answer my question, our conversation was interrupted by a red alert from the Trident -- just before the power cut out completely. --- The engineers say it was a solar flare, but there was nothing in the forecasts about any dangerous weather in the region. No other ships in nearby systems have reported any issues on or around that time. --- I waited patiently for the emergency systems to come online. But they never did. --- If the backups weren't coming on, that most likely meant that the fuses had popped from an overload. I'd have to manually reset them one by one. --- When you spend such a long time on a ship by yourself, its interior becomes as familiar to you as your childhood bedroom. --- I groped in the darkness of the medical bay and felt my way toward engineering without much difficulty. I quickly descended into the bowels of the Trident until finally I found what I was looking for. But when I checked the fuse controllers, I discovered that none of them had been tripped. The primary systems all remained firmly in the 'on' position. Same story with the backups. I knew that I must've been mistaken, so I fumbled around until I found an emergency torch. That's when I knew I was in trouble. Whatever killed the Trident, had apparently knocked out every single electronic circuit on board. Right down to the flashlights. --- It took me a little while to calm down from the panic. The Trident was a dead hulk. Floating through space at sub-relativistic speeds. Fourteen clicks from the nearest outpost. I couldn't even put up a distress beacon. My crasket had its own power supply, but if the torch was any indication, it was likely nonfunctional as well. --- I was right. --- Eventually, I remembered the girl in the escape pod. I thought about her, cold and alone, trapped in a dead crasket, not knowing what was going on. Rescued from cryo-sleep only to be entombed alive. I... I almost didn't... I thought, "what would be the point?" Even if I got her out of there, she'd still die. We both would. But... I couldn't let her die alone. --- I took my tool kit down to the docking bay and that's when I see a light. There was a light, shining through the hatch window on the docking port. Having become fully accustomed to total darkness, it stung my eyes to look at it. I could see the fog of my breath puffing out in front of me as I pulled myself along the handrails toward it. Up close it was plain to see. Somehow... Miraculously... The pod still had power. --- The pod hatch was so crusted with interstellar grime that my spanner nearly snapped cracking it open. The air inside was stale. Metallic. Vintage tech. Sunbleached and brittle. Back then they still used actual plastic. --- The pod's systems woke up on my approach. Little fans whirred to life, storage units chattering. But the crasket was dark. Its glass fogged by grime and condensation. I suddenly realized I had no idea how long it had been since the power went out. If the trident was still in control of the crasket when it did... --- I stared at it. Guilt dragging on my gut. My hands were shaking so bad I had a hard time popping the latch on the lid. But I didn't close my eyes. If my chickenshit behavior had killed this poor girl, I at least owed her that. --- I almost couldn't do it. But I did. As I lifted the lid of the crasket, the lights inside blinked on. She was gone. The crasket was empty. --- I couldn't process what I was seeing. I reached down and touched the lining of the crasket. It was cool, and dry. It just didn't make any sense. A rush of cold hit me out of nowhere and I was stricken with a sudden lethargy. Like I had been hit with a tranquilizer. And I feel this, creeping sensation. Crawling up my back and my neck. Like static electricity. --- It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I started putting pieces together. I realized this wasn't a salvage or a rescue mission. I was being hijacked. And this... Bitch... Whoever she was... She was right behind me. At this point, my fight or flight response must've kicked in because I spun around, ready for... I don't even know. --- And just my luck, that's when the power in the Trident came back on. Which meant gravity was back. I fell. Right into the open crasket. --- I think I hit my head again. There was a flash of light behind my eyes. When I was finally able to focus again, I saw a trickle of blood on the lid of the crasket... Which I realized had closed on me. I heard the latch engage with a meaty thunk. --- Through the glass, I see her. Standing over me. Her hand on the lid of the crasket. A look of triumph written on her fucking face. I think I screamed. Pounded on the glass as the crasket slowly filled with sleeping agent. Tendrils of white vapor curling around my bruised fists. And I just thought, "this is it." "This is how I die." --- I like my job. Pay's good. Meet new people. See new places. Everything's always different. Take a job from a man on the Solomons; Wake up and get paid by his grandson. So time... history... Not really my strong suit. --- I was one of those students who always aced every exam without studying. I know. Insufferable, right? To me, history was little more than endless memorization of dates and places and the names of people long since dead. Once mankind had had his way with good old Mother Earth, he moved on to bigger and better things. That's the story. That's all you really need to know about history. What else was there? --- The scientists who found me, an older couple on a survey mission, sent word of my recovery to T.K.I. I had been missing for eighteen months. They say it was a miracle I was even found at all. The couple had nearly completed their work and were preparing to leave the system behind when they detected an unexpected visitor passing near the world they were surveying. --- To say they were enthusiastic about finding me would be putting it lightly. But it wasn't really me they were interested in. They woke me hastily, and, ignoring all safety and quarantine procedures, ushered me onto their station. --- As we waited for a T.K.I. representative to send instructions for my return, they badgered me for information on the escape pod they found me in. A wave of humiliation washed over me. Still reeling, I didn't relish the thought of recounting the tale of my hijacking and subsequent marooning. --- Don't get me wrong. I was grateful to be alive. But I knew that T.K.I. would hold me fully accountable for the loss of my shipment. The insurance would cover any debts I owed on the Trident herself, but I'd be consigned to T.K.I. for longer than my natural life. --- They shared a surprised look and asked me what I was talking about. I told them that the Trident had been taken by a young woman who was pretending to be stranded on the escape pod they found me in. I described her to them, and guessed that she could be halfway across the quadrant by now, making a fortune off my haul and selling my ship for scrap. Again, they give each other this look, and then quietly asked me to follow them to their bridge. Intrigued, I did. --- The bridge had a breathtaking view of the survey world. A good deal of the station was visible on either side of the wrap-around windows. Looking out, I couldn't believe what I saw. Docked between their research shuttles, halfway down the superstructure, was the Trident. --- They told me the reason they were able to find me was the size of my signature on their deep space radar. It's hard to hide when you're towing twenty million tons of petroleum. Then they showed me a blip on their orbital debris tracker. My shipment was parked in a parallel orbit. --- And, I don't know what to do with this information. "What about the girl?" I ask them. And, for the third time, they give me this look, like I'm growing antlers out of my skull, and finally I'm so fed up that I shout at them to tell me just what the hell is going on. That's when they take me downstairs. To their research lab. --- And I'm about to lose it. I'm looking around at the lab and all the equipment. Spectrometers, electron microscopes, subterranean radiology. Standard Geology setup. Then I stop cold. Across from me, tacked to the wall, is a photograph. A group photo. About two-dozen people in uniform. The crew of a ship. But there's one face that stands out. A face that's burned permanently into my memory. I tell them, "There she is! That's her!" But I can tell they don't understand, so I pluck the photo off the wall and jab at the girl with my finger. "That's her! That's the damned pirate that hijacked me." They tell me I must be mistaken, that's impossible. --- And now I'm seeing red. Because I realize that they must be in on it. I haven't been rescued. I've been kidnapped. I demand to know what these supposed "geologists" want with me and my cargo. They explain that yes, they're scientists, but not geologists. They're archeologists. And the girl in the photo can't have hijacked my ship... Because she's been dead for almost four hundred years. --- At this point I break down in tears. I just let go and lose all control of my dignity. The archeologists wrap me in a blanket and stuff a cup of hot tea into my hands. Then, as carefully as they can, they tell me a story. --- A long time ago, a colony began to terraform a new system. But this was back in the days before xenobiology had matured as a field of study. The colonists were unaware that the terraforming process had awakened a dormant microbe in the permafrost of their new home. The death toll was catastrophic. But, a pioneering humanitarian organization out of New Netherlands devoted all of their resources to finding a cure. And eventually, it's believed that they did. But the system was already under strict quarantine. No ships were allowed in or out. But there was one ship that tried anyway. "The Rode Kruis?" I stated more than asked. A fragment of memory came forward in my mind. Some long forgotten bit of history that I hadn't bother to pay any attention. They nodded, and said that the Colonial Alliance had stationed several defense ships around the system to prevent traffic in or out. They fired on the Rode Kruis. And the captain, knowing that any survivors caught on an escape pod would never make it to the surface alive. I could tell where they were going, and I cut them off. "This was four hundred years ago, right? How could you know for sure? Maybe she did survive! Maybe she's still somewhere on the Trident!" They told me that yes, a single escape pod had been launched. But the Alliance left it alone because they didn't detect any life signs on board. As far as they were concerned, it was empty. They let it go. --- That's when I knew. The foreign bio-mat that the Trident detected... The reason it wasn't rejected by the contamination scans... She didn't hijack my ship to steal it. --- "But there _was_ someone on board," I said. But they told me it just wasn't possible. Captain Adrienne Kensington Ellis went down with her ship. Her body was recovered in the wreckage of the Rode Kruis and laid to rest on the world below. They built a monument to the sacrifice of her and her crew in the ruins of the capitol settlement. --- I must have watched the tapes a hundred times. Trying to make sense of it all. But every angle, every camera, showed the same thing. I saw myself. Talking to... Nothing. The escape pod was empty when I found it. Nobody had been in the crasket. --- It's been four centuries since the colony was wiped out by a mysterious alien virus. But somehow... Across space, and time, and even death, the captain of the Rode Kruis kept her promise. The cure had found its way home. THE END.
14:16Snowed in and cutoff from the world, a trapper and his wife cling to hope while their son slowly succumbs to an unsettling ailment. Credits: Narrated by Soren Narnia Written and produced by Doryen Chin Sensitivity Reader: Katie Anna Ellis ----more---- "Magic Forest" "Medusa" "Long Note Two" "Unseen Horrors" by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ [content warning: missing child, animal death, child death, mild gore, unreality] Transcript: Note: The audio you will hear is slightly altered from the text below, but the transcript is accurate for most purposes. EYES by Doryen Chin My name is Amos Mockbee. I do not know what is to become of my family. It has been five years since I took purchase of a homestead in the eastern reaches of the Coconino territories. The land came cheap due to its remote and wild nature. Being a trapper by trade, it suited us fine. In the Summer, I cut many pines to make our home and built it in the clearing where they stood. By Fall, we had taken residence there. The following Spring, my wife was delivered of a son, Lafayette. So named after his mother's father. God rest his soul. I have come to the opinion that the trouble began right about three months ago. The boy and his mother joined me in collecting what I feared might be the last traps of the season. Winter came quick and with little warning. A long, dry summer left us wanting for rain. In return for our thirst we were buried under six feet of snow fall in the second week of November. We scarcely made enough on trade to last our stores till Springtime. Eudora reminded me that the Lord keeps those who keep to His Word. And so we prayed. It is not the winter which troubles me now, though it is a growing burden. Despite my warnings about the cold and quickening night, my wife did not return with Lafayette until after sundown. The boy wandered while she was busied with a trap and, finding him, lost her way home in the wood. I swore in my anger, though it was mainly fear that burrowed in my heart. The boy ate little and slept long the following day. We made his bed by the fire. There came a break in the weather, and I was obliged to make use of the sun while it stayed. Many traps remained unchecked, and I had little hope of seeing them all. My wife watched over our son in my leave, and I promised to return home before the dark came. I was dismayed to find that most of the traps remained empty, and collected as many as I could so they would not rust in the snow. By midday I was forced to stop to eat and rest. I did so on a felled tree, where a gap in the canopy allowed the sun to come through. While I sat and ate, I saw in the distance what I took to be a queer branch or tree root. Its odd shape struck me so that, after a minute, I stood to see it better. But it made little difference. I was forced to approach the thing, which I was now certain was neither branch or root. When I got to near about four or five yards, its nature became obvious. A creature. Larger than a steer. I believe the northerners call it a caribou. I do not know. It was very large. The protrusions I saw were its antlers. It was dead. This I knew, for its eyes were open and its black tongue hanged from its muzzle. I found no trace of injury or disease on the beast. It was my best guess, due to how it lay and the condition of the carcass, that this poor creature had froze to death. Caught unawares in the cold snap. I wept, for our prayers had been answered. Then I fetched the saw. With the help of Eudora, I was able to carve the animal into pieces small enough to carry, and we filled up most of the cellar with the meat. The cold and the dark would preserve it well through the wintertime. That night we ate hearty, and had lively spirits for the first time in recent memory. Even the boy enjoyed some of the meat, and we stewed the bones for his supper. Eudora had taken to sleeping beside the boy on the lower floor by the fire. I did not begrudge her, but I preferred the comfort of our bed in the attic. That night, or very close to it, I was awakened from my slumber by the gentle prodding of Eudora's finger in my back. When I turned to face her, I found that she bore an expression of worry. She regarded me with wet eyes but would not speak. I asked her what the matter was, and still she gave only silence. Fearing the worst, I tore the blankets from the bed and clumb quickly down to Lafayette's side. But my fears were quieted by the sight of him fast asleep upon his cot. Nothing else among the room disturbed, I returned to our bed up the stairs and asked Eudora again to explain herself. Yet she would not. Only she would have me hold her until we both fell asleep again together. Ever after that night she refused to sleep aside him by the fire. The days got short, and still Lafayette spoke not a word. Yet his appetite grew and grew, which we firstly took as an encouraging sign. But the shadow which had overtook him did not pass. He slept through the day, but by night Eudora and I could hear his movements below while he thought us asleep. Further I pressed Eudora to tell the story of what she saw which made her awake me in the night. But she guarded her words close. I could not make her tell. It was thus that I did vow to sleep beside him one night. Would that I had done so sooner... After supper, I bade Eudora good night and took a buckskin for a blanket. She was wary to let me alone with the boy, and even then she would not tell why. I confess that I showed my anger then, much to my shame. I hold none about it now. I fell asleep with little effort, as was my habit. The boy in his cot and the fire beside. A cozy situation on any other day. While I slept I dreamed. I found myself lost in the wood. Cold. Hungry. I longed to see the faces of my mother and father. I heard my father's voice, and ran to him. But fell quickly to the ground with a stab of pain in my ankle. Looking down, I saw that my foot had found a trap hidden in the underbrush. I could not reach for the trap, so great was the pain. My father's voice came nearer, but as I cried out to him I felt the trap begin to tug. Pulling me. The trap disappeared into the dark earth, my foot with it. No matter how I clawed, I could not stop it. I screamed and cried, throwing my arms and body against the ground, but it made no difference. As my head sunk beneath the soil, I awoke. THE END.
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25:51A teenage girl is left alone and terrified after the sudden reappearance of her abusive mother. Narrated by Céline Guild Written and Produced by Doryen Chin ----more---- "Aftermath - Madness Paranoia" "Deep Noise" "Departure - Ghostpocalypse" "Echoes of Time V2" "Inner Sanctum" "Long Note Two" "Medusa" by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ [content warning: parental abuse, drug abuse mention, police, hunger] Transcript: Note: The audio you will hear is slightly altered from the text below, but the transcript is accurate for most purposes. VACANCY written by Doryen Chin My name is Jeanette Vaughn. I was sixteen years old when I ran away from home. Almost sixteen. They say that addiction is a disease. But living with an addict isn't just living with a sick person. You're also living with the addiction. I had been living alone with my mother for several years. I think I was maybe, seven or eight when dad left. I know. Same old story. But as mad as I am at him for leaving, I can't say that I blame him. I just kinda wish he'd taken me with him. I'd run away a few times already, before the big last one. At first it was just to like, teach my mom a lesson. If she didn't get clean, if she didn't get better, she'd lose me. It didn't work, of course. I think she knew I was full of it. Even with all the junk in her brain, she could tell I wasn't serious. Until the last time. The last time was different. She'd just had a huge breakup. For months she was seeing this guy. All sunshine and rainbows. I even got to meet him a few times. And she never brought guys back to our place. I don't think she wanted them to know she had a kid. So whenever she was seeing a guy, she'd disappear. Sometimes for weeks. When they inevitably moved onto something better, she'd suddenly be home all the time. And we'd fight. The fights were always bad, but at least fighting was easy. When you're in a fight, you know what side you're on. It's the in-between times that are the hardest. They remind you there's a person in there. Behind the hateful face, behind the humiliation and constant belittlement. Sometimes I'd pick a fight just because I couldn't stand the silence. But this one was bad. I was doing my homework on the kitchen table after having spent the entire day cleaning the apartment. My mom's boyfriend was supposed to be coming over for dinner and she kept talking about how this was going to be the one. I think she really thought he was gonna propose to her. So she called my school and told them I was sick so she could make me stay home and clean up for her. I had a friend from school drop off my homework. Well not a friend-friend. Just a person from school I talked to sometimes. Sorry. It was getting late and my mom hadn't showed up yet. The company shut off her phone so I couldn't call or anything. So I just waited. It got dark. Eventually I was too tired and hungry to wait so I just heated up some leftovers and went to bed. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment. For all her faults, she let me have the bedroom and she slept on a foldout in the living room. That meant that when she came home in the middle of the night, I knew I'd find her there. Crashed out. But the next morning the couch was empty. It hadn't even been touched. When she wasn't home that night after school, I called the cops. Sheena didn't have a great relationship with the cops. She had a record. When I called and told them what happened, they went through the motions. Five foot seven. Long, curly black hair that goes down to her waist. Last seen getting high with some asshole behind a Circle K. It was pretty obvious that they weren't going to do anything. People like my mom go missing all the time and in most cases they're just off somewhere getting so high they forget to come home. They told me to follow up if I heard anything and said they'd be in touch. As much as I hated my mom, she was still my mom. So the next day I skipped school and decided to go pay Mister Perfect a visit. He lived in a pretty sketchy neighborhood, but during the day it was safe enough. When he opened the door he was surprised. He said I was the last person he expected to see. When I asked where my mom was, he said he hadn't seen her in a couple days. I told him I didn't believe him and threatened to call the cops unless he told me where she was. His attitude changed. He said that the last time he saw my mom, they'd broken up. He broke it off with her because apparently whenever she came over he'd find things missing. Eventually he confronted her about it and she flew off the handle and stormed out. He assumed she went home. Obviously she didn't. He thanked me for letting him know that she was missing, and told me he'd try to help find her. He even offered to call me a cab, but I said no. On my way home, I stopped by a few places where I knew my mom used to pickup, but no luck. I remember it was really cold that day, the sun didn't even come out. The wind was hurting my cheeks, so as much as I wanted to keep looking, I eventually gave up and went back to our apartment. The first thing I saw when I stepped off the elevator and into the hallway was that our front door, which was halfway down, looked like it was open. My immediate thought was we'd had a break-in. Wouldn't have been the first time. So I've got my phone in my hand, 9-1-1 ready to go, and when I get to my door, I'm expecting the worst. But when I turn the corner, it looks like everything is right where it should be. Still very paranoid, I go in further, through the kitchen and into the living room. And there, lying in the middle of the floor, is my mom. I rush over to her and see if she's okay. Her skin is ice cold and her jeans are covered in wet leaves and dirt. I try to get her to wake up but she's just out cold. I ended up calling 9-1-1 after all. The docs at the hospital said that she showed signs of exhaustion and dehydration. I told them that she was missing for two days. They examined her feet and found bruising on her heels and signs of extended blistering. Like she had been walking the entire time she was gone. She didn't regain consciousness until the following night. When she finally woke up, I was asleep in a chair next to her hospital bed. And the first thing I hear, I swear to god. she's cursing at me. Shouting. Asking why the hell she's in the hospital. The nurses come in to see what's going on and I'm crying and she's screaming, belligerent. We all explained to her what happened and she just starts like ranting about how she doesn't need any doctors and she's not going to be paying for any of this. She demands to be discharged immediately and storms out, practically yanking the I.V. out of her arm. I grabbed her hand to try and stop her and she looked at me, like right in my eyes, and. I let go. I had to. It was like I had just put my hand around a hot curling iron. Like not physically, but like, the feeling in your heart? That jab of pain and fear? That's what it felt like. I could barely keep up with her all the way home. I kept trying to get her to slow down, but she wasn't listening to me at all. She was nearly barefoot. She didn't have shoes or socks or anything. The docs had given her these like, paper hospital slippers but they weren't really meant to be worn outside. They'd practically fallen apart before we were even halfway home. She didn't seem to notice. Finally we make it back to our apartment and she just goes into the living room and stands there in the middle of the carpet. Staring out the windows. I ask her how she's feeling, if she needs to lie down or if she's hungry, and she doesn't seem to hear me, she's just blank. Like she's asleep or something. So, after standing there for a few minutes trying to think of what to do, I sort of gave her a poke. And she shouts and jumps like I'd startled her, and looks at me like she's scared and says, "Baby, where've you been?" It scared me because, it was like she had suddenly become like a kid. A child. And I was like, "What do you mean? I've been right here at home alone. Waiting for you. I've been looking for you all over the place. Don't you remember?" She didn't really answer, just sort of stared at me and then out of nowhere she says she's thirsty. And hungry. So hungry. So I have her sit down on the couch while I fix her something to eat. It was. it was a trip. I'd always like, taken care of her, but this was weird. It wasn't like taking care of someone who was a grownup that got sick. She really was like a little kid. Her eyes were big and for the first time in my life I realized that I was actually a little taller than she was. You know, physically. She finished her food before I had barely sat down to eat myself, and she chugged an entire pitcher of water straight from the pitcher. When she was done, she asked if there was any food left, and I told her that I didn't think she'd be so hungry so I only made enough for just the two of us. I don't remember what it was. Just that I gave her a little of what I had and she sort've sulked like she was still hungry. I guess it kinda made sense, right? I don't think she ate or drank anything the entire time she was gone. That night though. that was... I was sleeping in my room. And like, I don't know why I woke up. It was really late at night, maybe even early morning. And I'm lying there suddenly awake and I'm sort of dazed because I was sound asleep, like deep asleep, and it takes me a while to realize that I'm even awake. But when I do, I open my eyes to look at my clock, and I scream because I see a person. Standing right in my doorway. All the lights are off and I can just barely see the outline. I almost pull the lamp off my nightstand trying to turn it on, and I realize that it's my mom. Curly hair all disheveled, hanging down around her face. "What the hell?" I ask her. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" And even though she's staring straight at me, it's like she's frozen there. Like a statue. It's just like when we got home the day before. It suddenly occurs to me that maybe she's sleepwalking. She never did it before, at least, not that I knew of, but something new had obviously happened and maybe sleepwalking was like, a side-effect of whatever was going on. So I get up out of bed and approach her. As I do, I notice her eyes, which were staring straight at me, stay fixed on the spot on my bed where I was laying. I very, very gently put my hands on her shoulders and try to guide her back to her foldout in the living room. The whole time she keeps her eyes locked on that spot. Even when she can't see it. I help her lay back down and it was almost like putting a doll to bed. I reach down to pull her comforter up and tuck her in, and when I glance back at her. she's staring at me again. I try to stay calm and pretend like everything's normal so I don't accidentally startle her awake. Because I still think she's sleepwalking or whatever. I tell her to get some sleep and to have sweet dreams and then I slowly, carefully, back out of the room. I guess I was afraid to turn my back on her. When I get back in my bedroom, I lock the door and put my clothes hamper up against it. When I woke up the next morning, it took me a second to remember that what happened the previous night was really real. I stayed in my room for a long time, afraid of what might happen if I didn't. But I was getting really hungry, and I had to use the bathroom, and eventually I just couldn't wait any longer and realized that I just had to do it. Just face whatever was going to happen. I told myself that it was just my mom, and I was being stupid. So I go out there and I find her. Lying on the foldout, just where I left her. As I crept over to her bedside, it looked like she was very still. Like, almost too-still. Suddenly, I'm worried that she might be. you know, dead. And I lean down, as carefully as I can, to her nose. To see if I can hear her breathing. All of a sudden there's a knock on our door. It scares the shit out of me. I look through the peep hole and see this police officer standing there in the hallway. I put on the security chain and pop the door open like, "Can I help you, officer?" He says he's here to follow up about Sheena Stempelton. That's my mom's maiden name. And I'm like, "Oh, I forgot. It's been a really weird past couple of days. We found her. She came home. He asked if he could come inside, and I think to myself "Why do you need to come in?" But I don't say that out loud. I say, "She's sleeping right now. Maybe later?" He gives me this weird look, like he's trying to read my mind. He tells me he tried to call several times but got no answer. I say yeah because our phones are still shut off. Then he asks me if I'm okay. But he didn't say it like the word, "okay," he said it like you could hear the two letters. O then K. "Are you O.K.?" And. I wanna tell him I'm not. I wanna tell him that I'm scared. But. People like my mom. People like *us*. It's like I said. My mom has a history, a record. So I tell him I'm fine. Everything's fine. He can come back tomorrow if he wants. He thanks me and walks away. I watch him go until I can't see him anymore and then double-bolt the door when he's gone. My mom just slept through the whole day like that. Around dinner time I wake her up to see if she wants to eat, but she's out cold. If the phone was on I would've called the doctors or something, but the only way I could get ahold of anyone now was either to ask my neighbors if I could use their phone, or to call 9-1-1, and honestly neither of those options sounded very good at the time. So I told myself I'd give it one more day and then if she still wasn't back to normal I'd figure something out. I took a shower before going to bed, hoping to be able to unwind a little bit after all the weirdness and whatnot. But as I'm rinsing off, I hear the bathroom doorknob jiggling like someone is trying to open it. I shut the water off so I could hear better, and it stops. So I call out, "Mom? Is that you? I'm in the shower!" and wait for a response. And it's quiet. Just totally silent. But then I hear this little shuffle, and it's not through the wall or like outside the door. It's the sound of someone's feet, shuffling on the bath mat right outside the tub. We had one of those opaque curtains, so you couldn't see through it. So I'm like, standing there holding my breath and freaking out because somehow there's somebody in the bathroom with me and they're not saying anything. The shuffling stops and everything is quiet again. It's quiet for such a long time that I start to think that I imagined the whole thing. I feel like an idiot for standing there for so long and finally go, like in my head, "if they wanted to hurt me they could've attacked me by now and they didn't." So I pull the curtain back and. how do I explain this. There's someone standing, naked, on the bath mat in front of me. I scream as loud as I can and. I punch my mom in the face so hard that I could feel her teeth behind her cheek. I slipped and fell backward in the tub, holding my hand which I was certain was broken, and hit my head on the soap rack as I curled in a heap in the draining water. And then. as I'm staring up, horrified at my mom, blood is just pouring down her face and down her breasts and I'm in pain. the door. someone starts knocking on the door. Really hard. Like slamming their fists against it over and over. They're banging on it so hard I can see it shaking in the doorframe. I can hear the doorknob rattling and all I can do is scream. I screamed and screamed until I lost my voice. There was nothing else I could even think to do. I mean, what would you have done? You can't even imagine what it was like. My mom, she's still just standing there as this is all happening. And she turns around to look at the door and she begins to raise her hand, like reaching for the doorknob. And I beg her, beg her not to open it. To leave it alone. I tell her it's not safe, I just start repeating that phrase. It's not safe, it's not safe. The door opens. And. It's my mom's ex. Mister Perfect. He's standing there in the doorway. Holding a baseball bat, ready to swing. My mom just collapses, like passes out. He catches her as she falls over and he realizes there's blood everywhere. All over him, the floor. And I'm just like, curled up in the shower butt naked hiding behind the blood-soaked shower curtain. I can't imagine what it must've looked like. He says he got worried after my visit and since he hadn't heard anything in a couple of days he thought he'd come over and see if there was any news. I wrap myself in a towel and try to explain what just happened, but I don't even know where to start. Nothing makes sense. He says when he came in, he heard screaming and banging coming from the bathroom. I ask him, you weren't the one banging on the door? He just looks at me. He lets me dry off and get dressed while he calls an ambulance. Then, as I'm dressing, there's a knock on my door. I tell him I'll be out in a second, and through the door he says he can't find my mom. And I'm like, weren't you just out there with her? He says he had to go outside to get better reception and when he came back she was gone. I follow him out into the living room and there's just a pool of blood on the carpet where she was lying, and no sign of her anywhere. We start looking for her and I'm calling out like "Mom? Where'd you go? The ambulance is on its way." We split up to try and see where she went. I'm like, outside in the cold barely dressed, and just as I'm really starting to freak out, I hear him start shouting. And it's like he's scared, the way he's talking. I rush over toward his voice, thinking something's wrong with my mom, like maybe she got hurt even worse somehow, and I see him. Like, in my doorway. But it's not right. His... his feet... He was dangling in the air. There's this awful gurgling, crunching sound, and he's trying to scream but it's all choked and quiet. Then he goes limp and he suddenly drops to the floor in the doorway. I start to get closer to see if he's okay, but then I see this, shape, this shadow, that I can't quite understand because it looks like... hair. Long, stringy, curly black hair, descending behind the top of the doorframe. It's kinda wet, there's something dripping from it. Then, peeking out from behind the hair, I see my mother's eyes. Wild and open. Staring at me. Her body continues to descend, head first. And, God... she begins to crawl out of the door. Upside down, on the ceiling. Toward me. I was so scared that I couldn't even scream. The next thing I knew I was flying down the stairs, practically leaping from landing to landing. I guess because of all the noise, a few of the other tenants in the building came out to see what was going on. I knocked over the superintendent as I ran outside into the street. Behind me the whole time, I could hear her... shrieking. Calling my name. But I don't look back. I never looked back. I just ran. I kept on running. I've never stopped. THE END.
19:13A late-night commuter witnesses a chilling event outside the window of their subway car, and becomes obsessed with solving the mystery which surrounds it. Credits: Written, Narrated, and Produced by Doryen Chin Sensitivity Reader: Auden Granger Transcript and Content Warnings under the cut: ----more---- Note: The audio you will hear is slightly altered from the text below, but the transcript is accurate for most purposes. [content warning: suicide mentioned, workplace sexual harassment] METRO by Doryen Chin My name is Tracy Urnwight. It's been almost a year since the last time I took the train. I'm moving upstate next week, because even the low-pitched rumble of the subway beneath the street makes me break into a cold sweat. It was the last week of October, and I was on my way home after working my second double in a row at a lounge in Soho and I was scheduled to open the next day. I needed the money. I think it must've been almost three in the morning. At that hour, there are fewer lines open. I had to go half an hour out of my way just to get home, but it was either that or walk all the way to the nearest direct route. At the time, walking those dim streets alone just wasn't worth the trouble. So there I was, sitting by myself in the last car on the train, my head against the window. My phone was dead, so I was forced to read all the cheesy ads plastered all over the car just to keep myself awake long enough not to miss my stop. Near the end of my commute, there's a long stretch of tracks that run above ground. As the train emerged from the tunnel, I glanced out the window to look at the skyline that was visible beyond an old warehouse district. Neon skyscrapers flashed between the rows and rows of passing warehouses and old mills. It was right about then that I caught a glimpse of something that made me sit up in my seat. You know that thing where the human eye finds faces in everyday objects? Para... Para-doll... whatever. Apparently it works that way for things that look like human bodies too. There's nothing quite like the shock of seeing a person where you don't expect there to be one. You can imagine then how it felt, as my train passed the last of the warehouses and I saw there, on the roof of the warehouse at the very end of the row, standing right on the ledge -- easily a hundred feet off the ground -- was a person. I stared as the train pulled away, and just before the warehouses winked out of sight, my stomach lurched as I saw them jump. Immediately I stood and craned my neck to get a better look. Unable to see anything, I ran to the back of the car and crammed my face against the window, my hands cupped around my eyes against the lights, but I saw only darkness, and the pale orange glow of the city against the sky. My phone still dead as it was an hour before, I ran ahead to the next few cars and found, that, the only other people on the train this far down the line were, an old Vietnamese couple and a junkie passed out on the bench seats. Funny how there's always a guard nearby whenever you lose your pass, but never one when you need any help. I don't think I got any sleep that night. I spent the next day with one eye glued to the news. Checking Twitter, local stations, anything I could think of. By the end of my shift, I had mostly convinced myself that I must have imagined the whole thing. I hadn't exactly been getting any actual real sleep lately, and it was entirely possible that I didn't see anything at all. But that night, as my train once again emerged from the tunnel, I held on white-knuckled to the seats in front of me as I found myself staring out at those old decrepit warehouses. I expected to see them dark and abandoned, like they always were. Of course they would be. They had to be. I should have been dead tired, but instead I found myself wide, painfully awake. Unlike when you're dreaming, when the world is slightly dulled, I could feel the absolute reality of the world around me. Felt the cold handrail against my palm. I heard every squeak and rattle of the car on its greasy old tracks. I heard even the soft whistle of wind outside my window. And I knew that in a few short moments, my mind would be totally clear of any suspicion or guilt over whatever it was I thought I saw the previous night. Maybe that's why, when the last warehouse swam toward me in the dark outside, I felt a stab of ice in my chest as, for the second night in a row, I saw a single person standing on the roof. Right on the ledge. I couldn't move. The ice in my chest dropped into my stomach and spread through every vein and bone and I was forced to watch, for the second time in as many nights, as a person leapt from the roof of a building at least a hundred feet tall and plummeted into darkness. By the time I snapped out of it, I had missed my stop by three stations and we had come to the end of the line. Walking home, on that cold, dark, moonless October night, I found myself flinching at every slight rustle of trash on the street, every distant barking hound. But I kept my head down. My eyes on my shoes. My hands in my pockets. And eventually found myself at home. I turned on every light in the apartment and closed every window and curtain. I was late to my shift the next day. When my boss confronted me, I just apologized and told him it wouldn't happen again. I must have been giving off some kind of aura because he looked at me and asked if something was wrong. I knew this routine. Everyone at the lounge did. I lied and made something up about being stalked by an ex-boyfriend and that I wasn't sleeping well because of it. It was easier than the truth. I knew what he would say next and, any other day I think I might have laughed it off like everyone else. But that night, at almost three in the morning, we sat together in the last car of the train back to my place. Unlike most nights, the rear car wasn't empty. A small gaggle of college-age girls in elaborate Halloween costumes huddled at the far end, taking selfies and challenging each other to see who could make the worst Halloween puns. This thankfully limited the scope of activities which my boss might've attempted to engage in, and I found their antics a welcome distraction. I was so distracted that I lost track of time and place. I was already glancing out the window before I realized where we were. Three nights in a row. The same time. The same place. The same human figure leaping into the darkness. My boss cried out in pain beside me and I realized I held his knee in a vice grip. Embarrassed, I turned to apologize but he had his mouth on mine before I got the words out. I pushed him away and stood up, overwhelmed and disoriented. As he cursed at me, I saw that the college girls were staring at the scene we were causing. I sat back down and apologized. The girls all got up and moved into the next car. He asked me if I was alright, if I still wanted this. I told him I was afraid. He said that he understood and wanted to help, and I felt his hand, hot and strong, sliding across my lap. When we got to my stop, I thanked him for riding home with me and left him at the station. I didn't bother going to work the next day. I knew I'd have to find another job, but that could wait. Instead, I slept in. By the time I woke up, the sky was the fiery orange of a sunset before rain. There was only one thing on my mind. Only one thing I wanted, needed, to do. I ate what little I could stomach and spent over an hour on Google Maps, and when I finally found what I was looking for, laced up my boots and walked down to the subway station. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to find it. I had to go a couple stops past my home station in order to access the road which led to the warehouse district. I thought it was unusual that such a large and prominent tract of land just sat there, unused and neglected in such a crowded city. It seemed like a waste. A tall, ten or thirteen foot fence wrapped around the entire property. Rusty chainlink topped with razor wire. The main gate was padlocked shut with a thick gauge chain, as I expected. I didn't know how to pick a lock and thought it might be better not to even try. At least, not until the sun had gone all the way down. Instead I pretended to be on a casual stroll, and walked the perimeter of the fence. The ground around the fence was littered with refuse. Along the way I counted at least two broken syringes and one used condom which appeared to be tied to the fence about eight feet off the ground. Up close, the warehouses and old mills were much taller and more massive than I thought they'd be. Almost none of the windows had any glass left in them, having long-since been vandalized or broken by inclement weather. Just black voids where glass should be. Why is it that windows always look like eyes? It wasn't until I found myself on the far western border of the industrial park, the side facing the river, that I spotted a potential way-in. A big tree had somehow grown on the rocky shore between the river and the warehouses, and its roots had gotten so large that it disrupted the land on which the fence sat. Because of the roots, there was a gap about two or three feet wide that ran under it. Having some time to kill before whatever was going to happen would happen, I decided not to cross the fence just yet. I grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby gas station and ate my food on a bus stop bench under a dark street lamp. And I waited. While I sat there, I saw a pair of drag queens walking arm in arm across the street. I thought I recognized one of them, but by the time I realized it wasn't who I thought it was they had caught me staring and quickened their pace. I looked down at my feet and pretended to tie my boot. When I finally made my way back to the gap under the fence it had been dark for several hours. To get through, I had to crawl on my hands and knees in the damp underbrush, and my shirt got ripped a little on the jagged fence wire. I didn't want to attract any dangerous attention to my activities, so I used my phone screen to light my way rather than the flashlight. I happened across a cement driveway that seemed to connect all of the warehouses on this row. and thankfully faced away from the road on the other side of the lot. I followed it all the way down in a straight line past warehouse after warehouse until I saw it up ahead. The last one. Just as big as the others. Now just a black bulk against the night sky. No glass to reflect any light. I slowly became aware of the weight of my feet which seemed to grow heavier with every step toward that desolate place. From where I walked, I could see the raised tracks which stood on concrete pylons some forty feet high. A train came down the line and I heard the clacking of its wheels on the bare metal. I watched it disappear behind the last warehouse on the row and knew what I had to do next. What I had to look for. But when I came to the front of the building, I didn't find anything but overgrown weeds, cracked concrete, and chips of glass scattered about. Likely from the broken windows above. Three nights in a row I had watched someone leap from this building and land... apparently nowhere. Or had I? Did I really see it? To this day, I'm still not completely sure. I checked the time. It was just past two-thirty in the morning. Not much longer. I looked back at the warehouse and suddenly knew that if I wanted any answers, I'd have to find a way inside. At the back of the warehouse there was a loading dock with a big rolling door that wouldn't budge. I didn't fiddle with it much because it would've made too much noise. Instead I walked around to the far side where I saw a fire escape and discovered that the emergency ladder had been let down to the ground. I stared at it, dimly illuminated as it was by the weak glow of my phone screen. A rickety assemblage of rusty steel which zigzagged up the side of the building and vanished into the darkness above. With a wave of sudden nausea, I stepped back from it. I think I must've circled that warehouse half a dozen times, looking for any other feasible way inside. But no. There was nothing else. So as the clock marched on toward three, I did the most foolish thing I've ever done in my life. I climbed the fire escape. It swayed and groaned under my weight, the vibrations rattling the platforms above me. When I reached the first landing I leaned against the brick of the wall and closed my eyes as I caught my breath. The door at the landing had been boarded up and after testing it briefly, I knew deep down that the only way was up. And so I climbed. Thankfully, the ladder gave way to stairs, which squeaked and complained with every little movement, but ultimately bore me, floor after floor, to the roof. When I reached the upmost platform on the fire escape, I was covered in sweat and trembling like a dry leaf. My heart pounded in my throat, and I swallowed hard as I saw that the only way to the roof from here was to climb a short ladder which was permanently affixed to the side of the building. The ladder was enclosed by a metal tube, presumably to reduce the risk of falling. A claustrophobic little cage hundreds of feet off the ground. I checked the time again. The hour was nearly up. If I wanted any chance of satisfaction, of understanding, that was going to be it. So up I went. I emerged from the cage and tripped on the ledge as I tried to step onto the roof, falling over onto my side. I was cold, sweaty, terrified, and likely bleeding, but I made it. I staggered to my feet and, too exhausted to care, switched on my flashlight to get a good look at the rooftop around me. Across from where I stood, there was an access door which probably led down into some sort of inner stairwell. I tried the handle, but it was locked. Behind me, I heard a soft scraping sound. Have you ever felt too frightened to scream? Like you're so scared you wish you could scream your entire heart out but nothing comes out at all? All I could do was slowly turn my flashlight toward the source of the noise. Standing there, shuffling oddly in the beam of my flashlight, I saw a huge, grotesque shape emerging from the darkness. There were eyes. Wide and glistening. Folds of black flesh and some sort of dark, ragged coat. The head jerked sideways and revealed a cruel, hooked beak. It was a goddamn vulture. I'd never seen one in person before. I didn't even know there WERE vultures in New York. With an ugly croak and a sudden flurry of movement, the vulture leapt from the rooftop and disappeared into the sky. I watched it go, stunned by its unexpected appearance. Right at that moment, everything began to make sense. This bird was big. Huge. The shape I had seen leaping from the rooftop all week must have been this garish bird all along. I laughed at myself. My stupidity. My suspicious mind. And if I had just gone home right then, I would've been fine. Absolutely fine. But I didn't. I hesitated just long enough to hear the familiar sound of a train coming down the line and, checking the time again, realized that it must be the one I had taken home every night this week. Curious, I walked to the edge of the roof so I could watch it go by. The headlights illuminated the long steel tracks as it flew along the elevated curve. I counted the cars as they passed, and realized that from where I stood on that roof, I could see down into the little windows. I could even make out the faces of the few people on board. Suddenly something felt very wrong, and I was afraid. Afraid to see the last car go by. Afraid to see inside. But I couldn't look away. I had to look. And I saw a man. Staring straight back at me. His eyes wide in surprise. His lips curling back in slow terror. Aghast, my hand flew up to cover my mouth. And so did his. On seeing this action, which both in timing and in motion mirrored perfectly my own, I finally screamed. And the man on my train... in my car... in my seat... in my clothes... with my face... screamed back.
35:25In terms of sheer hostility to human life, this remote and little-known range is second to none. One unlucky climber finds out why a third of all who summit The Mountain do not return to tell the tale. Credits: Narrated by Marissa Chin Written and produced by Doryen Chin Sensitivity Reader: Auden Granger "Deep Horrors" "Deep Noise" "Departure Ghostpocalypse" "Echoes of Time v2" "Medusa" by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ "Spirit of the Dead" by Aakash Gandhi The Beacon Jar - Copyright 2018 Doryen Chin Transcript and Content Warnings under the cut: ----more---- [content warning: gaslighting, descriptions of corpses, descriptions of mental illness] Note: The audio you will hear is slightly altered from the text below, but the transcript is accurate for most purposes. MOUNTAIN Written by Doryen Chin My name is Agatha Bembridge, and it is by pure, dumb, terrible luck that I am alive. So that no one will go seeking to verify my account for themselves, I will keep the name of The Mountain a secret. Some of my peers may be able to guess its identity by deduction through any clues I unintentionally provide. But, it is my sincere hope that my reputation and this warning alone will be enough to give them pause. The two-week hike up to Base Camp was as slow and arduous as I'd heard, even after eighteen months of training and planning. I was traveling with a handful of guides who were native to the region, as well as a wealthy European couple making their second attempt at the summit. We had to stop several times along the way to visit various temples and villages, so that our guides could pray for safe passage into these barren lands. On the evening of the twelfth day, we arrived. Normally, the first night at Base Camp is spent in relatively good spirits. Just getting here is a small miracle in its own right, and it's rightly celebrated by most who make the trip in one piece. However on the night of our arrival, we were greeted by ashen, solemn faces. News from a party descending the summit had just come in. One of their climbers had died. The party leader, Helen Schwarzschild, had lost her son, William, shortly after they began their downward climb from the peak. We sat in relative silence, our dinners growing cold on our plates as the remaining survivors emerged from the darkness. The fact is, nearly a third of all climbers who reach the summit of The Mountain do not return. In terms of difficulty, there are several more challenging peaks in the world. But in terms of sheer hostility to human life, this remote and little-known range is second to none. The thing which makes the mountain so deadly is a subject of contention, however. You see, most deaths which occur on The Mountain aren't the result of a bad fall, or an avalanche, or an injury of any kind. Though, that does happen on occasion. No, most people who die on The Mountain, simply stop climbing, sit down, and never get back up again. They call it, “Mountain Sickness.” According to Captain Schwarzschild, the manner of her son's demise was congruous with the others. He was tied to her life line when he perished, and she had to cut him loose with her own knife. There's a saying, popular among many mountaineers and alpinists familiar with the perils of high-altitude climbing. “Those who die on The Mountain, stay on The Mountain.” Despite the best efforts of the local government, most who perish near the summit must remain there indefinitely. Too costly to find, or too inaccessible to reach. But, the attempt must be made. The European couple offered to cover the cost of the extra climbing and retrieval gear for the guides, as well as any incidentals incurred along the way. At first, the grieving mother was reluctant to accept their charity, insisting that the insurance would cover it. But it didn't. The only indignity it spared her that day was the “littering” fee imposed by the local government, for leaving the boy's corpse on the mountainside. In the morning, it was decided that our local guides would accompany us up the mountain to assess the possibility of retrieving the boy's body, and, if it was feasible, bring him back down. After a light breakfast, while the weight of the evening's tragedy still hung on our hearts, we were given the go by the Weather Team to set out on the first leg of our expedition. Due to the extreme altitude, we could not actually attempt to summit the peak for several more days. The first week of our climb would be spent between Camp One and Camp Two as our bodies acclimatized to the low oxygen environment. Like many of the world's highest peaks, Camp One on The Mountain lies nearly a thousand meters above Base Camp, on a narrow ledge accessible only by ascending a treacherous ice fall. For those who don't know, an ice fall is basically a river of solid ice, running down the mountain like a glacier at a rate of about six feet per day. It can calve without warning, sending boulders of ice the size of houses, weighing twelve-hundred tons each, crashing down on you. If you're lucky, you die instantly. We reached the ice fall as the sun was beginning to rise over the eastern range, and began our ascent once we had checked in with the Weather Team. There are no fixed ropes on the ice fall. It's a six-hundred-meter free-climb over ever-shifting terrain, across crevasses up to thirty feet wide and immeasurably deep. In order to cross, several steel ladders must be lashed together and laid over the chasm. Then a guide may carefully traverse this makeshift “bridge” and anchor a rope to the other side. Our guides had done it so many times, they simply walked across. The ladder jostled and creaked under their feet as they did so. Watching them, I could not help but imagine how easy it would be to slip into that crushing abyss. Unable to climb out again. Unable to be rescued. Sliding helplessly down razor sharp ice walls and disappearing into darkness. I actually don't remember crossing that first time. I know I must have. I just remember being afraid and then, around mid-afternoon, we arrived at Camp One. Memory is a strange thing. We don't get to choose what sticks. Forced to remember things we wish we could forget, yet somehow always forgetting where we put our keys. While the rest of the team prepared Camp One, the guides continued to climb to Camp Two to see if they could spot William's remains from that clearer vantage. Several hours later, just after the sun had disappeared below the western horizon, they returned. We had dinner waiting for them, and as they sat down to eat, one of the Europeans asked the question nobody else wanted to ask. Had they seen him? The head guide, who I'll call Tam (though that was not his name), shook his head and explained that high winds had ruined visibility on the upper mountain. They would have to continue up with us to Camp Three and then decide if it was worth it for them to carry the cumbersome rescue supplies any further. Under that pall of uncertainty, we tucked into our tents to sleep. I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sudden howling of frozen wind. Bewildered, I clicked on my flashlight and found myself staring out the open entry of my tent. The outer flap whipped around like a flag against the darkness. My sleep-dull mind struggled to comprehend what I was seeing until I realized, with mounting shock, someone had zipped open my tent while I was sleeping. My heart pounding, I scrambled to the front of my tent and reached outside to pull the flap closed again. Idiot. It was like dunking my hand in a freezing river. The bitter wind burned as I fumbled with the zipper. Once I had finally re-sealed the tent I collapsed, cradling it. I must have sat there for ages, replaying the evening over and over in my head. I knew that I had secured my tent. Someone must have opened it, either on purpose or by accident, and left the flap open, exposing me to hypothermia, frostbite, or worse. I got on the radio and demanded to know if anyone else was awake, if anyone else had heard anything. After a minute, one of the Europeans came on and asked if I needed help, if they should contact Base Camp. I told them what happened, and to their credit, they took the situation seriously. Within an hour, they had awakened the entire team, and the guides, and demanded an explanation. As we sat shivering in our own tents, huddled over our radios, some folks became understandably defensive. No one would admit to leaving their tents after dark, and all happened to have a credible witness to their whereabouts. Then the questions were turned on me. Was anything missing? Was I touched inappropriately? Was there any evidence that anyone had actually been in the tent? I explained that no, nothing was missing, the only thing that was violated was my privacy and safety from the cold. One of the other members of the team suggested that perhaps I hadn't properly secured my tent that night, and it was my fault that it came open. We didn't speak much after that. The following morning was tense and uncomfortable, our optimism dampened by interrupted sleep and accusations of impropriety. In light of... what happened later, I struggled over whether I should have apologized. In the end, I came to the conclusion that no matter the true perpetrator of the infraction, I was well justified in my actions and behavior. It's bad enough to be endangered in such a way, much less to have my own competency questioned rather than the intentions of others. I simply wish that the others gave my experience as much credit as they did their own professions of innocence. It was made clear, not in words but in actions and the silences, that I would from now on be treated only with kid gloves and polite tolerance. That is, except for the European couple, who seemed to genuinely sympathize, and offered to let me share their tent. I regret that I declined. Though if it might've done any good in the end, I really can't say. We spent the next week, climbing back and forth between Camps One and Two, until we were given the all-clear to proceed to Camp Three. As they had done before, our guides - who were still committed to retrieving the remains of young William Schwarzschild, climbed on ahead of us on the first day to see if they could determine his location. Again, they failed. As a means of boosting morale, the European couple broke out the special food they had been saving for Summit Day, and shared it among the rest of the camp. We spent the evening singing songs and telling old climbing stories until we had nearly forgotten the emotional challenges we had faced so far on our journey. For that brief moment, the mountain was just a mountain, and we were all just good friends. To say that the climb from Camp Three to Camp Four is challenging is less of an understatement and more of an outright lie. There is only one passable route, and only one climber at a time can negotiate it safely. It involves twenty feet of inverted free-climb, and the fixed ropes have a tendency to bunch and tangle there, which slows progress to a crawl. It is understood that the most experienced climbers always go up first. This, of course, meant the guides, followed by the European couple, then me, then the rest of the team. Dangling by your hands from frozen rock, with only half an inch of slack nylon between you and certain death, is an enlightening experience. You're so high up that the sky seems to be all around you in almost every direction. It's easy to get confused, lose track of “up and down.” At one point my brain panicked and insisted that I was falling into that blue-black abyss, and that I should turn around and climb back to safety. A nano-second later, my training kicked in and I froze in place, clutching my life line in a death grip, realizing that I had just nearly let myself fall. My heart pounding in my ears, I slowly and deliberately ascended the remainder of the climb to Camp Four. With all climbers present and safely inside Camp Four, we proudly radio'd to Base Camp that we had completed the first half of our expedition to the summit. From there on out, the summit attempt was broken into smaller teams. For obvious reasons, I had already decided to partner with the European couple, and when it came time to break into teams I made my preference known. This was when the friendly facade of the group finally began to crack, because it would mean that the most experienced climbers were all grouped together, while the lesser experienced ones would be left to fend for themselves. The guides tried to explain that they would do their best to spread themselves evenly between all teams, but for one climber in particular, this was not a satisfactory solution. This was the same man who had suggested that it was my own fault that my tent had come open on our first night on the mountain. It was eventually decided that he would be partnered with the European couple, and that I would help lead one of the lower experience teams. Finally, under a tense peace, we turned in for the evening. I couldn't sleep. Between the stress of the climb, the worsening social friction, and the decreasing prospects of retrieving the boy's remains, my mind was a whirlwind of doubt. I was lonely and desperate for company, perhaps that's why at around 1:30 in the morning I found myself clutching my radio in my lap. The channel open. Just listening to the static. I had just nearly began to drift off when the radio emitted a sharp, piercing squeal. I was so startled I reflexively threw it across my tent where it landed behind my pack with a soft thud. The squeal continued, now muffled, and I don't know if it was just my mind playing tricks on me or not, but, I swear it sounded like someone screaming. Feeling immediately foolish, I nevertheless couldn't bring myself to retrieve it. In the back of my mind, I suppose part of me hoped that someone else would hear it and respond, but no one did. It got louder and louder until I couldn't stand it and had to cover my ears and squeeze my eyes shut. The screeching went on for over a minute and then, without any drama whatsoever, it stopped. Cautiously, I opened my eyes and leaned forward, afraid that it might start up again any moment, but it didn't. When I finally worked up the courage to crawl over to it, I found that it was dead and would not turn on again. I pulled open the battery compartment and checked the internals, but everything seemed to be fine. No sign of a blown fuse, no melted plastic. Aside from a faint whiff of ozone, there seemed to be absolutely no sign at all of anything wrong with it. The adrenaline wore off pretty quickly after that, and in the ensuing lethargy I finally found sleep. In the morning, I quietly asked one of the Europeans if their radios were working okay. They said that as far as they knew, they were working fine. I asked if they had heard anything or been woken up by any loud noises, but they again said they'd experienced nothing of the sort. When I saw the barely hidden worried look they gave to their partner, I stopped pressing and just asked if they had any extra batteries I might borrow. They kindly obliged, and when I told them not to mention it to the other climbers, they silently agreed. With clearance from the Weather Team, we were given the go-ahead to ascend to Camp Five, which would be the staging point for our summit attempts. Each team would go up and come down in turns while the rest of us waited behind in order to keep the lanes clear. Everything above Camp Five exists entirely within the Death Zone, where the oxygen content of the atmosphere is around 30% of that at sea level. Most folks bring their own oxygen regulators, which can be heavy and cumbersome. Many more “adventurous” climbers choose to do without. I was halfway up the nearly vertical rock face when out of the corner of my eye, I saw him. I knew exactly what he looked like. That young man's face was burned into my memory ever since my first night at Base Camp. And now there he was. Crouched in the snow, eighty feet above me was William Schwarzschild. I screamed. I couldn't help it. I had seen the bodies of fallen climbers before. It's an occupational hazard. But something about seeing him there, out in the open like that. It turned me inside out. Hearing my scream, the other climbers halted to check if I was alright. My arm tight around my support rope, I pointed with my free hand toward William's body. However, it would seem that due to the awkward angle of the slope, surrounded as it was by jutting crags and uneven ice, I was the only person in the entire team who had a clear line of sight to the corpse. And, since I was the last one up, there was no-one behind me to corroborate. Tam, the head guide, agreed to climb down and check for himself once I had pulled myself up to Camp Five. Not wanting to wait behind and miss their summit window, the first two teams embarked on their run while my team and I waited for Tam to verify what I had seen. After nearly an hour had gone by, I began to worry. The other two members of my team sat huddled together by their tent, whispering to each other while I waited at the edge of the ridge for Tam to return. The first team had already summited the peak and were on their way back down by the time he finally appeared again. He explained that he had taken a long time because about a quarter of the way down, his ropes had gotten tangled and he had to stop to sort them out. By the time he had reached the point where I was able to spot William's body, the sun's position had shifted and made it difficult to discern it from the surrounding rock and snow. He said he had no way of being sure whether it really was William's body, and if it was, it was much further from Camp Five than he had expected it to be. According to Mrs. Schwarzschild, William died close to the camp, and therefore his body should have been much more accessible. He explained that if it truly was William's body, the likelihood of retrieving him was, he was sorry to say, slim to none. We waited patiently for the first two teams to return from their summit attempt. When the first team arrived the guides that came with them conferred with Tam and confirmed his assessment of the situation. It simply was not worth the risk to attempt to retrieve William's body from the place where it had come to rest. As the second team trickled into the camp, Tam radioed down to Base Camp to relay the news and offer his apologies. The mother was inconsolable. She flew into a rage and demanded that Tam and his team perform another, more thorough search. She was absolutely adamant that William had perished not fifty feet from Camp Five, and could not have moved or fallen in the intervening days since. Somehow my name was dragged into the ensuing dispute, as I was the first person who spotted the body, and she got it into her head that it was my testimony alone that informed the decision not to attempt the retrieval. Ultimately she handed off the radio and refused to continue talking to us after insisting that she'd put together her own rescue team and bring him down herself. By the time the situation had been thoroughly deliberated, and my team was preparing to make our summit attempt, we got word from Base Camp that a weather system was moving in and the mountain would be impassable within a few hours. Sure enough, a thick haze had enveloped the entire eastern face and the winds were growing fiercer by the minute. We decided to hunker down and make our summit attempt in the morning while the other two teams were descending back to Camp Four. We each took our dinners alone in our tents, listening to the wind moan and scream through the camp. I read while I ate, grateful for the dog-eared copy of We Have Always Lived in the Castle that I always kept in my bag. Knowing I would need to be well-rested for my summit run in the morning, I took a sleep-aid with dinner and kept my lantern as dim as I could read by. I went to bed not long after I finished dinner and fell fast asleep. From deep within the well of sleep, I slowly became aware of the sound of a deliberate, rhythmic scraping, somewhere nearby. Do you know what somnambulance is? It's the scientific word for walking in your sleep, and a known but rare side-effect of the particular sleep-aid which I had taken that night with my dinner. A sleep-aid that I have personally used for years, without any problems, complications, or issues whatsoever. I don't remember exactly why I woke up, only that I when I did, I found myself inexplicably outside in the dark, about thirty feet away from the safety of the camp. It was such a surreal feeling that at first, I thought I must have been dreaming. Then I became aware of my hands, tightly gripping a fixed rope. After a moment's examination, I realized that somehow I had gotten dressed, laced my boots, strapped on my headlamp, left my tent, and was preparing to rappel down the mountainside when I awoke. Or at least, that's what I thought. But then, that sound came back to me. The odd, rhythmic scraping. I turned to look and found myself facing the edge of the ridge, beyond which was the 90 degree rock face between camps Four and Five, not twenty feet away. Then I felt it. A gentle tug on the rope in my hand. I stared down, watching it. With every little soft scrape in the distance, the rope tugged a little at my clenched hands. I immediately dropped the rope and fell against the icy slope. The scrapes were growing louder, nearer. Suddenly the rope became taut and creaked liked it was supporting something heavy. I couldn't look away. I just sat there, watching and listening as the rope creaked and twisted. Something was climbing the rope, that was the only explanation. And all I knew in that moment was that whoever it was... whatever it was... I did not want to see it. Panic knotted my gut, and I began to fearfully pat myself all over, searching my pockets and belt, until finally, as the taste of bile rose in my mouth, I produced my pocket knife. The thing was barely a few feet from the edge of the ridge as I once again took hold of the rope in my trembling hands and began to saw through it. I squeezed my eyes closed tight against the freezing wind and the fear of even catching a single glimpse of what was coming, and worked through the sturdy cord for what felt like an eternity until finally, with a soft snap, it gave. The rope slipped from my hands and slithered quickly over the edge and disappeared into the endless void beyond. Sitting there in the snow and wind and darkness, thousands and thousands of feet above the rest of the world, I listened hard for the sound of impact. For a scream. For anything. But there was nothing. Only the wind. I struggled to push myself out of bed the following morning, the possible ramifications of what I'd done weighed heavy on my mind. What if I'd made a mistake? What if it wasn't... Then I remembered. The two teams who had made the summit yesterday were descending this morning. Whatever I had cut loose in the night would be discovered within the hour. I hastily threw on my gear and joined my team outside, wanting to appear as calm and unassuming as possible. My teammates were already agitated, and asked me why I wasn’t responding to my radio. I told them that I had unintentionally slept-in and that my radio had been on the fritz for the last few days. As we knelt down to discuss our plan of attack, Tam the guide came over and quietly asked if he could speak with me alone for a moment. My blood ran cold, but I did not let my anxiety show. I nodded and stood to join him. Walking away, I could feel the eyes of my teammates burning a hole in my back as they stared. Once we were alone, Tam gave a wary glance back at the camp and I could see the exhaustion in his face. Something was bothering him. He looked back and me and he held my gaze and told me that, I shouldn’t blame myself. It wasn’t my fault. I must have looked confused, because he asked, hadn’t I heard? And I responded, hadn’t I heard what? His expression turned grim, and said, he thought I knew. Apparently, sometime in the night, Helen Schwartzschild, William’s mother, had disappeared from Basecamp. I was gutted. The world turned under me and Tam caught me as I fell. I was sick in the snow, and began to weep openly, in ugly coughing sobs. Everyone nearby immediately went silent and turned to watch my humiliating breakdown. After several minutes, I realized that someone had brought me toilet paper and tea. As I blew the snot from my nose, Tam sat beside me and told me that, it would be okay if I didn’t want to attempt the summit today. I could go back down with the first two teams and he would lead my team for me. I wanted to. God. I wish I had. But I didn’t. I shook my head, “no” and told him that I had come this far already. I told him that I owed it to William and to Helen and myself to keep moving forward. In reality, it was cowardice that made me do it. In the end, I simply did not want to face whatever was waiting at the bottom of that fall. If only I’d known. We began our summit attempt before the first two teams had even finished packing their gear. I took lead, and Tam brought up the rear. There are a few different routes which one can take to reach the summit from Camp Five. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks, though only one is significantly more challenging than the rest. More challenging, but not necessarily more dangerous. This was the route I had logged in my flight plan, and I saw no convincing reason why I should’ve changed my mind so late in the game. So that was the one we took. Perhaps it was pride, or perhaps it was just the simple fact that it’s difficult to dwell on other things, while your life is hanging on the strength of your fingers and toes, as you cling to a steep wall of wind-blasted ice and stone a over a mile high. As we approached the peak, breathing heavy into our O2 regulators, I began to feel a sharp pain in my chest. It spread slowly and made me shiver in a way that had nothing to do with the frozen air around me. I could see the summit. And beyond it was... absolutely nothing for miles and miles. That sensation akin to vertigo gripped me again, and I fought to maintain my grasp on perceiving up from down as gravity itself seemed to become confused. I heard a muffled voice call out and realized that it was Tam. I turned and saw him behind me, and he was scared. Seeing his fear, I took a deep breath from my regulator and gave him a thumbs up. We were almost there. Have you ever been so exhausted, so relentlessly tired, that your body somehow takes over for you? Puts you on autopilot? That’s how it felt, scaling those last few dozen feet toward the final precipice at the top of the mountain. At precisely 1:37 PM, I set foot on the summit of The Mountain. Being the first up, I helped the others one by one as they joined me at the summit. Remarkably, it was Tam’s first time. I only found that out after he had joined me there. There was cheers and shouts and celebration from everyone, and for a moment I forgot my fear. I forgot the cold sharp pain that continued to grow under my ribs. Everyone posed for a few photos and I guess I must have as well, though I don’t remember it. No, the next thing I remember is the call. Tam’s radio chirped and he answered it, still cheesing from the rush of his achievement. As he shouted back and forth into the radio, I felt that the hairs on the very back of my neck had begun to prickle and stand up. Who was he talking to? I couldn’t make it out over the roar of wind in my ears as it rushed over my parka. I saw him look at me. He nodded and shouted into the radio, then leaned over to ask me something. I looked at him, saw that his lips were moving, but I couldn’t make out a single word. I just frowned and shook my head. I’ve forgotten so much. They say that happens when your brain is exposed to a low-oxygen environment for too long. You get gaps in your memory, develop behavioral problems. Over time, through therapy, they can reverse most of it. Of all the things I’ve forgotten from the expedition, I wish I could forget what happened next. Within moments, the others had begun to descend from the summit, and Tam helped me to follow him. But after a few feet I stopped. For the first time since reaching the summit, I did the one thing I dreaded more than anything since we set out that morning. But I had do. There was no avoiding it. I looked down. And there, beyond Tam, beyond the other climbers of my team, on a bare outcropping of rock amongst the sea of snow and ice, she stood. Unable to look away, I croaked, “Mrs. Schwarzschild.” Tam, who was reaching out to take my hand, froze as I spoke, and said, “Aggie, it’s not your fault.” “What?” I asked, blinking hard against the blinding sun and the tears stinging my eyes. “There was nothing you could have done.” He said. As I stared at Mrs. Schwarzschild, I saw that her skin was rough and taut. Her hair was tangled and matted with ice. Chapped lips framed her mouth which hung dully open. Tam seized my hand and coaxed me forward, but I froze. “She’s there.” I said. He looked around at the other climbers, exasperated. “Aggie, they found her body. Didn’t you hear?” That did it. I looked at him as he indicated his radio. “She froze to death on the ice-fall, a few hundred feet from Basecamp.” My heart dropped as I turned back to where I had seen her and saw that somehow, while I had averted my gaze, she had halved the distance between us and now stood only a hundred feet below us. Not only her. Over her shoulder, crouched in the snow as I had first seen him, was William. But they were not alone. All over the mountainside I perceived them. Dozens. Hundreds. Twisted, desiccated corpses with yawning mouths and sun-yellowed teeth. Staring helplessly out of shrunken, dried sockets. But they weren’t truly dead. They were still here. All of them, trapped here. Trapped inside. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. My body was dying. The terrible icy pain in my chest had spread throughout my entire body and I was paralyzed. Tam watched me sink to my knees and reflexively reached out to catch me, and in doing so he lost his own balance and tumbled down onto the icy slope below us. The slack ran out on his lifeline and I was immediately yanked down behind him, and somehow, in the rush of falling, I felt my hand take hold of my pick. My training, the countless hours of purposefully sliding and falling took over, and it was pure instinct that dug my pick into the rapidly passing ice and slowed our fall enough for Tam to regain control. It’s been almost a year since it happened. a take medication for the nightmares, and these days I don’t dream at all. But the thing I long for most is solitude. I cannot remember the last time that I was alone. Unable to visit me in my dreams, I am forced to endure them in broad daylight. They say that what dies on the mountain, stays on the mountain. God. I wish that was true.
48:37A solicitor tries to help a young widow sell her remote farmhouse, but begins to suspect that she carries a dark secret. Credits: Narrated by Rebecca Gambino-Harris Written and produced by Doryen Chin Sensitivity Reader: Auden Granger "Shadowlands 1 - Horizon" "Shadowlands 2 - Bridge" "Shadowlands 4 - Breath" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Transcript and Content warnings under the cut: ----more---- [content warning: suicide mention, medical abuse, misogyny] WIDOW written by Doryen Chin My name is Jennie Greengold. The date is June 11th, 1914. This record is for the use of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office in order to satisfy the subpoena served to my employer, Vandenberg Titles and Holdings. On April 8th our client, Sarah Hoffmoor, contacted us by post for the purpose of selling the estate in which she lived with her late husband, Alister. Built by Alister himself, the house stands on parched farmland in the far southeast of the county. Chosen, no doubt, for its isolation and bucolic landscape. Since his passing, Sarah survived there alone these eight long years with no neighbors and scant visitors to speak of. No matter what else is true, the bad business which ended Alister’s life cannot hold a candle to what came after. I left by train the following morning to appraise the property and finalize the contract. I inquired at the station for a driver and finally found one who was willing to make the two-hour trip. None with whom I spoke at the station or the driver pool had heard of the estate, and not many had the need to head out that way for the lack of steady clientele. We arrived at the estate at just past six in the evening when the sun had begun to set behind the hills which lie on the western edge of the property. The first sign that something was wrong was that the front gate of the property was absolutely overgrown with weeds. The bottom crossbeam was so thoroughly caked in dried mud that it was obvious no one had crossed its barrier in some months. With no other way around the long fence that bordered the property, I was forced, with the help of my driver, to mount the fence and pass my luggage along over the top once I was across. He declined to help me carry it to the house. Dragging my luggage along the neglected path toward the front porch, I had to bend down to avoid the branch of a large tree which hung ponderously in my way. It occurred to me that some time ago, a storm had likely wrenched the limb away from the trunk but had not finished the job. It would have to be cleared before the house could be viewed, that was for certain. Once I had navigated the limb and brambles I was at last able to take a clear look at the house. From previous examination of the architectural drafts kept in our offices, I had known roughly what to expect. The primary residence would be a two-story building with six bedrooms, a full kitchen, parlor, and study. Below ground, I expected to find some iron contrivance for the heating of water and what must by now be a nearly empty food cellar. However, upon my approach, it became obvious to me that at least a few changes had been made either during construction or afterward. I noted that in addition to a gardener, I should have to hire a carpenter to inspect the modifications. Wary from my long journey, I was perhaps too eager to notice much else was wrong. It is our policy to keep photographs of all of our clients on file in order to prevent fraud and provide peace of mind. It is because of that policy that I had an idea of Sarah Hoffmoor’s appearance despite never having met the woman. The portrait, which I believe may be the only one of her in existence, was taken at Sarah and Alister’s wedding. In it, Sarah sits in a small chair with her hands crossed upon her knee and Alister behind; his right hand holding her left shoulder. Neither of them is smiling. The face which appeared in the doorway after several minutes of knocking was only recognizable by the unusual angle at which her thin nose turned upward. The intervening years had obviously not been kind. Her cheeks once plump and lively had been hollowed, and a sharp crease had formed between her brows, giving her a permanently worried look. She seemed surprised to see me there on her doorstep. I told her that my office had received her letter and that I was sent to begin the process of preparing the house for sale. Puzzled, she told me she did not remember ever sending any letter. Her confusion turned to dismay as I produced the copy I had kept with her file, which she read several times while we stood there in the shadow of her doorway. Satisfied with its authenticity, she returned it to me and reluctantly stepped aside to allow me into her home. I waved to the driver, who was watching from the road as we had agreed, and he drove off. Passing through that portal, I felt a chill as her little eyes, sunken and watery, slid over me. Clutching my belongings close to my person, I was wary not to accidentally touch the woman. It was then that I first became aware that I was afraid. She sat me in the parlor then disappeared into the kitchen to fetch some tea. While I awaited my host’s return, I took out my notebook and began to make some general observations about the state of the home in an attempt to calm my nerves. What little decor there was seemed as if it had not been touched in ages. A thick blanket of dust muffled nearly every exposed surface. The mantle over the fireplace was blackened with soot, the remains of the last fire now cold and dusty like everything else in the room. My gaze fell at last upon a set of odd horizontal marks on the floor before the fireplace. They were so faint that had I not been so desperate for diversion, I might not have seen them. Barely visible on the wooden floorboards, they spanned across the short distance from the hearth to the area rug, seeming to continue underneath. My interest piqued, I got to my feet and took a poker from the rack. Using the hooked end, I carefully peeled back the rug from the floor. Due to the rug being pinned beneath the sofa and the edge of a heavy desk, I was unable to pull it back very far. However, in the brief glimpse that I was given, the markings did appear to continue for a ways further beyond what I could see. Just as I was contemplating the difficulty of moving the sofa myself, I was shocked by the sound of a terrible scream from another room nearby followed by a shattering crash. I froze where I stood, my face hot, ears prickling. I called out to Sarah, asking if she was hurt. There came no response. Feeling suddenly alone and very far from aid, I gripped the poker more firmly in my hand and stepped as quiet as I could toward the source of the disturbance. I entered the kitchen to find a glass sugar bowl shattered on the tiled floor, its contents spilled in a copious pile where it fell. Across the kitchen, the back door flapped in a gust of wind and I saw that it was unlatched. As I was gathering to call out again, the door was pulled open from the outside and Sarah entered cradling a heavy bag of sugar under her arm. She let out a yelp of surprise when she saw me standing there, which quickly turned to laughter as she set the sugar on the counter. While I helped her sweep up, she explained that the wind had blown the shutters against the side of the house and the clatter of it made her drop the sugar bowl. I thought it better not to mention that I do not normally take my tea with sugar in it. Once her nerves were settled, she apologized again and said that she did, in fact, send the letter, but did not expect such a quick response much less to find a stranger on her doorstep. Noting the volume of my luggage, she was concerned at how long the appraisals might take. Upon learning that my business here might last upwards of a month, she became visibly distressed and asked where had I found lodgings so near for such a duration. I was then forced to admit that it was my intention, if it were alright with her, to remain on the premises at least until the contract of sale was finalized. The blood somehow drained even further from the face of the pale wretch before me, but she did not faint or fade. It was more like she had become stone for the briefest moment and when she returned, her voice was flat and without emotion. She said that the house had not seen guests in many years, though there is plenty of room. She reiterated that last part. Plenty of room. Then asked, in that same flat tone, would I mind sleeping in one of the children’s rooms? “The ‘children’s’ rooms?” I asked, confused because as far as I knew, she and Alister had not had any before he passed. She nodded and asked me if I’d like to see them. At a loss for any reason I should say ‘no,’ I nodded back. She stood at once and stepped out of the kitchen without another word. I followed. Sarah led me up the narrow stair to the second floor, where the master bedroom and three others were. The chill of the lower floors was lesser here, as if all the warmth of the house collected and pooled at the top of the stairs. Sarah indicated to me that the room at the very far end of the hall belongs to her and Alister. “Belongs.” She said that. If she noticed my surprise at her use of the present tense, which I remember with spectacular clarity even now, she did not show it. She then led me to a neighboring door and opened it, allowing me to look inside. I don’t know what ghoulish scene I expected to find when I peered in, but there in that room, I found only a small bed and some meager child-sized furnishings. It became apparent to me right away that whatever this room was for, and I had my suspicions, that I would find no children living in the house. She asked me if this was adequate for my needs and I said that it would be more than enough. Then I foolishly joked that if I grew tired of it, I would just sample the other rooms until I found one I liked. She did not laugh. I quickly apologized and excused myself to retrieve my luggage from the parlor. By the time I had situated all my belongings upstairs and changed out of my traveling clothes, the sun had already gone down. In the dark, I observed that what little warmth had gathered in the house seemed to have vanished with the sun. Outside the window of my room, I could make out no sign of other life. No lights of the city. No beams of a carriage on the road. Shortly after sunset, a thick ceiling of brume had rolled in, blotting out the stars. Night had utterly swallowed the house, and me in it. The smell of cooking food drew me back to my senses and temporarily silenced the nascent unease growing in my stomach. For dinner, Sarah served me a portion of what she had been planning to eat herself, a soup made from chicken bones and a stale loaf of unremarkable bread. I offered her some money in return for the meal and lodgings, but she declined to accept it. I quietly decided it would be prudent to restock her stores at least a little while I was here, plus some extra for the inconvenience of my stay. In the morning, I would have the driver take me to the market on the way back from town. While we ate, I was eager to learn more about her life here on the estate but did not wish to upset her by prodding too deeply into topics which may still be sore. So instead I adopted the frame of a buyer who was interested in purchasing the property. Via this line of questioning, I was able to ascertain that food was delivered by a volunteer from a nearby church on a monthly basis. It wasn’t much, mostly leftovers from their collections for the homeless and destitute. The surrounding farmland had, as far as she knew, not been touched since Alister’s passing. After he died, the workers had all moved on to find better business elsewhere. They did not much seem to care for the idea of working for a lonesome widow. When it came to the topic of alterations to the plan of the home, the conversation finally faltered. Sarah claimed to be ignorant of any changes in construction or design from the registered blueprints of the final building. I told her that the plans at our office indicated a total of six bedrooms, but upon counting in person I found only four. Were the other two on the third floor? Before she could give an answer, a terrible coughing fit overcame her, forcing her to excuse herself from the table. The sound of her distress in the upstairs lavatory was audible even from where I sat in the dining room. It continued so long that I grew concerned for her health and got up to see if she needed an intervention. The sounds continued as I came to the bathroom, however upon my knocking they ceased immediately. My hand on the knob, I called to her through the closed door and got no response. I called again and informed her that I intended to enter if she did not answer. After a moment, I turned the knob and pushed the door open expecting to find her collapsed on the floor, but my blood ran cold as I beheld the truth. The bathroom was empty. I looked away in disbelief and found myself suddenly very dizzy. My knees buckled under me and I nearly fell, but for catching myself on the doorframe. “Are you all right?” I heard Sarah ask, somewhere behind me. Cupping my hand tightly over my mouth to stifle my alarm, I turned and saw that she was standing at the bottom of the stairs. It took nearly half an hour of gentle consolation and tea by the fireplace to regain any sense of calm. I explained what had happened to Sarah as best I could, and she listened with what seemed to be genuine shock. She told me that she had stepped out to the front porch to get some night air and spare me the racket of her vapors, as she called them. By the end of our talk, I had mostly convinced myself that the fatigue of my long journey, along with the odd knocking of shutters in the wind, had conspired to make me imagine I heard Sarah in that upstairs lavatory. What little left of my mind that still needed convincing would be sated by a draught of the bourbon stashed within my suitcase. At last, we said goodnight and I followed her upstairs. Despite feeling rather foolish, I nevertheless averted my gaze as we passed the lavatory which was the very first door beyond the upstairs landing. I entered my room by the light of a candle lent by my host and not so carefully shut my door behind me. I cursed my raw nerves and then, as noiselessly as I could manage, I engaged the lock. Within moments I had dressed for bed and taken three fingers of the bourbon, which I prayed would carry me swiftly into thoughtless sleep. As I lay curled in that child-size bed, in that child-size room full of child-size things, in that solitary house in the far away southeast of the county, a single picture appeared in my mind before I drifted off to sleep. The driver, his face turned away from me, departing into the west, leaving me here, and taking the sun with him. The morning brought a dark, gravid sky, though the wind had settled greatly in the night. I saw neither hide nor hair of Sarah as I departed to meet the driver, but I left a note detailing my itinerary and what time I intended to return. While in town I had difficulty securing the services of a gardener able to work on such short notice. However, I did find a carpenter who seemed sufficiently confident that he could not only do the structural appraisals I required, but could also manage the badly split tree on the front lawn. He agreed to meet me at the house the following morning at sunrise. Next, I arranged a meeting with a local firm specializing in the sale of farmland, and then spent the rest of the afternoon in town. I did not look forward to my return to the estate. What little sun had broken through the cloud-wrack at midday was gone by late afternoon, when at last I left the market with the driver and began the long journey eastward. I arrived under the threat of rain, which finally began a quarter of an hour after the driver departed the second time. Carrying bags heavy with fresh produce and other foodstuffs, I came in just as Sarah was making to prepare supper. She seemed a little embarrassed at the bounty, but I pressed on and offered to do the cooking as payment for my room and her hospitality. It took a little persuasion but in the end, she acquiesced, and ultimately ate the meal with a great deal of enthusiasm. I had hoped that this gesture would go a long way into easing the discomfort of my presence, but if it made any difference I suppose I will never truly know. When the remnants of supper had been cleared, our bellies full of wine and good food, I thought the time had finally come to broach the more unpleasant aspect of my visit. I asked Sarah if it would be possible for me to go over the finances and material documentation of the estate, in order to establish the full legality of the sale and ensure all obligations and debts had been handled appropriately. It was at this request that she again became stony and silent for a short while, and then asked me, very quietly, if I would mind waiting for her to tidy up Alister’s office before allowing me access. I told her it really wasn’t necessary, as I was rather accustomed to clutter in my line of work, but she made it clear that she would have her way in this matter. After nearly half an hour alone on the bottom floor of the house, I found myself standing in the doorway of the parlor, my eyes drawn once again to the hearth. And the rug. In the light of the fire, the streaks were barely visible. I had to get down on my knees to see them clearly. Certain that my host would remain occupied with her chore for the few short moments it would take for me to satisfy my gnawing curiosity, I once again reached for the poker by the grate. My back against the arm of the sofa, I used my legs to gently tilt it up just high enough that the corner of the rug came free. Wielding the dark iron poker, I hooked the end of it under the rug and peeled it slowly away from the floor. The streaks beneath the rug were darker, fresher somehow, and I began to feel a chill in my flesh that grew the more I saw. The streaks terminated on a dark line, that ran in an odd zig-zag perpendicular to their orientation, like many tongues protruding from a hideous mouth. I stood there for a long while, bearing the weight of the sofa in my back and knees as my eyes digested the picture now plain in the light of the fire. Though they were elongated, drawn out, distorted by means which I did not want to guess, their shape was undeniable. Two hands. Stretched toward the hearth. Etched in some dark substance I could not, or would not, readily identify. A crack like thundering doom seized my heart so that I was forced immediately upright, and so let both the full weight of the sofa and the dark iron poker, come down upon the hardwood floor at once in a calamitous clatter. Only upon catching my breath did I discover that my fear was for naught but a murmur of a log burning behind the grate, and it was my guilt that had amplified it to such an infernal magnitude. Fearful that the noise of my foolish overreaction had drawn the attention of my host, I hastily returned the parlor to order by the best of my memory. Having done so, I listened carefully for the footsteps which I knew must be approaching any moment. For several long minutes, I waited in silence until the creaking of an upstairs door heralded my host’s return. She apologized for taking so long and asked if I might not prefer to examine the papers by the light of day. I apologized for the racket I had caused and lied that I had dropped the poker after I nearly burned myself attempting to stoke the flames. She seemed surprised and claimed not to have heard anything from her place in the study. Then she remarked on the unusual acoustic properties of the house and how she often heard things she didn’t expect or sometimes didn’t hear something she ought to have. With a nervous titter, she admitted that it was entirely possible that she was simply too scatter-brained to perceive things properly, and apologized if she came across as aloof. It did occur to me that spending eight years alone in a house built for a family might provoke the mind to become, over time, a little unglued. However, I did not relay this notion to my host. It was with curious reluctance that Sarah led me up the stairs and down a narrow hallway which terminated in a tall window at the far end. About halfway down the hall, she opened the door to Alister’s study. A tall gas lamp stood beside the writing desk, and several long cabinets sat on either side. Sarah indicated that she did not know where the papers were that I sought, but they would be either in the desk or the cabinets. There was one cabinet that was locked, though where the key had gone only God and Alister knew. Sarah paused as if she had more to add, but after a long moment only said goodnight and went to bed. When I was certain she was gone, I took great care to quietly close and lock the door behind her. It did not take me long to find the locked cabinet. I checked every drawer and door in Alister’s study for loose papers, letters, and anything else that might be important to my work, but the last door in the cabinet on the right was locked firm and would not open. Upon first glance, the keyhole appeared well-worn, but after further examination, I found several thick gouges in its face and opening. Someone had obviously attempted to force it open without success. Due to a professional interest in means of securing crucial paper documents, I had a passable knowledge of most commercially available locks. Out of sheer curiosity, I spent a few minutes attempting to open it myself but found that it held unusually fast for a common household “cam lock” as it was called. Unsatisfied, I was forced to admit defeat and return to sorting through and cataloging the documentation I had found. Perhaps it is my fault that I did not resort to more extreme measures, but I feared to awaken my host and did not understand the true urgency of the task until it was too late. I awoke in the dark. Disoriented and confused, it took me a while to remember exactly where I was, but I discovered that somehow I had fallen asleep on the floor of the study, surrounded by papers and letters and boxes. Some time while I was unconscious, the gas lamp must have run out, and I was discomfited to find I did not have the wisdom to bring with me any other means of light. I felt my way inch by inch to the door, but upon reaching it my heart skipped a beat as my hand passed through nothing but thin air. A faintness washed over me as I worked out that the door must be standing wide open before me in the dark. How long it had been that way, I could not reckon, but I was utterly certain of having sealed it upon my host’s departure. With what little left of my nerve I was able to muster, I bent all of my will to the herculean task of urging my paralyzed body to move once more. The skin of my palms being my only guiding sensation in that abyssal darkness, I carefully coerced my legs into taking several tremulous steps. Despite my painstaking progress, the halls of House Hoffmor stretched on and on for longer than seemed possible within the confines of reality. By my reckoning, I should have reached the fork at the landing many times over before my fingers finally curled around a sharp outward turn in the formation of the wall. As I turned onto the landing, my eyes were burned by a sudden warm glow from which I had to shield them momentarily, so unaccustomed had I become to the light. Rubbing the tears from my eyes, I beheld that the landing was illuminated from downstairs by a flickering orange gleam -- the fireplace had been relit. With a sigh of relief, I turned away from the safety of my chamber and descended the stairs to meet my host and relate to her the oddness of the gas lamp and the locked study door. It was an easy decision at the time. Venture into the darkness and solitude of the bedroom or take comfort in the presence of another living person. I was more than halfway down the stair before I recognized that something was wrong. From my vantage on the lower landing, I had a partial view of the parlor where the fireplace was, and a partial view of the dining room, which was dark. Through the narrow gap where the parlor was visible, I expected to catch a glimpse of my host seated upon the sofa which covered the rug. However, through that archway, I saw only a bare wooden floor and an upholstered bench beneath the bay window. A heavy, guilty feeling rose in my gut as I realized that my host must have seen me snooping about and had decided to remove the offending stains upon the floor. But as I moved through the parlor archway, I found that the floor was entirely dry and unblemished and there was no sign of the sofa or the rug anywhere in sight. Having attempted to lift it on my own, I knew its weight and could not envision my frail host maneuvering it only by herself. Borrowing a small oil lamp from the mantle, I crouched low and reached out to feel the floorboards where the stain had been, not believing what my eyes could plainly tell. The floor was as solid and fast as any well-constructed platform, and better -- it was completely clean. Not only that, but the entire parlor seemed to shine under the beam of my lamp. But I did not have much time to ruminate an explanation for the parlor’s impossible change, as the train of my thought was derailed by the sound of coughing from some upstairs room. This time, I could not help but laugh. I had already allowed my mind and spirit to be too troubled by the novelty of this house and the suffering eccentricities of my lonely host. I called out to her. I said, “Sarah? Are you all right up there? I can bring you some water if you like.” No response came, but I had half expected her not to hear me. She had, after all, explained already that sound moved quite strangely in her home -- and hadn’t I already witnessed that for myself? So I had decided to chalk the evening’s oddness up to nothing but the uncanniness often felt in new homes and hotels. Obviously exacerbated by travel and social isolation, but nothing more than that. But, when I began to make my way out of the parlor and toward the stairs, the coughing again ceased. I stopped moving and stood silent, listening very closely. Then, at the top of the stairs, by what must be the first door after the landing, I heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps. Slow, heavy. Heavier than my host, who was so light on her feet that she seemed to almost tiptoe through the house rather than walk. They grew nearer, approaching the upstairs landing. Nearer. Nearer. Then slowly, steadily, they descended the creaking stairs. Thump. Thump. Thump. Half blinded by the glowing haze of the fireplace, I could not make out clearly what I was seeing until it was, far, too late. Petrified by fear, my mind quailed as I saw the shape that appeared before me. Alister Hoffmor. An impressive man in life. His eyes were bulging, lips a sickly blue. He locked eyes with me and held me with a terrible, accusing gaze. Then he asked a question that will haunt me for the rest of my life. Two words. “The sugar?” I gaped, unable to form a single cogent thought. Afterward, I would find that I had clenched my fists so tightly that my fingernails had dug into my palms, drawing blood. Then, after about thirty seconds or so, he turned toward the dining room and walked into the darkness. My fear unexpectedly decomposed into irrational anger, and before I regained my senses I found myself following through those dark passages. I stormed the kitchen, expecting to corner him there and demand an explanation, but when I arrived I found it thoroughly deserted. Believing that he must have fled through the kitchen door and into the garden, I crossed the short distance to the door and pulled the handle only to discover that it was thoroughly locked. Knob and bolt. I undid both locks and flung the door open. Stepping out into the garden, I saw no sign of Alister or anyone else. The garden path was fresh with mud from the rains which had come earlier in the evening, and not a single track was visible in the dim moonlight that shone through the thinning clouds. The anger abandoned me, and I was left shuddering there in the doorway, cold and doubting my every sense. Had I really seen Alister? Or was it just a cruel trick of the half-awake mind? That unwelcome feeling of vulnerability and isolation struck me again, and I hastily shut the kitchen door and locked it, checking each lock twice and again to satisfy my paranoia. As I turned away from the door, sweeping the beam of my lamp across the darkened kitchen, something glimmered on the floor beneath the cupboards. My mind immediately recalled the broken sugar bowl and, setting my lamp on the floor beside me, I stooped to collect the overlooked fragment. But the glossy, jagged object I beheld had an odd texture on one side. On the inside, it was smooth glass. However, the opposite face seemed to be covered in some sort of paper film. Little black letters appeared in thick print. Being such a small piece, it was difficult to tell exactly what it said. Only the characters N, I, C, and O were plainly legible. Without much trouble, I found the dustbin and had fished out a few more fragments of the sugar bowl from within. Had my host discovered me in that state, I should not like to think what she might have done. For you, no doubt, already know what it was that I had found there. No sooner had I reconstructed the words printed on those jagged shards did I hear once again footsteps emerging from an upstairs bedroom. I do not remember abandoning the oil lamp where it sat on the kitchen floor, nor do I recall the slip and fall which broke my hand and bruised my knee and hip. I have no memory of single-handedly unlocking and wrenching open the front door and limping into the night. The only thing I can clearly remember are flashes of light and pain, and the hoarse screaming of my host. At the top of her lungs, she shrieked, ‘leave...’ ‘leave me...’ The next thing I remember is awakening in the cab of the carpenter whom I had hired to meet me the following morning. He found me unconscious in a bank of mud by the side of the road, nearly two dozen miles from the estate. Barefoot, ragged, and filthy. He brought me to a doctor, who soon sought the services of a local lawman. Much of the rest of what happened has been already thoroughly documented elsewhere, by more reliable authorities and record-keepers than myself, but for the purposes of posterity, I shall summarize what I know here. Soon after my return to Newport, I learned that the police had found Sarah hanging from the rafters over the stairs. Further investigation recovered the desiccated corpse of Alister, hidden within a secret room of the house; a room whose true purpose would only first be discovered by myself, months later. It was previously believed that Alister had perished on the Licking River when the wreckage of his skiff was found dashed on the stones of a shallow rapids. It was well known that Alister enjoyed a fondness for the sport of fishing and the outdoors, so his death, while unexpected for a man of his skill and experience, was not altogether suspicious or remarkable. We now know that this could not have been farther from the truth, which was discovered, at least in part, by the police force not long after they recovered Alister’s remains. However, the full truth, which I am endeavoring to relay in this report, would have to wait. The doctors which examined the corpse, along with the evidence uncovered in the home, concluded that the cause of Alister’s death was two-fold. The initial and primary means by which he was murdered by his wife, Sarah Hoffmor, was the slow and deliberate administration of the common substance known as Arsenic Trioxide. It was not a sugar bowl that shattered upon the kitchen floor on an unseasonably cool evening in April. It was poison. Tasteless, colorless, and in the proper proportions, utterly undetectable when mixed with refined sugar. Nobody in town knew the couple well enough to wager a guess as to why Sarah had decided to kill her husband, and neither of them had living relatives which I or my associates were able to reach regarding the future of the estate. Once the law was satisfied that the case had been sufficiently settled, Vandenberg’s access to the entire estate was officially restored. Until time came when we could auction it, the property was ours. It is thus that I was compelled, under obligation, to return. One may wonder, given my description of the events which unfolded at the house two months ago, why I felt willing to return so soon after. It is here that I must confess my earnest belief that the affairs which caused so much unrest within its walls had been finally resolved. With the murderer caught and all but confessed, whatever still walked those murksome halls might be allowed at last to rest. I booked a room at the best hotel our firm could afford and hired the carpenter at double rate to accompany me on daytime excursions to the house. We’d head out at sunrise and come back to town an hour before sundown. On the first morning, I paid for his breakfast as a special “thank you” for coming to my aid, and we arrived at the Hoffmor estate at around nine A.M. The police had tossed much of the house in their investigation, without much regard to anyone who might have to spend their valuable time sorting it back into order again. Thus it was that the majority of the first several days were passed without much progress otherwise. The carpenter deemed the house worthy of sale and managed to fell the broken tree on the lawn by the end of the second day, and spent the rest of his time inspecting the outer premises of the estate. We ate our lunches together in the shade of the porch and welcomed the lengthening days. On the evening of the eighth day, when I had cleared the last of the files and finally felt that my work was nearing its completion, we took a break to have an early dinner in the house. As I would be returning to Newport again in the morning, the carpenter surprised me with a cask of wine and insisted that we drink a toast to our hard work, and to banishing sour old ghosts. While I did not approve of the way he so callously spoke of the dead, my spirits were nonetheless lifted by the drink and his good company. He was... Nevermind. Afternoon slipped carelessly into evening, and the sun had sunk behind the trees before we even realized we had stayed far longer than we intended. Hurriedly, we packed up our dinner and prepared to leave. He carried most of the things to the car while I made one last cursory check of the study for any important files I may have accidentally missed. As I was cleaning out the last of the loose papers from Alister’s desk, I heard something fall behind the drawer with a soft clink. Kneeling before the desk, I pulled out the top drawer as far as it would extend but felt it catch on some unseen mechanism. With a bit of coordinated maneuvering, I was able to wrest the drawer free. Peeking inside the cavity where the drawer used to be, I saw what looked like a small coin wedged at the far back between a support beam and the next drawer down. It was a stretch, but I was able to pinch my fingers around the upmost extremity of the object and slowly work it free. With a growing thrill, I considered the tarnished thing in my palm. A small brass key. If our minds are aligned, dear reader, you will have had the same thought which occurred to me at that exact moment. You would have made the same mistake. You would not have wisely sealed the key in an envelope and tucked it into the collection of important documents and artifacts for some other fool to reckon with once you were far, far away. You would have taken that tarnished brass key and slid it into the lock, and felt that it fit so perfectly, so soundly. You would have felt the satisfying tattle of the tumblers, and the smooth action of the cam turning on its well-greased axis. And finally, you would have felt the resolute click, as the tension on the latch was released, and the cabinet door popped silently open. Short of a severed head, I had serious doubt that anything I might have found within that cabinet could have lived up to the expectations I had built up around it. To my disappointment, I discovered only a plain folder, about half an inch thick, containing several pages of what looked at first to be completely meaningless documents relating to some sort of medical examination. I then glimpsed a word that stuck in my mind and pricked the hair on my neck and realized at once what I was holding in my hands. These were documents of Civil Commitment for the purposes of psychiatric study and treatment of a barbaric nineteenth-century medical invention known simply as “hysteria.” The papers were signed by several individuals, all men, and detailed the instructions for the care and supervision of Sarah Hoffmor’s “condition.” I felt faint, as if I had just missed the last step on a long stair, and fought to steady myself as I turned over the last sheaf of paper within the folder, and found beneath it a sleeve, which contained numerous monochrome photographs printed on stout paper stock. The mysterious rooms of the house. The “children’s” rooms, and the hidden special one. Their true purpose thoroughly documented here. Alister wanted children, but try as Sarah might, she did not conceive. If Sarah did not willingly comply with her “treatment,” she would be confined to the secret room where... I know not how long I sat, on my knees before the desk of Alister Hoffmor, unable to move, clutching the years of evidence in my lap, before the coughing began. A bitter taste like castor oil bloomed behind my tongue, and I felt my insides knotting up. My eyes streaming, I stumbled for the door, hemming and hacking. The world began to tilt and drift beyond my control, and I found myself crawling headlong down the stairs on my stomach. With every ounce of effort I could muster, I tried to call out for help, but every utterance produced an even more terrible fit. Struggling for air, I turned onto my back once I had finally come to the bottom landing, and to my horror I beheld a terrible sight above me. The dangling cadaver of Sarah Hoffmor. Unbelieving, I watched as it slowly twisted upon her bedcloth noose. Surely the police had removed the body! Surely I would have seen it all these days! But as I stared, unable to look away, her eyes -- open and wild -- rotated in their sockets to find me, and she began to descend. Her noose seemed to elongate as she came closer and closer, and all I could do was claw at the wooden floor beneath me, scrambling to back away. Away into the parlor. Soon I felt the heat of the fireplace on my neck and knew that I had run out of room. She glared at me with her dead, milky eyes, and I began to wretch, violently. Curling on my side, I attempted to force myself up onto my feet, to push myself off of the floor. I spat, and through my strangled throat I managed to utter a desperate apology. All I could say was, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry...” But there was no pity in that sunken face, only cold victory. When she spoke, her voice was like teeth grinding on ice. “Do you believe me now, Alister?” She raised her hand and I saw that she held aloft the dark iron poker -- the same one she had used to break Alister’s legs before she dragged him away, his hands drawing long trailing smears in his own blood and sick upon the floor, and left him in that secret room to die. “Do you believe me now?” She screamed. My mind suddenly dug up the memory of the night in which I first fled this damn-ed house. And as she raised the poker over her head I knew that she hadn’t said, ‘leave me.’ She had cried... “Believe me! Please believe me!” And finally, I did. I may never know what the carpenter saw when he found me lying there on that parlor rug, for he never spoke to me about it, or anything else, ever again. THE END.
2:32The Beacon Jar Podcast is a supernatural horror anthology written and produced by Doryen Chin. "Shadowlands 4 - Breath" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Transcript under the cut. ----more---- There are certain types of stories which have always deeply affected me: stories of weird children and the odd friends they make; stories of soggy travelers seeking refuge in old neglected houses; and stories of estranged families forced to reconcile their innumerable sins. Whatever skeletons lie in my closet, they drive me to seek out these tales, or to otherwise invent them, regardless of what it is that I myself might want. Thankfully, it would seem that the interests of both my demons and myself are currently aligned, and so, for as long as this tenuous alliance can last, it is my sincere hope that it benefit you as well. I’m Doryen Chin and this is The Beacon Jar.