Beginnings and Endings

I’m in a bit of a weird mood tonight.

On one hand, I’m excited, because I finally published part 1 of “One Last Round” which I have been very excited to do for a long time. I’m also really excited to complete parts 2 to 5 and get those posted as well.

On the other hand, I’m really feeling the end of this collection of short stories approaching and it’s making me a little sad. The Seal Cove stories have been a lot of fun to write, and I love the concept of a collection of short fiction where the stories are all connected for share a common theme (think Robert W Chambers’ “The King In Yellow” or Michael Shea’s “Copping Squid”), but at the same time I feel like if I carry on this theme for too long I might become stagnant.

So, I’m stuck between being thrilled at finishing this collection of tales and ending the series, but also not wanting to leave the characters, settings and creatures behind. It’s an odd mix of feelings.

Regardless, I am feeling good about the remainder of my work. I plan to reveal things that have been kept in the dark throughout the other stories, and also to explore the point of view of a couple of characters that have been recurring in the background and share some of their perspective on the weird and horrible situations surrounding Seal Cove.

And I guess I should stay positive, because leaving this place behind means I can start exploring somewhere new, right?

Right?

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One Last Round – Part One – The Old Guitar

The hanging bell outside McCarrow’s pub rang again, signaling the exit of another lonely visitor who, after the usual weeknight dosage, stumbled homeward to their half-empty bed.

Back inside, four friends sat quietly around a wooden table. The table itself was dark, stained and sticky from the remnants of drink that had been spilled earlier in the night. The friends, three men and one woman, sat with a sort of dazed patience while waiting on Craig, the bartender, to bring out the next in a series of final rounds. While the old stained glass windows near the door pulsed with the suggestion of passing walkers, the pub nearly hummed with a sense of stillness. The lights were low, the radio had momentarily succumbed to static, and Craig had disappeared to the back room a while ago to check on the boilers or some other mundane task. After a long while, the radio flickered back to life and the woman sitting at the table motioned for her male companions to listen.

“Oh my God,” she said, “is that what I think it is?” She looked at the man sitting across from her and grinned.

Her friend looked less happy. “Lily, no,” he said, and looked around the shadowed room.

“Oh, hey it is you!” The man to his right said, patting his arm.

The song on the radio drifted through the pub, echoing with electric guitars and a lone vocal steeped in emotion. The man sitting across from Lily lowered his head into his hands and seemed to want to drown it out.

“Christ, Devin, why are you getting all embarrassed? It’s a great song,” said Chris. “I haven’t heard your stuff in a long time.”

“Yeah,” said Lily. “Why don’t you perform any more?”

“It’s just not my thing,” Devin responded, scratching at the rough tabletop.

Lily raised her eyebrows. “Not your thing? You used to be up all night writing and recording. I remember because you always flaked out from coming to parties saying you had to work on your music.”

“It’s not my thing anymore,” Devin said. “And can’t somebody turn it off?” He turned around in his seat but Craig had still not returned to the bar. “I don’t like to listen to that old stuff.”

Chris leaned back and folded his arms. “Why’d you give it up anyways?”

Devin shrugged.

“Come on, man. You used to get a lot of air time on campus radio. Why didn’t you ever send off a tape to CBC or something?”

“Seriously though,” said Lily, “you really could make it big with those songs. Why not pick it up again?”

Even Leo, who had been quiet the whole evening spoke up. “Yeah, I get not having the time when you dropped out and were job hunting, but why not now?”

Devin stopped picking at the table and shook his head. “I didn’t stop writing music because I dropped out.” He paused for a minute and glanced over toward the front door of the bar. “I dropped out to get away from the music.”

The three friends shared a look of confusion with one another. “What do you mean?” Chris asked.

Devin glanced at each of the others in turn. “The station guys never released the tapes?”

They all shook their heads. “What tapes?” asked Leo.

Devin rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. “You’re gonna call me crazy.”

“We won’t,” Chris said, and leaned in to listen.

As the song ended, Devin started to talk.

It was when I moved into that apartment off campus that it happened – a few months before that big fire broke out on campus.

Old duplex, house divided down the center, right? I got the left side – the whole half of the place – for three hundred a month. Normally, I would have thought the low rent meant there was something wrong with it, but when the landlord showed me the location I found something that made me ignore any doubts I was having. Under the bed poked the neck of an old electric guitar. I was shocked when I pulled it out and saw that it was actually a vintage Gibson Les Paul – a ’58 or ’59 model – and a beauty at that. It was immaculate, and only the finest hairline cracks ran along the finish, arranged in a way that made it look even more impressive. I held it against me and tested the strings and looked at the landlord. They seemed surprised I was interested in it, and told me to keep the “old thing” as the previous tenant left it behind and they had no use for it. I couldn’t believe my luck.

I never could stand living on campus. With all that noise and constant partying I could never concentrate on my studies or my music. Back then I thought the music was more important. Stupid. At that apartment, though, I had all the peace and solitude I needed. I even had a separate entrance, so there was never a need to interact with the neighbor on the other side. That being said, I wouldn’t have known that there even was another person living in the house if the landlord hadn’t mentioned them briefly. Apparently they had lived there for a long time, but he was quiet and had always paid the rent on time, no questions asked. I never did see my neighbour, only heard faint mumblings at night time when I assumed he was talking on the telephone.

The thing that was really odd about it was I never heard a telephone ring, he would just start talking. After a while I started to wonder whether he was talking to anybody at all, or if he was just talking to himself. Try as I might to eavesdrop, the walls were so thick I could never tell what they were talking about. I figured it wasn’t worth my time to dwell on it, so I just went on with my business. I finally had a quiet place where I could get some work done. I could finally start writing some music.

The old guitar did half the work: with that thing in my hands it was impossible not to feel inspired. I would sit there for hours into the night with my computer recording and my headphones on, meditating to the sound of that instrument. It sounds like a douchy thing to say, but sometimes I was blown away by the things I came up with. It was the best music I’d ever written and recorded.

The problem was, I couldn’t think of a single damned lyric.

I would write a few lines or half a chorus, but it was all garbage. Music without words works well enough for jazz, but this wasn’t jazz, and I wasn’t going to get on the radio with nothing but instrumental tracks.

It was painstaking, having come up with these perfect, beautiful guitar parts but not having any decent words to accompany them. I felt like I might as well give it up. Nights of recording turned into nights of self-loathing, and then after a while I stopped recording anything at all. I would sit by the computer with my headphones on, holding the old guitar in my hands and staring at the strings. I’d sit there for hours into the early morning, my ears filled with the sound my own blood pumping and the ambient static from the pickups humming in my ears. That went on for weeks. I felt like I was going a bit crazy, and then I started hearing things.

At nearly three in the morning one night as I was sitting there listening to the steady hum from the guitar in my headphones, I heard a voice in the house.

It freaked me out, because I never heard people walking by on the street, and I could never hear my neighbor’s voice that clearly. I threw down my headphones and jumped up – the guitar still hanging from its strap – and shouted out “hello!?” Nobody answered. I made my way through the apartment, pacing through each of the dark rooms, but there was nobody there. The door was locked. I was alone.

I shook it off and went to sit down again. I put my headphones back on and went back to listening to the static drone of the old Les Paul. That’s when I realized where I heard the voice – it was coming from the guitar.

The wiring must have been picking up the signal from a nearby telephone or radio, and it was being fed back to me through my headphones. Knowing now what I’d heard, I chuckled to myself, feeling foolish at thinking there was an intruder in the house.

It was really low, so I turned the volume up louder than normal, and that’s when I realized what it was exactly that I was hearing. It was my neighbor from the other side of the wall. He must have been talking into a telephone, because I can’t think of another way his voice was being picked up like that, but as I listened i never heard the other end of the conversation. Perhaps his correspondent wasn’t very talkative, or perhaps he really was talking to himself. Either way, I was fascinated.

The things he spoke about – love, loneliness, dreams, pain – drew me in and wouldn’t let me go. The cadence and tone of his voice – filtered through the static hum of the guitar – were hypnotic. Before I even realized what I was doing, I was grabbing a pen and writing down what I heard. I scribbled as fast as i could to keep up, and when my hand started cramping I hit record and let the computer do the work – I could just transcribe it later.

I had found my lyrics.

One thing was certain to me: my neighbor was completely mad. For him to talk the way he did, for hours at a time, he must have been in a world of his own. In a week I had five fully composed and recorded songs. I had more material than I knew what to do with.

I took the demos in to the student radio station and was told that I’d get a call later in the month once they’d had a chance to listen to them and decided which songs would get air time. After that I went on to class and did my usual thing, although I admit I couldn’t really concentrate on anything the professor was saying. My mind was on my music – if you could call it my music at all.

I got a call from the station before the end of the week. “Were taking it all,” they said, “and I hope it’s okay, Devin, but we actually started broadcasting it this afternoon.”

Obviously it was okay – I was thrilled! For the first time since I’d set out on my own, I felt like I’d really accomplished something. I felt like a champion, like I’d finally proved myself. That was an incredible emotion. I wasn’t prepared for the next question.

“Do you have more?”

In that moment I was still feeling the rush of accomplishment, and more than a little full of myself. “Yes,” I said, hardly even thinking before saying it.

Before I knew it I’d agreed to bring in another four songs by the next Monday. I only had five days to get everything together, but with the amount of material I had pre-recorded, I was confident I could do it. I’d mostly be transcribing more of the phone static, and that was easy work. My neighbour’s words would do the heavy lifting for me.

I left classes for the rest of the day, too excited to listen to a word of my lectures, and headed back to my apartment to start working. I pulled up the recordings of my neighbour and started listening, pen in hand, ready to transcribe. Within a minute, I had to pause and scribble to keep up. Again, I was astounded by the raw emotion in those words. It was a perfect line, the perfect way to open a song. However…

It was already the perfect opening to a song – one of the songs I’d recorded the previous week. I rewound and listened again, just to make sure. It was the same as what I’d already transcribed.

I skipped ahead through the recording, looking for new material. When I hit play again, I found myself listening to the static-filled voice lamenting with the pain of a lonely heart. It was beautiful, but I had heard it before. This was what I’d used as the second verse on song number two.

I spent the rest of the afternoon skipping through the recordings, but time and time again I would land on phrases, lines that I had already used. the same ideas and suggestions kept coming up, looping over and over. I stopped skipping through and let the recording play through all the way. Every twenty minutes, my neighbour would loop back and start repeating himself, recounting the same stories, dreams, ideas that he’d already spoken of. The whole recording, the whole three and a half hours, was of the man talking over the same twenty minutes of dialogue on an endless loop.

But it wasn’t prerecorded. I could tell, because even though he was saying the same things, his words would change ever so slightly each turn. There were little variations in his tone, his inflections that showed he really was talking over these things, constantly repeating himself. His words would vary ever so slightly as well, but that detail could have easily been missed if I wasn’t as obsessed with searching for it.

There were gaps in his repetition, though – every ten minutes or so he would pause and utter a few words that were out of place. It was bizarre, almost like he would go into a trance – or, break out of his trance – and speak something completely unrelated to whatever it was he was talking about at the time. Sometimes they were full sentences, sometimes just a few seemingly random words, and other times the static got so loud I couldn’t pick out any thing at all.

I started listening more carefully, collecting those fragments that didn’t belong and writing them out. They seemed connected, and when I compiled them together I thought I had found my new source of lyrics. I would have to create my new songs by combining those little fragments into something that made sense. With what I’d already recorded, though, I could only find enough for a verse or two. If I was going to write four more songs, I would need to listen in on more of my neighbour’s talking.

It was tedious work. Before I knew it the sun was coming up and I still only had enough lines for half of a song, maybe more if I mixed things around and used more repetition. It wasn’t perfect, though. The words and phrases he was throwing out there were related, but nothing really fit together that well. I would have to dedicate all of my time to the task if I hoped to make any progress at all. So, I cancelled all other plans, skipped class and continued with my work, stopping only to grab a sandwich and a tray of coffee, not pausing to say hello to my classmates and professors who recognized me.

As the hours dragged on I started behaving strange. I knew it, I knew I was being weird and that I should have given it up and gone to bed, but I couldn’t stop. My arms ached unless I was holding the guitar and my ears would itch and burn if I took the headphones off and stopped listening to my neighbour’s voice. After… hell I don’t know how long it was… I must have decided that I had enough material because I realized I was singing. I was playing and singing and recording. That was unusual for me, because I normally recorded all of the tracks separately to get the cleanest results. I usually took my time, but now I was absolutely frantic.

It was like the words couldn’t come out fast enough, and I couldn’t even be sure that I understood the words coming out of my mouth. Had I even written them down? How long had it been since I ate something? I wasn’t even sure what day it was. It must have been near morning, because there was a dim glow in the sky outside, and it was cold, so cold in the room. My throat was raw from singing and my breath tasted like copper. When I looked down at my hands, I was both terrified and revolted to see that my calluses had torn away, blistered, and ruptured. My fingertips were a ragged mess of blood and the guitar itself was a display of sweat and gore. My singing convulsed into a scream as I stared down at my bloodied hands, almost vomiting in fear but unable to stop playing. The static was thunder in my ears.

Finally, I managed to throw myself out of the chair, and as I did, the headphones were pulled off and I lay there on the cold, hard floor, holding my hands close to my chest and wriggling like an animal to get the guitar strap off of my shoulders and neck. Once I got to my feet, I made my way to the bathroom and ran the cold tap, holding my injured fingers in the stream to clot the bleeding. I bandaged them in gauze and changed into some clean clothes, threw myself down into bed, and feel into the deepest and soundest sleep. When I woke up, it was to the sound of my phone ringing, and when I picked it up it was the manager at the station on the other end.

“Devin!” he said, “Jesus, man, what are you doing? You said you’d have the demos to us by today. What’s the hold up?”

Embarrassed, confused, I told them I would be there soon and rushed to my computer. After getting a few hours of sleep, I felt ashamed at the way I had acted. I couldn’t believe that I would push myself so hard, to the point of exhaustion, for the sake of my music. Looking at my computer, I was astonished to find nine recorded demos – all of them newly saved from the last few days. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to them, and quickly transferred them to my USB drive for submission. I grabbed my coat and, trying my best not to look at the bloodied guitar lying still on the floor, headed out the door to campus.

Apologizing like a child, I handed over the demos and ran to catch my class, hoping that my professor wouldn’t question my sudden and prolonged absence. Once I sat down and started sipping at my coffee, I immediately started to feel better. That sense of accomplishment and pride that I had felt the week before came rushing back. I had written over a dozen songs in two weeks, and was getting airplay at a major university and online. Sure, they weren’t my words, but who would ever know? No one.

That night, I cleaned up the guitar and my desk, and sat down to take it all in. I put on my headphones, leaned back in my computer chair, and pulled up the website for the student radio station to listen in. Every hour I heard one of my songs, and smiled with satisfaction. Only one thing bothered me – I didn’t hear any of the new demos, only the originals from the week before. Needless to say, it pissed me off. Why in the hell would they put so much pressure on me if they weren’t even going to play the damned tracks? I waited another hour but there was nothing – none of my new songs.

I sent a text to the manager, abrupt and wanting an explanation. I wasnt expecting a response back, as it was after 11pm. They responded almost immediately.

“Is this a joke?”

I stared at the message, infuriated. I replied back, “No, and stop wasting my time. What’s your problem?”

In seconds, I got another reply. “Listen, don’t bother the djs again. We’ll keep playing the demos, but leave us alone.”

I couldn’t beleive what I was reading, and was still trying to figure it out when they messaged me again. “If you send us any more shit like that, we’re taking you off the air. Goodbye.”

I was crushed. I couldn’t imagine how things could have gone so wrong. I closed the site down and pulled up my copy of the new demos. I put the nine tracks in a playlist and hit play.

Immediately, I felt my heart throbbing in my neck. There was no intro, no fade in. It was as though I had already been playing and singing when the record button was pressed. I was wailing, rambling incoherently like a madman, my voice straining in and out of tune with whatever the hell it was I was playing on that guitar. And I recognized what it was that I was singing. Those exact phrases, that endless loop that my neighbour had been reciting to himself over and over but in my own, distorted voice. The guitar was a cacophony of noise, distortion and screeching, and behind it all, layered under everything was the voice of the man next door. His ragged voice and my own recited that cycle of words in perfect unison, parting only for brief moments where he would stop, draw a sharp breath, and laugh. That horrible, howling, shrieking laughter.

I ripped the headphones off and threw them down, tripping over the cord as I scrambled from my chair and realized now that the mans voice and his terrible, mocking laughter was coming from behind the wall of my apartment. He was laughing, screaming, singing to me!

I ran. I ran to the only other place I felt safe – the university – and wandered the halls until morning. I talked to the head of residence and begged for a room on campus but that was useless since they had filled up months ago. I ended up crashing on a classmate’s floor for a few days until I could talk them into heading to the apartment with me. I grabbed my few belongings and got the hell out, leaving the key in the mailbox for the landlord to grab. I left the guitar behind. It was shortly after that when I dropped out.

It’s one thing to have experienced that, but it’s a whole other thing to be constantly reminded. Those first five songs keep creeping up on me everywhere I go, no matter how hard I try to avoid it. I eventually had them pulled from the air, but by that time they’d been uploaded to the internet, and had filtered their way into almost everything I hear. It’s like their everywhere I go. It’s like they… It’s like he’s following me.

Silence fell around their little table as Devin stopped talking. Nobody said anything for a long time, and Leo picked nervously at a loose thread on his jacket sleeve. Finally, the hanging bell outside the door rang again, knocking the circle of friends out of their trance.

“So there,” Devin muttered. “Now you know why.” He stared at the others, then at the empty bar to which Craig still hadn’t returned. The radio hummed with static. “Happy now?”

“No,” said Chris, shaking his head. “But…” he paused, glancing at the door. “But I think I’ve seen him.

Even deeper… and even sleepier.

It has been almost a full year since I had “Deep Sleep” published on Creepypasta.com and what an interesting year it has been.

If you haven’t already, please check out “Chilling Tales for Dark Nights“, which is a fantastic website featuring narrations of weird and horror fiction spanning centuries. Craig Groshek and his team over at the site took the liberty of reaching out to me and having four of my stories featured on their podcast, “Scary Stories Told in the Dark“, hosted by fantastic story teller, Otis Jiry. I was so pleased with the treatment they gave the stories and I’m honored that they chose my work to be featured. Please check out their podcast network and subscribe for endless hours of horrific entertainment. One thing that I really respect about CTFDN is they respect classic weird fiction, and aren’t afraid to feature stories by HP Lovecraft and other historic writers in an era when the deep web and spooky Nintendo games seem to occupy the majority of modern online fiction.

Obviously, I haven’t released many new pieces of work since then, seeing as the blog has been very quiet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on new things. I’m still chugging away at completing my short story anthology, and I’ve been focusing a huge part of my writing energy at completing the 5-part series entitled “One Last Round” that will act as a sort of climax to the Seal Cove stories. That being said, I am one hell of a slow writer.

In a way, I’m glad I haven’t achieved any significant level of success, because I can’t imagine the amount of pressure that puts on a person. It’s bad enough as it is, and I don’t have any “fans” to let down by being slow – I’m just letting myself down. I think of authors like George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss and how much abuse they take in the digital world on a daily basis for not having completed their series yet and I think to myself: “I would probably just give up.”

I probably wouldn’t, of course – I’m too damned stubborn to give up. But I would feel like I’m letting the fans down; like I’m disappointing them. I have so much respect for those authors, because they take it all in stride and don’t allow themselves to compromise their art for the sake of quick delivery. They don’t let the pressure force them ahead. They keep working as they have for years, honing their art and crafting their stories so that when they are completed, we will appreciate them even more.

That being said, it’s still tough.

It’s tough, not having the time to dedicate to my writing, when every year I feel more and more that writing is the thing I want to do the most.

I started this blog a few years ago by stating that I did not intend to become a full-time writer, but now I’m starting to think that has changed. It is one of the things that brings me complete and utter joy. I love crafting my stories. I love my characters. I love the worlds I have created.

But, in the end, life takes precedent. I have a job. I have a family. I have a life outside of my weird little worlds that I need to attend to. And so, the stories will have to wait. They will have to carry on in my mind until I find the time to write them down. Until I find the time to share them. As long as I don’t lose them, I will have done them justice.

And, I suppose, the entire purpose of this rant was to say that I’ve submitted “Deep Sleep (Part 2)” on creepypasta.com for publication. It was one of the scariest things I’ve done for a long time. I didn’t think it would bother me as much as it did, but I guess that means that the story is more important to me than I thought it was, originally. People really connected with “Deep Sleep” and gave it some good reviews, so I really hope that the continuation of the story is received well. I hope, I hope, I hope.

But if not, I will continue to write. I’ve come to realize, after this last year, that writing means too much to me to give up. It allows me to explore, to create, and to let go. It’s one of the greatest things in life.

Now, I wait to see if it’s published. I hope that people will like it.

Thanks for sticking with me, thanks for reading, and as always:

Happy writing.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 18 – Arrival at the Harbour Gate

On the morning before their arrival at Lhorrenhelm, Sherylyn awoke briefly. Her body stopped shaking in terrible fits, and her eyes became clear for a moment. It was in that short time Susan had called to Mister Straulk and he had come rushing to her side, followed by his wed daughters, Shenya and Sasha. When they had gathered close around her, and a crowd of Rivermouth folk had squeezed into the sled, she spoke to Straulk, asking “Where is Locke? Where is my love?” Then Mister Straulk had failed to answer, and only shook his head. She nodded, as though she had already known. “Let my ashes fall where his have gone, back to the land with my love. Let Aer carry me away with him.”

“Don’t speak of such things, Sis,” said Shenya, “you’re here now. It’ll be okay.”

But Sherylyn only smiled at her sisters. Her eyes were full of tears, but it seemed that they were happy. “Yes,” she said to them. Finally, she turned to Lyca. “Yes it will.” Then, as gently as falling asleep, she died, and the Wyndhill sisters wept for a long while.

Before their grief had a chance to settle, the company had reached its destination. Lyca had now opted to ride outside on the sled front. While walking for long was still a burden, she couldn’t bear to remain inside with the grievers, and she was curious to see these new lands. They had come at last to the cliff face of Reef Head, the raised plateau on which the capitol sat high above the sea and saw many miles for every way but the northwest, where the Ridge bent sharply away along the coast. Working their way around the cliff, the group had grown uneasy. Here, the ice was broken at places, and Many were not sure how they would make their way into the city without having to turn back and attempt a climb – something that many of them would be unable to do.

At last, they had come within sight of a ledge that had been carved into the cliff. It was a sort of half-tunnel, a good twenty or more feet deep and sitting perhaps ten feet above the high water mark on the rock. There were guards standing on it in sparse pairs, wrapped tight against the damp, freezing air in oiled cloaks and wearing high, black boots made of swile hide. They were holding spears, with blades as long as arms, and they yelled for the company to stop.

“Who are you,” one cried, “and what is your business?”

“We come from White Bay, and the Whitewater,” announced Hellyn.” Our homes have been threatened, and we come seeking shelter from those who would do us harm.”

Another guard, this one seeming to wear the outfit of a higher rank, answered her. “Tell us more.”

Gerrik walked closer to the ledge. “Raiders have been sighted in our lands. Several lives have already been lost. And my friends from Rivermouth here are short of provisions.”

The higher ranking guard paused before speaking. “Rivermouth? Then you have received the request from the High Keeper? Is the mapmaker with you?”

“Aye,” Lyca said, rising unsteadily. “Mister Crewe is with us, but we received no request. And that is not all. We have received no shipment since Snareset. Our people have come upon hard times.”

“That is regretful news,” said the guard.

“Regretful?” boomed Tiny. “Bugger me, yes it’s regretful. What of the agreement between our merchant and the capitol? What of our trade for winter supplies?”

“Careful,” Lyca said to him quietly. The guards gave her an uneasy feeling. She had never been faced with a spear made with the intent to fight men.

“By order of the High Keeper of Lhorrenhelm, all transport of goods to White Bay has been cancelled. With the shortage of crops this past year and the prospect of war in the north, the capitol has chosen to…”

“What?!” Lyca shouted, unable to contain herself.

“…has chosen to reduce its presence until the proper military action has been decided upon. There have already been casualties, and absolute caution must be taken in our dealings with the Eru peoples and sympathizers in the north of Lhor.”

“Gods above and below, what of protecting your people? Is Lhorrenhelm not the beacon of our country?” Straulk asked, now walking from the sled where his dead wed daughter lay. “Will you not permit us entry?”

The guard in command looked them over for a while. “You have, in your company, a certain Arron Crewe?”

“Aye,” the old man said, standing with his gnarled cane. “I am he.”

“That is good,” the guard said. “Have your company any business or trade to offer the city?”

“We are poor and starving, and filled with grief for our lost loved ones. We come asking for help. Will you not give it us?” Lyca demanded.

“Where it is earned, cripple,” spat the guard. His eyes flashed with a sudden anger, but it faded quickly. “Have you business or not?”

“We have furs, tanned and cured.” said Gerrik.

“Our service,” said Lyca. “We can offer our strength.”

“Aye,” said Tiny. “We would not have come this far if we weren’t hardy folk, guard.” He said the last word mockingly, but just so.

Finally the guard nodded. “Very well,” he said, and made a signal to a pair of guards nearby. They rushed over and unwound a sturdy stair-ladder, which dropped to the ice. “But you must be taken before the High Keeper at once. Then it will be decided what service you can provide. Come now, and quickly.”

Untrusting at first, the company gathered their packs from the sleds and began to climb onto the ledge. The children and elders went first, aided by the guards. Old Crewe got many curious and strange looks from everybody as he made his way up the stair-ladder, but nobody said a word. They had to leave the sleds and moose behind, as there was no way to get them onto the ledge, but the guards assured them that they would be collected and payed for by the capitol. Gerrik looked sad to leave the beasts behind, and he gave the guard in command a grudging glance when he climbed up.

They were lead along the ledge, passing other guards here and there, and passed slowly around the great cliff. After a while the ice gave way to water, deep and dark. The wind from the ocean here was bracing, and Geoffrey buried his face in Lyca’s furs as they walked. At last, they came to the great Harbour Gate of Lhorrenhelm.

The city, built on the foundations of some ancient Eru temple, was protected against outside forces as well as any place in the north of Lhor. Guarded by steep cliffs on all sides and backed by the Western Ridge, it was no wonder that this was the place where mankind had begun to recover after the Dark War. Being a center of trade, the great harbour would be an access point for any attacking party, but this much had been accounted for well, as Lyca could now see with her own eyes.

A great, two-sided gate of wood and iron stretched across the harbour opening, which was at least a hundred feet from side to side. The gate itself hung high enough over the water that a small craft might pass under, but any ship bearing sail or even a high keel would be caught and denied entry. On either side of the Harbour Gate, holes in the cliff face revealed the faces of archers and flickering torches. The gate was shut.

They passed through a small doorway at its base and continued along the ledge into the city harbour, which was itself many times the size of any village Lyca had ever seen. It’s sides – like the surrounding coastline – were sheer granite that ran upwards to dizzying heights, and along the rough rocky walls shacks, huts, ladders and walkways were built from many-coloured beams of wood of varying origin. Above and below the harbour walkways and huts sat, connected together and resting on one another like some vertical maze of engineering that Lyca could have imagined only in a dream. Here and there, great chains and ropes were strung along the cliffs. Some, it seemed, were supporting the woodwork, but from others baskets and boxes were hanging and being sent quickly from one side of the harbour to another. Gods, she thought, what world have we stepped into? At her side, Geoffrey’s face was slack with amazement, and he seemed unable to say anything but “Wow.”

The guards led them on, up what seemed to be a main walkway that spiralled around the wall of the great harbour. The smells of smoke, fish and tar drifted around the harbour and their snow in the air. Lyca’s leg was aching, and it was hard to keep going, but then she saw it…

Rising over the cliff edge, a monolith of pale stone stood threatening against the sky. At its peak, a great beacon of red and orange glowed like a star above the city. The Lightkeeper’s tower. That’s where they’re taking us. That’s where Mavis and Jamie will be.

“Hellyn,” Lyca called to the woman walking in front of her. Hellyn came back to her side and offered her arm for support. “No, I’m okay. It’s something else.”

“What troubles you?” she asked. Then, lowering her voice, she said “It’s the guards, isn’t it?”

Lyca nodded. “Yah, that’s about right. Something about what he said.” She leaned close to Hellyn and made her voice a whisper. “This talk of war. Military action? What service have we promised to provide, I wonder?”

“I fear the same as you, friend.” Hellyn nodded at the Lightkeeper’s tower up ahead. “We’ll soon find out, I think. And Oyewa help us, may we find news of your two friends.” She held out her arm again. “Come. Your leg needs more time to heal.”

“Aye,” Lyca said, and taking Hellyn’s arm, she walked on. We’ll soon find out.

The Balcony (originally published on Creepypasta.com)

I sat, staring blankly at the screen, for how long I can’t be quite sure. Desperate for something to watch, read, listen to… In search of some stimulation that might exhaust my mind to the point where going to bed seemed like a good idea. I closed my eyes and strained hard – pressing for some idea of what to type in the search bar but nothing came.

It wasn’t apparent to me how long I’d been sitting there, postponing sleep, gazing with glazed eyes at the monitor and refreshing the same social network feeds over and over again, waiting for some fuckwit I didn’t know or care about to update the world on their life happenings. Nothing changed, though – it was well past 2 am and most people were rolling over, ripping up the sheets and drooling on their pretty pillowcases.

Somewhere between the ears a sharp pain fired off and I realized I had a headache. Oh great… again. I reached for the bottle of ibuprofen sitting conveniently by my computer mouse and washed two of them down with the last mouthful of my warm beer. Refresh. Nothing happening. Couldn’t think of a song to listen to. Refresh. Same thing. No ideas for articles to read. Refresh. Nothing. They’re all sleeping, dammit. I snapped the laptop lid shut. Went to look out the window.

There was a streetlamp directly across the street from my little apartment, which I suppose was the reason I hated going to bed so much. One of the reasons, anyways. There wasn’t much to look at outside, either. Thin blanket of snow on the ground. Still cars in the neighbor’s driveway. Couldn’t see the stars… must have been cloudy. The apartment was even less interesting. A pile of half-read novels lined up on the shelf, arranged by size from biggest to smallest (dimensions, not pages). Drying rack full of dishes that were probably dry by now, but that could wait until tomorrow. Old flower-patterned couch made even more garish by the bright, blue and yellow striped blanket hanging over the back. And the walls…

The walls were the thing I hated most. Painted in that inoffensive, bland, mind-numbingly expressionless light beige that seemed to be omnipresent in every fucking apartment I’d ever been in. What I wouldn’t have given to paint those fucking walls. It would have been worth it, even if the damned landlord kept my damage deposit.

Leaving the window, I paced along the wall, dragging my hand as I had done over and over again, in moments of boredom. Around the kitchen/living room – divided by a half wall and made distinct by a clumsy architectural divider that reached off from the main wall by a couple feet – and around the corner to the short and narrow hallway that lead to my bedroom on the left and bathroom at the end. Strolled lazily into the bedroom, flicked on the light, looked around, flicked it off, and walked out again. Stopped for a quick piss in the bathroom. Frowned in the mirror. Then made my way back to the chair. I started flicking through the books on the shelf, but I couldn’t decide which one to read, so I gave up and sat down on the horrendous couch, staring out the sliding glass balcony door.

And that’s when I saw it.

At first, I thought my glasses were skewed, and I took them off, gave them a ritual wiping in my t-shirt, and put them back on again. No, it was still there. Hmph… that’s weird… It wasn’t anything shocking, nor was it one of those things that causes you to jump up in outrage – it just seemed a little bit… odd.

I had been looking at the picture frame sitting on the half wall that stretched partway across the floor between the kitchen and living room, which was perpendicular to the couch I was sitting on – and something about it didn’t look quite right. The picture frame was alright. The half wall looked right – as much as any half wall can – but there was something funny about were it joined to the outer wall of the apartment. I couldn’t be quite sure what it was, exactly, but it seemed like the outer wall was a good foot or more farther from me on the kitchen side than it was on the living room side.

I gave it a frown, then a giggle. Obviously, the landlord had done a bad job with the renovations and had done some miscalculations, and the inner paneling on the kitchen side was curved on one end. I didn’t know much about carpentry, but I had a basic understanding. Yeah, that’s it.

I got up, walked to the fridge for another beer and glanced at the wall again. My explanation didn’t convince me, as the wall looked flat as a wall could be. It was the damnedest thing, because from the kitchen side, the wall looked perfectly normal. Maybe it was the other side that was off. But I strolled back to the living room, and the wall on that side looked normal too. It didn’t make sense. I decided to forget about it, and set myself back on the couch and opened my beer – but there it was again. The wall in the kitchen looked farther than it should be, or the living room wall looked too close… it was hard to tell which was the case, but something was off, that much was certain.

I took a gulp of beer and got up again. I walked over to the corner in the kitchen and ran my hand along the wall near the floor. It certainly looked like things were joining up at right angles. I did the same on the living room side – it looked perfectly normal. I even grabbed a book and stuck it between the floor and the wall, and slid it across on both sides, and in both rooms the book fit snugly where the floor and wall met. Then I did the same, between the wall and the room divider. Perfect right angles. I sat back on the couch again, and now it seemed even more apparent.

It was as if the kitchen was longer than the living room, and impossibly so, as they both shared the same square space and outer wall of the building. It didn’t make sense. The wall to the left was definitely farther than it was on the right side of the half wall, but how could that be so? I shuffled my way around the rooms, observing the dimensions with squinting discretion, from every conceivable angle. No curve, no obvious deviations. If I could believe what my eyes were seeing – and I had no reason to doubt them before now – the kitchen should be protruding from the side of the building by about 12-15 inches.

I was flabbergasted. It just shouldn’t be. Even the thickness of the walls, which I guessed at about six inches, wouldn’t account for such an error. It wasn’t the way that geometry worked, but when I looked again from the couch the difference between the distances on the two sides was impossible to ignore. What the hell…

Surely, I thought, that there was some mistake, and the wall was joined awkwardly and I just hadn’t noticed it before. I’d have to go out on the balcony to reassure myself, and take a look at the outside wall of the building. My balcony ran the entire length of the kitchen/living room wall, placing the discontinuity about halfway down its length. Surely the exterior of the wall would reveal an outward jump. Now it made sense. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before. I slid open the glass door and tip toed out into the winter air, the thin snow layer crunching and squeaking under my socks.

But to my surprise, the wall was entirely flat. I flicked on the balcony light to be sure. Perfectly flat. Straight, with no visible joins or angles anywhere. I pressed my hands hard against the cold vinyl siding and ran them from the sliding glass door all the way to the railing at the end. Defeated, I made my way back inside, and slid the door shut. I peeled off my wet socks and hung them over the edge of the bathtub to dry, and retreated to the couch once more, rubbing my cold feet.

It was at this point I started to feel uncomfortable, in a way that was almost indescribable. The very image of what I was seeing didn’t make sense. It was such a departure from simple logic that my brain couldn’t concoct any sort of explanation at all. The sensation that trickled over me was something that I can only describe as the opposite of deja vu. The sheer unfamiliar and nonsensical nature of the wall was all I could think about. I had to prove to myself that it wasn’t real.

I stomped down the hall to my bedroom, bare feet slapping on the floor, snatched my belt off the dresser and brought it out. I moved the chair, slid the kitchen table out of the way, so I had a quick, clear path around the half wall. I even took the picture frames off the half wall, and laid them on the table. Nothing to get in the way.

I started on the right side. I let the belt buckle touch the outer wall, and pulled it tight. The distance from the the wall to the end of the divider was about half the length of the belt. I pinched my fingers hard on the belt, marking the length I had measured. Now… I marched around, to the kitchen, put the belt buckle against the wall and pulled the belt tight.

Impossible, I thought. It was truly impossible. The belt wouldn’t even reach from the wall the the end of the divider. I leaned against the wall, my mind whirring with thoughts, questions. The one thought that dominated my being was that the space I was standing in, leaning against that wall, should not exist! If common sense were any sense at all, I should be on the balcony right now, staring at the vinyl siding on the outside of the building. A sudden feeling of dread washed over me – I felt hot and sick and shaky. I started to wonder what might happen If i were to close my eyes, but at that thought, the fear become so intense that I jumped away from the wall and ran to the bathroom where I promptly retched up my beer and what undigested remains there were of my supper.

What was happening to me? I had to sleep. Yes, that’s it. I was exhausted, and it had been a long week. Maybe it was the headache pills, I thought – I had downed them with alcohol, after all. And mixing drugs with booze can do crazy stuff, right? I closed my eyes hard, nodding my head and trying to convince myself that I had to be hallucinating. I was sleep depraved. I needed sleep.

I flushed the toilet, brushed my teeth, splashed water in my face, and turned to look down the hall. I realized then that I had left the balcony door ajar, and the cold winter air was putting a chill in the apartment. I started, but stopped again, when my peripheral vision revealed to me something which unnerved me in a way I had never known. It was at that point which I began to think I was losing my mind.

On the left side of the half wall, the kitchen stretched on, far beyond the physical limitations of my building, and filling that impossible space was – and It frightens me say it – a perfect mirror image of my own kitchen. The table, chairs, cupboards, and even the overflowing drying rack lay in perfect reverse imitation of my own, real kitchen. It was as though the wall of the kitchen had been replaced by a reflective surface, but as far as I could tell, this was not the case.

I breathed deep, shaking uncontrollably as I made my way slowly down the hall to the kitchen. I stopped halfway, at the linen closet which sat opposite my bedroom door, and grabbed the broom. I unscrewed the broom handle and clutched it tightly as I would a spear. It did nothing to make me feel safer.

I moved slowly – one foot at a time – holding the broom handle out in front of me and breathing heavily. As I got nearer, though, I could see that the discontinuity did not only mirror the kitchen – it was the entire apartment.

When I reached the point where the wall had been, I stopped and stretched out my hand. Nothing but empty air. This couldn’t be a hallucination, could it? No – something else was at work here. Something frighteningly real.

There was a draft moving through the air, flowing like a soft wind, and I realized that the sliding door to the balcony must also be ajar over there. I should close it. That seemed to make sense, at least.

I prepared myself to enter the space that should not be. Something about it still made me afraid to close my eyes, so I decided to try my best not to blink before walking over. Come on, you got this. I had a goal now. Simple enough, but still, that small purpose helped quiet the thoughts in my head a little. I swallowed, breathed deep, and walked into the impossible room. Made my way past the chairs, the books – even the fucking picture frames were there, but something about the pictures wasn’t right, and I averted my eyes as I passed. I turned right around the half wall and came to face the balcony door. I was right. It was open. However, what I saw beyond the door was not what I had expected. I had prepared myself – by taking into account the twisted anti-logic of the discontinuity – to encounter a second balcony. This was a whole new deviation. Nonetheless, I made my way through, back into the real living room, and slide the balcony door shut.

I sat on the couch again, picked up the half-drunk beer, and took a gulp. Spilled some on my shirt. I didn’t know what else to do but try and understand the situation as best I could. There was no balcony anymore. From where I sat, I could see the second kitchen to my left, beyond the real one, and through the sliding glass door I could see the opposing living room, couch and all – even the bloody half-drunk beer sitting on the coffee table. If I told myself that the kitchen wall and the balcony door were mirrors, I could nearly believe I was still sane. Yeah, I thought, it’s just a mirror. Just a big fucking illusion. Reflection. There’s the coffee table… my couch… my beer… all that’s missing is…

I heard a noise behind me, coming from what sounded like the bedroom. A faint “thwump”, like the sound of something soft clumsily hitting the floor. I froze. I could feel my eyes tighten. My pulse throbbed sickeningly in my neck. I could feel the cold sweat seeping through my clothes. I had to escape.

I clutched the broom handle as tightly as I could and ran for the front door. I grabbed the knob, whipped open the chain lock, and twisted it open in a frenzy. Tears filled my eyes and the scream my body had tried to produce had stopped at the dry lump on my throat. I slammed it shut again, as hard as I could have, and locked it. I pressed my back against the door and let myself slide limply down, down, down onto the floor. There was no exit. Outside the door had been just another entrance way like my own. An exact reflection.

And then I heard the noise again… thwump… coming from the bedroom. And again… thwump… louder this time. Thwump. The bedroom door opened slowly. Thwump. They were footsteps. Thwump… thwump… They were coming down the hall.

I do not know what gave me the strength to move in that instant. Some primal instinct, some basic will to survive kicked in. I would not sit sobbing in a corner, waiting for whatever cruel and impossible fate awaited me. I would not.

I launched myself from the entrance way, and made for the balcony door. I flew across the kitchen. Grappled the half wall and swung my weight as best as I could across the living room floor. I snatched the sliding door handle, heaved it open, and burst into the room that should not be. I drove it shut behind me, flicked the lock, and ran left, around the half wall to face whatever it was that had come from this impossible place – not daring to blink until I passed the boundary back into the real kitchen. I stopped short. The wall had returned. Solid. Real. I would have to go back through the balcony door again, but at least I had the upper hand – the door was locked from this side.

I clenched my fists so tightly around the broom handle that my fingernails must be drawing blood from my palms. My eyes were stinging now, but I still dared not blink. I could not let the perverse logic of the space get a chance to warp itself again. Not while I was still inside it.

Then, there was another noise. Not the muffled footsteps from before, but a clear, sharp “tick.” The sound of metal and springs and intricate precision.

The sound of the balcony door being locked from the other side.

No… I rushed to the sliding door and unlocked it, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see the lock switch on the other side – the real side – and it was engaged. I screamed. I swore. I cried. I yanked and tore and heaved and kicked and pounded the door, over and over and over. There was no use. No matter how much force I put on the damned door, it wasn’t going to move. It didn’t even shake. As long as it was locked from the other side, I would never be able to open it. I was defeated. My eyes were still open – I refused to let myself blink, and my vision had gone horribly blurry. They burned like fire from the air and my hysteria, but I couldn’t blink. I could not let that happen. I had to keep the real world in sight.

And then I saw the figure.. I watched with horror through the glass as the figure reclined on my couch. They picked up my half-drunk beer and took a long swig. They were looking in my direction. Staring out the glass of the sliding door right at me. By now my eyes were aching so badly and my vision so impaired that I could scarcely pick out any details, but I knew what it was. The realization of it was the end for me. I have not felt true, unhindered hope, or joy, or contentment since that moment, and I fear that I never shall. The figure on the other side was me.

It might have been an hour, maybe two, maybe three that I knelt there with my forehead against the glass. I never did let my eyes shut that night. I held the lids open for so long that my sight left me entirely. I do not know when it was that I finally slipped into unconsciousness, but it was not of my own free will.

When I awoke in the morning I found myself staring out onto the balcony. The sun was glowing through the trees and I could see crows flying in the distance. I slid the door open and fell out onto the snow-covered wood and stayed there for a very long time, watching the ice crystals melt in my breath. By the time the cold drove me inside, the sun was well up and cars were moving on the roads.

In the weeks and months that followed I paced in and out of that balcony door so many times a day I would lose count by noon. I didn’t want to stay in that apartment one moment longer, but the madness of the discontinuity wouldn’t let me leave. I was obsessed with finding a way back to the world from which I had come. The breaking point came sometime in March – I can’t remember when, exactly – when the landlord came pounding on my door, responding to multiple noise complaints. I had been attempting to tear down the kitchen wall with a framing hammer. There was a commotion, and I had a few very long talks with police, but eventually the landlord agreed not to press charges so long as I moved out immediately and paid an extra three months rent to cover the damages. I took the offer. I convinced the cops that I didn’t know much about renovating, but I was sick to death of that fucking paint and had to do something about it.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve distanced myself from that place. I’ve since gotten a new job, made disastrous attempts at love. I’ve made things work as best I can, going from one day to the next. I’ve come to think of this world as real – I have no other choice. I will never return to the other side. Not now. As time goes on it becomes ever harder to remember that it ever existed in the first place. To this day, I can’t bear looking in the mirror. I seems to me that behind the eyes of my reflection there is some hint of malevolence… though at times it looks to me more like gloating.

I remind myself every morning that I am real. I am here. Wherever here is. Impossible or no, this world is mine now. I’ve come to see the obscure beauty in it. There is one thing that reminds me of the world I thought I knew, though – it happens every day when I watch the sun rising. I always expect it to come up in the west, but it never does.

It never does.

A few updates and odd little things

Hey readers, for those of you who use Twitter, I’ve created an account to help publicize the blog. I will be using it to share my thoughts and bits of info that don’t make it into the blog. If you’re interested, check me out at:

https://twitter.com/kdanielsauthor?s=09

Let’s see what I can do with 140 characters or less.

I’ve finally concluded Deep Sleep and part 2 is available now right here on the blog. It has also been submitted to creepypasta.com where I hope it is received well.

On another note, NaNoWriMo is coming up, and fast, and I’m planning on participating again this year. Not sure what I’ll be working on, but I’ll share details here once it’s been decided.

Lastly, keep an eye out for the first chapter of my upcoming short story/novella, One Final Round: a horror story in five parts. Expect that to premiere around Halloween.

That’s all for now.

Deep Sleep (Part 2)

I’ve told you before about my wife’s nightmares and the strange condition that caused her to fall in her dreams, passing through the bed and everything below it. I’ve told you about her disappearance and my frantic attempt to rescue her from the depths below our home. There’s more.

I went down to the basement upon hearing the sheriff’s yelling, and found him and the deputy getting ready to leave. Sheriff told me that they’d received a call from across town and needed to go check things out. I didn’t ask questions, I already had enough on my mind. Before he left, Sheriff Thompson turned back and gave me a long, piercing stare. I expected an accusation, maybe even a threat. Instead all he said was “Be careful.” Then the two of them left.

Liam and I continued our work, scraping shovel after shovel of dark, hard earth from the bottom of the hole. We didn’t talk. I was just glad my boy was there with me. It was in the early morning, around 4am, when Liam climbed up to get a drink of water. Ever since I had started digging in the basement, there had been strange, barely noticeable sounds from below. As the others and I started making progress the noises got louder and louder. It seemed to me that the sounds where coming from the ground itself, not something below it. I had hoped for a while that it was Karen calling out from down there in the ground, but I didn’t believe that anymore. It wasn’t human, and if it was, it was a sound that only a great big crowd of people could make. It was like a drone or chant, like dozens or even hundreds of people exhaling all at once or whispering the same low word without stopping to breathe. Now that I stood alone in the pit, surrounded on all sides by the metallic stone walls, it was louder and more persistent than ever.

I stopped digging for a moment to listen to it. The sound became like an echo, or many echoes, of many voices blended together in a long, undulating chant. The rocks vibrated with it, as though there was a pulse flowing through the stones all around me. The air in the pit throbbed, and I started getting dizzy.

Above me, standing on the edge of the pit, Liam was staring down. He looked worried. He opened his mouth and shouted something down at me but all I could hear was the deafening roar in my ears. Slowly, deliberately, I lifted my shovel and drove it hard into the earth at my feet.

The floor of the pit collapsed.

I fell, screaming, into the void below. There was a brief moment of darkness before I felt myself engulfed in cold water. When I opened my eyes I could see stones and debris sinking into shadows all around me.

As I swam to the surface I was shocked by the silence in the cavern. The bizarre chanting had stopped completely and I could hear Liam shouting to me from above. In my fall I had swallowed a mouthful of water in shock, and as I spat and choked on my way to a nearby ledge I realized that it was salty, like the ocean. The light from above made it clear that I floated in the center of what looked like a small subterranean lake. To either side of me I could see a ledge that ran around the perimeter of the pool, and I swam over and pulled myself out.

“Dad,” Liam shouted down, “are you okay!? Talk to me!”

I hollered back that I was alright, nothing broken, but I could still sense the panic in his voice as he scrambled to look for a way to get me out. I could hear him up there in the basement looking through shelves for rope. One of the ladders had fallen through with me and it was sunken somewhere beneath the black water of the pool. I thought about diving down and trying to retrieve it, but something in the back of my head shut that idea down immediately.

While I was in the middle of trying to figure out how big the cavern was and what direction it reached, I heard a hushed noise coming from above. The sound of clanging and shuffling had stopped.

“Liam,” I called out, is everything okay?”

Instantly I realized what an idiotic question I was asking of my son. In that same moment I understood what the hushed noises were and why Liam had gotten quiet.

“It’s okay, son.” I rubbed the salt and sweat from my eyes. “Don’t cry.”

I comforted him as best as I could. I tried to help him regain his confidence – that confidence that I had seen in him since he was a boy. That same confidence that allowed him to climb trees and race bicycles and dive from wharfs into the ocean with a smile on his happy young face.

But looking back now I know that I could have done more. I could have made him feel safer. The truth is, my tired mind was distracted – all I could think about was searching for Karen. If I had survived the fall, she must also be alive down there somewhere.

Once Liam was back to work, I asked him to do something for me. It would take time to prepare the rope in a way that would allow him to come down and for us both to climb back out, so I asked if he could get me a flashlight. If I was going to wait, I may as well take a look around the cavern. Liam dropped something down the hole and I swam out to retrieve it, taking care not to linger for too long in the middle of the pool – something made me not want to stay in the water for too long at a time. He had placed a flashlight in a plastic shopping bag and blown up the bag with air before tying it tight. When I got back to shore and pulled out the flashlight, it was a little wet but when I flicked the switch it flared to life and illuminated the cave around me.

It was even larger than I thought. The cave ceiling towered about 20 feet above my head, reaching a high point at the center where I had fallen through. The walls down there were even darker than where we had been digging above, almost perfectly black. When I ran my hand over the surface it felt as hard and smooth as glass. Careless, I nicked my thumb on a sharp edge of cavern wall. As I watched a thin line of red well up on my thumbprint, the sound of the chanting echoed for a moment across the waters of the cave. I felt the skin across the back of my shoulders tighten, and after a long moment I realized my vision was starting to go blurry.

Shaking my head, I snapped out of it and saw for the first time that on the opposite side of the pool the cave narrowed into a tunnel or hallway and wound off into the subterranean dark. I started to make my way around the ledge toward it, doing my best to keep my balance and ignoring the beginnings of the familiar hallucinations that came with sleep deprivation. Around me the walls of the cavern began to ripple like waves. Shadows loomed in the corner of my eye and for a moment I actually considered lying down to rest. I fought it off, and soon I had made my way around to the narrow tunnel and shone my light inside. I couldn’t see more than a hundred feet ahead, because after that the tunnel curved off the right and out of sight.

I was about to go back and check with Liam on how he was doing but at that moment the chanting sound came again. A lone, brief echo vibrated through the walls of the tunnel and then I knew for sure that that source of it was somewhere down that dark and narrow passageway.

I felt something then that I hadn’t noticed before – the sound had a kind of alluring quality to it. It frightened me, but at the same time it seemed to call to me. I admit, I found myself wanting to be closer to whatever it was that was making the sound. When I glanced back to the cavern pool, I saw with a shock that I was already at least fifty feet into the passageway. Had I been walking without realizing it, or was it the sound that had drawn me in?

I walked a little further in, just to see what was around that bend up ahead. I walked around the bend and onward down a wide, low-ceilinged part of the tunnel where low rumblings could be heard coming from the floor beneath my feet. From there, I stepped out into what I can only describe as a dome. Looking around, my eyes began to blur again. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

Around the dome where at least a dozen other passages, maybe more, winding off out of sight throughout the underground. At the center was a deep, wide pit, rounded with an ancient stone stair that wound down into blackness. What was really strange, beyond anything else, was the wind moving around the cavern. It was so slight, so subtle, that it took the whole walk from the tunnel where I had come to the edge of the pit to notice it. Air was flowing, slowly and almost imperceptibly, out of the pit. After a few seconds, everything became still, and then that low and droning wind would flow back into the pit, followed by another brief pause of calm. The air pulsed, throbbed, around me. It felt like the breath of some enormous, sleeping thing.

I felt a droplet of water on my neck and looked up toward the ceiling of the dome. I realised, then, how far I’d walked. If my sense of direction was any good, I figured that the cavern where I stood was somewhere below the town harbour.

As I made my way back to the underground lake, I could hear Liam’s voice echoing down the tunnel. He wasn’t alone, and it sounded like the voices were coming towards me. As I reached the edge of the water, I could see Liam walking around with two other men, each of them holding flashlights. Through the glare, I could make out the faces of the Sheriff and Deputy flanking him on either side.

I told them what I’d found, and begged them to come with me back down the tunnel. Before I could go, though, Sheriff put a hand on my shoulder.

“The call we got,” he said. “The emergency.” The sheriff paused and glanced at Deputy Colby before continuing. “A boy’s missing. Disappeared. Mother checked on him after putting him to bed. He was just…”

“Gone,” Liam said, his voice shaking. “Just like Mom.”

I led them to the dome, all of them now believing that this was real. The four of us stood at the edge of the pit, staring into the darkness for a good long time. I looked at their faces, their eyes staring into the abyss. I could tell they could feel the breathing too. My hand was hurting, stinging with a sharp, cutting pain. When I looked down, I realized that I was still clutching Karen’s ring in my fist, so tight that it was pressed into the skin. I put it in my jeans pocket and started toward the grimy stone stair.

“Let’s go,” I said.

Down and down and down we walked, in circles around the pit that seemed to grow wider with every pass. The darkness around us was so absolute that it almost felt dense – solid. The beams from our flashlights were pathetic, illuminating only the winding steps directly in front of us with a pale, orange glow. The sounds of our footsteps on the stones made noises like the crunching of bones. Our breath trailed behind us in a mist.

After a few minutes of slow, careful walking, the stairs moved away from the wall and outward into the darkness. We walked out into that great big blackness, moving cautiously along the metre-wide walkway with unknowable depths on either side. We called out Karen’s name and the name of the lost boy as we walked, but there was no returning echo in that place. Our voices just died out without so much as a whisper, and I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t underground anymore. I knew we were still in the cavern, somewhere deep below the harbour and the sleeping town, but looking around me it felt like we were walking through… nothingness. The darkness was endless. It was like we were somewhere in the cold and vast reaches of outer space – but there were no stars here. No lights except our own.

I could hear something out there. I could feel it. Something enormous. Moving. Breathing.

“There, ahead!” Sheriff Thompson shouted.

I shook myself out of the trance I’d fallen into and stared in front of us. My throat clamped shut and I wanted to scream out in relief but I was so overcome with emotion that all I could do was run to her. My Karen, my wife – there she was and she was alive! Alive! Before I could take in the scene or try to understand anything else I was there, wrapping my arms around her and sobbing. For that moment, those few seconds, nothing else in the world mattered. It was joy.

But it was all wrong.

Karen was alive – I could feel her breathing; her skin was warm to the touch – but what the hell was this thing she was sitting in? It was like a… a chair or… a throne? It was carved from what looked like solid bone but bones don’t get that big. It was all grey and dusty and covered in carvings that didn’t make sense to me. And why wasn’t she waking up? Why the hell were all these other people here – all resting in these bony chairs with their heads thrown back, silently sleeping? Who the hell were they all? And, Christ, some of them looked old. So old I couldn’t imagine them walking all the way down here. And why wasn’t she waking up?

Liam and I both shook Karen, shouted to try and get her to move but she wouldn’t open her eyes or respond. I tried to pull her up to her feet but it was like she was being held down by something. I couldn’t take her.

Sheriff Thompson and the deputy were both running around, shining their lights at the people seated around in that big circle trying to figure out who they were and if they were all okay. They found the boy – he was there too, nestled in the seat of his dusty throne. All told, there were eight. Men and women, the boy and another child – a young girl – all sitting, sleeping on this great stone platform in the middle of that impossible darkness down there under the ground. Across the circle from Karen, another seat waited. Empty.

As I fought to try and get Karen free, the hallucinations started again. The shadows around us swelled and bulged, and I saw the darkness as a vast, rippling curtain, holding back something that pressed on all sides around us. I squeezed my eyes shut, slapped my head to try and keep myself straight, but I was on the very edge of losing consciousness and I could hear the world growing quiet. I reached out a hand to Liam’s shoulder to try and steady myself but my hand just moved through the empty air. Liam was gone.

“Son,” I said as I turned around and saw him staring at the empty throne, “stay here with me.”

“Don’t you hear it?” he asked, not looking back. He took another step away from Karen and I. “It’s like it wants me.”

I didn’t know what to say, because the truth was, I could hear it. The sound from before, that echoed chanting, was back. Glancing over at the other two men and seeing their faces made it clear they were hearing it again, too.

“I know,” I said to Liam, walking towards him, “it’s been calling to me, too. Ever since I fell down here. Don’t listen to it.”

But he took another step toward the throne, and when he did the visions – the hallucinations from my sleep deprivation – got stronger. The air around me was boiling with movement. I made a move toward him and reached out, but my boy moved away from me.

“It’s where mom is,” he said. “I can talk to her there.”

“Your mom’s here!” I shouted, pointing back at the silent and sleeping Karen, “She’s right here! We just have to get her out of here and everything will be fine.”

“Listen to your dad, Liam” the Sheriff said, talking a step. “We don’t know what’s going on here but we all need to get ourselves and these people out – now.”

The chanting rose around us all, no longer distant but howling. My eyes widened in terror when I saw that the people around us, seated in the thrones, were now chanting along with it. Their eyes were shut – they were still asleep – but their mouths opened as they cried and moaned in unison with that sound, that otherworldly song that filled my mind with pain and longing. I saw the sheriff and deputy throw up their hands, trying to cover their ears and block it out. I stumbled ahead, trying to grab onto my son and hold him back, but I was too slow, too late.

Liam closed his eyes and walked calmly to his throne. He reached out a hand and grabbed hold of the bony structure, throwing himself into the seat. Then, all together, the nine in the circle whispered one short, sharp sound.

Then, silence.

Everything came apart. The world around us was shaking, rumbling. Screams and curses filled the air as the nine sleepers around us all woke and fell forward onto the ground. Liam whipped his head around, staring in shock at the throne he’d fallen from and clearly confused at what was happening. I ran to him, pulled him up. Together we ran back to Karen and she was moving, scrambling to her feet. She screamed our names and held onto us, her hands gripping like claws as the shadows in that deep place swirled and tore apart and rejoined again.
Deputy Colby scooped up the young boy in his arms and the Sheriff was trying to do the same with the little girl that was there but she kept fighting him, “No!” she kept yelling, “you don’t understand!” Finally, he was able to get a hold of her but she kept biting and thrashing in his arms.

“Okay,” Sheriff yelled above the rumbling noises, “We all need to-”

But he never had a chance to finish. Before he could so much as address the five adults that had gotten to their feet on the platform, they had run to the edge and thrown themselves off into the darkness.

“RUN!” I screamed, as dust, stones started to rain down from above. Liam and I both held one of Karen’s hands as we raced across the ledge and up the stairs of the cavern. The cops followed, hoisting the crying boy and the struggling, cursing girl over their shoulders. We ran as fast as our bodies could allow, our feet scratching and pawing at the stones as we climbed. At the stop of the circle stair we could see water rushing into the cavern from above – the ceiling was starting to cave in and all that water in the harbour was going to get down there in a hurry real soon.

We fled along the passageway back from where we’d come, back through the curving tunnel with the sounds of the collapsing earth all around. The smell of saltwater was strong in the air and wind was starting to rush out of the cave behind us.

Back at the underground lake we sent Deputy and Liam up the rope first so they could pull Karen and the boy up. Her hands were weak and she could hardly hold on but they got her out of there. Sheriff made me go next and he crawled right behind me grasping the still-struggling girl, the rope burning my hands because of how tightly I gripped it. We didn’t stop in the basement – we ran up the stairs and out onto the lawn with the crashing thunder noises following us.

The seven of us collapsed out onto the grass in the crisp dawn air and lay there listening to the rumbling sounds coming from below the ground. Everything was shaking. Then before our eyes, the house collapsed, exploding in a blast of sea water that rushed up through the cavern and pierced through the structure a good sixty feet into the air. The windows, walls, roof and all toppled and came tumbling down, drenched in the spray from that torrent of water. Everything we had, everything we owned was destroyed. Everything gone.

But we were alive.

Before long Sheriff had some other cops from the station come by and pick us up. They brought us all to the station where my family and I sat wrapped in blankets and holding on to one another, laughing, crying… not really knowing what to say or do. We held on, not letting go. Not for hours. The boy was okay – no injuries but clearly shaken and disturbed. His mother and father were there to get him in less than ten minutes, haphazardly dressed and clearly without having slept through the night. They asked Sheriff if this had anything to do with his nightmares, the awful nightmares he kept having and Sheriff shook his head but said nothing in reply only “He’s alright now. You’re alright.”

The girl, though… Nobody could figure out where the hell the girl had come from. She didn’t match the description of any missing persons case in the area, or even the province. Her clothes were strange – a ceremonial gown sewn by hand in a style that looked old-fashioned to put it lightly. She wouldn’t tell them her name and she fought so hard with them to try and get away that they had to lock her in a cell until she could be transferred to a facility. We could hear her muttering from down the hall of the station, whispering and talking to herself in a language that we couldn’t understand. The cops wouldn’t let us talk to her even though Karen insisted – she wanted to try and understand what had happened and she thought the girl might know something. She never did get the chance, though.

In the morning when the cops went to check on her in the cell, she was gone. No trace left behind, no means of escape. The security footage – according to Sheriff Thompson – revealed nothing.

The talk around the town was that during the earthquake the entire harbour damn near dried up, with water rushing in from the ocean and being swallowed in a great big crack as fast as it could go. All the boats were sitting lop-sided in the muck, fish flapping around on the seabed. It was the better part of an hour before things went back to normal and the damages to the boats and properties were catastrophic. It was on the news and everything, and there’s talk of geologists going in and surveying the area.

Some people said they saw something else, though, after the harbour had filled up with water again. Some sort of shape came moving out of the crack in the seabed, they say – a big thing that caused a swell of current behind it as it moved. Folks on a crabbing boat up the coast said they saw something too – some kind of big shadow moving under their vessel. Too big to be a whale, they said, more like a dozen whales or so all joined together, or something else entirely that caused a great big swell of waves and moved north along the coast faster than they could keep up with it.

We ended up getting out of town after all that went down. Karen took some time off to wait on a transfer and I gave up the work with the boys. My brother took us under his roof in the city. We’re closer to Liam now and get to see him more often. We still haven’t found work but that’s alright – we can live off the insurance money for a while and the two of us don’t need a big house anyways. Maybe we’ll look for a nice little apartment. We don’t need much – we’ve got each other, now.

Sometimes I’ll ask Karen about what happened but she doesn’t like to talk about it anymore. She did say one thing that bothered me. It still bothers me. She said that if Liam and I weren’t there when she’d woken up in the cave, and if we weren’t holding onto her as tightly as we were, she would’ve jumped too. She would have thrown herself off into the darkness to fall forever into whatever it was that waited below.

She hasn’t had the nightmares since, but I still can’t let it go. I can’t sleep while she’s dreaming. I lie awake watching her with a coffee, book or whatever I need in hand to keep the sleep away. There’s plenty of time to sleep when she’s awake – plenty of time to relax when I know she’s busy. Besides, I don’t like falling asleep that much anymore. My sleep used to be peaceful oblivion – no thoughts or dreams to disturb me. Nothing but pure rest. That’s how it used to be.

Sometimes when I’m alone now I’ll think about the darkness down there below the earth. My mind gets stuck on that empty nothingness and I imagine being one of those poor souls who threw themselves over the edge, or that strange little girl who disappeared from the station. I imagine falling forever, expecting to hit the bottom of some dark and terrible pit, but continuing to just fall. Down, down, down.

I’ve starting dreaming about it, too.

Welcome to Seal Cove, we hope you survive your stay.

I’ve published 4 short horror stories online over the past few years, and all of them share something in common: they all take place in the same world.

They take place all within the same region for the most part. The town of Seal Cove was first introduced in “Loon Harbour”, but is also the setting for “Deep Sleep” and its upcoming sequel (to be released later this month). The apartment that the unlucky narrator in “The Forgotten” calls home is the same apartment introduced in my earliest work published on creepypasta.com, “The Balcony.” This apartment is also visited by RCMP officer Kevin Porter – the narrator of “Loon Harbour” – in an unnamed cameo.

Of course, all of these connections are tenuous at best, and not knowing that these stories are connected isn’t going to take away from the average reader’s experience. It does, however, make a difference to me. When I’m working on one of these tales, I’m constantly working out in my mind where these stories fit in the timeframe of my world, and what characters are connected in what way. For me, having that shared universe really heightens the mood and makes the writing experience all that more enjoyable.

Because of the connections between these stories and upcoming stories, I’d like to create a compilation, organized in my preferred reading order, so that a reader can follow the events of what’s happening in my terrible little world. I am considering having this made downloadable as an ebook, but if that doesn’t work out I will dedicate a portion of the website to this compilation so that anybody who is curious can enjoy it.

As for now, I am editing the sequel to “Deep Sleep” and hoping to have it online by next week, and possibly even sooner. I also have a new story that I’m working on that will be my longest piece of horror yet: a five chapter piece of work that I’m very excited about. In case you were wondering, yes, it is connected to my other stories, and yes, it takes place in that lovely little seaside town that I can’t get enough of. My hope is that this next piece of work will start to tie my fictional world together, bringing precious characters and locations explored to the forefront again.

Keep an eye out for more coming soon.

Dunes (a poem)

oh, we watch those holes,
those wholesome moans.
the velvet breath.

we coalesce
we lift.
we drift.

rolling, washing through the grass.
the summer sun reflects
across our teeth.

the heat,
the breeze,
we float with ease
and rise to disappear.

oh, that frothing mist awaits:
that great blue orb of the sky