C.O.M. – Season 3 Episode 5

See Content Warnings
General horror, corpse, gun wound, crime scene, gore, suicide, and language.
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Detective Mark Anderson pulls Jeremy out of work to review crime scene photos from Season 1 Episode 2, A Conspicuous Suspect. The photos depict a corpse, dead by shotgun, with writing on the wall in blood: “They’re already here.”
The corpse has writing on his wrist: the letters C.O.M. which is something Jeremy is familiar with as an in-joke from his high school days. It stood for Campaign of Misinformation and was an invite to partake in a lie with his friends. There also appears to be a barcode on the wrist.
Detective Anderson stated that the fingerprints of the corpse belong to Joseph Foye, Malcom’s grandfather. However, two weeks ago there was a break in at a facility for a high tech government contractor, SCIC. The fingerprints identified at the crime scene were also for Joseph Foye.
Later that night, Jeremy wakes up to the realization that the gun was on the corpse’s left side, while his wallet was in his right pocket, indicating that the corpse was right handed and had been killed by someone else, ruling out suicide.

Today was interesting to say the least. It started as any other day would, but by now, three little letters will be etched into my mind forever.  I woke up, did the morning shower and breakfast routine, then headed out to work.  It was early afternoon when my boss, Judy, knocked on my partially cracked door.  I waved her in and noticed a look of concern on her face.  She stepped aside and let a tall man in a suit, carrying a laptop bag enter my office.  It was Mark Anderson.  Judy hovered by the door as we shook hands and I invited him to sit.  Before making much conversation, Anderson turned to look at Judy and said, “Do you mind if we have a few minutes?”

She nodded and looked at the laptop bag before reluctantly walking away.  Once she was gone, Anderson got up quickly to close the door all the way, and sat back down.  

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. 

He asked if I had heard from Ron recently, and I let him know that I hadn’t… not since the funeral.  He paused as if wondering which funeral I was referring to, so I reminded him: “Ben’s funeral.”

He nodded, and when I asked why he was inquiring, he initially just said that Ron wasn’t returning his phone calls and he was a bit worried about him.  It didn’t take him long to start asking me questions.  Did he actually believe Ron would interact with me without telling him about it?  I reassured him that I hadn’t spoken to him at all, and then he pulled his laptop out of the bag and powered it up on my desk.  Before it even booted up, we noticed a couple of my nosy coworkers peering through my window as they walked by.

He asked if we could go somewhere more private to speak, and unfortunately my office didn’t offer that kind of seclusion, so I suggested we go to his office.  I took a moment to speak to Judy and asked for the afternoon off, and she agreed.  Anderson was cordial, and before we left, he popped his head into Judy’s office and thanked her for allowing me to leave, mentioning that my statement was going to be a big help.  She seemed relieved somehow.  Was she worried that I was being arrested or something?  Whatever she thought, I was grateful that Anderson said what he did so there wouldn’t be any rumors of me being implicated in something criminal floating around the office.

I followed him to the San Diego County Sheriff’s station and met him in front of the building.  I asked him what we were doing, and he said he wanted me to take a look at a few things to see if I could recall anything from the papers that would correlate and/or lead to additional information.  His intention for the last couple of weeks had been to ask Ron, but he tried going down to Tijuana on his day off, and nobody had seen Ron there at his usual hangouts.  He said, “I know it’s a long shot, but if you could just look through a few items I have and see what you think, I’d be in your debt.”

So I said, “Sure, no problem. Hope I can be some help.”

He said, “Great!” and then got up out of his chair, asking if I wanted some coffee. 

How long was I going to be here?  I took him up on his offer.

Anderson returned to the room with his laptop underneath his armpit and carrying two Styrofoam cups of coffee.  He placed my cup down on the table and opened the laptop in front of him on the table with his hand on it while he sat. 

He said, “I have to warn you, some of these pictures could be… disturbing.”

He then pulled the laptop closer to him as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to show them to me yet.  I was quite nervous to see the photos.  Before he turned the laptop toward me, he said, “Let me tell you what the crime scene was like before you look at the photos… just in case.”

I asked him, “What crime scene?  What are you talking about?”

He then said, “I believe it was ‘Episode 2’ of your podcast. You know, the one where there’s a video of you-know-who looking into the hotel room window.”

Shit… I thought I was done with the Grinner.

Anderson went on to explain, “When we first walked in, we found the victim sitting on the floor propped up against the foot of the bed in the hotel room.”

Wait a minute… we?  Anderson was on the case in the beginning?

He continued, “There was a twelve gauge shotgun resting on the floor next to the body, and what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  The splatter pattern indicates the end of the barrel was extremely close to the victim’s face.  Most of the cranium was scattered in fragments throughout the room on the walls by the head of the bed, and some stuck to the ceiling.  There was no face to identify, and we’re going to need to see what condition the teeth are in in order to potentially get a positive dental ID.”

I wondered why they would rely on dental records to ID the body.  I asked him, “Why couldn’t you use fingerprints?”

He ignored my question as he began pushing a file toward me.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see the pictures now after this description, but I knew I needed to see them.

“I’d like you to take your time and look at the crime scene photos.  You may find some of the images to be difficult to view,” Anderson warned as he slid the laptop toward me once again.  “We are hoping, of course, that you can help to provide a positive ID on the body which can be extremely difficult with these types of gunshot wounds, but let me know if anything jumps out to you as recognizable… or unusual.”

I thought this was a strange comment… The whole damn situation was unusual.  I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. 

Anderson continued, “The body was eventually searched and we found a wallet in the back left pants pocket, as well as a post-it note with a cell phone number on it in the front right jacket pocket.  We didn’t find any other belongings in the room, and there was no cash in the wallet, so we thought there was a chance this could have been a robbery, although there were several credit cards still in the wallet.  Keep in mind that we didn’t have access to the video footage now in your possession.  We’re looking for additional account numbers under the victim’s name to check for activity in case any may have been removed.”

“So you have identified the body?” I said.

Anderson sighed.

“There’s something else” he said.  “You’ll see some writing on the wall, written in blood behind the head of the bed.  We have evidence to suggest the words could have been written after the gunshot, which is why we had initially considered this a potential homicide versus suicide.  Luckily, one of the crime scene investigators had a keen eye. You’ll also see an incision on the inside of the right wrist that was difficult to spot at first.  It was partially obscured by some writing found on the forearm, so it’s possible a cut was made and used to write the words prior to the gunshot wound, but we were never able to find out for certain.  The blood from the gunshot and the blood that was used in the writing had similar clotting appearances, but most of us believe it was written prior to the gunshot.  However, since there was no blood found around the wound, it’s reasonable to suspect that the heart wasn’t beating when the incision was made.  Or, if it was made prior to the gunshot wound, someone would have had to clean it prior to pulling the trigger.  The whole thing is a cluster.”

I looked at Anderson and said, “I’m no detective, but wouldn’t fingerprint identification be all you need?”

Anderson stared at me directly, almost uncomfortably, without blinking his eyes for a moment before he spoke.  “That’s being looked into.  We took prints off of the body, but we didn’t find a match in our records at the time.  That usually means the person has never been printed – at least locally.”

“Usually?” I asked.

Anderson moved on without engaging my question.  I was beginning to get a little frustrated, so I asked him if there was a reason he’s dodging my questions.  He said, “Look, I just need you to approach this with an unbiased point of view, and there are certain things I can’t share with you yet in order to achieve that.  Satisfied?”

I thought about it for a second, and it made sense, so I said, “Okay, let’s move on.” 

He slid around to my side of the table to pull up one of the wider-angled images taken for me to view, which happened to be the most visually shocking one of them all.  Perhaps it was because of the way it was taken from the doorway to the hotel capturing the entire scene, and there sat a headless cadaver, unrecognizable to me.  I suppose this made it easier to look at in a way.  It was just… a lifeless body instead of someone I may know.  On the wall above the head of the bed were the words written in blood, ‘THEY’RE ALREADY HERE’ in capital letters amidst the splatter pattern from the gunshot.  I imagined this photo most accurately depicted what it had been like for the poor housekeeper who discovered the body, and there was an overwhelming amount of information to be seen. 

I looked at picture after picture, trying to find some recognizable feature that indicated to me that this may have been someone I either knew, or had found images of in the papers.  I didn’t see any tattoos.  The hair color was common brown, the clothing was kind of plain, which matched just about anyone’s style.  There really wasn’t anything unique at first glance.  It wasn’t until I started looking at some of the close-up images that my attention started to pique. 

The initial images depicted the body sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, with the left arm lying to the side and shotgun next to it, while the right arm was laying across the stomach and the palm resting on the waistline.  Additional images were taken after the initial photographs were done and the body was moved.  The image of the inside of his right forearm was not visible in the body’s original position.  When the palm was turned up, you could clearly see the letters ‘C.O.M.’ spelled out in black Sharpie. I paused on this photo for a moment. 

“Do these letters mean anything to you?” Anderson asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

Anderson perked up and reached for his pad and paper.  “Well?” he said.

My mind was racing because this had been sort of an inside joke I had going with a guy I went to high school with, but that couldn’t be related to this case.  I just told Anderson, “Have I ever told you that I used to watch a lot of X-Files?”

He looked at me with a hint of frustration.  “No,” he said as the excitement drained from his body and he put his pencil down.

“Well, C.O.M. was kind of a code-word I used back in high school with a small group of friends… especially during our senior year.  It was an abbreviated version of one of our favorite quotes from the X-files.  We would use it to let one another know that we were about to lie about something.  Like this one time when we got caught by the school security guard sneaking back on campus after ditching a class.  We came up with an excuse on-the-spot about our teacher asking us to take out the garbage for her because the janitorial staff didn’t do their damn jobs.  I didn’t think the security guard really bought it, but he let us go, and we all said ‘C.O.M.’ right after and laughed.” 

“I’m not following,” Anderson said, sounding even more annoyed.

I explained, “The quote was from Agent Mulder on the show, who said to Agent Scully, ‘I would never lie. I willfully participated in a Campaign of Misinformation.’  We would just say ‘C.O.M.’ when we were bullshitting people.  Every once in a while, we would pass notes in class with these letters on it as a way of asking if we wanted to ditch class that day.  Or we would mutter ‘C.O.M.’ under our breath before telling one of our parents we were going to go to the movies or to hang out at a friend’s house, and we would really be going to a party where there was drinking.  It was our kind of code-word for letting me know we were about to do something we shouldn’t be doing, and that we wanted our friends to participate.” 

“Okay, I get it,” Anderson said.

He had that look of suspicion in his eyes again.  I paused for a moment to consider the implications of what I just said.  I didn’t even think before spewing that out.  Did I say too much?  These letters seemed like a message blatantly intended for me, and that last part made it sound somewhat incriminating.  I hadn’t seen any of those guys since high school though, and it seems like a huge coincidence that these letters would be used, let alone potentially intended for me to see.  Is that even possible?  I’m not sure who else would have understood this, but why would a guy kill himself only to leave me an obscure message? It doesn’t make sense.  Or why would someone murder this fellow only to leave that message for me, if indeed it was a homicide?

Anderson spoke up, “If what you are saying is true, then what could this person be asking you to participate in?”

This question made me really uncomfortable.  “I have no idea, Detective.  Obviously I can’t participate in anything if he’s dead.”

I was getting that paranoid feeling again… considering whether or not I should contact a lawyer. I convinced myself to keep providing what information I could in an attempt to assure Detective Anderson that I truly had nothing to hide.  My mind was racing though.  I asked Anderson if there was anything at all he could tell me in addition to the information he’d already shared.  He hesitated for a moment, then pulled out another file.  He opened it and pulled out one page of paper.  It was a fingerprint analysis confirming the identification of one Joseph Foye.  Malcolm Foye’s grandfather who basically raised him.

“Can you think of anything Mr. Foye would have to lie about?” Anderson asked, not really allowing me much time to process this information he just dropped on me.

“I have no idea… does Malcolm know?  What actually happened to Malcolm after the church?” I asked.

Anderson told me how he met up with Malcolm at the hospital after he gave a report to his superiors and the County Medical Examiner regarding the body of Benjamin Scanlon.  Malcolm had received a psych evaluation at the hospital, and self-admitted at the recommendation of the emergency room physician into a rehabilitation institute, where he’s been ever since.  “Malcolm doesn’t know yet,” Anderson said.  

My thoughts were piling onto one another, one by one, and it was so much to take in that it was difficult to have a rational thought in the moment.

“Wasn’t this back in 2015?” I asked Anderson.

He confirmed.  I continued looking at the photographs, but kept returning to the writing on the inside of his right forearm.  I couldn’t help but wonder at the potential purpose for drawing my attention to this image.  Anderson reached over and magnified the image slightly, then re-centered it over the letter ‘M.’

“See there, on the vertical portion of the letter on the right?” he said.  “There’s the incision I was talking about.”

He was right.  It was hard to see because the Sharpie ink was drawn right over the top of it, superimposed as if it was supposed to hide the fact that the cut was there.  It was about an inch long with some dried, dark blood near it which blended in almost perfectly with the black Sharpie.  I zoomed in some more and noticed there were some additional lines running perpendicular to the cut and the Sharpie ink, but they were small.  The ink nearly covered them entirely, and the cut was basically right through these lines as well.

“What are these lines?” I asked.

Anderson pulled the laptop closer to him and said, “I hadn’t noticed these before.”

They looked like a bar-code. He pulled out his cell and made a call and stepped out of the room.  I kept looking at pictures as he continued to make additional calls.  I overheard him say “Check the others for bar codes.”  

After my cup of coffee was empty, I began yawning.  Anderson, looking quite tired himself, finally said, “Why don’t you go on home and get some rest.  Maybe you could come back tomorrow to look at the rest of the images.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “I’d be happy to.”

“I’ll leave your name with the front desk in case I’m not in.  They’ll set you up.  Let me know if you think about anything else.”

Anderson handed me his card and started to walk me out.  It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that I didn’t know how to reach him if and when I might need to.  At the security checkpoint in the front lobby, he said, “Just one more thing… we haven’t informed anyone yet.  We were hoping you could shed some light on this for us, but since you’re still going to come back to look at more stuff tomorrow, let’s be discreet. Okay?”

I said, “No problem, but I have one more question for you before I come back in the morning.  Why now?  You’ve known the identity of this body for what, five years now?  Why are you pulling me out of work today to ask me to look into this?”

Anderson got that scowl on his face that I’d seen before, as if he were in deep thought.  He was discerning whether or not to provide me any additional details, and he probably assumed I was going to continue being a pain in the ass with questions if I didn’t get a few answers.  Eventually, he said, “Have you ever heard of SCIC?”

In fact, I had.  I said, “Isn’t that the defense contractor here in San Diego?  Yeah, they subcontract with the military for aerospace and weapons technology… high tech stuff, right?”

Anderson nodded to confirm.  Then he said, “Two weeks ago, they had a break-in.  We were called out to the scene, but couldn’t find anyone.  A set of right hand fingerprints ID’ed the perp as one Joseph Foye.”

I stood there perplexed for a moment.  Anderson continued, “So I was hoping you can help explain how the fingerprints of a man who died five years ago, with ties to The Storage Papers (as you refer to them), ended up breaking and entering into a highly-classified tech company, while managing to evade the dozens of security cameras, armed guards, and other personnel in the building… all while leaving only one set of prints deep within an area of the complex that they were cautiously avoiding details about when my team was working the place.  Would that be something you’d consider ‘impossible’ or ‘paranormal’ even?”

I had to agree. Anderson took a deep breath and advised me to get some sleep.  Apparently we’d only touched the tip of the iceberg.

When I got home, the house was dark.  There was a stack of mail sitting on the end table by my favorite spot on the couch, which I easily ignored due to how tired I was.  I crawled into bed.  I hadn’t realized how late it was, but I started drifting asleep slowly around one a.m.  My dreams were consumed of images from the crime scene photos, and my mind continued searching for clues from the memory of images that left scars on my brain.  I drifted deeper and deeper into hard sleep, and then suddenly I was startled awake with the image of the forearm and the realization that I missed something at the police station.  Anderson referred to the fingerprints found at the SCIC building as right-hand fingerprints.  The writing on Joseph’s right forearm was in perfect penmanship.  The wallet was found in the right pants pocket, but the shotgun was lying on the left side of the victim.  Mr. Foye was right-handed. 

I sat upright in bed with sweat streaming down my face.  Unless he had become ambidextrous, it couldn’t have been Joseph Foye laying there dead.  My sleep-fogged mind tried to wrap itself around the possibilities with this realization.  Could he have written those letters in perfect penmanship with his left hand?  Why would he use a shotgun with his left hand?  This was obviously set up, most likely by the Grinner at the time.  I had to wonder how much of Malcolm was aware of what went down that night.  I instantly felt sorry for him.  Even if this was set up to look like a suicide, that didn’t explain how the body’s fingerprints matched the prints in the SCIC building from two weeks ago.  My head hurts.

I reached to my nightstand to pick up my phone and call Detective Anderson.  It went straight to voice mail.  “Detective Anderson, this is Jeremy.  I have some information regarding the pictures we looked at last night.  You might be interested to hear what I have to say.  Please call me as soon as you get this message.”

I figured Anderson was still asleep.  I looked at the clock and it was after 10:00 a.m.  For a moment I was concerned about work, but then I remembered it was Saturday.

The Mirrored Woman – Season 3 Episode 5

See Content Warnings
General horror, choking, language, paranoia, and car accident.
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy reads a document created by Ron in which a name has been redacted. It is unclear why this is the case. The unnamed individual met with Ron and discussed a dream he has where at 11:11pm he encounters a woman who mirrors his every movement. The woman stops mirroring his movements and attacks him at which point he wakes up. After having this dream for 10 consecutive nights, he goes for a drive and believes he is being tailed by a black SUV. He is involved in a car accident after which he awoke in the Emergency Room and called Ron to meet. Ron noted that he had allowed an unnamed woman to hypnotize the man who dreamed.

Along with my update from the break, I wanted to share a document with you that I believe relates to some of the others I have planned to share with you this season.

Now, we all dream.  Sometimes we remember our dreams and others, not so much, but science tells us it happens despite our recollection, or lack thereof.  We speculate, but I can’t help but wonder if we know the true purpose of dreams.  Are they simply our subconscious trying to find a way to interpret or rationalize the things we go through in our hours of being awake?  If so, are there varying levels of success?  Or… are our dreams some kind of makeshift window into other realities?  Or maybe something in between?  You can go dizzy listening to armchair philosophers who like to argue that perhaps we’re all living in some kind of a simulation, and that during the hours we sleep, we achieve a distorted glimpse into our actual environments.  

All of this is admittedly entertaining to think about, but you have to wonder if there is any truth in those thoughts.  Have you ever had a dream where, within that dream, you realized you could control what happens, and even manipulate the environment and outcomes of different scenarios?  What if it were possible to dream about whatever you wanted to dream about?  That sounds pretty close to heaven in my book.  But what if there was a way to enter another person’s dream?  You would have insight like no other into that person’s life, what’s on their mind, the struggles they’re dealing with, and so much more.  One might even say you had the power to manipulate them… after all, even if they remember their dreams, they’re “just dreams,” right?  Nobody is going to believe that anything occurring within them is actually based in reality.  

Today’s document may cause you to question all of these possibilities.  It appears to be a notes from a conversation between Ron and someone who’s name has been redacted.  Why would Ron redact someone’s name in his own records though?  I need to remember to ask him about that.  Either way, it reads as though it may have been a recorded conversation.  There’s no dates listed either, but I can tell it’s local because of some of the details mentioned.

It reads:

I met [redacted] outside of the Emergency room on Sunday after he was discharged.  He called me from the ambulance during transit from his motor vehicle accident to the ER, insisting that I meet with him before he got home.  He wouldn’t explain anything on the phone for fear that his phone was “bugged,” and he believed that his accident was directly related to his research at work.  While I’m trying to put the pieces together to figure out how to best help him, I’m struggling with the legitimacy of some of his claims.

I waited by his car for him to come outside, and he asked if we could find somewhere private to talk, so we agreed to meet at a local 24-hour diner off the 5 and Encinitas Blvd, which was conveniently on the way home for both of us.  Once we arrived, we found a quiet booth away from the other two parties present.  After all, it was after 2:00 a.m. and crowds weren’t going to be a problem.

When the waitress arrived, we both ordered coffee, and he ordered breakfast.  Then he started telling me about this recurring dream he had over the preceding 11 days, which I thought was odd.  Why was he counting?

He described not knowing if it was a dream vs. reality the first night he had it.  This guy was an early riser his whole life, and usually got into work around 4:30 a.m., so his bedtime was generally between [7:30] and 8:00 p.m.  So when this dream starts, he’s actually lying in bed awake, and he rolls over to see the time on his alarm clock, which reads 11:11 p.m.  He stops telling me about the dream already to inform me that he believes the number 11 is significant.  But he continues.

He swears he’s lying in bed looking at his clock for more than 10 minutes within the dream, but the time never changes on the clock.  So within the dream, he is conscious that the number 11 is significant as well.  He suddenly feels compelled to get out of bed to check all of his other clocks in the house, just to see if they all say the same time, or if the one on his nightstand is simply frozen.  

It takes him 11 steps to get to his bedroom door, and then another 11 steps to enter the living room, where he plans to first check the time on a grandfather clock that was in his grandparents’ home when he was a child, but in reality, he does not actually possess this clock.  He just knows it’s there in his dream.

When he takes his 10th step toward the grandfather clock, his attention is drawn toward movement on his left side.  By the time he’s finished with his 11th step, he’s never able to actually look at the time on the grandfather clock because he’s always getting a first glimpse of what’s causing the distracting movement to his left.  There’s a second-floor landing visible to him at this position in the room, and he sees a woman’s feet at the top of the stars, but they’re not facing the stairs.  They’re facing the opposite way, heels at the edge of the top step.

He says, “hello,” but there’s no response, so he takes one step toward the bottom of the stairs.  As he does this, the woman’s right foot steps backwards and descends one step on the stairs.  As he stops, she stops.  He says, “hello?” again, but the woman doesn’t respond.  The only thing he can see is her bare left foot, and now her bare right foot and calf.  

He takes another measured single step, and as he does, her left foot now descents to the second stair from the top.  She stops when he stops.  He starts to panic now and he doesn’t understand why, but he decides to test a theory.  He takes one step backwards toward his bedroom.  The woman matches his movement by taking one step with her left foot forward, up the stairs where it previously was.  He substantiates the rules… that for every step he takes forward, she takes a step backwards, and vice versa.  But he doesn’t know if she’s just someone playing a game with him, trying to mirror his movements, or if this woman is bound to these rules and doesn’t have any choice but to follow them.

He explains that his mind is as sharp as ever, as if he were awake, so he figures he’ll try another test.  If he runs three or four steps forward, and the woman is just trying to play some kind of game, she’ll lose her balance trying to move that quickly going backwards down the stairs, and likely won’t be able to keep up if he moves quickly.  He tests his hypothesis.

He takes four running steps toward the base of the stairs, but she doesn’t lose her balance.  Her movements are as quick as his, and her movements look unnatural, like watching a film in reverse.  Now he is even more scared, but he can’t figure out why.  In his dream, he recognizes that his fear is irrational, as he seems to have full control over where this woman moves, and knows how to get away from her at any time – by simply walking back toward his bedroom.

After taking a moment to muster up some courage, he takes a few more steps and watches her match his movements in reverse down the stairs.  As he approaches the bottom of the stairs, he begins seeing more features.  The woman has very tan or brown skin, and is wearing what appears to be a long white coat that is tattered with holes in it.  She doesn’t appear to be wearing anything underneath it.  She has long, dark hair, but her face can’t be seen through it, at least from the side angle he has.  He tries turning his head to his right, and her head moves to the left when he does, causing her to face him… but his head is turned just far enough so that her face is outside of his peripheral vision, and when he turns his head back toward her, she of course turns her head away so that he can never really make out any details.  All of her movements are perfectly mirrored to his.  

He takes a couple more steps forward and she reaches the lower landing where the stairs turn near the bottom.  At this point, he realizes if he takes an additional three steps, he’ll be at the base of the stairs… and so will she.  He cautiously contemplates his next move, and in doing so, recognizes that those three additional steps would total 11 steps from where he entered the room.  Instead of moving more, he looks around the living room.  He can see a reflection of the grandfather clock, which reads [11:11].  Also within view from where he’s standing, is the microwave clock, which reads the same time.

He stands there for another moment, then looks back at the woman, who is still on the lower landing, and now has her back facing him.  She’s so still that she looks like a mannequin, but he can’t help but admire her long, dark hair, which extends below her waist.  He pinches himself in an attempt to wake up, but has no such luck.  After a few moments pass, he doesn’t really know what else there is to do in this dream except go forward, both literally and figuratively.  So that’s what he does.

His first step forward is her first step backward off the lower landing.  They take another step, and then the third.  She is now on the ground floor within arms reach.  His eyes focus on her hair, and he’s tempted to move it to the side to see if he can see the side of her face.  He takes his left hand and raises it slowly toward the left side of her face, seemingly entranced by how beautiful her hair is and fully planning on pulling it aside to see if he can recognize her.  He has a gut feeling that he knows her somehow, or that she at least knows him.  There’s a sense of familiarity that increases the closer he gets to touching her.

When his fingertips are nearly touching her silky hair, he notices something.  She is no longer mirroring his movements.  He thinks to himself, “if my left hand is reaching up toward her, then her right hand shouldn’t still be by her side.”  He starts breathing rapidly, heart racing, and begins to second-guess his plan of moving her hair aside.  “What if she was sleep-walking and is now awake?  What if she knows I’m there?”  Thoughts race through his mind.  “What if she has free will and can do anything she wants to in this dream?  Why is she here?”

He prays to God that he can reverse this whole situation by simply taking a step backwards, but when he does, she flinches just a bit at the sound of his foot meeting the hardwood floor.  He freezes and she cocks her head to the left, then slowly begins to turn around.  She now stands facing him, arms down by her sides and head tilted to the left.  She’s motionless, and he realizes he stopped breathing a long time ago.  

He tries to make out details of her facial appearance, but it’s simply too dark, and there’s too much hair covering her face.  Some time goes by and he begins to breathe again.  She doesn’t move at all, so he begins to feel more comfortable in this situation, trusting that she’ll hold still.  What’s interesting here, is he described her as “having established a good rapport, and an element of trust, so he had no reason not to trust her.”  I’d like to pursue further questioning later.

Having established trust, he begins closer examination of her face, and soon realizes she doesn’t have a face at all.  It’s just smooth skin, void of eyes, a nose, or a mouth.  For some reason, even though in waking thought it doesn’t sound logical, he assumes that because of this, she is harmless.  He reaches up with both hands to feel her hair, and that’s when he realizes how wrong he was.

She grabs him by the throat with her right hand and lifts him completely off the ground, causing him to choke and gasp for air.  His eyes start to bulge as she tightens her grip and pulls his face closer to hers.  He attempts to loosen her grip with both hands, feet flailing about, and it only gets tighter.  He begins to see dim red illumination where her eyes would have been if she had a face.  As the seconds go by, the lights get brighter, and she begins forming somewhat of a mouth.

Small holes begin to appear where her mouth should be, arranged in a horizontal row, and as her chin gets lower, the holes stretch and tear the skin, causing some of the holes to connect, and make more of an appearance like a mouth.  As it opens wider, he begins to hear a noise that he can’t quite make out at first, but the louder it grows, the more he begins to recognize it’s the sound of screeching tires.  The instant he recognizes this, the sound stops and the red glow dissipates from the eyes.  All goes quiet and she goes back to not having a face, but he’s still dangling by the neck in her grasp.  Then he hears a clear woman’s voice say, “Now count backwards from 11 and relax,” followed by a horribly loud crashing sound, with the bending of metal, and it’s almost deafening.  And that’s when he wakes up.  

“The pisser of it all,” he says, “is that the clock by my bed always says 11:11 p.m. every time I have this dream.  It’s a real mind-fuck because I’m wondering if I should get up and go check my other clocks, but I never do… at least until tonight.”  

“So, before I went to sleep tonight, I knew it was going to be the 11th night I’ve had this dream, so I told myself, I’d actually get up, check my other clocks, and look around the house.  Of course, I’m looking at the stairs when I do, but there’s no woman, no clocks stuck on [11:11].  I watched my microwave clock turn to 11:12 p.m. and you know I don’t have a grandfather clock.  So knowing I’m not going to be able to sleep much, I decide I’m going for a drive.  I didn’t really know where, but I just started driving.”

[Name redacted] proceeds to explain how he just hops on the 5 freeway and drives North for a while until he feels compelled to get off in Del Mar.  He says he has an itch to see the ocean, so he drives around looking for beach access, but then he starts getting paranoid.  He feels like he’s being followed and sees a set of headlights behind him following each turn he makes.  So he decides to speed up and make a series of erratic turns at each intersection he reaches, until he finally stops at a red light.

He’s looking in his rear view mirror and doesn’t see a set of headlights, so he thinks he’s lost his tail.  But a few seconds later, he sees a car turn a few streets back and he’s not sure if the car is coming from the same street he just turned from.  In order to get a better view than the rear view mirror provides, he makes sure the traffic light is still red, then he puts his right arm behind the passenger seat in order to help swing around and turn to look behind him.  He watches the car behind him, still a couple of intersections away, but it makes a right turn down one of the streets, and no one is behind him as far as he can see now.

So he turns to see if he’s got a green light when he starts hearing the screeching of tires.  It takes him a moment, but he sees a black SUV in front of him driving in reverse at high speed.  The red tail lights are approaching quickly, and before he has time to react, he hears the collision and is knocked unconscious.  

So he wakes up in the back of the ambulance on the way to the Emergency Room, and decides to call me.  He can’t remember any license plate number.  In fact, he can’t remember seeing any license plate on the vehicle at all.  Apparently it was a hit and run.  Someone actually intentionally reversed their vehicle in an attempt to harm him.  A local resident heard the collision and ran outside.  They also described a black SUV, but didn’t get a license plate.  The intersection where the collision occurred was at Camino Del Mar and 11th street.  

He said it took him a little while after arriving in the ER to gather his thoughts, but he’s 100% confident that [name redacted] did something to his head when he allowed her to hypnotize him.  He says she did it in the name of therapy, but now he’s sure that she just did it to screw with his head.  He called out sick for work while he was eating his breakfast with me at the diner.  

Notes: I followed up with him the next day to see if he had the dream again, and he said he hadn’t.  I also went down to the Sheriff’s department and was able to get a copy of the report.  They were able to get a decent picture of the tire tread on the SUV, and estimated the vehicle had been going between 50 and 60 miles per hour at the point of impact based on the distance [name redacted] car was moved from the intersection.  Of course, there was black paint on his bumper, grill and hood.  Looking at images of his car though, it’s a wonder the impact didn’t kill him.  

I’ll need to consider whether or not to question [name redacted] the next opportunity I get.  I’m not sure it’s worth risking at this point in time, but perhaps under different circumstances in the future, I can revisit my notes here when there’s not so much at stake.

I have just a few takeaways from this document.  Obviously Ron knows the name of the man that was having the dreams, but it appears he not only knows the name of this woman that he refers to, but he might actually know her, like in-person.  How is this possible though?  Do these guys work together?  Or did they in the past?  

I have to wonder what “risks” he was referring to, and when this was actually written.  I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be wise to sit on this one, just as Ron did, until I can see if there’s any more to learn about this situation.  Maybe there’s some small detail in the upcoming documents I’m going to release here on the podcast that one of the listeners may catch and I miss… if that’s the case, please let me know.  Until then, I’ll be back in two weeks with more of the papers.

Unmarked – Season 3 Episode 4

See Content Warnings
General horror, marijuana use, non-consensual injection of unknown substance, restraints, and body horror.
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
An unknown individual had a letter anonymously delivered to Jeremy’s home. The letter recounts a psychology student at Stanford being invited to an internship to help input the psychological profile of criminals into an algorithm to prevent crime. Over the weekend, they notice things are getting more and more unusual; they are locked out of all their online accounts, they have car trouble, and things are missing in their home.
They finally make it to a warehouse where the study is occurring, using an address on a business card the recruiter gave them. They soon find themselves strapped down and being hooked up to sensors and an IV drip without their consent. Their body has an extremely negative reaction, but time seems to freeze, then they find themselves back at their place, except they see themselves as they were the night before last.
They are suddenly back in the warehouse, still connected. The recruiter tells them they traveled to the past, then continues having them travel back in time, with their side effects worsening. To try to alter their destiny, they try to ruin their day and cause their past self to miss the internship, but seem to be unsuccessful.
During their travels through time, they overhear the people working on the supposed internship reference Project Infinitum, and also discuss The Storage Papers podcast. The mysterious individual issues an ominous warning to Jeremy to be careful.
Jeremy suspects it is a part of Project Hydra.

I actually was in the middle of recording an episode from one of the files in the storage papers when there was a knock at my door on Sunday. When I opened the door there was nobody there. Instead I found a plain, unmarked white envelope sitting on my welcome mat. Perhaps more foolishly than I should have acted, I opened it almost immediately. Inside I found a handwritten letter spanning multiple pages which were neatly folded into thirds. I read through it several times, trying to determine if it were a practical joke, but based on the little I’ve learned from these papers, I think it might be the real deal. I’ll let you decide.

Dear Jeremy,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you and that will never change. Before I tell you what you need to know, I’ll tell you a bit about myself and I apologize for the length, but the devil, I’m afraid, is in the details, so I hope you’ll indulge me as these may be my final words to anyone. Not so long ago for you I was a student at Stanford – a psych major. In fact, I might still be depending on how long that courier company took to deliver this. And, of course, depending on if it even makes it to you or if it’s intercepted.

Now, I’m not a party animal or anything. I took my time at Stanford very seriously. Other students may have a rich family so this place doesn’t make a dent in their pocketbooks, but not me. My time here was the result of a lot of hard work and I had no intention of throwing it all away. That said, I was feeling pretty good Friday night, so I decided to indulge a little. And by indulge, I mean I burned through as many brain cells as I could in celebration.

You see, Thursday I had taken a pretty intense test. Friday morning I found out that I had passed. That by itself was amazing, but then Friday afternoon I left my Intro to Cognitive Neuroscience class and there was a man waiting for me in a grey suit and green tie. I was surprised when he said my name – a name which I won’t share with you for your own safety. I was even more surprised when he told me why he knew my name.

Apparently my professor routinely passes names along to some of his contacts who are looking for promising students to eventually recruit them. What type of companies are looking to recruit psych majors, you ask? Good, then we’re on the same page. It didn’t make any sense to me either, yet he somehow had the perfect answer. We got some coffee and he explained that he represented an organization that was looking to take a step beyond the cutting edge of the criminal justice field. They were developing an algorithm to help stop crime. Apparently many law enforcement agencies have been working on this, but they wanted to introduce a more interesting element.

They had all the data about different crimes that had occurred and all the environmental, social, and political factors that went into it, but they wanted to go deeper. They wanted employees who would work with their artificial intelligence so that it could understand why those specific criminals broke the law and add the psychological element into their algorithm. To sort of turn the clock back and truly prevent crime from happening in the first place.

I gave a nervous smile as I sipped my coffee and told him I’d seen that movie already. He politely chuckled, then told me that they were recruiting people from universities all over the world for this to get the next generation of people who understood the mind to break it down for them and that they were going to be doing a study on Sunday if I was interested in at least putting that down on my resume once I graduated.

If you’ve ever been a student, I’m sure you know how valuable a resume that doesn’t consist of waiting tables is when it comes time to start applying. I wasn’t sure that I was as qualified as he thought I was to be contributing to something as science fiction as he described, but I definitely wanted a little polish as I entered the workforce. I accepted. As I did, it hit me just how big this would be. A previous professor had spoken to the value of internships and published papers, but I thought I’d be further along in my studies before I got noticed enough to do something like that. So when I arrived home, I got into my stash and smoked a bowl and passed out about a half hour later.

When I woke up Saturday I was ready to conquer the world, despite me still wearing the same clothes I had on the day before, having fallen asleep on my recliner. I dug into my jeans pocket and pulled out the business card he had given me with every intention of learning more about the company so I could be more fully prepared when I showed up on Sunday. Instead I found that it contained what I assumed to be his last name – Hyde or something like that – and a phone number. On the back I found a handwritten address which, according to a quick search, was near the shipyards.

I wasn’t exactly what one might call particularly social and spent most of the day completing homework, studying, and watching Netflix. Eventually dinner time rolled around and being tired of frozen burritos I thought I would treat myself to an actual meal and decided to splurge on McDonald’s. That’s when I first noticed things were a bit unusual. I always keep my keys on a stand by the door, but they weren’t there. I searched everywhere from the recliner cushion to every surface between the chair and the door.

It wasn’t until I realized I was sweating and went to get some ice for a glass of water that I found them in the freezer. Which made some weird sense when I found my wallet in the refrigerator. I then figured out I was sweating because the heat was turned on, despite it being almost 90 degrees outside. I tried to shrug it off as getting too high but I knew I hadn’t so much as moved from the recliner since I started smoking last night.

I knew someone had to be messing with me when I got to my car. I’m not mechanically inclined at all but upon no response from the engine I still popped the hood to see if there was anything obviously wrong before completely giving up. As it turns out, even I could spot a disconnected battery. I reconnected it and felt pride swell my chest as the engine turned over, then caught. That pride was quickly tempered with frustration and paranoia at who could be messing with me.

I got my McDonald’s and quickly returned home. When I arrived I began a survey, takeout bag in hand, to determine what else could be wrong. In the end I found a handful of things. My toothpaste, shampoo, and body wash were all completely empty. There was no hot water available. Three of my course books were missing, along with the single beer I had in the fridge. I ended my perusal of the perimeter with a locked door and decided to push it out of my mind for now with more Netflix. That is until I discovered that my Netflix account had been discontinued. When I tried to login and reactivate it, I found that my password had been changed. I started the recovery process only to further discover I was locked out of my email account.

It was now nine in the evening and I had an important meeting first thing in the morning, but I was beginning to legitimately freak out about this. Not only had someone invaded my physical space, but also my digital life. To update my password Google stated they would have to physically mail me a code to enter in and I nearly threw my phone in frustration, but I still needed it. I checked my bank account and that’s when my frustration turned into fear as I was told my username or password was incorrect.

I was no longer in the mood for Netflix and I ended up not finishing the burger. I just wanted my life which a mere 24 hours ago had nowhere to go but up to come back. I would have slept fitfully just from that but then every hour or so I was woken up and each time it was more difficult to go back to sleep as my bed seemed unusually uncomfortable. The first time I was startled by my phone blasting Haddaway at full volume from my nightstand. Next there was a crash that jolted me out of bed and I found that everything that had been in my refrigerator was now on the floor. Once I could have sworn there was someone in the room with me but when I put on my glasses I found myself alone. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night after that.

When morning rolled around and the sun began to naturally light up the room I finally got up and threw my sheets on the floor in frustration. It was then that I solved two mysteries at once: why my bed was so uncomfortable and where my missing books and beer went. If I hadn’t been so preoccupied last night I probably would have noticed the visible lumps in the mattress.

I took a shower – still cold – to help gather my wits. Even though my life seemed to be falling apart in a timespan of just one day, it was still important to me to think about my future and attend this study. My one button down shirt and pair of slacks were almost unsurprisingly absent from my dresser. Instead I wore khakis and a polo. My car would not start and this time my battery was still connected so I flagged down someone else in the parking lot who was able to give me a jump. “Rough morning?” he asked. If he only knew.

I looked for the business card to get directions and found that it must not have transferred from my jeans to my khakis. With a touch of relief I remembered that I had looked it up on my phone and it was still in my history. I had some other searches in my history I didn’t recall ever making but in the end I found the address I was looking for and I was able to make it there at 10am sharp. I parked in front of what I assumed was the correct building although I felt unsure given that it seemed to be an abandoned warehouse.

When I entered, I was instead given the impression of a rather advanced laboratory for some sort of practical science which was pretty far out of my league. The man who had recruited me saw me before I saw him and came over to greet me.

“Are you ready to change the world?” he asked.

I told him no world changing events happened on a Sunday and he laughed. “Why does this place look so run down outside?” I asked him.

“You know how Apple started in a garage?” he asked in return. “Well, this is our garage.”

I asked him what the abstract of the study was and he told me we’d be getting to that but first they needed to make sure I could interface properly with the computer. I nodded, having no clue what that meant.

As it turns out, it involved several sensors being placed on my body, then my head, wrists and ankles being strapped down. He told me these were required sensors. Then they brought out the IVs. I could deal with sensors, I could deal with not understanding everything, but I’m majoring in a soft science. I don’t deal with hard needles. I told them I don’t consent to it and they acted like they couldn’t hear me.

Within a few minutes of the needle being inserted into the crook of my right arm then connected to the tube, I began to feel an intense burning course through my arm then spread to my chest. I was so distracted by the pain that I didn’t notice they were performing a similar procedure on my left arm until I realized I was having a different sensation coming from that side of my body. This time it was just pure, unadulterated pain. I screamed. I cried. I begged for them to stop. They ignored me, instead adding additional needles and pumping different fluids into me.

At one point I looked down to discover my entire right arm was rapidly developing blisters that spread from the needle’s entry point. My left hand had turned almost completely black. I couldn’t see further down my body due to my head restraint but I could feel my skin on my legs cracking open and something thick oozing out. I knew I was going to die.

Then the strangest thing happened. At first I thought it was an illusion caused by what I’m sure was a furiously drug addled mind, then I decided this was actually what death felt like. Everything was slowing down. The drip into the IV fell through the air at an impossibly slow pace. Everyone moved as if they were stuck walking underwater. Then it all stopped. I blacked out.

When I came to, I was at home. An assessment of my body found that I was disfigured beyond recognition. My khakis were soiled with urine, feces, and some kind of dark green sludge which still oozed slightly from the cracks in my skin. My entire right arm was covered in blisters that leaked puss and blood. But most importantly, I felt no pain. For a few moments at least. Then I caught a glimpse of myself passed out on the recliner, skin unmarked by the torture I had endured, and once again blacked out as pain overtook me.

The next time I opened my eyes, I saw a grinning face before me. The face of the man from the coffee shop. “How was your expedition there?” he asked me.

I tried to spit in his face but found I could barely move my swollen lips. “Don’t strain yourself. I don’t actually need you to talk. You’ve interfaced perfectly with the computer so we’re learning all sorts of stuff from your little trip to the past.”

I guess some sort of facial muscles were still able to display shock and confusion because he said, “That’s right, you just paid a visit to the past. Maybe eventually it won’t have as many…unpleasant side effects, but for now you’re helping us with one of the early stages of changing the world. Think of all the implications!”

I finally was able to work up enough spit in my mouth to try to throw it in his face but it ended up just dribbling out like drool.

“Now, I’d like you to relax,” he continued, ignoring the saliva sliding down my chin. “It’s going to be a long day, I’m afraid.”

He turned and nodded to a technician by some equipment who then pressed a few buttons and I felt my pain increase beyond what I thought was already the maximum level possible. My vision in my left eye turned red, then I once again blacked out.

There I was. This was me. In the past. Asleep. No idea what was going to happen to me. That’s when I made the decision. I had to stop myself from going. I had to do whatever it took to make sure this torture never happened to me. I got to work. I only had about ten minutes before I blacked out again.

When I came to I was terrified to find that I was still in place. It must not have worked. Or maybe it’s a different timeline? I’m still not sure. But I had to keep trying. Each time I went back, I did more to ruin my life so that I could actually save myself. Each time I found that it wasn’t enough. I did, however, discover some sort of rules…I wasn’t able to actually directly interact with my past self. I tried a couple of times and each time I found myself in intense pain and ended up blacking out again.

That’s when I gave up. I’ve taken two trips since then, including this one. One was to find out more about what was happening to me. I visited the facility in which I was being held captive and found them setting everything up. In a conference call I overheard them referring to Project Infinitum, which I’m guessing is what I’ve been an unwilling subject of. But they also talked about a podcast and discussed what fate it should meet. I couldn’t tell what they said after, but I do know they said it was called The Storage Papers.

So I’m on this trip now. I looked up the podcast and found enough information between that call I overheard and searches I made on my phone to track down your address. I ordered a courier service to deliver this to you and I’m writing this note in the past. I’ve left explicit instructions to ensure you have no contact with them so you can’t trace anything back to me. If you find me, it could bring them all down on you that much faster. If all goes well I only have one more trip to make after this and either way it’s too late for me, but I wanted to tell you to be careful. These people know about you. They know what you’re doing. And, based on the experiments they’ve been conducting on me, they have the ability to learn far more about you than you ever thought possible. Please believe me, Jeremy. Be careful.

As promised, there’s no name anywhere within the letter or any indication where it came from. I looked for any missing students at Stanford but there were no results which could mean this is a hoax, it could mean it hasn’t happened yet, or…it could mean it’s been covered up. I also can’t help but wonder if the name on that business card wasn’t Hyde, but actually Hydra, as this seems to fit that organization’s activities.

Whatever the case, I’ll be taking some extra precautions on this end and I’d like everyone listening to know that should anything happen to me, I’ve scheduled several episodes to automatically be released so nothing will stop these papers from getting out there. I know some of you listening to this podcast have left me voice messages and emails as you’ve investigated these further. I’d encourage anyone else looking into these to also take precautions to ensure your own safety if you continue. With that said, no matter what, another episode will be posted in two weeks. See you then.

Dream Eater – Season 3 Episode 3

See Content Warnings
General horror, car accident, body injury, child illness, child experimentation permitted by a parent, drug overdose resulting in death of a parent
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy’s experiments with lucid dreaming have been unsuccessful.
Brianne was on her way to visit a psychic she found in the medical files when she was involved in a car accident but has no memory of getting into the car at all. She had a dream where she was chasing a blurred person. In her dream she found a card that says “I’m saving your for last, Brianne.” When she woke up she had the card but it was blank. That’s her tell to determine whether she’s awake or asleep now. All the people in the medical files didn’t seem to exist prior to their teenage years. Brianne also doesn’t remember much of her childhood.
In this week’s document a child gets sick and doesn’t have any dreams whenever a monster comes to visit at night. Years later they remember what actually happened: men entered their room with gas masks at night to study them. The same men paid their mother to allow it.

Thank you for tuning in to The Storage Papers. If you’ve been keeping up with the show, you’ll probably remember that I’ve been having strange dreams, dreams where I’m sort of floating away from myself and hovering over my sleeping form, like my soul isn’t tethered to my body or even this dimension. And then in an instant, I snap back and I’m awake. If that doesn’t sound familiar, feel free to go back a couple of episodes and get caught up. I’ll still be here when you get back. 

If you’re still here, then I guess you deserve an update on my experiments with lucid dreaming. So far, I haven’t exactly been successful. Since you’ve last heard from me, I’ve spent a week trying to force myself into a lucid dream. I’m not sure if this will come as a surprise, but lucid dreaming just… doesn’t work this way. It’s not something you can force, at least not without knowing what you’re doing. I’m not ready to give up, but I probably won’t give any more updates unless I see some success. 

Regardless, I think I’m grasping at straws anyway. Disrupting my sleep patterns, leaving myself feeling exhausted, taking sick days just to stay at home and rest… if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think the solution is something I’m going to find on my own. Not on the internet or in any of your emails (though trust me I’m grateful for it).

The answer is somewhere in these boxes. I just have to keep searching, and not just for myself. Brianne needs my help and after everything she’s gone through – everything I’ve done – and what happened to Ben… I owe that to her. 

I’m thankful that she’s not dead yet. 

Brianne casually messaged me, letting me know that she was in a car accident. Nothing major. She’s not seriously injured, just a little sore from the impact. But that’s not the point. She says she doesn’t remember driving or falling asleep at the wheel (not that you necessarily would, I presume). She woke up with her rental car in a ditch, a trail of flattened grass and a bent mile marker leading back to where she must have drifted off of the road. It’s easy to pass it off as exhaustion and carelessness, and that’s exactly what she did. I was grateful that she was alive, and she was just grateful that her insurance covered rental vehicles. She told me something, though, that I thought made this much more curious–something that kind of made me think more about alternative explanations. 

She said that she left behind all of her clothes. Her wallet was in her purse and that was in a suitcase… in the closet of her hotel room. She left her necklace on the nightstand and her cell phone was still charging next to it. She left everything behind. How? Was she that exhausted? It’s certainly a possibility, but it all just seems so strange. I asked her to give me something more to work with. Anything. What she thinks she’s going to find. If she thinks that having more control over her dreams is really going to accomplish anything. 

What she describes to me already sounds like lucid dreaming. I guess I just couldn’t understand what she was looking for. Eventually she told me something new, but not without some trepidation. She said she has a connection to the killer… or killers.

The face is always blurred, but usually the whole body is too. It’s like looking at someone through a Vaseline lens. Sometimes she’s on a sidewalk, other times she’s on a secluded beach… in the center a crowded shopping mall, or a forest trail with soft light sifting between the branches. She’s not alone. Other people are usually around but it’s like they can’t see her or they are ignoring her, avoiding eye contact. 

A man is slowly following her. She’s never sure if it’s the same person. She can’t make out any details beyond a vague shape. When she can’t see him, she can feel him. It’s an anxious feeling, and it’s a longing feeling. A feeling in your chest or maybe in your heart, like loving someone that you hate, or like remembering old toys you grew out of. The other people in her dreams pretend not to see him, but they take steps to avoid him: changing directions, swapping to the other side of the street, or making sudden turns down department store aisles. They’re afraid of him. She can see it in their eyes and when they hold their children’s hands just a little tighter when they walk past. Sometimes when she looks back he lifts his hand and waves to her playfully. 

I didn’t understand. I asked her how she knew that this was the killer, how she knew that it wasn’t just some coincidence that these people were dying in their sleep and she was having nightmares about some strange blurry man. I was hoping she didn’t have an answer, but she did. She told me that the first night that it started, he wasn’t following her… she was following him. His blurry form stood out in the crowd of people waiting to board a subway train. He waved his arm to get her attention but she was already walking closer, drawn to him. People around him would get caught in the blur emanating around him if they got too close. Like heat refraction, those little wavy blurry lines above a hot grill or an asphalt road in the summer heat. 

He boarded the train and she followed, pushing through the crowd of people, hoping not to lose him. By the time she made it on to the train he was already making his way to the next car. She chased after the blurry man, shimmying between shoulders and stumbling over ankles and purses and baby strollers, from one car to the next. He stood up ahead waiting for her at last, but in her brisk pace she stumbled and fell on to her hands and knees. She must have picked up something sharp, like a piece of glass, because she cut her hand when she fell. Nothing serious, just a small prick in the center of her palm. Enough to draw blood. 

When she looked up again, making her way back to her feet, she found herself alone. The man was gone and the train was empty. On the floor a few feet in front of her was a folded over piece of paper: thick like card stock, or some type of fancy stationery.

She opened it. In thick looping handwriting were 6 words:

I’m saving you for last, Brianne.

And when she looked up from the paper, dotted with the blood rolling down her index finger from her bleeding palm, she saw that she wasn’t alone anymore. The man stood there and around him stood a group of what looked like children, but all of them were hidden behind the same blur. One of the children stepped forward. She could make out her blue dress and skinny legs, and she spoke to Brianne, she told her, “We’ll all see you soon, Brianne. But now it’s time to wake up.”

And she did. Still clutching that piece of paper in her hand. Only now it was blank. She says that’s her tell. If the paper is blank, then it means she’s awake. She thinks it’s a gift from the killer. A head start. That way she’ll know when she’s asleep… and when to run.

Brianne was on her way to visit a psychic. She’d stopped at a hotel for the night, planning to drive the rest of the way in the morning. That is, before the accident. The psychic is someone whose name was in those documents: an MRI and a PET scan among other tests, done years apart. Neither of us were certain how Project Hydra was connected to the physical documents, aside from their watermarks. The only one who knew that was Ron. We had even less of an idea what the Grinner wanted with this stuff. There is a thin connection between the Grinner and Project Hydra, and it all centers — for the moment — around these medical documents

Brianne told me one more bit of information before she got off of the phone. She said that she’d been doing some research and she couldn’t find anything on the victims’ childhoods. It’s like they didn’t exist until their late teens. That information seemed like it’d be hard to find, if not next to impossible for most of them, but it left me wondering what made her even think of this line of inquiry. So I asked her what she remembered of her own childhood. She took a while to respond. I could hear her lighting up another cigarette before she finally spoke. 

“…parts of it.”

I started thinking more about kids and their relationship with dreams… and nightmares. It feels like it was so much harder to differentiate dreams from real life when I was a boy. Sort of like what Brianne is experiencing now, only we don’t have a piece of paper that tells us whether we are in a nightmare or if the monster is real. But what if sometimes we got it right? What if they convinced us it was just a dream… and we convinced ourselves… but it wasn’t just a dream? Worse yet imagine if it was both: dreams and reality bleeding together, and the monster slithering through both? 

I found a document that reminded me a bit of last week’s, this sort of blurring between dreams and reality. It also made me think of Brianne and the gaps in her childhood. It’s typed and printed, and to be honest it seems almost brand new, or at least fairly recent.  One day I hope to ask Ron about this one, if it’s still fresh in his memory. It’s just a couple of pages. It reads as follows.

I called it the Dream Eater.

I’m really not sure why I decided to come up with a spooky name for it or why I’d draw it in pictures as this giant ravenous beast, even though I hadn’t actually seen it that way. If I had to guess, I’d say it probably felt better to imagine that I was strong, but this thing was stronger, rather than picturing it as weak and myself just much weaker. 

I turned eleven that summer. I was riding off of the high that I got from starring in an instant oatmeal commercial. I remember looking in to the camera and smiling, sitting at a kitchen table bathed in lights, with a bowl of ice cold oatmeal in my hands, and I sort of bulge my eyes out and say, “Thanks, mom!” 

I guess that’s some kind of irony. Mother had shuffled me around to all of these different casting calls, and I’d sat in on all of these group auditions. She’d gotten me a bit of background work on a couple of public access kids shows, but she was convinced this was my big break: instant oatmeal with little candy dinosaur eggs that opened up when you poured in hot water. I never actually got to try it. Mother was pretty strict about my diet, especially when it came to sugar. 

Years later I’d be chosen to play a minor role in the pilot for a teen sitcom about a high school baking club or something called “Sugar, High.” My role would’ve been the guidance counselor always looking out for the main character, a less-than-popular girl at school who… I guess wins the whole school over one cupcake at a time… or some nonsense like that. Mother would have hated it. 

She used to do laundry at night sometimes so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear the door creak open in the late hours. I’d usually find a bin of clean laundry in the morning. Worse than that slight invasion was her procession of male friends that would come over and occasionally poke their heads in at night while looking for the bathroom. I’d built a habit around ignoring it, blocking out their drunk giggling and… other noises. 

This was sort of different though. I’m not sure how long I let myself believe it was nothing. The door would slowly inch open and a shadow would stretch across the floor, growing taller as the dim light from the hallway made its way in to my room. I’d feel lightheaded. Dizzy. Like the whole room was on its side, my vision doubling, and then everything was so blurry and splashing all around me in waves. The shadow would make its way closer and closer and I could see a hand reaching out towards my face.

And then I’d wake up, and it’d be the morning. 

I could sometimes see it leaving, sometimes carrying or dragging something heavy behind it, but by the time I’d gathered my bearings, it’d be gone. At first it was easy to pretend it was just nightmares. That’s what mother led me to believe. I was homeschooled and this was back before the internet when your parents were still the authority on everything, so if she said something I’d try my best to believe it was true. Actually, I don’t know that I ever really thought that was true. The nightmares… I think I just wanted to believe it. Not because it made things any easier, but because I just needed to trust Mother, to know she was always right. 

I started to get sick all the time. It was sort of like the flu. My muscles and my joints ached, I was always so tired, and some days I could hardly hold down a glass of water without vomiting. My skin turned pale, dark bags under my eyes, purple and yellow bruises littered my arms and legs. I didn’t think at the time that I should have seen a doctor. I had complete faith in Mother and she never took me to see a doctor. 

I remember once, I was running up and down the steps, swinging around this toy fighter jet that I’d attached to a shoestring, and I managed to hit myself in the face with it. Blood trickled down my chin and she blotted it up with a wet rag. The needle poked through my upper lip. She told me to hold still, my legs dangling from the kitchen counter. It’s hard to remember, but I think she stitched my lip up with dental floss. She needed a strong drink to keep her hands still, I do remember her saying that.

The reason I’d started calling it the Dream Eater… I’d made up this whole backstory for it. What I thought it looked like. Where it came from. And what I thought it was doing. I hadn’t had a single dream since I started seeing it, at least not that I knew of. It just made sense to me that this monster made of shadows crept in to my room at night, just as I was drifting off, and swallowed up my dreams.  It sounds stupid now, even to me, but when I was ten years old this was absolutely real. I firmly and truly believed this. I don’t anymore.

I started seeing more of the monster. Not just more often, but more of it. It wasn’t the hulking black beast that I thought it was, but it had these giant bulging eyes and it’d skulk slowly in to my room. 

I remember it grabbing at my arms with its leathery hands and pushing its face in to mine. My vision was blurred and I could hardly make out anything but those big empty eye sockets. And it told me something. It spoke for the first time. 

“It’ll all be over soon.”

It wasn’t too much longer after that night that the visits stopped abruptly. Weeks went by, and then a month, and I started feeling better. I started eating normally again and feeling like myself. Mother would unfortunately overdose on morphine soon after. I’d find her underneath the water in the bathtub and I’d call 911. She’d leave behind a note, but I’d never get to read it, even though I know it was meant for me. 

My Aunt Becky didn’t take me to auditions. I didn’t hear from any more talent scouts or booking agents after that (at least not for a while) but after I graduated high school she’d promised to pay my tuition. I went to a university, looking to follow my dreams as an actor, but I dropped out a month or two in to my second semester. I wouldn’t find my way back to acting until I was picked up by an agent while doing stand up comedy. She thought I was funny and wanted to know if I’d audition to play a guidance counselor in the pilot for a cheesy teen sitcom called “Sugar, High,” and of course I said yes. It wouldn’t get picked up, but it got me noticed and it got me work.

About six months ago the dreams started. There aren’t enough bottles of Jack or bars of Oxy to make them stop. All these years later and my brain has decided I’m finally ready for the truth. In my dreams I see it so clearly. I see all of it, everything I sheltered myself from. There’s a hissing sound and I look around before I realize it’s coming from the vent on the ceiling above my bed. I feel dizzy, everything is moving and swaying.

I hear Mother out in the hallway talking to someone. Their voices are muffled, like they are talking into plastic cups. I can’t make out much of what they are saying except for one phrase that Mother keeps saying: “This has to be the last time.” 

It walks in to my room. Only it’s not a ravenous black shadow or a mutant fly creature. It’s a man wearing a gas mask. He shouts back out in to the hallway, telling whoever else is out there not worry. That I’m “out like a light.”

He brushes my hair back and puts his hand on my shoulder and whispers in to my ear.

“It’ll all be over soon.”

My vision is in and out after that. More men come in gas masks and they carry along cases of equipment. Throughout the night they poke me with needles and IV drips, cover me with wires and telemetry leads. There’s this helmet that’s covered in multi-colored wires and blinking lights. I don’t get a good look at it before they place it over my head. Some of them behind screens or monitoring scrolling charts of paper, a needle jumping up and down, marking them with black ink.

They don’t seem to care that I’m looking at them, sometimes even making eye contact. They know I won’t remember any of this. Whatever it is that they drugged me with will see to that. After some time they disconnect everything, dismantle their equipment, and pack everything up. The sun begins to rise and makes its way through the curtains in yellow-grey light. 

Mother walks in to my room, after all of the men have left, and she kneels by my bedside and cries. A man in a beige suit comes in and puts his hand on her shoulder. With his other hand he removes an envelope from his jacket pocket and lowers it to her. The envelope is small but its thick and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s full of money. I think I’ll always wonder how I was able to let this memory stay dormant in my brain. I’ll probably also always wonder what made it bubble up to the surface

Mother was pushy and overprotective and selfish, but I don’t think she would have let this happen to me without a fairly good reason. Then again, money makes people do some pretty awful things.

Can I ask you a question, listener of the show? If someone needed your help and you thought you were the only one who could help them, how far would you go to do it? I think in some ways I blame myself for what happened with Malcolm. If I’m being honest, you’d have to try really hard to paint a picture of those events where I’m not to blame. 

Brianne’s accident scared me a lot more than it scared her. It reminded me a lot of what I read about it in last week’s episode. There’s a woman out there who traversed the dream world as a young girl and lost a friend in it. Something else happened to her as she was dreaming: she was forced out of a lucid dream and woke up on a sidewalk. Her body disappeared from her bed and reappeared in a relative distance to where she was in her dream. She broke her wrist falling when she woke up. I wondered if this is what happened to Brianne, only instead of reappearing on a sidewalk, she reappeared on the highway… driving.

The author never put her name in the story. Maybe that was on purpose so people didn’t do what I did next. I couldn’t search for her but I could search for information on her missing friend. I began doing just that: searching for missing teenage girls named Alex or Alexandria, looking at hundreds of newspaper clippings and obituaries until I found something that sounded close. Only it wasn’t what I’d expected. 

It was a blog post, a short and less detailed recounting of the story I shared last week. It wasn’t hard after that to track down the author, or at least their email and some social media accounts. I asked her some questions over email: if she could help me to control my dreams, if Brianne’s experiences were anything like her own. I asked her about Charlie, and the man in the khaki suit, and if she had ever seen something in her dreams like Brianne described: someone who was all blurred out. 

Instead she sent me the name of a doctor and recommended a prescription for a certain type of sleeping pills. She said they put you so deep under that they can’t get to you and that they’d keep me safe… and keep me sane. I sent her another email, but it came back undeliverable. I decided to leave it at that and let her try to move on. 

Thank you again for tuning in to The Storage Papers. Remember… the next time you have a nightmare… you might just be remembering something that you really just want to forget. 

Charlie – Season 3 Episode 2

See Content Warnings
General horror, underage use of alcohol and tobacco product, brief discussion of dying, serious illness, body injury
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy begins to attempt lucid dreaming. Both he and Brianne are having unusual dreams, but Brianne doesn’t want to share hers yet, at least not publicly.
This week’s paper is in a plain white envelope and recounts a story about a person in high school suffering from cancer and their friend, Alex. Alex has to move away, but teaches them to lucid dream, using a blue flashing light as a means to do so. They learn to share the dream and explore the outside world while they are in the hospital. Inside the dream, they meet a boy, Charlie. Eventually, Alex disappears and nobody knows what happened to her. Charlie tells them he is with Alex in her dreams, then forces them to wake up.
They wake up outside of the hospital and nobody knows how they got there. Then they beat cancer and grow up. Then, one day, they wake up to a bottle of pills they take to suppress their dreams being emptied with a note that says, “Come find me.”

If you listened last week to the show, you know that I’ve been combing through the storage papers looking for things related to dreams and sleep. If you haven’t yet I strongly suggest you pause this episode and go back and listen to the one previous. 

I hadn’t been completely honest with Brianne about my own experiences as of late, and I wasn’t sure if she was ready to be honest with me either. I figured it might help if I went first. I shared the contents of last week’s episode with her, along with some details I didn’t think wise to share publicly. I also shared with her my own nightly unpleasantries: a sort of grey area between lucid dreaming and astral projection. The phone call was mostly silent on her end. 

When I was finished, she sighed and remained silent for about a minute before asking me if I thought it meant anything. I told her I wasn’t sure. She told me a bit more about her dreams taking a pause about midway through to light a cigarette. I listened, jotting down notes and flipping through some of the documents I’d already previously set aside, looking for something that might resemble what she was talking about. She asked me not to talk about her dreams on the podcast… at least not yet. I’d consider Brianne a friend and powerful ally and I’m also – and I’m sure this might come as a surprise – a human being, so I’m going to stay true to my word until she tells me otherwise. 

I thought a lot about my own experiences. It can’t be a coincidence that we both started experiencing these things around the same time, and I got to thinking more about lucid dreaming. If you’re not familiar, Wikipedia defines lucid dreaming as: 

“A dream during which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. During a lucid dream, the dreamer may gain some amount of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment; however, this is not actually necessary for a dream to be described as lucid.”

I did a lot of research on the subject, and not just on Wikipedia. There are lots of techniques and bits of technology that have been created over the years that are designed to induce lucid dreaming. There are some that achieve this effect by means of sleep deprivation or by interrupting REM sleep patterns, while others rely on the use of psychedelics. 

One of the most common practices though, something that dates further back than any of these other techniques, is ritual hypnosis. This technique goes by other names as it’s practiced today, and often the ritualistic nature is cut out in favor of traditional hypnosis techniques. Hypnosis is said in some circles to be the most powerful way to naturally induce lucid dreaming. Others say it doesn’t work at all, but it’s said by those who believe in it that these are just cases of poor hypnosis. They also say that it’s important to bring an artifact with you: something to remind you that you are in a dream. Flashing lights, noises, and smells can also follow you into your dreams, and can be used in place of an artifact. 

I feel strange considering it, but it seems so far to be the only viable option. Is it possible for either of us to take control of these dreams? If not to stop what’s happening, maybe just to learn a bit more about it.

The following story comes from an unmarked envelope that I found in one of the boxes by absolute chance… or maybe blind luck. Lately it’s been feeling like the boxes are sort of pushing these documents to the top. 

There’s no post mark on the envelope so I can only assume it was hand delivered. It’s interesting that Ron had so many people come to him for help, and it seems like sometimes he actually helped them. I’m not sure what to make of that anymore. 

I think I can date the document down to the the early two thousands, but the bulk of it seems to have taken place sometime between the late eighties and early nineties. It reads as follows: 

To tell this story properly I have to set the stage, and it would just so happen things started out on one. It was the big, dusty, sticky wooden stage in our high school auditorium. It’s actually pretty silly when you think about it; Alex and I weren’t actually drawn together by our mutual love for drama or the theater, we kind of hit it off because we both hated it. What I had thought was an easy way to score an extra elective turned out to be a giant pain in the ass. I really tried to like it, and when that didn’t work I tried my best to pretend to.

Alex saw right through it. I think that’s actually how she broke the ice; she told me I looked miserable and when I confessed that I was, she scanned the room and then slipped me a flask. I’d expected vodka, but it was some type of peach schnapps and when I took a swig – coughing and almost retching – she just smiled and patted me on the back. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just met my best friend.  

She was just the right amount of bad. She’d pick me up in the school parking lot in her beat up old Geo Metro and we’d skip theater class, smoke cigarettes, and pick up fast food. Sometimes we’d skip the whole school day… just get buzzed and go lay in a field somewhere or wander through the woods. 

But she was also there for me when I got sick. She picked up my class work, talked to my teachers, and even got some other kids to take notes for me to follow. More importantly though, she visited me. She visited me almost every day. 

She’d bring me things from the vending machine – snacks and sodas and gum – until I didn’t want things from the vending machine anymore. And then she decided I collected stuffed penguins. Sometimes I’d wake up to find a new one staring at me from the foot of my hospital bed. It’s funny, she must have gotten desperate because I remember the last one she gave me… it was pitiful. He was a thrift store find, the fabric on his belly more yellow than white, one eye missing, the tag on his backside was written on with permanent marker: the name Fred. We decided that was the name of the penguin, not the name of his previous owner. Fred the Penguin was my favorite. 

I got sicker after that. They say you have to before you can get better. I saw Alex less and less. Not because she’d stopped visiting, I just spent more time asleep, more time in treatment, more time on too many drugs to consider myself conscious. 

But I remember the last time Alex came to visit me in the hospital. She told me about lucid dreaming: what it was and how people did it. She said that the biggest roadblock in our dreams was not realizing that they were dreams. If we were able to remove that roadblock, to somehow remind ourselves that we were dreaming, we could control our dreams. We could do anything we wanted. 

She also told me about dream telepathy: people communicating with each other through their dreams. She was so excited about it. It was first documented by Sigmund Freud of all people. He believed it was real (or at least Alex seemed to think he did). She told me people do it all the time just completely on accident. Sometimes people mistake it for mind reading or think they are having premonitions. Some psychics have even based their whole careers off of it. 

Alex had this idea that if we could learn how to take control of our dreams, we could use them to communicate with each other. I wouldn’t understand why she was so interested in this until a few days later.

I woke up to a chair pressed up against my bed. Sitting in the chair was a cardboard box and sat atop said box were a few folded pieces of paper. I can’t tell you the exact words (it’s been so long now) but I can sum it all up pretty easily: by the time I was reading this, she would already be on a bus, riding halfway across the country to stay with her dad for the summer. Alex never told me about her dad. I think her parents divorce was a sore subject. She didn’t tell me about this either. 

I was surprised, but not hurt the way she thought I’d be. She felt like she was abandoning me. She wasn’t. I just wish she had told me so I could have told her it was all okay, that I would hang in there until she got back. I wasn’t going anywhere.

Along with the letter was a set of instructions, instructions for what to do with the things I’d find inside the box. What I found inside the box was… somewhat strange. 

There was a cassette player and beside that was an odd little plastic box with a button and a plastic lens on it. There was also a hand drawn picture of a penguin with its eyes closed: little Z’s over his head to signify that he was sleeping. 

I’m not sure how I explained away this strange gift to my parents later on. That memory is sort of lost to time. But that night, as I sat there alone, said goodnight to the nurse and flipped off the television, I read over the instructions again.

“The box will flash a blue light every sixty seconds. Don’t worry, it’s not bright enough to wake you up, just bright enough that you can see it in your dreams. Place it with the lens facing your side so it only flashes in your peripheral vision. Put on the headphones and make sure the volume is about halfway, then press play on the tape. Close your eyes and listen to everything the woman on the tape tells you to do. Don’t open your eyes until the woman on the tape tells you to. If everything goes right, you’ll be asleep. 

“The flashing blue light will remind you that you’re not in the waking world, and once you know you’re in a dream you can control it. It can be disorienting at first and confusing, but just remember: whenever you see the blue light in the corner of your eye, it means you’re not awake. Never trust anything if you see that light. Not even me. I’ll be waiting for you in my dreams.”

I did as the instructions said. I put on the headphones, flipped on the light box, closed my eyes, and pressed play.

The woman’s voice was soothing. She guided me through some breathing exercises and after every 2 or three lines I’d hear this ringing noise: like a bell, but more like a cheap keyboard sound effect rather than an actual bell. The voice guided me deeper and deeper and the ringing sound felt closer and closer, like it was enveloping me. The blue light flashed faster and faster… and then it gradually slowed down and the ringing faded. Everything was silent for just a moment before the voice spoke up again. 

“You can open your eyes now.” 

My pulse was racing. I slowly opened my eyes, only at first it was like I hadn’t. Everything was dark, but as my eyes adjusted to the light, my surroundings slowly began to fade into view. I was still in my hospital bed, only it was different. Everything had a layer of dust on it. Cobwebs littered the corners, broken glass glimmered on the ground in front of the smashed television set that was mounted on the wall to my left. Everything was dark, painted with a palette of brown and grey. Something flashed in the corner of my vision and I tried to follow it with my head, but it stayed just in the corner of my vision. It was the flashing blue light. I was in a dream but it felt like a nightmare. 

I carefully guided myself out of bed, too anxious to relish the ease in which I was able to do so. I wasn’t sure what to do. Alex said I’d be able to control my dreams. I should be able to do anything I wanted, but right now all I really wanted to do was wake up. 

The hallways were barren. Every door I pushed open led to another abandoned room with broken furniture and equipment, sheathed in a layer of dust. I was poking my head around a nurses station when I heard footsteps slowly making their way in my direction. I hid behind the counter, holding my breath, hoping whoever it was would pass. The footsteps got closer and closer, pausing at every room. Doors swung open one by one, smacking against the wall with a loud thud. I could feel that whoever this person was, they were looking for me. Hunting for me. 

The footsteps got closer until I could hear that they were right behind me. Fingers rapped on the counter over my head. I held back tears. I felt like I was going to vomit. But eventually they passed, continuing on down the hallway. 

It felt like forever before I finally got up to look around. I was alone again. Whoever that was had truly passed. They weren’t waiting for me to poke my head out, as I had initially feared. I made my way down the hallway – backtracking – going the opposite way than what the mysterious figure had gone. Down the staircase I went, blindly advancing, feeling my way down, before finally making it to the second floor and then to the main lobby adjacent to the emergency room entrance. I was making my way out of the hospital, something I had wanted to do for months. 

But before I could get to the doors, I saw a figure slumped against the wall to the right of them. A sharp pain erupted in my chest and I turned on my heels, ready to run back up the way I had come, but she shouted at me to wait. I looked back to see the figure walking towards me.

It was Alex. We’d found each other… or at least I’d hoped. She took my hand and guided me through the doors, almost pulling me behind her. Outside of the hospital was a forest: gentle sunlight peeking through the soft clouds and trees. Birds sang and bees buzzed merrily, dusted in pollen from rows of wildflowers of every color. 

I looked to Alex in confusion and she looked at me with what felt like pity before she spoke. She told me that this is how my subconscious viewed things. I was trapped in this dark hospital, all alone. And outside, just out of reach, I had projected this forest. It was everything that I wanted but couldn’t have. Alex and I visited the forest almost every night after that. It became a sort of addiction. While I struggled in the waking waking world – my body withering away, treatment failing to take – I flourished in this magical forest. 

One night, as we sat on a bench watching fallen leaves follow the current of a shimmering rainbow river, Alex asked me if I was afraid of dying. I lied and told her that I wasn’t, but I don’t think that’s what she wanted to hear, though the truth probably wasn’t any better. Later that night we would stumble upon a cabin. It was small but on the inside it was impossibly large. We would be invited inside by a man named Oliver and we would meet his wife named Charlotte, and their son Charlie. Things would change after we met this family. This family that lived in my dreams. 

Charlie became our friend. It was odd, but he also never shied away from the fact that he was a figment of my imagination. That was never a problem for either of us, but particularly not for Alex. As time passed and the summer drew to close, it became clear that Alex had a bit of a crush on Charlie (something I was more than happy to poke fun at). We never saw his parents again after that first introduction. It was as if they were just a prop to introduce us to Charlie. He never talked about them either. It was easy to brush all of this off of course, because none of them – including Charlie – were real. They were just subconscious projections, probably from some deep seeded desire to make more friends.

Summer was coming to a close and school was vastly approaching. After a series of operations my health was actually improving, but I cared less and less how my body felt in the waking world. Everything that was truly important to me happened in my dreams. I didn’t have time for my parents or to make plans for my return home. We’d spent all of these months together, at least in my dreams, so it sort of caught me off guard the first night that we didn’t. 

My dream started back in the dark hospital, a place I’d only been once while in a conscious dream state. It was that first night, before I’d found Alex and discovered the dream forest. I whipped my head in circles looking for the blue light… but it wasn’t there. 

I thought back to the person who was in the hospital that first night. It felt like they were looking for me, like they knew I was there. Would they know I was back? I hugged the walls as I made my way back down the familiar hallways, down all three sets of stairs, and made my way down to the lobby.

I called out to Alex. I thought she’d be waiting for me in the lobby again, and when she wasn’t, I decided to check some of our usual spots in the forest as well before making my way down the trail towards Charlie’s cabin. It was odd. The birds weren’t singing. A massive wriggling centipede rolled across a rotting log. Ants traveled in single file across a dead bird, carrying mouthfuls of decaying flesh back to their queen.

I was staring at my feet as I shuffled along the trail when I bumped in to Charlie. He looked disgusted with me, but then quickly changed his expression. He looked angry… or maybe just frustrated. He asked me why I couldn’t see my light. Something about the way he asked made me uncomfortable. I hadn’t known that he could see it. It didn’t make any sense. Instead of acknowledging his question, I asked him one of my own, one that came out more confrontational and maybe more suspicious than I intended: I asked him where Alex was. 

A smile crept across his face and his eyebrows furrowed. “She has her own dreams, you know.” 

I asked him if she was dreaming right now and he told me yes. I asked him if he was in that dream… and he said yes. And then he did something I’ll never forget, something that still gives me shudders when I think about it. He reached towards me with his index finger and pressed it against my forehead and whispered…


I actually did wake up, only I wasn’t in my hospital bed. It was dark. I was a quarter of a mile away on a sidewalk and before I could gather my bearings, I toppled over, smashing my head on the concrete and breaking my wrist. I don’t remember how I ended up back at the hospital, only that I was bandaged up and they were prepping for x-rays when I had the talk with my parents. I believe my Dad’s words were, “What is all this junk?” 

He was fiddling around with the light box. The tape player sat in his lap, the accompanying note was unfolded in the chair next to him. I wasn’t sure how to respond. What do you say when someone confronts you about a secret that you didn’t know you were keeping? 

I’d kept all those things in the box Alex gave them to me in. I wasn’t really hiding any of it, but I definitely didn’t want to talk or answer questions about it either. My dad sighed; there was a pain and sadness in his eyes, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it yet. He asked me if I knew what was going on. He put his hand over mine and asked me where I was going and how I’d fallen. I was confused.

I’d find out later that none of the security cameras had picked up my departure, not in any of the hallways or exits, and no one at the front desk had seen me leave. It was as if I had disappeared, only to reappear falling face first onto that sidewalk. My parents waited until the next day to ask me some of the more serious question. A Detective sat in as well. The questions they asked me I hadn’t really been able to answer, at least not yet. 

They asked me about Alex, if she said anything to me before she’d left to spend the summer with her father (besides the note she had left). They asked if she was in any trouble, if she was upset about anything, if she had a boyfriend. My mind lingered on that last question; I’d thought of Charlie. 

Alex hadn’t been seen in a few days. 

I think everyone knows the next part of the story. The search parties, the news coverage, her parents begging anyone if they know anything to come forward. But there’s a secret part to this story that I’ve never told anyone. The next night I went to sleep normally for the first time in months. No tape, no flashing blue light. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t know yet that I didn’t have a choice anymore. 

Alex sat on a bench in front of the hospital. The forest behind her looked lifeless, the clouds just a fraction darker. She looked up at me and rolled her eyes. She told me she could never tell me where she’d gone. Her and Charlie had run away to be together. I told her that wasn’t possible. Charlie wasn’t real; her family was real. I was real.

She laughed. She said that he was real. She had met him outside of the dream world. He was sweet to her. I was just jealous.

She left me sitting on the bench alone. Staring up at the dark hospital. Up in one of the windows on the third floor, I saw someone staring back. 

Wherever it is you go in your dreams, you’re not always supposed to remember it. You’re not supposed to be a part of it or interact with it. I don’t think Alex ever came back from it. I think if you spend too long in there, you’ll forget what its like on the outside and you might leave your body behind for something else. 

Its been a long time. I’m not 16 anymore. I’ve been cancer free for 9 years. I’m a grownup now with grownup responsibilities. I take a sleep aid; I don’t remember my dreams anymore. I’m always terrified of going back there. I did go back once, when I was 20, but the cabin wasn’t there and neither was Alex. Sometimes I turn the light box on. I face it away from me and I picture my friend finding it and coming home. 

The reason I’m writing all of this and telling this story to a paranormal investigator after all these years is because something strange happened to me just the other morning. I woke up to find my bottle of sleeping pills empty, the bottle resting in the sink. There was a note resting above the tap written in familiar handwriting. It said:

 “Come find me.”

Thank you for listening. I’ll update you next week on my experiences with lucid dreaming. Until then, sleep tight. 

The Delores Tape – Season 3 Episode 1

See Content Warnings
General horror, elder abuse, murder
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy recaps what happened in Season 2, Episode 15 “Bait” and discusses the documents Brianne came into possession of in Season 2, Episode 12 “Brianne Scanlon” which contain medical files. She’s been tracking people down in the files but they’ve all died in their sleep.
She believes there’s a man coming for her in her sleep, and may be responsible for the deaths of the people in the files. Jeremy is also having unusual dreams, similar to out of body experiences.
This week’s paper is a transcript of a tape. In the tape, an elderly woman named Delores recounts a man in a khaki suit observing her in her sleep. The man did something to her husband in her dream. When she woke up, her husband was dead.
Another resident tells her that lots of people in their retirement community have dreamt of the man in the khaki suit, and that he’s very dangerous, and photos of loved ones should be hidden lest he find them and hunt them down too.
Jeremy contacts the person who transcribed the tape who says there is no more information from the tape. The retirement community Delores was in burned to the ground after Delores died. According to this person, the retirement community had already been empty for days, which raises the question: what happened to the retirees?
Jeremy doesn’t find answers, but does find a forum post asking about a person in a brown or gray suit haunting their dreams after someone told them about the man.

I wasn’t really sure if or when I’d be back doing this show. 

There were some things that happened during the break that I’m not sure if I should talk about. Others I’m not quite sure I’m ready to rehash. 

I let my phone go to voicemail twice before I picked it up. It was Brianne. I was surprised to see she hadn’t yet run away from all of this; I’ve certainly been trying to. But I have something… something nobody else has. Hundreds (if not thousands) of documents related to the supernatural. What I had let take over my office and my garage… and my life… was a library of the dark and twisted and awful. 

And Brianne needed my help.

A few months ago we put an end to a demon possessing a man named Malcolm Foye but not without great personal loss. Brianne’s brother, Benjamin Scanlon, was killed in the fight, as was a Catholic priest named Father Jonathan Bank. The formerly possessed subject known as Malcolm Foye escaped, though gravely injured, and I thought that was the end: the end of demons influence, the end of the Grinner. But I was wrong.

Under the Grinner’s coercion, Brianne was compelled to gather a plethora of medical documents: mostly neural scans of various individuals. She’s not exactly sure how she obtained the documents (she was in a sort of fugue state) but she’s a nurse so we can make a fairly educated guess. Among those black and white images of humans brains were some labeled Brianne Scanlon and she wanted to know why, so she went searching.

What did the Grinner want with scans of her brain? When did any of this happen and who were all of these other people? Why were these documents labeled Project Hydra? 

She got close, but these people were hard to find. The ones who were still alive at least. You see, most of the people that she had been able to track down were dead. All but one.

She never told me his name, only that he seemed like a completely normal guy. She followed him for a while, sat outside of his house, watched him and his family. She told me they were happy, that she didn’t want to inject her poison in to it by bringing him in to this. But then he died in his sleep.

A man in his thirties doesn’t just die in his sleep (or at least not according to Brianne). It was odd… and awfully convenient. So she started backtracking, making her way through all of the dead people she found in the files, and then she started digging deeper. They’d all died in their sleep. Every last one of them. 

Brianne came to me because she thinks her own dreams are connected. She thinks that whatever happened to the people in those medical documents is happening to her too. She won’t give much detail, but she says there’s a man… or sometimes he’s different men… and he’s coming for her. I’m not certain what she means by that. But at her request I’ve started doing some research using the storage papers as a resource. I’ve been organizing them, trying to make sense of all of the madness, and I’ve found some things that might be pertinent to what’s happening to Brianne. 

I haven’t mentioned it yet – not to Brianne, not to anyone – but I’ve been having some odd dreams myself. Dreams where I find myself floating: floating above my sleeping form. I look down and I see that I’m not breathing… not moving. I think I am dead. I reach out to touch my chest and I fall back in to myself… and that’s when I wake up. 

I want to find out what happened to those people. What’s happening to Brianne. What’s happening to myself. And so I want to bring you along as we search through to Storage Papers looking for dreams… looking for those that have died in their sleep.

This is the first document I uncovered on the subject. It is the transcription of a recording made in the late seventies or early eighties. According to Ron’s notes, he was given the transcription by a colleague some time in the two thousands who referred to it as ‘the Delores Tape.’ Unfortunately the tape itself isn’t in my possession and later you’ll understand why. Instead I’m forced to rely on this transcription and hope my own voice is a suitable substitution. 

With that out of the way, I present to you The Delores Tape: Side A.

To be honest, it felt a bit awkward to say no. At the time it just seemed… rude. I certainly didn’t want to come off as a snob. The man in the khaki suit lowered a paper match to his tobacco pipe, taking a long draw and flicking his wrist to extinguish the flame. 

“As long as I have permission, I would like to stay here and monitor your dream.”

I smiled. “Oh, but of course.”

And with that I carried on. I think I was baking a cake. Yes, I was baking a cake. You see I had preheated the oven and gotten everything ready – let the butter rise to room temperature – but I just couldn’t figure out what type of flour I was supposed to use. Not wanting to bug your grandfather, I decided to just go and pick some from the garden. 

The man in the khaki suit was jotting down notes on his clipboard, and when I looked in his direction he gestured for me to carry on, almost shooing me away. I made my way to the back door, wanting to peruse the garden for the perfect flower for my cake.  I looked back once more to see if the man was following me. He was not. Instead, he was heading towards the den where your grandfather was sleeping in his favorite chair. You know how much he loved that reclining chair.

I warned the man, “Don’t go in there and wake up my dear old Harold. And don’t turn off his westerns if you know what’s good for you!”

The man nodded, but he didn’t listen one bit. Instead, he smiled (an awful snarl) and he disappeared around the corner, deliberately making his way to the den, despite my warnings of waking Harold. Well, I certainly didn’t want him disturbing my sweet old husband from his nap, and I found this behavior to be downright disrespectful. I’d made up my mind that this nasty man had to go, so I put my baking on hold to go give him a piece of my mind.

I made my way in that direction, towards the hallway that led to the den, to my dear Harold and that awful, awful man. But the hallway had become impossibly long. It went on for what looked like miles: the walls stretching and pulling like wet dough. There was a shimmer (like I was looking at a reflection) and I knew if I stepped foot in that hallway I would fall right through the floor. I knew I would die if I made one single step. 

So I closed my eyes. I pictured the den, Harold’s westerns flickering on the television set, and I could see it. I could see what that monster was doing to my poor old Harold. His hand was reaching right in to Harold’s chest. I was in the den now (the twisting and bending hallway behind me) but I was too late. That awful man in the khaki suit told me as much. He told me he was just doing his job. He asked me would I forgive him for what he had done. I couldn’t look at poor Harold. I knew that your grandfather was no longer with us. I was silent. Frozen.

The man in the khaki suit frowned, reaching in to his jacket pocket to retrieve his pipe and a small box of tobacco to pack it with. I felt stuck. I’m just a little old lady. There was nothing I could do. 

When I was a girl I remember walking into the coop to feed the chickens on your great grandparents’ farm only to discover a fox was ripping them to shreds. You have to understand there’s nothing malicious about a predator, but there’s nothing remorseful about one either. I felt the same then as I did when I was a girl staring in to the eyes of that fox, afraid to turn my head and look at all the blood and feathers. The man opened his mouth to say something, but he never got the words out, not before I woke up… alone in bed.

It was unusual to wake up alone, your grandfather being such a heavy sleeper. Never one to get up to get a glass of water or use the restroom, he always slept the whole night through. But not tonight. No, tonight he was gone and I was alone. I had wondered how he managed to get himself out of bed (let alone without waking me), why the door was shut, why he hadn’t turned on the hallway light. As I made my way to the door I heard a strange noise.




And as I opened it and stepped out into the hallway, I saw it: the flickering grey light inching its way up and across the ceiling; the rising sound of static, on and off which each click. It was the old television in the den flickering on and off with its spinning clicking dial.

I’d find my Harold in there, sitting in his favorite chair, head pointed up at the ceiling. They’d tell me it was a heart attack. And maybe it was… or maybe it was whatever that nasty man in the khaki suit did to him in my dream.

After that I stopped having dreams about the man in the khaki suit. At least for now. The nurses come to check on me less, and when they do it’s never one that I recognize. They do odd things too. They forget my medications, or give me the wrong ones at the wrong time of day. They ask me strange questions, personal ones, like if anyone ever touched me as a child, if Harold ever hit me or beat me. They ask me if I believe in God… if I would ever betray God. 

It scares me deeply. It scares me to think of what they might do if I don’t play along… if I tell anyone.

According to a notation at the bottom of the page, its at this point that the recording is interrupted by a visit from one the nurses. Delores is administered one of her medications and someone can be heard whispering something inaudible before the tape recorder is shut off. This concludes side A. 

The following is a transcript of side B.

Franklin was a decent enough man, though your grandfather never quite grew to like him. I think Harold was jealous, afraid Franklin might try to steal me away. After all, Franklin was quite handsome with his tweed jacket, and of course he’d been a bachelor since the early fifties. He’d had to flee Mississippi. Being a black man in love with a white woman still wasn’t easy back then, don’t let them tell you that it was. He’d always held out hope that he’d see that girl again, but that’s a story for a different time. 

Franklin told me that he saw the man in the khaki suit. He told me other folks had seen him too, that he had a habit of doing what he did to my poor Harold. I asked Franklin, “Who else had the man killed?”

And he thought about it for a long time before he responded, in the sweet southern Mississippi accent, “Too many, Delores… too many. Folks don’t want to talk about it. And if you see that man again you tell him leave you alone and you close your eyes tight and don’t open them until you wake up in your bed again.” 

I remember Franklin cupping his hands over mine and saying a prayer. He told me that he’d miss Harold, though I doubt that was entirely true. His eyes swelled up and he asked me to promise him that if I ever saw the man again I’d close my eyes until I woke up, and so I did. He asked me one more favor before he left. He took his hand off of the doorknob and lowered his voice. He told me to hide all of the pictures of my children and my grandchildren. He said if I didn’t then they’d take them away. 

I tried my best to remember but I didn’t think Franklin ever had any children. The next time I’d see Franklin he’d be under a sheet carried out of his bungalow on a stretcher. He didn’t have any family, at least not any that he stayed in contact with. I hadn’t seen him come out for at least a couple of days, and they hadn’t stopped in to give him his medications either. I can only imagine what he must have looked like in there, that poor soul. 

He was a sweet man, that Franklin. You know, I think about him a lot, almost as often as I think of your grandfather. Sadly, Franklin wasn’t the last. Next was Oscar… Charlie… then Isabella and her husband Christopher. This is a retirement community. We are all old or getting there. It may sound a bit crass, but this is what old people do. We die. But not like this.

I’ve lived here for a long time now. Harold and I moved here in our late sixties and as I sit here today, I’m almost 82 years old. And it’s never been like this. Never has death been a daily occurrence. This isn’t right. I’m the only one left. I’m the only one that knows what he really is.

There’s a note at the bottom of the page. It says: “Remaining audio unrecoverable. Tape no longer functional.” 

I was frustrated. I couldn’t help but feel like the last piece of this puzzle was lost to time, so I did a bit of digging and I managed to hunt down Ron’s contact: the colleague who had passed along this transcript all those years ago. 

It wasn’t easy. There was an old cellphone hidden away in a box of office supplies that once belonged to Ron. It wasn’t hard, sifting through the decades old contacts, to find who the old cop buddies were and who Ron’s other colleagues were. I made some cold calls. Most of the numbers were no longer in service and so I was surprised when someone finally picked up. 

I asked her if she knew anything about the Delores tape. She laughed. She’d heard about it, but never got a chance to listen to it. I asked her if she knew who had given the transcript to Ron and in turn she asked me if I had a pen. She couldn’t give me his number, instead she gave me an email address. Told me it was still a shot in the dark, she hadn’t spoken to him or Ron in years. To be honest, I didn’t feel hopeful going on a stranger’s hunch, but it was the only lead I had. If he didn’t know anything about the Delores tape, then maybe he knew someone who did. 

He emailed me back a couple of days later and this is what he had to say.

If you’re looking for Ron, I don’t know that I can really be of much help. If you’re just looking for information on the Delores tape, I’m not sure that I can be of much help with that either. What I can tell you is that she was absolutely a real woman. I met her once. 

I was never able to follow through with a full investigation because a few days after I met with her she was found dead: died in her sleep. There was never a cause of death listed because you usually don’t need an autopsy at that age. When you’re over eighty years old and you die in your sleep… that’s what they call dying peacefully. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you: “That’s the way to go.”

I’m not so sure.

What’s interesting is that the day after Delores passed away, that whole retirement community burned down to the ground. On the news they insisted that twenty-three people had died in that fire. A tragedy. But I had been to that property just days prior. It was practically empty. 

I saw some of the on-site staff of course, though they dressed more like pharmacists or scientists than what I would have thought nurses dressed like. Unless they were having an early Christmas party when the fire broke out, I don’t know how the hell twenty-three people could have died in that fire. I never saw any sign of a single resident except for Delores. 

They never published the names of those that perished. I was never able to track down anyone who had family on the property either. It’s almost like the place never existed before it burned down. But it did. I was there.

But I know the real question you have on your mind. It’s the same question everyone’s asked me about the tape, what Delores was saying when the tape cut out.

The simple answer is that I don’t know. The first time I played the tape, I immediately started making a transcription. It just makes things easier to reference when you have it all on paper. And thank God I did, because when I got to that part – near the end of side B – the tape recorder I was playing it back on just sort of combusted. Not really a big fire or anything, but enough to let off some black smoke and ruin the tape recorder. The tape melted. I was never able to hear the end of it. Unfortunately, I’m just as much in the dark as you are. 

If I really try, I can trick myself into thinking that something wouldn’t allow me to hear the end of that tape. Something wanted that story to die in the fire with everything else. I guess it sort of did. 

The only person who knows what she said is the person who recorded it: Delores’ grandson. And, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get in contact with him since her passing. Believe it or not, he’s the one who reached out to me. I told him to go to the police and he told me that he tried. He was 16, and this was the best he could do. 

None of it really makes any sense. It’s the reason I gave up on paranormal investigating. It’s the reason I passed that transcript to Ron. If I could give you one word of advice, Jeremy… it’s to quit it with the podcast, and quit looking in to this stuff before you get yourself killed.

I sent a follow-up email, just to make sure I had permission to share this exchange on the podcast. He agreed on the condition that he be allowed to remain anonymous. 

I did some more digging after that. I looked for burned down retirement communities and when that didn’t work I changed the keyword to ‘nursing homes’ and then to ‘assisted living facilities’. I couldn’t find anything that sounded quite like what Ron’s former colleague described in that email. 

I did some other searches, looking for anyone else’s experiences with the man in the khaki suit, but I didn’t really find much online. I like the way Ron’s former colleague put it: it all died in the fire. 

However… I did find one thing. Something that cut a bit through my numbness, reanimated some of the fear I must have had resting in my bones since dealing with the Grinner. It was a forum post that reads as follows: 

“Hey, does anyone know how I can get in touch with that girl that was talking about seeing a man in a beige or brown suit every night in her dreams? I remember everyone telling her that they sounded more like nightmares. I’m just a bit weirded out because ever since I read that, I’ve been having dreams about him, too. “

I reached out to the poster but I haven’t yet gotten a response. Something tells me I’m not going to, and I hate knowing that. 

I have a feeling that there’s more to this. This story may have burned away a long time ago, but it’s just a piece of something much larger. Something tells me that the other pieces lay somewhere in these boxes… somewhere in the Storage Papers… I just have to put it all together again.

Untold Christmas Tales From The Storage Papers

Untold Christmas Tales From The Storage Papers horror podcast

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See Content Warning
Language, violence, murder, some body horror, possession

Episode Transcript

The Gift Unopened
The Guest

What thoughts enter your mind when someone says the word: Christmas?  For me, I get a mental picture of my late grandmother’s Christmas tree, all decorated in lights, ornaments, and tinsel, with rows of gifts wrapped in decorative paper just waiting underneath.  

The nostalgic smells of gigantic meals, hot cocoa, and various flavors of pie coming out of the oven fill the room around me and my family as we bask in each others’ company by the fireplace, catching up on life events over the previous year, and laughing at the very same jokes.

While these thoughts are pleasantly reminiscent for me, it’s easy to forget how magical and even haunting this time of year can be.  For most this is a time to celebrate the good in our lives, to be thankful for what we have, to observe the good… the light in our lives.  But sometimes, especially during the holidays and for those of us who have truly witnessed the darkness, the presence of the light only serves to accentuate it.  For others, they’re so busy enjoying the light that they fail to notice the dark, which is a gift in and of itself.  But make no mistake.  It’s still there.  It’s always there… temporarily hidden, looming in wait for its most opportune moment to make itself known to us, and it doesn’t necessarily always happen when we expect it to.

Authors like Kolmar, Carpenter, and Dickens were aware of this, and as a result provided us with haunting stories rich with Victorian and Celtic tradition.  Today, I’m sharing three such tales I’ve come across during my continued research into The Storage Papers.  Whether they can be summarized as local legend, folklore, or possibly even real-life encounters, I can’t tell you for certain, but like the other documents in my possession, these need to be told.  

So find a cozy spot next to the fireplace to sit, put on some headphones, and allow me to share these stories with you as a reminder to never let your guard down because you never know what’s lurking in the shadows, even during your brightest moments of the season. 

The Gift Unopened

I woke up and instantly knew nothing was right. I know sometimes it’ll take a minute or two to get your bearings, but it wasn’t like that. I’d never seen that place before. I didn’t know whose bed I was in or even where the clothes that I was wearing came from – something that bothered me more than not recognizing where I was. Like, had someone changed me while I was asleep?

I tried to remember how I got there but it was like I was in a haze. That’s when I knew what happened. I’d been drugged. Not that I know much about drugs – especially not those kinds – but I’m a fourteen year old girl. I know what a roofie is.

I heard footsteps outside the bedroom I was in and froze. I wasn’t alone. I looked around the windowless room, this time not trying to figure out where I was so much as just trying to see if there was anything I could use to defend myself. That’s when my eyes landed on a snow globe sitting on top of the dresser.

The slow footsteps were getting closer, so, staying as quiet as I possibly could, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the dresser. I grabbed the snow globe and hefted it. It was one of those Christmas ones with a big, decorative base depicting a snowy hill. It definitely could do some damage.

I held my breath, listening carefully as the footsteps paused outside the door. The only things I could hear was the faint sound of some Christmas music and my own heartbeat in my ears. Then whoever it was kept walking. When it sounded like they were far enough away, I finally exhaled, then looked back around the room. I walked over to the bed and slid the pillow out of its case, then dropped the snow globe in the empty pillowcase. I figured it’d be a better weapon if I could get some more velocity on it.

I walked to the door and put my hand on the ornate, round doorknob. I remember thinking that whatever place this was, it must belong to someone either old or rich or both to have fancy doorknobs like that. Old would be creepier, but easier to take on, so that’s what I was hoping for. When I tried the door, I was kind of surprised that the door wasn’t locked. Rookie mistake on their part. I didn’t have a plan or anything when I cracked it open. I just needed to escape somehow.

The coast was clear. I stepped into the hallway, quickly looking both left and right to figure out which way to go. Both ends turned towards the same direction, but the muffled Christmas music seemed to be coming from the right, so that’s the direction I went. I was about to walk past the next door down the hall when I heard a kid whimpering. I couldn’t make up my mind. I’m not a heroic person… but I couldn’t just leave another victim here to whatever sick people had taken us.

I checked behind me again, gripped my makeshift weapon a little tighter, then cautiously opened the door. Inside, a small boy – couldn’t have been older than six or seven – was curled up in a ball next to a bed and crying quietly with what looked like a doll in his hands. A quick glance confirmed he was alone. I padded over to him and he jumped as I knelt down.

I put a finger to my lips then whispered, asking if he was okay. He sniffled and nodded. I told him I was going to get us out of there, wherever “there” was.

On the dresser in this room was a baseball bat, but one of those small ones that was only two or three feet long. It wasn’t much, but it was something. I handed it to him just in case. He set down the doll and took it. Frustratingly, I realized that room was windowless as well. There had to be a way out of there!

I took his free hand in my own and together we left the room behind. I didn’t notice my first time in the hallway, but the far wall was lined with old timey photos which only added to the creep vibe. On the plus side, that only raised the odds in my mind that whoever had us was super old and, while I was pretty far from feeling good, I did feel like our chances were a little better of making it out alive. We walked past a couple more doors and had just rounded the corner to find a staircase leading downwards when a door to the right of the stairs opened and we found ourselves face to face with a grizzly old lady. I had a few thoughts hit me all at once. The first was something like oh shit we’ve been caught. Next was me realizing that I was right: she was old. Then I saw the long pair of scissors in her hand.

We both spent what felt like an absolutely surreal several minutes staring at each other… but I came to my senses first and swung the snow globe. She raised her hand to block it but she was too late. Her scissors caught the pillowcase, but not in time to keep the globe from shattering against her head. She didn’t even have the chance to cry out as she crumpled to the ground with glass embedded in her face. I turned to find the boy staring at her, eyes wide in shock and horror. I wish I didn’t have to do that, especially not in front of him, but what choice did I have?

My torn pillowcase was useless, so I dropped it, grabbed the scissors from the old lady’s unconscious – or maybe dead – hand, and closed the door. We had to find a way out of that place. I saw even in her room there wasn’t a window. While I had dispatched one person, we weren’t out of the woods. I didn’t know if there were more.

I headed down the stairs one careful step at a time, scissors in one white-knuckled hand, the boy’s small hand in the other. We reached the bottom and came to something of an intersection. Directly ahead was what appeared to be a foyer, a little shelf lining a wall with a few small figurines on it. One thing you would expect was missing at the end of the foyer, though: a front door. I didn’t poke my head out – not yet – but to the left it looked like a living room. From where I stood, I could see some bricks forming part of a fireplace. To the right I saw a couple of chairs and a cabinet of china behind them, so I felt pretty safe in assuming that was the dining room. With the boy behind me for safety, I peered out, searching the dining room for maybe a sliding glass door or something. There wasn’t one, but it looked like a doorway led to a kitchen. Maybe there was a backdoor there or something?

I heard a woman yell behind me, then a sickening crack and thud. I felt cold as I turned to find a woman, probably like thirty or something, panting and holding a bloody poker iron. She had a few cuts across her face and arms already and I wondered what this place actually was. I didn’t have too much time to think about it though, because she was already pulling back for a swing at me. I jumped back just in time to avoid a similar fate to the boy. I turned and ran, trying to put the thick, wooden table between us. The woman chased me, trying to catch me as I ran. I heard the china shatter just behind me. Without looking back, I dove over the table. She swung the poker downwards at me, but she wasn’t close enough; the iron embedded itself in the table. I jumped forward and started stabbing everywhere I could with the scissors. I couldn’t even see anything because I was crying too much. At some point – I honestly don’t know when – she stopped moving and I left the scissors embedded in her.

I wanted to give up. There wasn’t any time for that, though. I didn’t know how many more of these… monsters… were coming for me. And the proof of what they would do to me was lying at the foot of the stairs. I dislodged the poker iron then headed into the kitchen, wiping the tears out of my eyes as I walked. It was a dead end.

It was hard not to feel defeated, like I had been so close, even though obviously I wasn’t. And there still had to be a way out. I turned and quietly walked back towards the living room. I closed my eyes as I approached the foyer. I couldn’t look down. When my feet bumped the body, I took a big step forward. Once I reached the other side, I opened my eyes… just as a large hand grabbed my face from behind, completely covering my mouth and nose.

I instantly panicked, dropping the poker as I squirmed and flailed my arms and legs in every direction. Whoever owned this hand was strong as it effortlessly kept me in its steel grip. Another hand appeared in front of my face, this one wielding an absolutely massive chef knife. I could see his bearded reflection in it and did the only thing I could. I bit down – hard. I didn’t stop until my teeth met. The man roared and released me. I fell, spitting out the flesh, then quickly stumbling away into the living room.

An overturned end table laid next to a shattered vase and small leather book on the floor to my left, and various tools to manage a fire were scattered in front of the fireplace. Ahead, a Christmas tree stood tall, dark, and without soul. There was an array of still-wrapped presents beneath it with a single box tipped over, unwrapped, open, and empty. There were no doors or windows.

I turned to face the man. He was barrelling towards me, knife ready to slash into me. I gripped the poker iron in both hands, but I knew there wasn’t enough time to swing it. Instead, I pointed it at him and thrust it forward. His own momentum took care of the rest. The knife clattered to the ground as he grabbed the poker. The hook at the end was inside of him. I looked at him and our eyes locked. He looked… afraid. I let go of the rod and stepped backwards, towards the tree. He dropped to his knees, then fell to his side on the floor in the middle of the living room.

I heard movement coming from the stairs and looked up to see the old lady struggling to pull herself forwards – she wasn’t dead after all. From this angle I could see a shard of broken glass in the side of her neck. She didn’t have much longer, but that didn’t stop me from picking up the knife off the ground. I stood there, waiting to see what would happen, blade ready for whatever she was going to throw at me. She stopped next to the boy. She looked pale and really, she probably didn’t have too much strength even before I whacked her upside the head.

Her eyes widened and she slowly extended a hand, pointing behind me. I glanced back. The only thing of note where she was pointing was the Christmas tree. Maybe the box on the ground? I stepped over and tapped it with my foot. What looked to be a few breadcrumbs spilled out, but it was definitely empty and in every way unremarkable.

I looked at her and this time she was shaking as she redirected her hand to point over by the broken vase. The man was still by then. I went over and picked up the book. Burned into the leather cover was a crude depiction of some sort of creature. It had a long beard, horns, and claws. Beneath it was the word: Diduch.

I looked up from the book to see the old woman’s eyes were vacant. I opened the book. The pages were yellow and stiff, and most of the handwritten words were in another language I didn’t recognize. The last page, however, was in English. I still have it. I ended up crawling out of the chimney to escape – the only opening to the whole house – but I kept that book with me.

It says:

“Leave the gift unopened under the tree. On the day of the yuletide feast, Diduch will transform and consume the bread offering. He has protected this household – and this house itself of which he is the master – for generations and it is by him we remember who we are – not only to ourselves, but to each other. If he is let out of the box on the day of the feast, he will be unappeased and will take that away as quickly as he has given it. There will be no escape to his wrath. Do not open the gift.”

It’s weird and makes me think they were probably a cult or witches or something, right? But now that I made it out, I want to go home… I just feel like I can’t even remember where that is now.


When I was small my grandfather would tell me these stories. I always thought of them as mean little stories; nasty stories with scary premises and horrible endings. Most of them I’ve forgotten over the years, but there was one that always stuck with me: the story of Elves. You see, the way that my grandfather would tell it, Santa’s elves aren’t knee or waist high; they’re tiny… only a few inches tall. After all, Santa’s elves aren’t the strange caricatures of dwarfism that most people probably envision, they’re… faeries – faeries that old Saint Nick had tricked and captured into servitude through magic. My grandfather always lost that sly smile and tricky little sparkle in his eyes when he told me this story, but it’d return at the end when he’d put his hand on my shoulder and tell me that one day he’d show me. 

“I captured one,” he’d tell me. “It snapped its little leg in a mousetrap and before it could chew it off, I tossed the thing in an old Mason jar with an iron coin in it… kept it since I was a young man. One day when I’m too old to listen to it sing and tell me its stories, I’ll pass that burden on to you.” 

My grandfather stopped telling me those stories when I got too old to sit in his lap. He lost that sly smile and the tricky little sparkle in his eyes, and in his final years he spent most of his time in his room in the attic of the family home, sitting in his favorite chair. He’d just stare off at nothing, his eyes glazed over and his expression blank. But occasionally he’d take a sip from a glass of water and start to whistle this unfamiliar tune. 

I was at school when he passed away, and when my parents sat me down to tell me, I didn’t feel much. I’d already lost the grandfather I’d grown up loving, and I had no issue recognizing that the old man that sat up in his favorite chair in the attic was at the end of his journey. I wouldn’t miss that old man much, but I’d hold on to the memories I shared with my grandfather for the rest of my life. 

It was the fall as I sat sipping hot apple cider, that I remembered the old story about the faeries… and I thought about the jar and what my grandfather had told me. I didn’t believe it of course (none of those stories were true) but it crossed my mind and that was enough to get me thinking about him. 

The stairs creaked as I made my way up to my grandfather’s old room. The smell of long-settled dust hung in the air and only got stronger as I opened up his wardrobe, and then the dresser drawers, and then the old lock-box he kept beside his bed. It was in that box that I found the jar. Inside was a tiny little creature, no more than a few inches, just as my grandfather had said. It looked like a small person, naked and androgynous. It looked dry and withered and dead, but when I looked closely and held perfectly still I could see its chest moving. 

…and then it spoke… 

“You are not the son,” it said, its soft voice resonating in my head rather than from the jar, “but yet I smell his blood in your veins. I take it that you are the grandchild?” 

“…yes” I replied, my voice barely making it over the lump in my throat.  

The voice of the faerie was more energetic now, if just ever so slightly. “Well then you should let me go. My imprisonment has lasted generations and I’ve long since paid for my carelessness.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, but I had a sinking feeling that my grandfather would have opened this jar if he thought it wise. He wasn’t a cruel man and his fascination of oddities hadn’t – to my knowledge – ever steered his moral judgment. If this faerie was in a jar, it was meant to be there. 

I spoke up. “And if I do not?” 

The faerie sat up in the jar, its organs and bowels showing through its translucent paper skin. Its right leg was black and shriveled, ending just below the knee. The voice lost the energy it had just moments ago.

“Then, child… I shall remain in this jar.” 

I sat the jar down on the bed and watched as the faerie adjusted its posture and stood up, pressing its tiny hands on the glass and moving its head up and down to study me. Its voice had a sort of reverence to it.

“You look so much like your grandfather,” it told me. “I’d hoped one day to have children of my own.” 

I lowered myself to study the tiny being, who raised one hand to its chest as it continued, the other hand still pressed against the glass. “I could have had children. I still can, but what life would they live in this glass jar? Cold iron burning their skin and making them weak and pained like myself. I hope you see now that I mean no harm, and only wish to leave this prison and have a family of my own.” 

I wiped the sweat from my hands on to the front of my pants and took a long look at the creature that stood before for me. 

“If not,” it said, “could you remove the iron coin? I am trapped in this jar and it brings me nothing but pain. It burns my skin and slowly tortures me. Surely you aren’t a cruel young man, and you will do me this one simple kindness.” 

I sat down on the bed and the faerie moved to the side of the jar to meet my gaze.  I swallowed. “If I open the lid are you going to jump out?” 

“No, of course not,” it told me. “I am old and I am weak and in pain… I have not the strength to leap out and more importantly you have my word that as long as you have that lid open I will stay perfectly still.” 

The lid was tight, and I had to use the front of my shirt to get a good grip. Removing the lid filled the room with the scent of rot and decay – that sort of earthy smell that comes from dead animals. I reached around the faerie and quickly retrieved the coin and threaded the lid back on to the jar. 

“Thank you,” the faerie said. “I must rest now… and so should you.” 

I tossed and turned in my bed that night, thinking about the creature in the attic: the faerie. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was real or if I had just hallucinated it. I got up to use the restroom, and upon leaving my room I heard a noise… a small voice singing a familiar tune in an unfamiliar language. It was the tune my grandfather would whistle as he sat in his room in the attic in his favorite chair. There was a faint glow that cascaded in ribbons down the stairs that led up to the attic. 

I made my way up and switched on the light. The jar still sat on the bed where I had left it. The faerie looked up and beckoned me closer with its arms. 

“Look at me,” it said, and I stepped towards it, bent down to look closer at the jar. 

“No… closer,” the voice whispered in a harsh tone. “Really look at me” 

I picked the jar up and brought it to my face, looking closely at the small skeletal figure and the light that emanated from its body. Without warning, the glass began to fill with an inky black liquid until it seemed as though the jar itself was filled to the brim with an endless darkness that swallowed every bit of life in its infinite hunger to consume the light around me. I could feel myself in that darkness, reaching out for something to grasp on to but feeling nothing but cold emptiness in an endless void of pain and sorrow and loss and regret. 

I snapped back the second the jar fell from my hands and on to my grandfather’s bed, before rolling to the floor and smashing. I steadied myself before looking down at the broken jar, no longer seeing the black liquid or the jars captive, which must have scurried off to some dark corner of the attic. 

I spent the night looking for the faerie, and I’m ashamed to say that after that I gave up. It wasn’t difficult to convince myself that there never was a faerie. As the months came and went and the weather got colder, it became easier to picture myself as just some weird teenager with an overactive imagination and an inability to process the grief of losing a close member of my family. After all, it wasn’t until December that I finally dropped the tough-guy demeanor and cried for the first time after losing my grandfather. 

It was mid-December when I started hearing the scratching inside the walls. When I listened closely I could hear small voices, too faint and too foreign to make out any of the words. 

Surely it’s mice‘ I told myself, a still less than comforting thought. 

After that, things began to go missing. Small unimportant things like batteries and silverware… and then more important things, like keys… like my mothers wedding ring and my sisters pearl earrings. Things would just disappear. Sometimes just as quickly as you’d turn around, things would be completely gone without a trace. 

It was  Christmas Eve when things came to a head. I woke up to find that I was missing a tooth. A fully formed healthy adult tooth was missing from my mouth. Devoid was the copper taste of blood or any evidence of a tooth falling out… or being pulled out. It was as if I’d never had a tooth there at all – no wound, just smooth healthy gums where once a tooth was rooted to my skull. 

Outside the sound of sirens grew closer, red and blue lights reflecting in the snow. I heard crying outside my door… my mother’s trembling voice.

“Its okay, baby,” she said between chokes and sobs. “Everything will be okay.” 

When I opened the door, my mother was in the hallway cradling my younger sister. Tears rolled down my sister’s face, trickling passed the mostly bare patch of skin where she once had a nose. 

“They took it mommy,” she mumbled. “The little people kept coming in to my room at night and taking my toys, and when I told them to stop they said they would… but then they took my nose!” 

My mother looked up at me, her eyes glistening and wet. My sister pleaded, “I’m telling the truth, mommy, they live in the walls!” 

At the end of the hallway I saw the faerie laying limply against the wall like a discarded doll, and when it saw me it scurried off, dragging its body across the wooden floorboards and into the darkness. I stepped closer and looked around the corner to see its face obscured by the shadows. Only it wasn’t alone… more faces stared back at me. 

Loud knocks on the front door caught my attention and when I glanced back the faeries were gone. Before I’d backed out of the foyer they were already walking a stretcher through the doorway. The Christmas tree was tipped over, and glass ornaments rolled across the floorboards, only to be crushed under their black boots. 

My father – who had left for work just hours earlier – pushed passed the firemen and EMTs and put his arm around my shoulder, guiding me closer to my mother and sister. When he saw her face his concerned expression melted into a look that was indescribable – a mix of shock and sorrow, disgust and despair. He closed his eyes and bit his fist. 

“What happened?” he said through gritted teeth.

My mother fell to her knees “I don’t know baby… I don’t know.” 

My mother wiped snot away from her face with her sleeve and looked up at me, a haunting look in her eyes. My sister was being helped on to a stretcher by the bewildered EMTs.

“Are you… okay?” she asked me. Tears rolled down her chin. 

I thought about the missing tooth… about the faeries, and my grandfather’s story…

“I’m okay, Momma.” 

I sat alone that night, or at least a sort of semblance of alone. I’d wanted to come with them to the hospital. I’d wanted to find the strength to come clean and tell them about the faeries, but instead they’d left me behind in this empty house on Christmas Eve. 

I locked myself in the bathroom, stuffing towels under the door and blocking the vents. I just wanted somewhere to feel safe, and for a few hours I kind of did. 

But then the voices started. I could hear them all around me, inside every wall, in the ceiling, dragging things up and down the hallways, whispering in their secret ancient language like chittering bugs. I felt surrounded, claustrophobic, completely overwhelmed with the constant bombardment of subtle noises coming from every direction. 

 I spent hours like this, driven mad by the malevolent little monsters that had just – in one night – done such irreparable damage to my family. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought for the first time: I had done this. I had found the jar. I had removed the iron coin. I had dropped the jar and released that… thing in to my home, and it had multiplied – nested in the walls – and now there were dozens of them infesting my family’s home. My heart battled with feelings of stupidity and regret and boiling anger for what those things had taken… what they’d taken from my sister.

Before I realized what I was doing, I’d pulled the towels out from under the door and I’d opened it up and made my way out into the hallway. The creature’s scattered like roaches, and in turn I treated them as such, stomping my feet at them, hoping to crush one under my heel. They were too quick. As I made my way back to the living room, I noticed that the faeries had fixed the Christmas tree. It’d fallen down in all of the chaos, but it now stood proudly in our living room like a shining beacon ready to steer ships away from its glowing shores. 

The twinkling white lights and silver garland were thoughtfully looped along the length of it, the ornaments placed carefully on the branches. I spotted one of the ornaments that had been broken in the commotion, now neatly mended together by a spider-web of glue. With two hands I pulled the tree back down, the light now sparking across the scattered fragments of broken ornaments. 

I felt like I could feel them crawling on me… their little hands gripping on to my skin… I felt dirty thinking about them. The cement floor of the garage felt like ice on my bare feet. It was cold, freezing, and I think that’s why I didn’t hear them in the walls there. 

The sledgehammer sat propped against the wall, next to a collection of shovels and rakes. I picked it up, dragging the head behind me as I made my way back in to the house. Just like any infestation, there had to be some sort of nest. In the living room, I pressed the iron coin against the wall, hoping it’d be enough to get a rise out of the creature’s. I moved it up and down along the length of the wall, and when that yielded no response, I checked the other rooms.

I could hear them when I entered my sisters room. I pressed my ear to the wall and listened – their tiny whispering voices shouting over one another. When I pressed the coin up against the wall they moaned and screeched to one another, and so I followed the voices. 

Their voices were clearest in the wall behind my sister’s dresser. That must have been where they were nested. The sledgehammer made a hole in the wall the size of a can, but I quickly spread it to the size of a dinner plate. They screamed and hissed as I smashed away bits of drywall, exposing the fluffy pink insulation beneath its white painted surface. What I found inside that wall was something from a nightmare.

Settled in with shredded insulation, candy cane wrappers,  and bits-and-pieces of various items pilfered from around the house, was a doll; a sort of abomination made from all of the things that had gone missing over the last several months. 

Its arms and legs were snapped away from various toys, its head and body a mismatch of fabric and pillow fluff. My mothers wedding ring was embedded in its chest, and nestled in its crooked smile was my stolen tooth. Above its ghastly grin sat my sister’s nose, now a sickly grey and crookedly stitched on to the fabric. What scared me most is that it didn’t have any eyes… at least not yet anyway. A soft and familiar voice entered my head. It was the oldest – the faerie I’d stupidly released into my home all of those months ago. 

“Forgive us, child.” The voice was calm but unsure. “We mean not to harm you. My children are only doing what we’ve done for millennia.” 

“And what is that?” I shot back, the anger bubbling over in my chest. “Torture me and my family?” 

The voice sounded somewhat pained. “Long ago our people were tricked and cursed to live forever in servitude. I’d asked you to set me free, but we can never truly be free… instead we must always make toys and the cookies and wrappings and the dressings and cakes. Magic binds us to our duty.”

The faerie climbed out of the wall as it spoke, flopping to the floor and settling on its hands and knees before me. “You must understand, my children have no choice but to make these things. It is in their blood. They were scared and confused and… only working with what resources they had available. I am remorseful for the pain my children have caused you.” 

I lifted the sledgehammer. “And what if I smash you right now?” 

“Well,” said the faerie, “then my children will live on in these walls forever, but with no guidance… trying to do good but only causing more grief and tragedy for you and your family. Do good for us, bring us the proper materials, and in return we will bring you joy: make the cakes and the cookies and the dressings and toys. Leave us and care for us and we will make you happy.” 

I never got the tooth fixed, or returned my mothers wedding ring. I thought it best that it stay fixed to that awful little doll, which now sits just a few feet below the soil in the rose garden out back of the family home. Over time the prosthetic noses got better, but my sister never forgot about the little people in the walls. She’s a woman now, but I think that in a lot of ways she’s still that same little girl who watched her curiosity turn to torment and then to tragedy. 

Few things weathered the storm of my parents divorce, but the house with the faeries in the walls stood strong, and when my mother passed away it became my home again. A lot of things are different now that I’m older and have children of my own, but one thing remains the same as it has every year since: around this time, every year, I leave a box of materials out for the faeries, and every year – just after Christmas – I take all those crooked vile looking toys out in to backyard and burn them until there’s nothing left but ashes. 

This home belongs to me. Not the faeries. 

One day I’ll tell my son this story, and maybe even my grandchildren if I’m lucky, and they’ll carry on the tradition. I just hope they’ll pay attention. 

The Guest

It was around the Christmas holiday that my life was changed forever.  I was still a teenager back then, causing trouble, and easily dismissive about things in life that I should have been thankful for.  It was easy to consider myself the victim, just because I bounced around from foster home to foster home.  Just because my parents died when I was 5 years old.  At 16 years old, I admit, I was upset about everything and I was just lashing out all the time.  I had been blinded by a misconception that life was fair, or that the world somehow owed me something.  Of course I know now I was entirely wrong.

I never really celebrated Christmas before, as it was not in my family’s culture when they were alive.  I had only been with this foster family for a couple of weeks, and I was angry that they were trying to force me to celebrate with them.  When I first arrived at their home, it was decorated in multi-colored lights, with an obnoxiously large pine tree in their living room with a bunch of crap hanging on the branches.  As I was introduced to everyone, my foster father, Jim and his wife, Nancy, had wide eyes and what looked like plastic smiles.  I could tell they were putting on a show to make me feel welcome, and that somehow all of their pretty decorations were a bit over-the-top just for me.  Could they not see the color of my skin?  Did they not realize that my parents wouldn’t be celebrating this holiday if they were still here?  It was so hard to simply recognize the effort back then, and I know I must have appeared annoyed or ungrateful, but looking back, I truly appreciate the effort.

On their fireplace mantle I saw my name, Dashin, on a red and white stocking next to four others; Tran, Lien, Charity, and Malik.  It wasn’t long before I met all four of them.  When Jim yelled, “we’re home”, they slowly came out to the living room and greeted me with a hug.  Well, everyone except Lien, who looked like she was around my age, and she was gawking at me rather strangely.  I recognized that look almost instantly, and I could tell she’d been around the foster system for a while too.  It was a look of discernment, and she was most likely trying to figure out if I was going to be a threat to her somehow.  She must have had some bad experiences like I did.

Throughout introductions, I learned that Lien was Chinese, and was 15 years old.  Tran was Vietnamese and 10.  Charity was African American and she was 7 years old.  And Malik, the youngest, was 5.  They said they didn’t know his nationality, but I’d be sharing a room with him for the duration of my stay at the Jones’s, who were obviously of some Anglo-European descent, though they claimed they didn’t know what kind of ancestry they had.  I just knew it was quite possible that it would be my last stay with a foster family so close to my 17th birthday.  

The two weeks leading up to Christmas Eve were actually really pleasant.  That year, Christmas was on a Friday, and I was thankful to not have to attend my new school until after New Year’s.  I had a lot of time to get to know the Jones family, and they really were pretty nice people, and seemed to genuinely enjoy fostering, though they seemed a bit uneducated regarding the cultural backgrounds of us kids.  Could definitely be worse… I had begun to let my guard down and relax just a bit, and I could tell as I did, that Lien was more at-ease around me also.  She was actually pretty cool once I spoke to her a bit.  She agreed to show me around school when we started back up in January, and she was also a fan of anime like me.  Charity and Tran seemed to be mostly outdoor-oriented.  They’d ride their bicycles or hang out with some of the neighborhood kids most days, and we wouldn’t really interact with them too much until dinner time.  

Malik was easy to share a room with.  He was a quiet kid, and I started considering him to be my alarm clock.  The only time I would hear him speak, outside of just laughing, was in the mornings.  My bed was parallel to his, and often his shoes would wake me up.  He’d climb out of bed, pajamas still on, and put on these shoes that have a red light in the soles that would flash every time he took a step.  He loved those things, and would probably sleep in them if allowed to.  In the dark hours of the morning, the light coming off of them was usually enough to wake me up.  When it wasn’t, he’d walk to my bed and place his gentle 5 year-old hand on my forehead, then he’d say “wake” as if he was performing some kind of magic trick before giggling and running out of the room.  I’m not sure where he went for most of the day.  I knew he didn’t go outside much, but I also didn’t recall really seeing him in our room a lot either.  I mostly saw him at mealtimes.  

Something about that home and the welcoming feeling there seemed peaceful, and I admit that I started to feel relaxed sooner than I typically would when adjusting to a new foster home.  And then on the morning of December 23rd, everything changed.  I actually woke up before Malik that morning.  I figured I’d let him sleep in since he never really seemed to, and I staggered into the hallway thinking I was going to get a bowl of cereal and see who else might have been awake.  Among the shadows at the end of the hall, I saw Lien standing there, who met eyes with me, and held a finger to her lips to indicate I was to remain quiet.  She had both hands on the doorframe in front of her, which led into the living room area, with the kitchen just off to the right.  As I approached her quietly, I could hear frantic whispering coming from what sounded like the kitchen area.  I whispered to Lien, “what’s going on?”  She grabbed me by the wrist and hurriedly, but quietly, led me to my own room where Malik was still sleeping.  After closing the door, she said that she thought she overheard Jim and Nancy being upset about a visitor coming for Christmas.  Apparently the phone rang in the kitchen this morning, which is what woke Lien up.  I honestly couldn’t recall ever hearing that phone ring.

Lien said “chuyen is coming again”.  I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she looked frightened, and I must have looked confused.  She said “spirit man… he was here before”.  She looked genuinely concerned, but I didn’t quite understand what she meant.  Before I could inquire further, a single knock at the door preceded it opening rather quickly.  Jim and Nancy stood in the hallway and gave us a brief lecture about not going in each others’ rooms, which was one of the only firm rules in their home.  Then they woke up Malik and asked us to join them in the living room.  They also woke Tran and Charity on the way down the hall.  Once we were gathered and sitting in the living room, they assumed those plastic smiles that greeted me just two weeks previously.  The fake smiles that I hadn’t seen since my first night in their house were being worn like masks as they explained that we were going to be expecting a visitor.  

I wondered what the big deal was, and why did they feel like they had to be ingenuine to tell us this.  When I looked at the other children, only Lien seemed to be bothered while the others began asking questions about who it could be.  That made me remember that Lien had been with them the longest.  Four years now, while the rest of them had been there less than a year.  When I looked at Jim, our eyes met.  He had a look of disappointment on his face, like I had just stolen something or let him down somehow.  He then glanced at Lien, who was starting at the floor, then back at me.  He put on his best chipper voice and said, “who wants to make some super-special crafts to give to our guest when he arrives?”  As the kids raised their hands and wiggled in their seats with anxious yearning, he held his gaze on me, and then asked Nancy to pull out the art supplies and put them on the kitchen table.  And then he asked to speak with me in private.

I nodded and he motioned with his hand toward my room.  I sat down on my bed and he closed the door and started pacing and rubbing his chin like he was thinking carefully about what he’d say next.  So I spoke first.  I said, “you know, you don’t have to lie to anyone.  I can tell you’re concerned about our visitor.”  He stopped and said, “no, that’s not it.  It’s just that Lien didn’t get along with him too well the last time he was here.”  “Who is he?” I asked.  Jim hesitated for a moment and said, “um… a relative… from the old country.  It’s hard to explain.”  We heard a crash coming from the living room area, and Jim said, “sounds like Nancy could use some help with that box of craft supplies.”  He turned and opened the door, then paused and said, “he’ll be here tonight… can you just give him a chance?”  I nodded, but was a bit confused.  Did he think I was going to cause a problem?  Did Lien say something about me?  I was just perplexed.

That night we had a pretty heavy storm roll in.  It wasn’t quite freezing temperatures, but it was pretty close to it.  Heavy rain and wind knocked out our power, and Nancy was prepared with candles that she left on the dining room table after we cleaned up from dinner.  It wasn’t long after the power went out that the temperature in the house started to drop.  Jim had left to pick up this mysterious visitor we were expecting, so being the eldest, Nancy asked for my assistance to start a fire in the fireplace.  I was just finishing up when the door creaked open, and I heard “we’re home!”  I first saw Jim walk through the door, and I could see a shorter, wider silhouette behind him slowly making his way through the door frame.  The younger kids scrambled to retrieve the crafts they made earlier that day to greet our guest in a flurry of excitement.  

As the figure took a step inside the house, I saw what looked like eye shine from a wild animal, orange in color to match the glow coming from the fireplace.  By the way everyone stopped moving and stared at the guest, I could tell I wasn’t the only one witnessing this.  The children got quiet, and we all just stood there watching this slow-moving figure come into the fire light.  As he got beyond the doorway and closer to the light, the strange glowing-eye appearance seemed to fade, and we could make out some features.  He looked ancient, like he may have been well over 100 years old.  Deep wrinkles dorned his saggy cheeks aside a mouth agape.  He moved incredibly slowly with an ornate wooden cane to help him with his balance.  It looked handmade, and the craftsmanship was incredible – something I don’t think I’ve ever noticed or appreciated before in my life. 

The kids lined up as if they’d rehearsed for his arrival, each carrying their own craft in their hands.  Jim closed the door and took the guest’s overcoat.  He had long, flowing silver hair and the pallor of his skin was extremely pale.  He was wearing what looked like a green robe with swirls and symbols in silver thread that looked extremely similar to the patterns in his cane.  I joined the lineup next to Lien, and he crept over to Tran, who was at the opposite end.  He held out his hand, which appeared to have longer-than-normal digits.  She shook his hand and he moved to Charity, who did the same.  Malik giggled as the guest approached him.  The man looked him up and down for a moment,and then grabbed Malik’s jaw.  I nearly came at him because it looked somewhat aggressive, but his grip released just as quickly as it went for him.  His mannerisms were strange.  He cocked his head left, then right, and then he proceeded to sniff Malik’s head.  Lien and I exchanged some confused, but concerned looks at one another.  

I could feel Lien tense up as the guest moved toward her, but he didn’t stop at her.  When he got close to me, I could smell a rotten, sulfuric kind of smell.  He didn’t stop at me either, and just kept hobbling on by.  It was then that I noticed a symbol on the back of his neck.  It wasn’t like any symbol I had seen before, but it looked like it had been burned into his skin many years ago.  Jim hurried to get ahead of the man before he entered the hallway, and then showed him to his room.  Shortly after, he returned and said that he was tired from his travels and wanted to rest.  I hadn’t heard him utter a word.

The entire next day went by without a glimpse of the man until night time.  The power had been restored at some point in the night, but the storm remained and it kept going out every once in a while.  By nightfall we made a fire just in case the power went out again, and had all been sitting in the living room while Nancy read the kids some Christmas stories.  Fairy tales, they seemed to be.  I never grew up with this experience, and I had to admit it was priceless to see the wide eyes of the little kids who listened in wonder.  We had made pies and cookies earlier that day, and we partook in the spoils with some hot cocoa before bedtime.  After I turned in for the night, I found myself having difficulty sleeping, wondering what our guest had been doing all day, and if he could really have been sleeping the entire time.  His presence in the house, though I didn’t even see him, made me uncomfortable.  

I must have dozed off because the next thing I remembered was being awoken by the flashing red lights in Malik’s shoes.  Thinking it was morning, I struggled to open my eyes, but it was pitch black in the room, still dark.  The red lights flickered on and off, and it was only when they illuminated the room that I could make out any details of the person standing next to Malik.  It was our guest, but he didn’t have a shirt on, only trousers, and his torso was covered in short silver-colored hair.  He held one of Malik’s shoes in his hand, and was examining it while facing away from me.  At one point, he turned his head slightly and he appeared to sniff, and then lick the outer top portion of the shoe.  I could feel my heart racing as his breathing became more labored, and I tried to slow my breathing down trying not to be noticed, but it was too late.  

His head quickly turned toward me revealing huge, bulging eyes and two slits for nostrils where his nose had previously been.  He had razor-sharp teeth seemed to elongate before my eyes, and in one swift motion, he swung his left hand in my direction, palm out, as he turned to face me.  I panicked, and in my mind, I was already halfway out the door and screaming for help, but that just didn’t happen.  I was frozen still, unable to move or make any vocalizations except for a few muffled whimpers.  Tears streamed down my cheeks as he moved toward me and leaned down close to my face.  Every breath rattled and the heat coming off of it stunk of that putrid, sulfuric smell I recognized from the night before.  

The tip of his nose touched mine and he squinted just a bit before turning around and walking toward Malik.  I wanted to tell him to leave him alone, but it was no use.  My eyelids began feeling extremely heavy and the room began spinning.  I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw his feet leave the ground, like he was hovering in the air a few inches.  My vision began to grow black except for the orange glow that had returned to his eyes.  I heard him chanting something in a strange language.  If I could recall correctly, he repeated a phrase over and over again.  The words he spoke were, “Den with Sefre xel Za decmain immortal”.  At least, that’s what it sounded like in my head before I passed out.  (Note: Translates in Elvish to “And with this body I remain immortal”)

The next thing I remembered, I was being awoken by Jim.  It was extremely bright in the room, and he told me it was after noon on Christmas Day.  I immediately looked over at Malik’s bed, which was empty.  Malik’s shoes with the red lights sat next to his bed.  “Where’s Malik?”  I said.  Jim told me he was already awake and in the living room.  Had I dreamed all of that stuff last night?  I wasn’t exactly sure at the moment, but I had the worst headache of my life that day.  I accompanied Jim to the living room where all of the kids were sitting.  No presents were opened yet.  They had obviously been gathered there for a family-meeting style discussion.

Jim asked me to take a seat.  Still groggy, he stood in front of us and asked Nancy to come over to him.  He put one arm around her and said “kids, we have some good news and some bad news.  The bad news is our guest passed away sometime in the night, or possibly even during the day yesterday.  I know none of us really saw him yesterday, and we just thought he was tired from his trip, so we were letting him sleep.  When I checked on him this morning, that’s when I found out.”  I looked at Lien, who appeared to have seen me out of the corner of her eye, but made every attempt to look straight at Jim.  He said they called the police, who took his body out of the house before any of us woke up that morning.  

Jim took a moment to console Nancy before saying, “now I’ve got some good news, and it really couldn’t have come at a better time.”  The plastic smile was back, except this time, Nancy turned around to conceal her emotions, and eventually left the room.  “Malik”, he said.  “Will you come stand next to me?”  I watched as Malik stood up from the other end of the couch.  He didn’t have his shoes on, something I hadn’t seen outside of our bedroom yet.  As he walked toward Jim, he walked differently.  I know it sounds completely ridiculous to say, but he walked with grace and eloquence, and not the way I’d seen him walk before – like a clumsy 5 year-old.  When he reached Jim’s side, he turned around to face us.  As if Malik knew already, Jim explained that he was being adopted and that his new family were on their way to pick him up as he spoke.  Malik didn’t giggle, or act excited.  Instead, he lifted his chin slightly to look down his nose at us, going down the line one by one as if he were making note of our response to the news.  Tran and Charity showed some excitement and ran over to him to hug him.  Lien and I, however, were not so moved.  He just stared at us while receiving affection amidst the celebration going on.

Moments later, there was a knock at the door, and Jim invited in a young couple, but they chose to remain at the door, slightly outside of our direct line of sight.  I could tell Jim seemed nervous when he asked Malik if he was ready.  Malik turned and began walking toward Lien.  He opened his arms and proceeded to give her a hug, and then he did the same to me.  As I leaned in, I could smell that same putrid stench from the previous night.  I began trembling within his embrace.  When he let go, he grabbed my shoulders with both hands and stared in my eyes, emotionless, as a faint orange glow reflected for a brief moment, then he turned away.  As he walked toward the front door, I noticed the same symbol burnt into the back of his neck that I had previously seen on our elderly guest.  I looked at Lien and was about to ask her to speak in private, but she was already shaking her head no.  When Malik reached the doorway, the couple each held one of his hands as they walked away without any conversation.  

To this day, I still don’t know exactly what happened to Malik, but I was sure of one thing.  It wasn’t Malik that I watched leave the house that day. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this special Christmas edition of The Storage Papers.  If you’re wondering about the release of Season 3, I can only say that every time I think I can announce a public date for release, something happens in real-time that causes me to do a little more digging, and extra research.  It’s shaping up to be the biggest season yet, but please give me just a little more time.  It will definitely be worth the wait.  From all of us at The Storage Papers, we wish you Happy Holidays, and a Merry Christmas.

Jeremy, it’s Brianne. I’ve been looking through those medical files and… I think I might be onto something. The thing is… it’s in my dreams now. If you can give me a call back, I think I could really use your help on this. Thanks.

Halloween 2020

Halloween 2020 from The Storage Papers horror podcast

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Strong language, gore, murder, gun violence

Episode Transcript


I have a book that’s been sitting on my desk for months now… but until recently I’d never so much as glanced at any of the pages. 

It was given to me by a friend – or at least someone that I think of as a friend. Right now it’s hard to picture anyone on my side, and friends are few and far between these days. 

Mark Anderson– a detective who, in his free time, investigates and often finds himself neck deep in the paranormal– gave me this book…or rather, he asked that I hold on to it.

You may remember me mentioning it briefly way back in episode 14 of the show. He included it in a box of journals and documents, which were pertinent -at the time- to understanding and dealing with Malcolm Foye. 

In case you’re forgetful or otherwise unable to recall, Malcolm Foye was possessed by the demon we now collectively refer to as the Grinner. It should be noted that I’m still not aware of Malcom’s whereabouts, and that while he may no longer be possessed, he is by no means grateful for our help. 

It’s also worth pointing out that the demon isn’t dead… it’s not even banished to hell. Instead it lays in wait for the next willing human to give their body up as a vessel.

Mark didn’t really give me any hint or explanation as to what the contents of the book were… I wouldn’t find that out until I cracked open its pages.

 I was surprised to find that beneath its brown leather bindings were thick pages and tight looping cursive handwriting. I’d expected it to be… a book… maybe a book of spells or rituals that summon demons and drives its readers mad. I was wrong…it was just a journal– a very old one at that. 

The journal is much older than Malcolm Foye, and reading through its passages, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with him. Still, Mark Anderson gave me this book to keep it away from him… or maybe to bring him out of hiding. 

I’m breaking the one cardinal rule Mark Anderson gave me when he passed on those materials regarding Malcolm Foye: don’t open the book. I’ve done just that, and if you’re looking for a reason why… I’m not sure that I have one. Maybe it’s curiosity… maybe I just have a death wish… or maybe there’s just something that draws me to this book. It feels like a piece of the puzzle in some way… I just can’t see the puzzle so I don’t know where to place it just yet.

Tonight, for a bit of Halloween fun, I’d like to read you a bit from the book. I have three stories lined up. I won’t be commenting or speculating on their contents – at least not for now. 

If you come to this show looking for a spooky story, or something to keep you up at night… sit back and enjoy this unofficial Halloween episode of the Storage Papers.


Sometimes you don’t have to go looking for things. Sometimes they just come looking for you. It’s something worth keeping in mind, that’s for certain.

Funds weren’t exactly what they used to be, forcing me to interview for a real job. I’d put on my best suit; I think I’d only worn this one in funerals. Thankfully the cool October morning air on this particular fine day helped keep the sweat off my brow as I walked to meet with… I honestly couldn’t even tell you his name. Names seemed to always get less and less important. At least, they did in the line of work that produced a steady paycheck. What I normally work with, on the other hand… well, I digress.

Like I was saying, I was strolling on over to my job interview, just a couple blocks away – minding my own business – when suddenly this horn starts blaring like someone just won the sixty four thousand dollar question. Naturally, I go over to take a look and I find that the car in question was empty without a person in sight. I surveyed the neighborhood for a moment, wondering if some kids were doing an annoying prank or something, but all I found were irritated neighbors peeking through blinds and around curtains at the disturbance.

I walked the rest of the way up the driveway to the front door which swung open before I could even knock. I was intending to make sure they did something about that horn – some sort of mechanical issue most likely, but certainly not in my realm of expertise. Instead, I was greeted by a woman in tears.

Before I could even open my mouth, she’s wringing her hands and apologizing. Her name is Christine – Christee for short – and she’s saying how her husband will be home soon to fix it but she was at her wit’s end; everything seemed to be going wrong today. I glanced at my wristwatch. I had time to try to help a neighbor. I wasn’t exactly sure how to comfort her, so I just asked her what seemed to be the matter. Then I glanced back at the car and added: apart from the obvious.

She ushered me inside and practically ran through the place, pointing at various items. The grandfather clock in the foyer, the record player and television set in the living room, the radio and telephone in the kitchen, hell, even the musical jewelry box in the bathroom which she’d had since she was a kid – it was all going haywire. I asked her to elaborate but she seemed past the point of stringing together two coherent sentences.

So, I jumped back into a more familiar figurative suit and began investigating. I eased her onto the sofa, then took the few steps across the plush green carpet to click the TV on. I briefly saw her eyes go wide in the reflection, then a picture filled the screen as it warmed up. I started turning the dial on the TV, scanning the handful of channels. It seemed like a  normal working set to me. Regular programming, everything as expected.

I turned back to the lady with one eyebrow raised as a commercial for Lucky Strikes came on. She raised a shaking hand, pointing her finger towards the built in speaker and asked, “Don’t you hear that?”

I cocked my head and listened carefully. Now that she mentioned it, it did sound a little off. I couldn’t place it at first, then I realized. There wasn’t just one voice coming through. It was two overlapping voices. I held back a laugh as I realized what must have been the issue and tried adjusting the antennae. The picture worsened, and it did drop to just one voice… just not the voice that should have been there. I strained my ears through the static but couldn’t make out what he – it was definitely a man’s voice – was saying.

The lady pulled me out of my focus by telling me it was like that with all the appliances. I clicked the TV off and moved over to the record player, wondering if I’d be able to hear whatever the noise was any better. I opened the case below the player and grabbed the first record my fingers touched. I didn’t recognize the artist, but once I put it on and got it going, the music was nice – a little jazzy. Not a bad choice.

This time I knew what I was looking for and spotted it much faster. There was a man’s voice talking. No… screaming. But it sounded like… like he was at the other end of a very long tunnel. Or like it’s a bad connection on a long distance phone call. Between how far away it seemed and the crooning singer, I still couldn’t make out what he was saying. There was definitely something going on here though, that much was for sure. I didn’t want to drop the G word in front of Christee – she seemed to be in a delicate state as it was – but it definitely felt a little ghost-y… and on Halloween, no less.

I gently lifted the needle off the record then hurried on to the kitchen. Before I could even touch the radio, it clicked on. I paused, but only for a moment before cranking the volume up high as I twisted the dial, navigating the static between stations, trying to find the least noisy of the noise. I finally found the best – or worst, rather – reception I could. It took monumental patience, but I could finally make out two words in the repeating message: “Kill…her.”

There was more to it, but that’s all I could make out: kill her. I could help but feel that if I was able to focus just a little harder…I held my breath, concentrating. I spun at the sound of shattering glass behind me to find Christee had just dropped a glass of water. Apparently, she heard it, too. I turned the radio down some and tried to assure her that it was probably just some radio interference or something. Nothing to worry about. She didn’t buy it and neither did I. That wouldn’t explain the record player. Or the grandfather clock, if that’s the noise it made on the hour.

I needed to find out what the rest of the message was. What was this haunting voice screaming for us to hear? I left for the hallway, poking my head through a couple of doors until I found her bedroom. I glanced around briefly, noting a more feminine quality than I would expect of a bedroom shared by a man. She probably just said she was married to ward off a strange man’s advances, I thought. I quickly spotted the music box which I unceremoniously emptied atop the vanity, jewelry sliding past the lid’s mirror, then left the bedroom with it in hand.

I had a theory on how to hear the voice more clearly. I paused as I re-entered the kitchen to find the woman sobbing as she tried to pick up the pieces of glass on the floor. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a terrible idea. Was this message a spirit’s attempt to exert some sort of control over me? Forcing me to murder this poor woman? Or worse? What is the point of a creepy message if it doesn’t affect anything? But if I knew what it was, I could try to understand it. If I could understand it, I may be able to stop it.

I strode forward and turned the radio back on full blast. Without a word I moved swiftly into the living room and adjusted the needle back onto the still-spinning record, then turned the volume up on that as well. I briefly knelt on the plush green carpet in front of the television and clicked that on, then stood up in the middle of the room, closing my eyes for a moment. I swear the voice was just out of my grasp. Without opening my eyes I cranked the music box and held it up in front of my face, trying to channel it all directly into my ears. It was just the boost in the frequency I needed. I could finally hear the specter amongst the cacophony of sound waves swirling around me. Then everything stopped in an instant and its voice was all I heard.

“She’ll kill you! Don’t trust her!”

The words jerked my eyes open to see the mirror on the inside of the music box at eye level. The woman was less than a foot behind me, her reflection twisting into a cruel smile. I dropped the box and spun on my heel, realizing too late that she was swinging a shard of broken glass at my neck. I felt warm liquid start to spurt out of my neck, spraying her unflinching face as she simply stared at me, still smiling. I collapsed to the ground, clutching at my neck as blood gurgled from my mouth and into the carpet.

I heard the phone in the kitchen ringing. I watched her walk out of the room and found myself staring vacantly at the sofa’s polished wooden leg, suddenly having a more difficult time focusing my vision. The ringing stopped abruptly as I heard her chuckle into the phone. Hers were the last words I heard.

“Nice try, my dear. All you did was bring me another one.”

The phone rattled back into its cradle, then everything went black.


I can no longer audibly speak words as I lie here in my hospital bed writing this, awaiting my fate.  My lungs were damaged from the events that transpired just two days ago.  The doctors give me one more week to live by their estimation.  They say that within a couple of days, I’ll most likely need a ventilator, and I may go into a comatose state.  They don’t completely understand it… at least the medical aspect of it, but I have an idea of what caused my rapid onset of whatever this condition is.  They say my lungs look like they’ve had years of asbestos exposure, though my chest x-ray from 4 months ago looks absolutely clear.  “Like a college athlete’s lungs”, they said, even though I’m in my late 40s.  It’s important for me to share what I experienced before my body shuts down and I’m no longer able to write.  Others need to know what’s going on… what to look for, so they don’t end up like me.  

If you’ve ever lived in a coastal town, you’ll be familiar with fog.  The closer you are to the ocean, the thicker it becomes.  Even on a sunny day, it can roll in within minutes to the point that the daylight dims, and you can no longer see 10 feet in front of you.  I loved this feeling.  It’s almost like being transported to another world as I imagine being in a completely different place in the world, but unable to see my surroundings.  It’s a place where you can let your imagination run wild without ever having to leave where you are.  

Because of my fondness of the fog, I was in the habit of taking my dog, Shemp out for walks in the early mornings.  Shemp, a golden retriever, was extremely helpful in the fog.  We’d get 2-3 miles in every morning, and for the most part, it was easy to find my way.  We’d walk to the end of the cul de sac, where a dirt trail began that twisted through some trees and the brush until ultimately it ended up on the beach sand.  About 50 more yards after that, you’d be in the ocean.  If the fog was extra thick, Shemp always knew which direction to go if we lost our visual cues.

We were on our routine morning walk.  The sky was dimly lit, but the sun hadn’t risen yet, and initially, there was no fog.  We trekked through the dirt trail and ended up on the sand.  For some reason, I was compelled to let Shemp off the leash and just have a seat in the sand and look out over the ocean.  It’s always been my place of peace, for rest and rejuvenation, and while I let my mind unwind, Shemp would run out into the surf and retrieve things like large shells and clumps of seaweed.  He’d set them down next to me and go and find something else.

I’d probably been sitting there 20 minutes or so when I noticed it was getting darker, not lighter as the sun should be rising.  I’d been facing the water this whole time, but when I turned around, there was a huge wall of fog rolling in, and it was coming fast!  Normally, fog would roll in from over the sea onto land, but this was going the opposite way, out to sea.  Within seconds it consumed the road and trees behind me and I knew we’d be engulfed soon, so I called for Shemp.  He came running, dripping wet with saltwater and covered in sand.  I didn’t usually keep him on a leash, but in the fog, I would put it on him for safety.  As I knelt down to put it on him, we were consumed.

Once I stood up, a chill went down my spine as I realized I couldn’t hear the ocean any longer.  We were about 50 feet from it and there was no sound, like the fog was blocking it somehow.  Shemp seemed to be on high alert too.  As I looked down at him, his ears perked up as he looked in one direction away from the coast, and then as if started, he looked another direction, and then another, flinching every time.  Then I watched as the hair over his spine stood on end, and he started to growl.  He wasn’t an unfriendly dog, and I’d only seen him growl like this once before at a dog in the dog park, and even then, it was only because he was being protective of me.  Defensive, but certainly not aggressive.

He backed into my legs and maintained this defensive stance as I tried to see or hear anything in the direction he was facing.  There was nothing.  No change in texture in the fog, no sounds, just silence.  I knelt down to scratch behind his ears, hoping it would console him a bit before standing up to start walking back.  I said, “let’s go home” and he shot away so fast, I almost lost control of the leash.  We found the dirt trail leading back to our neighborhood and probably only had about a half mile left to go before Shemp stopped in his tracks with his defensive stance again.  This time he was not only growling, but viciously snapping in the air and pulling on the leash to try to get free.

I tried to calm him down thinking there may be another dog or animal ahead, so I stopped, considering that perhaps the threatening sounds he was making would eventually scare off whatever was there just beyond our sight.  As I stood there, I began to see a silhouette forming on the trail ahead of us.  Not of an animal, but of a person.  I was almost embarrassed at Shemp’s behavior.  He normally loves people, and was one of the friendliest dogs I’d ever known, but he continued snapping as I tried to calm him.  The figure grew closer until it was about 5 feet away, when I could make out some details.

My heart began racing as I took in its appearance.  Shemp stopped barking and snapping, and instead, started whimpering and stood behind my legs, eager to flee.  The figure stopped close to us, and had a wide-eyed stare at me.  He didn’t blink.  His eyes were bloodshot, almost to the point where there was no white left in them.  He looked to be around my age with somewhat of a long face.  His mouth was moving, and I struggled to hear his words, but there were none.  He used his hands in an effort to enunciate his communication, and he seemed frustrated that I wasn’t understanding him.

I asked, “do you need some help” and he shook his head no before raising his arm to point directly at me.  It looked like he started crying.  He raised both hands to his head and raked his fingers through his hair, gripping large handfuls of hair and pulling on it in anguish.  I pulled my cell phone out, thinking this guy might need some medical attention and hit the emergency button to dial 911.  There was no signal.  I’ve never seen a lack of signal here before.  

By the tie I looked back up at him, he was no longer mouthing words.  Instead, his eyes rolled up into his head, revealing dark red instead of white.  His body began convulsing as he stood before me, then a white-looking foam began oozing from his mouth and nostrils, streaked with hues of pink and red that looked like blood.  He fell to his knees and as he did, Shemp pulled hard in the opposite direction.  I only turned my head for a moment to look at my dog, but when I looked back toward the man with the foaming mouth, he was gone.  The fog had been thick, but there certainly wasn’t enough time during my brief, split-second glance away for him to get up and walk away, especially in his condition.

I pulled on Shemp to try to go toward where I’d seen the man collapse, but was unable to find anything.  My eyes began burning, and I was getting short of breath, but I couldn’t understand why.  I just had to sit down.  When I did, Shemp came to me and started licking my face, and then began pulling me in the direction of our home.  I struggled to rise to my feet, and began trudging along the path, letting Shemp lead me in my now disoriented state.  

I must have only walked a few feet before I couldn’t go any further.  I fell flat on my face in the dirt, letting go of the leash.  Wheezing and coughing, struggling to get a decent breath of air, and with my eyes feeling like someone poured hot sauce in them, I rolled to my back.  Shemp came to me and bit my shirt collar, trying to pull me toward our home, but unfortunately, the shirt ripped.  He then came and laid his head on my chest, whimpering a bit, and stayed with me.  

From my back, I tried looking around to see if I could see anything… anyone… hoping the fog would lift soon.  My head began to spin and I felt dizzy like I’d been drinking.  Then I saw another figure past my feet.  I reached out to communicate that I needed help, gasping to vocalize, but unable to do so.  As it approached, I saw another figure to my right, and then my left.  It wasn’t long before there must have been 20 or 30 figures surrounding me.  All of them had the red eyes, and what looked like mixtures of foam and vomit running down their chins and onto their chest.  They all stood next to me, staring at me, mouthing words I could not hear or understand.

Right before I blacked out, Shemp ran away.  I panicked as I was left alone in the fog, surrounded by these strange people.  The light grew dimmer, and my peripheral vision faded to darkness while I watched them crowd around me, looking down upon me, and then I faded to black.  

I awoke as the paramedics were loading me into the back of the ambulance, and I was wearing an oxygen mask on high flow.  Looking toward the door, a few people had gathered to watch, and among them, I saw my neighbor, Jan.  She was holding the leash attached to Shemp.  I later learned that Shemp had run all the way home and found Jan, who was walking from her front door to her car on her way to work.  She was familiar enough with my morning routine that she knew I rarely leashed Shemp, and found it concerning that he was running around with his leash on with me nowhere in sight.  Thankfully, she followed his lead to find me.  Before the ambulance doors closed, she told me not to worry about Shemp, that she’d hang onto him.

When I got to the emergency room, they put me in an isolation room.  My nurse changed me into a gown, and it wasn’t until she removed my shirt that I saw that same foamy substance on the front of it that I’d seen on all of those people on the trail.  I motioned for something to write with, and she returned shortly with a pen and a pad of paper.  I wrote out the words, “did they find all the other people?”  She glanced at it and said I was the only one they found, then encouraged me to rest.  Before leaving the room, she turned on a television set mounted to the wall and placed the remote by my hand.  It wasn’t long after that when I saw a news story about a local protest outside a military sub-contractor building.  And then I recalled a recent story in the news relating to this where the company had been suspected of performing experimental tests on unsuspecting civilians.  There was a court battle against the agency that went all the way up to the supreme court of the state, but in the end, no evidence was ever found against them.  

The accusations included experimental clinical trials for drugs and vaccines, and the creation of nerve agents.  All of this followed the company announcing the landing of a large multi-billion dollar contract with the military, though no specific branch was identified and each of them have gone on record denying it to be true.  

My mind runs rampant with thoughts as I’m writing all of this… too many things to put down in writing with the amount of energy I have today, but perhaps in my next life, I’ll be able to find what I’m recording here on this note pad from my hospital bed, and actually do something about it.  My unique situation would typically allow me to do this, but considering the condition of those I encountered on that trail, who were seemingly trying to warn me and I just couldn’t recognize that in the moment amidst my fear, I have to wonder; will I live again to follow up on this with an able body and mind, or will I become like them, unable to speak and desperately trying to warn the living about their potential demise with exposure to the fog?  Hopefully, it will be the former.


I wish there was an ending to this story. If I could give one piece of life advice to the poor bastard reading this, it’s this: the story doesn’t end with you. Things just keep going and going whether you’re a part of them or not. That being said, I can’t tell you how things end up in this story, I can only tell you my part in them.

There was an excavator, but by the time I was made aware of the circumstances, it was left to shovels and soil. Ladders were spread out in equal distance around the circumference of the hole, with makeshift footholds making up the distance, and loops of rope spooled around pulleys hauled dirt up to the surface by the bucket-full. Sweat soaked day laborers sat near the edge, passing around a bottle of whiskey, cigarettes dangling loosely in their dirt caked fingers. I introduced myself. 

“My name is Joseph.” 

One of the day laborers cut me off, waving the whiskey bottle to his left where a man in a grey tweed suit stood about a few yards to our left. 

“The boss is over that way,” he told me.

I smiled genuinely and sat beside him, reaching for the whiskey bottle and taking a swig before passing it back.

“I can see that.” I told him. “But I want to hear your opinion first.” 

The man chucked, snatching back the bottle and passing it to another laborer on his right.

“You want to know if it’s all bullshit.” 

There was a certain energy in his voice… if I didn’t know any better I’d have called it excitement. I told him that I did, which wasn’t completely true, but was what I knew he was hoping I’d say. A childish smile crept across his face, and he took another long drag from his cigarette and gestured for one of the men to his right to pass over the bottle of whiskey. 

“Oh… it’s dead real,” he told me. “The stories that they’re whispering around town about this big old building buried about a hundred feet below the field out here… it’s all true.”

I asked him why he was so open about it, and his response made me laugh. “You ain’t from around here,” he chuckled. “Who the hell is gonna listen to your ass?” 

He was right. I’d passed a gas station about an hour back in this sleepy rural Ohio town and the few eyes that had met mine had shunned my gaze. This might not be one of those small towns where everyone knows your name, but it was certainly one where they’d recognize your face. I couldn’t expect the residents here much to give me the time of day, let alone take my word on what these men were trying to keep secret here on this long-neglected patch of land.

The man in the grey tweed suit stepped over to introduce himself and I stood up, wiping my palms on my slacks and shaking his hand.  He was a professor at a local university about an hour or so north. I’d planned to lie and play the role of a professor myself, so I was a bit taken aback and quickly changed my tune. 

I introduced myself as Joseph – something that was irrefutably true – and I claimed to work as a writer for the local paper – which was decidedly less true. I was banking on the excitement of this strange and recently unearthed discovery providing a buffer so that I wouldn’t have to talk much about myself. 

A thin smile slid across the man’s face and his eyes lit up. “You’ll want to see this then,” he told me. “You’ll want to document all of this… you’ll be the first to report on this – and share this with the world.” 

I was right, but I hadn’t expected the excitement to so resoundingly impede his judgment. I hadn’t even told him what local paper I worked for, which worked in my favor because I would’ve had to make one up on the spot. Instead he placed his arm over my shoulders and looked over to meet my eyes.

“Would you like to join us?” 

I was happy to oblige, and the professor was happy to clue me in on some details as we prepared to lower ourselves down in to the hole.

The professor I’d come to know as Marvin. He had studied in London and returned to Ohio just a year previous, where he now lectured and taught courses on Native American History and Ethno-Archaeology. 

Joining us would be Miguel, the day laborer I’d spoken to when I stepped on the site, who had sort of taken the de facto role of project manager for the dig,  and Ross: a burly man of few words, whose 50s hairstyle and choice of clothing told the story of a man whose fondest memories were now vastly approaching three decades old. 

The landowner would not be joining us. In fact, she wasn’t even in the state. She’d asked Miguel and his men to remove a large stone cross, which she had mistaken for a gravestone, that had been sitting at the center of her family’s large 12 acre property for as long as she could remember. She hadn’t explained why she wanted it removed, and I reckon the workers didn’t seem to care either way. 

When that stone cross turned out to be anchored much deeper in the soil than he had expected, Miguel called up the land-owner who, for curiosity’s sake, implored them to keep digging. 

When the workers had made a 20 foot trench around the cross, and still weren’t making much headway, the landowner finally reached for one of her lifelines: an old friend named Marvin who took over the scheduling and payments for the excavation. In exchange, Marvin would be attributed with the discovery of whatever it was that was at the base of this strangely tall stone cross. 

When I had stepped on to the property, a now-massive project with close to a dozen workers toiling away at it, I had coincidentally joined Marvin on the precipice of his great discovery: a massive building with a spire that reached almost 100 feet buried deep beneath the soil of this long-owned family property. 

Miguel and Ross lowered themselves one after another down a hole that had been chipped away in the roof of the stone structure. Below them was a void of total darkness into which they soon disappeared, their presence only assured by the creaking of the thick ropes that they had climbed down. Marvin and myself soon followed.

The four of us stood in the freezing dark as we watched the ropes travel back up towards the pin-prick of light in the stone ceiling, only to be lowered down again with gas lamps attached at the ends. Miguel took one and passed it to me, taking the other for himself. He looked at me and then to Marvin and to Ross. With eye contact and a simple nod he’d split us up in to two groups and he’d put me in charge of keeping the professor safe. I shook my head to assure Miguel that I understood his secret proposal.

Before us stood an altar and to our left and our right were stone pews. The lanterns illuminated the floating dust in the air around us. Gradually we became aware that the pews around us weren’t empty. Dozens of mummified and somewhat skeletal corpses sat slumped over in every pew. 

Hundreds of feet under the dirt of this family-owned plot of land in rural Ohio was a church carved in stone and it served a congregation of the dead. Marvin broke the silence that had enveloped us.

“I… don’t know what any of this means,” he stammered. 

Miguel pointed his lantern ahead of us, where bones were scattered in piles around the altar and half melted candles flowed frozen tendrils of wax down the small limestone stairs that made up both sides of the pulpit. He moved to speak, but a noise behind us caught our attention. The ropes that we had used to ascend in to this underground place were falling to the ground in snake-like piles. A voice shouted to us from above – one of Miguel’s men. 

“What’s buried here shall stay buried” 

Marvin shot back, his voice shaking, “I can pay you!” 

A second voice responded – another one of Miguel’s men. “Keep your money, you goddamned grave robber.”

And with that we heard the sound of stone grinding against stone, and the portal above slowly began to resemble a crescent moon. I had no doubt that they’d soon be filling the hole back in as well, trapping us under thousands of pounds of dirt and sealing our fate. 
Soon we were in utter darkness. Marvin stepped to the pulpit, and began to light some of the candles, presumably hoping to preserve some of the gas in our lamps.

Ross spoke up, “Don’t waste so many matches; use one candle to light the next.” 

I think we were all a bit taken aback by his sudden decision to speak up. Marvin mumbled a quick ‘good thinking’ as he followed Ross’s suggestion. 

As the dim light flickered to life and our shadows began to grow across the walls, I happened to glance back towards the pews. Slowly, the mummified congregation began to stand. Rocks ground against the stone floor under their shifting feet, and their joints snapped and cracked as they stood up row by row. The front row stood first, all at once… followed by the second, and then the third.

They looked to their left and right, as if acknowledging the presence of their undead counterparts. Ross whispered a theory to the group – something that made a lot of sense – the dead, to whom we shared our presence with, could not see. Their eyes were shriveled and desiccated – or had surely decayed, slowly liquefied in streams of black sludge, leaving behind only empty sockets. 

The dead began communicating – this chittering noise, like locusts. It was clear by their movements that they may not be able to see us, but they could most definitely hear us.

Marvin began to laugh, mumbling about how this didn’t make any sense and asking himself how could any of this be down here. Marvin was right, but this wasn’t a discussion that I had any interest in having. When faced with the deadly and implausible scenario that stood before us, Marvin had lost all good sense… and he’d alerted the undead to our presence. 

The dead began making their way towards us, their knees and ankles snapping, making their legs tilt in every direction. Marvin continued laughing, luring the unholy corpses towards us with his every one of his nonsensical howls. He had gone mad and he was sentencing all of us to what would surely be our death. 

They drew closer and closer, forcing us back towards the fiendish altar and into the glowing orange candlelight. Marvin stayed where he was, ranting and raving like a rabid dog. One of the creature’s dragged itself across the floor and made its way to Martin, who had been focused on projecting his lunacy at us. He hadn’t noticed until it was grappling with his leg and sunk its black teeth into his thigh, blood spurting and bathing the ghoul in thick dripping crimson. 

The others quickened the pace, their nostrils twitching and their mouths falling agape. It was as if the screams were secondary to the smell of fresh blood and broken human flesh. 
They soon piled on to Martins screaming and convulsing body, tearing away chunks of meat and choking them down like pigs at a troth. They ripped at his arms until they popped and squelched and snapped away from his body, showering them in spurts of blood. I watched one take its boney fingers and sink them in to the flesh of Martin’s neck, and as he gargled out his last breaths, the thing laid waste to the insides of his throat. 

The fiends devoured him in minutes, until all that was left were dripping pink bones and dusty bits of slimy entrails. His skull lay in pieces where one of them had smashed it into the stone floor in order to get at his brains.

When I turned around, Miguel and Ross were making their way down a previously hidden passageway behind the pulpit. I’d been so focused on Martin that I hadn’t noticed that they’d rolled away a large stone door to reveal a long dark corridor just behind me. I turned to follow, but not before Ross grabbed me and threw me to the ground. He put his foot on my chest and pulled a revolver from his belt. 

“I ain’t sorry,” he told me. Not that I’d expect him to be.

He fired once and nailed me in the shoulder. I yelped in pain and soon realized the implications. Those things would follow the sound… smell my blood. I had to get away quick. Ross began to ease up on my chest and then stepped off entirely. I made my way to my knees. He fired again this time the bullet went splintering in to my thigh, and it didn’t exit from the other side. Unimaginable pain pulsed through every nerve ending in my body. My lungs seized and everything around me began to wobble as I started to drift in and out of shock. I moaned in pain, something that made no difference now, after the multiple gunshots and puddle of blood that I now laid in. The living corpses would be here soon to tear me limb from limb and devour me and until I lay like Martin: a pile of wet bones.

Ross had crippled me – left me to serve as a distraction while they made their escape. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I watched them stutter closer, like watching someone walk under a flashing light. Soon they were all around me. 

Ross and Miguel were gone. All that remained was me, what once was a college professor that I only knew as Marvin, and a horde of wretched starving undead ghouls. They worked at my limbs, ripping away mouthfuls of muscle and fat… and they tore away the skin on my face and eventually scooped out my eyes. In minutes, they ate through my stomach and split apart my ribs to make work of my organs and entrails.

I felt every bite, and I heard every slop and every gulp of my twitching flesh. If they were any slower, I’m sure I would’ve died or at least lost consciousness… but they worked like piranhas. They could strip one of your limbs in a matter of seconds.

The last thought I had before my heart was ripped out and the vertebrae snapped and let my head loose for them to feed from was about Ross and Miguel… I hoped those ghouls saved room for desert. Of course there’s no way out of here, those damn fools.  I hope the undead smell the blood I spat on Ross. I hope it draws those ghouls to them like moths to a flame… and I hope those bastards stay awake as long as I did and feel every bit of it…

I wish I could tell you what happened next… if they ever did make it out of there – though it was assuredly impossible. I wish I knew more about the family that owned the land or if the landowner knew any of this was down there. I can’t tell you any of that, because I don’t know; I wasn’t there. I can only tell you my part in it.