The Silver Key


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
Body horror
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Thomas chooses the silver key, and ends with a gift from Cain: the charity is now his to do with as he pleases. Depending on the decisions he makes, Cain may pay him a visit again in one year’s time.



Thomas looked back and forth from key to key, gold to silver and back again. To him, they seemed so small within Cain’s already smaller-than-human hands, yet felt to be the biggest choices of his life.

Either way, I’ll be a hero to someone, right?’ Thomas thought to himself. He raised his eyes and looked around at the dark, silent night surrounding them, contemplating the weight of the choice before him. How many out there were trying to spread holiday cheer but instead lining the pockets of some faceless CEO? How many had been promised that strides would be made for their health, poor kids would have food and shelter, or water would be made clean, and in the end, none of that happened because some people harbored more greed than care for their fellow humanity?

Then his thoughts turned to the mounting bills at home, and the sleepless nights as he listened to his family argue and worried about his own future. “I’m sorry,” he whispered as he turned back to Cain… and reached for the silver key.

Cain raised a brow, but otherwise remained expressionless as he simply said, “Interesting.”

Then, as if almost challenging Thomas, he added, “Are you sure this is the correct decision?”

Thomas said, “Absolutely. How many families have been put into the same position as my own by some corporate greed BS hiding behind a charity’s name?”

Cain nodded his agreement as he seemed to shrink back to the shadows, only a glimmer of light reflecting in his eyes confirming his presence was still in the air. “Oh, and Thomas?” he called out just as Thomas turned in the direction of the office building. He paused and looked back to the shadows.

“Much like boxes and toys wrapped beneath holiday trees, it would be unwise to open the package too early. Be sure to bring it back here—to me—first.”

Thomas nodded curtly and resumed walking into the direction of the only office buildings he knew that were nearby. As he gripped the silver key in his pocket, he noticed it seemed to be growing warmer. He found himself forced to stop and remove his hand from his pocket as it felt far too hot to touch. The moment he stopped, an automatic door opened to his right. He jumped, caught off guard by the sudden movement. He reached back into his pocket, tentatively touching the key, to find it had somehow returned to being as cold as the night air.

Thomas looked at the still-open door thoughtfully as he rubbed the key. Then, with a small twitch at the corner of his mouth, he realized the key must be guiding him here. He entered, calling out to see if anyone was there, the brief echo of his voice dying quickly with no response. Shadows hid within shadows, while the chair behind the chest-height front desk belonging to either a security guard or receptionist was vacant. Thomas paused, perhaps considering the value of the task in lieu of such a dark and lonely office building. Whatever the thought was, he pushed it aside and pressed onward past the desk and into a carpeted hallway to the right.

He held up the silver key, the red light of a nearby exit sign illuminating a small number etched into it by hand: three eighty-three. There were signs on each door; in large text was a name or title or description of purpose. However, in smaller text below that was a number. Thomas quickly realized he would need to go to the third floor to find a room starting with a three, and made his way to a stairwell to ascend.

He wandered a maze of hallways as numbers went by, never quite matching his key. Nearly giving up, he stopped at the end of a hallway and looked back, frustrated. Something registered in his instinct before it did in his brain. He looked more closely, then it hit him. He slowly walked to a set of three doors. There was a three twelve and a three thirteen, but between them, sandwiched in such a way that it only could have been a miniscule closet, was room three eighty-three.

There were no other markings than the number to indicate what the room itself was for, which was peculiar when compared with all the other doors. Thomas started to insert the key into the deadbolt, but before he could, the key grew warm, and the lock clicked. He looked down at the key in amazement to find that, to further his confusion, the numbers on the key had vanished.

“Almost like a dream,” he mumbled to himself.

He opened the door and found himself once again perplexed as a modestly sized office was revealed, a feat not possible given the location of doors on either side of the now-open one. There was little in the way of decorations around him, he found as he stepped foot inside. Drab but clean would be an accurate description. A lone fake plant sat in one corner, but there were no pictures, awards, or degrees adorning the walls. In the middle of the room was the only real presence to indicate that it was an office: a polished mahogany desk. Atop the desk, perfectly centered, sat an ornate, wooden box with a silver lock. Thomas leaned in closer, tracing his finger across the box’s decorative markings. Had he paid closer attention, perhaps he would have noticed the decorations disguised three words: pascere qui creatur.

Thomas inserted the key. Before he could twist it, he heard a slight click. He pulled back his arm to withdraw the key and open the box when he found that he couldn’t. His fingers wouldn’t release the key. He yanked his arm, but it wouldn’t budge. Panicked, he looked closer to see that his fingers were changing. Shiny pieces of metal were protruding, some parts rough and sharp, some parts smooth and reflective.

His heart raced and he stumbled back, dragging the box with him. It fell open, a small box wrapped in parchment paper clattering to the ground. Thomas didn’t notice that, though, as more pieces of silver metal broke through his skin from the inside until his entire hand was covered in keys. It didn’t stop, however, and began to spread up his arm. In desperation, he turned to run out of the office, only to find that there was no door. He was trapped, and his body was being taken over by metal keys, cracking his skin to break through. He held his hand to his face but saw not his own reflection in that moment, but a different reflection in each key. He focused on one and felt the reflection come to life.

Although Thomas found himself unable to tear his eyes from the key, he was aware that he was no longer surrounded by an office. The displaced reflection had grown: surrounding, enveloping… swallowing him whole. The sound of his own heartbeat gave way to a slow, muted crashing of waves and gentle but constant breeze. Relaxing on what appeared to be a well-deserved vacation was his family. His mother and father were sharing a bottle of wine, laughing together. Thomas couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen them laugh. The beach started shifting: the waves stayed stationary as the rest of the scene rolled and tumbled chaotically until he fell to the ground back in the office.

He looked up, only to find his eye caught in another reflection and he was instantly, irresistibly absorbed. An embarrassment of riches was stacked around him: cars, cash, fine wine, and decadent food. At the far end of a slowly swirling tunnel of wealth stood two figures, laughing and shaking their hands. One figure he instinctively knew was the CEO of one of the charities referenced on the news. The man was responsible for millions of dollars being misused for his personal gain. The other figure was Thomas.

Other Thomas turned to face his key-ridden self and slowly smiled. Although he didn’t speak, he could hear Other Thomas’ words in his ear: “Nobody misses the money, they all feel good for giving blindly. If they don’t do their research, it’s on them. I don’t have to give the box to Cain. I’m sure Steve here would be happy to ensure Cain never sees the box.”

The last words echoed around Thomas as the tunnel closed in, crushing him. He closed his eyes as he began to suffocate, only to find the pressure removed. He carefully opened his eyes to find himself back in the office, curled into the fetal position. His hands had returned to normal and the original box was nowhere to be found. He slowly stood to his feet. Looking around, his eyes fell to the small box wrapped in parchment paper. He quickly scooped it up from the ground and stumbled out the door.

On unsteady legs, he made his way out of the office. Following the dim red glow of the exit signs, he found his way to the front lobby, then outside where the cold night air sent a shiver down his spine. Every step felt heavy. He could still open the box. It felt itchy in his hands, and the only way to relieve it was to see what was inside. Was it worth giving up such a fortune? Or was the vision just a trick? Or, perhaps a better question: was the entire quest he’d been sent on a ruse devised for the delight of a devil? These questions weighed heavy on Thomas’ mind, steadily slowing him down.

On one hand: if he took the money, would he be any better than the people who had crippled his family’s opportunity to thrive at every turn? Would he not just be another cog in a system designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?

On the other hand: would he actually be making a difference? A corrupt charity closing down—or “negatively influenced,” as he recalled Cain’s exact words—seemed like such a small victory—and to what end? Would the vague and perpetually ungraspable notion of justice be enough to put food in his stomach and a roof over his head? Hardly. But could he live with himself if he didn’t take this opportunity to mete out justice?

That was the heart of what Thomas had to decide as he paused at the edge of the empty square, the holiday decorations silent and empty without the cheer of children around them.

His fingers gently felt the rough texture of the parchment paper. It would be so quick and simple to open it. Cain was nowhere to be found. He wouldn’t even know.

The visions of wealth came back to him, but he brushed them aside. How could he make an informed decision if he didn’t know what the choice was?

Thomas surveyed the area, the small shadow of a creature beside the large Christmas tree going unnoticed to his eyes. He bit his lower lip indecisively, then stepped into the square and made his way to the bench with a sigh. Cain soon emerged from the shadows, glittering eyes trained only on the package.

“Here it is,” Thomas said, holding the package out for him. Cain quickly snatched it away, examining it—carefully at first, then with unconstrained glee. Without uttering a word, Cain quickly tore away the parchment paper and opened the small box inside.

Thomas’ curiosity was overwhelmed. “What’s in it?” he asked as he stood to peer inside.

Cain quickly jerked the box away, putting his body between it and Thomas. “You mustn’t touch it!” he cried out.

Thomas stepped back. “Chill, man. I wasn’t going to touch your stupid box. I just… after all that I went through, I wanted to know what I brought over.”

Cain’s gaze dropped to the box and slowly revealed its contents to Thomas. Inside was a wooden block.

“I’m sorry… that? That’s what all this is for? How the hell does that have anything to do with a charity?” Thomas asked, incredulous.

Cain grinned, but didn’t take his eyes from the block. “It’s a very special wood, Thomas. Very special, indeed. It’s not quite ready yet, but it will be… soon. Would you like to know what it looks like when it becomes ready?”

Thomas couldn’t imagine how a simple block of wood could mean so much, but, desperate to know that he hadn’t wasted his evening, nodded. Cain turned and motioned for Thomas to follow him as he walked to the Christmas tree.

“This wood is what I use for my decorations!” Cain stated proudly.

Thomas peered at the wooden Christmas ornaments. Earlier, they had seemed odd to him, but now, knowing they were hand carved, he could acknowledge that their almost life-like appearance made some sort of sense. “You must put a lot of work into these,” Thomas said as he bent down to get a better view of one.

“A lifetime’s worth,” Cain agreed.

Thomas squinted a little as viewed the ornament before him. The carved face looked familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

“It’s cold out,” Cain said, interrupting his thoughts. “You’d better be getting home. We wouldn’t want your family to worry.”

Too distracted to disagree, Thomas stood and slowly nodded, but when he turned to face Cain, he only barely caught a glimpse of movement as he vanished into the shadows once more.

Suddenly feeling very cold, Thomas rubbed his arms and headed back home as he realized that, in the end, nothing had changed. He was heading back to financial woes and a world where corruption prospered. As he turned onto his street, he reached into his pocket and withdrew the key to his family’s apartment. The feeling of a key in his hand felt more uncomfortable than normal now, and he nearly dropped it, but managed to smile and shake his head, despite his own unsteady hands.

As he neared his door, he froze for a moment. On the doormat was the ornate, wooden box that had been in the office. Hands trembling, he carefully approached it and picked it up. It was nearly exactly the same, only this time, there was no lock. He sank to the ground, as he debated whether to open it, throw it away, or immediately destroy it.

With a deep breath, he opened it.

Inside he found several official-looking documents and an envelope sealed with wax. He looked through the documents, not entirely understanding all the legal terminology or why they were in a box on his doorstep. He carefully broke the wax seal and opened the handwritten letter, unfolding it and began to read:


You faced several choices tonight, but I have one more to offer. In the box are legal documents transferring ownership of the charity to you. You can continue to profit as your predecessor did while helping a few people here and there, or you can change things to benefit more families in situations such as your own. Depending on your choices, perhaps we will meet again this time next year. I could always use some help decorating my tree.


Thomas put the papers back in the box and closed it in disbelief. Slowly, warm tears rolled down his cold cheeks. Things were going to change—finally. He could hardly wait until morning to let his family know that he was going to make a difference, even if he didn’t know much of the details yet.

He stood, then looked down at the box in his hands, letting his thumb slowly caress the wood grain. The feeling of the wood jostled something in his memory and he thought back to the ornament on the tree, realizing why he recognized the face. Then his face twisted in confusion as he wondered, ‘But why would Cain have an ornament with the face of the old CEO on it?

Jeremy and Nathan from The Storage Papers would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season. We hope you are able to spend quality time with friends and family, and have the opportunity to make a difference in your community for those who can’t. You can volunteer your time with local organizations for a variety of causes, or use websites like to find a charity to donate to that you know uses money to support their stated mission, like the following with A ratings from Charity Watch:

And many more amazing causes to make a difference in the world. As always, the choice is yours.

The Gold Key


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
General horror, immobilization, missing offspring
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Thomas brings back the item from the storage unit for Cain, only to have Cain turn him into a decoration for his tree.



In his mind, Thomas wavered between causing problems for those charities that take most of the money they collect and pocket it versus ensuring his family prospered.  

On one hand, there are charities doing great things and they’re competing with these corrupt ones. Helping those charities by preventing the corrupt ones from swindling good people would have a great effect for the many people who need them. The positive impact could be exponential.

On the other hand, Thomas considered the financial trouble his family was in, and the only reason he was even working that holiday season was to help pay the bills so they’d have the necessities while his mother worked on recovery. 

What Thomas didn’t know was that Cain was aware of his thoughts. Thomas did think of his family at first, with hopes for his mother’s well-being. But then he began imagining what he would do with his nights off after he was able to leave his job. Cain knew Thomas was selfishly imagining stacks of money and making lavish purchases without intending to help anyone around him. 

Greed drove him to his choice as Thomas reached for the gold key.

Cain looked at the boy, who was ready to turn around and begin his trek to the storage unit.  He said, “Oh, Thomas… are you sure this is the correct decision?”

Thomas said, “Absolutely. I’ve thought long and hard and I think it would be best to make sure I do this for my family.”  

Cain lifted an eyebrow of inquiry, to which Thomas noted, but decided to move along anyways. As he walked away, Cain said, “Oh, Tomas?”

Thomas turned around to find Cain standing in the shadows again, but he could see a glint of light reflecting from his eyes. He said, “What is it?”

Cain replied, “Just make sure you don’t open the package within the box”, then smiled.  

Cain’s smile made him feel uneasy as the little thing backed completely into the shadows and out of Thomas’s sight.

So then, Thomas walked the distance to the storage unit, and when he arrived at the main gait, he noticed a number pad for an electronic code entry.  He hadn’t counted on this, so he began looking for a keyhole around the gate to use the golden key, but was unable to find one.  

He began thinking of a solution as he gripped the key in his jacket pocket.  That’s when he noticed it was warm to the touch.  As he pulled it out of his pocket, the key grew warmer, so he pinched it between his thumb and index finger and held it in front of him.  

He took a step toward the gate and the key cooled down a bit.  Then he turned to face the opposite direction away from the gate, and the key grew warmer.  He took several steps away from the gate and the key became hot.  And as Thomas approached the keypad once again, with the key just inches from it, it became almost too hot to hold.  Suddenly, the gate began rolling open, and he thought to himself, “This really is a magic key!”

Thomas used the same technique to locate the storage unit within the complex, and to open the outer lock to the storage bin.  Once he was inside the storage unit itself, there was a small lock-box on the floor in the back right corner of the unit.  

Thomas walked over to it and noticed the key was no longer hot, nor cold. He picked up the box and noticed an actual keyhole on the side.  When he inserted the key, the lid popped open with a click and the key disappeared before his very eyes.

Thomas reached inside and pulled out a small box wrapped in parchment paper.  He recalled Cain’s warning to avoid opening the package, though he was tempted.  

On his walk back toward the bench to meet up with Cain, Thomas couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being swindled somehow.  He thought about the circumstances that led to this moment.  The way in which Cain only appeared to him without any witnesses.  About how fast he had moved.  How he could hover in the air, and claimed he was able to perform magic.

Thomas then began to justify the existence of magic in his own mind.  He hadn’t believed in magic before tonight, and he was still skeptical, even considering what he saw Cain do, and what the key he was given did.  

This gave him hope.  Thomas tried to recall Cain’s exact words when he approached him with the proposition.  “You won’t need to worry about finances any longer” was the phrase that continued to play back in his mind, like dripping water from a leaky faucet.

Before Thomas returned to the bench, he was tempted to open the package.  It didn’t weigh very much… less than a pound he estimated.  He tried shaking it but there were no loose pieces making any noises when he did so.  He thought to himself, “How valuable could it be?”

And then Thomas’s mind wandered toward the silver key.  They key he did not choose.  What kind of package would he be carrying right now if he had made a different choice?  

All of this thinking of hope and possibility made Thomas’s walk back to the bench pass by quickly.  

When Thomas arrived, it was very dark.  He could see street lamps over the parking lot in the distance where a single car remained – his car.  He looked in every direction, but didn’t see Cain, so he sat on the bench for a moment.

Minutes went by and Thomas’s breath could be seen like he was exhaling after a cigarette drag as the night drew colder.  He finally grew impatient and yelled for Cain, who did not come.  He thought, “What else is there to do?” and considered opening the package.  He turned the package on-end and slid a finger underneath a flap that was taped closed, then paused, contemplating whether or not he should open it.  Cain’s warning rang in his mind.

Thomas ultimately decided against opening the package, and he laid it down next to him on the bench.  That’s when Cain suddenly appeared next to him and picked up the package.  His eyes glowed red, though there were no red lights near them for this to be a reflection.  

Cain appeared giddy with excitement as he turned the box over and examined all sides of it.  He let out some grunts and groans with an even bigger smile than he’d previously seen on Cain’s face.  

Then Cain suddenly stopped.  All expressions of excitement and glee left his face, and without moving his head, which was still down facing the package in his hands, Thomas noticed Cain’s eyes rolled up to meet his own, and there he sat on the armrest of the bench, staring at him like a statue.

Moments filled with dread passed in what seemed like hours before Thomas finally broke and said, “Um… so what’s in the package?”

Thomas couldn’t be certain, but he may have seen a smirk form in one corner of Cain’s mouth.  Finally, Cain spoke.  “Well Thomas, since you were the one to do all the hard work, why don’t you open it?”

Thomas paused for a moment and said, “Are you sure? I mean, you seemed so excited to get it, and I wouldn’t want to take away the surprise from you.”

Cain replied, “Oh Thomas, I already know what’s in the box… Part of my fun would be seeing you find out what’s inside it.  Go ahead.”

Cain extended an outstretched hand with the box in it.  Thomas was hesitant, but he took it and began slowly peeling away the parchment paper.  Once the paper wrapping was off, he found a cardboard box taped closed with packing tape.

He looked at Cain, who said, “Go on…” 

Thomas took his car keys out of his pocket and punctured the tape, then ran a key along the seam of the lid, splitting the tape as he went.  He opened all four flaps and found some packing material on top, which he removed.

At this point, he noticed Cain’s head over his right shoulder looking down at the box with him.  Inside the box was what appeared to be an ornate wooden Christmas tree ornament.  It was rather large, and beautifully carved.

Thomas looked at Cain, somewhat confused, and said, “A Christmas tree ornament?  That’s what you had me get for you?  But why?  What’s so special about this ornament that you couldn’t retrieve it yourself?”

He held the box up to Cain’s face, which caused him to recoil.  

Cain said, “Thomas, I must not touch this. It has been forbidden. I will need you to handle it for me.”

Thomas replied, “I just don’t get it… why do you want this so badly?”

Cain eagerly responded, “I don’t want it, I need it… for my tree, you see?  The big one over there!”

Thomas looked over at the large tree he had motioned to.  It was the one he first saw Cain standing next to.

Cain said, “I just need you to place it on the tree, and then you will have fulfilled your duty and earned your reward.”

Thomas said, “Um… okay I guess.”

Cain and Thomas walked toward the large Christmas tree, and as they did, the lights on the tree began to dimly glow.  The closer they got to the tree, the brighter the lights became.  

“Where do you want me to place it?” Thomas asked.

Cain pointed to a spot that looked bare near the base of the tree and Thomas approached it and reached for the ornament.  When his hand made contact with it, Thomas felt a surge of energy, as if the wooden object were somehow giving off some kind of magical effect.

Thomas lifted the ornament up toward the branch and used the small metal hook to suspend it where Cain had shown him.  He turned to Cain and said, “How’s that?” but Cain was no longer standing with him. He could hear retreating laughter in the distance that was drowned out by a cold breeze.

Thomas stood there silent for a moment, wondering what was going to happen next, if anything.  And then he looked down and noticed he was suspended in the air about a foot off of the ground.  He was levitating, and gliding slowly toward the ornament he had just hung.

He felt a sharp pain in his feet, which traveled up his shins and into his knees, then up his legs and into his hips.  The wave of pain continued and Thomas cried out until the pain reached all the way up to his throat, when he found his voice stopped making noise, though he was trying to scream.  

He found himself frozen in place, and unable to move as he continued to glide toward the ornament on the tree.  Then the pain stopped suddenly, and Thomas began to notice the other ornaments on the tree.  

Scattered between the lights and colorful bulbs were the ornaments with faces on them that he recalled noticing before.  But this time, he noticed all of the eyes within the ornaments moving to watch him as he got closer to the ornament he had just hung.  And as he floated even closer, he finally understood exactly what was happening to him.

Cain returned to the tree before sunrise, and with him, he brought a chisel, a hammer, and a small paintbrush with some red paint.  He went to work, chiseling away at first.  At one point, the branch Thomas was hanging from suddenly shot up in the air before he heard a large “thunk” sound hitting the ground below him.  He couldn’t move anything except his eyes, and when he turned them to look at what made the noise below, he saw his shoes, his jeans, and his coat, but they looked like they were made of wood.  There it laid, headless.

Cain did some additional chiseling before he was right up in Thomas’s face, then said, “Well, we can’t have an unhappy decoration now, can we?”  He had carved a smile on Thomas’s now-wooden face, then finished up by painting some rosy cheeks, then stepping back to admire his work.  Then he dragged Thomas’s body away, and that was the last time Cain spoke to him.

There Thomas hung as the sun rose and people started to appear to take in the decorations.  Hundreds of people each day walked by to appreciate the joy and cheer brought by the festive decor.  All the while, Thomas was of sound mind, but he could not make noise, he could not sleep, and he could not move, save his eyes, which moved too slowly for living people to appreciate.

About a week later, late in the evening after most people had left Santa’s Workshop, he saw his family. His father and two younger sisters were in the distance. It appeared as if they were hanging something on the walls of the adjacent buildings. He tried with all of his might to cry out, but nothing happened.

A few minutes later, he saw his mother.  She was out of the hospital and actually walking.  She appeared healthy.  She was only feet away, taking in the beautiful decorations on the tree and holding a stack of papers.  On the front, Thomas could make out some writing and an image. At the top, in bold letters, was the word, “Missing”, and below it was a picture of Thomas.

Soon his father and sisters joined his mother in viewing the tree.  And eventually, his mother gazed at Thomas directly.  She focused on him for a moment, then squinted and pointed at Thomas, and said, “Doesn’t that look like…” 

Thomas’s father looked at him as well, then said, “Dear, I think we’re both seeing things that we hope for, but aren’t there.”

His father then took one of the fliers from his mother and used an empty branch on the tree to perforate the flier in order for it to be displayed for all to see.  Right next to Thomas’s head. He then wrapped his arms around Thomas’s mother and said, “It’s getting cold. We’ll come back out tomorrow and post more fliers.”  

Thomas was overrun with emotion, and the realization that he was going to be hanging there for eternity. As his family walked away, a single tear ran down Thomas’s now-wooden face, down the side of his cheek, and below his head where his neck once was before dripping onto the cold grass below.

As the people went home, Thomas noticed someone in the distance sitting on the bench, appearing to be lost in thought. And not long after that, the man appeared startled and was squinting to see something to the side of the tree. Thomas couldn’t turn his head to look, but when the silhouette of a short pointed-eared person began making his way toward the man on the bench, he only wished he could warn him.

The Two Keys


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
All good this time, mate. 🙂
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.



Times were tough that Christmas. Thomas Wright worked a seasonal job to help his family pay the bills. He was 16 years old and his parents each worked two jobs to support him and his two younger sisters, but his mother had fallen to illness in recent months. His father tried to pick up extra work, but found that keeping a second job was very difficult to do with chronic back pain he experienced from years of manual labor. So this year, Thomas decided to start helping out. 

He eagerly went to work in hopes to make a contribution to help his family afford the necessities, but after three weeks, he found his contributions were meager at best. He planned to be the first in his family to attend college and he knew his dreams would be threatened if his family couldn’t afford to pay the ever-increasing rent prices in San Diego. 

He wondered if he was going to be able to make things work. His mind struggled to focus on other possible ways to make more money using less time and effort. 


After his shift one night, he found himself so immersed in thought about this, he didn’t notice that he sat down on a bench in front of an elaborate seasonal attraction until a small girl started crying near him after spilling her hot cocoa and parents promising her they’d go purchase another. That’s when Thomas began taking in his surroundings, now distracted by its grandiosity.

It was truly a sight to behold. There were bubbles on the ground simulating snow, candy cane fences and gingerbread houses with people dressed in elf costumes. In the center of it all was a small structure with a hand-painted sign that said, “Santa’s Workshop”. On either side of that structure stood two of the largest Christmas trees he’d ever seen, elaborately decorated with vibrant lights, reflective globes of various colors, and life-like ornaments that looked like actual peoples’ faces, which he thought was very peculiar, but brushed it off since they all had smiles and cheeks painted red similarly to the elves in costume.

Though it was late, Thomas decided to spend some time thinking about possibilities for earning more income, and that’s when he thought of it. He’d heard a local crime-stopper report about how some of these local charities had spent very little of the money they actually earned through donations toward the people they claim to serve. Something like less than five percent. All that money with pure intention was going to the very few at the top of those organizations. People who didn’t need it, who already lived lavish lifestyles, greedily feeding off the good will of hard-working people like parasites. Yes, that’s how he would make ends meet. After all, his family needed charity more than those people.

He needed to devise a plan for how he was going to intercept those donations, but his time was spent rationalizing the morality of his idea. He told himself he’d make sure a large portion of it actually goes to the people it was intended for, which just happened to include his family. He mentally justified it before he began thinking of a plan. He found himself sitting on that bench longer than he anticipated.


Still lost in thought, his concentration was broken when all of the lights from the attraction began shutting down, one by one, except for one of the Christmas trees. He looked at his watch and it was nearly midnight, and he realized how cold he was becoming.  

Thomas stood up with every intention of walking to his car and driving home. But movement caught his eye just beyond the Christmas tree with the lights on. Two separate lights, about 4 feet off the ground and slightly dimmer than the lights on the tree, yet separated from the rest of them by considerable distance, reflected green and red and gold. It wasn’t the colors that made them stand out though. It was the odd pattern of horizontal swaying back and forth that drew his attention. But they would frequently blink off and blink back on again, which ultimately led to the realization that they weren’t actually lights. They were reflections of the lights on the tree from a pair of eyes in the darkness, staring at him.

When Thomas realized this, he saw even more faint reflections below them, as if whoever was standing in the shadows had smiled and teeth reflected the nearby lights as well.  

Shivers sent up Thomas’s spine and he looked around to find no other person in sight. It’s as if he was entranced somehow, so deep in thought that he didn’t realize everyone around him had gone… except the person staring at him from the dark.

When Thomas turned his gaze back to that person, the eyes were gone, which made him more uncomfortable. Then the final remaining lights from the Christmas tree were shut off and Thomas found himself in darkness. 

He turned to walk toward the parking lot and to his astonishment, a small person was perched on the armrest of the bench he had been sitting on. He had pointed ears and a long, thin bleach-white beard that he was twirling in his fingers. A smile adorned his face as he sat staring at Thomas.  

Still overcome with surprise, Thomas asked the small person, “How the hell did you get here without making a noise?”

They replied, “Christmas magic, of course! Something tells me you’re troubled.”

Thomas took a step back, hesitant to interact with the thing. “Who are you?” He asked.

It stood up on the armrest of the bench as Thomas stepped away. “You can call me Cain” it replied.

Thomas took a moment to take in some details. It was wearing what looked like durable work clothes with a few holes in it, and its hands were calloused. The thing was covered in hair and never seemed to stop smiling. 

“So uh… Do you work here? I mean with the decorations and lights and all?” Thomas asked.

Cain replied, “You could say I contribute to it… but that’s not why I’m here.”

In a blur, the thing went from standing on the armrest of the bench to behind Thomas’s right shoulder, suspended in the air, to whisper, “I’m so glad you stayed for a while. I have a proposition for you.”

Thomas jumped and turned around to face Cain.

“How the hell are you moving so fast?” Thomas exclaimed.

Cain said, “I told you… Christmas magic. For all of the mockeries of elves, fictitious characters and magical beings everyone seems to enjoy every year around this time, why does it amaze people so much when the notion of real magic comes into question?”

Thomas said, “I guess I see your point. What’s this about a proposition?”

“Yes,” said Cain. “I noticed you seem a little glum… perhaps financial troubles have you down?”

“How did you know that?” Thomas replied. “Were you watching me this whole time?”

Cain said, “Not necessarily. I just happen to know many things… Things that normal people don’t know… I know your intentions and I agree with you. The rich often take advantage of the poor in so many ways… and they always seem to get away with it. My proposition has two options, but you’ll need to choose.”

Thomas said, “Choose? What do you mean?”

“Well, the universe doesn’t allow me to go everywhere I’d like to go, so I need your help to acquire something for me. You’ll be rewarded handsomely for your time and effort, of course.”

Thomas was apprehensive, but asked, “How much are we talking about… for the reward, I mean?”

Cane’s eyes became narrow and his smile widened. He said, “Oh, let’s just say you won’t need to worry about finances any longer if you do this for me.”

In his heart, Thomas knew this was too good to be true, but he also considered the timing of this offer and perhaps fate, or karma, or luck just happened to be on his side for once, and he did not have the strength nor the knowledge to resist such an offer.

“What do you need me to get?” Thomas asked.

Cain explained, “It’s simple, really. I need two things, but you need only to retrieve one for me. But don’t worry, they’re both nearby.”

Thomas said, “You mean right now?”

“Oh yes,” Cain replied. “It must be now while the opportunity still remains. Walk away and the opportunity will be gone forever.”

Thomas looked at his watch, which said twenty past midnight. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll do it.”

Cain held up his right fist, then opened it revealing a silver key in his palm and said, “There’s an office building about two miles from here. On the third floor, the southeast corner office has a locked cabinet adjacent the window overlooking the harbor. There’s a small box on the top shelf of that cabinet. This key will grant you entrance to the building, the office door, and the cabinet.”

“Okay, that sounds simple enough,” Thomas said as he reached for the silver key.

Cain retracted and closed his fist, saying “Or…”

Thomas lowered his hand and waited.

Cain lifted his left fist and opened it, revealing a gold key and said, “There’s a small storage unit just north of here that contains only one item… another small box. This key will grant you entrance into the main gate and the storage unit itself.”

Thomas thought carefully for a moment, then said, “What’s in these boxes? And why can’t you get them?”

Cain replied, “Nothing of value to you, of course, but each contains something of considerable value to me. And my reasons for wanting them are mine, and mine alone.”

Thomas hesitated.  “What’s the catch?” he said.

Cain replied, “No catch. My offer only requires you to retrieve one of them for me… But know this: Acquiring the box from the office building using the silver key will negatively influence one of the corrupt charitable organizations that you were previously thinking about.”

“And the gold key?” Thomas Asked.

“If you use the gold key to retrieve the box from the storage unit, your family will be rewarded.”

Cain then held both keys in his open palms in front of Thomas and said, “So, will you take the silver key and influence the corrupt charity? Or will you take the gold key and provide good fortune to your kin?”

“Simple as that?” Thomas said.

“Simple as that.” Cain replied. “I’ll meet you here on this bench when you return.”

Cain took a step closer to Thomas as he contemplated which key to take.

Contest Winner: Bad Day For a Jog


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
Mention of a serial killer



October 15, 2021

Dream Journal Entry 288/365

Do you ever have those dreams where you’re not sure that you’re in a dream until you wake up? I do all the time. Sometimes they feel so real that I can’t be sure if I am just thinking about dreaming or if I actually am. 

Lately I have been having the same reoccurring dream: I’m at the Park at River Walk and I am just gaining the nerve to actually start jogging down the path and start my timer. That’s one of the things that no one really tells you when you start getting into a healthier workout pattern. Often you will be left on your own to set your own goals and reach your own milestones. For me jogging down a path had always been something that I had wanted to do but I always hesitated because of the whole “beware of killers off the bike path” thinking I grew up with. So, I decided the best way to tackle that feeling was to face it head on. 

I take a deep breath and bend to stretch a little more before I actually start jogging. As I am looking down at the asphalt, I see fading leaves and feel the brisk cold of the early morning air grazing the back of my neck and my nose. It can’t be that hard, you just have to start somewhere. I feel a strange gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something doesn’t feel right. I shake the feeling off and shake it out of my body and decide to just go for it. I’m definitely going to regret the burning in my calves later. 

I start jogging down the right side of the lane, the left lane usually being reserved for bikers and people on scooters. I set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes. That should hopefully be enough time for at least ½ a mile for a beginner. The pace I am going doesn’t seem too bad and I feel like I’m making pretty good progress for this being my first day by myself. I see a man with chestnut brown hair and a grey running shirt and black shorts jogging in the opposite direction, he meets my eye, smiles, and continues to run. Somehow seeing someone else pass by makes me feel like I should be picking up my pace. As I turn to the ground to make sure I don’t trip over a branch (that would be just my luck) I see some writing in chalk on the ground, but it’s abnormally large, it looks to be about a foot tall and about 6 inches wide. It just says GO. Weird. I then remember that my mom used to tell me if I ever saw writing on the bike paths that I could either ignore them or take them as caution. I look around me and see that there is no one around but I can still hear the birds chirping and the trees rustling with the breeze. Surely it’s just a prank the teenagers in this area like to do. 

My timer goes off. How did 10 minutes go by this fast? I decide to just leave the thought behind and continue to slowly jog so as to not pull a tendon. I see something else coming up ahead on the asphalt, I slow to pass it. It’s another word. This time the writing is even bigger 1.5 feet tall and still 6 or so inches wide. It says: FURTHER. That’s strange. These pranks have definitely gotten convincing over the years, but I don’t think anything of it. I have worked hard to convince myself that it’s time that I need to get into shape and I’m the only one who can’t hold myself accountable. Why stop now? 

I decide to set another time for another 10 minutes. By this time, I’ve gone ¾ of a mile and I’m so close to just reaching the mile marker. I can’t leave this early without accomplishing something. Then I start to realize something else: It’s early, not yet nine a.m., but it’s usually pretty busy in the morning. Did I miss something? Was there a holiday no one told me about? It’s a Friday morning, I thought I would see more people out and about by now. But there is no one around. I start to get a slight shiver up my spine and through my hands through my gloves. Why is there no one here? I decide to shrug it off, I have to keep moving or I’m going to end up freezing out here. 

I try my best to shrug off all of my doubts and second guesses. Surely this kind of thinking can only put a damper on the mood. I continue to jog and look at my timer. 3 minutes left. I feel like I can make the last of the jog in that time. It looks like there is a nice big oak tree next to what looks like a metal bridge. That’s it! That will be my stopping point. I feel a burst of energy go through me and I sprint to the finish line! I’m doubled over and panting trying to catch my breath when I see it: another word. This time it is the biggest I have seen: 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide: it reads simply: DON’T. 

My timer goes off at this point and I feel the strangest feeling like I am being bent and twisted from all angles. I feel my eyelids closing despite me trying to keep them open. Just before my vision fades to black, I see the words start to bleed as if the words are made of blood instead of chalk. I awake with a start, and I feel myself breathing like I’ve just ran a marathon. 

“That was a weird dream, talk about anxiety manifesting into reality” I say to myself as I get out of bed. Today’s the day. I have to start getting into the habit of taking care of myself. “There should be no harm in going for a jog. It’s the easiest exercise” I think to myself. I decide to get ready and make sure I have my phone and gloves and jacket, it’s going to be cold today. Hopefully, the chill will wake me up

I get in my car and make the 10-minute drive to River Walk. Hopefully parking won’t be too bad I know it can be pretty busy in the mornings, what with all of the expert joggers and cyclists trying to run over anyone and everyone’s feet. I start to stretch a little off the path and get ready to start my run and set my timer for 10 minutes when I have a feeling I’m being watched. There’s a man in a grey shirt and black shorts stretching not far from me and he smiles at me. Why do I feel like I have seen him before? I decide to shrug away the doubt, there’s always people around the park doing whatever they want. 

I start jogging down the path making sure to avoid the cyclists in the right lane. I don’t know why they decided to go in the right lane. I thought they were always in the left lane. I pause to tie my shoelace and then I see it: A word written in what looks like red paint marker or chalk, it’s gigantic: about 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide, it just says: DON’T. All of a sudden, I look up and I see the man in the grey shirt in the distance with a devious smile on his face. 

I turn around and come face to face with myself: I see myself covered with dirt, my lilac jacket covered in mud and what looks like dried blood. There are leaves and twigs in my hair. I look at my face, I am covered in dust and dirt and where I should have been wearing my glasses. My face is covered with cuts and scratches and it looks like I have been crying. There is a huge gash in the side of my forehead, and I look down, there are bruises around my neck in the shape of fingers. I open my mouth and my mirror self replicates the same movement. My replica reaches up with her hand to point behind me, one hand holding her throat. I turn around and see the man is now less than 3 feet in front of me. I open my mouth to scream but my vision fades. 

My alarm goes off with an annoying shrill. I am so tired of having it go off, I wake up and stretch. It’s eight-thirty a.m. I reach for my phone and see it is October 15. Friday morning. I feel like I should be getting up. I promised myself that I would go jogging. At the thought of that a shudder crawls down my spine. Weird. I decide maybe today is not a good day and go into the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee and use the brand-new Keurig I’ve been waiting to use for a few weeks now.

 I turn on the TV to channel 23 and see a headline: “River Walk Killer At Large”. The reporter continues: “There have been reports of a man luring young women to a bridge overlooking a river and strangling them and then dumping their bodies over the bridge. The count is now up to 5 young women” I take a deep breath, my dreams now flooding back to me. The reporter continues: If anyone has any knowledge of seeing this man (a picture shows of the man with the grey shirt and black shorts) they are advised to call the local police department at xxx-xxx-xxxx as soon as possible. I turn the TV off and close my eyes. I am so glad I decided not to go jogging today.

Halloween 2022: Feed the Bones


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
Home invasion, threats, murder, corpses, gore



MALCOLM: Hello, Jeremy. This is quite the lovely home you have here. I hope you don’t mind. The door wasn’t quite closed— well, maybe that’s not entirely true, but it was easy enough for someone like little old me to slide in, either way. So I let myself in, and, as I was saying, it truly is a lovely home. Everything seems so… normal. I can’t in all honesty say it’s entirely how I pictured it. Somehow I thought there’d just be… more to you. Not all these formulaic photos of Disney and weddings and… I suppose that’s neither here nor there now, like they say.

Don’t worry, your children are sleeping, and so perfectly peacefully. They remind me of two siblings I used to know in a past life. Siblings who are all eaten away now. But that’s all between the memories of a wasted winter and the lost time of a forgotten fall. And that’s about where we are now. Here, together. You and me. And your wife over there, but we’ll pay her no mind, will we?

That’s right, stay sleeping. Stay dreaming. We both know what can happen in those pockets of space and time that we visit and create in our minds, don’t we? And what are you dreaming of now, I wonder? What secrets are you sharing with your Monitor? Judging by the small trail of blood slowly leaking from your skull, it must be a doozy. Perhaps one day you’ll tell me all about it. Or maybe I’ll just rip your head right open and savor the scent of decades of love, life, knowledge, education, thoughts, and dreams fading into nothing.

Another time, perhaps. I still need you. Just a little longer, Jeremy. Just a little longer.

For now, I’ll read you a little bedtime story. It’s about that time of year, isn’t it? That time when, despite the detective’s warnings you delve into my grandfather’s journal, exploiting his many deaths and for what? Your own amusement? That I could respect. But this podcast… really, Jeremy? Even I think that’s a bit… crass.

Did you ever wonder why this book of Joseph Jacob Foye contained so many deaths? No, I suppose you didn’t. It’s a wonder the few things you’ve caught onto with how… unique your brain works. I would have expected that, for someone you’ve been so interested in, you would have given it a bit more thought.

But no matter. I’ll find us a juicy one. Just for us. What do you have for us today, grandfather? Hmm… nothing too early on. And don’t want to jump straight to the end and spoil everything. Where’s the fun in that? Ah, here we are. October thirty-first, nineteen seventy-eight.

I’d never given much thought to pumpkin decorations. I suppose I’ve been so busy for so long that the whimsy of Halloween always just passed me by. Then I intercepted a call trying to reach the local police and I’ve paid a lot closer attention to pumpkins since then.

The sun was getting low and a light fog beginning to nestle into the ground when I arrived at Perry’s Pumpkin Patch. It was an unusual sight—at least for me. Perhaps this is more normal than I realize, but in front of me was at least a full acre—if not more—of pumpkins. Not entirely normal pumpkins, though. These ones were all different colors: a rainbow as far as I could see. And they were large! Not a single runt in sight. I neared the gate and saw a key “P” word I’d missed on the sign: Perry’s Pumpkin Painting Patch. Below that was a smaller sign with a few rules.

  • Five dollars per family.
  • Paints and brushes provided.
  • Don’t move the pumpkins.

This was the sort of thing I suppose I could see the value in were I ever to form proper roots. As things stand now, however, my interest was singular, and the one to guide me had just arrived.

“Detective Flint?”

Judging by the man’s calloused, dirt-stained hands, this was the man who had called me, believing me to be a detective with the sheriff’s office. I offered my hand.

“You’re the caretaker here?”

He took my hand, giving me a firm shake and a curt nod before letting go and looking back over the field which was quickly turning amber below the lowering sun. “Tell me exactly what happened,” I said.

His arm rose and I followed his finger as he pointed near the center of the pumpkin patch. “It’s right over there,” he began. “It was busy earlier. Families everywhere. It’s really our time of year, you know? Out of nowhere, I hear a kid scream. I run out, thinking maybe a kid tripped and hurt themselves on a rock or some such. Then I hear more screams.”

“Can you show me,” I asked.

He nodded and, with me in tow, he began walking with the limp of a man who’d been limping for decades. “This’ll ruin us. I’ve always liked looking after a place that’s just meant to be a bit of family fun. I don’t know why he moved the pumpkin in the first place. It’s one of the only rules here. Not that this whole mess is the kid’s fault, but… I don’t know, I’m just rambling, I suppose.”

“Why the rule,” I asked. “Seems a bit particular, doesn’t it?”

He glanced back at me and offered a half shrug. “‘A bit particular’ would be a good way to describe Mr. Perry. But if things get moved, it can ruin the whole look, I think. Suddenly pumpkins get detached or carelessly broken and this is no longer an iconic view of multicolored pumpkins, but a pumpkin graveyard.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “If you’ll excuse the expression. Jesus.”

He slowed to a stop. “There. The half-painted one.”

I moved past him, eyeing the oversized squash. Not even half of it had actually been painted. Black bats and an unpainted orange full moon decorated a purple sky, but apart from that it was all pumpkin. “The kid moved it?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t even tell you how. These things are heavier than they look,” he answered.

“Well, they look pretty heavy, so that’s saying something,” I mused as I crouched by the pumpkin in question. “How do they all get to be so big?”

“Mr. Perry says it’s the fertilizer, but I can attest that that’s nothing special. I always tell people it’s a bit of Halloween magic. But honestly, hell if I know.”

I stood up and turned to him. “Would you mind helping me?”

He nodded and stepped forward. Together, and with much effort, we lifted the pumpkin and moved it to the side. “Oh Christ,” he gasped.

It wasn’t a pretty sight, I’ll give him that. The bottom of the pumpkin had a hole in it, and it’d been hollowed out to make room for the head that protruded from the ground before us. I withdrew a penlight from my pocket and inspected the corpse. I heard the caretaker swear behind me, then turn away. I’m sure I’d seen worse, but at this precise moment I’m having a hard time remembering exactly when. The flesh was missing in chunks across the victim’s cheeks and back of his head. His teeth were exposed for the lack of lips, and an eye was missing entirely, the other gray and without a pupil. The exposed white bone was riddled with holes, like a piece of wood after a swarm of termites took a pass at it.

I thought I saw movement and peered more closely into the empty eye socket to see that it wasn’t empty at all. Dozens of dark, maggot-like creatures hurriedly moved away from my light. I stood up. This seemed more likely to be a regular crime scene with a slightly more interesting twist, but, as I surveyed the field, I saw nothing that would fall into my purview; it was likely just a murder victim being reclaimed by nature. Dust to dust and all that.

I told him that I had everything I needed for now and would be sending a unit out to take care of this further, but the place would need to remain closed for now. He wasn’t happy about having to be closed on Halloween weekend, but understood that it was the right thing to do given the circumstances. “Honestly, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to look at these pumpkins the same,” he said quietly before I left. I couldn’t disagree with him, and was somewhat thankful I had no need to return.

I didn’t sleep well that night. Something was bothering me, rattling around in the back of my brain, not unlike the John Doe in the pumpkin patch. Why leave the head out of the ground? Sure, an oversized pumpkin is a good enough place to hide it if you’re going to, I suppose, but why risk getting caught at all? It was around two in the morning when I decided that sleep wasn’t paying me a visit and made my way back out to Perry’s Pumpkin Painting Patch.

The fog that had just started to roll in was now fully settled over the field, covering all but the tops of the pumpkins. I carried a stronger flashlight now, and let the beam slowly roll over the property. There was the field itself, then the office which was attached to a small house (presumably the caretaker’s residence), and a large shed where I could surmise that all the tools and maintenance supplies were kept. So what was the tiny shed on the far side of the field for? I debated leaving it alone, but nothing was speaking to me amongst the pumpkins and I still had that itch to scratch.

It was a jaunt, but as I approached, my curiosity only intensified. This shed had a locking mechanism I hadn’t encountered before outside of facilities that were far more secretive than a family pumpkin patch. I’d picked up a few things at those facilities, however, and was able to bypass the electronic lock entirely. As I opened the door, lights flickered on to illuminate a staircase leading underground. I looked behind me at the rows of painted squash, then descended below the shed.

The room I entered at the bottom could hardly be called a room at all for its sheer size. Everything was white—almost blindingly so. The entirety of the room was empty except for massive cylinders hanging from the ceiling like giant stalactites. I walked twenty or so paces to the one nearest me so I could inspect it. There seemed to be a removable panel on the side. Withdrawing the same screwdriver I’d used to bypass the lock, I began to work on the panel. It took some effort due to the size, but I was able to remove it. The answer I was looking for wasn’t immediately apparent, though. A plastic window was behind the panel, and behind that was solid dirt.

I looked around, then moved to the next cylinder, repeating the process. More dirt. Looking more closely at the window itself, I noticed a small button on the frame that I had mistaken for a bolt at first glance. I pressed it and the window immediately opened, sliding upwards into the frame. I stepped back and a bit of dirt spilled out, although with how tightly packed it was, not much was displaced. I hesitated, then began pulling chunks of dirt by hand, digging for answers. Then I found them. My hand made contact with something. I hurriedly cleared out enough dirt to realize what I’d connected with. Bone.

Just like the skull I’d seen in the pumpkin, this had been tunneled through by something. I looked more closely, trying to see what may have caused the unique pattern, then jumped back as something long and thin moved rapidly through one of the holes and crawled out of the capsule faster than I could react. I spun around to catch it—or to instinctively stomp on it—before it scurried away entirely, but my face was met with a very hard, dull object and I blacked out.

I don’t know how long it was before I came to, but I found that I was struggling to breathe. It was hard not to let panic set in, but I knew that would just make things more difficult. I tried to move any part of my body, but found I could barely even open my mouth. I looked around, searching for any explanation or, preferably, any way to escape. It was hard to tell where I was, but the pieces soon fell into place.

“It’s not personal, you know.”

The voice came muffled through the pumpkin shell. I didn’t recognize it. I tried to ask why but he’d already begun to answer before my efforts could yield any results.

“It’s an interesting species. We’ve been maintaining them for decades now. We’re still learning so much. Why do they feed primarily on bones? Why do they need to lay eggs above ground when they mainly live their lives below it? An unexpected byproduct is that their excrement makes for excellent fertilizer, of course. Not that that’s why they’re here.”

He paused, and I coughed, trying desperately to breathe. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain inside my leg.

“I don’t want to kill you. I’ve never actually killed anyone. Not directly, at least. But I can’t have you walk away with what you’ve seen. Instead, you’re contributing to science. Perhaps it’d be better not to tell you this, but by now you’ve probably begun to feel them. They should be burrowing into you about now to get at your bones. After some time, they’ll work their way up where they’ll lay their eggs inside your skull. Hopefully, you’ll be dead by then. Rinse and repeat, and you’ll have officially made an immeasurable contribution to science.”

With much effort I managed to get out two words through the pain and suffocation. “How? Why?”

I heard him crouch down by the pumpkin. “That’s just one of those questions, isn’t it? Maybe with your help, we’ll finally have an answer. We tried feeding them so many things. Animals, plants, fungi, but none of them took. So we feed the bones to them. Human bones, unfortunately. That’s it.”

I could feel them crawling up the inside of my legs. He stood back up. “And as to why? Well, is the scientific mind not enough for you? Then perhaps the incredible fertilizer that can be sold at an unmatched price point could be your answer. I hear they can also be used for some intense interrogation methods. But I know little about all that. I’m just here to get answers. I have to be on my way now. If you want my advice… try to relax. I don’t know if it helps you, or not, but it couldn’t hurt. And it allows them to work a bit faster. It doesn’t really make a difference to me either way, though. Goodbye, now.”

I tried to scream but couldn’t get enough air in my lungs. I heard him walking away as I felt the insects—or whatever they were—burrow through my bones, getting closer and closer to my head. I wasn’t alive by the time they made it to my brain.

My, my, that was quite the delicious entry, wouldn’t you say? That’s all for now, though, Jeremy. I’ll go ahead and let myself out. We’ll be in touch soon. Sweet dreams. 

Halloween 2022: Double Booked (Phonic Fiction Fest)


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
Language, gory sound effects, frequent insults about model trains, Philly accents, blood, death, mutilation, improper usage/pronunciation of medical terms, puns.


WRITTEN BY JEREMY ENFINGER, Joshua Alkema, Nate Davis, Alexandra Paige Levine, and Skyler Giordano

The Arrival 

[Car tires on asphalt, soft wind blows past a car in motion. Inside, a podcast can be heard over the vehicle speakers, narration over music.] 

[PODCAST NARRATOR] On this week’s episode of Hidden Crime Documents, an unsolved case with a serial killer on the loose who preys on unsuspecting victims. This sadistic freak who continues to evade police just loves to dismember their victims in vacation rental homes. But why hasn’t law enforcement been able to catch up with them? And why isn’t every true crime podcast talking about this one? I’ll be taking a deep dive into the bowels of mystery on this one, folks… on this week’s episode of Hidden Crime Documents! 

[There is a click as the podcast is turned off.] 

[DEREK, gruff and annoyed] I can’t listen to this “true crime” garbage anymore. 

[KELLY, dismissive] It’s way better than your choo-choo crap. Murder shit is so cool. 

[DEREK, defensive] I hate it when you call it that! Can you at least extend me the courtesy of respecting my model train hobby? And the podcast is called, “De//Railed.” It’s not that difficult, Kelly! 

[KELLY] When you come up with a respectable hobby, then maybe I’ll consider showing it some respect. 

[Derek scoffs] 

[DEREK] I have sponsors, Kelly. 

[KELLY, condescending] Okay, “Hello Fresh” and “Me Undies” will work with literally anyone. How much money have you made from your three listeners again? 

[DEREK, audibly angrier] I have at least twenty listeners according to last month’s statistics, Kelly! Ugh, we’re never going to make it through this stupid getaway.

[KELLY] I still don’t understand what good Dr. Thomas thinks fucking off to the middle of nowhere for the weekend will do for our relationship. We’re together all the time, anyway. [pause] You were supposed to turn left there. 

[DEREK, sarcastic] There was a tree there. 

[KELLY] That’s not what GPS says. 

[DEREK] What are you talking about? You can’t even use GPS out here, there aren’t any cell towers for miles. 

[DEREK] That’s why I thought ahead and printed this off of Mapquest. Here, take a look. [There is the sound of paper rustling and unfolding.] 

[KELLY, sarcastically] What do I do with this? 

[DEREK] Uh, navigate? 

[KELLY] I don’t even know what I’m looking at here. Does Mapquest seriously still exist? 

[DEREK] Obviously, and I’d say they’re arguably better than Google Maps. Did you know they’ve been around since 1967? 

[KELLY, sarcastically] Hey, maybe you can get them to sponsor you! 

[DEREK, beginning mockingly] Hey, maybe you can – wait, is that a house over there? 

[KELLY] Oh, yeah. It looks kind of cute, do you think that’s it? 

[The car slows as the theme music begins.] 

[DEREK] It has to be. See? I told you I knew what I was doing. 

[KELLY, sotto voce] For once.

A Chance Meeting 

[The music fades out.] 

[KELLY] Okay, this sucks. How much longer do we have here? 

[DEREK] We got here less than an hour ago, so at least 47 more by my count. 

[KELLY] People are just not designed to live without wifi. 

[DEREK] That’s the point, we’re supposed to be communicating with each other, not our phones. 

[KELLY] Ugh. 

[A ball is heard bouncing off the floor.] 

[KELLY] Do you really have to do that? You’re going to trigger my misophonia! 

[DEREK] That’s not how misophonia works! Why don’t you try some of that stretching stuff you do? 

[KELLY] You know it’s called yoga! And you always make fun of me when I do it. Oh my god, how are we going to get through the whole weekend? 

[DEREK, placatingly] Look, they have board games; we could play one of those. How about Scrabble? 

[There is the sound of a boxed board game propelled to the ground and game pieces scattering.] 

[KELLY] Did you just try to throw that at me?! What the actual fuck, Derek? 

[DEREK] Do you really think I’d throw a board game at you? That totally wasn’t me. It just came off the shelf, I wasn’t even near it! 

[There are the brief sounds of footsteps on the wooden floorboards.] 

[KELLY] Hey look, the tiles are spelling F – U! 

[A faint noise is heard from elsewhere within the house.] 

[DEREK, whispering] Did you hear that?

[There is a brief pause and the noise repeats several times, almost rhythmically, under the next few lines of dialogue.] 

[KELLY, whispering] If there’s vermin down there, we’re so not giving them a five star rating. 

[DEREK, hesitatingly] Well, one of us should go down there. 

[KELLY, mockingly] Aw, do you need me to do it? 

[DEREK, defensively] No! But maybe we should both go. I’ll follow you. [There are the sounds of footsteps across a wooden floor, then descending a creaky wooden staircase as another set of sounds, meaty thuds and squelching, gradually become more audible. The footsteps stop, the grotesque sounds of butchery continue.] 

[KELLY, whispering urgently] It’s through that door. Go ahead, open it! [The door opens slowly with another loud creak and the sounds of butchery cease. There is a pause.] 

[DEREK, in a high-pitched shriek and in tandem with the following line] Oh my god! 

[SERIAL KILLER, exasperated and in tandem with Derek’s line above] Ah, shit. 

[KELLY, puzzled] What exactly am I looking at right now? 

[SERIAL KILLER, in a Philadelphia accent] Whaddya doin’ down here? I thought I had this place booked! 

[In the background, a door is heard being slammed shut.] 

[KELLY, confrontational] What are you doing down here? We have this place booked through Sunday! 

[DEREK, terrified] He – he has a fucking knife, oh my god is that guy dead? 

[KELLY, in tandem with Serial Killer below] Ya think? 

[SERIAL KILLER, in tandem with Kelly above] Well yeah, obviously. 

[DEREK] We need to call the cops, Kelly! 

[SERIAL KILLER] Ya see, I’ve had this place booked for months and I need to de-stress, so I really wouldn’t recommend doing that.

[KELLY] Why not, what are you going to do, kill us? 

[DEREK] Kelly, shut up! 

[SERIAL KILLER] Hey, don’t talk to your significant other like that. You’re supposed to be a “partnership!” 

[KELLY] Yeah, Derek. What would Dr. Thomas say right now if she heard you?

[DEREK, audibly beginning to panic] It’s not like we have the talking pillow here! Oh fuck, he’s going to kill us with a machete. 

[SERIAL KILLER, placatingly] Hey, hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. You think I don’t have a life? I have plans once I’m done with this project, adding two more would make me late. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still need to remove the skin from my buddy here. 

[KELLY] Plans? 

[Footsteps are heard retreating.] 

[DEREK, from the door into the basement with false cheer] Okay, great! Cool! We’ll just get out of your hair then. Come on, Kelly. 

[KELLY] Wait, isn’t a machete like, the worst thing to flay a body with? You should be using a flensing knife. 

[SERIAL KILLER, clearly caught off-guard] Why do you know that? 

[DEREK, still at the door and sounding panicked and winded] She listens to a lot of true crime podcasts! 

[SERIAL KILLER] Look, I had to improvise. Do I come to your job and criticize you? [There is the sound of a door flying open and a pained grunt from Derek as he flies back and hits the ground with a loud impact.] 

[KELLY, exasperated] What are you doing, Derek? Get up! 

[DEREK, pained and winded] But… the door… ow.

[SERIAL KILLER, abruptly] Look, seems to me like there was a mistake, but how about we make a compromise? You let me work in peace down here, and I’ll let you “lovebirds” have the rest of the place for your romantic getaway. 

[KELLY] I guess that makes sense. Come on, Derek. Let’s go play Scrabble. You get the board set up and I’ll pop some bubbles for mimosas! 

[Footsteps are heard walking up the creaky wooden stairs again.] 

[DEREK, indignant] But he’s a serial killer! 

[KELLY] Well actually, we don’t know that. He’d have to kill at least three people to be a serial killer, we only know of that one. And technically we didn’t even see him – [The door at the top of the basement stairs rattles as Kelly tries to open it, but to no avail.] 

[KELLY] Did you lock the door? 

[DEREK, triumphantly] No, I told you!

Stuck in a Basement with You 

[Butchery sounds recommence and, after a moment, footsteps come back down the stairs. The door at the bottom of the stairs creaks back open.] 

[KELLY] Um, slight snag. Don’t kill us or anything, but do you happen to have a key to the door at the top of the stairs? It’s locked. 

[Butchery sounds continue, more muted under dialogue.] 

[SERIAL KILLER] Of course I don’t have a key! What, based on our conversation thus far, makes you think I live here? 

[DEREK, yelling in a higher pitched voice] Can you please stop that?! [Butchery sounds stop.] We’re trying to talk to you! 

[SERIAL KILLER, unruffled] You’re right, you’re right, I’m being inconsiderate. [The machete is lodged into the body.] What seems to be the problem? 

[DEREK, off-guard] Oh. That’s – I mean, it’s the door. The one upstairs? It’s – 

[KELLY, interrupting] Look, we’re not going to spend the weekend sitting at the top of the stairs while you get all this space down here to yourself. We’re going to have to share. 

[DEREK] What? That’s not what I – 

[SERIAL KILLER] Did you try jiggling the handle? 


[SERIAL KILLER] Right. Okay, maybe there’s another exit somewhere. 

[KELLY] Hey, Derek, why don’t you make yourself useful and go look? 

[DEREK, sarcastically] Fine. I’ll leave you both to talk about your sharp objects. [To himself] Just go off on my own into the dark while my wife bonds with a damn serial killer, no big deal. Least I know I’m safe here since the serial killer’s over there. [Derek descends into unintelligible muttering.] 

[Whispering, unintelligible voices begin to rise.] 

[DEREK] Oh shit, is this a door? Huh, maybe there is another way out of here.

[The sound of a very creaky door opening is heard, the whispers grow louder. Derek screams.] [Pause] 

[KELLY] So what’s it like killing people? 

[SERIAL KILLER] Oh, ya know, most people think it’s all about the thrill, but me? It’s the art. 

[KELLY] Oh, so you’re an artist! That’s… that’s cool. Who’s your favorite artist? 

[SERIAL KILLER, deadpan] Jackson Pollock. 

[KELLY] And, um, who was that over there on the table? 

[Footsteps running quickly and Derek’s panting breath is heard approaching the others.] 

[DEREK, out of breath, panting] You guys, you guys… You need to come – you need to come check this out! 

[KELLY] Oh, you found an exit? Great job, Derek! 

[DEREK] No… no, it’s a – it’s a body. 

[KELLY] Yeah, we already saw that, it’s over there. 

[DEREK] No – another one. In a closet, follow me. 

[Footsteps on concrete as Derek leads them back to the closet.] 

[KELLY] Dude, you store them in a closet? 

[SERIAL KILLER, offended] Hey, that wasn’t me! I’ve got standards. 

[DEREK, panicked] Oh, that’s cool. So we’re down here with two serial killers. 

[SERIAL KILLER] Unlikely. I’ve been here since this morning and haven’t seen anyone else until you two showed up. 

[KELLY] Derek, come on. Either open the door or take your hand off the doorknob. [The door slowly creaks open and music swells.] 


[KELLY] Okay, alright, that was a good one. You actually kind of got me. 

[DEREK] I swear it was right here! 

[SERIAL KILLER] So, what, you think it got up and walked off?

[KELLY] I mean, zombies are fun, too! 

[DEREK] No, no, no! You guys, it was right here – it was… the guy was totally mutilated. He had this…ax, sticking out his… Fuck me, I’m gonna be sick. 

[SERIAL KILLER, dismissively] An ax? That doesn’t sound like my handiwork. I like to use a little finesse. 

[DEREK, sarcastically] Right, because you’re making art. 

[SERIAL KILLER, indignantly] Hey, we all have our passions! 

[KELLY] Yeah Derek, at least he’s got passion. 

[DEREK] His passion is KILLING PEOPLE! 

[KELLY] That’s better than your stupid trains! 

[SERIAL KILLER] Whoa whoa whoa! Trains aren’t that bad! 

[KELLY] Not regular trains, model trains. You know, toys. 

[SERIAL KILLER] Even better. I just picked up a Lionel T1 off eBay! 

[DEREK, mumbling to self] What the fuck is even happening? 

[KELLY] Hey Derek, maybe you should have this guy on your podcast. Your three listeners would love that! 

[SERIAL KILLER] You know, I’m not much of a podcast fan, myself. I’m more into audio drama. In fact, there’s this one – 

[DEREK, shouting] Can we please! [Pause] Can we please get back to the fucking body in the closet?! 

[SERIAL KILLER] Okay, but what body? 

[KELLY, concerned] Babe, are you okay? 

[SERIAL KILLER] Yeah, maybe you better go lay down. 

[DEREK] Oh yeah, you’d like that wouldn’t you? If I left you alone again with my wife! 

[SERIAL KILLER] Take it easy pal, I’m married. 

[DEREK & KELLY, together] You’re married!?

[KELLY] Does she know about your…[Kelly makes stabbing/cutting sounds.]

Shattered Reality 

[The tennis ball is heard bouncing off the wall and dribbling to a stop on the floor again.] 

[KELLY] I can’t believe you brought that thing down here. It’s like you don’t even care about my misophonia. 

[SERIAL KILLER] You know that’s not what misophonia is, right? 

[DEREK] That’s what I told her. 

[KELLY] Oh fuck you guys. I’m going to go find a bathroom. 

[DEREK] A bathroom? Where do you think you’re going to find a bathroom? 

[SERIAL KILLER] Actually, there’s one over there. Don’t mind the blood – I didn’t know I’d be having company, if you know what I’m sayin’. 

[Footsteps on concrete are heard walking away.] 

[SERIAL KILLER] You know, I had an O gauge train set when I was a kid. 

[DEREK] Yeah, me too… I’ve since graduated to Z gauge. 

[Water is running into a sink and splashing, then the faucet turns and it cuts off.] 

[KELLY] Oh my god, it feels so good to get all this shit off my face. 

[Spooky whispers fill the space.] 

[KELLY, yelling through a door] Hello? Derek, what are you doing out there? Stop being weird. [Pause] I’d literally kill for my moisturizer right now. [Pause.] Not actual literally. [Spooky whispers grow louder and more intense.] 

[KELLY] Mirror mirror on the wall… 

[The mirror shatters, glass falling to the tile floor.] 

[KELLY] Rude. You could have lied to me. 

[Pause, the sound of butchery resumes for a few moments.] 

[DEREK] So, Z gauge was actually introduced by the German model train manufacturer Märklin in 1972 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. 

[Footsteps approach.]

[KELLY] Guys, the weirdest thing just happened. I was looking in the mirror and then all of a sudden, the whole thing just shattered all over the place. 

[DEREK, worried] Are you okay? Did you get cut? 

[Footsteps quickly moving away.] 

[KELLY] No, I’m fine. It was just really weird – hey, where did our friend go? 

[SERIAL KILLER, from further away with a slight echo] The mirror in here? It’s fine, not a crack on it. 

[Two sets of feet run down the concrete hallway.] 

[KELLY] What? That’s impossible, I saw it and – huh. Weird. 

[Spooky whispers swell once more.]

What’s Behind the Door? 

[Spooky whispers are present below all dialogue for the time being.] 

[SERIAL KILLER] Uh, do you guys hear that? 

[DEREK] Stop playing around, we know that’s you! 

[KELLY] Derek, his lips aren’t even moving! 

[DEREK] Maybe he’s a ventriloquist. We don’t know what kind of weird Renaissance man talents he has! 

[SERIAL KILLER, offended] Uh, excuse me, I am not a ventriloquist! 

[DEREK] He’s lying! That’s what ventriloquists do! 

[KELLY] Who lies about being a ventriloquist? 

[Spooky whispers grow slightly louder.] 

[DEREK] This guy, I don’t know! 

[Spooky whispers grow angrier, accompanied by a faint rattling.] 

[SERIAL KILLER] You know, it sounds like they’re coming from your body closet. 

[DEREK] My body closet? 

[KELLY] Derek, go see if anything’s in your body closet. 

[DEREK] Why me? 

[KELLY] It’s your body closet. 

[SERIAL KILLER, condescendingly] Why don’t we all go? 

[The whispers grow more intense.] 

[KELLY] Okay, it’s definitely coming from there. Derek, open the door. 

[DEREK, emphatically] No way, I’m putting my foot down. You do it. 

[SERIAL KILLER] Jesus you guys, I’ll do it. 

[Door slams open and the whispers intensify to become the distant howl of an unearthly abyss stretching out forever into nothingness. Serial Killer, Derek, and Kelly must shout to make themselves heard over the rushing wind and howling abyss.]

[SERIAL KILLER, nonplussed] What the fuck. 

[KELLY] That’s… unexpected. There’s still no body in there, Derek. 

[DEREK] Oh come on, the specifics are the least of our worries! Are you even seeing this? 

[KELLY] I know, right? I would literally kill to get this kind of closet space on the upper east side!

 [DEREK] Okay, now that’s just in poor taste! 

[SERIAL KILLER] This is crazy, I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s nothing in here! [The sound of wind and howling intensifies.] 

[KELLY] Uh, you might want to back up a little bit… 

[The wind reaches a crescendo and the serial killer screams, his scream fading away over the next few seconds.] 

[KELLY] Yeah, definitely don’t want to get too close to that thing. Fuck, Derek! Move back! [The screaming cuts off suddenly as the door slams shut from negative pressure caused by the void. The wind and whispers likewise cease.] 

[KELLY] Huh. That’s too bad, I was really starting to like him, too. Oh well, at least we don’t have to share the house anymore, right? So what now? 

[DEREK, panicked] What, now? We’re still trapped down here with a corpse, Kelly [The music begins to intensify and dripping sounds can be heard throughout the room.] 

[KELLY] Derek, look at the walls. That’s either a seriously questionable decorating choice or, does it look like they’re bleeding? 

[The sounds of shuffling feet and zombie moaning joins the dripping walls.] 

[DEREK] Um, Kelly, I think that body is coming towards us. 

[A television clicks on and static joins the chorus of spooky sounds.] 

[DEREK] And did that TV just turn on by itself? 

[KELLY] How cliche. 

[The door begins rattling and banging in its frame.]

[DEREK, panicking] Really? Now the door again? Fuck, oh my god, we’re going to die in here aren’t we? 

[KELLY, matter-of-fact] Yeah, probably. 

[DEREK] You could have lied! 

[The door stops rattling and slowly creaks open once more. The other sounds, save for the zombie, all cut off together, replaced by gentle birdsong.] 

[DEREK] That’s… is that our car? 

[KELLY] Okay, this closet is so cool. Ooh, do you think next time we’ll get to go to Narnia? 

[DEREK] Are you kidding? We’re leaving. Come on. 

[ZOMBIE] Braaaaaains… 

[The door slams shut with finality.]

One Year Later… 

[There is a click and a familiar podcast’s theme music starts to play.] 

[DEREK] Is this a new episode? 

[KELLY] Yeah! It just came out this morning – I was waiting to listen to it with you.

[DEREK] Aw Kelly, that’s so thoughtful of you! 

[PODCAST HOST] Imagine if you will, taking your spouse for a weekend getaway, only to find a deranged killer in the basement when you arrive. Even more? The house you are in… is haunted. Sound crazy? Well, truth really is stranger than fiction. That’s exactly what happened to my guests today. 

[KELLY] Hey, Derek! I’m pretty sure you were supposed to turn left back there. 

[DEREK] No, that was a tree. 

[KELLY] Hey, up ahead, do you see that? Oh, it looks like that cute little hell house we went to last year! Remember, honey? Can you pull over? 

[DEREK] You know, I think that might be it. 

[KELLY] We should go in! 

[DEREK] Are you fucking joking? 

[PODCAST HOST] Before we bring on our guests and dive deep into this chilling tale, here’s a quick word from our sponsors. All aboard! You won’t want to miss an action-packed second of DE//RAILED! 

[KELLY] Ugh, skip 30. 

[DEREK] Do you really hate my podcast that much? 

[KELLY] Ehh… 

[DEREK] You could have at least lied to me! 

[The music swells and fades out.] 

Bonus Scene 


[A train horn sounds as the podcast trailer begins. Derek can be heard speaking over “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” and additional train sounds.] 

[DEREK VOICEOVER] Growing up, I didn’t get much of a chance to know my father. He did, however, leave me with a passion for this model railway transportation industry. On this show, you’ll get to ride the rails with me, Derek, as we explore the history of locomotion and how it’s 

shaped the world around us, recreating scenes from important American historical events involving trains, only on a much smaller scale – Z Scale, to be precise! Haha! 

Catch DE//RAILED every Monday, Wednesday and Friday wherever you listen to podcasts. That’s right! Hobby train chat… three days a week! I know it sounds like a lot, but I promise you, I haven’t bit off more than I can choo choo, haha!. All aboard for adventure, train or shine! Toot-toot, yeah! 

[The train whistle sounds and the show fades out with more train sounds.]

Halloween 2022: The Party


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
Themes involving grief, murder, revenge, gore




MARGARET: I’m scared, father.

FATHER: Oh Margaret, there’s really no reason to be.

MARGARET: But what if he doesn’t like me?  What if I don’t get picked?

FATHER: Then… that’s okay. Not every family member gets chosen for the inheritance. 

(footsteps change from in mud to on wood)

FATHER: And even if you don’t get picked now, you could always get picked in the future… when you’re a little older. Come on, let’s go inside where it’s warm.

(Father jiggles door handle)

MARGARET: (pouty) But wait!

FATHER: What is it, sweetie?

MARGARET: Are you going to be upset if I’m not picked?

FATHER: No, sweetheart. You know I’m very proud of you, right?  

MARGARET: Yes, father.

FATHER: And your mother was very proud of you too before she passed.


FATHER: Hey, did you know that I didn’t get picked the first time? It took me three years to get picked! 

MARGARET: (uplifted) Really!!

FATHER: …And your mother… Well, she did much better than I did.  She was picked her second year.

MARGARET: So it’s okay if he doesn’t like me this year?

FATHER: Oh, it has nothing to do with liking you or disliking you. Tonight is all about just getting to know you.  You want to get to know your relatives, don’t you?

MARGARET: Yes, father.

FATHER: So, when we go inside, I’m going to introduce you, and he’s just going to ask you some harmless questions… to get to know you, okay? That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

MARGARET: No. That sounds easy.

FATHER: It is incredibly easy, and you’re going to do great. And since I already know you, don’t you think I know what I’m talking about?

MARGARET: (chipper) Yeah.

FATHER: Okay, now… Are you ready to meet some more of your family? 

MARGARET: (excited) Yes!!

FATHER: Okay, that’s my girl! Let’s get inside and warm up!

(thunder rolls as they walk in the door and close it)

INT: Fireplace raging with Lucius sitting in a recliner next to it.  Father introduces Margaret to Lucius.  Margaret approaches, hesitant to engage in conversation.  

FATHER: Wait here a moment and I’ll call you over.

(walking away several steps toward Lucius)

FATHER: (at distance) Lucius, we’ve arrived.

LUCIUS: Ah yes, very well. Send her in.

FATHER: Of course. I’ll be anxiously waiting to hear from you. I’m getting hungry!

LUCIUS: As am I… as am I.

FATHER: Margaret, dear. Come over here. I’d like to introduce you to someone.  


FATHER: This, Margaret, is Lucius. Lucius, my daughter Margaret.

MARGARET: Hello?  Are you my grandpa?

LUCIUS: (weak/frail sounding) Well, not exactly, my dear. But I knew your grandfather well. And your mother… you have her eyes and her nose (laughs weakly).


LUCIUS: Oh you most definitely do.
(to Father) The family is out back with everyone else. You know the way. 
(to Margaret) Come here little one, and sit next to an old man by the fireplace. Let me get to know you.

MARGARET: (joyful) Okay. Father told me you’re going to ask me some questions.

LUCIUS: Why yes, I will. But I want to tell you a story first… as long as you can promise me two things.

MARGARET: Of course!  What two things?

LUCIUS: First, there’s always a lesson to be learned from one of my stories.  You must promise me you will take this lesson and apply it to your life.

MARGARET: Okay, that should be easy.  What’s the second thing?

LUCIUS: You can’t tell anyone this story outside of family. Can you keep a secret?

MARGARET: That’s silly, but okay.

LUCIUS: I’m quite serious now… mum’s the word!  If you ever do get tempted and tell someone… 

(eerie music intensifies)

LUCIUS: (cont’d) I’ll know! 

(emphasis on “I’ll know” and voice effects, voice grows strong and deep, echoes with a growl)

MARGARET: (almost amused) Okay… I promise.

LUCIUS: (voice is comforting, returning to normal) You understand my terms for telling you this story?

MARGARET: Um… to use its lesson in my life and don’t tell anyone the story.

LUCIUS: Spot on!  That’s a good girl!

MARGARET: (joyful) You’re silly… can I hear the story now?

LUCIUS: Yes dear. Are you ready?


LUCIUS: Okay. Here we go. There was once a man who traveled West. The days were long and hard traveling by horse and wagon, and he made camp each night, cooking by a fire he would make near his wagon, moving to new locations each day.  
The man traveled alone, but after weeks of traveling, he began to believe he was being followed. Day after day, night after night, he was convinced he saw movement in the corner of his eye.  He would constantly look over his shoulder hoping to catch a clear glimpse of someone or something that he was certain was behind him, but he was never able to. After enough time, he began to live every moment of his life in fear, and he began to develop a cruel disposition.
One night near the end of his travels, he had nearly run out of food and he did not know how much longer it would take to reach his destination.  After making camp, he had an idea that would not only relieve his hunger, but would serve as entertainment to distract him from his paranoia of being followed, and he hoped it might satiate his new found need for cruelty. 
You see, he had come across a variety of creatures, snakes, and vermin he had never before witnessed in his travels. He was so fascinated by them that he collected them in baskets and took them with him during his journey.
So, that night by his camp fire, he emptied two of the baskets very close to one another and watched the creatures that came out of them in hopes they would fight to the death. And he planned to cook whichever one lost the fight as his dinner for that evening.
So, he sat on a tree stump as he watched a snake and a fox on the ground in front of him. Both of them had been disoriented after he released them from their baskets, but they did not quarrel. The man grew impatient and began throwing pebbles and sticks at them to instigate a fight. But the creatures did not fight, for they were both weak and hungry, having spent days in those baskets. 
As the man resigned his hopes for entertainment, he began to ponder which he would have for dinner, considering he’d have to kill it himself. As he sharpened his knife, a great beast which had been following him for days came from the shadows and crept up behind him. It lunged at him and killed the man in an instant. It happened so quickly that the man never saw the beast, and it devoured him right there while the snake and the fox observed.
So Margaret, what did you think about this story?

MARGARET: It’s a really weird story. But I liked it!

LUCIUS: And what was the lesson of the story, Margaret?

MARGARET: Well, it didn’t have a happy ending.

LUCIUS: (prompting more) Yes?

MARGARET: And the man wasn’t very smart.

LUCIUS: Oh? And why is that?

MARGARET: Well, it doesn’t matter what kind of person or animal you are… there’s always going to be something else that will eat you.

LUCIUS: Very perceptive, dear Margaret. So then, who was the villain in this story? The fox, the snake, the man, or the great beast?

MARGARET: Well… the fox and the snake didn’t do anything wrong.

LUCIUS: That leaves the man and the great beast.

MARGARET: Well they were both just trying to eat, but the man was mean about it.

LUCIUS: Why, my dear?

MARGARET: He wanted to watch the fox and snake fight and hurt each other just for fun.

LUCIUS: And how was the beast different?

MARGARET: The beast ate the man, but he killed him fast.

LUCIUS: And do you think it was wrong for the beast to kill the man?

MARGARET: No. It’s just an animal and if it didn’t kill the man then he would just be hungry.

LUCIUS: Very good, Margaret. Now… Do you remember what two things you promised me before I told you that story?

MARGARET: (excited) Ooh ooh yes!

LUCIUS: What were they, my dear?

MARGARET: That I wouldn’t tell anyone the story at all… well, unless they’re in our family.

LUCIUS: And the second promise?

MARGARET: Um… that I would use the lesson from the story in my life.

LUCIUS: VERY good! So, what was the lesson, Margaret? 

MARGARET: To not be cruel. 

LUCIUS: Mmm hmm.

MARGARET: And to never travel alone.

LUCIUS: (laughs) You are a bright one, Margaret! So young, and so perceptive.  You’ve done splendidly! There are two more lessons I want you to take with you from that story. Are you ready to hear them?

MARGARET: Yes. But did I mess up?

LUCIUS: No, my dear. You were amazing! I don’t expect anyone to know about these next two lessons until I tell them. Once I do, you’ll understand.

MARGARET: Oh, okay. What are they?

LUCIUS: First, the man was without family. Family is everything, Margaret. If you must be separated from family, do not let it be for so long. It’s a strict rule that our people live by!

MARGARET: Okay, I understand.

LUCIUS: And second: trust your instincts. Do you know what instincts are?


LUCIUS: Instincts are just feelings. Like when the man thought he was being followed all that time during his travels. He actually was being followed. They’re just feelings you get that you should trust. And we all have them.

MARGARET: Like when I can tell if someone is good or if they’re bad?

LUCIUS: Exactly like that, but before they actually do something to show you that they’re good or bad. Instincts can be developed, but you have to learn to trust them. The moment the man in the story stopped thinking about his, he was devoured by the beast, remember?

MARGARET: I understand. Thanks for telling me that story.

LUCIUS: You’re welcome, child. Why don’t we go and find your father?


LUCIUS: Help me find your father, dear.

MARGARET: Wow, who are all these people?

LUCIUS: They’re all family, and they’re all very excited to meet you.

MARGARET: But they don’t look like me. Some of them have different skin colors. Some of them have different hair.

LUCIUS: When I say “family,” I don’t necessarily mean in the way your school teacher or your friends use the word “family” – implying your mother and father. 

MARGARET: What do you mean?

LUCIUS: Well, a family can be a group of descendants sharing the same ancestors. If your ancestors are old enough, over generations, people look less and less like each other, but they are still family. Or…


LUCIUS: It can mean a very close group of people with similar traits. They’re like us, Margaret.

MARGARET: Oh! There’s father!

(father approaches)

FATHER: See? Nothing to worry about! And in your very first year!

MARGARET: What do you mean, father? Does that mean I was picked?

FATHER: Yes, Margaret. You wouldn’t be back here with the family unless you were.

MARGARET: So does that mean I get my in-hair-tense?

FATHER: Inheritance… yes! And at such a young age!

MARGARET: But what is my in-hair-tense, father? 

FATHER: You’re about to find out, Margaret. Lucius will make the announcement.

(fork dings on glass as Lucius calls the family’s attention to a toast)

LUCIUS: Listen up everyone! Listen up! I have an announcement to make. And this body of mine doesn’t allow me to speak loudly. (pause)
(to Margaret) Margaret, come stand next to me dear. 
(to crowd) I have with me tonight a very special young girl, whose mother was taken from us far too soon this past year. And maintaining tradition, I have met with the girl… and deemed her worthy!


LUCIUS: (cont’d) The cycle continues as the eldest male and the eldest female in each line receives their ancestral inheritance, if found forthright and just, and able to distinguish evil intention. I present to you, Margaret.


LUCIUS: (cont’d) May we all bear witness, as family, as Margaret undergoes the change. I know you’re all hungry and I could eat a horse myself…


LUCIUS: (cont’d) …So without further delay, Margaret, please drink this now. 

FATHER: (close to Margaret) Go ahead, we’ve all done it.

(Margaret drinks)

LUCIUS: And let us all make our way to the stable now to join the party, where our other guests have gathered and are enjoying our hospitality, though they deserve no such thing!

(loud cheers, then fade into background)

MARGARET: Will it hurt, father?

FATHER: Maybe for just a second, but it goes away really fast. Let’s move. You get to go into the stable first.

MARGARET: Are they all really bad people, father?

FATHER: Yes, dear. I can assure you that none of these people deserve to live. Do you recall the large man that visited us just before your mother passed?

MARGARET: Is he the one that…

FATHER: Yes, dear. He’s the one that murdered your mother, and because of his wealth and social stature, he has not faced justice.

MARGARET: But don’t you want to do it, father?

FATHER: Nothing would make me more proud than to watch my only daughter instill justice on the man that has brought us so much pain over the last year.

MARGARET: Ugh… my stomach hurts, father!

FATHER: That’s supposed to happen. You’re about to feel more hungry than you’ve ever felt in your life. Give into the hunger once we open those stable doors, Margaret, but not before then.

EXT: The family arrives at the stable, where there is music playing loudly inside. All of the people inside are about to be eaten as transformations of each family member are about to take place.

LUCIUS: Okay everyone, remember tradition! Margaret, my dear… the first transformation is the most uncomfortable. You will feel hunger and rage, but we direct it toward those inside the stable tonight, and never at family.

MARGARET: (uncomfortable) Are we like vampires or werewolves or something?

LUCIUS: No, my dear. We’re something… different. 
(voice gets younger-sounding/stronger) But we are feared just the same. 
(shouting) Ready at the doors!

MARGARET: (straining, voice growing deeper and raspy) I’m ready father!

FATHER: Remember, he’s the large man in a gray suit. Everyone will wait until you take him before they start attacking. I’ll be right there, sweetie.

(Margaret growling and in pain)

LUCIUS: (growl-speak) Margaret, are you ready?


LUCIUS: Open the doors! 

(music stops, crowd gasps, and growling, gory flesh-tearing murder noises happen with screaming)

Contest Winner: Summer Reading Champion


The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.

Discretion is advised.

See Content Warnings
References to selling drugs, child abduction, themes of child harm



Hello everyone. Due to the nature of how the last episode ended, I am unfortunately not yet able to give you episode ten, the mid-season finale. Instead, I’m recording this brief intro from a hospital bed and I’ll have to get back to you next time with episode ten. For now until I can get back to my normal recording self, I wanted to share with you one of the stories that was submitted through the writing competition we had last year. I hope you don’t mind this slight delay, and something tells me you’re going to enjoy this story. I’ll be back in two weeks with episode ten.

 The guidance counselor told me that it wasn’t too late for me to get on the right track. Which I thought was stupid, honestly— the idea that there was a “right track” and a “wrong track” for me. 

“You’re only a sophomore,” she told me, “There’s still time to make up for your mistakes.”

I guess there’s no use hiding it. I mean, it feels weird to admit to the police that you were selling pot out of the second floor girl’s bathroom every third period after Mr. Thompson’s class ended, but then again, you guys already busted me for that, so you know that part already. The thing is, I didn’t think of it so much as a mistake. High schoolers are stressed. They need something to help them chill. Thanks to my big brother, I had that something, and I didn’t really think there was anything wrong with that. 

I didn’t say this to the guidance counselor, though. I just told her that I didn’t think colleges would look fondly upon a fifteen-year-old who’d already racked up a criminal charge. She laughed, and I remember the way her beaded glasses chain waggled, she told me that I was not the first weed dealer she’d helped to get into college. 

“Colleges love to see that you’re engaging in your community,” she told me, “and since you’re still relatively young, if you get started now and stick with it, it’ll really look like you’re committed to whatever activity you pick.”
I tried not to laugh. First of all, I’m pretty sure selling drugs to students was already pretty great community engagement, but colleges wouldn’t see it that way. But I guess what really got me was that it all seemed so fake. Pretending that you really like something just so colleges will say, “oh, that kid’s got passion! Oh, that kid’s going places!” She shoved a bunch of brochures at me, telling me to “peruse these opportunities for promising youths” and get back to her. 

I chucked them as soon as I got home, but my dad found them in the trash. 

He told me, “If this is how Mrs. Vale thinks you’re getting into college, then goddamnit, you’re doing it.”

I looked through the brochures, and they all seemed pretty boring. Volunteering at a children’s museum. Working at a homeless shelter.  Doing paperwork for some environmental nonprofit. I managed to eliminate all of them except one: the city library. It’s not that I was exactly thrilled at the possibility of reshelving books, but I figured it sounded a lot better than spending my day with a bunch of screaming children trying to force them to learn about the life cycle of a bee, so that was the one I picked.

I went on Monday afternoon after school and was greeted like a returning war hero.

“You must be Bailey!” I remember the woman at front desk clasped her hands together, like my appearance was an answer to her prayers. She took me into a back office, where there was a spindly old man rubbing a wet paper towel on old children’s books. 

“Welcome, newest addition to the Children’s Section!” he said, much to my disappointment. The whole reason I took this job was to get away from a job with kids. Still, there was hope. Maybe they’d just have me preparing arts and crafts. Maybe I wouldn’t have to interact with kids at all. 

The lanky man introduced himself as Randy, and he rushed me away on a tour of the building. It’s funny what constitutes a big landmark in a tiny local library. He was particularly proud of the color copier, which is apparently a coveted thing in the library business. 

The big climax of the tour was the Reading Room. I didn’t want to be impressed by the library, but to be honest, the Reading Room was pretty cool. The carpet was blood red with little black dots that made me think of a ladybug, and one full wall of the room was covered in huge arched windows, with wooden spokes that reached down to connect at a central hub, like hands on a clock. There were no lights in the room. It was only lit by the sunlight streaming in from the windows. The floor was littered with multicolored pillows, now unoccupied. At the head of the room was a rocking chair with a stack of children’s books on the floor nearby it.

“This place is actually pretty nice,” I told Randy, and he looked so proud, like he’d built the library himself. 

“Why thank you,” he said, and took me back downstairs to give me more information about what I’d be doing for my job. A lot of it wasn’t so bad— laminating posters, folding brochures, making decorations for the “Book of the Month” display. But every weekend, I was expected to be there for Read Aloud Time. I didn’t want to let Randy know this, but I was dreading that part. I do not like hanging out with kids, and regardless of how pretty that Reading Room was, I didn’t enjoy the prospect of sitting on the muticolored pillows, doing stupid nursery rhymes with a bunch of drooling, sniffling, grimy toddlers. But Randy had this kind of pouty face, one you couldn’t say no to, so of course I told him I would be there bright and early Sunday morning.

I was really dragging my feet on my first Sunday, but once I saw all those cute little faces, so eager to hear about Peter Rabbit and Mother Goose or whatever talking animal they were going to learn about today, I felt my heart just melt a little. I remember thinking, “Oh, okay. I can make this work.” 

Basically my job was just to sit with them and listen to the story while Randy sat in the rocking chair reading.

Read Aloud always started with the Reading Time Song. It wasn’t so much a song really as a chant— I think it’s too much to ask of little kids to stay in tune. Before the story began, they would speak the words aloud with the accompanying hand gestures. It went like this: 

I open my heart 
I open my mind 
I open a book
And I read what’s inside
I keep my hands to myself
And I won’t be too loud 
So all of my friends
Can enjoy Read Aloud 

It was pretty sneaky, teaching the kids the rules like that. It was basically a nice way of saying “sit down and shut up.” It worked, though. The kids always paid attention during Read Aloud. And as much as I hate to admit it, I paid pretty close attention too. Some of those kids’ books are good, okay? 

Sunday mornings became my favorite day of the week. I started getting up early, even before my dad opened the store, to bring the front desk lady — her name is Laura — a bagel and a coffee. I kinda became a local library celebrity. I think it helped that I was the only person working there under the age of fifty. Oh, and I’m sure the fact that I was unpaid labor didn’t hurt either. I’m not gonna lie, I have a hard time getting myself motivated for school. I’m not really that interested in chemistry or history or trig or whatever. For a long time I didn’t know what I was interested in. Turns out I’m just interested in making kids laugh. 

Randy was particularly excited for me to be there for the Summer Reading Program. It’s the time of year that the children’s section is busiest because kids are coming in with their reading logs to get their hands stamped and to get a reward for how much they read. It encourages kids to read on their own, Randy told me. And to be quite honest, I was looking forward to it too. 

Okay, now I know you’re probably tired of hearing all that gushy stuff, but that’s where the touchy-feely part of the story ends, because a few months into my job was about when things started to go south. I knew something was wrong when I walked in one Sunday morning and Laura was not her usual chipper self. She still had her hands clasped together like she usually did, but this time she was a little shaky, like she was nervous about something. I gave her the usual bagel and coffee, and she just shook her head. I asked her what was wrong. She leaned over the desk and whispered that Randy was gone.

Before I could ask her what she meant, a man I didn’t recognize stepped out from what used to be Randy’s office. He was a lot younger than Randy, with full dark hair combed back and thick beard. He wore a suit and a crooked smile, two things you don’t usually see on someone who works in a public library. The new man introduced himself as Damion, and he said that he’d been transferred from another branch to be Randy’s replacement. I asked where Randy had gone, and he brushed the question aside, saying it wasn’t any of his business. Then he told me I was going to be late for Read Aloud and he hurried upstairs. 

Before I followed him, I turned to look at Laura. Her eyes were wide with panic. I asked her if Randy had told her anything about retiring and she said no, he’d never mentioned anything about leaving. She’d tried calling him and there was no answer. She’d also asked around to the other branches to see where Damion had come from, and none of them seemed to know who he was. 

Despite Laura’s franticness, I wasn’t actually that concerned. Mostly just confused. What kind of guy just shows up to take over Read Aloud? 

Just as I was about to ask Laura some more questions, I heard my name:


Without turning around, I knew it was him calling me. His voice felt cold, like ice water dripping down my back. I turned around to face him without thinking about it first. 

“You’re late for reading time. Come.” 

“Yes sir,” I said reflexively, and followed him upstairs.

That was the first Sunday that we did not do the Read Aloud Song. Damion said he had a new song to teach the kids. It went like this: 

We invite him to come in
We invite him to come feast
We invite him to our doorstep
We invite the hungry beast
We give him all he asks for
Anything he needs
We invite him to come in
So that he may feed

Damion didn’t teach the kids fun hand gestures like Randy did. He made them cover their faces with their hands as they spoke. 

Usually that’s when Randy would go on to read the story, but Damion didn’t do that. He started handing out sheets of paper. He called them “reading logs” and he said they were part of the Summer Reading Program. Only thing was, they didn’t look like the reading logs you usually give to kids— lined pages covered with clipart of books and caterpillars and things like that. These were blank. And instead of instructing them to write the books they read and bring the reading log in to get a stamp and a reward, he told them to write down what they believe in. The child who believes the most will be the Summer Reading Champion. 

After Read Aloud, I told him I thought it was a really weird nursery rhyme. He said it was just something he used to do as a little kid, that it was about feeding a stray dog. I told him I still thought it was really weird, and he just glared at me. Usually I have no problem with people looking at me funny, but this was the first glare I ever got that truly made me want to run away. And it was just over his stupid nursery rhyme. 

I was hoping maybe there was some mistake, that Damion was a temporary replacement and that Randy would return, but from that day forward, I only saw his crooked little smile when I looked into Randy’s office. I wanted to quit, but everytime I made my decision that I’d had enough, it was like he knew, and he appeared behind me, asking me to stay. And I didn’t want to stay, but somehow I still found myself saying yes.

Laura disappeared. Not in the same way Randy did, luckily. I showed up one day with a bagel and coffee for her and she was gone. I called her and she told me that she just couldn’t stand it anymore. Something wasn’t right and she didn’t want to be there. I was jealous of her, actually. I don’t know why I kept coming in, watching the kids do their chant and turn in their “reading logs” every Sunday morning. 

I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t forgotten my jacket that day. Summer was coming to a close and it was going to be a chilly night, but I didn’t notice myself shivering until the sun started to go down and I was already most of the way home. I considered not turning back for it, but I figured that since I had the keys anyway, I might as well run back into the library, scoop it up, and be out of there.

As soon as I entered the building I knew something was wrong. I heard what sounded like a rhythmic hum, like there was some kind of generator running. But all the lights were off. I decided to ignore it and just look for my jacket, but the deeper I got into the library, the louder it got. At that point I was too curious to let it go, so I started to follow the noise. It led me to the stairs, and I realized it was coming from the second floor. From the Reading Room. In that moment I knew that whatever was happening, Damion was behind it. 

I crept up the marble stairs. As I walked down the second floor hall, I realized the hum was actually a chant. The same chant that Damion made the kids do. But this time, they weren’t saying it like a nursery rhyme. They were repeating it like…a plea. 

I gently pushed the door to the Reading Room open, knowing that Damion would not be pleased at my intrusion. I feared what he might do to me if he found I was there. All the kids were seated on their cushions, hands pressed over their eyes, repeating that horrible chant. The only light in the room was the moonlight streaming in through the huge windows, casting long shadows of the children across the floor. Damion sat in the rocking chair, his face almost glowing in the moonlight, grinning.

“Now,” he whispered, “it’s time to crown the Summer Reading Champion.”

With a flourish, he lifted one of the “reading logs ” and a little girl stood up. I recognized her from Read Aloud as Lucy, a shy three-year-old. I had spent a lot of my volunteer time sitting her in my lap and encouraging her to interact with the other kids. 

“Thank you for choosing me,” she said in a voice that was not hers, “I am honored.”

Slowly she glided through the other children and towards Damion, who stood with an outstretched hand at the front of the room. 

I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen. Even looking back, I still have no idea what might have happened if that girl had taken Damion’s hand. But I had this sense of dread deep in my stomach, this knowledge that if he touched that little girl, something irreversible would happen, and it would be terrible and it would be all my fault for doing nothing. 

Without thinking about it, I leapt forward, dashing through the children and scooping up Lucy in my arms. Damion cried out in surprise when I appeared. I guess he hadn’t seen me lurking in the shadows in the back of the room.

“The child now belongs to me,” he said in a voice I know did not come from him. 

“No,” I told him, “she doesn’t. And you are ruining the Summer Reading Program.”

I shifted Lucy to my left arm to free up my right, and I smacked him hard across the face. I didn’t actually hit that hard, but I think it was the surprise of it that made him give an inhuman shriek, reeling backwards. The moment he fell, it was as though a spell was broken. The children simply stood up and left. Even Lucy wriggled out of my arms and walked towards the door. When I looked down, Damion was gone, and I was alone in the Reading Room.

I know I sound crazy, especially since none of the kids remember this happening, but you can ask Laura. She’ll back me up. Damion was there, and he did…he did something to those poor kids, even if they don’t remember it. And then he just…disappeared.

You may think that after all this, I would never want to set foot in the library again, and that was true. For like a week. But I missed the kids, and I missed Read Aloud, so I picked up where Randy left off and started reading those kids books myself. I don’t think I want to go to college anymore since it seems like I’ve got a pretty sweet gig lined up right here, so it turns out all that “community engagement” was for nothing. Well, not for nothing. I’m pretty happy. Mostly.

I still often wonder what happened to Randy. And I never stay in the library after dark.

Halloween 2021: Embrace

See Content Warnings
General horror, language, missing persons.

If you, or someone you know needs help, call 800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
A man investigates missing persons in the woods near a diner. He finds two teenagers looking to get away from town and plan to meetup later that night. Something stalks them in the woods. He comes back to follow them when they meet later and find one of them vanishes. The other turns to stone by a creature. The creature wants to connect with others, but turns any embraced human to stone. The person embraces the creature.

    I had stopped off at a diner. I wasn’t planning to get involved in anything, but as I nursed my coffee and watched the remnants of my cigarette smolder into ash on my table’s tray, I couldn’t help but notice a hush that fell over the place as the little bell over the door jingled. I casually glanced over to see a member of the San Diego County Sheriff walking in. He scanned the area until his eyes fell on a couple alone in a booth. The woman’s eyes were red and swollen, while her partner’s were narrow and angry, staring above his beard at the officer.

    The officer approached them and removed his hat. He seemed unsure whether to sit or remain standing. I couldn’t make out what he said, but I didn’t need to. The bearded man stood up suddenly, getting in the officer’s face, causing more than one patron to flinch as he yelled, “You’re a joke. This whole thing is a joke. It’s not like Pete was the first, and we all know he won’t be the last. If I want an ‘I’m sorry,’ I have my friends and family–while they’re still here, at least. So don’t come to me with apologies while this whole community vanishes in front of your face. Just do your fucking job!”

    The officer didn’t say anything else; he just took a step back before turning and walking back outside. Everyone else seemed to turn away as one and focus intently on their plates as the man sank back down into his booth and shakily grasped his partner’s hand. My interest was piqued, but I didn’t exactly have a way into the situation.

    Gradually, the conversations returned to their normal cadence as the couple was left in their own world that apparently was now devoid of Pete, who I presume to be their son. The table next to my own spoke in low tones, filling in the pieces for me.

    “He’s right to be so upset. I don’t know that I’d have the courage to speak up like that, but someone needed to say it. Too many people have been going missing in the woods, and nothing is being done about it.”

    So it was something in the woods. I finished my coffee, left cash on the table, and stepped outside, slowly withdrawing a pack of Marlboros from my jacket pocket. There was a crisp chill in the air, unusually cold for October. The town–if one could call it that–wasn’t big; I’d wager it wasn’t incorporated. Just a small community in the shadow of Palomar Mountain. The woods weren’t as thick as I would have expected for it to be an area people go missing in with above average frequency.

I smacked the pack of smokes while searching for an area that might be of interest along the tree line. That’s when I saw a couple of teenagers walking in a way that was clearly trying not to arouse suspicion while having the exact opposite effect. I tilted my head away but kept them in sight, fidgeting with an unlit cigarette. From this distance, they likely wouldn’t be able to tell I was still staring at them. After another minute, they ducked behind a tree and I watched them head deeper into the woods.

I put away the cigarette and took off after them. I reached the treeline and could just barely make them out through the brush and tree trunks. They were still looking around and I had to constantly weave in and out of trees to avoid detection by the two teens–who I could now see were young women. Finally, we made it to a particularly rocky section where they sat down atop a boulder. One grasped the hand of the other and they wordlessly kissed. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be as interesting an expedition as I’d hoped. I hunkered low to the ground and listened as a conversation began.

“I can’t stay here anymore, Hannah. This town… people like us don’t belong.”

The other girl seemed hesitant. “Tracy… I don’t know if I can leave everything.”

“What’s there to stay for?” Tracy asked. “Your parents would disown you if they knew you at all. Pete was the only one who knew about us, and even he’s gone now.”

“He… he could come back,” Hannah said.

Tracy shook her head. “After everything that’s been happening over the past five years or however the hell long this has been going on, you know that’s not true. If we don’t leave tonight, we may never leave. One day you’ll just vanish like the others. Then I’ll be alone.”

“Don’t say that,” Hannah said as she squeezed Tracy’s hand. I would normally shake my head at the impetuousness of young love, but in this case Tracy may have had a point.

“You know it’s true,” Tracy said. “We have to leave. Tonight.”

“I-” Hannah started.

“Don’t think. Just say yes. Meet me here tonight. At eleven o’clock. Not a minute later.”

A smile tugged at Hannah’s mouth. “Yes,” she said.

They started kissing some more when I heard a rustling in a bush way off to the left. Was there another peeping tom? Perhaps the elusive Pete? Or something more sinister? They heard it too and stood up quickly before running away. I ducked down behind a rock as they passed. I think they were too busy trying to get out of there to notice me.

Twigs snapped under the weight of… something. I waited silently for whatever it was to reveal itself. I checked my watch after my leg started cramping. It had been more than fifteen minutes with no movement. Whatever it was had likely gone. But why didn’t I hear it?

I slowly stood, scanning the area for signs of something else nearby. Plenty of trees, bushes, and rocks. Nothing else that I could make out. I looked at my watch again. I had some time to kill before they came back. But when they did, I planned to be here. Not to stop them, of course. I’m sure I’d aim to leave as well, were I in their shoes. But anytime someone went into those woods, I wanted to know what happened to them.

I stretched my legs, then headed in the direction of the sound I’d heard. With any luck, there’d be tracks. I’d heard twigs break, so there’d definitely be evidence of something there. As I approached, my hopes dropped. The bush that was likely the source of the sound grew out of a crack between stones. No spot for footprints. Whatever had been here chose its path well if it didn’t want to be tracked. Luck was not on my side.

I made my way back out. I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched, but anytime I looked around, I found myself alone. Whenever I stopped, no matter how randomly, there was never any other noise that you wouldn’t expect to find in nature. I exited the woods. There really wasn’t anything of note around aside from the diner. I sighed and went back inside. The waitress raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything about my return. I chose a different seat, by the window this time, which offered me a good vantage over the woods.

Darkness fell and I stopped being able to see outside the window beyond the three lone cars inside the glow of the parking lot light. Nobody else had gone in the woods during my entire watch. Apparently the rest of the town had a little more sense about that sort of thing. I picked at a plate of food I’d ordered so they’d know I wasn’t just loitering, but mainly sipped on more coffee and burned through more smokes. Ten thirty rolled around, so I dropped another few bills on the table and stepped outside after a copious stretch. If I never sit in that diner again, it’ll be too soon.

I stood by my car, watching for any shadows moving against the dark outline of the trees that blended into the night sky. Then I caught the blink of a flashlight which quickly turned off. Bingo.

I headed towards the woods once I saw the beam beyond the trees. I had a flashlight of my own, but not only did I not want to risk it, I also could make things out pretty well between my eyes adjusting to the dark and the beam of light ahead that I was following. Or, at least, I thought I could. They suddenly shut their flashlight off and stopped walking.

I didn’t think we were already at the place they were planning to meet yet, so I froze, wondering if I’d been caught. I heard a muffled cry, then some rocks being smashed. I had no idea what would be breaking up rocks out here, but I did my best to run forward in the dark while I grappled with the flashlight in my coat. I finally got it out and turned it on, spinning around, trying to catch a glimpse of the girl. A reflection caught my eye. Her flashlight. It was on the ground. Something had taken her. Around the tool was no blood, just shattered rocks. What could do something like that, I thought.

I was about to start searching the area for any traces of the girl or whatever took her, when I saw another light bobbing in the woods. I ducked behind a bush and waited to see if this was the thing that hunts in the woods. As she passed me, I saw it was the other girl–Tracy, I think. She continued on, not noticing the flashlight her girlfriend had left behind. In another couple minutes, she arrived at their rally point.

I closed my eyes, trying to heighten my other senses and pay attention to the sounds in the woods. All the critters scurrying over branches and slithering through the underbrush seemed that much louder than normal. Then I heard sobbing. My eyes snapped open as I heard the flashlight clatter to the ground, coming to rest on just a pair of feet.

I bolted forward and turned on my own light. I didn’t know what to make of what my eyes saw. Before me stood a trembling Tracy, her eyes closed as tears streamed from her face. She didn’t seem scared, but she was crying. In front of her was… a creature. Almost human in some ways, something entirely other than human in every other possible way. It stood on two legs, likely around eight feet tall. Embedded in varying patches of fur and skin were pieces of rock and minerals. One arm was covered with–or perhaps made of–tree bark. The other had jagged bits of spikes–almost bone-like in appearance–protruding all over. Its long fingers seemed alive and independent of itself, wriggling like snakes as it raised its hand.

Then it stretched out and wrapped around Tracy. As soon as she was folded into its arms, her skin began morphing and within a few seconds, she–clothing and all–turned entirely to stone.

“No!” I yelled as I dashed towards them, but I was hopelessly late. Instead, it jerked its face to me, dozens of insect-like eyes scattered without pattern down its face and neck. I heard rocks crumbling and, without realizing it, I was unconscious.

When I finally came to, I was propped up against a boulder, facing a tree. My head was pounding. I reached for my metal flashlight–the only thing I had that would likely do any damage against whatever it was that I saw–but it was gone. As quietly as I could, I rose to my feet and looked around for it. It seemed to be gone. Then, the tree in front of me grew. Before my eyes, its form emerged from the bark of the tree until it completely separated and stood directly in front of me.

“What… who are you?” I asked. I don’t know what I expected; it had no mouth. At least, not in the traditional sense as far as I could see. Then I felt it… inside my head. It was communicating with me. Not with words or any method I can really describe, but I understood it all the same.

I saw its childhood, if you can call it that. I watched as it was formed and abandoned, as they all were. There were others like it, but this species was vicious. Untrusting. Uncaring. Every one for itself. They hunted differently. Blending. Camouflaging. Becoming their surroundings, quite literally. Their ability had a dual purpose, to that end. It wasn’t for offense, it was for defense. Should a predator–or another one of their kind–attempt anything, they can embrace it and it turns to stone. The second purpose to this is that, because they are such an incredibly violent species towards each other, it prevents the possibility of back stabbing. Evolution had demanded that it avoid the risk of emotional connection, so it prevented a physical connection as well.

I watched as this thing before me looked at other creatures–birds, bears, humans, anything it could see–and longed to be connected to something. But it couldn’t. Its loneliness was unbearable to feel. I felt tears forming in my eyes. I should have been repulsed. I should have tried to stop it, or at least dissect it. But I couldn’t. My knees felt weak. Everything felt weak. Then I heard the question. No, I felt the question.

Can I embrace you?

This creature spent centuries longing for a connection, even if it could only have it for a moment. When you can feel that empty loneliness for yourself, no matter how little humanity you may have, you can’t help but empathize with it. How could I say no?

It stepped forward. I felt the coarse bark rub against my arm, then the bony spikes dig into my ribs. My pain mattered so little though. I raised my own arms as I began to lose feeling. I embraced it.

Halloween 2021: Mask

See Content Warnings
General horror, murder, audible gun violence, violence

Here’s another Halloween bonus episode for you.  The listener-prompt for this one was “masks,” though I’ve taken the liberty of converting the plural to the singular.  This one was written by me, Jeremy Enfinger.  Hope you enjoy.

The act of donning a mask can be literal or metaphorical.  When we put on masks, that is the literal kind, there’s enough evidence to sustain the belief that normal behavior of the individual wearing it can change.  For many, it’s providing an element of anonymity, making it easier for the morally conscious to make choices and conduct themselves in a manner that is outside of their normal character.  For the sake of argument, you could say that this could change a person’s behavior to be better or potentially worse.

This begs the question, did the person wearing the mask have this atypical behavior already contained within them, or did the mask itself somehow influence the individual. One other possibility has been recently suggested, and that is the mask allows for a means to an end.  It grants the ability or the freedom to fulfill a purpose.  Whose purpose is difficult to say.

I’ll let you decide after hearing this account from a distant relative. I should note that no one in our family knew the true names of the people in this story that has been handed down the generations except for my twice great aunt, who has recently passed away.  Now we’ll never know, but I took the liberty of giving each of the people pseudonyms.  

My aunt, who’s name was Mildred, was just two years old when her family settled in the area.  They were pioneers who claimed stake to forty acres of land on which they built their home and grew crops.  She was the youngest of six siblings.  By age ten, the surrounding land had been settled by people much like them, and their closest neighbor had built their home fairly close to Mildred’s, as each was close to their prospective property lines.  

Mildred’s neighbors had a similarly sized family, and she befriended several of the children.  She knew their parents very well also.  The father’s name was Malachai and his wife was Sarah.  Malachai was a hardworking blacksmith with his own shop in town just a few miles away.  He came home after sunset often, but he was never too tired to play with his children for just a while before heading inside for supper, and he always included Mildred and any of her brothers and sisters that happened to be playing with them.  Mildred always admired his belt buckle, which was obviously something he crafted himself.  It was an oval-shaped bronze piece with a horse drawn wagon in the center.  It was truly unique and quite the work of art.

One evening, just after sunset, Mildred was fetching a pail of water from the well when she saw Malachai in the distance on horseback, heading home.  He had stopped just outside of his property line and was approached by another man on horseback whom Mildred didn’t recognize.  Malachai’s children and Mildred and some of her siblings stopped what they were doing to watch.  Their meeting didn’t last long, but Malachai didn’t play with the children that day.  He just dismounted from his horse and walked slowly towards his home, seemingly oblivious to the children.  He went inside and sat down at his table with Sarah to talk.

Mildred and several other children tried to listen from outside their window, but couldn’t hear much of the conversation.  She remembered him mentioning something about their land and the railroad.  He sounded despondent.  The children quickly scattered like roaches when Malachai looked up at the window and saw several sets of watchful eyes peering back at him.

Mildred had difficulty putting what she witnessed out of her mind, so she told her father about what she had witnessed.  Her father, who’s name was Earnest, gathered Mildred and her siblings before bed that night and said they had something very important to tell them.  He explained that the Payton family, who owned much of the neighboring land, had made a deal with the government to allow the railroad to be built going right through all of his property.  Mr. Payton had already approached him about buying his property, and that was also the man that Malachai had been speaking to earlier.

Earnest explained that the Paytons had offered them a large sum of money for their property, which excited the children quite a bit, but he appeared solemn.  Mildred noticed this and asked, “Isn’t that a good thing, poppa?”

Earnest smiled and said normally it would be, but the offer also came with a threat.  He told the children that Mr. Payton gave him two options.  The first was to sell and the second was going to be “not as nice.”  He didn’t like his choices, and he had worked hard to build what they had, but the law wasn’t necessarily present in those days, and Earnest didn’t wish to risk the safety of his family.  He told the children he negotiated for an even higher price than what was offered, and he had already found another property further West with a river on it that he was interested in.  He said they would begin harvesting their crops and preparing for the move the following morning, noting it would take several days to pack and load everything.

The following day, as Mildred’s family was harvesting their crops, Mr. Peyton approached Malachai’s home on horseback.  When Earnest saw that the children had stopped what they were doing and were watching Peyton ride up to Malachai in front of their home, he told the children to stay where they were.  Apparently Malachai hadn’t ridden into town to his shop that day.  Earnest began running toward Peyton and Malachai, but as he approached, Mildred saw Peyton’s outstretched arm emit a large puff of smoke toward Malachai.  A second later, Mildred heard the crack of a pistol and saw Malachai take two steps backwards before falling on his back.

Peyton, still on his horse, rode up next to Malachai and tossed a burlap sack on his chest.  Earnest began running toward Malachai as Peyton rode off toward the horizon.  All the children followed Earnest and stopped when they got close enough to see Malachai.  By that time, Sarah and her children were surrounding Malachai’s body.  Dark liquid began spreading out from underneath him and soaking into the dirt around him.  Sarah looked at Earnest through tears and said, “He refused to sell.”  

Earnest opened up the burlap sack that had been resting on Malachai’s chest, now soaked in blood.  It contained two things.  A large sum of money, which was later determined as the original asking price for Malachai’s property, and a bunch of his hand tools he used for his blacksmith work.  It consisted of various types of what looked to Mildred like hammers, chisels, and a few other things that she didn’t know the technical names for.  Sarah instructed her children to go into the house.  When they did, Mildred watched her take the money out of the sack, and she left the tools in the bloodstained burlap next to Malachai’s body.  Two of Mildred’s older brothers and Earnest spent the rest of the day burying Malachai.

Just eleven days later, Mildred’s and the late Malachai’s families were both packed and as the remaining sunlight faded, all the children watched their homes get smaller and smaller as they began to make the short journey into town.  Earnest had agreed to help Malachai’s family relocate, offering them a place to stay with his own family until they had everything sorted.  The plan was to ride six miles into town and stay at the hotel before beginning the seventy mile trek the next morning.  

Mildred specifically remembered that night for many reasons.  The first was because, as they rode away, she was the last of the children to be watching the homes in the distance.  When they got small enough to be covered up by her thumbnail, which she had been using to gauge distance, she saw someone walking in front of the house that used to be Malachai’s.  Whoever it was, Mildred said, was not wearing a hat, but had something over their head.  She tried to point the person out to some of her siblings, but they just ignored her.

Not long after that, seemingly out of nowhere, a huge thunderstorm began pelting the families as they traveled the remaining few miles to the hotel.  They made it, but not before suffering bitterly-cold weather that was unusual for that time of year.  Each family checked into the hotel, and two rooms were rented, one for each family.  As the families were being issued the keys to their rooms, the lobby door opened and Sarah was the first to stop in her tracks.  Her face turned to rage and her eyes welled up.  Mildred turned around to see Mr. Peyton closing the door behind him.  

Peyton developed a smug grin and squeezed his way through the children making his way toward the front desk.  Sarah didn’t move though.  They stood for a moment, face to face, until Peyton removed his hat, revealing his matted gray hair, and finally spoke up. 

“You made the right decision to leave, and I hope you find your rooms to be hospitable.” 

He motioned to the woman at the desk and said, “Give these folks their money back, and give them some extra clean linens… no charge.”  

A display of confusion landed on Sarah’s face until he spoke again.  “I guess you might not have heard.  I just bought this hotel today.  You enjoy your night now.”

Sarah’s open right hand landed with a loud smack across Peyton’s left cheek, causing him to lunge to the side.  When he turned his head toward Sarah, his grin had left his face, which was now turning red.  He lifted his right hand in preparation to return the blow, but before he could land it, Earnest’s grip around Peyton’s wrist prevented it.  At that point, two young men who had been standing unnoticed by the doorway stepped forward with their hands on their pistols clinging to their hips.  

Earnest stared hard at Peyton, whose face changed once again back to a smug grin, only slightly smaller this time. 

“Have you met my boys, Earnest?” Peyton said.

They stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity, but Earnest eventually let go and told everyone to hurry up and get to the rooms.  As the families were climbing the stairs, Mildred turned around to witness Peyton and his two sons each getting keys to their own separate rooms.  They were going to be staying at the hotel as well.

Later that night, Mildred had trouble sleeping.  The thunder and lightning from the storm had intensified.  Normally, she found the rain peaceful, but she couldn’t shake an unsettling feeling she had.  Whether it was because of the situation they were in, or the fact that a murderer slept under the same roof as them, she was awake most of the night.

Not long after the lanterns were out and everyone else had drifted to sleep, Mildred laid facing the doorway to their room.  Her attention was drawn toward the faint light coming from underneath it, likely put off by the fire still burning in the lobby fireplace.  When she saw shadows blocking out that light, she knew someone had stopped outside their door.  Their footsteps didn’t make a sound, but they lingered, shifting back and forth for a while before moving down the hall.  Whoever it was never twisted the door handle, and she thought it odd that someone would stop there for so long without trying to knock or enter.

A few minutes later, as Mildred waited intently to see if the person would return, she heard someone knock on one of the doors down the hall.  It was too far away to be Sarah’s room.  Shortly after, she heard a strange noise.  It was faint, but repetitious.  It sounded like someone was punching a pillow.  The noise went on for several minutes, which only added to Mildred’s inability to sleep.  Once the noise stopped, she heard the door down the hall open quietly, and then latch closed.  She waited anxiously to see if the shadows of feet walked past the crack under the door again, which was located near the top of the stairs.  Again, without a sound, she saw the shadows again.  They didn’t stop this time.  They just kept walking toward the stairs.  

After enough time had gone by to ensure whoever it was would be well on their way down the stairs, Mildred couldn’t fight the urge to know who it was that had been stealthily navigating the hotel.  She knew that if she waited too long, she would never be able to get a glimpse of them, so she walked quickly, but quietly to the door and opened it.  She had just barely opened it when she looked to the right and saw the figure of a man descending the stairwell toward the lobby.  Not being able to see any identifying features, she decided there was enough distance between them to go out to the railing outside the door for a better look, and she could easily make it back inside the hotel room if the person turned around and started to run.  

As she approached the railing, the doorway continued to slowly swing open.  She saw the man reach the bottom of the stairs and turn toward the hotel doorway as he passed by the fire, now with nearly exhausted flames.  It emitted enough light, however, for Mildred to see the man’s hands were covered in blood.  About the same time she realized this and started to panic, the door made a creaking sound as it stopped swinging.  

Mildred looked back at the door, and through it she glimpsed her family, still asleep.  When she turned to look back over the railing, the man stood in the middle of the lobby, staring up at her.  She couldn’t identify the person because he was wearing a burlap sack over his head, stained with blood.  Mildred tried to scream but nothing came out except a weak wheeze, which was all she could muster.  As she watched the man, she also noticed a glint coming from his waist.  The light was low, but Mildred was almost certain it was the belt buckle of Malachai’s that she so admired.  The one he was wearing when he was buried.

Thoughts of the supernatural, of ghosts and demons, and of the dead swirled in Mildred’s head.  She wasn’t scared of the man that stood below her in the hotel lobby anymore, but she wondered how she could be witness to such a thing.  The man then turned toward the hotel entryway and exited the door into the night and Mildred returned to her room and closed the door.  She was eventually able to fall asleep, but only felt like she had just closed her eyes when her father, Earnest woke her up.  

By the time both families made it to their wagons, which were soaking wet from the storm the night before, the sun had barely risen.  About three hours after their departure from the hotel, a rider approached the wagons from behind.  Earnest stopped and turned around to address the man as he slowed his horse to a trot, and the man flashed a silver badge.  He was the Sheriff of the town we left behind, and he asked the adults some questions mainly about whether or not they heard anything throughout the night… any noises at all.  He asked to see their hands, and then asked to look at the children, which he did briefly.  What he did not do was ask the children if they heard anything.  Mildred had learned early on not to speak to adults or offer any information more than what was asked.  It was the way she was raised.

As the Sheriff scanned the children with his eyes, Mildred started twitching her fingers, which he seemed to notice, but then moved his gaze to the other children.  Thankful to have been glossed over, Mildred looked at Sarah, who had been staring straight at her.  She didn’t think anything of it at the time, and Sarah never mentioned it.  When Earnest asked what this was all about, the Sheriff tried to speak quietly, but all of the children heard him.  He said someone had broken into three rooms at the hotel the previous night and murdered the people staying in them with what he believed to be a blunt object, possibly a hammer.  

He asked the adults if they knew the Peytons.  Earnest said, “Why yes, we just sold our land to them.”

At this, the Sheriff perked up as if he considered them to be suspects.  Then Sarah said, “Yes, what a lovely man!  He even offered to give us our rooms for free on our way to our new land.  I’m sure you can check the clerk’s log at the hotel.”

The Sheriff squinted for a moment, then relieved some tension in his body before saying, “I’ll do that.  Sorry to bother you folks, but I wanted to check with you before you got too far away from town.  Safe travels!”

Then he galloped away in the direction he came from.  It took three days to get to the new land, which had modest housing already built.  After Mildred’s family unpacked, Earnest sent Mildred to Sarah to see if she needed any help with anything, and to invite them to supper.  Sarah was grateful for the offer, but said they were almost done.  She had been carrying one of the last of her items into her bedroom.  It was a chest of some kind with the symbol of a hammer and anvil etched into the lid.  

She tripped and nearly fell on a small container she couldn’t see while carrying the chest, and for a split second, the chest lid opened.  It was quickly closed by Sarah once she regained her footing. 

“It’s just some of Malachai’s old things,” she said.

Mildred nodded, then told her that her dad said if you need anything, just holler.  Sarah gave Mildred a look of discernment before Mildred turned around and ran home as fast as she could.

Eventually, Sarah remarried, but the families remained close and their new property was handed down generations and stayed in each of their families.  This story had been told by Mildred so much that everyone in our family could recite it by the time she passed, but she always left one part out of it.  Mildred was able to see some of the contents of that chest that Sarah dropped.  I don’t know why she shared the full story with me before she died.  Maybe it’s because she knows I’m into this kind of thing.  But when that chest lid popped open, Mildred told me she saw some of Malachai’s blacksmith tools along with that blood-stained burlap sack.  It was the same sack that she witnessed Payton throw on Malachai’s body when he was murdered, and it was also the sack that she saw on the man in the hotel that night.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this additional Halloween bonus episode… we’re not done yet!  We’ve still got more bonus treats in store for you, and maybe even a trick or two.