Monthly Archives: July 2014

Ketch Syndrome

 

ketch

Artist’s rendition, circa 1850

Ketch syndrome is a geographically isolated phenomena occurring in and around Tinder Valley, Colorado. The syndrome has not yet been determined to be completely psychological or physical in nature, as observation of a subject is difficult.

A common cause of the syndrome has not yet been determined, but most reported cases occur after a lengthy hike in Tinder’s Grant trail. Symptoms begin with the onset of complete Anosmia. Within an hour, the subject will be unable to detect even the most pernicious of odors. Later, more extreme symptoms include lost time, anemia, hyporeflexia, labored breathing, and finally skin lesions. Sufferers often complain of the feeling of a weight on their chest and nightmares of being scratched. The skin lesions are the last symptoms to occur and always appear when the patient is terminal. They have been found all over the body but occur most frequently on the scalp, forensic testing has determined that these injuries are not caused by the subject’s nails.

Ketch syndrome gets its name from the “Ketch” or “K’ch”, a word that has been attributed to various native tribes of the area, though both the Arapaho and Cheyenne nations have denied this allegation. The Ketch was depicted in popular illustrations as a polecat with the face of an owl, but with the usual features of thumbs and red eyes. The most commonly occurring variation of the tale is that the Ketch is a creature that lives on the many pines of the valley. The Ketch is said to be both envious and contemptuous of humankind, for it can mimic certain phrases but lacks a greater ability to speak. To avenge this, the Ketch lays in wait for a passerby in a likely tree, dropping onto their shoulders when they stop to rest in its shade. The scalp lesions were attributed to the creatures attempt to get a more comfortable grip with its claws, said to be the length of a human finger and retractable like a cat’s. If too much time has gone by, the Ketch will mimic a distress call and then drop on the unsuspecting rescuer.

The Ketch is invisible to human eyes, so its victims only perceive it as a persistent weight on various parts of the body. The only way to detect the creature was its incredibly foul odor, said to be like rotting flesh. The first symptom was interpreted as the Ketch ramming its tail in the victim’s nostrils to prevent discovery. Once sequestered in a sickbed, the victim becomes a smorgasbord for the Ketch, who will drink freely from the victim’s bodily fluids. Once the victim dies, the Ketch will nest on their corpse until the body is transported, whereing it will flee back to the pines.

Ketch syndrome has not shown any reaction to modern medicine, therapy, or surgical intervention. Ketch syndrome has 100% mortality rate.

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The Man Who Was A Family

There once was a man who was a family.

It was a wonder so mundane that he never bothered sharing it with anyone. The miracle encapsulated within him was that he had all the makings of a family; at any time, anywhere on earth he could stop and cultivate a seed. He could take a woman to wife, whelp new brats from her womb, kindle fire with a steady and firm hand.

His own father had not been a family. His own father had not been a father but an inconsistent drunk who laid his belt on like a broken sprinkler. His own father had been a pugilist and a pontificator and a lover of women who weren’t his wife. The man who grew up to be a family had several-odd castoffs that shared half of his genetic material, but no siblings. The man who was a family grew from the boy who had none. He spent most of his adolescence and early manhood building himself. His body became a fort, his mind like a siege gate. A family could reside within him a thousand years, safe from attack.

The family he cultivated was sadly insufficient to the level of his devotion.

It started out promising: he met his wife at a bible study meeting. Hers was a ground untrod by other men, he valued that. To build a house properly, one must have level foundations. She had deferred to him in all things, had borne him first a daughter and then a son to make up for it. The children had been apple-cheeked, hale, and his wife had kept them at a tolerable distance. In return, he had gotten a steady job that paid well enough that they could afford nice things. Occasionally one of his children would become too attached to a toy, and he would have to remind them of his love. The day after he brought the television home, no one greeted him at the door. He unplugged the set and explained to the kids that it would live in the attic until such time as he deemed it proper to return it. With every gesture, he sought to impress awe in his small family; not to tyrannize, but to love.

He did love. When the children were born he felt it: a hot, sick clench inside of him. His eyes had watered, but he hadn’t cried. The children cried more than enough for anyone, eventually it became bad pressure behind his eyes. But for those first few years, they were so new and pink that everything was a miracle. Every tear, every wail, each drop of waste was a tiny off-shoot of the miracle stored inside him.

But something happened as he grew older. The family began to turn away from him, diverting their tongues so that they spoke to him not with respect but indifference. The children complained about how other households had a dog, other households didn’t make their children do their homework without erasing, other fathers laughed and played with their kids. He tried, he tried so hard to coach them, but they were just so much weaker than he. They couldn’t catch the balls he threw, he outran them too easily, he tagged so hard he knocked them over. He tried to make more money, hoping it would sate their sudden hunger, but now they expected more from him. They expected him from him, to own his body as well as his sweat.

He never resorted to beating his family. He congratulated himself on that front; he was a head above his father. But they still flinched from him sometimes, as if he raised his hand to them regularly. He’d admonish them for retreating from him, but that only made it more severe. He still loved them, loved them despite their transgressions.

The first open transgression was his daughter’s defection into the ranks of the drama club at school. She’d come home past eight stinking of clove cigarettes. All she would talk about were midnight shows and Rocky Horrors and other oddities. She dyed her hair a deep red and started singing in the mornings, even when he’d pinch her bicep with his nails.

The second was small: his son. The boy no longer looked at him with son’s eyes, didn’t defer to his father in all things. The rebellion was not yet apparent in his voice, as it was in his sister’s, but it would come some day. The boy spoke a different language than his father now, full of mock words from popular cartoons, new words that the school instilled in his head, like “racist” and “bully” that he applied liberally to his father’s speech.

The final insurrection came over the barbeque, whispered as steak and vegan hotdogs spat at him.

His wife, reticent: “You understand?”

He felt the weight of her betrayal, a knife behind his left eye.

“No,” he said, “I don’t.”

“I suppose I can’t expect you to.”

His eye felt hot, threatened to drip. “Who is he?”

She sighed. “There isn’t anyone else. That’s…I feel like I don’t know you anymore. And what I do know I’m not sure of.”

“Never lied to you.” That was a lie, but a forgivable one. He only lied when it was absolutely necessary. Her untruths drifted from her in a constant, perfumed wave. The susurrus of her voice was like tide on a gravel beach.

“It’s not that. It’s not anything I could tell you.”

A blister of fat popped.

“I just don’t feel right with you anymore.”

As if he was a dress from a thinner year. As if he hadn’t expended every effort to make the family work.

“I see,” he said. His eye throbbed. The steaks wound up scorched.

His family no longer worked. The machine he made was broken, and he had no way to fix it. They did not want to be fixed. He could no longer sleep at night; he lay dry-eyed next to his wife, watching her snore, watching her puffy, compromising face shift in the light of the television screen. He agreed to go to the optometrist appointment she’d arranged to appease her, and then sat in his car at the train depot for an hour and a half.

“Doctor says it’s nothin’,” he told her, and then watched the white cliff of her back, daring her to deny it, to call him a liar.

When his children asked him for help on their homework, he gave them the wrong answers and waited for them to correct him, to blame him for getting them in trouble. They barely even looked at him.

Pressure built like a thunderhead behind his eye. His job was no longer satisfied with the work he did, as ravenous for his labor as his family. They laid restrictions upon him, expecting effort where he could give none, and with every demand he felt his body grow more reluctant to respond. Someone tried to hand him a sheaf of papers and didn’t see that he left his arms hanging dead at his sides. The papers fanned out beneath his feet in a cool, white river. When they called him into the office, they made all the necessary excuses: downsizing, automation, apologies, etc. Throughout it all his gaze remained on the clock on the far wall.

3:15. His son would be home from school.

3:15. His daughter would just be doing warm-up exorcizes with the theater folk.

3:15. His wife might be starting dinner, or pretending she was away shopping for dinner when really she was out with friends.

3:15. He was cut off from the last thing that gave definition to his life. He was not enough.

3:15. It was 3:15 and it would always be 3:15. He was never enough.

He thanked his former boss and shook his hand. He refused a reference.

3:15. The air in his house was stifling, even the dust motes did not move.

That night he tucked his family in for the last time and left.

He did not act according to the miracle in his body right away, that would have drawn attention. He wanted to start anew, therefore no one could know how special he was, the man who had already been one family and would be another. He examined women for their qualities. What he had found so readily in his wife were growing scarce with the moving times. Women he found were frivolous things, thinking only of themselves and what he could do for them. They were not proper soil, a tree from them would grow crooked as a juniper.

He found one, once, who seemed as if she might be a good match. Shy, obsequious, completely without friends. It was only the day she said she had someone she wanted him to meet, when he saw another man’s child come skipping out of a car to wrap around the waist that he himself had just grasped, that he realized. The child had another man’s blunt features. The difference was hateful.

He didn’t look back.

The man who was a family could afford to be picky now. The family was taking shape within him, losing and borrowing features with each successive potential conquest. The family would be worth the endless tide of scraped knees, snapped kite strings and broken promises, because there would be none.

Summer deepened and he threw his back out for other men’s families, laboring in hot fields and dust and wind and sun. He picked tomatoes, watermelons, and oranges. He baled hay. The fake tan he’d slathered on faded to a real one. His hair recovered from the buzzcut he’d imposed upon it, showing grey for the first time in his life.

He found another. The town was smaller than the suburb he’d left. The woman seemed smaller. Her smile was a crimp in her mouth, as if she was apologizing for life. He lifted things for her, opened jars, worked on her car. On Sundays they went to church. She was devout, she was obedient as to have no opinion, and she was just pretty enough to think she wasn’t.

Then one day, one horrible day, he stepped into her house and found a nightmare. He could almost smell that something was wrong, a sickly acid smell a reptile would put out when scared. She was in the kitchen red-eyed. Her brother, driven up from Menomonie, had a guarding arm around her. Before he could turn to run, he was on the floor and the cuffs bit into his wrists.

They had to drive him to the next county to get a holding cell.

“I don’t understand,” he told the detectives, “I don’t understand any of this.”

The detective was younger than him and about twenty pounds lighter. The sharp tang of his cologne was like a knife in the eye. The detective leaned across the table, hands clasped as if beseeching.

“Know what we don’t understand?”

A Polaroid hit the table in front of him.

“This.”

Two more joined it.

“And these.”

His eyes swamped over. It was disgusting. It was a disgrace. After he’d taken such care to protect them so they weren’t smeared across the evening news along with the junkies and gang bangers and celebrity meltdowns.

“How dare you?” he whispered, “How dare you.”

The detective shook his head and sighed. “We’re done. Get him out of here.”

His family cried out as one as they took his shoulders. It had not been enough. He was not enough. He cried out as they made to drag him away.

“Wait—God, wait! I have a family!”

Tragically, they did not listen.

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Absolution

Bly was playing on the car pile when the man found him. He had just executed a particularly difficult hop from a fender to an axle when the cry came: “hey you!”

Of course he ran.

Of course the man caught up to him, sinking a thorny hand into his shoulder. Bly was propelled to the backseat of a long black car amidst a chorus of I didn’t do nothin’s. One he was ensconced in the driver’s seat, Bly imprisoned in the luxury box of the back, the man asked:

“How would you like to make five dollars?”

Bly’s mother had told him about these things. His bitten fingernails scrabbled at the doors, but there were no interior locks. He found the minibar and spent the drive whipping ice cubes at the plexiglass that separated him from the front seat.

They left Bly’s home and the fields he and his neighbors tended and instead of turning left on the long gravel road and heading to the market in the next town, they drove through a field that might have been a path of packed earth at one time. Bly was sick all over the seats, a little bit on purpose. They found a road again, only this one was paved and whole and hugged the tires as they drove up a hill to a wall. The wall swallowed the entire summit of the hill. The man entered something on a keypad and the gate moved and they drove up, almost to the sky. Bly gaped out the window. There was nothing but green lawn for ages, flat green grass trimmed so close to the earth it looked like green sand. He had never seen so much land without crops. The road stayed smooth all the way to the biggest building Bly had ever seen, a white palace with real glass windows.

The man extracted Bly from the car by his collar, which tore. He caught Bly by the shoulder with his other hand. Together they went up the steps. In a stone urn just before the door, someone had planted Oilwick and then let it dry, so that the stems were crispy and brown and completely worthless. Bly pondered on the shame of it as he was pushed into the house.

They trekked through endless opulence, rooms upon rooms upon rooms of gilt and crystal and velvet. Bly worried he might go blind with so much gleam.  All of it looked pristine, as if the objects hadn’t even been touched when being placed.

Finally they stopped at a door. The man dug his thumb into Bly’s back and brought their faces close. Bly could see himself in the man’s sunglasses.

“I’m not gonna repeat myself,” he said, “you’re about to meet a very important man. If you play it right, you might walk away with five bucks. You’d like that, right? Buy a lotta food with that. You get smart with me…let’s just say there were too many of you where you came from anyway.

Bly swallowed dryly.

On the other side of the door was the biggest room of all, and in the room was a bed the size of Bly’s whole shack, and on the bed was a withered old man. He looked like an egg that had been fried badly.  The room smelled of phlegm and unwashed skin. Sick smells.

A thin plea drifted from the bed: “Tobias, have you found someone?”

“I did, boss.” The man gave Bly a little shove with his foot.

“Is he young? Does he have an innocent heart?”

“Here, see for yourself.”

The man called Tobias directed Bly with his foot to the bed.

Leave your body, mama said, don’t try to make ’em happy or sorry. Just lay there ’til it gets over with.

You there, come let me take a look at you.” The old man beckoned with one veiny finger.

Bly blinked. He laid on the floor.

The man kicked him back up. “You look at Mister Cleaves when he’s talking to you.”

“O-kay, o-kay,” Bly said, rubbing his side.

The old man smiled. His teeth were rotted stumps.

“You look like a boy who knows how to do what he’s told. Don’t be afraid. Nothing bad ever happens to people who know their place in the world.”

His breath was like garbage fumes.

“I am a rich man, as you probably saw on the way up. Rich in spirit, money, and, at one time, health. Yet I have no one around my bed, boy.” he indicated the room with his hand. “My family have fled. My friends are nonexistent. I had to seek a stranger to free me from the terrible burden I carry. You know, young man, that everything comes at a price?”

Bly shrugged. He was digging around in his nose, finding choice nuggets. At a glance from the man, Bly wiped them on his shirt.

“Your parents surely forfeited what little wealth they held when they had you. Doubtless there are many at your house, you leapt at the prospect of earning five dollars. Have you ever heard of a sin eater?”

The change in subject made Bly wary. “Not sure.”

“No, of course you haven’t. They were banned a long time ago. Your parents probably grew up without learning of them.” The old man hacked and Tobias caught it in a garnet ashtray. “They served a very important function. Like you are going to today. I must have absolution, boy. My soul cannot pass to the æther without being cleared.”

Bly sucked at his mouth. Tobius nudged his arm.

“He wants you to forgive him.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s it.”

“Kay.”

The old man nodded and closed his eyes. “And with this unselfish deed, I am ready.”

Bly waited, but the old man seemed to be done talking.

“I forgive you—”

The old man sighed.

“I forgive you for wasting Oilwick like that.”

The old man died with his eyes open in shock.

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Corporal Koschei

In the fallout from World War II, many Soviet secrets were buried or abandoned to time, waiting to be dredged up by future generations. One such secret was the subject of a text post on an Urban Exploration chatroom. Purporting to be from one of a pair of friends from Belarus, the account told of an area near a town just outside of Grodno that had been dubbed haunted by local children. The poster described sighs, groans, and shouts with no apparent origin point in a certain clearing. Apparently, that is, until the poster and his friend decided to dig up what they thought was an old well cap.

The lid was three-inch-thick concrete and gave a ringing echo when struck, indicating a hollow space inside. After striking it with a mattock several times, the lid cracked and fell inward, revealing a small tunnel opening up to a larger chamber. Within the chamber was a square metal hatch on the floor, three feet by four, secured by a padlock and several steel bars, along with a boulder the size of a wheelbarrow. The poster admits they fled at this point, coming back the next day when the light was stronger. They took turns shifting the boulder and striking the padlock with a rock, after all their attempts to pick the lock failed. The steel of the lock gave before the boulder did, and working with a lever improvised from a tree branch, they both managed to uncover the door.

The poster acquiesces that the two were almost too frightened to proceed at this point. The area bore no traces of human habitation and the entrance had been cunningly concealed; whoever had made this place obviously hadn’t wanted it to be found. They returned yet the next day, armed with flashlights and the steel bars that had secured the door.

The hatch’s hinges broke upon opening, forcing them to set the door aside. When lit matches failed to illuminated the floorspace adequately, it was decided that the poster himself should descend first, with his friend lighting his way with a flashlight.

The space within was similar to pictures of Soviet military bunkers the pair had seen, but was furnished in a manner that suggested habitation. There was a gas range, a mattress, and a plumbing arrangement. The poster said that although various homey touches had been added, such as pasteboard pictures from old magazines, the interior space felt lonely and “horrid.” The water and gas still ran. When his friend above joined him, the two were able to cover the chamber in a much more thorough manner. The poster alone found labeless tins of food, a mouth harp, a hairbrush(without any hair), a sliver of soap, a watch(missing a strap), and a comb with broken teeth. They both found the shackles.

Protruding from the wall about an inch was an old safe, which had already been cracked and hung slightly open. The shackles were attached to a thick ring embedded in the wall just beneath it. The poster estimated enough chain length that the prisoner could reach every facility in the space. There was a dried brown residue on the inside of the shackles that the poster guessed was blood. His friend opened the wall safe and found the mother lode: a stack of official-looking papers.

Between the two of them, the poster said, they had had enough and went out into the sunshine to examine their findings. Most of the papers were in code, but had photographs attached to them. The poster described the photos as a series of snaps of a peaky-looking young man, who seemed to thin out over the series of photographs until the last showed him as haggard as an old man, the whites of his eyes shining out eerily from his sunken eye sockets. A few papers were diagrams for some unknown surgical process.

There were also errant scraps as well, more like notes passed between students than official military correspondence, the poster said. The first seemed almost sarcastic, “good luck, Corporal Koschei!” followed by a series of missives sarcastically wishing a corporal well on his career path. Others were more cryptic and ominous: “don’t get too cold in there, your foot might fall off,” “say hello to the future for me,” and “eat the chocolate while you can.”

The rest were in more formalized Russian neither teen was adept at translating, so they took the papers to an uncle’s. The man received the papers without much fuss, but the next day the poster and his friend were visited by police. All papers were confiscated, along with the watch the poster had taken as a trophy. The official police report was issued weeks later, and the area was permanently cordoned off by the military.

That, said the poster, had been the end of it until recently.

Another friend of his joined the military and, with some squirreling, managed to get his hands on a less abridged version of the report. The military, due to the thick layers of secrecy in the Soviet forces, could not pinpoint exactly what project the bunker was part of and deemed it safer to bury in concrete, rather than risk any kind of contamination. All physical evidence pointed to a young corporal, dubbed K— Vladimirovich, being entombed alive in the small space for an undetermined amount of time. And despite the clear evidence that the hatch had not been opened in-between the time it was sealed and the time the teenagers broke in, there was no evidence of a body.

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