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Dave’s Blue Hole

Dave’s Blue Hole is an unusually deep freshwater spring located outside of Gunsmith, Colorado. The actual measure of the hole is unknown; the last attempt bottomed out at 115 meters before the surveyor ran out of line. The water becomes anoxic at about 43 meters. After the incident of 1988, the spring has been capped indefinitely by a metal gate. Dave’s Bait & Wait remains standing beside the entrance to the pool, abandoned after tourism dropped off completely.

The first recorded description of the spring comes from a Spanish traveler’s diary dated 1796. The writer, a Franciscan friar on his way to San Carlos, detailed a stop at a place sheltered by high bluffs. Within the cliffs, they found an unusually round spring that produced clear, crisp water. Another member of the traveler’s group fell into the spring and sank out of sight almost immediately. The group cast lines into the hole to no avail. What’s more, they found through experimentation that the water had almost no buoyancy. Light things like sticks and even folded paper would not stay on the surface for more than a moment.

The traveler also noted the existence of a petroglyph on the bluff immediately above the spring, depicting a whale-like creature. The petroglyph has been all but worn away in the intervening centuries. The rock where it sat now contains only a few faint lines.

The parcel of land where the hole lies was purchased by one David Killigan in 1860 for the princely sum of $.35 per acre. He initially intended to mine for silver but found the novelty of the hole too striking to pass up. He built a store in hopes of attracting travelers en route to the rockies, touting the supposed restorative powers of the spring. The place became a local fixture, Killigan a tolerated eccentric that added color to the countryside. When he disappeared in 1876, it raised a mild furor. Killigan’s lantern was found placed beside his shoes at the rim of the spring. A line was secured to the nearby horse-hitching post and led down into the water, upon retrieving the line they found it had been tied into a series of knots to serve as a ladder. Neighbors in town had heard him complaining of mild temblors coming from inside the spring just a few days prior. He had possibly entered the waters in hopes of discovering the source of the noise and fallen prey to a thermocline.

The shop passed from hand to hand over the years. It was a solid tourist draw, so the operation was run by an official town trust. The spring drew no more unusual interest until the onset of recreational diving as a pastime.

The spring had long been a draw for thrill-seeking divers when Mark Boyle attempted his descent on June 5th, 1988. The anoxic nature of the spring meant that many animal skeletons littered the walls of the hole. Divers who ventured past the indicated safety zone spoke of human skeletons glimpsed at greater depths, in numbers that might suggest human sacrifice. The spring had been equipped with a submerged gate that warned divers that venturing past that point was unadvisable. Mark’s plan that day was to do exactly that.

Mark had brought along two friends and a safety line as guards against a possible accident. Neither friend was diving-certified, nor did they have diving equipment.

At 3:07pm, Mark went over the side of the spring.

At 3:46 the safety line began trembling. Mark’s friends became alarmed.

At approximately 4pm, the safety line went taut. Mark attempted a rapid ascent, too rapid. He showed signs of decompression sickness when he surfaced, slurring his words and lacking coordination. As one friend raced to call an ambulance, the other attempted to administer first aid. Mark rambled about something that lived in the waters of the spring, that the spring was really just a small outlet of a much-larger subterranean body of water. He was incoherent when the ambulance arrived. He fell unconscious on the way to Gunsmith’s only hospital and died a few hours later.

After an inquiry, a second gate was set on the mouth of the spring and welded in place. Through possible corruption due to metals fallen into the spring, the water has taken on a corrosive effect. Seismic activity in the region has increased steadily since 1988.

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The Edge of Sleep

Naomi’s client tonight was a businessman. Naomi dressed for work in a button-up white blouse and black linen slacks. She might have been an office girl in his building and he wouldn’t shoot her a second glance.

Naomi turned down the bed: its thick, white coverlet, the sheets that were washed in-between every client, the plump down pillows. Her client removed his jacket and tie, unbuttoning his sleeves at the wrist. Some clients brought their own sleepwear. Some stripped to their undergarments, though no farther than that.

Naomi drew back the covers and the man settled into bed. He was quite stout and his gestures in undressing were almost forceful, but he still drifted into the white of the bedding like a child.

Naomi quickly slipped into the other side of the bed and lay face-to-face with the client, matching breaths until he fell asleep.

 

“It’s not as if you’re a call girl, now is it?” her boss, Takahata grunted. “It’s not as if you have to dirty your hands to make money.”

He forked over that night’s stack of cash.

No. There was no physical touching, nothing sexual of any kind. But the intimacy of the job felt…obscene somehow.

“I fell asleep again,” she said, looking down at her shoes. She brought it up with increasing frequency, hoping Takahata would get sick of her lack of discipline.

But instead he just scratched his chin. “As long as you’re there with them, it doesn’t really matter. You sure complain a lot about a job that requires nothing of you.”

Naomi took her pay and left without comment.

The job required nothing. Was that true?

More and more, Naomi considered quitting the job. To hell with her apartment, to hell with the steep rental prices in the city. She could live in all-night internet cafes like her friend Chiwako, showering at the gym and subsisting on instant noodles.

….but no. That would leave Kurotsugumi out in the cold, wouldn’t it? No matter how resolved, she could not abandon her cat, who came winding in-between her legs as soon as she stepped in the door. Kurotsugumi was her only family in the city.

Naomi began brewing the first of what would be many cups of coffee throughout the day. The job had done something insidious to her sleep cycle. Now, even on days when she didn’t work, she was constantly tired. The strain of attempting to stay awake all night crept into her body. Even the brightest of days had soft, blurred edges as if she was only partly present in the waking world.

 

“Of course you’re tired,” her friend Fumi said, “you’re not just prostituting your body. You’re prostituting your mind as well.”

Fumi worked at a bar. Naomi loved her for her bluntness. Thus, she was the only friend who knew anything about Naomi’s real profession.

“I know,” Naomi confessed, “it doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re lying across from a person all night, mixing your breath with theirs, it’s a terrible weight to take on.”

Naomi poured her a shot of apricot liqueur. “Most people don’t even realize what an effort it is, do they? To go with someone all the way to the edge of sleep.”

Naomi disliked that phrase. It sounded terrible and final as “edge of the world.” The edge of anything was not a suitable place to live. And yet here she was.

Fumi tossed her close-cropped hair behind an ear. “Of course,” she said mischievously, “if you quit, I won’t get to tell all my friends that I know a baku.”

Naomi swallowed. There was a vague, frightening familiarity to that phrase. “Baku?”

“You know? The dream-eating tapir.”

Naomi repressed a shudder. “That’s not me. I don’t eat people’s dreams.”

“But you absorb something negative from them, don’t you?” Fumi’s gaze pierced right through her. “If you sleep next to someone you know, it gets normalized. You get used to one another’s energy. But a different person every night? Must be like a fish collecting small amounts of mercury with every mouthful.”

Naomi felt sick. But also, that it must be true. Even at the bar, with its neon lighting and sharp, angular furniture she felt insubstantial.

Going out with friends later that same evening, Naomi pondered what it would truly cost to quit. The cost of living in the city was certainly high, but could she work around it?

Naomi chewed over that phrase. Cost of living. Like people were composed of bits and pieces that cost X amount. To maintain a healthy leg, you must make so-and-so money. And what if you default on your payments? Did they repossess your body and sell it for parts?

Naomi laughed a little at the image. Then she looked over to the bridge, where the tent city was.

…no. That was what happened when the cost of living exceeded your means. You became invisible.

So what would need to happen for Naomi to become invisible? First she’d have to lose her job, then her flat, then she’d probably have to start prostitution…Naomi imagined the path of her life then, like a pachinko ball bouncing on a series of lower and lower pegs until settling into a slot at the bottom. And what would that slot be for her?

Her friend Nobu grabbed her scarf and jerked her to the left. “Naomi-chan? You were about to walk into that telephone pole.”

Naomi started. She had been drifting again. She yawned.

“Your job working you too hard?”

“Yeah. I’m thinking about quitting,” Naomi said.

“What, is the art gallery keeping you up late?” Chise joked.

Naomi blinked and went silent. All she wanted was to confess, for someone to give her that shot of courage that would let her quit. Instead she walked on as if she were a normal young career woman, each step sinking deeper and deeper in the snow.

 

“This next guy is another businessman,” Takahata said, “he came recommended.”

“I’ll try to stay awake this time.”

Takahata shrugged.

Naomi was beginning to suspect that staying awake, though part of the job description, was not actually what was required. That Takahata’s casual nature was just a smokescreen for his real motivation.

The businessman had an angry, pockmarked face. He was probably a patron of regular prostitutes as well, taking out his frustration on their bodies. A man like that had an aura like a bad odor.

Naomi tried to keep her manner crisp and professional, stressing that there would be no sexual contact. She wanted to trust Takahata’s vetting process, but could not rely on anything the man said.

Once in bed, she concentrated anywhere but her client’s ugly face. She focused on his breathing, trying to sync them up. It was a meditative exercise. She imagined she could see his breath, his sleep-energy flowing out from his nose, a violet against the snow white of the covers.

Naomi did not fall asleep. She wandered through the man’s slumber, imagining his journey. Perhaps he took a walk he took in everyday waking life. Across a bridge, through a business park. Naomi ambled through that thought, imagining his path. Here was a little landscaped area, with hexagonal sculptures and creeping moss trained to grow like a forest. Here was a bike path that ambled along the seaside.

It was almost an accident that Naomi looked up and saw it.

The black shape in front of her was only vaguely shaped like a tapir. It had no features, no, it was more like a living shadow, a hole in the world that looked onto somewhere much worse. Its color was the color of nightmares, a black that showed violet on your eyelids. Its movements were epileptic.

Naomi froze. She was suddenly aware of herself, of how she stood vulnerable on this plane and yet sprawled out on the bed. Was there a path quickly back to her body?

The thing vibrated like tv static. And then, even without a face, she wasn’t at all sure how, but somehow the thing looked right at her!

Naomi gasped as if surfacing from a cold lake. She pushed out of the covers and scooted until her back was against the wall, wrapping her arms around her knees.

Her client lay asleep, no visible change on his face. Would he notice if she never went back to bed?

Naomi spent the night sitting on the floor. When the alarm went off, she was already waiting with his suit jacket. The man did not seem very rested and grumbled through his morning preparations. Naomi did not care. She was filled with sudden revulsion for people who went for work like hers. People who walked around with dirt clinging to their souls, people who sought to wipe it off on someone else.

 

“I can’t do this anymore.”

Takahata barely nodded, marking off a receipt. He probably went through girls like most people go through socks.

“I can’t force you to stay, but there is one qualification.”

Takahata looked at her, setting a fat stack of cash on his desk. It was a generous amount.

“This is your severance. If you want it, you have to spend a night with me.”

“With you? How? You mean…in that bed?”

Takahata nodded, gaze suddenly sharp. She was right, his casual demeanor was a put-on. He knew exactly what he was asking.

Naomi looked at her last payment blearily. The client had complained and gotten a bit knocked off his price. It was only enough to last a week at most. How quickly could she find a job?

Takahata’s eyes were dark. They held a tinge of violet, only there when she squeezed her eyelids closed.

Naomi stared back, not blinking “…okay.”

 

Takahata did not undress. He did not even kick off his shoes before getting into bed. She found that, of all things, very obscene. Takahata was very obscene, the more she thought about it. What dirt did his soul have clinging to it?

Naomi got into bed ramrod-straight, holding her body carefully away from Takahata’s. The man’s gaze was like a deep ravine, something that threatened to suck her in.

Naomi matched their breaths. Takahata had an odd breathing pattern: two rapid inhales, then a long exhale. Naomi adjusted her own breathing, trying to influence his. Gradually, Takahata’s eyes drooped.

Naomi imagined she could see his sleep-breath, a deep, hateful black-violet pluming from his nostrils. She imagined its smell, something chemical and citrus-y, sharp and oddly sweet.

She plugged his nose.

Takahata’s mouth immediately began blowing out air, but it was colorless. Naomi waited.

Takahata’s face flushed violet. His eyes danced behind closed lids. Naomi kept the seal on his nose airtight.

Now his face began to swell. Takahata’s cheeks blew up, his eyes bulged,his nose expanded under her hand.

But he didn’t wake.

Soon Takahata’s breaths began to taper off. His face darkened until it was almost black.

He exhaled and never took another breath.

Naomi removed herself from the bed. She slipped on her coat and shoes. The money she tucked into her clutch purse.

Now wide awake and on the edge of nothing, Naomi left.

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Alligator Man

“You know what they call this stretch of the interstate? Alligator alley. Doesn’t that just bounce? Alligator alley. That’s like the name of a weather girl. ‘Alligator Allie and News Copter 5!’” he joked.

She shook her head and tucked her shoulder into the gap between the passenger seat and the door.

“Me and my friends used to drive this way in high school,” he said, “it’s fucking scary, right? We loved scaring each other. Here—”

He flicked the headlights off.

She let out a noise and hit his arm.

“That’s not funny,” she said, laughing.

He grinned and turned the lights back on. “You see what I mean?”

She rolled her eyes. He hit the window switch and rolled the rear passenger window down, letting a warm, humid breeze roll into the car. She pressed her forehead to the cool glass of the window.

“So what’s out there?”

“Right now? Nothing.” He rolled the window up again because the windshield was getting cloudy with moisture. “Just everglades. Swamps.”

They drove on in silence for a few miles. No cars passed them, coming or going.

He chuckled a little. “Hey, when I was in high school, there was—”

The headlights illuminated a heap next to the highway. As the car drew closer, they were able to pick details out in the headlights. A tan Datsun, stopped without emergency lights.

“What the…” he muttered under his breath. He put on the signal.

“What are you doing?”

“Just seeing. Don’t worry.” He put the car in park, unbuckled himself, and got out. He left the door open behind him.

Her eyes followed him to the car, saw him peer into the driver’s window with his hands cupped around his face.

There was the sound of a branch breaking.

She turned and looked out the open driver’s side door. It seemed like she should have been able to see a few details of the opposite side of the road, of the trees and the swamp beyond, but all that was there to see was a wall of black. By the time she looked back at the Datsun, he had gone around the far side. The car rocked as he hunched by the passenger door. Once, twice.

She almost called for him, but the sound backed up in her throat like phlegm.

He walked back to their car. Only, instead of going around the front, cutting through the headlights, he went around the back of the car. She tracked him through the mirrors.

“What was it?” she asked as he got back in.

He kept his face turned away from her as he buckled, waiting until the car was rolling to pull his leg in and finally close the door.

“Oh,” he said, “nothing.”

The silence was thick in the car. There was something she felt she needed to ask, but couldn’t put it into words. He was humming aimlessly, something that rumbled low in his throat.

“Anyway—what was I saying?”

She grabbed at this invitation to return to normality. “When you were growing up?”

“Oh yeah.” He kept his face at a three-quarter turn away from her, but even so she could see his cheek stretch as he smiled wide.

“When I was growing up, there was something they called the Alligator Man. He used to hunt people along this here highway. Stalk people nice and slow. Nobody’s really sure he was a man anyway. Nobody saw him and lived.” He cackled a little.

She folded her arms. “Nevermind. I don’t care anymore.”

He went on regardless. His voice had become creaky and pitched low in his throat, like he was putting on a voice to scare her.

“They called him the Alligator Man ‘cause of what he’d do. He’d take you, and he’d stash you somewhere underwater. To soften you up. Just like a ‘gator. They would find people with chunks missing, all swollen with swampwater.”

She sank down further in her seat. “Stop it. You’re not funny.”

He went on, cadence of his voice smooth and even. “He was never caught, like I say. Just trawled up and down this stretch of highway, up and down. But do you know why they really called him the Alligator Man?”

She didn’t answer.

He drove on, rolling down all the windows so the wet, warm air invaded every corner of the car.

“Why?” she whispered.

Because,” he said, teasing the word out nice and long, “because he acted like an alligator. You ever seen an alligator hunt?”

His voice had dropped lower with each passing phrase. She tried leaning forward to see his face, but he shut off the dashboard lights.

“No,” she admitted.

“An alligator likes to lie nice and still on the water. That way it looks like a log or something harmless. Right up until it’s ready, it’s still as a stick. Alligator Man’s like that. Only, he don’t look like a log or a stick.”

His accent, which had been nearly extinct when they met, was oozing full and thick from his throat.

“He look like somethin’ harmless. Somethin’ folk reco’nize. So they let him get nice and close.”

He put on the signal. The car slowed as it bumped onto the red dirt of the shoulder. She looked around.

“Why are you stopping?”

“This is where we stop.”

He shut off the car, the headlights, everything, and turned around in the seat to face her. She couldn’t make out his face or any features, the night was so dark.

She held her phone up, finger hovering over the flashlight app.

“Are you sure you wanna do that?” he asked. His voice was a low rumble in his chest now, like scales dragging across something as they slipped into the water.

She turned on the light.

It was the last thing she ever did.

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Synurbization

It was in the stairwell coming back from lunch that Bethany found the spider. Well, her head found an outlier strand of the web. The spider, incensed at the slight, vibrated like a plucked guitar string.

“Oh!” Bethany said from shock. Then, “sorry!” because she was startled again.

The spider gleamed in the middle of the web. As Bethany craned her head to look closer, she realized the spider’s abdomen was covered in mirror-bright patches. She’d never seen a spider like that, not ever.

She brushed against the web again. The spider scuttled into a corner.

Bethany walked in the office door. “There’s—”

“Thank God. Here.” Bob shoved a stack of proofs in her hand. Bethany instantly forgot the spider.

She remembered when she heard Aja shriek and topple over a stack of bygone magazines.

Devon beat her to the scene of the crime. Aja had her back pressed to the wall of the copy room, one hand extended in bony accusation. The subject of her ire reclined at a slight angle on the wall.

Bethany and Devon bent close.

The small fence lizard gave them an apathetic glare before closing its eyes and settling itself.

“This what you’re afraid of?” Devon asked. “This li’l guy?”

“It’s a freaking lizard!” Aja’s polychrome leggings flexed like the warning display of a cuttlefish as she scooted away. “It’s not supposed to be inside. Doesn’t it belong in a zoo?”

Devon and Bethany exchanged a look.

“I’ll get it,” he volunteered, trying to cup his hands around the little reptile. The lizard sensed his hands and scooted down the wall so rapidly it appeared not to move at all.

Aja shrieked.

Bethany dumped her Starbucks cup out and handed it to Devon. Through some careful coordination, they got the lizard under the cup and a sheet of bristol board under the lizard.

Aja’s nose wrinkled. “Kill it.”

Devon rolled his eyes and left for the stairwell. Bethany followed, dragging her feet.

Devon did not kill the lizard. Rather, he shook the cup over the ornamental hedges at their building’s entrance. The lizard held on for one moment to its invisible prison and then disappeared into the bark covering the ground.

Devon straightened, shaking his head. “Belongs in a zoo.

Bethany smiled faintly. She felt unmoored this afternoon, like something had been confided in her and she hadn’t fully understood at the time. She stood, just absorbing the minutiae of their surroundings. The ticking of the crosswalk indicator. The multilayered sound of people walking past. The bright glare of their building.

“I don’t like what living in the city does to people,” Devon said. He wasn’t looking up at the building. He was looking down where he had last seen the lizard.

Bethany felt she had to respond. “I don’t like what it does to animals.”

As if awaiting some comical cue, a bird thumped into the glass facade of their building. Both of them started, Devon shouting a hearty “fuck” and laughing. Bethany did not laugh.

“See? That bird probably never would have flown into anything. Then we stuck glass windows right in its way—”

Devon was shaking his head again. “No, see, I believe in survival of the fittest. Adapt or die. The bird that flew into it might not ever live to reproduce. But the bird smart enough to detect glass will live to mate another day.”

This seemed to her a gross oversimplification. But the nagging feeling came back and she looked up at the building again.

“I found a spider in the stairwell,” she said, grasping for what exactly she was trying to say, “it was shiny. Like a mirror.”

Devon looked at her oddly.

“You think I’m mistaken.”

Devon shook his head again. “No, I’ve seen spiders like that. They exist. But I thought they were only in the Amazon.” He absently flicked the rim of the empty cup. “They use it as some kind of invisibility cloak. Makes hunting easier.”

When Bethany went to show him the corner of the stairwell, some enterprising hand had swept the web away. The spider was nowhere to be found.

Devon gave her shoulder a squeeze and went back to proofing.

Bethany hovered on the edge of activity. The entire office was working on the next issue, pawing over glossy mock-ups, sorting through photographs. She couldn’t bring herself to join.

It was like a sound that hovered at a frequency no one else could hear. Like a faint smell. Like a touch that brushed almost-but-not-quite against her skin.

Bob sat at his desk. Mesoamerican art references littered the space as he drew chunky geometric swirls on the paper.

“I saw a spider today,” she said softly, not expecting him to respond.

To her shock, Bob looked up. His pen ceased. “In the stairs? Yeah, I got it. No need for another Aja alarm.”

Bethany felt a little excitement. “You saw it too?”

“Hmm?” Bob’s attention was buried again. He was looking at a smeared photocopy of a picture of a stirrup vessel. “No. I got the web.”

Bethany felt oddly disappointed. Why was it so important that someone else saw the spider? It had something to do with the feeling she couldn’t quite place.

Aja shrieked again when she found a dead bird. This was not the bird that had hit the building earlier. This one was a sparrow. However it had gotten into the building, the body was now swaddled with cobwebs.

Bob frowned down at it. He stooped and grabbed it barehanded, over Aja’s protesting squeak, and lobbed it out the window.

“Back to work, all of you,” he said, shaking his hand as if to dislodge bacteria that way.

Bethany disobeyed. She stayed behind as Bob washed his hands at the breakroom sink.

“Think I’ll get some exterminators in here,” Bob said offhandedly, “sorry if it seems cruel.”

The phrase that leapt to Bethany’s mind was not cruel. It was too little, too late.

“Sir,” she said, “the spiders—”

Bob was shaking his hand again, aiming it at her like a fleshy tamborine. “I’ll take care of it, Bethy. Can you get me Todd’s snaps from the fountain square shoot?”

Defeated, Bethany nodded.

She saw the spider again, this time in the hallway just before the stairs. It gleamed in its new web like a fallen star.

Bethany looked up at it, an odd sort of reverence filling her.

Aja clattered up, her wedge heels slapping the linoleum as if it had offended her. “Not again!”

In the space of a blink, Aja swept her designer bag up and obliterated the spider. Bethany felt a sense of steep loss coupled with annoyance.

“Thanks,” she said flatly.

Aja did not appear to detect the sarcasm.

The office diverged at the sidewalk. The photographers were going straight home after a long day of travel. The purely office drones were going to drink. Bethany, neither one nor the other, remained indecisive on the sidewalk.

Bob saw her waiting and brushed her shoulder with his hand. “It’s okay.”

She wasn’t sure if he was referring to the spider, or the deep feeling of unease that had permeated the air. She could see the restlessness spread to her fellow workers, saw them check watches, fuss with their hair, look around frequently. However unnerved they were, though, it did not stop them from congregating on the sidewalk while she lagged behind in the safety of the building’s entrance.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just don’t know.”

Bob nodded as if he understood it. “You’ll survive.”

Bob left her standing in the entrance and joined the others on the sidewalk. Bethany stood with her wordless questions, her unease and her loss, apart from all the others.

So she was the only one who noticed when a massive section of the building broke away and crept with a silent eight-legged gait down to her coworkers.

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Small Fish to Fry

I know Antony Vargas is innocent, and I know this because I was pulled in on the same charges.

47 murders. 49 by the time they snagged him for riding without a helmet. They’re good at that: pull you in for a little thing, tack on the big thing later.

I won’t pretend I’m 100% innocent. I was driving back from a wedding when I saw a derelict building too good to miss, and I just so happened to have my cans in the back. I was spraying the last layer on my tag when the gun cocked behind me. A friend of mine got capped by an overenthusiastic rent-a-cop back in ‘95, and as I have no desire to end up dead or wheelchair-bound, I put my hands up.

At no point in time did the officer arresting me mention murder. I was twenty minutes in that interrogation room, sweating and looking at my dumb face in the mirror. When the officer came in with a book and started talking casually about where I’d been that night, I instantly dropped the magic word: lawyer. He just went on about how I was a stranger around these parts, probably not a tourist seeing as it was past 10 at night and gee, I sure had a lot of equipment in the back of my jeep.

While he’s talking, he opens the book and shows me…Jesus, how to describe it? I’ve seen wartime photos, buddy of mine was in Afghanistan a few years back. These matched his snaps for the senseless level of violence. Think I threw up in my mouth a little. All the time this cop is talking, watching my reaction. Guess I blinked wrong because he slammed the book shut and left the room. The guy playing bad cop came in and that’s when I shot myself in the foot. In my sputtering about tagging, somehow they found enough to book me on suspicion of murder. A case made out of paper bricks, it wouldn’t hold up in any sane court. But this was Hogg county, and the judge they got looked a little too much like the sheriff for comfort. I’m only free to tell you this today because my lawyer, a beautiful, beautiful man, descended like an angry Santa Claus and delivered a legal smackdown that left their ears ringing. I didn’t understand most of the legalese, but he threatened to have the judge disbarred if this farce of a trial went forward.

Antony Vargas didn’t have all that. He had a mealy-mouthed public defender who told him to take a plea deal or they’d cut his mother’s benefits.

After I was acquitted, or exonerated or whatever the proper term is, the cops acted all self-righteous, told me to never come back. I said I had no problem missing a shit-splat town like theirs in the future. The sheriff actually leapt across the table after me, can you believe it? I guess even Splatsville, U.S.A. has some measure of civic pride.

Anyway, I disobeyed almost immediately. Came back disguised as a photographer enamored by their collection of dilapidated barns. It worked because I’m a 43-year-old white guy with the ability to get a haircut. The camera was originally just cover, but it wound up being handy when I saw what was on the barns.

Above the first barn’s door was what looked like an eye in what was probably blood. Flies didn’t swarm over paint like that. All the barns had ‘em. Old, new, abandoned, inhabited, it was just out in the open for anyone to see.

Now, in a situation like this you’d expect the townsfolk to be a little on the taciturn side. And they were—right up until I told them I worked for Fortean Times. It’s amazing the things people will tell you if they think they’ll be bigfoot-famous. Like how they all knew that everyone the sheriff nabbed was innocent, they just couldn’t speak up. Or the fact that there were probably more than just the 49 murders, but those were the only bodies found. Or the fact that all the plants died at the crime scenes and never grew back.

It goes on.

The blood on the barns came from the biggest animal, be it bull or dog or horse, that they had. They’d bleed it every few weeks, never more than it could stand to lose, mix the blood with a little vinegar to keep it from coagulating and slop it on the barn. Presto. I couldn’t gather how they came up with these particular rules, just that it was how their grandaddy’s daddy did things.

Another thing I couldn’t get was a physical description. Normally, there’ll be at least an outline: ‘it looked like a shadow twice the height of a man,’ etc. Nothing. What I did get was that this sort of thing had happened before, when the town had been nothing but a collection of tarpaper shacks.

This latest rash of murders happened because a place they called the Water Shack burned down. I never got more detail than that. What kind of building, who owned it, why it would have an effect on the murders? Zilch.

I noticed a squad car circling like a shark on the horizon, so I beat feet at that point. Went to the next town over to use their library. Apparently what the townspeople had been unwittingly painting was the evil eye.

The next two murders were in bigger papers, so the cops were aching to have a suspect. Antony Vargas was tailor-made for the verdict: out-of-towner, young, ethnic, and defiant. It didn’t matter that he would’ve been thirteen when the murders started, or that he had clear alibis for nine of them. Once he confessed, no one was interested in looking closer.

I saw the photos of the murder scene in the Tribune, taken by a much better photographer. It was fucking grizzly. What was left of the poor bastard was threaded through a treetop. Which, to me, should’ve been an instant exoneration. How can I say this without getting hyperbolic? No human did that. They’d have to have a catapult to launch it that far.

The newspeople had better luck tracking details down. Of the 49 murders, all had been conducted in the dead of night. The victim had been snatched from somewhere else and brought to the murder scene, sometimes over ten miles. The murders were unusually savage, and the papers used those words they love to use in a time like this: “barbaric” “senseless,” “inhuman.”

I especially love that last one. It comes so close to the truth but shies away at the last moment. Because I don’t believe a human did that. I don’t believe Antony Vargas did it and I don’t believe any of the other poor schmoes they dragged in before him did it. But they need an answer, just like the town needs a scapegoat. I learned the town wasn’t just desperate, they were scared. They all dealt with it differently. The cops dealt by dragging in anyone who so much as dropped a gum wrapper within town limits. The townsfolk painted their buildings in blood. They both came to the same end, and they were both equally ineffective.

I visit Tony in jail. Nice guy, all things considered. His mom has been lobbying for his release since he got thrown in there, but I don’t like her chances. The only thing the justice system hates more than a wrongful conviction is overturning it.

There have been more murders. It’s not in the paper, but I visit town a lot. They like me, I’m the Fort guy. They’ve found maybe two more sites, two more murders that could set Antony Vargas free. So I stuck around to take pictures. They can’t keep it under wraps forever. They can’t continue with this false peace indefinitely.

I know this because when they pointed me to the site of the last murder, I watched the trees beyond it part. I saw them rock back and forth in the wake of something massive. And I realized that we all have much bigger things to worry about.

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Creepypasta cook-off 2015

The cook-off is here! So exciting to see so many new and creepy authors, can’t wait to archive-binge the whole thing.

My stories:

K2

Mesa Blanco

San Lorenzo

The Carrier

The Roommate

And also:

The Entire Archive

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The Monster

There was a wolf pack. There was a Mother, a Father, a litter of three half-grown pups, a pup that was fully grown and his mate.

They were migrating south through unfamiliar territory so they kept between marking spoors and signs of human habitation.

In the middle of their path, they found a dead elk.

Father scented the air. There was the smell of an unfamiliar animal, human mixed in with a sharp lupine spoor, and a sickness beneath that. Whatever it was, it had downed a fully grown male elk and tore it nearly in half from stem to stern. Blood flicked the trees far above their heads. Whatever had done it had done it for more than mere hunger.

A female pup whined and nosed her Mother’s foreleg. Father snuffled, and they unanimously went the opposite direction of the scent trail. This took them near farmland, so they slunk low and quiet, ear out for human sounds.

Then the scent trail crossed in front of their path again and they stopped.

Father sniffed back and forth, trying to determine direction. It was cutting through the woods to the farmland. They veered around and traveled closer to the local wolf spoors. This path took them through a thicket eerily empty of game.

The smell hit them long before they saw it. Another mound of fur–this time breathing–lay in their path. It smelled sick, definitely, but that was only one note in the rancid bouquet of scent.

The monster sat up.

It was far too large for a wolf. It was the size of a pony and its jaws split widely along its head with too many teeth. Father growled low in his chest. With a lurch, the thing got to its feet and faced them down.

It yowled at them, broken phrases that did not make sense to their ears. Hunger-anger-pain, it cried out, hunger-anger-pain. Then simply hunger.

The pack scattered. Even though it moved slowly for a beast its size, it managed to get the head of one of the pups in its jaws. It shook and shook until the pup was limp and then dropped it.

Mother growled and advanced on it as the other two pups dashed away. The two met in midair, the mass of the beast bearing her under. Mother yelped in surprise and pain but did not give up searching for the thing’s throat. It seized her skull between its jaws.

Father snarled, tearing at its hindlegs and tenders, but the thing shook until Mother was limp too. Then it kicked with mule-like force and Father tumbled into a rock.

The thing stood triumphant over Mother’s body and raised its head to the sky. It didn’t howl. It screamed.

The older son and his mate led the two pups away, running single-file and sometimes leaping to confuse their scent trails. Father soon joined them, and they ran until the woods ceased to be woods and they were in the open field of a farm.

The wolves frothed. Father sprawled limply on his side. His hindquarters and scruff were open in great gashes, but they were not fatal. The oldest pup deferentially licked the side of his mouth. Father licked his ear, smoothing fur that immediately sprang back glossy with saliva.

They rested in the lee of a haystack. None were asleep long, or very deeply. They were gone long before the men came to start the baler.

They crossed like shadows over a dirt road and were back in the woods. The remaining pups fell into step behind Father. The older male and female flanked. They came across the signs of other wolves, but never the animals themselves. Together they felled an old, sick doe. Father glutted first, then regurgitated meat for the pups. By nightfall they were at a river. They each lapped at its edge and then followed it downstream.

Tracks began appearing, gouged deep in the loamy mud. They didn’t even have to smell them to know what had made them.

There was a bridge. And on it was the first human they had seen here, missing an arm and bled out, a boat hook clutched uselessly in its remaining hand. Crouching above it and licking at its throat, the beast gave a snarl-whine on seeing the wolves. It danced, pounding the ground with its feet like a puppy.

Father’s hackles rose. So did his older son’s. They growled low in their chests.

The thing started barking. It was a mishmash of nonsense, phrases that by themselves made sense but together were just a mad babble. Father’s ear’s went back. He danced uncertain.

The older son dove. His mate dove with him. The beast took the blow without flinching. It snagged the female and flung her, yelping, into the water. The son snarled and tore at its throat. The beast opened its mouth wide–wide enough to fit an entire wolf head within–and bore down.

Father dove beneath it and snapped at its tenders. The thing yelped and writhed. The son locked jaw onto its front right knee and twisted his head back and forth. Father kept up at its abdomen, trying to force it on its back. Instead, the beast lunged forward, moving easily even with a fully grown wolf around its leg, going after the pups. They scattered, yelping. Brother slammed against a bridge post and fell off, taking a good amount of skin with him. The beast reached the other female pup and grabbed her, hindquarters fitted squarely in his mouth. It bit down. Her yelp was cut in half.

The sole male pup was still running. The older son was trying to rise; the post had knocked his spine crooked. The beast took off after the male pup. Father took off after the beast.

The beast ran oddly but its stride was long and it soon left Father behind. When Father caught up to it, it was already worrying his last offspring like a bone. Father launched himself at its side and overshot, tumbling down the beasts’ other side. The thing screamed–and ran into a tree.

Father drew back, watching. The thing’s eyes did not gleam in the little light still available. It lacked the night vision that even rabbits had.

Father made a calculated dash. The thing’s jaws snapped on air, and suddenly the chase was on.

Father could hear the thing blunder behind him. It was fast enough on open ground, but here in the forest it dashed headfirst into every obstacle. Father skipped light over logs and through branches. He dashed over a game path—

and with a crack, he was laid out.

“Fuckin’ hell, it’s a goddamn monster.”

Father snarled and started to rise. The man with the rifle plugged him again. Father went down, legs spasming.

“You think this one et all those cows?”

“Ayup. Looks big enough.”

“Look at those teeth!”

The men gathered around the dying wolf. Father lay panting, trying to raise his head. They had dogs with them, bloodhounds who looked skittishly not at the body on the ground, but out into the woods.

Father whined.

“Holy hell, this is too cruel. Plug ‘im in the head, would you?”

 

The female drew herself onto shore, heaving. She had swum against current that banged her into rocks and dragged her under. Steam rose from her fur as she panted out her exhaustion. She tried to rise and one leg crumpled beneath her. She dragged herself on her belly to dry brush and licked her fur dry. Then she tucked her nose to her tail and slept.

Day woke her. Her back twinged when she turned her head and her leg would not allow fast travel, but she was alive. And she could move. And so she did.

She tried to trace the territory of the beast. This was next to impossible, because the beast did not claim territory in a sensible manner. It meandered wherever it pleased, crossing freely into human and wolf domain alike. It didn’t even mark right, piss splashed every which way in a powerful, revolting spoor.

Once she traced its scent-trail to a silent farmhouse. Its tracks changed, no longer pawprints, as it came to the front door. The house was wretched with stench, so she withdrew.

There were no living animals anywhere on the farm. There was only the nose-ghosts of two dogs who, she found, lay dead and dried in the barn with other livestock. The cow and two goats had been picked clean, the dogs merely killed.

Once the scent-trail led up to an ornamented gate and suddenly started back, as if shocked. She licked it and found it ordinary metal. It was not even the thin wires that guarded horse pastures and bit the mouth and nose.

She followed the scent around through human territory. At dusk, rather than risk the woods, she skirted some of the more isolated farmsteads. In a small white house she found lines of sleeping, fat birds. She crunched the head off of one and dragged it away.

 

Two men were sitting at a fire.

“So we didn’t kill it?”

“Hell, if it was that wolf, musta been some kind of magician to kill Sadie Thompson’s sheep three hour after it’s been shot to death.”

“But it was all bloody!”

“Like I say before, s’more than one of the bastards. Prob’ly got edged out and started killin’ livestock to live.”

“Sadie’s sheep didn’t look et.”

“Never said they was smart.”

The tumble of a displaced rock made them both start.

“Jay-zus, Colin. You picked a fine time to visit.”

The other man was pale in the firelight, which made hollows dance beneath his eyes. He had a bandage around his elbow.

“Sorry ’bout tha’,” he said.

One of the men grinned nervously.

“How long’s it been, Colin? Two, three months? You got the consumption or summat?”

“Now, don’t you go layin’ into him,” his companion said, tossing another branch on the fire, “he’s just a little under the weather. He’ll get better, won’t you Col?”

Colin was looking down into the fire.

“Oh, I s’pect,” he said, “by and by.”

 

The screams made the female perk up. They were human, not animal. She crept to the hillocks that flanked this side of the farms.

One had a fire burning down. In the little light it still gave, she could see two men. Before she even drew close, the smell hit her in the nose. No gunshot greeted her.

It had torn them open and left their necks smiling red and wide. Just downhill she caught it struggling with something around its muzzle. A thin silver chain winked in the light. It was far too thin to restrain a monster that size, why didn’t it just break?

The monster rolled the chain down its muzzle, paw wincing as if coming into contact with something hot.

She yipped.

The beast looked up with its night-blind eyes and screamed.

She darted off.

The thing followed close behind her, barreling through fences that she ducked under. There was a fence of biting metal. She leapt over the low thing. The beast crashed through, yelping as the wires stung its face.

There was a whicker from the far end of the paddock.

The horses here were not in a closed barn, but a three-sided shed. She galloped towards them. The beast followed behind.

The first of the horses reared and shrieked–she dashed beneath it. The beast flung itself bodily into the horse.

No wolf would have attempted to take that much animal head-on, no matter their size. Even as the first horse wallowed, beast at its throat, the others lit into the sprawling form with their hooves. The mare on the ground writhed away and kicked with her hind legs. With a hollow thud, the beast was flung back into the pasture.

The female wolf went for its neck now. It was guarded by thick fur that did not give her jaws easy purchase, but the beast was already wheezing and weak from the assault. She fixed her jaws and closed them like a springloaded trap. There was a crunch of larynx and suddenly it stopped struggling. As the horses dashed through the gap in the fence, the beast writhed on the ground and died slowly, foaming, tongue out.

She watched as the fur retracted, as limbs unbent and paws turned back into pale flesh.

The thing looked like a man now, but it still smelled wrong. Ears back, she fled.

Howls sounded from the trees. She answered. A party met her at the edge of the woods. The local pack.

She made herself look humble and small and let herself be sniffed. She told them the story in barks and whines, they verified it through smell. The leader let out a long, low howl and suddenly every wolf moved as one back through the trees.

She followed. This was no place for wolves.

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The Dorset Culture

dorset2

Photograph from the Cook expedition, 1907

The first people were giants
Their chests were broad and their hands could grab seals whole
They walked with spirits on the ice and never fell through
Though they were strong, they did not possess the tools of war
And the new people drove them back from the sea

—Excerpt from An Oral History of Baffin Island

The Dorset people predate modern-day Inuit of the Arctic Circle. A relatively recent archaeological find, the Dorset were culturally distinct from their Inuit successors, who dubbed them Sivullirmiut (meaning “first people.”) Though the Dorset culture has left significant archaeological record, no physical remains of the people themselves are known to exist.

Interestingly, the Dorset people have migrated into folklore, much in the way of “terror birds” in New Zealand or the Orang Pendek of Malaysia. Baffin island mythology speaks of a race of giants inhabiting what are modern-day Inuit settlements; slow, shy people who showed them the technique of ice fishing and lived in longhouses.

Not all appearances by the Sivullirmiut were benign, however. In an interview conducted by the Stefansson expedition on Wrangel Island, a Chukchi elder spoke of giants who stole and consumed children, so unmoved by cold that they would conduct raids even during the heart of a blizzard. The elder also showed expedition members two artifacts: a desiccated human foot measuring nearly a meter long and a scalp of red hair the size of a seal pelt. Both artifacts were claimed by the expedition and subsequently lost in the disastrous return to the United States.

Other such artifacts have been documented by various arctic expeditions, but no physical specimens have survived to undergo modern-day scrutiny. A photograph from Frederick Cook’s North Pole expedition(seen above) was said to depict the largest intact specimen: a full three-quarters of a body. Cook’s party was entreated to view the “stone village” by the Inhuguit people, a site situated north of Annoatok. The Europeans described a megalithic site comprised of stone slabs propped up in a formation that recalled Stonehenge. The Inhuguit claimed the stacks were door lintels and that the massive structure was once covered with hides. Though the expedition heavily documented their progress, the single snapshot of the body is the only evidence from the megalithic site known to exist. By the time Erik Holtved arrived to study the Inhuguit the tribe members with knowledge of the site’s location had long since deceased.

What caused the demise of the Sivullirmiut giants is still unclear, though it is generally agreed upon that the culture went extinct around the time of the medieval warming period( roughly 1500C.E.) Nunavut folklore holds that the giants were doomed to die with the ice that gave them life, and that the new people long ago chased the straggling survivors into the sea. There is also historical evidence that early Norse travelers came into contact with the Sivullirmiut some time before their extinction.

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A Matter of Public Welfare

On the television, Stephen Nilch wiped away a tear, black armband riding up his bicep. The news ticker ran:

GRIEVING FATHER’S SAFETY VICTORY/COUNTY TO IMPLEMENT CHANGES AFTER SIX-MONTH PUSH/SEVERE DENT IN JAYWALKING INCIDENTS EXPECTED

“They ever gonna let this go?”Keith asked. He had his feet up on his desk in the sheriff’s office, WORLD’S GREATEST GRANPA mug in one hand.

Stuart, fire marshal, was watching the crews out the window. “Slow news week, I guess. This ain’t Vegas.”

Half of San Andreas avenue was already parted by a chrome fence, now the crews in front of the station dug holes and filled them with cement.

“Who’s paying for this?”

“You are, natch.” Stuart let the blinds fall back into place. “Can’t say I’ll be sorry to see less crackheads cutting across traffic.”

“Crackheads? This is Holover Point. Where they getting crack, out by the cider press?”

Both men chuckled over a well-worn joke.

Keith heaved forward a little. He pointed with an index finger missing everything up to the first knuckle.

“Did they really survey this stretch of land before they put this into motion, or did bleeding hearts grease the way?”

“Not sure what you mean by that.”

“I mean, this might have some unintended consequences, is all. No disrespect to the boy.”

“No disrespect,” Stuart parroted.

“But I don’t think they thought this through.”

 

The accidents came before the fence even finished. Crossers impatient for the light were forced to jog along the fence until they spotted a gap, which was usually the center turn lane. This often ended poorly.

Worse were the mysterious hit-and-run reports that began happening in the dead hours of night. Drivers were breathalyzed and, more often than not, found sober. The unfortunate pedestrians were not found at all.

Public consensus held that the fences, while an admirable idea, were proving ineffective.

 

Stephen Nilch strode into the station. He was much taller than on television, though his grieving-yet-proud expression remained.

Keith said, “oh shit,” and extinguished his cigarette in his coffee.

Nilch nodded to him. “Sheriff.”

“Nilch,” Keith said cautiously.

“Some…indigent has dismantled a section of fence near Ponderosa court,” Nilch said crisply, “I would like to know what you’re going to do about it.”

“Well, hello to you too.” Keith forgot and took a drink. He made a wry face. “Look, we can’t be out there 24/7 protecting your pet project—”

“–the public interest,” Nilch interrupted, “is what you are here to protect, and that fence is part of it.”

“Why should a fence need protecting? And how the hell did they get that thing out of there, are some kids running around town with some bolt cutters and a chainfall?”

Nilch said “fix it,” and slammed the door behind himself.

 

Keith scratched his soul patch and surveyed the hole. It was quite a hole.

No signs of cutting, and the torn ends bent.

“Like something just ripped it out,” deputy Parrish said, probing an edge, “but there’s no torn foliage, no damage to the curb–”

“All right, CSI Glendale, I get your point,” Keith said, dusting off his hands, “this wasn’t a car hopping the curb and taking it out. So what the hell does that leave?”

Parrish found a swatch of rough brown hair on a wire point and gingerly maneuvered it into a sandwich bag.

Keith sighed.

“Maybe it was kids.”

 

Keith was tucking into a pastrami on rye when Stuart walked in. He was dressed in torn jeans in a t-shirt, all splattered with red mud.

“Good god, Stu. You been burying stiffs in the garden again?”

“Night class,” Stuart said sheepishly, taking a seat in one of the folding chairs, “I made you an ashtray.”

“Swell.” Keith napkined away a smear of mayo. “So what brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“I had a thought the other day. Also, I just nearly missed running over someone.”

“Yikes. Well, who should I put out an APB on?”

“Seven feet tall, indistinct features, disappears into thin air when you try to follow him. Ring any bells?”

Keith looked across the desk. His sandwich flopped forgotten onto the plate. “You are shitting me.”

“It all adds up.”

“No it don’t. That’s like saying five and three make seven.”

“But in algebra—”

“Listen, shut up for a second.”

Both men looked out the window.

A car, which had been presumably traveling down the road until recently, was skewed diagonally across the lawn of the funeral parlor opposite the station. When Stephen Nilch exited the car holding his neck, both men groaned audibly.

 

“You, officer.” Stephen pointed his finger like a sword, “I have an incident report to make.”

“For god’s sake, Nilch, don’t talk. And quit moving your head.” Stuart moved to cup his skull.

Keith whistled at the dent in the front of Nilch’ station wagon. “That’s some corn.”

“Are you joking? I just nearly died.”

“You just hit someone with your car,” Keith said, “do I really need to remind you where the law’s sympathies lie here?”

Nilch clammed up sullenly.

“Where’s the body?”

“That’s just it,” Nilch said bewilderedly, “I got out of the car to check—”

“And he disappeared,” the other two men said in unison.

Nilch looked from one to the other.

“Do you want to tell him, or should I?” Stuart asked.

“I’ll go, he hates me already.” Keith gestured to the road. “Nilch, there’s something about this road. The fence was a bad idea.”

“Not that it was a terrible idea,” Stuart cut in, “it might even be good, somewhere else.”

“But it just so happens that right here, it cuts across the migratory path of the Yeti.”

Nilch said, “What.”

“The Yeti. The Sasquatch. Bigfoot, skunk ape, Gigantanthropus crypticus, call it what you will. These suckers chose right where we’re standing to migrate.”

“Get the fuck out,” Nilch said.

“Look, hear the man out,” Stuart urged.

“Shut up, Jimenez.” Nilch jabbed his finger at Keith’s jugular. “You. You have no call to mock me like this. My son is dead—”

“Look, no one’s saying it’s not tragic,” Keith said, “whether or not it would’ve happened if you’d taught him not to run across the street in the first place.”

Nilch made a strained noise.

“But the fact is that this fence is preventing the yeti from moving pastures.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“Well, look at it from their perspective,” Stuart said, “they’re gentle creatures, not used to this modern world. It’s sad. One century they walk across a dirt path from one field to another, the next they get run over by a glowing-eyed monster screaming out of the dark, leaving behind only a crumpled skin that may have belong to a gorilla and their rank stench. Sad state of affairs for such a majestic and idiosyncratic animal.”

“You people are insane,” Nilch said, stepping back.

“You’re in denial. What the hell do you think keeps this town afloat? The mill? The postcard sales alone paid for the repaving of main street. Look—” Keith put a hand up. “Leaving all that, the fence hasn’t done much in the way of good. People still try to cross the damn street at midway.”

“No, no, no,” Nilch interrupted, “you don’t get to talk to me about yetis and then suddenly pull back. I’ll have your jobs. Both your jobs.”

“Well,” Stuart said, “if that’s the way you feel.”

Both men watched as Nilch got back in his car and gunned it. The motor turned over with a heavy cough and the car laboriously backed off the sidewalk. Both men waved.

Nilch made a three-point turn, steering with one hand while he shot them the bird with his other. He set the car straight and accelerated. The headlights illuminated a figure standing in the middle of the road. Every hair seemed to absorb the light, the eyes refracted back the headlights in deep red. The car swerved, jumping the curve with one tire and tearing a chunk out of the fence. The horn blared. The figure stalked back to the edge of the road and disappeared into the shadows.

“Majestic creatures,” Stuart said, “they’ve got a natural curiosity. Sadly, that doesn’t come bundled with natural caution.”

“I ever tell you the time my daddy shot one?” Keith asked. Stuart shook his head. “worst meat I ever had. Didn’t melt in your mouth, it disintegrated. Stunk up the deep freeze so bad we had to get a new one.”

Both men looked to the car. Nilch’s head lay against the steering wheel. Keith sighed.

“You fish him out, I’ll get the kit.”

The office smelled like a dead skunk when he opened the door. The sandwich was gone from the plate.

Keith shook his head and grabbed his emergency kit. “Worse than the Jackelopes.”

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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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