Category Archives: Dreams

Original short horror story: Void of Everything

This is taken from a sleep paralysis nightmare I had years ago, and it’s best rated for older teens and up. It’s a complete short story I wrote while manic, and I allowed the dissociative manic state to consume me while I wrote it to keep it true to its original feeling.

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An orange light tried to escape through the clouds as it was strangled. The gray shadow from it washed over all in its path, and the brown sky foretold of a dawn that would never fully reach fruition.

I stood with my red suitcase in hand and red wool coat keeping me warm from the sea’s breeze. I paused as I walked along the narrow path surrounded by water, and the endless horizon stared back at me as if to confirm my hopeless existence. There wasn’t much to the world anymore since it had been swallowed by the sea, and I knew it would claim me someday too.

The towering, white clapboard house before me had been expanded several times over the last few years, its height climbing to an impressive six stories that caused the building to lean just barely to the right. Its red roof had been weathered by the saltwater breeze and looked like dried blood. It was all falling apart, the house bleeding as it shed its white paint into the water.

My eyes drifted to the side as I stood at the front door. A set of five steps led down into an underground room, and I abandoned my suitcase at the door to explore. Brown slate guided me to a white wooden door that was labeled, ‘Sick Room.’ I pressed my ear to it, noticing no sounds of any kind. Was I truly alone? Had my journey been pointless?

My black Mary Janes clacked across the white and red-tiled floor, the light flickering as the breeze slipped through into the stale air. Silence. The large room had a low ceiling and a round desk at the center as if ready for nurses to clock in. There were no other rooms save for the small alcoves carved out of the walls, cushions and blankets tossed about in a few of them where people had once sat reading. I wandered over to one of the books; Ray Bradbury’s, There Will Come Soft Rains.

The atmosphere was thick with stale illness and wrapped around my throat, threatening to crush my lungs. The despair trapped in the walls greeted me at once in waves, and blurred translucent forms came and went with it. The figures were all in white gowns with frowns on their faces, their eyes sunken and red with tears. So many had died here.

Fear gripped me tightly and I ran from the room to escape the nightmare. It brought me back to the doorstep and I knocked before letting myself inside. I grew weary as the weathered walls greeted me with their splattering of mold from the damp air, and as I breathed in deeply the must entered my lungs. It would only be a matter of time before this rotting corpse of a house was taken away, too.

Climbing the stairs brought me to a second landing where a woman was standing outside her door. I stilled my beating heart and observed her form, fearing she was just another ghost. She smiled, her dark olive skin creasing back into two dimples as her teeth were revealed from behind her scabbed lips.

“Hello,” I breathed, still in shock. Was she sick like the others had been?

“Hi.” The room fell silent to the waves outside once more, and I ventured forth toward a room while keeping my eyes on her. Her gaze followed me with just as much suspicion, although she hadn’t stopped smiling. Perhaps she was lonely and happy to see me, but then what of the other rooms? Was she the only one left?

I paused before entering the room next to hers. “Is anyone else here?”

“Just you and I, and a few others who keep their distance.” Her smile finally fell. There was paint on the breast of her blue overalls and her black kinked hair was frizzed as if it hadn’t been groomed for some time. Despite it, she seemed well.

I attempted to return to something less somber. “Are you a painter?”

“Yes.” She smiled again. “I have an easel outside — on the balcony. I don’t see much but the ferns, but I paint them. I’ve become very good at it and I’ve gathered a small collection.” She chuckled, her laugh childlike despite her perceived age. She looked to be in her late twenties. “Maybe you’d like to watch me paint sometime?”

“Absolutely.” I smiled again before opening the door. Flicking on the dim light revealed a moldy tan carpet, a bed strewn about, and a few piles of clothes on the floor. A small door led to a personal bathroom, and a dresser was the only other item to the side.

I threw my bag onto the bed, knowing all too well what had happened here. It was an awful way to die, but at least they were at peace now. Maybe if I was lucky, too, I wouldn’t be alive to see the small island swallowed by the sea.

I brushed aside a dirty white lace curtain and peered out across the water. Ferns darted up to the windowsill and beyond, and it allowed a sliver of the end-times’ orange light to paint a streak on my face. The sun would never rise again. It hadn’t for more than a month. Perhaps three. I’d lost track of time since it had become meaningless.

I turned my head to take in the room once more. A translucent form was on the bed beside me as I gripped the curtains in my fists, my eyes growing wide as the being watched me. I couldn’t bear its gaze begging me for something I couldn’t give. “You’re lucky. Stop lamenting,” I snapped in my anxiety.

Its hand reached out and faded through my long blond hair before it flickered. It wailed something hoarsely before fizzling out.

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My new friend led me down the stairs once I’d removed my coat. She seemed excited to speak to another living person despite there being other occupants. It was the norm to avoid each other as it had been where I came from.

My city had worn down and decayed quickly as the waters lapped up onto the shore, and after a time people started dying as well. A sickness was quick to claim the young and the elderly, and soon there were no doctors able to figure out the mysterious illness. The few that remained had no desire as the world slowly died around them, and they would often spend their last days at the top of a skyscraper, staring out into the sea’s abyss as they waited to see the sun rise one last time. It was a dying wish that was never granted but held before them as the golden glow of morning paused to remain forever.

Mother nature — or whatever force was looming over us — had finally gotten angry.

The force delivered the sickness on the sea’s air, its invisible hand sprinkling pestilence throughout the world. I’d contracted a weak strain and recovered, which very few managed to do, and was left immune. I sat in my living room for days barely eating, watching as my family died one after the other around me. It hadn’t spared the dog or the cats either, and by the end of its reign in my home, I was certain I’d been chosen as one of the few who would suffer for all that humanity had done. To die would have been a mercy.

My travels had brought me to where I now stood, spinning around in a room covered with beautiful paintings that were equally macabre. Their chunky, golden and intricate frames displayed them as an art exhibit would, and the smile that graced my face was genuine. It had been so long since I’d seen something so beautiful — something that captured the hopeless fear in my heart so vividly. The faces twisted in agony behind thick oil paints reminded me of my family in their last moments, and I felt they were there with me.

I turned back to my friend, who had also been admiring the paintings. They stretched up past the second story into the third and climbed up through the rest. It was the focal point of the house and others were joining us or had joined us, although at a distance. Their eyes followed our every move as if we would bring the plague upon them ourselves, although it was clear a few of them were already on their way out. Their dry skin and cracked lips were enough of a sign with the sunken sockets in their heads.

“What’s your name?” I finally returned to my friend. She was an odd one in that place. She hadn’t feared me from the beginning like the others.

“I don’t have one anymore.” She didn’t seem bothered by this in the slightest. “What’s yours?”

I mused for a moment before quirking my lips. “I don’t have one anymore either.”

“Neither did he — the man who built this place.” The girl pulled me over to an area where an oak desk sat with stains and papers and books scattered about it. I noticed a few anatomy books and notes about disease. “Look. This is him.”

I followed her hand to see a large painting of a sallow looking man, his face thin and gaunt and his short gray hair flattened to the side. He looked tired, and I wondered for a moment if he’d managed to capture himself within the painting to live forever. It was the goal of having a portrait done or painting your own, although it would do no good now.

A soft whispering met my ears as the thought crossed my mind, and the oils in the man’s hair swirled as if it were swaying in the wind. The painting’s eyes dragged slowly down to see me and stared, and I stared right back. There was a blankness to his expression and I knew why. He’d failed. He’d built this place to try to save everyone — it was evident in the sick room downstairs and the books on his desk. He hadn’t had time, which was also apparent in the house’s design. It’s odd, slanted, towering build was enough to speak of his desperation to escape the rising tide.

“He painted all of these, ” my friend continued. “They were once beautiful, but as he grew sick, it warped his view of how anything appeared.”

“Yes, I got a taste of that,” I remembered. Although I hadn’t come down with the illness to a fatal degree, I’d experienced the hallucinations. The morning my mother came into my bedroom to bring me breakfast on the third day of my sickness, I hadn’t recognized her.

Her face looked just like the paintings, her features smeared to the side and dripping from her face as if she were melting before me. I watched flesh drop onto the floor like candle wax as it left tears in her skin, and from the decaying muscle crawled small centipedes to slip back into her ears.

I screamed and shoved her with all of my remaining strength. The tray with water and Spam rations flipped back into her body, and she knocked her head on the open door in her fall to gain a concussion as blood trickled into the white carpet. My father came running and screamed into an echoing void far from me, and I sunk into my bed with clenched teeth as I stared at the ceiling. It would be a week later before I could look at another human being again.

I returned to my friend who had been calling out to me. I was face to face with the painting of the founder, my neck aching as I stood directly in front of it to touch its textures. I dropped my hands immediately and backed away. I’d gone on autopilot again. The illness had left me with a strangeness that still invaded my waking life, and often I would fall asleep only to end up awoken to stand before a mirror. At times I would lose my memory as well and wake up a stranger to myself.

“Did you see it?” My friend asked.

I turned to her, shaking off what had happened. “See what?”

“Him.” The girl moved to the painting and stared up at it. “He haunts this place, and I’ve heard others talk about seeing him before they died. It’s a bad omen.”

“No.” I forced a laugh. “I was merely intrigued by the beautiful work. He’s long gone, I’m sure.”

“No, not the founder.” The girl turned to look at me with a hard gaze that chilled me to the bone. “He’s the harbinger of the end. The founder saw him before he died, too.”

“Did he paint him?”

“He didn’t dare.” The girl hugged herself and looked as if she would cry, her eyes darting about the room. “Can we leave now? I’d rather show you my work.”

“Yes, of course.” I grew exasperated. She’d been the one to lead me to the gallery, but perhaps she’d survived the illness as well and saw something she shouldn’t have.

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The balcony’s breeze was enough to coax me into sleep, but I fought it off as I sat beside my friend. She stared intently at the ferns before us as she painted them, the picture only slightly varied from the last. I hadn’t questioned the strange nature of her repetitiveness, but nothing had been said between us since we’d left the gallery. I didn’t miss the silence. “Would you like to paint my portrait?” I offered.

She turned to observe me and nodded. “Yes, you’ll look lovely within the ferns.”

I couldn’t hold back the laugh that graced me for the first time in a long while. “Then so it shall be.” I threw my arm over the back of the chair, my off the shoulder gray sweater drooping as I crossed my legs and became comfortable. She began to paint once more over the ferns she’d already detailed. “Did you know the founder? You talk as if you were familiar with him.”

She smiled sadly. “He was my father. Not by birth, but he took me in after my parents died. I was very young.” She paused to look at me. “How old do I look now?”

I pondered and wiggled my fingers. “Twenty-seven? Twenty-nine?”

She giggled. “Twenty-three.”

“Close enough, I suppose.”

“I was five.” She returned to painting, her ability to paint a person lacking in comparison to the plant life she so explicitly studied. “My mother and father found this place and brought me here before it was as large as you see it now. I think it only had two stories at the time, and the sea hadn’t quite taken over yet. Originally, it was a homeless shelter for those stricken by the war, and the founder had dedicated his small fortune to helping all of us.” She faltered. “The bedroom you are now in was my brother’s.”

A lump formed in my throat and I tensed. The form on the bed — the wailing. It had been her brother in his last moments, and he had pleaded with me. Was he asking me to look after her? “I saw him,” I blurted.

She turned to face me. “My brother?”

“I was sick once.” I picked at my nails, not wanting to see her expression. I would soon be sleeping in the same bed her brother died in, and I wondered what dreams it would bring me. If they would be the same feverish dreams the man had in his last moments to punish me for disturbing his sacred space. “I was one of the few to recover and become immune, but it left me with the ability to see things beyond reason.”

“I was sick, too.” My friend had ceased painting altogether and picked at her paint-covered overalls. “I’m not sure how I recovered, but the founder nursed me back to health.” She finally looked up at me, horror in her brown eyes. “I saw things too. Awful things. It’s why I avoid going into my brother’s room and I moved from my parents’.”

“That’s for the best. I think he wanted me to look after you.” I smiled in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

Sadness twisted her face and she looked like the child she once was. Tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’ve been so lonely. I’ve watched everyone die — everyone in the gallery is dying too. They fear people like you and me. They think our purpose is to carry the illness to others. As if we were Mother Nature’s walking message of her divine wrath.”

“And perhaps we are.” I reached out to take her hands and watched as she chewed on her lip, reopening the scabs that had closed. “But what can we do about it? What can we–”

A rustling in the ferns.

My heart leaped into my throat and I sat up to look through the wooden banister of the balcony. The rustling stopped. “Did you see that?”

“No, did something happen?” She turned to look in the direction I’d fixated on.

“An animal? I thought all the animals died.”

“They have. Unless there are a few who were immune like you and me?” Her hopes were clear in her voice as she jumped up and ran to the side to look out into the ferns. “A deer? A cat? A dog? A fox? How wonderful would that be?”

“No, step away.” Dread blind sighted me as I was awash in a cold sweat. By her legs were two clawed black hands gripping tight to the banister. All else was black as the void except for a sun-dried cow’s skull resting on its shoulders, the rest of its body cloaked in a large black robe. Two white ethereal lights shone dimly in the eye sockets and stared into my soul. It was reading me, judging me as it pondered my existence.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” The girl turned to see my alarmed state and approached me, and as she did everything was set into motion. The stirring of her tennis shoes on the grime-covered deck coaxed the being from the ferns and through the fencing where it stood stationary with its sight locked on me.

I grabbed her arm and pulled her in the direction of the door, and we ran through the house and downstairs until we reached the gallery once more. I paused to catch my breath, the few people scattered about in the leather armchairs turning to watch us with rapt attention. As I glanced up at them, they reminded me of predators waiting to strike their prey in self-defense.

I swallowed hard. “You didn’t see it?”

“No, was it a hallucination?”

“I don’t know.” Tears welled up and poured down my cheeks, and I pulled my friend close to rest my head on her shoulder. A memory struck me and I jerked my head back up in the direction of the founder’s painting. “What does he look like?”

“Who?”

“The harbinger,” I spoke through choked tears. My friend backed away from me to my horror, and she stared at me with uneasiness. I couldn’t bear to lose the last friend I would ever have, and I regretted saying anything, but the anxiety gripping my heart so tight it hurt was my master, and there was nothing I could possibly take back.

“He’s been described as a moving shadow.”

“A man with skin like midnight and a large dark robe?” I couldn’t still the shaking building in my hands. “A cow’s skull for a head? And those eyes… They aren’t eyes but a glimpse into the universe itself.”

“You’ve seen him.” She backed away further. “Another shift will take place, and you’ve brought it upon us.” Emotion crept into her voice and spilled over her face. “It is said he chooses his messengers, and to see him when you are not destined to be among the dead means he’s chosen you.”

“Oh god–”

“And God has grown sick and died as well.” The young woman’s frown curved to an impossible degree, and her sad eyes reflected those of her brother’s as he reached out to me in his bed. “But it’s not your fault. You did not ask to be the next messenger.”

“Can I stop it? Can he be overcome?”

“No, it’s inevitable.” The girl glanced back at the people in the chairs, their bodies tense and their eyes burning wide with hatred. They hadn’t noticed the man slouched over among them, lifeless at last. “You’d better return to your room. They already think you’ve damned them.”

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I shot up in bed and looked around the dark room.

A faint white glow was coming from outside, and I rolled over in my white satin nightgown to throw open the curtains. Darkness. It was night. It hadn’t been night in so long, and I wondered, foolishly, if the sun had fallen from the sky. Or had it simply given up in its attempt to bring the day?

But the glow wasn’t from the moon that had long ago abandoned us.

My lungs burned as I struggled to breathe through the panic attack that was shaking me to my core. The glow in the sky was in the shape of a large eye, and it was unmoving as it stared down at me. I jerked the curtains shut, but the lace allowed the glow to filter in, and as I followed it, it fell upon the door as a guide. I blinked hard and turned to face it. It remained.

I crossed the room on quick feet to open the door and stared into the dark walkway twisting around the stairs. To my right was my friend’s room, and I made my way over to it to try the handle. It was locked tight and I didn’t blame her. I leaned back against it and sighed, staring down the stairway into the dark abyss. It rippled.

Steeling my resolve, I crept down the stairs and into the first floor parlor, searching for any sign of anything significant. I knew I was a fool to chase the message being laid out for me, but if there was any way I could manage to delay or stop the next shift, I had to do it. My life had become meaningless since the sea swallowed most of everything, and that foolish human determination to be something before it all ended tugged at my heartstrings. No one would be here to know, and nothing I did would ultimately matter, but there was still at least one person I cared about in existence. As long as that was true, it would matter to her.

The archway I slipped beneath revealed a very large kitchen with the same red and white tiles as the sick room. In the center was an island with various cooking utensils and a steel commercial stove sat before it. The far wall was lined in windows that once allowed the sunlight to grace the space, but now it was merely awash in the pale glow from the eye in the sky.

A quiet choking sound slipped from my throat as I caught sight of the dark form in the center of the glow. It lifted a hand to beckon to me, and I leaned into the archway to grip the frame tight. I shook my head, fear winning over my earlier feelings of bravery. It continued to curl its finger in a taunting motion to coax me forward.

“Did you choose me?” My voice shook as I attempted communication, but the being continued as if I’d said nothing. “Are you the harbinger?” It remained silent. I took a deep breath and stepped into the kitchen.

The faint glow in its eyes was the same color as the one outside, and it grew in intensity as I approached. Its aura reached out to me in welcome and eased my nerves, and I was soon at peace as I stood before it. I had no doubt then that it had chosen me to be the sign of the end — it was time to finish what was started.

I dropped to my knees as a powerful need overwhelmed me, and my hands crept up a pair of thighs over the black robe. It dropped to the floor along with the dull thud of the mask, and as I stared up at the harbinger, I saw nothing but black with two glowing lights where the shape of the head rested.

It drew me back up with a claw beneath my chin and pulled me flush against its form. It was cold and nothing solid, but I felt its figure nonetheless as an ancient being made up of everything that was the beginning of all. I allowed myself to sink into its greatness as it raised my leg, and soon my body was filled and gripping tight around the void that entered me.

I gasped at the intrusion and curled my toes, but there would be no pleasure to be had in this intimate ritual. My womb was quickly injected with something ice-cold, and it was enough to shock me back to my senses. The freeze crawled into my belly and swirled about, and I was released to stand on my own. I grasped at my stomach and stared at the figure who remained a mere shadow of a man. “What have you done to me?”

A void of stars formed as it expanded to become its mouth and its eyes flickered. A hissing wail emitted from it that drew out my screams, and I ran from the kitchen.

I felt it behind me and around me, and as I crashed through door after door, tripped up stairway after stairway, I became lost in the dark. The cold swirling in my belly grew and I became sick, but I pushed on for reasons unknown. I was no longer being driven by survival but a strong need to find the end, and I knew it was somewhere higher. I had to get higher despite my fear telling me to escape the harbinger.

At last, I climbed to the top floor and threw open the balcony doors, stepping out onto the deck to look out across the sea. The lapping of the calm water and the glow of the eye that seemed larger than ever lulled me into a trance, and I once again felt the cloaked figure near. It came up behind me and spread its arms wide, and the ferns below us parted to clear a path to the sea below that had finally sloshed to the foundation of the house.

With heavy-lidded eyes, I gripped the balcony and leaned over it, and the cold in my stomach expanded. The entity behind me held its arms out to keep the path clear, and I climbed up onto the railing. With the sea’s winds rushing through my hair, I plummeted to the waters below, the crash causing my stomach to pop open with a myriad of stars and a black void.

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When the moon rises in the sky I envelop its brilliance with my glow. The blackness that is everything swallows the world and all are none the wiser to its monotony.

But everything is made up of the stars and the nothingness that has been and will be, and the seas will lap upon the shores until it is time for the harbinger to bring a cleansing to Mother Nature’s soul.

You are all my children. You are part of my everything that will be and what was, and if I am betrayed once more I will choose another to bear many more stars and moons and suns, and perhaps one day I will finally lay all to rest.

©2020 Shane Blackheart

The Ultimate Trick – Original horror story

The sepia sky threatened to choke the sun that afternoon.

A memory of a storm that was ever present on the horizon stole my thoughts as I jogged across town. My phone was to my ear, but my mind was elsewhere, the line falling dead a sign that I was either being ignored or my friend was busy. I sighed and slipped the phone back into my pocket as I approached the rickety white gazebo at the town’s center. There was a sparse motion of old cars driving around it — a roundabout having been installed many years ago as if to honor the very spot.

Nothing else existed in that circle of lawn except for that antique bit of woodwork. No flowers graced its presence nor did the grass grow very well, and if there had been any trees they were mowed down long ago. Between its sorry existence and the threatening sky, I was reminded of why I felt it was imperative that I be at that very spot.

It was a similar scene and atmosphere to a dream I’d experienced the night before. As most odd dreams were, it was a hazy memory that left me filled with an uneasiness I’d been darkened by in the dream itself. It was as if there was another force at work in the middle of that traffic circle — something of warning to forbid anything living to occupy its same space. I stared up at the decaying structure in wonder, sensing a fizzled out presence that I was certain I hadn’t imagined. I chuckled.

Dreams and nightmares were just that, and my friend had probably ditched me because of my all-too-obvious madness.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I answered, my friend’s presence finally alerting me to the fact that she wasn’t freaked out by me — yet. She wanted to meet at the convenience store across the way to grab a few things before humoring my weird dream visions, but it was already too late. I turned to see the aging family-owned restaurant at the other end of the small town. I was already late for work.

The phone no sooner went dead before I noticed a familiar form approaching the old country store. I watched through narrowed eyes as it most definitely was my friend. Odd. She’d been home — about a mile away — when we’d spoken. Yet, there she was as if a strange doppelganger was poking fun at my already unnerving bout of mania.

I shook it off and made my way into the restaurant. All was dark until I turned on the lights, which didn’t really help matters. At most I could make out the moth-eaten faded pink table cloths, retro decor, and the smell of old wood that I liked most of all. I shook my head again, my mind getting away with me. It was probably just anxiety; tunnel vision was a bitch when your brain was in a different reality entirely. The nightmare was getting to me, and whatever had been present in that odd place in the center of town was clearly trying to one-up me.

A back room that was also the kitchen served to be no better. A small mouse scuttled across the yellow and white tiled floor that caught me by surprise, but I noticed a dirty plate with rotten food spread out across the stove burners. A glance up revealed a small window to be propped open, and a few dried specks of blood popped out against the metal frame. Lovely.

“What in the hell is this?”

I jumped and grabbed at my heart, forcing the thing back into my chest. My grandma had crept up behind me and examined the damage, shaking her head.

“I locked it up last night, I swear,” I stammered. My head was as full as a balloon from my anxiety now, the pressure threatening to pop. “I have no idea how anyone could have gotten in.”

“Well, can’t be helped now. We should clean up before we open.” She flicked on the old-fashioned red faucet handles and grabbed a bottle of Ivory soap.

I climbed onto the counter to shut the window and locked it tight, and took in the rest of the kitchen. Although the old bulbs were doing their best to provide light, the window’s closing had stolen any sign of day from the room. I swiped a finger across the glass and cringed when a line of dust settled. Food and Safety wasn’t going to be happy about that.

I then turned my focus to my grandma’s submerged arms. The pale green plate in her hands turned over and over in the suds, the food having been tossed in the disposal. Something dawned on me then as I became hypnotized by the monotony.

“That homeless woman that camps out back sometimes,” I offered. “Do you think it was her?” An image of a scraggly woman with long blonde hair, old round wire-framed glasses, grimy clothing, and sooty skin crossed my mind. I’d only seen her a few times before, but my heart sank at the memory of her. I couldn’t be angry. I made a point to leave food for her after closing up.

My grandma confirmed my suspicions, nodding. “I wish I knew what kind of tricks she pulled to get in here. That window’s pretty high.”

“People get desperate when they’re hungry.” I shrugged as I remembered the dried blood on the frame.

“It’s a damn shame.” My grandma flicked water everywhere before turning to me with a towel. “Let’s open this place up. We hired a new waitress and she needs training.”

* * *

Later that day, the sky seemed to grace the stale atmosphere with more luminescence through the restaurant windows.

Business was slow as it tended to be, but the mood was light and the food was delicious. My grandpa had stopped by and was greeting my grandma at the door, I sitting at a booth to chat with a few of the regular patrons. The new waitress came by and fumbled her tray, and I held my breath before she righted it again and sat a guest’s order safely on a table. My grandpa and grandma joined us.

The guests turned their attention to my grandpa, who had taken several seemingly trivial items from his pocket; an elastic string, a few metal rings, a gathering of beads, and other odd bits and pieces. I looked on with my grandma and the others with curiosity, our faces beaming. Grandpa had always been an entertainer, so there was no doubt that he had some tricks up his sleeve to impress.

Grandpa eyed the attractive young waitress and beckoned for her to come forward. He’d been messing with the beads and string for a distraction, but lifted the ring as if to aim it in the proper direction. The young woman leaned forward, and in a blink the ring was through her nose. For a moment she panicked but settled her conscience as pain seemed to elude her. Grandpa laughed while everyone stared in awe, I craning my neck to see any sort of way it had been done. Just as quickly as it had appeared, grandpa snapped his fingers before removing the ring in a swift motion, his other hand flat in the air in a waving motion for show. The few patrons clapped as well as the waitress once she realized it had all been an illusion.

At least, I was certain it was an illusion.

As grandpa started a new series of magic tricks, my tunnel vision returned and I stared off to the far corner of the room, my eyes tracing the vintage floral wallpaper. As long as I’ve been alive, grandpa had always been full of the perfect jokes, and he’d always impressed everyone with his strange ability for sleight of hand. I’d asked him how he managed such impossible tricks, but he could never give a clear answer. His usual, ‘A magician doesn’t give away his secrets!’ went in one ear and out the other as I’d finally just decided to accept the unexplainable. I couldn’t help but shake an odd sense about them, though. They didn’t feel or seem like atypical magic show tricks, but completely random things my grandpa would come up with off the top of his head. This removed any ability for him having rehearsed them.

I was brought out of my thoughts when the friend I’d contacted earlier came up behind me. Her hand on my shoulder reminded me of our meeting, and that I’d completely forgotten and left her standing in that weird space at the center of town. Thankfully, she wasn’t angry in the slightest and shoved her way into the booth beside me, and we settled in to watch grandpa perform more of his illustrious magic.

* * *

I’d completely forgotten about the gazebo and the strange dream that led me there. Instead, I headed toward my grandma’s house that was a block away, she staying behind to close the restaurant. I’d hugged myself in embarrassment during that conversation, ashamed that I couldn’t even lock up a place correctly. Although I was entirely certain I’d done just that, my head had been in odd places all day and since the day before, and I chalked it all up to my mania and my nerves.

My friend had gone home and my grandpa had left at some point as well, most likely due to fatigue from old age. I smiled and humored myself with a silly thought. Maybe he needed to recharge his magical powers somehow, just like a wise old man from a fairy tale. Perhaps he even had a deep secret he had to keep hidden somehow — a wizard sworn to secrecy who had to play his feats off as simple parlor tricks.

I yawned as I kicked off my shoes by the front door of my grandparents’ house. The newly cleaned cream carpet was plush beneath my feet, and I wiggled my toes as the feeling of wanting to lay on it washed over me. I did just that, staring up at the swirled white ceiling like I had as a child. The memories were fleeting, but I remembered lying on my back and telling stories with my friend, our game to continue as long as we could manage while staring at the ceiling and not moving an inch. Whoever ran out of ideas or moved first lost the game. Very vaguely I recalled her telling a story about wolves…

I jumped up into a sitting position as I heard faint shuffling. A distinct smell of decay overwhelmed me just as quick, and I was flooded with a range of emotions that rendered me completely speechless. I threw my hand over my mouth and nose, wondering how I’d missed it all before. My empathic abilities were heightened when I was manic, and it was like being punched in the stomach. It always hit me at once before I had any time to sort any of it.

My breathing quickened and my eyes grew wide. Too much. I felt too much and my skin was crawling. I had to move — knew I had to get off of the floor and find the source of the coppery smell invading my senses. As I managed to stand at last, I searched for a memory of the smell. I knew I’d caught it before, and it was recently. Yes, it was at the restaurant. It was when I’d found the specks of blood on the window.

Dread settling over me moved my legs on impulse. The only light in the house was that of the sinking sun shining through the blinds — the slitted rays painting everything orange that they touched. The kitchen and the living room were empty and silent save for the same inkling of a dreadful presence I’d felt at the center of town. I made my way down the hallway to the bathroom. The smell grew stronger.

Was the dream a warning? Had I missed a message by not going back, and not probing further for the presence that was growing stronger the further I walked?

I was nearly gagging as the smell of decay suffocated me. I reached out to touch the white bathroom door that was just barely ajar and noticed the lights were on inside, spreading out across the hallway as the door creaked on its hinges.

I choked on the lump that formed in my throat.

My eyes followed a trail of blood that split out across the white tile, and it ended in a pool surrounding a young woman in an old-fashioned waitress’ dress. I recognized her instantly from the restaurant. Her eyes were open wide in a memory of fear, and they were now glazed over as they stared up at me. I stared back with rapt attention, unable to tear myself away from the grisly sight. Nausea crept up into my throat and gripped at my stomach, and I felt a strange pull at the back of my head as I began to hyperventilate.

Tunnel vision. Can’t breathe. Dizzy — so damned dizzy.

And then the void.

* * *

A fog clouded my vision as I turned my head. My wrists hurt and I noticed I was on the floor, the young woman’s blood sticking my fingers to the white porcelain beneath me. My limbs were shaky as I pushed myself up to kneel, and I glanced around the bathroom when my vision came as clear as it was going to get.

I found my grandpa standing at the sink in a white tank. He was bent over and focusing in the mirror as if he were attempting to shave the white stubble on his face. I couldn’t make out his expression, but what was clear was his utter neglect of the gruesome scene lying on the floor right behind him. He didn’t seem to be stirred by my presence in the slightest.

“Grandpa?” My voice was hoarse as it shook, my anxiety robbing me of further communication. I desperately didn’t want to believe what I suspected, but nothing else would have made sense. Another fainting spell threatened, but I remained upright despite it.

Without a sound, he finally turned to acknowledge my presence. Tears spilled from the corners of my eyes as my blood turned to ice.

My cheerful, loving grandpa — my secret wizard — wore the darkest, most maniacal grin on his face. His eyes were wide with frenzy and his aged white teeth were on full display like a Cheshire cat. His expression warped his face and exaggerated its features, and I could feel the way murder had corrupted him. It was animalistic and raw in its nature, and something so primal that I knew I would never forget it again. It was bliss and desperation at the same time, mingled together in an explosive passion that robbed of any ability to choke back the feral cries.

I knew there had to be something about my grandpa and his magic. He was most certainly gifted in ways that weren’t only sleight of hand and rehearsed showman magic tricks. He was something else entirely, and for a moment I wondered if my mania was just playing tricks on me. With his razor still in hand, my grandpa approached me, his maddening expression never changing.

“You weren’t meant to see this.” He spoke in a higher pitch than his usual tone, and much quieter.

“Why?” I was breathless as I stumbled backward where I sat, scrambling to get out of that room. When I finally reached the threshold, I was shaking too much to get to my knees and close the door. I hugged myself tight as grandpa squeezed the plastic razor in his hand.

He just stood there in silence, that same grin claiming him as if he had no control over it. Everything was silent save for our breathing, mine coming in short bursts as my body tensed impossibly tight. The bathroom light poured out at either side of him as if it were framing him — as if he held a much grander purpose than even I could ever manage to comprehend.

The door slammed shut. I was bathed in darkness once more and worked up the nerve to crawl down the hallway, the drying blood on my hands staining the carpet. The stench in the house. The body on the floor. That smell of old decay lingering in the walls — grandpa was no stranger to it.

It was the ultimate trick, to make someone disappear.

© 2019 Shane Blackheart