the shape I’m in

Special Agent Eric Paulson stood in the doorway, with a goofy smile on his thin lips. He flicked away his still burning cigarette. Snowflakes melted on his grey stubby chin.

„Fuck. What do you want?” I asked. Bitterness seeped from the back of my throat. I wanted to spit it out, but words fell out instead. „Seven! Years!” No calls, no visits, no cards. He didn’t even call, when my daughter, Amy, died. I’d be damned if he doesn’t want to drag me back to the hell I’ve been through.

He was fast with flashing a smile. There it was, the I’m-better-than-you-look in his blue-green eyes. The look I died to smack out of his face, with a brick, or bottle, or a chair, or my fists. His dark hair was shorter, his build porkier than I remembered. He was doing well. The red parka he was wearing was too tight on his belly and arms.

His smile froze to an annoyed grin. He must have his reasons for coming all the way out here. „Is that all you got for me, Vince?” He pulled an offended grimace, and pushed me aside, to enter the hallway. “Unbelievable!” That was Eric Paulson all over. He stomped his feet on the doormat. With one hand he opened his ski parka and I slammed the door shut.

I needed a drink. I went to the kitchen to grab a bottle. Talisker Storm. I prayed, he came to visit out of pure friendliness, as a friend, as family. But I knew his hesitation in the hallway meant he had a case I should help him with. He stared at his boots, left hand absentmindedly stroking his jacket, where his breast pocket was. I knew that look of guilt… Long ago, Eric and me, we were a team. He was the agent, and I was the psychic profiler. We were match and gasoline.

„Prepared for the blizzard, buddy?” He attempted small talk. Futile, but I nodded. He inched my way, eyeballing the photos of Maria, Amy and me on the walls; reminders of my misery. My kitchen disgusted him, I noticed. Today it seemed peculiarly smaller and dirtier than usual, even to me. „It was clean last month.” I manned the whisky bottle and shook it at him. „Want some?” I asked by courtesy.

„You tell me, Vince,” he shrugged. „Don’t you see, what I’ll do?”

„It’s not working that way, Eric.” I turned and went to the twilit living room, switched the lights on. He followed me in silence. „You know that.” The bookshelves made the room look like a cave.

Outside, the snow came down in thick curtains. I couldn’t see his car. Up here, November hit us hard, with temperatures below 15 °F all week. The winter was gentle and silent around my house, the woods insulated me from the world. But I felt it roar in the valley, and down in Points.

I plunked down into the leather couch and tugged the patchwork quilt over my legs. Maria, my ex wife, made it during the two long years of our marriage, for Amy. She was adept with the needle and yarn, but she couldn’t take it, after the accident, after…

She left me the quilt, so she could forget. It covered my bad knee, which was cold and swollen. It hurt badly and I couldn’t hide it. Eric furrowed his brows. Was that concern?

„The Eric Paulson I know, wouldn’t dither,” I growled at him. Jaw muscles clenched together, my fist was a white ball of bone, sinew and muscle. The Eric Paulson I knew, was responsible for my stiff leg.

He breathed and rubbed his chin. „You know why I’m here, don’t you?” I gazed out of the window. “I need your help.” I shook my head and twisted the cap of the bottle off. “We got ourselves a phantom, a smart and cruel predator.” Eric continued unimpressed. “Maybe you can give us a new angle. We’re desperate! You’re our straw.” I stared into the bottle before my lips touched the liquor. No need for a glass, or ice. There was this hollow icy feeling leeching my stomach.

„We’ve found his sevenths victim yesterday. He is different. I haven’t seen anything like that in my whole life,” Eric told me. His presence woke something up in me. It stirred. “He isn’t satisfied with just killing them. No. He tortures them for days, breaks their bones, peels their skin off, while they are still alive.” Eric walked up and down in the room. “Vince! He’s a monstrosity, an abomination!” The first gulp burnt its way down into the midnight of my soul.

The smell of smoke and bunt hair hit me.

Eric came up close to me, observing my face intently. I must’ve spaced out. „Was the last victim burnt?” I asked, hoping he’d say no, but his eyes lit up instead. Poor man… That merited another gulp. „I hate you.”

Eric sat down on the coffee table in front of me. It creaked its complains. He plucked the bottle from my hand and held a plastic bag in front of my face. In the bag was something lathy, dark and stained. I swallowed, that was a knife of some kind, unusually thin.

„For the love of God… Eric, I don’t need more nightmares.” He wanted me touch it. “Why are you forcing me?” I didn’t need to be a psychic, to know where that thing had been before. Instantly, my phantasy went wild, flooding my consciousness with pictures of bloody pierced hearts, deflated lungs and slit throats.

„You play hermit in the woods? That’s okay,” his calm voice floated in the room. „You won’t talk to me, cause you’re teed off? That’s also okay.” He ruffled his dark hair. „I respect that, and I’m truly sorry for what happened. For what I did, but can’t take back…” He took a sip from the bottle, and pulled a grimace. „Alright. Be mad at me. That’s fine.” Eric looked at me like a beaten dog. “You expect the world to leave you alone?” His lips tightened. His left hand made a flat horizontal swiping gesture, as if covering something. „I’ll have none of that bullshit!” I stared at the star and heart patterns on the quilt. „Vincent, I really need your help! I’m not giving up on you. We all need your help. With your special abilities… It’s your duty to help.” I felt his despair seeping into me through the pores of my skin. “He sent us a picture of his next victim. A little girl, not older than five.”His voice picked up volume and urgency. “Help me solve this!”

We locked eyes. That face! I heard myself gasping. His hurt expression… His eyes wide and watered up, lips trembling, corners of his mouth pointing to his heart… He had that same look… The same look, when I had pulled him out of that car wreck. He was 17 and I was 19.

I couldn’t imagine how hard it’d punch me. I forgot that I still had these feelings in me. Why did I notice just now? Eric was exhausted. Something festered in him, something stinging, black and tar like. Something hungry…

And easy as that, I was his partner again. Ready to hug and comfort Eric, ready to watch his back…

I took the plastic bag, and my he smiled weakly. Between my fingers the knife slithered into my palms, snuggled into my left hand and wanted to be clutched tightly. A lefty. My hands felt wet and warm, the blade seemed to pulsate, like a beating heart. I sent out my thoughts like tentacles.

„It’s not a gift…” The smell of blood was overwhelming. „It’s a condition, ruining my life.” I told myself, and forced my stomach back down. „I think, I got something. Take notes, Eric, I’ll forget everything in about half an hour, or so.” My body plummeted, my mind trickled down my navel, like sand in an hourglass. “He’s a lefty and went to college. Had good to mediocre grades but dropped out. He prefers to work with his hands. He’s in his forties. I get the feeling of clay on my hands… Maybe pottery, maybe gardening. Overly adjusted. Most likely married, but his little wifey is clueless, so is everyone else in his social vicinity.” I swallowed, my body grew heavier, my vision blurred. „He needs glasses.”

Heavy knocks echoed through the house, made me jump. The door trembled under the beating. Eric nodded towards the hallway. „Go on. Open the door. It’s an officer with more information you need.”

The hard labor of standing up started and the quilt slit down to the carpet. Eric took a big gulp of my good wisky, while I hobbled to the door. He was right. It was a man in uniform at the entrance. His police car sat obediently in my driveway, lights flashing. Where was Eric parking?

„Good afternoon, sir. I’m Officer Peterson, Hampshire County Police. Are you Mister Samson? Mister Vincent Samson?”

„Yes.” I answered. Suddenly, I didn’t like how things summed up. The icy feeling dropped deeper.

„I’m sorry that I have to tell you.” He breathed. “Your ex partner, special agent Eric Paulson, was killed, yesterday, in the line of duty.”

—No!

„I’m sorry for your loss… He was on his way here, to beg for your expertise as profiler.” Officer Peterson harrumphed. “There is something else… His little daughter was kidnapped.”

HAUNTED HUNTER

A Chuck Wendig prompt - 2036 words
genre: supernatural horror - found footage

***

With a flicker of blue light, the screen comes to life. It’s evening, the streetlights flare on. The lens zooms in on an old, abandoned looking house, with bashed in windows on ground level. There is a wooden porch with some missing slats.

Someone smokes there. A little red dot gleams lazily just above the handrail.

There they are…“ A male voice whispers to himself. “Showtime.” A bush winks into the field of view. A shadow moves in front of the ember. Suddenly the cameraman shrinks behind the bush.

Click. The frame blacks out.

***

The camcorder glows, showing the facade of the abandoned house. The cameraman stands in front of the porch.

Finally!” Steve Garner bellows. ”You’re late! What took you so long?“ He moves from the further end of the ill-kept porch. „I said seven pm. Not eight thirty! Not fucking nine!“ He is getting more and more visible with every step.

Dude. Chill. Car problems…“ The voice puffs, as if pumped out. The frame shakes as he takes all the three steps at once up to the porch. Steve moves closer, nearly bumping into the camera. Tiny remains of the chipped white paint stay on the right side of his black T-shirt. The other man is half leaning half squatting near the entrance. His dark baseball cap reveals only the tip of his nose and  his stubby chin. Nevertheless, he seems to observe everything very intently.

Damon? Are you stoned?” Steve’s face comes closer eclipsing. The look on his mug is just for a moment the usual flashing smile. He brushes over his blonde hair and loses the mask of a decent human being. Anger burns though his blue eyes. “If you are, then this is your last gig. Ever! Now pull yourself together.” He beams on Damon, like a kid through a magnifying glass on ants. „Where’s the food? I’m starving.

A hand stretches into the lower left corner of the screen, holding two white plastic bags. Steve takes both of them and turns to the other man, handing him one. „Hey Vince!“ With a thumb Steve pushes Vincent’s baseball cap up his forehead, revealing his dark hairline. “Don’t just sit round, look alive. Can you take that off?” Vincent’s jaw muscles start working under his skin.

Locking eyes with the camera he growls, „Keep that outta my face!“ He does a death stare into the lens, then pulls his cap deeper.

Cut it out. Let’s eat,“ Steve puts his palm over the lens.

***

Hi! My name is Steve Garner. Welcome to Haunted Hunter.“ He flashes full teeth straight into the cam. That hideous smile makes the cameraman cringe a tiny bit. The Ladykiller shudders in the frame.

Disgusting,“ Vincent mutters and walks into the picture. He shakes his head and crosses his arm before his chest. The smile freezes on Steve’s face.

Tonight, Vincent, Damon and I are going to spend a night locked in this wonderful place.“ He waves at the door in the background. „Beware! The Old Talbot Mansion,” he lets it sink in. “We’re going to investigate the house from bottom to top. It has a juicy wicked past, with 22 confirmed deaths. Sprinkled with cruelty and torture.“ Steve turns around and walks to the door. The creaking planks sound like a wooden sigh of relief. „This is Vincent, our new clairvoyant. Straight from Transylvania. Vince, say hi!“ His yawn and the way he leans on the doorframe makes him look bored out of his mind. “He is our psychic rod, hopefully channeling us some ghosts or demons.“ The camera zeroes in on him. He winks, indecisiveness sweeps over his face. Vincent seems to be pondering what he is going to say. His lips tighten, then relax into broad smile. „See? No fangs!

Steve chuckles, „Did you just channel that joke? That was ancient!“ He holds up the key to the entrance and winks. „Let’s roll!

***

It’s dark inside. From the windows, the streetlights wash in. Damon kills the lights of the camcorder and switches to infrared mode. Steve closes the door behind them, and locks it casually, pocketing the keys.

On the screen, two greenish glowing backs appear. They walk a bit deeper into the building. The old wooden floor keeps whispering with their every movement. Vincent tests the laths, if they’re safe enough to step on.

Now we are inside Talbot Mansion, floor level.” Steve explains his plan to the future audience. “In the coming hours, we’re going to search the place for apparitions, orbs, disembodied voices and other paranormal occurrences. We’re aiming to record poltergeist activity on tape.” He straightens his posture. “Normally, we would start in the attic and work us through to the basement. However, the reports on violent deaths culminate in two neighboring rooms on first floor. Also the basement is famous for strange appearances and disappearances.“ He turns to glance at the camera with a knowing look, then wiggles his brows expectantly. The psychic stops, as if he has suddenly run out of movement.

„So, what do you say, tiger?” Steve pats Vincent’s back. “Where should we start?“ The touch seems unpleasant, his shoulders and arms tense up. Hands clench into fists. For a moment his limbs twitch and his back straightens, making his silhouette taller and bigger, than before.

Shhh,“ Vincent hisses.

Eyes rolling, Steve retracts his hand from the shoulder. He takes two steps back to the camera and whispers. „This is why I have invited this psychic bloodhound.” He throws an annoyed glance to Vincent. “I was told he’s always on spot. We let him concentrate on the energy and advance then.” He smiles friendly. “Cut!

***

The frame moves to show the ancient parquet flooring and the tips of two pairs of sneakers. “Don’t you ever shush me again!” The outraged voice belongs definitely to Steve. “Capisce?” The tips of the sneakers move out of view. “You can kiss the money goodbye, if you behave like a prick!

What money,” Damon asks.

None of your business!” Steve barks back.

Seriously! What mone—

Something’s wrong…” Vincent’s barely audible voice trails off, “different evil…

What?” Steve clicks his tongue. „You’ve picked something up? Already?“ He shakes his raised euphoric fists. „This is gonna be so good! Quick, Damon, get me back on.

The frame swipes across the dark room, approaching a smiling Steve. He covers nearly all of Vincent’s back. “Till then let me tell you about this Manson.” He inhales, “It was built in the 1831, by the rich Barnaby Talbot. He made his fortune with sugar, rum and gum. Reaching everything he wanted to, he decided to get married. A beautiful young girl named Elisabeth G. Wilson was the chosen one. Coming from a well known, but poor family, Elisabeth must’ve thought she hit jackpot.

In one corner of the frame, tiny yellow orbs appear. They rain down on trembling Vincent. One appears to fly right through his shoulder and disappear before entering Steve. “Hey, Steve…Look!“ Damon’s voice interrupts the history lesson. “We’re already deep in.” A hand with a pointing finger stretches into view. “Orbs! Up there!” Steve’s head flies up, following the finger.

He pulls out a digital camera and takes some pictures. “Nice!” He nods to himself. “Do you hear or see anything unusual? C’mere ghosts. C’mere and show off. C’mere demons. Come’n get us…

A barely audible guttural vibration stops Steve and Damon. „Was that you?“ The frame pans to Vincent’s back. “Did you just growl? Please, tell me you growled.

What’s with him?“ Damon’s leery voice shakes. The picture swings back and forth between Steve’s confused face and Vincent’s back.

We go.“ The psychic starts walking down the hallway, rapidly disappearing from view. „Now,“ his voice demands from the darkness. The cam shakes as the two man scramble to follow Vincent deeper into the building.

The frame glitches on the top and bottom. It fuzzes out, dances and topples. The footage stutters, distorts and flickers. „Hey, what the—“ Damon grunts. The video blurs, the focus seems to be off. „Uh, hold on!“ He shouts,„I think the cam’s a goner!

Steve’s figure fades into the darkness of the stairway. The hall flickers again and blacks out.

***

Go!“ Vincent’s distorted screams filter through the misty static. „Go! Go!

Two fuzzy men are running down the stairway. Their movements flicker through the footage. Elbows, backs, heels and sides tumble through something fog like. The handrails and steps are barely visible for the cam. They’re wheezing.

Move!“ Damon passes Steve and overtakes Vincent. The video shakes violently. The fog lightens somewhat, as they move downstairs. They’re running like hell, taking two or three steps at the time, wide eyed, pale and sweating. The old wooden stairs shake in the rhythm of their stomping feet.

Is it following?” They keep looking back. Even though they see nothing, they don’t stop running. They aren’t even slowing down.

Vincent glances upstairs into the thick darkness that seems to be slowly descending. His face can’t hide how worried he is. The video catches Steve’s horrified expression.

The psychic clutches at his right side. The sight of his dark glistening right hand shocks him visibly. He opens his mouth, to call for help, or to say something, but nothing comes out. He can’t keep up. Nearly tripping, he catches himself on the old wooden handrail, that shakes and crumbles under his grip. He crashes into Steve’s back, both nearly fall over.

A horrifying death scream rips the air apart, then chokes off into silence. Both men freeze in motion. They are at the end of the stairs. Steve gapes into the lens, pale, trembling, jaw slacking. His eyes turns to stare at something in the solid darkness. There’s nothing. The camera zooms into the descending black mist. “It’s moving,” he breathes.

Damon finds his mouth first. „What the hell was that?” The frame moves to Vincent. “Vince?” Damon’s voice trembles. ”Man? What was that? Bloody hell! What’s happening?”

Steve whispers,”It’s coming to get us …“ Vincent nods, unable to speak. The sound of marbles falling down the wooden stairs echoes.

Come on!“ Vincent shows Steve his bloody right hand. „Oh my God!“ He gasps and presses his hands on the right side, where Vincent’s shirt glistens. “Ohmygodohmygod.” Drenched in sweat and cold to the touch, he starts shaking. „Why didn’t you say something,“ the additional pressure makes him cringe and hiss.

Interference,“ Vincent rasps weakly. „Too late …“ is all he manages before his knees give out. Looking down on himself, he notices his limbs started vibrating violently. Not sure, if it’s caused by the blood loss, or the presence, or the haunted place, Vince slacks into Steve’s arms.

Above them the stairs creak and moan, as if something heavy has been dropped on them. And that weight was moving. The dimly lit hallway pokes into frame. „Fuck!“ Steve grabs Vincent, hauls him over his shoulder and runs as if the devil is right after them, which probably is true.

Vincent can’t tell, he is busy bleeding out.

Steve reaches the door.

Lock’s jammed.

Of course!

Damon rattles the door. “Lemme out!” Nothing.

The house doesn’t want them to leave.

Vincent mumbles something. He swears. What is that? French? Italian?

The creaking and breaking of wood is much louder now. Vincent mutters Romanian curses into Steve’s back. He has to handle things his way, if he wants to survive. 

The keys!” Steve screams. What he can’t see, is the massive wall of darkness two feet behind them. Damon shrieks when he catches the black mist on tape. “No!

Vincent shuffles and wiggles from Steve’s shoulder and brings his back to his. “Don’t look!” He groans to Steve and the camera. “Whatever happens, don’t look!” Facing the phenomenon he rips his shirt open. His pale torso reveals banning tattoos over his thorax and abdomen. „Not today, fucker!“ Vincent growls.

The darkness stops.

He whispers a nordic prayer to Fenrir, the wolf swallowing the sun, and howls.

The ripping sound in his throat transforms from a howl into a piercing banshee shriek. The frame glitches in the moment right after the blackness advances upon Vincent’s pale silhouette.

The Rio Negro Game

Part 1 to "BOCA DE MORTE"

Pick yourself a nightmare!“ Howard snorted and waved patronizingly at the swinging boat hulls. They bobbed up and down, in the brownish shoals of the Rio Amazonas. The plank under our feet creaked, so I showed Howard towards one of the newest looking boat. It hit me, that new was just a mere concept in Manaus. New meant anything under 15 years, more or less. My partner gave me the brow. „You know, there are easier ways to-“

Shut up ’n move!“ I had no intention on striking roots here. It smelled of dead fish and rotting vegetables, if we stayed longer we’d put on mold. The sweltering heat was getting on my nerves. Dammit!

My. Aren’t we cheerful today? Nicky? Really?! A death-stare? I’ll be another mystery death. A body with two holes in the chest, burnt all the way through. Oh, noes … Just imagine the newspapers will write horrible headers, that the Chupacabra finished a mighty good-looking tourist. What a terrible loss to humanity… Seriously. …Stop it.

Actually,  I had no reason to be annoyed. The whole project was going well. We were even ahead of schedule, which was only Howard’s merit. Well, his money’s, his language skill’s and his negotiation technique’s; which was plain as day: paying everybody off. He called it greasing our way into the paper jungle. Funny how accurate he was about that. He did his best to get me safely to Vitoriá. Being my translator, and my investor, made the whole situation awkward. He told me, that he had to take care of his investments, but if you ask me, every excuse was good enough to pack his bags and set out to another headless adventure. On second thought… Howard was being, well – Howard. It’s hard to explain. He could go from a worrying mother hen to a vulgar, abusive, irresponsible show off in two point three seconds. And that’s not nearly enough. He loved fights, betting and what not… But he was one of those people, who’d you call at three a.m; because you felt like shit, and he’d show up half hour later with booze, chinese take-out food, and a hooker. 

Howard did more for me, than he intended, I guess. He lend me the necessary money we were denied by the head of the department. The “we” I mean is my mentor, Professor Henriksen and me. This whole „Mouth-of-death-Expedition“ was the linchpin of my thesis, and paper in paleozoology. If we find any proof of it, that is… It was the key to my scientific success, and maybe fame. 

In exchange, he wanted his name in the science paper I was writing for my thesis; so that he didn’t have to write his own. Imagine, he wanted to be the co-author! Without contributing a word to the thesis. That was Howard all over. An opportunistic asshat and a cheat. I told him so, but he just laughed and thanked me. I don’t even know how he got wind of my situation… Professor Henriksen must’ve called him, or Helen… Nah, she hated him as much as someone dragging nails over a chalkboard.

What are you shaking your head at, Nicky?“ He looked down at me, intently searching my eyes. „Should I start worrying now, or later on?“

Say, buddy… You didn’t tell me earlier. How did you knew that I was in a bind?“ I tried, but Howard scratched his chin boredly and smiled his crooked smile. A piece of his upper left incisor was missing. Did he get in a fight, again? Did he have an accident?

Aren’t you always, doc?“ Unbelievable! „Lets get us good places. Hold onto your hammock, and don’t let the jet lag finish you.“ His elbow nudged me, shaking with the rhythm of his guttural laugh. „We’ll get you some caffeine on board. Try’n stay awake.“ I hoped he was right about the coffee. Three days and two nights without sleep, listening to the roaches under the hostel bed, and you start wishing someone punched you so hard, that your lights go out. My head made an attempt to double its size, the burning sensation in my eyes crept down to my nape, melting my face on its way down. „Careful now. I won’t fish you out if you take a dive into that stinking wash.

How was Howard not sweating? He truly did his best to annoy me. This shitty backpack was getting enormously heavy, my shoulders revolted, and my hands started stiffening with the weight of the luggage. Thank god, we sent most of the equipment last month.

sugar dispenser

If you must know, the head belongs to James R. Blackmoore. The third.

There’s nothing special about being the third. No achievement at all, it’s like a participation trophy, darling. Congrats you’re being born! Haha…

He looks now much older than he truly is. Don’t let it fool you! You can easily mistake it for ancient! That distinguished expression he has, that little smile… It makes my knees go jello!

Doesn’t he look noble? I really like how he turned out. I put a lot of effort in him, you know. Preserving it so well! I usually don’t like to praise, but I surpassed myself. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m the modest type. No compliments! That’s my policy. No undeserved words. I’m just not the type for them, but this time… I did awfully good.

It comes near perfection, the whole mummification process, and it is not easy to find all ingredients in Modern Age. Exquisite oils have their price, and Mr. Blackmoore is by far the cheapest ingredient of all.

And my, did he put up a fight! So ungrateful to what I’m offering him… Can you answer me a question? You are a man, so you should know.

If your fairy godmother came your way, and she gave you the chance to get famous, you’d take it, wouldn’t you?

How can someone – a man – not be flattered by going down in history? Even a good-for-nothing of his puny caliber has to be grateful, that somebody remembers him by name. If not by his trivial deeds…

Pfff, ghost hunter! Don’t make me laugh! No such things as ghosts and demons existing on the face of earth. No monsters – except for humans. You agree? So convenient, being on the same side, aren’t we?

He is drop dead beautiful, don’t you think? I might have a little crush on Mr. Blackmoore!  A little treasured obsession with his face. It’s a nice touch. So smooth with ageless loveliness, dried up like a raisin.

Raisins…

Oh, I hate raisins! I gag, when I find one in my brioche. That’s where you come in, darling. Nothing worse then starting a day, with a tainted brioche and cold coffee instead of warm tea! You know, you truly ruined a gorgeous day with your impertinent assurance!

Which brings us back to my lovely tea party. You and me; we have a bone to pick!

Stop whining! I’ll beat your face to pulp, if you don’t pull yourself together. I won’t repeat! I can make it a lot worse, you know. You will be begging me to release you from the pain. Stop crying! Theres nothing you could meow that could stop me.

…Don’t worry, darling. You’ll do just fine! I still need a special sugar dispenser. You are capable of that, I know it. I have faith in your abilities!

*

A mummified head lies on its accustomed place on the coffee table. Over it a handmade tablecloth draped casually. Underneath the snow-white laced fabric the contours of sugar cubes poke through. The five o’clock tea is nearly ready. The liquid in the small flower patterned porcelain pot scents the air in the room.