Devourer

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She was alone and beautiful.

The thin rays of the coal-red sun slanted through the oblivious pines. Her coat was bright, the colour of warnings. Her breath misted in a frosty veil in the air in front of her, breaking apart as she walked on through the deep dark woods. Needles crunched beneath her feet, the only sound in the forest.

I lifted my head and sniffed. Her aroma was intoxicating. The smell of fresh hay, pastoral and warm, clutched to her, so separate and clean, too much for the world of stench she inhabited. Fresh bread invaded my nostrils, still hot inside the basket she carried..

My ears flattened back against the fur of my neck. My tongue flicked out, ran across the ivory mountain range of my teeth, blood-heralds.

Somewhere in the forest, an owl cried out, a long, plaintive sound. The sun was down now, pink-death in the far east, beyond the village the girl came from, beyond the valley and the mountains and the sea, born down across the world by unknowable time. The girl took her path westwards and knew not what night she walked into. The bulbous, blind moon rose up ahead of her and took its place in the sky.

Pale moths skittered around in the deepening dusk, never settling for long, their bright eyes seeing only danger and fear. There were other smells in the forest now, beyond the usual detritus and rot of these ancient, sun-starved woodlands. Foxes  through the brush, badgers crawled and hedgehogs snuffled. All fled at my silent approach, rightly afraid of me, an animal unlike any other.

Without sound, I padded out onto the path. The trees above us were dense and let little light through. Gradual as approaching winter, I closed the gap between us, not needing the chase, enjoying my private approach to the defenceless girl in the red coat who didn’t listen to her parents’ warnings. My tongue lolled free outside of my mouth now, diamond-dew sliding out and onto the packed earth of the dangerous path.

At last, as if sensing her destination, the girl stepped out into a clearing through which the moonlight poured. Her world was monochrome now, even the brilliant crimson of her coat dulled into the deepest, inky black. She lowered her hood, let the dark locks of her hair spill out. Placing the basket of now-cold bread on the floor, she removed the coat, standing now in just her underclothes, exposed and naked before all the eyes of the night. The girl turned and saw the one splash of colour the world had to offer. My eyes, fire-bright, yellow and ethereal, shone into the darkness ahead of me as I closed the distance. It was cold now, and I could see the beads of her nipples beneath the muslin.

She let out no cry as I approached, stepping out into the moonlight forest-bed with her, revealing the muscular slope of my back, my upright ears, my questing, starving snout. Nor as I drew up with her, took in a great waft of that smell, fresh-hay and fear, and something deeper, something musky and intense. The girl reached out her hand.

She let out nothing but a whimper as my teeth crunched through her bones. Her hot blood spilling out of my mouth and falling onto the grass, breaking the wildflowers beneath her trembling feet. She gave no tear as I swallowed her flesh, moved up the arm, sunk my teeth deep, penetrating into her muscle, tearing the tendons from her. When, gorged with her pain, I clenched my mouth around her neck and squeezed until blood jetted out and her body went slack, she went with a look of ecstasy on her face.

I ate until my stomach was full of girl and my breath rancid with the metallic odour of fresh meat. What I left behind was barely a girl, her ribs exposed and broken, heart eaten out, abdomen a cavity for my desires. I bathed in the river, and her blood ran from my skin and darkened the waters.

I woke up in my house in the village the next day to the sound of wailing. There was an old lady outside, decrepit and near death, screaming and holding a red hood.

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Grease

[Pretend there’s an illustration here- I don’t wanna put anything this gross on my blog]

The internet is a really weird place. Of course we all know, thanks to a dozen conscientious-Christian exposes, about the Dark Web- the drugs, the porn, the gore- but even right here on the surface, there’s enough crazy shit to fill up a thousand mental health journals.

Even on YouTube, the horrors don’t end, and, despite the impending adpocalypse that’s the nightmare of so many whingy “content creators”, it still does pretty well. Of course, a lot of the really hardcore stuff, like deaths, gore, strange erotica, gets hidden or taken down within a couple of hours. There is, however, one particular area which seems impervious to any attempts at disposal.

The video “FLYING PIMPLES IN EARS (POPPING PIMPLE IN EAR)”, from the channel “All Pimples Of The World”, has 6.2 million views. The video “POPPING ZITS & PIMPPLE & CYST | YOUTUBE 2017 | Pimple Popping” from “iPimple Popping” has 2.5 million. “Bot Fly Removal” from “joespc” has 7.7 million. Whether it’s low quality shaky iPhone footage or big, flashy productions like Monsters Inside of Me, videos about gross stuff like this is popular. Popular- and profitable.

Now, it seemed simple enough to me to try and get a foothold in this industry. Keep an eye on LiveLeak, download any videos like this that catch my eye, reupload them on YouTube, and hope to god that I don’t get demonetised. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. The rate at which the internet churns up videos like “Huge Botfly Maggot Removed from Head” is surprisingly slow. So, I decided to do what any good businessman would- cut out the middleman.

Problem was, I’ve always had a pretty good complexion. Even as a teen, I never got zits larger than maybe a couple of millimeters, a quarter of an inch at most. I took a look online but couldn’t find any good suggestions as to how to block pores, so I had to figure it out myself.

Oil. That was the answer, oil. I took great care mixing my preparation in an old metal bathtub in my room. 20 sticks of molten butter, a bottle of engine oil, and, ordered in specially, just a splash of raw, crude oil. The master stroke, though, was a pinch of brake dust- an engineer friend clued me in on it and, I have to say, it worked wonders. I grabbed a wire brush, and, stripping naked, applied a thick, even coating across as much of my body as I could manage. I took a couple of sleeping pills and spread a tarp on my bed, and went to bed.

A full fourteen hours later, I woke back up. The dark, sludgy brown mixture had dried on my skin and I had to use a butter knife to reveal a patch of skin on my arm. Like the freshly-laid eggs of some loathsome creature, tiny bumps of pearlescent pus were already there, developing. I felt filthy, but knew that I couldn’t shower without losing all the progress I was making. I jumped out of bed and covered myself again with the gunk, and took a few more pills before going back to sleep.

I woke up in the dead of night, and angrily swatted at a fly. Hitting a light switch and taking a look at my watch, fastened to my wrist- the only un-painted strip of skin on my body- I saw that I’d been asleep for longer this time, about seventeen hours. I was hungry, and took a look at my skin as I prepared a sandwich to choke down.

Things had progressed. I scraped off a different layer of muck on my leg, and revealed a mottled patch of angry flesh. Wide areolas of reddened skin surrounded the yellow volcanic mounds, centimetre-wide bumps that raised up from my skin in painful mountain ranges. I gently prodded at one and winced as I felt the ooze within get pushed deeper into myself, before it popped back up with latent force. When they went, I knew that it would be glorious. When I clambered back into bed, I took five sleeping pills- well above the safe limit, but I was settling in for the long stretch- when I woke back up, I’d need to deal with them.

The last thing I remember before I slipped off was swatting at a fat, lazy fly as it settled on my leg, landing right on a spot.

I slept for over twenty-four hours. When I got up, streaming sunshine came through the dirty window of my flat. I felt absolutely filthy, and immediately went to the shower, rinsing off the black goop and watching as it disappeared down the porcelain and into the gaping sinkhole.

I was careful not to damage any of the precious, festering bulges that were all over my skin. I examined myself in a mirror, admiring my work. There were at least three dozen huge, quivering masses on my front alone, pregnant with creamy, precious filth. There’d be so many videos to make on this, on my masterpiece, but before I got footage, I wanted to do one just for myself, a private show if you will.

I sat down on a stool in the kitchen, feeling the pressure build slightly in the zits on my rear. I made a mental note, knowing now to use cushions to guard against premature popping. I opened up a disposable scalpel and searched for a likely candidate.

I chose one on my arm, a fairly midsized one. The actual spot itself was fully an inch across, although the necrotic, purple flesh around it spread out further. I was surprised, and a little concerned to note how little pain I felt prodding it- if I had to go to the doctor about this, I don’t know how I’d explain.

Suddenly, I saw something move. I thought I’d imagined it, or maybe hallucinated it given the dangerous amount of medication I’d consumed, but nope, there was that same twitching motion. It was in there, under the thin layer of greasy, stretched skin, somewhere in the translucent milky depths of my own skin. I had to get in there.

I placed the tip of the blade on the taught flesh and gently applied pressure. It didn’t take long. A sudden rush of thin, watery pus came out and flowed along the metal, trickling down the handle and almost making me lose my grip on the tool. I kept going though, and opened up a slit in the spot.

It had deflated a little, but, surprisingly, not that much. I put the scalpel down and put my finger and thumb either side, resting them on the purple skin. I began to apply pressure, slowly forcing the cheesy pulp inside out of the hole. It slid out and fell onto the linoleum floor with a gentle “plop”.

Crimson blood welled up in the hole, and I held my arm out and watched the blood spread down towards my hand. It wasn’t enough, though. Using the tip of the scalpel, I teased the slack skin up and away from the hole, and, to get it out of the way, leaned over and used my incisors to neatly snip off the gristly, dead flesh.

It wasn’t enough, though. Something was in there, and remembering the flies, I began to suspect what it was. Using tweezers, I prodded down into the spot, submerging the tip nearly a centimetre beneath the blood, searching for something foreign and wriggling. It came away easily.

I smiled as I examined the squirming, waxy white maggot which I pulled out of my arm. I was about to get so internet famous.

Cyber Punks!

“I thought the view would be better than this, ya know?”

Ahead, the Vandenberg Spaceport spread out across the horizon, grey tarmac merging seamlessly with the imperceptible horizon. Weak sun, seeping through the toxic Californian smog, glinted off the distant skyscraper of a Transport. Nothing moved in the dirty expanse beneath them, save the neon flickering of the sharp red lights of a landing pad.

The girl pressed her cheek against the harsh black fabric of the boy’s hoody. Fuel pipelines and boarding walkways hung slack from the underside of the launch gantry they sat on, like the bowels of a freshly butchered animal.

“You’re really going then?” she asked, ignoring his complaint about the view. They’d spent hours getting there, bypassing security and hiking across the featureless cement desert of the launch complex. The climb up the launch tower had been long- 1400 steps, she’d counted.

“Yeah,” he sighed apathetically. He took a final drag on the cigarette and tossed it into the mist below them. He watched the orange-glowing tip recede until he could no longer see it. The ground itself was only just visible, 130 stories below them. The whole structure creaked just a little in a wind that blew in off the sea.

“You don’t sound happy about it,” she replied. He looked at her.

“Would you be happy if your parents were dragging you to some fuck-off rock in the middle of nowhere?”

She scoffed, “It’s hardly a rock, moron- you’re moving to Mars!”

“Oh yay,” he spat. “Another planet for us all to screw up, hooray for me!”

She frowned. “You’re sounding like one of those dickhead anti-colonial terrorists.”

“Whatever,” he sulked half-heartedly, looking off at the invisible horizon. A pause hung in the air, as heavy as the polluted clouds. They could hear the sounds of the distant surf as the wind picked up a little, rolling in off the dead Pacific coast.

“Look at the lights,” she said, changing the topic. A concentric snowflake pattern had started to play on the landing pad, spiralling inwards.

“The 17:34, back from Venus station, right on fuckin time,” he said. “Hold on to something, it’s gonna be quite something.”

She tightened her grip on his arm, wrapping both around him and squeezing in close. He sighed.

“Fine, but if you fall, don’t blame me in the couple of seconds you get before you hit the sidewalk.”

He sidled over slightly, hooking his arm through the triangular support struts beside him. They both glanced skywards as the roar approached.

Suddenly, like the whales of old, a leviathan breached the heavens. Sides scorched with re-entry heat, the rocket rode down through the sky, a pillar of bright fire supporting it as it descended. Flashes of bright control jets flickering on and off, making automated course corrections. Other thrusters came on and off ten times a second, adjusting the orientation as the ship’s speed slowed, eventually sliding effortlessly towards the flashing beacon. With a last thunderous crash, the engines flared up and seared a mark onto the pad. Then it was quiet, save for the final creaks of the vessel settling on its sturdy legs, and the Pacific waves.

The girl let out a silent wow. Once the sonic booms had finished reverberating off the ground, the boy shrugged her off.

“We should get going soon. They’ll let the passengers off at the ground level, but later this evening they’ll roll this gantry out and get the cargo off.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“You really don’t give a shit, do you?”

“Thanks,” he smirked.

“No, not that,” she sighed. “Look, you’re just… dull. Do you have no sense of wonder left?”

“Wonder?” he laughed. “Take a look around you? What’s wonderful about this?”

Her mouth dropped open. “What do you mean. This is sorta amazing, don’t you think? Fuck, 50, no, 30 years ago, no one could have believed that this would happen. It was god-damn science fiction for them.”

“Yeah, dystopia more like.”

He looked at her, and she turned away. Her pink, half-shaved hair stretched into the wind, a rare speck of colour in the Californian miasma. He looked beneath that, though- the sallow skin, stretched thin across her bones. He could see the bumps of her spine as it went down into her violet sweatshirt.

He’d watched a documentary the other day, some Martian production, and they’d talked about that- the “Terran Rot”, they’d called it. Average life expectancy had been shrinking for the last three decades.

“Look, you said something about it being like sci-fi, right?”

She nodded, quiet.

“Yes, fifty years ago they didn’t have the rockets, or the spaceports, or even VR, but… ah, fuck it.”

“What?” she asked.

“It sounds stupid, but you realise California was pretty much a nature reserve back then? There were millions of animals on earth in the ‘tens. Now, we’re living in a wasteland and we fucking built it.”

She slumped, resting her pointed chin on her hand. “I thought you didn’t give a shit?”

“You know why we’re moving there, don’t you?” he asked.

“Schiaparelli?”

He nodded. “They’re covering up the whole crater. Don’t listen to what the company says, they haven’t done a full survey of the area. They don’t know any more than you or I do that there’s nothing native there.”

She gazed at him quizzically. “You mean you’re being this much of a sulky jackass just ‘cuz of a few alien bacteria?”

“It’s not just there,” he said. “It’s terraforming writ small. Once they dome over Schiaparelli, there’ll be nothing to stop them from filling up Hellas Planitia, the whole Southern Basin. All it takes is just one of their test-bed projects to be successful, and they’re gonna take that whole planet and turn it into as much of a shithole as this place is. Mars may be the red planet right now, but don’t worry, it’ll be grey and corporate within a few years.”

She stood up and stretched. The boy noticed goosebumps on her bare calves, and shivered himself.

“Well, as you said, I better get going. You gonna come?”

He shrugged. “Nah, I’ll wait here a little while. See ya.”

She walked off a little way along the gantry, back to the staircase. There were heavy clouds coming in, and she briefly worried about thunder striking the gantry. She looked over at the boy, but he was already staring off at the recently-landed Transport.

“Hey, look on the plus side,” she laughed. “Keep this up, and you might be the first punk on Mars!”

She heard a brief chuckle from the boy and, without turning, he raised his fist and flicked up a middle finger at her in response.

As she started down the stairs, she gazed back at the boy sitting on the end of the gantry, his legs dangling over the drop. A cloud engulfed the top of the tower, and he disappeared into the grey.

Devil’s Laughter

[Author’s note: This was an entry in the UCA Ghost Story Challenge. Deamhaich is pronounced Deem-Hake.]

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Growing up in the town of Deamhaich, Cornwall, there always were stories told. The one that frightened me the most as a kid was that of the Devil’s Laughter.

The United Kingdom is a honeycomb of mines, and nowhere is this warren of tunnels denser than under the Cornish peninsula. Occasionally, this makes local or national news when a tunnel implodes and sucks down cars, houses, or entire streets.

The story went that the mines of Deamhaich were abandoned quickly, a little before the end of the 19th century. I still remember my grandfather telling me about the miners. He said that they dug too deep, compelled onwards by greed and a few ancient rumours that, beneath the tin there was something rarer, older. This quest ended in horror, though. The miners dug through the earth to the gates of Hell itself, causing them to flee the tunnels at once and never return.

It’s said that, still, you can hear the screaming laughter of the Devil at the gates. He howls after the souls of the townsfolk and the miners who disturbed his lair.

Jumping forwards a few years, I was in a dangerous position. Intoxicated by a mix of teenage arrogance and the desire for a girl, I agreed to go into the mines, alone. Her name was Suzanne. She was a couple of years older than me, out of my league and at the forefront of Deamhaich’s burgeoning emo community. She’d dared me to descend into the mine and go to the edge of hell, and to bring back a pick-axe with me to prove it.

I didn’t believe the legends any more. There were other dangers though.

These excavations were old, and I was on my own. I genuinely, foolishly thought I’d prepared well before going down there. I’d packed a bag with two torches, a bottle of water, three chocolate bars. One of my friends, a Greek mythology fan, suggested that I take some twine down and leave one end at the surface. The plan was that I’d spool it out behind me to find my way back. If I got into trouble, I would tug on the twine three times to signal to Suzanne, who would be on the other end, that I needed help.

The entrance was barred with wooden panels, emblazoned with warning signs against exactly my kind of idiotic, hormone-infused bravado. A friend of a friend had a mechanics shop in town, and through them I had been able to find the crowbar that I used to pry the boards away.

As the wood sloughed off, a gust of stale, dead air flowed out of the now gaping tunnel entrance. There were marks in the wood that looked similar to the ones I was making. Whereas the scratches I left were fresh, these had clearly been there for a while. Someone else had gone down there, but whoever they were they’d done it many years ago.

I was only a little way into the tunnel before everything went wrong. I should have stepped back as soon as I noticed that the first few yards of the tunnel had a wooden floor, not stone. I didn’t, though, and I strode onwards, careless, and put my whole weight on some rotten floorboards.

I fell through two layers of wood before finally coming down hard on the gravelly floor of the mine. I swore once, loud, and lay there for a second trying to take stock of my situation as I got my breath back. Careful about harming myself further, I sat up.

I’m lucky that the fall deposited me on my chest. If it had been my legs, I would have been crippled, and a fall on my back or neck might have even killed me. Still, I was in a bad way. Prodding my chest, I winced as I encountered tender, shattered rib. I’d later find out that I’d been fortunate too that none of the shards had penetrated my lungs or heart. My limbs were functional, asides from a blazing pain in my left ankle. I tried to put weight on it, but it hurt too bad and I had to collapse back down. Later, I’d learn that the fall had snapped two tendons.

It only then occurred to me that I was in complete darkness. The torch was shattered, and I thanked my lucky stars that I’d brought another. At least until I tried to turn it on. The batteries weren’t quite dead, but the dim light was flickering, so I decided to save it in case I needed it.

I was in trouble so I pulled on the string, which I’d somehow managed to keep a hold of. When the other end came falling through the hole above me, though, I couldn’t help but let out a sob of fear. It repeated, then, and grew into full screams of fear.

I couldn’t help but think about how alone I was. The only person who’d known about my expedition had abandoned me. I could only assume that she thought the collapse had killed me, and that I had no way to get back to the surface. I was far from the entrance, now, and there were no maps of the tunnels. If there even was a rescue operation, there was no guarantee they’d find me. I knew it was illogical, that no one would hear me and that I was only wasting the precious few breaths I had left. I just couldn’t stop screaming.

I eventually did when I realised that there was another scream alongside mine.

A shiver of fear ran over me as I recognised that laughter, distorted and screaming. The tunnel walls and the demented energy with which the noise was produced warped it. Disregarding my inflamed ankle, I leapt up and, steadying myself against the wall, picked up my backpack.

I don’t know how far I’d limped when I heard it again. To my surprise, the noise was clearer. A high, keening wail now, it sounded less like laughter and more like screaming. I cursed the labyrinthine nature of the mine, reasoning that either it was following me or I’d been all turned around and walked closer to the source. Tears flowing down my face, I turned around, and walked faster.

I tripped on something, ruining my ankle more, and the screams began again, louder, as if I were in the same room with them. I was too scared to flee now, and I crawled to a corner and into a foetal position. It just kept going, not laughter now, not screams, but something worse- the crying of a baby. I pulled out the chocolate bars I’d brought with me, and accepted it as my last meal. I turned on the torch and laid it down, pointing it at the granite wall of the tunnel, simply to give me something to look at. After an hour or so, it blinked out.

After seventy-two hours in the dark, the fire brigade found me. They had been drawn by the crying. Suzanne had, of course, called them immediately. In the tunnel with me was what I’d tripped over- the tiny, shrivelled skeleton of a child, wrapped in a silk shroud. Pinned to the fabric was a handwritten note, yellowed and ancient.

“11-08-1908

My darling Emily, I’m so sorry. You were brought into this world too early, and remind me of forbidden love. May you find peace here, buried deep within the earth. Always love from your mother, LW.”

After some forensic analysis, the child’s body was buried in the local churchyard. People still claim to hear the Devil’s Laughter even now, but I believe that’s an urban legend. I think Emily has finally found peace.

Gold

The story of the “Nazi Gold Train” is an enduring one. According to the legend, a German train loaded with gold confiscated from Polish civilians and Jewish prisoners was buried in the woods near the Polish city of Walbrzych, formerly the German city of Waldenburg. Some sources quote the train as containing up to three hundred tonnes of gold, as well as jewels and several lost masterpieces.

The most recent attempt at finding the treasure was undertaken by two Polish men, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter, in 2015-16. Though they initially claimed to have been told by the death bed confession of a concentration camp guard, they caused a media storm when they changed their story to claim that a government official had leaked the information. Although a minister from the Polish government claimed that ground penetrating radar had shown the presence of a 100-meter long train buried under the surface, this evidence was later shown to be false, the data instead suggesting the presence of a collapsed tunnel. After a seven-day dig, no train was found.

This excavation, though, was preceded by another attempt in the early 1990s that received less attention from the worldwide media. The exploration, attempted by another Polish national, was bankrolled by two Swiss bankers. Having studied as many documents possible relating to the Russian advancement through the area, the team placed the train’s location roughly ten kilometres north of the city, underneath an embankment near a long disused section of railway.

The exploration lasted two weeks, beginning on the 3rd of August, 1991. For the first five days, the area was swept for unexploded munitions and booby traps. When this initial exploration turned up a couple of dozen German land-mines that were mostly defused by the rust and time, the archaeologists and treasure-hunters assembled began to become confident of success. For the next two days, the clearing in the forest around the railway tracks was scanned with radar and, when the presence of a seventy-metre long mass was discovered, the go ahead was given to start digging.

It was as the excavators started to bore down that the issues started. Electrical equipment present started going wrong, usually nothing major. A large setback occurred when the discs containing the radar data were wiped, as if with a magnet, and the scanning had to take place again to confirm where the supposed train was located. Rumours started spreading around the hired workers that something was trying to disrupt the expedition, that something was trying to stop them from reaching the train.

The most major mishap happened on the night of the 15th. The workers had been living in a large tent in the forest. When one of the men fell asleep smoking, a large fire broke out and a dozen workers were hospitalised for smoke inhalation, and a few more with serious burns. Some of those present claimed to see figures in the smoke, gaunt men all in some sort of uniform, with a badge on their chests. The rumours of these “ghosts” spread quickly through word of mouth and local media. Many of those who weren’t injured quit, believing that the ghosts of German soldiers were jealously guarding their riches.

Still, the dig went on, with the few archaeologists ventured deeper. While some were still a little scared of what was dubbed the “curse”, they were lured onwards by the call of treasure and imminent renown for finding the storied vehicle. The JCBs worked through the night of the sixteenth, and as dawn broke on August 17th the expedition finally struck the metal hull of the train.

It was only when they opened up the crates inside and found ashes, charred bones, a few small children’s teeth, that they realised that the ghosts weren’t those of the soldiers.

Graphite

The scratching of graphite on paper. The short, whispered phrases. The gentle, distant ticking of a muffled old grand-father clock. These are my recollections of my time talking to Thomas Berkley in January, 1980.

I was called in to see Mr Berkley at short notice. My time in Boston was brief, but just two days before I was supposed to leave, I was contacted by a colleague of mine employed at the Enfield Sanatorium with the details of a rather peculiar case which, he suspected, would pique my curiosity. It did.

Mr Berkley had not talked in 18 years by that point. Before his internment at the facility, he had been an electrician of some success, running his own business out of a small, modest rental unit down on the East bank of the river. At 32 he married a woman named Harriet Jameson and, a year later and just two months before he was taken in by my colleague, they were given a baby girl, who they named after Thomas’s mother, Nancy.

One afternoon in August, when the mercury peaked at 93 degrees, Thomas Berkley disappeared. He had been walking through Boston Common where he stopped at a café, presumably to visit the restroom. Witnesses reported seeing him enter, marked out in their memories by his red hair and pencil moustache, but not seeing him exit.

The alarm was first raised when Berkley did not arrive for his 4:15 appointment at the doctor’s (he was usually fastidiously punctual), at which point the family doctor called Harriet. For the next few weeks, she searched everywhere she could for Thomas, all the while desperately trying to look after their baby daughter. She got the police involved on the second day and, while they did their best, searching as much of the local area as possible and interviewing witnesses, every lead they followed turned up cold. After a week, police involvement was severely stepped down. After three weeks, the search was called off.

That evening, a dejected Harriet Berkley walked home, heartbroken at what (she assumed) was her husband running out on her and leaving her alone with Nancy. Slowly and sullenly, cradling a child who cried whenever the wind picked up a little and brought a chill reminder of imminent autumn to her cheek, she walked down Dartmouth Street towards the river and came to a stop outside the door to their small apartment.

There was a man curled up on the step. He was naked save for a thin piece of dirty cardboard that he fiercely clung to himself. Nowhere on his body could a single hair be seen growing, and his skin was ugly and burned, blistering painfully in places where the dull red flesh flared up into yellow, pustulent time bombs. Gently, she laid a single tender hand on his shoulder and the man bucked and reared, back arching in pain as he swerved around. With a sharp cry of horror, Nancy saw that this man, under his melted flesh and scarred face, was her husband and, worse, that there was fear in his eyes.

The doctors did their best to help him. Over the course of the next few months, he stayed at the Massachusetts General Hospital at Cambridge Street, where he was treated for his burns and given an in depth medical examination. Aside from the superficial burns and scars, though, Thomas Berkley seemed uninjured and, once he had recovered from the external damage, they had no choice but to release him.

According to Harriet, he had seemed alright in the car on the way home, if a little jumpy at times and, when not terrified and paranoid, at the very least pensive. In all the time that he had been kept in the burns ward, he had not said a word, other than certain terrified screams at the sight of needles (he had no such fear before). She seemed to think that he simply needed to recover from whatever shock he was dealing with and he’d eventually open up to her.

When they got home, she left him alone for a couple of minutes in order to tend to Nancy. While she changed the baby’s diaper, she heard a thud from the other room.

She walked in to see Thomas collapsed on the floor, knife slipping from his bloodied hand. He’d grabbed the blade as soon as possible and, it was obvious, hacked viciously at his wrist, as if trying to extract something from the flesh. Through her tears, Harriet dragged him back out and into the car and drove as fast as he could to the hospital.

This time, Mr Berkley would not be released. After a brief stay at the hospital, Thomas was transferred to the nearest mental hospital, the Enfield Sanatorium. Eighteen years later, he was still being treated there. In all that time, he hadn’t uttered a word and the truth of his disappearance, nearly two decades ago by that time, remained a mystery.

I finally met Berkley on the eighth of January. The man who I saw sitting in the comfortable leather chair of my colleague’s office barely resembled the photographs I had seen from the case files. Whereas he had once been a sombre, handsome man, dignified and smart in his dress sense, this person looked as if he barely remembered how to put on his own shoes which, due to the still strong suicide risk, were slip-ons. His once characteristic red hair was gone save for a few thin clumps that still poked out of the gnarled, damaged flesh of his scalp. His once neat moustache too was gone, replaced with a scraggly layer of unshaven fluff. Berkley had not been allowed near a razor for nearly twenty years.

“I shouldn’t let you in there by yourself”, my colleague said to me as I prepared my equipment, separated from the patient by a single door. “He’s still a risk”.

“A risk?”

He nodded. “The poor man is paranoid beyond all belief. Screams wordlessly at any warder that tries to touch him. We had a nurse a couple of years back, tried to clean up some food he dropped on himself. You should have heard the howls at her touch, and her terror as he tried to bite her. My word, and when we brought out a sedative in a syringe for him, his animal fear…”

“Good god,” I muttered. Tales of violence were not uncommon in our field, but to see someone be affected so greatly by mental illness was always terrifying and, moreover, sad. Quietly, so as not to startle Mr Berkley, I entered the room and laid my equipment on the desk.

***

It was at this point that I switched on the audio recorder. What follows is a transcript of that recording:

00:17- Myself:    Good afternoon, Mr Berkley. My name is Arthur Maslow. I am a psychiatrist and hypnotist, and I have been invited here by Dr Simons to try and treat you. Is that ok with you?

00:30- Berkley:  [Murmurs assent weakly while nodding]

00:57- Myself:   Thank you. Now, it is my hope that through the science of hypnosis, I shall be able    to restore you to your previous faculties and, moreover, learn what happened to you in August 1962. If you would please look into this light for me, sir, we may get underway.

[At the time, I used two small, portable strobe lights, set at one second intervals half a second apart from each other, so that there were two flashes of light a second, to hypnotise my patients. Two minutes passed as I waited for the hypnosis to have its desired effect. By the end of this time, Berkley seemed nearly asleep.]

03:04- Berkley:  [mutters] Harriet…

03:07- Myself:   Excuse me, sir, did you speak?

03:10- Berkley:  Nancy…

03:13- Myself:   Mr Berkley, do you know where you are?

03:17- Berkley:  No! No, there’s… it’s so cold! And the walls are alive and, oh god, the smell.

03:23- Myself:   Sir, you are in the Enfield Sanatorium on Quincy Avenue. You are in Boston.

03:31- Berkley:  Don’t lie to me? Where are you taking me? You bast-

03:36- Myself:   Mr Berkley, are you ok?

03:40- Berkley:  Shh, there’s something walking past… oh god, its face.

03:44- Myself:   Sir, I need you to describe this thing to me. What does it look like?

03:51- Berkley:  I cannot describe it to you. I cannot.

03:54- Myself:   Thomas, I need you to tell me.

03:59- Berkley:  No! No, I cannot! There are not words for what I am seeing right now!

[A short while passes in silence. All the while, Berkley is sitting still, but a look of pained terror is on his face.]

04:07- Berkley:  Thank god, he’s gone. I don’t think he saw me.

04:11- Myself:    Berkley, can you tell me at all what it looked like.

04:15- Berkley:   I’m sorry, no. There was no… Paper! Pencil and paper!

04:21- Myself:    Mr Berkley, I’m afraid I am not permitted to give you a pencil. If you give me a couple of minutes, I may be able to get my colleague to give you a felt tip.

04:38- Berkley:   No! There is no time! Please, I need to show you what it looks like now, or I will forget. Please!

[It should be noted that through the window in the door, I could see Dr Simons shaking his head at me regarding Mr Berkley’s requests. Regardless, I chose to take advantage of the headway we were making and took a pencil out of my pocket to give to the patient. I also procured a piece of drawing paper from my briefcase and gave it to him.]

04:46- Berkley:   Oh god! Oh god! They’re taking me somewhere! We’re moving!

04:50- Myself:     You’re moving?

04:53- Berkley:    This place, it’s… my god, it’s some sort of ship. We’re going somewhere. I have to   get out I have to get out I have to get back home please I have to get out!

05:06- Myself:     Sir, please describe what’s going on?

05:10- Berkley:    I’m hiding behind one of the walls… they’re kind of sticky.

[There is a brief pause. The only sounds are Berkley drawing and myself making notes]

05:47- Berkley:  Oh god no please!

05:51- Myself:   What’s going on?

05:53- Berkley:  One of them is coming towards me. He’s got a needle… I don’t want to die please god I don’t want to die!

06:02- Myself:   Sir? Mr Berkley?

[The patient is catatonic for the next eight minutes. Several times, Dr Simons can be heard knocking at the door, obviously requesting entry. I dismiss him, though, as I worry about inadvertently waking the patient from hypnosis and potentially further damaging his mind.]

14:11- Berkley:  AHH!

14:13- Myself:   Mr Berkley? Are you ok? If you would like me to, I can bring you back now, and that will be the end of our session.

14:26- Berkley:  No! No, please no! I need to know, I need to see… why have they brought me here?

14:32- Myself:   And where are you?

14:35- Berkley:  I’m… I’m no longer on the ship. I can see it above me. It’s huge and round and                 unclear and… it’s moving… oh god they’re leaving us behind. No please don’t leave us.

14:47- Myself:   Can you describe your surroundings? Who are you with?

14:53- Berkley:  There are eight of us, eight humans, and a dozen or so of those… those creatures. They aren’t quite like the ones on the ship though, these ones are wearing some sort of… gown? It’s heavy and black, and they have ceremonial knives with them. Oh        god, one’s coming forwards, and he’s lifting his knife and… oh god!

[Mr Berkley screams for ten seconds.]

15:23- Myself:  Berkley! What is going on?

15:26- Berkley: He used the knife and he cut into me, cut into my wrist. He had some sort of metal thing and he inserted it into… into the bone. Oh god, I can feel it crawling around I have to get it out.

15:41- Myself:   Focus, Mr Berkley. Tell me more about the people there, the humans.

15:48- Berkley:  There are eight of them. Oh god they’re all screaming. They’re all naked, like me, and I think they’re all from different languages. One of them is black, three people are Asian, two middle eastern. I see two white people besides me, one woman.          Think she’s French. She tried talking to me but I couldn’t understand her oh god.       They’ve put those things in everyone now. Oh god, one of the Asian people, she’s just a child, she’s just a child but they cut her open.

16:17- Myself:   Mr Berkley, tell me about your surroundings.

16:21- Berkley:  The ground underfoot is soft, soft and wet. I can’t see any vegetation, and it’s black, pitch black. It kind of feels like… old tree roots? They almost seem to be coming apart under my feet, like I’m in a swamp and being pulled down. It’s day time, but there’s fog around us and there are stars in the sky, such stars.

16:42- Myself:   Stars?

16:43- Berkley:  Stars, beautiful, terrible stars. They are so bright and so vivid and so… alive. I can see a moon as well above us, but it doesn’t look like Earth’s it’s too bright, and the clouds! By god, the clouds! They move so fast and their colours are shifting and… God save us.

17:01- Myself:   Mr Berkley?

17:03- Berkley:  I… I know why they brought us here, I… I can see their god, their god is here and he is real and there is no point in praying because this is it, this is the end, oh god, oh god. It’s… it is huge!

17:18- Myself:   Mr Berkley, can you please describe to me what you are seeing?

17:24- Berkley:  It’s some sort of cube, miles tall. The hill rises up above the fog around us and on to of it there’s this huge mass. It’s grey and, my god, the ground isn’t roots, it’s… this isn’t their god, the planet is! The ground is moving and oh god they’re tentacles, and and they’re wrapping around the cube. My god, those tentacles, they must be miles long! They’re filthy, their black blood is smearing across the surface and oh god they’re starting to wrap around us. Bring me back, please! Please god save me!

17:57- Myself:   Thomas, come back to me now, wake up, come back. You’re safe.

18:34- Berkley:  No! No it’s too late! It’s too late! The cube is brightening up and it’s white now and now it’s even brighter and god it burns! The light burns! The stars are outshone and my flesh is searing! Oh god! The girl, the little girl, she’s melting, her hair is igniting and her meat is falling off her bones! Her skull is so white! Oh god oh god oh god-

18:59- Myself:   Berkley! Berkley, stay calm!

19:04- Berkley:  No! No no no no it’s taking me the light is taking me oh god this is the true light the true god why me?

[By this point, Dr Simons has entered the room and is attempting to help me restrain Mr Berkley, who is undergoing violent seizures. Too late, we realise what he is about to do. Taking the pencil which I gave him, he has begun to dig into the flesh of his left wrist, as if trying to find an object. I watch helplessly as he strikes the vein and blood begins to come out of him in dark gouts.]

19:16- Berkley: There’s something wrong. The ground, it’s devoured the girl and the rest but… they don’t want me. Why not me? The light is getting brighter and brighter and brighter and oh god, Harriet, they’re taking me home to Harriet, what can I say to her? How can I possibly let her see me like this? Oh no, I’d rather die, I’d rather die but here I am I’m naked and alone and on the curb at Dartmouth street. I’d rather die, I’d rather die…

19:57- Simons:  God damn it, Maslow, this is on you. You broke the rules!

20:02- Myself:   You can’t wake him now! At the very least, we’ll lose the progress we’ve made. This man is speaking for the first time in eighteen years, Simons! We can’t just throw that away!

20:16- Simons:  And if we let you continue, he will die. ‘Do no harm’, Arthur. Get out and call an ambulance, for god’s sakes man!

[By now, Berkley has stopped fighting back and is simply sitting there catatonic. On the tape, my quick departure is audible, as is the sound of the approaching ambulance siren and the paramedics who came to rescue Berkley. After five minutes, there is no one left in the room, and the only sound present is the distant, muffled grandfather clock. The tape continues to run for ten more minutes before it finishes.]

***

Nearly forty years on, and I still haven’t experienced anything quite as intense as my interview that day with Thomas Berkley. He survived his self-mutilation on that day in January, and at the General Hospital, the doctors had to remove a small metallic object from his left forearm of unknown origin. If there were records of what happened to this object, they have long since been destroyed. After this surgery, he made a remarkable recovery and, within a month, was released from the Enfield Sanatorium with a clean bill of health. For the rest of his life, he never once mentioned the trauma of August 1962, blaming his scars on a fictional house-fire that, according to him, happened to him as a child.

He died in 2013 at the age of 84 of a stroke, preceded two years earlier by his wife, Harriet. He was survived by his daughter Nancy, and her own children. As his closest surviving kin, I asked her for her permission to publish this story, complete with names. She consented graciously and even offered to help me accurately determine the dates on which certain events occurred.

I still keep those drawings that he scrawled in January 1980. As of today, there is still no conclusive evidence to support or deny what Thomas claims to have happened in 1962, when he was walking through Boston Common.

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