The reason why I don’t pick up hitchhikers anymore is also the reason why I need a new car.

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Keep in mind, I’d never even considered giving a ride to a stranger before. All my life, I’d been told that’s how you get killed. “Only crazies hitchhike,” they’d say. “They’ll cut your throat and steal your car and you’ll be dead in a ditch.”

I didn’t want to die in a ditch. And I liked my car. But after I’d left the gas station and I saw the poor guy sitting in the gutter on the I-95 onramp, feebly holding out his thumb, I made my choice. I’d be a good samaritan.

The storm in the distance looked pretty threatening. If I let that guy sit there, he’d have to bear the brunt of it. From the looks of him, he didn’t appear to be able to bear much at all. I pulled over to the side and rolled down the window.

“Where you looking to go?,” I asked him.

“Baltimore,” he replied. His voice was stronger than his sickly body had suggested, and that gave me pause. I looked him over again. Dirty jeans, baggy red t-shirt. No bag, no bulges in his pockets. I sighed.

“I can get you as far as Philly.” He nodded. “Hop in,” I told him, unlocking the door.

In he hopped.

“I’m Colin,” I said.

“Frank.”

We didn’t talk much for the first few miles, aside from me asking if he wanted some of the Fritos I had left from my lunch stop in Rhode Island. He took them and crunched away as I drove. He caught me studying him out of the corner of my eye a few times, but he didn’t say anything.

As the miles ticked away and rain started hitting the windshield, Frank fell asleep. The open bag of Fritos was on his lap. I wanted a couple, but didn’t want him to wake up thinking I was trying to grab his dick. I had absolutely no interest in his dick.

Frank snored like an orgasming Pratt and Whitney jet engine. In the confines of the car, since I had to close the windows once the rain had started, I noticed Frank had an unpleasant odor. Nothing overwhelming, but still obvious.

Over his snore, his stomach growled and burbled. “Gross,” I thought. Lightning flashed and wind buffeted the side of the car. The traffic ahead of us slowed to a crawl.

One of the annoying things about my car is the climate control only works properly when the car is moving. God knows why. The air conditioning we were enjoying up to that point cut out, and hot air started to blow out of the vents. The windshield began to fog up.

I cracked my window, hoping the outside air might clear the windshield. It did a bit, but visibility was terrible. The rain was heavy and my wipers weren’t doing a good job. All I could see was fog and the brake lights of the cars stopped in front of me. Frank’s stomach kept gurgling. I looked over. He was awake, staring straight ahead.

“You okay buddy,?” I asked. No response. He just stared at the fog-shrouded glass of the windshield. The smell I’d noticed before had intensified.

“Hey, Frank, what’s going on? You sick?”

Still nothing. Thick, humid air poured from the car’s vents despite the AC being set to max. Rain and small chunks of hail pelted the choked highway.

Frank retched. “Shit,” I said, and I frantically reached in the backseat for a bag or bucket or anything that might catch what I thought was about to come blasting out of my companion. My hand settled on one of the canvas shopping bags I used at Whole Foods. “God damn it,” I mumbled, as I placed my favorite shopping bag on Frank’s lap.

He moaned and turned to look at me, his eyes swimming back and forth with what I knew had to be intense nausea.

“Frank, please open the door and puke on the road or at least use the bag. I’m begging you.”

More silence punctuated by gurgling and retching. A boom of thunder caused us both to jump. For Frank, that was all it took. He didn’t open the door. And he didn’t aim for the bag.

A heavy wave of yellow vomit exploded out of his mouth and splashed against the windshield. I screamed. Another projectile torrent erupted from the man, dousing the ceiling, the dashboard, and the center console.

“Get out!,” I shrieked, the smell of the stomach contents invading my nose and threatening to force my own contribution to the mess. Frank sat back with his head down, pasty slime drooling from his mouth into the Fritos bag in his lap.

Cars behind me were leaning on their horns. The traffic in front of us had cleared. I poked at the hideousness on the console to turn on my emergency blinkers, then steered onto the median. On my right, I heard Frank choking. I got out of the car and stood in the rain, watching him. If you told me the following 30 seconds actually lasted 3 hours, I would’ve told you you were way off. It felt like a day.

Frank’s throat bulged as something was forced upward and into his mouth. I saw the something a second later. A colossal, writhing centipede as thick as my wrist began sliding out, its passage eased by the vile lubrication from minutes before. Inch after inch, foot after foot crawled out until it was free. It skittered under the passenger seat.

I’d already dialed the “9” in “911” when the solid matter entombed in his vomit began to move. Frank groaned and I distinctly heard him mutter, “not again.” As the rain soaked me, I watched as small centipedes crawled through the sludge all over the car, leaving trails as they went.

My dialing complete, I waited through seven rings before a dispatcher answered. As I told her about the medical emergency and tried to estimate where we were on the interstate, Frank abruptly opened the passenger-side door and stood on the side of the highway. He was gripping another massive centipede and pulling it out of his throat. I watched it bite his hand over and over until its two-foot length was exposed. Frank flung it into the dirt.

“Sorry about your car, man,” Frank called over the sound of rain and traffic. “I haven’t had an episode since I was a kid.”

I was speechless. I just looked at him as he walked down the side of the median, the torrential rain washing his clothes of the filth and bugs. And as centipedes crawled throughout my car and ropes of stomach contents dripped from its ceiling, Frank stuck out his thumb to flag down another potential ride to Baltimore.

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Elf on the Shelf

elf

Grandma would always warn me that the elf on the shelf was watching to make sure I wasn’t bad. Growing up, even when it was nowhere near Christmas, the elf would observe me. The elf would judge me.

With my brother and cousins around all the time, it wasn’t easy to be good. But I tried. I tried really hard. When I’d make a mistake and be mean to one of them, I felt the elf staring at me. It would remember that moment. I’d picture it waiting until I was in bed, then running and tattling to Santa. No matter how much I screamed and sobbed to it, the elf wouldn’t answer. It would just watch and wait for me to do something bad again. It knew me too well.

On the fourth of July, I burned Marisa with a sparkler. I didn’t do it on purpose. I mean, I meant to burn Marisa, but I didn’t want to hurt her. I just wanted to see what would happen. Unfortunately, she got hurt pretty bad. Grandma had to take her to the hospital, but not before she got out the belt and whipped me until I couldn’t sit down.

After Marisa’s mom came over to give me a beating of her own, I was left watching Neil, my little brother. Grandma was still at the hospital. Neil watched TV while I tried to walk off the pain from the beatings. Before Dad died, that’s what he’d tell me to do. “Walk it off, you little faggot.”

I walked a lot.

When I got to the living room, the elf was watching me. It knew. Its wooden mouth was open, almost like it was screaming accusations.

“You’re a bad kid.”

“No one likes you.”

“Santa thinks you’re terrible.”

“You’ll be a bad man when you grow up.”

It didn’t actually speak, of course, but it was obvious that’s what it meant. It was the same stuff Grandma said to me, day in, day out. And somehow, I always made sure to live up to it. Try as I might, I couldn’t be good. At the age of eight, I was already certain I was rotten to the core.

Months went by and my best efforts yielded punishment. If I wasn’t accidentally knocking over a vase in the kitchen, I was tracking mud into the hallway. It invariably ended with my pants around my ankles and my grandfather’s old leather belt smashing into me as I tried not to scream. Screaming would only make the beatings last longer.

When it was finally over and I inched my jeans and underwear back up, I told myself I’d be better; that I’d be a good kid from here on out. And for a while – for the entire month of November and into December – I was.

Grandma, Neil, and I went to get our Christmas tree on December 4th. We came home and decorated it while cookies baked in the oven. I remember Grandma lifting me with her strong, solid arms so I could put the star on top. The star had been her daughter’s. My mother’s. It was one of the only things left that had belonged to her.

On December 5th, after Neil and I had gotten home from school, we were playing around. Like all brothers, we played rough. With him being six and me being eight, I was quite a bit bigger. When we were wrestling and I was spinning him by his arm, I made a mistake. I let him go and send him right into the Christmas tree. It fell onto the hardwood floor. Ornaments broke. Lights went out.

The star shattered.

In an instant, I was panicking. I knew Neil would tell Grandma. I knew the elf in the other room would learn what I’d done. I’d been good for so long that I’d started hoping I might get Christmas presents. After this, though; after breaking the one thing Grandma had left after her daughter was killed by Dad, I’d be doomed. Grandma would beat me senseless. The elf would tell Santa. I’d get nothing. And Neil would taunt me with his presents.

Something sparked inside me. What if the elf hadn’t seen what happened? What if Neil didn’t tell Grandma?

I was very busy for about an hour, but I finished. Grandma would be back from work any minute. I knew I might not fool her, but I’d fool the elf. That was most important; it was he who talked to Santa. Not Grandma.

I wore Neil’s face into the living room and looked at the elf on the shelf. He stared back with his black, judgmental eyes.

“I’m sorry I knocked over the tree and broke the ornament,” I said, doing my best impression of Neil’s high voice. I thought about his body cooling on the kitchen floor and his blood making a mess everywhere. Maybe Grandma would believe he fell on a knife if I cried hard enough.

Under the mask of my brother’s skin, I peered at the elf through the eye holes. The skin tasted awful, but I had to breathe through my mouth because the nose holes didn’t line up right. I wondered if the elf believed me.

“I’m sorry, elf,” I squeaked again. I heard the garage door rising and a car pulling inside. Grandma was home. I felt a new rush of panic. I glared through the cold mask at the arbiter of my Christmas fortune. The door connecting the garage to the kitchen opened and I heard my grandmother’s shrill, hysterical shriek.

“Elf,” I whispered, as tears mixed with my brother’s blood and cascaded down my face.

The elf on the shelf cocked its head at me as its mouth opened and closed. It spoke.

“You’ve been very bad, Neil.”

I fell to my knees in fervid, incomprehensible relief. Some part of me heard Grandma still screaming, somehow even louder when she came into the room and saw me. Again, the elf spoke: “You’ve been terrible, Neil.”

Grandma whirled around and looked at the elf, but then shook her head back and forth like she was trying to get ahold of herself. I stood up. Not wanting to ruin the illusion for the elf, I held the mask to my face until I left the room and sat down in the kitchen. Grandma didn’t try to hit me. She didn’t touch me at all. I plopped the skin back on Neil’s head and told Grandma he fell. She didn’t answer.

It didn’t matter, though.

20 days later, in my own, warm room at the hospital, I got some very nice Christmas presents. The doctors and nurses were so kind and gentle with me. One even hugged me after I’d opened my gifts.

The gifts weren’t exactly what I’d hoped for, but they were better than nothing. So much better. I giggled to myself as we hugged. When the nurse asked what I was laughing at, I lied and told her I remembered a funny joke. She smiled, and I was surprised to see a tear running down her cheek. I didn’t think much of it, though. All that mattered was I’d won. I’d finally fooled the elf on the shelf.

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Daycare Massacre

crime

This is going to get swept under the rug because of the Hurricane Matthew coverage. Even if it isn’t, whatever’s mentioned in the news will be sanitized for public consumption. People aren’t supposed to hear about this kind of thing – especially when you consider how frightened they are already.

There’s a daycare in Charleston, SC. It’s in an awful neighborhood. I was patrolling the area before dawn this morning when the owner ran out in the street and flagged me down. She was covered in blood. I got out of the car and called for backup. Officers Fitzgerald and Ndoma were a block away and got there a minute later. Ndoma stayed with the inconsolable, trembling owner while Fitz and I drew our weapons and entered the building.

There were six children inside. Unclothed. Dead.

I called for paramedics and a supervisor. Amid the chaos of hurricane preparations, by the time they’d arrived, Fitz and I had cleared the small building. If the owner of the daycare hadn’t killed the kids, whoever had was gone.

The news media, who would’ve been all over something like this, hadn’t even noticed our radio chatter. They were too busy reporting on the storm. To be honest, I couldn’t have been more relieved. The city didn’t need to know about this yet.

The daycare owner still hasn’t said a word. We have her in custody and it’s obvious she needs a psychiatric evaluation, but that’s off the table until at least tomorrow. We pulled the records of the children from the daycare files and are beginning to notify parents. The last two of the six bodies are being examined as I write this.

The hospital is being prepared for an influx of storm-related injuries, so the deceased were brought directly to the city coroner. The examinations are cursory and unofficial. I know the main guy down there. My father was the best man at his wedding. Whenever I wanted to know something about a case that was above my paygrade, he’d usually fill me in. Today was no different. I know what I saw, but were a lot of unanswered questions.

When Fitz and I entered the building and saw the victims, we knew the cause of death right away. The wounds were gaping and obvious. In fact, I don’t think I’ve blinked today without seeing them in that split second of darkness. To me, it was clear the owner couldn’t have done it. She’s 5’1”, and if you told me she was 90 pounds, I’d be surprised. Her mouth’s small, too. Yes, that’s relevant.  

Here’s the thing: at first glance, I assumed the kids had to have been killed by some kind of animal. The bites which prompted the massive blood loss must’ve come from something with large, powerful jaws. After we cleared the building, though, and Fitz was outside with Ndoma trying to get the owner to say what happened, I took a closer look at the wounds. They were too uniform. Too precise.

What I mean by that is the children were all bitten in the same spot. Everything between their legs, from navel to lower back, was gone. There were smudges on their thighs. Something white. It was more obvious on the darker-skinned victims, but nonetheless present on all of them. I was about to examine the fibers I saw sticking to the wounds, but I was interrupted by the paramedics and the coroner’s office. They needed to do their thing, so I left them to it.

I’ve spent the whole morning at my desk, filling out reports, and writing this account to help clear my mind. About an hour ago, I called my contact at the coroner’s office. He told me, like I mentioned above, that they’d looked over four of the six. It was, certainly, the bites which had killed them. They bled out in a matter of seconds.

I asked him what he thought could have done it, and he paused. To me, that meant he still didn’t know for sure. After a few seconds of silence, I asked about the fibers I’d seen.

“Red hairs,” he told me. “Wiry, red hairs. John thought they could’ve been from a chimpanzee, since they’ve been known to attack the genital area, but they usually do damage to other places too.”

“What about the white stuff?,” I asked.

“We’re not sure yet. The lab will have to do an analysis after the storm, but from what everyone over here can determine, it’s some kind of makeup.”

I thanked him and was about to hang up, but he told me to hold on.

“There’s one more thing. Something we found stuffed up around what was left of the caucasian boy’s bladder.”

I shuddered, but told him to continue.

“Well, it’s foam. When we pulled it out, it was just kind of a blobby thing. But then John washed it off.”

My friend trailed off and I heard him sighing deeply into the phone’s receiver. I gave him a second, but urged him on. He sighed again.

“Max, it was one of those red foam noses. The same ones clowns wear.”

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Ethan’s Halloween Mask

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My cousin Ethan and I grew up together, but I never liked him very much. His family was rich, so he always had the best stuff. Mine wasn’t. I didn’t.

On Halloween, 1985, we were going trick-or-treating together. I was the Terminator, he was Freddy Krueger. His mask cost almost a hundred dollars and it looked exactly like Freddy’s face. The scars, the sneer; everything was just right.

I didn’t have a mask. My parents couldn’t afford one. I had torn aluminum foil taped to the side of my face. It was meant to look like the Terminator after some of its skin had been ripped off. A few splotches of ketchup on the foil were supposed to look like blood. As soon as it dried, it looked very little like dried blood and very much like dried ketchup.

Despite my terrible costume, I was still excited to trick-or-treat. We didn’t have candy very often at home, except maybe on Easter. My parents encouraged me to go to as many houses as I wanted to get all the candy I’d be able to eat. It felt good to know they wanted me to be happy.

Ethan and I went out at sundown and visited house after house. Every time, the homeowners would gush over Ethan’s mask. They’d tell him how scary it was. How realistic. Then they’d turn to me and ask who I was supposed to be. I’d answer, then they’d say something like, “oh of course, how could I have missed it!” I could tell they felt sorry for me. One even handed me an extra few pieces of candy.

When we were done, our pillowcases stuffed with treats of every sort, we began the long walk home. As we went, Ethan rooted around in his bag of loot. I could hear him grumbling and complaining through his mask. Then he started throwing candy on the street. Stuff he didn’t like.

“Go ahead and pick it up if you want it, Bill,” he called out, heaving handful after handful into the gutter. “I know you can’t afford to let anything go to waste.”

I didn’t say anything, but I reached into my pocket and pulled out the lighter and one of the two cigarettes I’d stolen from my dad. I’d been smoking on-and-off for the last few months, and even at 13, I knew it was bad for me. I just didn’t care. It made me feel good.

I stayed a few steps behind Ethan as he tossed more candy away, and as much as I hated myself for it, I ended up picking a few pieces off the ground and putting them in my bag. Ethan caught me once and laughed. “You’re going to be as fat as your mom if you eat all that.” I kept my mouth shut.

“Is that why she got fired from the restaurant? Did she eat a customer’s food?”

I knew Ethan was joking. He did it often. I’m sure in his mind, he thought he was being harmless and playful. Still, I’d told him more than a few times to leave Mom out of the jokes. She had diabetes. And she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone other than my dad and me, but the doctor told her she might end up losing her foot. That’s why the restaurant let her go. She couldn’t walk around and wait tables anymore.

“Change the subject, Ethan,” I said. I knew he heard me, and he didn’t talk for another minute or so. Until he did again.

“You think her and your dad still fuck? I wonder how he manages to get it in there.” He cackled, then insisted, “ok, ok, ok, I’m sorry, I’m done. Promise.”

I seethed as we took a shortcut through the elementary school soccer field.

“Let’s stop here for a minute,” Ethan said. We’d gotten to the school’s playground. “I bet I could scare the shit out of some kids if they come by.”

He sat on one of the swings with his pillowcase on his lap. He kicked his legs and the swing moved back and forth. I stood there, hating him.

“I think I see some kids coming over the hill,” I told Ethan. “I’m going to hide behind the slide and sneak up on them if they come over to you.”

“Go for it,” Ethan told me, his voice deep and distorted through the mask.

I left Ethan on the swing set and walked over to the slide. I watched him swing as his hateful words rang in my ears. Tears came to my eyes as I remembered Mom smiling from her spot on the couch as she encouraged me to go out and have fun. She was such a good person. So, so good. She’d never said anything negative about Ethan. In fact, she’d always complimented him on his grades and his wins in basketball and even his looks. “You’re going to be a handsome man, Ethan,” she told him. “I bet we’ll see your face in a magazine someday.”

Even after her kindnesses, Ethan still felt it was okay to trash her.

I heard him laughing to himself from across the playground. I didn’t know why, exactly, but I had a pretty good idea. I reached in my jacket for the other cigarette, knowing the smoke would calm me down. But it had come apart. My pocket was full of loose tobacco and paper. Loose tobacco, paper, and the lighter.

Ethan was still laughing as I fingered the lighter in my pocket for a second, then pulled it out. I walked up behind him. He didn’t know I was there as he shouted out, “ok, one more thing and I’ll never say anything about her again – but unless your dad’s got a big dick, he’ll never manage to –”

I flicked the lighter near the back of Ethan’s neck, right where his hair and mask met. The hair went up quickly, using his hairspray as an accelerant. Then something happened that I didn’t expect. The mask burst into flames.

Ethan jumped off the swing and ran in a loose circle, trying to pull the mask off his head. I saw it ripping under his fingers. He couldn’t get a grip. The material bubbled. His screams, barely muffled as the molten chemicals clung to his skin, echoed off the brick walls of the elementary school.

After a few seconds, he fell and rolled around on playground, pushing his head into the sand to put out the fire. And he succeeded. But the damage was done.

He turned over on his back, no longer screaming, but gasping in shallow, hyperventilated breaths. In the moonlight, I saw the mask was completely fused to what remained of his skin. One of his eyes had apparently burst, but his other darted around almost like he was confused and wondering where he was.

I saw something moving on the other side of the field. Kids were coming. I yelled to them to call an ambulance, and I waited, unsure of how I felt, until the paramedics got there.

I took complete responsibility for setting Ethan on fire. I said I’d been sneaking up to scare him by flicking the lighter near his face. And yes, I got in a lot of trouble. But everyone believed it was an accident.

Ethan’s face was destroyed. He had skin grafts and bone grafts and all sorts of reconstructive surgery. He never recovered. Not physically, not emotionally. He killed himself in 1990. His parents had a very expensive funeral. I was invited. They’d forgiven me for my part in his accident years before. In fact, their subsequent lawsuit against the mask company is the reason why Halloween masks are now made of flame-retardant materials.

Mom died a few years before Ethan, but not before complications from her diabetes took her left leg. Dad and I were with her in the hospital at the same time Ethan’s parents were there to see him through another round of reconstructive surgery. They visited Mom, Dad, and I while Ethan was still under, recovering after a successful set of grafts.

We chatted for a little while about Mom’s hopes for recovery, and then the topic moved to Ethan. Ethan’s mom was gushing about a plastic surgeon that had recently joined the hospital after working in Switzerland. He was the best, apparently. He’d taken on Ethan’s case earlier in the year, albeit remotely, and wrote a substantial article about the new techniques he’d be employing. In the world of plastic surgery, it made a big splash, if only for its ambition.

Ethan’s mom reached into her purse and pulled out the publication. She flipped it open to the page that showed various photographs of Ethan’s burns and the notes and explanations the surgeon had written to accompany the article. I could tell Mom was holding back tears. I knew why, too. Her eyes met mine, and she couldn’t hold back any longer. She began to weep. Dad and Ethan’s mother held her while she cried. I just watched.

Mom was thinking that she’d been right all those years ago. She’d been right for all the wrong reasons, but right nonetheless. Just like she’d predicted, Ethan’s face had finally made it into a magazine.

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My Wife, the Artist

pumpkins

Jen and I love Halloween. We go all-out when decorating our house and yard. The neighborhood kids love to see what we put up every year and even their parents are impressed by the scale and sophistication of the decorations we use. We don’t just give out candy, we invite the trick-or-treaters into our home to see our setup. Pumpkins, spiders, skeletons, ghosts – you name it, we’ve got it. Our local newspaper even did a feature on us last year. “A Safe and Spooky Spot for Local Kids.” It wasn’t much more than a fluff piece, but it felt good to have our work celebrated.

A project Jen’s been working on over the last fifteen or so years is her “Halloween Town of Horrors.” It’s the centerpiece of our trick-or-treat trip around the house. The town takes up our whole dining room table and it’s a darker take on those big Christmas villages people like put out in December. The architecture is very Tim Burton-esque; lots of strange looking buildings, exaggerated colors, and blood splatters, while the townsfolk lurk in the shadows like little purple zombies and space aliens. As the years have gone by, Jen’s taken her Halloween town from a couple small buildings to the sprawling, populous nightmare-scape it is today.

This year, Halloween came and went. We had a blast. Jen’s Halloween town was a huge hit. Even adults from around the neighborhood came over to take a look. Jen loved the attention; she wanted to be an artist growing up, but, sadly, it wouldn’t pay the bills. As we cleaned the house, Jen picked up one of the townsfolk dolls. Its clothing had a little tear that needed to be fixed. Sighing good-naturedly, she gathered the rest of them into their box. I love those dolls; their aesthetic works beautifully with the town Jen puts them in. They range in size from a raisin to a lemon; some have distinguishable features, others don’t. It takes a while for her to make each one – between 2 and 5 months – but her effort always yields a product that’s perfect for Halloween. Until she can carry one to term, we both agree they shouldn’t go to waste.

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Wikileaks rejected a State Department document and demanded that I destroy it.

wikileaks_logo_text_wordmark

My uncle worked for the State Department. He died a couple weeks ago. As per State Department policy, whenever one of their higher-ranking employees dies, the Department sends a small team to the home of the deceased to ensure they had no sensitive documents in their possession. It’s not that they distrust their dead colleague – they just don’t trust his family.

The Department team came to my uncle’s house one morning, spent a few hours rifling through his closets and drawers, and left with a small pile of papers. They expressed their condolences for my loss, then left. I never saw them again. Not even at the funeral.

On the night I visited and found him on the floor, dying of a heart attack, he told me something. It’s something I would’ve preferred to have never heard; something that made me wish I’d gotten to his house 20 minutes later to find him dead.

“Rockville Bank. Rangeley, ME. Deposit box 4426.” The key was on the ring between his car and house keys.

I pocketed the key before the paramedics arrived. He was dead by then. I went through the motions, arranged what needed to be arranged, and let the State Department do their thing. Last week, I drove from DC up to Rangely. I showed the bank the documents proving I was in charge of my uncle’s estate and owner of the contents of the box. The bank manager unlocked the main lock on top, then left me to unlock the other one on the bottom. Inside was an envelope containing a single sheet of paper dated August 4, 2016, that looked like it had been pulled out of a fire. I took it from the box, left the bank, and read it in my car.

I have to preface this by saying I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories. In fact, I think they’re all a bunch of bullshit. We landed on the moon. Oswald killed Kennedy. Islamic terrorists brought down the twin towers. Vaccines are safe and important. None of the major conspiracy theories have been able to hold up under scrutiny, and all the exponents of the theories are, in one way or another, unhinged. But.

But.

There’s nothing inside me that can adequately explain away what I read on that sheet of paper. Yes, it might be a hoax. During the long drive back to DC, I’d almost convinced myself that it was. But my uncle wouldn’t do something like that. He took his work seriously. He was passionate and moral. All the evidence pointed to the fact the document was real. And if that were the case, people needed to know about it. That had to have been why my uncle had hidden the file away. He wanted me, or someone else, to disseminate it after his death. I made up my mind, and when I got home, I submitted it to Wikileaks.

Five minutes later, I received a phone call. “Destroy the scan you sent us. It is not real. Destroy the file and the physical document. Do not attempt to submit it again. We know who you are.”

I hadn’t provided any personal information to Wikileaks. They don’t even ask for it. And hardly anyone has my phone number. Plus, no one else knew I had that document in my possession.

If anything could have proven the document was authentic and important, that was it.

That all happened last Friday. Every day since then, I’ve gotten calls from different numbers, all asking the same questions. “Is it gone? Is it destroyed?”

Each time, I hung up without saying anything. This morning, though, the voice on the other end said something different. “You will die if that document is leaked.”

I hung up and called the police, who said they would send a car over. But I’m still worried. I am going to destroy the document, but not before I transcribe it. Not before I put it online. Even if they get me – even if they kill me – I’m not sure I want to continue living in a world where the contents of that document are real.

I’ve replaced the burn marks with dashes. The content is still discernible. The context is still available. Whatever happens with this, once it’s out in the open, my conscience can be clear. If this is my last day alive, maybe I’ll be rewarded for bringing this to light. God knows if I live through today, I may never sleep again.

U.S. Department of State: Wikileaks & JA documentation — — summary

JA ordered multiple attempts on the — of BO JB HC according to — sources in — of Ecuador, London. Electronic surveillance of the — is ongoing, although human intelligence —. Following — offer of funding, most attempts linked to JA have stopped. Tactical reversion to JA — Embassy of Ecuador, London — budget to silence sexual assault — and smear accusers in tabloid — as promiscuous or drug users.

JA has accepted the — GBP sum in exchange for keeping secret US UK BZ IT — for refugee experimentation. (See cable —) — experimentation via biological, chemical, radiological, —

— — refugee populations in SY being moved — — —, though Ciprofloxacin shortage makes it difficult to keep enough alive before reaching BZ and IT labs. JA accepting variable sums to hold back information — to sick and dying refugees.

JA received cables — from RU re: US initial success in UK lab — Zika manipulation. Zika reengineering and subsequent failure — reanimation of dead tissue via adrenochrome.

Loss of containment in FL, US, GA, US, LON, UK — some bodies regaining movement and autonomy — — following brain death. In some cases, full recovery. — motivation altered. Wikileaks and JA rejecting — reports for GBP 1M per. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others complying — —.

Final note:

JA assassination attempt on — — 2016 reported successful by — Ecuador, London and US team — via gunshot wound to head. Body — reanimated likely — dormant Zika — accidental exposure to lost mosquito — LON, UK lab. JA new motivation unknown. Gunshot — covered by hair styled — over wounds. Still responsive to — and communication.

Internet in general still unaware of bioengineered — outbreak. — and family of citizens in US and UK — — reanimated dead without anyone knowing it. Monitor cables from — and RU. Avoid mosquito exposure. 

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The Empty Cribs on Hawthorn Lane

pacifier

The bloody pacifier I found hanging from my tree belonged to Alyssa Harris, who went missing from her crib two nights ago. I figured it had to have been Alyssa’s when I saw it, but while I waited for the police to arrive, I realized it could’ve belonged to Matthew Roman. Or Muhammad Ahad. Or maybe even Hailey Davis. Over the last four years, they’d all vanished.

Hawthorn Lane developed quite a bit of notoriety in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad disappeared on the same night. The Romans and the Ahads lived four houses apart, and as far as the detectives were able to tell, the children were abducted within minutes of each other. Both houses were securely locked and there was no sign of a forced entry.

As far as I’m concerned, though, the notoriety and brief rush of attention from the national news wouldn’t have happened if their disappearance hadn’t been on the anniversary of the 2012 abduction of Hailey Davis.

Hailey’s case was special, if it could be called such a thing. That’s because on October 1st, 2013, exactly a year after she went missing, pieces of her were found stuffed in the mailboxes of every family on the street who had, or were expecting, children. A swarm of investigators, both local and federal, descended on our quiet, suburban lane, and worked around the clock for months before admitting defeat. There was no evidence.

No fingerprints. No hairs. No mysterious DNA.

When the media came to town in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad went missing, the rumors started. Rumors and threats. People from all over the country decided to get involved. They felt it was their duty. They began sending harassing letters and making threatening phone calls to the single adults who lived on Hawthorn Lane. These were people who’d lived here for years; people who had grieved alongside the parents and families who’d lost their children. But that didn’t matter to the crazies, who’d been thoroughly brainwashed by cable news into believing the abductor had to be someone from the neighborhood.

In December of 2015, a Georgia man named Alvin Stovall drove 300 miles up the coast, parked in front of Jose Partida’s house, and shot him to death when he came home from work. Alvin was certain Jose was the murderer of Hailey Davis and the abductor of Matthew Roman and Muhammad Ahad. He’d heard from a cable news anchor that Jose had a criminal record. That, as well as Jose’s name, was all Alvin needed to justify his action.

What the anchor had neglected to mention was Jose’s record was from 1977. And it was for nothing worse than being a passenger in a stolen car. Jose did his three months, got out on his 22nd birthday, and had been a model citizen ever since. He was my friend.

After Jose’s murder, the local police were ordered to keep a tight lid on any information pertaining to the disappearances. When Alyssa Harris was reported missing two days ago, it was printed on page four of the local newspaper. So far, there hadn’t been anyone from the major media outlets poking around. I know it’s only a matter of time, though. Yesterday morning, someone who looked like a reporter was tailing the police cars when they came to investigate the bloody pacifier. For the rest of the day, my phone rang and rang. When I answered, whoever was on the other line just hung up.

That alone was enough to make me worried. My name is Luis Goncalves. I’ve been on Hawthorn Lane for 40 years. I’ve lived by myself since Robert passed away in 1999. Jose Partida was my next-door neighbor. While I appreciate the efforts of our law enforcement officials, they weren’t able to stop Alvin Stovall from murdering my friend. They aren’t able to stop whoever is taking the neighborhood children. I’ve resorted to keeping my pistol holstered to my side all day, every day; even in my house.

I know that may sound paranoid, but look at it from my perspective. Someone is abducting and killing children on my street. An innocent man was gunned down because the news media has convinced a large group of people that Latinos are dangerous criminals. And yesterday morning, hanging from a small branch on a tree in my front yard, was a pacifier dripping with a child’s blood. I can’t take my chances.

All that said, there’s one more thing. I’m reluctant to talk about it, because it’s something I saw when I was experiencing a dizzy spell from my blood pressure medication. I’d blacked out from the medication before, so this could’ve been nothing but a hallucination. Still, these days, with everything that’s going on, I think it bears mentioning.

I was washing up after a midnight snack. The sink is in front of a large picture window that overlooks the front yard. Since it was dark out, I couldn’t see anything but the reflection of myself and the kitchen behind me. I was already feeling dizzy from my medication, but it wasn’t severe enough for me to have to sit, so I kept cleaning.

As I washed the last dish, the overhead light blew. The kitchen went dark. It took a moment for my eyes to acclimate, but I could now see the neighborhood outside. And there was something across the street, opening the Richter family’s mailbox.

A wave of dizziness went through me and I gripped the edge of the counter to steady myself, but I’m certain, despite what I’m about to write, what I saw was really there. It was a pale, nude man with freakishly long legs and even longer arms that protruded from his hips, rather than his shoulders. Despite him being bent down, it was obvious he was tall enough to peer through a second-story window.

He paused with the mailbox half open, then abruptly stepped away and turned around. In two, long strides, he crossed the street into my yard. He gazed through my kitchen window with massive, gray eyes. I stared back. A toothless mouth opened, stretching wide enough to fit a basketball. I reached for my pistol. Through the glass, I heard the sound of infants screaming from deep inside his throat. His mouth shut, then twisted into a grin. Then his long, spindly legs carried him away, down the street, and into the woods.

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