Grizzly and the Killer Vampire - Part I

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

 Photograph by   Ján Jakub Naništa

Photograph by Ján Jakub Naništa

Grizzly the friendly hobo was just that – a friendly hobo… Not much else to say about him really. He was in his mid 70’s, enjoyed a good club sandwich (when he could get it) and often found himself in situations he'd be more comfortable away from. Because of Grizzly's pale, bushy beard and child-like mind, people tended to give him a wide birth, and, because of his homeless status, would assume terrible, slanderous things about him.

And that wasn't nice.

It didn't matter how timid and friendly Grizzly was, how often he cleaned the sidewalks of rubbish and debris, or how much he smiled and waved at passers-by, urging them to have a happy and healthy afternoon; people would see his rugged clothes and wiry whiskers and dart in the other direction, careful not to make eye contact with the strange old man.

It made Grizzly cry on more than one occasion.

One Tuesday evening, Grizzly had just finished scraping gunk off the park benches and rearranging the Marguerite daisies in a more homely manner, when his stomach started to bark at him and he realised he hadn't eaten in over 18 hours. Across the street he spotted an inviting café that looked to be closing up its doors for the day. A few of the tables outside had yet to be cleared and Grizzly squinted at what appeared to be the almost untouched leftovers of an American-style hamburger.

His belly roared upon seeing the dish and he patted it comfortingly.

'Well we can have that!' he said to his stomach. 'It just gon' get thrown away otherwise! Ain't no harm in it, ain't no harm at all.'

Apparently there was harm in it.

A bus boy by the name of Lars stampeded from the café as Grizzly got close, shooing him away with a damp dish cloth and urging him to 'Get! Get!'

Grizzly didn't like being yelled at. Especially when he believed he hadn't done anything wrong. He jumped with fear as Lars brandished the towel and he quickly bolted away with his dishevelled backpack tightly clasped around his moth-eaten overcoat.

'I ain't done nothin' wrong! I ain't done nothin' wrong!' he cried as he ran.

When he believed he had gotten far enough away from the threatening teenage boy and his café of meanness, Grizzly hunkered down on the edge of a forest path and hugged his knees as close to his chest as his old age would let him. He gazed up into the pale night sky that was quickly getting greyer and greyer with every passing moment. The darkness of winter drowned out all forms of warmth. Heavy clouds began to accumulate in front of the crescent moon.

Tears swelled in Grizzly's eyes as he darted his gaze from different sections in the grass beneath him – promising himself he wouldn't cry. His shoulders shook and his hands were clammy and cold. Winters were harsh in this part of Europe and Grizzly was well acquainted with the horrifying sensation of bone chill and hypothermia, and he didn't want to know them any better.

As he looked back up he noticed something beyond the distant hill he couldn't recall seeing before. The silhouetted protrusion of a gothic-style steeple jutted out from the tips of the alder trees. He cocked his head at it, trying to remember if he had ever ventured that far in his travels before.

Surely not.

He fished around in his coat pocket for a little toy nutcracker and rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. 'Who d'you suppose lives in that there castle?' he asked the toy, sniffling between words. 'Maybe they'd be kindly folk?' He stared down at the worn face of the nutcracker with his brow heavy with sadness. 'You're right Sebastian, they could well be meanly folk too…'

The sky erupted with a blinding flash of white and purple as lighting whipped across the stars followed by a monstrous explosion of thunder. Fear made Grizzly's heart jump and he clutched the nutcracker close to his chest. Tears threatened to appear again. With no hobble to call home, food to comfort him or blankets to keep him warm, our friendly hobo had no choice but to take his chances and venture to this castle for himself. 

'I bet the thing's abandoned anyways!' he assured himself. 'No harm stayin' the night if ain't no one there to mind!'

He picked himself off the squeaky grass and gently stuffed Sebastian back into his breast pocket, pulling his hobo pants high up his hips with a new-found purpose. He nodded at the silhouetted steeple and began his adventure through the forest.

He waded through the mud and cobwebs, desperate to find his way to this mysterious castle. As he carefully followed the faint remnants of a forgotten footpath, he told himself over and over again that if this place did indeed turn out to be abandoned, then surely, surely it was okay for him to stay the night. And maybe a few nights after that. Possibly the weekend too. Just until it got a little warmer outside.

The determination on his face was evident as he snapped passed branches in his way, shuffling boisterously through the moist underbrush. Our friendly hobo was so determined in fact, that he failed to notice the myriad of brittle, wooden signs that sporadically lined the forest's dull and desolate landscape.

“COME IN” a lot of the signs read. “LORD ALPHEZ WELCOMES YOU INSIDE”, “DON'T BE FRIGHTENED”, “FREE CANDY” and all sorts of similar, creepy nonsense.

If Grizzly had managed to make out any of these signs, it may have swayed his prospects just a little – possibly even causing him to faint slightly. But no, he continued to walk and strut, quickly getting out of breath and beginning to feel his knees ache.

The sky was now pitch black with not even a single star visible from beneath the swelling clouds. Rain began to fall again and spit through open sections in the Forest's shrubbery. Each droplet of rain felt like a bullet made of ice on Grizzly's age-spotted skin. He tightened his overcoat, rubbed his fingerless gloves together, and stomped his feet as he walked in an attempt to heat his body from the toes up.

Grizzly started to think that maybe this had been a bad idea. How far did he have left to go? Would it just be easier to turn back and try his luck sleeping at the local park's public toilets? But he knew people would get scared if they found him there in the middle of the night – and he didn't like frightening people. He began to cry silently to himself, the tears cascading down his face one after the other in a solid, steady stream.

These tears ain't helping matters, he thought, looking up momentarily at the rain.

The brief distraction proved almost fatal. The dense bush around him suddenly stopped and opened into a dirt clearing. Since Grizzly was busy staring up at the clouds, he didn't see the sneaky tree root popping out from under the cold ground. His wet loafers jammed underneath it and he came crashing down with a terrified shriek, smashing his elbows against several more hidden roots, and hearing what sounded like his knees braking upon impact with the icy soil.

He blinked hard, the pain behind his eyelids pulsating with each and every movement. He lifted his chin and saw a huge stone monument inches from his face. If he had been that tad bit taller, he'd most certainly have a broken neck and caved-in skull. He shrieked and shuffled backwards. There were numerous rips in his swede trousers and blood was trickling down his shins. But he brushed his tears away and panned his gaze up the front of the monument. His face contorted into a fearful expression and an overwhelming sadness gripped him.

A beautiful woman carved of stone stood atop a thick slab. She had a calmness in her face but something not quite human exuded from her appearance and gave Grizzly a fearful scowl.

Then he noticed an inscription carved neatly on the surface of the stone. It read:

            Here lies Mona Mikkael. Staked to death on the 6th of July 1769. May her soul

            forever roam these grounds and keep me company from the loneliness I feel

            without her.

Grizzly gulped hard as he read “staked in the heart” and looked again at the face of the lady. Despite his fear, he felt sorry for her and for the person who wrote the inscription. Because no one deserves to lose a loved one, as he knew all too well. He picked himself off the ground and brushed the dirt from his knees and torso, wincing at the pain he felt from the scrapes all over his body.

Just behind the tombstone was a long set of stairs that reached up towards a beautiful ancient mansion that clung to the side of a steep hill. It was riddled with moss and winding thickets and appeared more or less empty. Which was perfect. Although a slight tinge of disappointment poked at Grizzly's chest. He could always do with company.

He braved each step honourably and tried not to wince at the flashes of pain that exploded through his legs with each bend to the knees. He had tied a strip of his shirt around each thigh and prayed the wounds wouldn't get infected from the cold. He reached the top with much exhaustion and effort, then breathed in deeply, thrust out his big chest, and knocked daintily on the castle's wooden doors. He heard the echoes of his knocks bounce around inside the stone walls, but no answer came.

So he knocked again. This time a little louder.

Still no response.

'Evenin'... anyone?' he called out. 

It was at this moment he realised the doors had creaked open slightly and a pleasant, homely aroma wafted through the lobby. Grizzly gulped hard. Despite the sweet smell a voice in his head told him danger lurked inside. But he had come this far, it would be an embarrassment to turn back now.

He pushed open the doors as gently as he could and softly stepped inside.

A comforting warmth washed over Grizzly's poor skin and he melted with it. Candles lined the walls and illuminated the castle with a sombre glow. The room he had found himself in was large and elegant. A red carpet ran across the floor at his feet and twisted in the direction of several different doors and ascended up a large spiral staircase. The place looked immaculate! Recently dusted, polished to perfection, and not a piece of furniture out of place.

Someone had to be living here.

'I'm so sorry for bargin' in!' Grizzly shouted cautiously. 'I ain't no burglar and I ain't mean no harm!'

No answer.

From the darkness of the stone walls, a bright colour popped out from the side of his vision. He turned and saw an arrow painted across the wall, pointing at a particular set of doors. The arrow was made of a dark crimson and a candle was lit above it. Grizzly stepped towards it and eyed the arrow carefully. A sinking feeling quickly plunged down his chest as he looked down at the blood dripping from his knees and back at the arrow. They looked the same colour.

The entrance doors slammed shut behind him. From the aggressive wind outside? Maybe. But Grizzly believed they hadn't shut on their own. And it scared him. There was a sign above the arrowed doors that read: “COOKERY”. Grizzly's stomach growled and he patted it again, each time it made a quiet, hollow sound. Despite his better judgement, he twisted open the set of doors and began to follow a hallway made of stone and bright red carpeting.

It was too cold outside, Grizzly decided. He had better luck convincing someone of his good intentions than he did with the unforgiving weather.

Karma's a Biblical Bitch

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

 Photograph by  Tim Martin

Photograph by Tim Martin

Tony Roffman was a bit of an asshole. Not for any one specific reason. Just in general. He knew it and so did everyone else. So it didn’t come as a surprise to him when a small group of prideful and respected townsfolk arrived at his house one morning with their complaining faces armed and ready. He opened the front door with a flamboyant swing and let out an obnoxious and repulsive belch.

The townsfolk stared back at him, unimpressed.

'I didn’t know I called the Village People,' he said, smirking to reveal a layer of yellow teeth with greasy cheeseburger remains still prominent in sections.

'Tony,' began Amanda, 'we need to talk.'

He was barely listening. Far too engrossed in staring at Amanda’s cleavage popping out from under her tight sweater to notice anything else. Her chest swayed a little as she thumped a cricket bat in the palm of her hand. His grin became thinner and he let out a deep, throaty chuckle under his breath.

'Hey!' shouted Dave, the town pastor. A total cock-blocking douche-bag in Tony’s eyes.

Tony shifted his gaze from Rosy and Rebecca (the names he had given to Amanda’s breasts) and faced Dave. 'Hello, father,' he said with a bow.

'Amanda, get behind me.' The priest held out his arm and gently pulled the girl to his side. Dave wasn’t a particularly strong man, and the priest outfit did little to help his already rather  un-intimidating image. 'Now listen here, Mr. Roffman,' he continued. 'We don’t want to exacerbate this, but this here is a nice town and we don’t want anyone destroying that. If you continue with your disruptive behaviour, I'm afraid we're going to have to take matters into our own hands.'

Tony cackled in response, spit spraying Dave’s face, and the hot smell of rotten kebabs and flat beer wafted from his mouth. 'All you panty-wearing, Jesus-loving, goody-two-shoes ain’t gonna do shit!' He leant against the door frame and made a show of scratching the crack of his ass and smiled at the disgusted faces of the mob. Noises of revulsion were heard throughout the small crowd. He considered bringing his fingers to his nose and taking in a large whiff just to see the further horror on their faces, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it.

'Tony,' said Dave, causing the man to briefly look up. 'If you don’t leave, things may not go well in your favour.'

'I’ll leave,' he replied flatly, creating a sea of stunned and incredulous faces. 'That is, if the dear old priesty-kins here kisses my big, hairy ass!' He turned around and slapped his backside at Dave while hooting away like a manic clown.

Dave sighed.

As Tony went to stand up again, still in the midst of a severe laugh attack from what he thought was one of his best jokes yet, Dave brought forward a sharpened pole, making sure the pointed end aligned perfectly with the middle of Tony’s rear. He plunged it forward with one swift movement and the pole went directly inside the man, popping through the seat of his pants and causing blood to spurt from the pierced skin. The pole rocketed through him, impaling Tony on his own porch like a spit roast. The faint sounds of his muffled screams could barely be heard as the tip of the pole exited his mouth and stayed there, jutting out like a broken bone.

'Well that’s that then,' said Dave, clapping his hands together and waiting for the pain-filled gurgles to die down. He turned to Amanda, who smiled and whipped out a small notepad. He grasped the bottom of the pole and tugged it free with a juicy squelch and held it up triumphantly to the crowd. They cheered and he nodded humbly before straightening his neckband and patting the spurts of blood off his chest with a small handkerchief.  'Who's next on the chairman's list?' he asked.

Amanda looked down at her notepad and nodded, circling the fourth name down. 'A homeless man on Gabriel Street who has been flashing women as they pass.'

Dave nodded. 'Off we go then.' 

They all hummed and sang as they walked off down the street, making their way to Gabriel Street where hopefully this next one would be smart enough to accept their terms.

The Treasure Huntsmen: Hall of Riddles - Part II

Written by Samuel Gaitskell

http_%2F%2Fwww.pantomusicals.co.uk%2Fdracula%2Fdigital%2F0201_castleinterior.jpg

To read Part I, click here.


The group passed through riddle door after riddle door, with a surprisingly small amount of failure. After Ryan’s first mistake, they made sure to go nowhere near whatever buttons the door held until they were sure of the answer.

'P-a-w-n-s.' Julia punched in, the second to last door opening happily in result. The group walked through without question, finding themselves in front of a unique door indeed.

The other doors were made of metal, but designed to look like wood. Reinforced doors that couldn’t be just… broken down, but made with a certain aesthetic. Specifically made to appear to be mahogany. This one, on the other hand, held no such style, and instead simply looked like a door that might be placed in a vanilla bank vault. This door even had a small numbered keypad, instead of the massive, flashy, show off one found in the last number related riddle lock. It was almost as if this door was the first to be made, the others being added as they went when they found the first to be too easy to get through.

Above the bank vault door, a metalic frame stood, this frame silver in color rather than gold like the others. In the frame, a set of numbers.

''1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, 312211, 13112221, 1113213211, 31131211131221, 13211311123113112211'' followed by a blank space.

'Okay, this looks… complicated' Julia admitted, looking over the numbers 'Maybe it’s some sort of… equation, where the number that you have to add grows bigger by-'.

'I doubt that it’s an equation.' Ryan piped up, copping glares from the others 'I mean, these riddles are designed to slow us down, while the guards catch up.'

'Your point being?' David asked, eyeing him curiously.

'Well, if we got this far, it means that someone on our team is incredibly smart,' Ryan said, gesturing over to Julia with a smile. 'But maybe too smart. A smart person might get stuck up on trying to figure out how twenty one adds up to one thousand, two hundred and eleven, in example.'

'... That’s a surprisingly smart observation.' Julia remarked, looking over to Ryan as if examining a complete stranger 'So what you’re saying is that I’m too smart to solve this, then?'

'... maybe? I mean I’m sure you could, given enough time,' Ryan stated 'But I don’t think we have enough time, so-'

'So you want to try it?' Nathan asked, an edge to his voice 'Remember how that went last time?'

'That time, I was trying to be smart. That’s not my job.' Ryan chuckled out, looking up at the numbers curiously 'But… I think I’ve got this.'

'Care to explain?' Julia urged, seeing no relationship between the set of numbers.

'The first number is one. The second, eleven, or in other words, one one. The third, twenty one, or two one. The third, one thousand, two hundred and eleven, or one two one one. The numbers list off the components in order of the previous… number.'

Ryan smiled to himself, the others looking at him strangely. Honestly, there was probably a way that he could have described that using simpler words, though Ryan was nothing if not a natural born show-off.

'So the next number… should be…' Julia said, looking up to the number '11131221133112132113212211..?'

'Punch it in!' Ryan said with a cheerful tone, happy to be the one to solve the final riddle. Julia punched in the lengthy code. All went silent, for what felt to be an eternity, but in reality was little more than a few seconds. After those excruciatingly long seconds, the door’s lock released, and began to creak itself open, the sound of rusted metal being forced open grinding against the group’s collective ears.

The door flung open to reveal treasures far greater than they originally thought. Originally, all they expected to find was a sceptre made of gold that contained a fist-sized diamond upon its head. What they found, along with that, was a reinforced room filled with tapestries, art, precious gems, bars of gold, all equally valuable, all more than likely stolen.

'Jesus, there’s got to be… billions worth of treasure in here.' Julia gasped as she carefully moved from display case to display case, examining the pilfered goods available.

'We came here to steal the sceptre,' David reminded Julia. 'So we should just grab it and… wait, is that the Mona Lisa?'

David gestured over to a wall, where a large amount of paintings hung. Sure enough, the Mona Lisa, or at very least a very expensive recreation of it, hung casually, as if it were just another painting on the wall. In fact, the painting to its right was The Birth of Venus, and to the left was The Starry Night.

'Those have to be just… incredibly convincing recreations, surely.' Julia stated, not too sure about that, as she examined the paintings closely.

'I’m liking that doubt.' Called an unknown voice over the speakers, causing the four to jump. A screen lowered from the ceiling, revealing a crimson lipped woman, with cheekbones sharp enough to cut the diamonds that she had stolen 'Unfortunately, they are just recreations, though you would have no idea how much a convincing fake can fetch, if one knows where to look.'

'We’re not looking for any trouble, we’ve just been hired to-' David began, before being cut off by laughter.

'Not looking for trouble?' The woman chortled out, her laugh as fake as her eyelashes 'You knocked out my guards and broke into my vault. You have an interesting way of not looking for trouble, sweetie.'

'This sceptre was a piece within a museum, as donated by the archaeologists who unearthed it.' David explained, gesturing towards the sceptre, its brilliant diamond shimmering in an almost unnatural way 'You stole it. I have no idea how, considering the security within the particular museum, but you stole it nonetheless. We’re here to steal it back.'

'So, you’re looking for trouble.' The lady confirmed, with quite the smirk, before hatches began to open along the walls, revealing what looked to be machine guns of some sort, all aiming towards the four treasure huntsmen. Instinctively, Ryan raised his hands into the air, Ryan and Julia following his example shortly after.

'Before you fill us with bullet holes and find a way to make it look like an accident regardless,' David began, trying his best to stall for time 'I have to ask… what’s with the riddles?'

'The riddles? That’s quite simple, really. As a child, I only really loved two things. Things of great value, and riddles,' She cooed, a gleeful smile spreading across her face 'I always had a mind for them, you see. So, when I found myself within my line of work, I decided to craft a vault with locks that could only be open through riddles.'

'And how’d you find yourself within that line of work?' David urged, trying to continue to stall the lady, as the other three looked around the room.

'I see what you’re doing, sweetheart, and I’m afraid that it won’t-' The woman mused, before she was cut off this time, by none other than Ryan.

'Wait, wait, you said you had a mind for riddles, right? How about a wager?' Ryan offered, piquing the woman’s interest, and causing Julia, David and Nathan alike to shoot him looks that screamed ‘please shut the hell up.’ Looks which Ryan chose to ignore. 'One of us, the person chosen by you, gives you a riddle. Get it right, feel free to fill us with lead. Get it wrong, you let us go.'

'... my my, what a delicious wager' The lady hummed '... Alright, I accept.'

'Okay, and seeing how you’d probably select the dumbest member of our group to choose a riddle for you,' Ryan continued 'I guess that I should think up a riddle for-'

'You? Oh, no, no.' The woman laughed out 'Please, you’re much smarter than you or your friends give you credit for. That final riddle? You solved it like it was child's play! And let’s not forget how quickly you did that math in the earlier room? Even though your maths was completely unnecessary, I couldn’t help but admire how quickly you managed it all. No, I think I’ll choose…'

The woman paused for a moment, considering her options, before her eyes landed upon one person, a wicked smile splintering her near plastic looking face.

'You' She said, looking to Nathan 'The lady over there is far too smart, nearly on my level, so she’d be too big of a challenge. The challenge maker there thinks differently, perhaps in a way that I wouldn’t be able to follow. So it was between you and your leader. And obviously, he’s your leader for a reason. So naturally, the hired muscle was the last choice.'

'Jesus, do you overthink everything like this?' Ryan asked, surprisingly finding himself somewhat impressed… though he would never admit such.

'So, give me a riddle then.' The lady demanded, ignoring Ryan’s little question. Nathan looked between the three, as if silently asking for help, which the lady wagged her well manicured fingers at 'Ah, no outside help, dear.'

Nathan mentally cursed. He didn’t like to admit it, but honestly, sometimes he did feel like the weaker link. Julia was smart beyond her years, David was beyond amazing at rallying troops, him being the natural born leader that he was, and Ryan… well, he was the string that kept everyone together. What the hell was Nathan good for?

… Survival.

'Alright, I’ve got your riddle.' Nathan said, stepping forward with a faked level of confidence 'Four treasure hunters, three men and one woman. They stand in a room filled with treasures. In front of them… roughly forty guns, lining the walls, all aimed towards the group and ready to fire. And yet they survive. How?'

'Child's play!' The woman laughed out 'They just get behind whatever looks the least expendable. If the rooms filled with treasure, the guns are there to guard it, so the controller of them would never risk shooting!'

'Thanks!' Nathan smiled, before the group quickly grabbed some display cases and rearranged them to act as a shield. Without a single second left to spare, the group dived behind the shield, Julia quickly grabbing the sceptre beforehand. The woman’s eyes widened in realisation.

'You tricked me' she hissed out 'You tricked me, and so very easily, too.'

'And because of such, we’re at an impasse,' David said, smiling and giving Nathan a grateful nod 'You shoot, we die, and your precious things go with us. You don’t shoot, we don’t die, and your precious thing goes with us. Tell me, what would you rather lose? One treasure, or many? If you’re as smart of a woman as you claim to be-'

'-Then the answer is obvious,' The woman confirmed through gritted teeth, before the guns retracted and the panels in front of them closed 'You may go. And take that sceptre with you. It’s far too tacky anyway.'

The group carefully edged towards the door, making sure to drag along the display cases, just in case. Upon reaching the door, they rushed out, happy to escape.

Well, happy until the saw their path blocked by the guards they had left unconscious earlier, all armed and all harboring nasty grudges.

'... Not going to be that easy, huh?' Ryan asked with a sigh.

'When is it ever?'

The Treasure Huntsmen: Hall of Riddles - Part I

Written by Samuel Gaistkell

http_%2F%2Fwww.pantomusicals.co.uk%2Fdracula%2Fdigital%2F0201_castleinterior.jpg

Julia took a long, deep breath, ignoring the stinging dust flooding into her nostrils. Before her stood a door with 26 buttons upon it, each button representing a different letter of the alphabet. Beside her, three men - David, Nathan and Ryan - stood, looking very confused .

‘What are we doing here?’ Ryan asked, looking around the nicely polished wooden walls. ‘It seems a bit more… I don’t know, modern than our usual scores?’

‘We were hired to retrieve a treasure that apparently was stolen from a very valued collection,’ Nathan explained, yet again, an annoyed look washing over his face. ‘We hunt treasures. Not all treasures are ancient-’

‘Shh.’ Julia hissed, trying to concentrate. While David, Nathan and Ryan’s expertise lied in breaking and entering, scaling over or under walls that shouldn’t be scaled over or under, making rash decisions that shouldn’t be made, that sort of thing, Julia’s area of expertise was undeniably riddles and puzzles, making her the perfect person to solve their way into the middle of this modern, mind-bending maze. Or at least she would be, if everyone would just stay quiet.

Above this door sat a seemingly simple riddle. Framed in gold, and written all in capital letters, on paper that hadn’t even been glanced at by time, were a series of letters.

O T T F F S S _ _ _

Naturally, Julia assumed the letters and the three spaces following the final ‘s’ had to be a series of some sort, one she had to complete. But how?

‘... O T T F F S S …’ Ryan thought aloud, wrongly believing to be a help ‘... Maybe… maybe it’s something to do with-’

‘She said shut it.' Nathan glared over to Ryan, who promptly shut his mouth. Nathan did always have a strange way of getting Ryan to listen. No one really knew why, either. Not even Nathan himself.

Julia shot Nathan a grateful, weak smile before doubling her focus.

‘Come on, Julia, you can do this.' Julia thought to herself, frustrated over the fact that the very first riddle was already stumping her focus.

Julia stared at the letters intently, repeating them in her mind over and over. O T T F F S S…O T T F F S S… O T T F F S S… And in a sudden, and near inexplicable moment of brilliance, she had it.

‘Ryan, count up from one.' Julia said as she spun to face him.

‘You told me not to talk though.’ Ryan protested.

‘Just do it.’ She groaned along with a roll of her eyes. She preferred not to waste too much time here, seeing how the guards to this place wouldn’t stay knocked out forever.

‘Alright… uh, one, two, three, four-’ Ryan began, before being cut off.

‘And the first letter of each of those numbers?’ She asked, before the penny dropped, for Ryan, Nathan, and David alike.

‘That’s… so simple. It’s counting to ten,’ David said, looking up to the riddle 'The answer has to be ‘e n t’ then, eight, nine, ten.'

Julia, with a particularly bubbly bounce in her step, moved back over to the door covered in lettered buttons, where she punched in ‘E, N, T’. With a satisfying pop, the door flung open, to reveal yet another room with yet another door, yet another riddle positioned above it.

'This… could take a while' David sighed out before the four carried on

***

The group continued on, expecting, or rather hoping, that the riddles from that point onward would be as easy as the first. They were sadly very wrong, or rather their hopes were sadly dashed.

The next room’s door had far less buttons. Just 10. Each button having a number, one to nine, zero on the bottom. Above it, another riddle.

On my way to St. Ives I saw a man with seven wives. Each wife

had seven sacks.  Each sack had seven cats. Each cat had seven

kittens. Kitten, cats, sacks, wives. How many were going to St. Ives?’

'Oh, okay, so just simple adding?' Ryan scoffed, taking the riddle at face value. 'So, seven wives, seven sacks, each having seven cats, so that’s seven times seven, which is 49, and each cat had seven kittens, so that’s 49 times seven, which is… uh… 343, plus the seven we started with, so that’s 350, plus the seven sacks because… wait no hang on.'

'Okay, maybe leave the thinking for the thinkers, Ryan' Nathan said, gesturing over to Julia, who was looking up at the riddle, carefully reading over it. 

'Wait no, so it’s just seven times seven times seven times seven, right?' Ryan said 'Plus one for the person on their way to Saint Ives. So seven times seven equals 49 and 49 times seven equals 343. 343 times seven equals  … uh… 2401… roughly, plus one is 2402!'

Without warning, Ryan moved over to the number pad and began to punch in the number 2402. The three looked over to Ryan, their eyes widened with a mixture of confusion and anger, before a portion of the floor opened up and dropped away. Specifically, the portion that Ryan had moved on. Acting exclusively in panic, he managed to grapple to the ledge, not wishing to fall onto the spikes that he could see far below.

'That was the wrong answer!' Ryan called out, stating the obvious.

'Shit, Ryan!' Nathan said, a surprisingly genuine sounding mixture of panic and worry in his voice, as he hurried over to Ryan. Just as he found his fingers slipping, finding no decent hand-holds to grapple to, Nathan managed to clamp his hands onto Ryan’s arm, his eyes widened with a mixture of panic and fear alike. Ryan could only watch on helplessly as Nathan grunted, his body straining to pull him up. After a few excruciatingly long seconds, Nathan managed to pull Ryan out of the trap, the pair both panting heavily.

'I… uh…' Ryan stammered, suddenly finding it hard to speak, as he found himself embraced in the arms of the panicked looking Nathan.

'Uh… D-don’t touch anything ever again!' Nathan commanded, his usual scolding tone slowly returning, his face almost looking as if it was blushing.

'...Okay, so it looks like we only have a limited amount of guesses,' Julia eventually stated, deciding to ignore the strange interaction, or at least choosing to ignore it for now. 'Roughly three, I’d say, because the first wrong answer-' Julia paused to send an annoyed glare over to Ryan 'Caused about a third of the floor to drop away.'

'But all the math was right, as far as I can tell.' David began, looking up to the riddle '... oh.'

'Oh?' Julia asked, looking up to the riddle herself. It took her a second, before she got it too. '... oh!'

'Care to fill us in?' Nathan asked, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart.

'The answer is one.' David said. 'The riddle only said that one person was going to Saint Ives, and along the way, he saw others, though they weren’t going.'

'... Well, I feel dumb.' Ryan admitted.

'That’s because you’re the dumb one.' Nathan quipped, hiding a smile as Julia moved to the number pad and punched in the number 1. Once again, the door popped open with a confident pop, and once again, the group moved on.

The Treasure Huntsman: The Oblitus Heart - Part III

Written by Samuel Gaitskell

kaymakli_underground_city.jpg

To read Part II, click here. To go back to where it all began, you're going to want to click here


The ladder lead to a blank, dark, dusty room that looked much older than the building below. It looked as if this particular room was built into the side of the cavern centuries before the building, while the building was just built to give easy access to this room. Or at least that was the assessment that Julia gave.

David traced his torch around the room, to find a rather unsettling sight. In the centre rested a golden, anatomically realistic heart that seemed to be permanently oozing a suspicious red liquid which David sincerely hoped wasn’t what he thought it was. The heart itself was held in the hands of a statue of a skeleton, the skeletons ribcage seeming to have been blown open from the inside.

'So, what are we thinking?' Nathan said, trying to put on his Business As Usual routine to distract from the horrific image burned into his mind. 'Weighted mechanisms, triggered when the heart is removed? Something along those lines?'

'It doesn’t look like it,' Julia commented, observing the arms through what limited light that David’s torch provided. 'As far as I can tell it’s just a regular statue.'

'So… are we just going to grab it?' Ryan suggested. 'I mean, if it’s not booby trapped or whatever, so-'

'We can’t be sure that it isn’t… booby trapped.' Julia stated, really hating that term. 'While I doubt it’s a weighted mechanism or whatever, we can never be too careful.'

David approached the statue carefully, sizing up his options. Honestly, just the classic grab-and-run strategy sounded pretty good right now. It was a strategy that, in his experience, never worked, but quite frankly, it was an ancient statue, how ‘booby trapped’ could it be? Well, very, quite frankly, but as ancient as it was, surely it could be outrun.

With all of his strength, David lifted the surprisingly heavy heart from the hands, trying his best not to spill the thick crimson liquid on himself. He cursed softly under his breath as a clicking noise of some sort splintered through the silence. The entire statue began to sink into the ground, a similar thick liquid beginning to ooze from its eye sockets but instead of red, this liquid’s colour was as black as pitch.

'Time to run?' Ryan asked, looking at the liquid.

'Time to run.' David confirmed.

***

The four treasure huntsmen rushed from the building to find massive spouts of a similar black liquid squirting from various statues along the road like busted fire hydrants. A very peculiar trap, indeed. Surely, if they had such an advanced system of pipes, they could just dump a big rock on top of the potential thief. Why risk the entire city?

'No one touch the liquid.' Julia commanded as they ran back towards the exit of the city.

'Oh, really? Don’t touch the mysterious black goo spouting from the ancient statues?' Ryan sarcastically quipped. 'That’s a real shame, ‘cause I was going to slurp a cup-full up.'

'Can we save the sarcasm for when we aren’t about to die?' Nathan added with a huff, narrowly avoiding yet another fountain that sprung from a nearby statue of what looked to be an angel.

The group ran and ran, dodging spout after spout of the mysterious black liquid, before their exit was finally in sight. The group bolted through the opening in the cave’s wall, pausing only to take a look backwards at the city. The fountains grew larger and larger, flooding the streets with the ooze, with next to no sign of stopping. It looked as if the entire city would be submerged eventually. Such a sight brought a feeling of sadness to Julia. The entire ancient city, drowned. All that history, and all the mysteries which came with it, flushed away in a sea of pitch black sludge. And all by their very own hands, no less. To a degree, Julia knew that disturbing history was a part of the job. But on this scale? Julia couldn’t help but linger, as the other three began to leave through the tunnel they had came through, while she watched the liquid rise. It was almost like she could see all those untold stories, all those memories of another time, being destroyed in the flood. Sure, they got their treasure...

...But was it worth it?

The Treasure Huntsman: The Oblitus Heart - Part II

Written by Samuel Gaitskell

kaymakli_underground_city.jpg

To read Part I, click here.


The group moved on through the city, looking for any signs of the treasure that they were hunting. They came across countless buildings that appeared to be stores of some sort, and one which looked to be some sort of library, which Julia was fairly hesitant to leave behind. Eventually, however, the group stumbled upon a building which was definitely different to all the others.

The building, rather than being made of stone and wood like all the others, seemed to be made of brass or some sort of similar metal, and apart from the occasional patch of greenish rust, it looked to be in alarmingly good condition. The door into the building looked as if it belonged in some sort of submarine.  The building looked to be centuries, possibly even millennia, more advanced than anything else within this underground city.

'This is… amazing.' Julia gasped, looking at the impossibly advanced building before her. 'I… I don’t even know how to describe this!'

'Well, seeing how it’s the only one of its kind, I’ll wager that it’s where we need to be,' Nathan guessed, looking up and down at the building. 'so, shall we?'

The group all nodded to each other, Julia wearing an amazed smile, before they all walked towards the entrance.

***

The second that the three opened the rather bulky brass door, a hissing noise could be heard. The four prepared for the worst, though their fear was quickly replaced with confusion as the building flooded full of light, which came from some automatic gas lamps that lined the walls. The group gasped, their eyes straining to adjust to the new levels of light. Once their eyes finally recovered, they found themselves in a bizarrely well-furnished room, filled with brass pipes that sprouted from the walls in various places, along with what looked to be an oak table, which was covered in undamaged, though slightly dusty, maps and tomes.

'This is impossible.' Julia claimed, immediately taking to the table to look over the maps. 'The gas lamps alone raise enough questions to put the smartest of scientists out of commission. I mean, the city outside is ancient beyond all belief, but gas lamps weren’t developed until the late 1790’s, give or take.'

'So someone found the city and built this place years ago?' David asked, looking over the papers lining the grand table.

'Well, that is the logical thing to assume, yes.' Julia stated. 'But there were no records of anyone finding this city before us, so whoever did find the city certainly didn’t advertise it.'

'Okay, scary thought,' Ryan piped up, looking through a slightly murky window. 'what if they didn’t tell anyone because they never left? I mean, I could have sworn I saw something moving in the shadows earlier, maybe-'

'That’s a bit of a leap.' Nathan said, though there was a level of concern in his voice.

'Nevertheless, we should probably be careful.' David declared as he handed what looked to be a well weathered journal over to Julia. 'Julia, could you quickly look through this while we all take a look around?'

Julia didn’t have to be asked twice. She happily picked the book up and carefully opened it, before beginning to read through it.

No more than five minutes went by before a horrifically loud siren went off, that almost sounded like an angered crow. Everyone near instinctively turned to Ryan, who had decided to push some sort of button, caring little for the consequences.

'Goddamnit Ryan!' Nathan hissed, covering his ears with his hands.

'Ryan, your ‘they never left’ theory may have been alarmingly accurate!' Julia added, yelling over the alarm as she stared out the window. 'Because we have company!'

The group rushed over to the window, where they saw cloaked figures approaching through the shadows.

'Alright, Ryan, Nathan, work on barricading the door!' David ordered, having to yell over the horrific alarm. 'Julia and I will search for a way out!'

Nathan and Ryan instantly jumped to work, swiping the maps and papers off of the grand table before moving it in the way of the entrance, while David and Julia searched through the room for any type of escape.

“Guys, over here!” Julia yelled out, trying her best to force open a similar door. The others quickly rushed to her side and helped open the door.

***

The alarm was slightly quieter on the other side of the door. Unlike the previous room, this one possessed no gas lamps, though it did have an awful lot more pipes, along with a spiralling staircase leading upwards. Hearing what sounded to be the front door crashing open, the group didn’t hesitate before beginning to head up the stairs.

'This is bad, this is very, very bad.' Julia stated as she ran up the fairly tall brass stairs, only lagging slightly behind the other three, as she hastily read through the journal.

'Just focus on getting up these stairs, Julia.' Nathan said, 'You can resume reading when we aren’t about to die horribly.'

'Right, right…' Julia mumbled as she closed the book and picked up the pace.

The stairway lead up to what looked to be a glass room with a bizarre looking door leading into it, which was locked by some sort of strange, unfamiliar lock in the shape of a simple button. David, Julia, Nathan, and Ryan respectively all attempted to press the button to open it, and unsurprisingly, each failed. The level of desperation began to rise as a noise that sounded like the door opening at the bottom of the stairwell opening could be heard.

'Well, I guess this is how we die.' Ryan joked, though it was obvious that he was panicking just as much as everyone else.

'Maybe not.' Julia chimed in, as she quickly opened the journal, remembering something she read. She hastily flipped through the book, before stopping on a particular page. 'Okay, here we go: according to this journal, from what I can tell at least, this lock is called a "personalised pop lock", made to only open to a specific fingerprint, which is beyond amazing because fingerprints weren’t discovered until-'

'All very interesting, Julia, I’m sure, but not exactly useful' Nathan said, trying to hurry her along.

'Right, right,' Julia nodded, snapping back on topic, 'basically, the journal says that the lock, while being incredibly advanced, were easily broken when exposed to several everyday things, such as certain vinegars, certain alcohols, and…'

Julia paused to quickly open and ruffle through Ryan’s pack, confusing all the others considerably. After a few seconds, she pulled out some sort of candy, which she proceeded to unwrap before slamming it against the lock. A sizzling noise sounded from the button-like lock, before it seemed to short circuit, causing the door to lazily swing open.

'... pretty much anything with high levels of sugar.' Julia finished with a huff, releasing a breath she didn’t even realise that she had been holding.

'Right, everyone in.' David said, as they all rushed into the glass room. Julia, being the last in, paused to look at the door.

'Problem, guys…' She said as she entered. 'The lock on the door, that’s broken. Whoever is following us will have literally no issues with opening the door.'

'I’ll hold it shut, then.' Nathan said, as he closed the door and held it shut. 'You guys look for a way out or something.'

'We mightn’t need to,' Julia said, reading on, 'I think this whole stairwell is a trap room of sort.'

'Elaborate, please.' David said, looking down through the glass floor to see the quickly ascending cloaked figures.

'As far as I can tell,' Julia began, 'there should be a button in this glass room somewhere that, once activated, causes all the air outside of the room to be sucked out, suffocating whoever is in the stairwell. Once again, technology which far exceeds the time period.'

'Over here.' Ryan said, gesturing to a button mounted on the only metal wall of the glass room. 'Should we press it?'

A sudden pounding could be heard against the door into the glass room. The cloaked figures were trying to get in.

'Press the damn thing!' Nathan demanded, straining to keep the door shut. Ryan didn’t need any more convincing before he pressed the button. Immediately, a near deafeningly loud humming noise pierced through the air. The cloaked figures all seemed to drop to their knees, horrifically gagging and coughing as the air was being ripped from their lungs. As they choked, their cloak’s hoods were flung from their heads, to reveal nothing more than ordinary faces. One might assume them to be entirely normal people, in any other circumstance.

'P-please…' one managed to choke out, desperately, if not weakly, pounding against the door, 'let us in.'

The group stood in horrified silence as they watched the cloaked figures thrash about, desperate for air, though it wasn’t long before their choked tears faded into silence. The group stood quiet, unsure of what to think. Those people… they were dead. They were dead, no less, because of them. Those people never hurt any of them. Hell, they never even showed any real signs of wanting to. As far as they knew, they just killed a group of innocent people.

'The the air should cycle back into the room automatically in about ten minutes…” Julia mumbled out, attempting to break the near deafening silence.

'We… we should continue,' added Nathan, 'We’ve come too far to let… to let this stop us.'

Though Nathan’s words were of a determined treasure huntsman, his tone was less than convincing. Nevertheless, the group pressed on because, as unconvincing as his tone was, Nathan was right. They had come too far to stop now. Even if they really wished to. So, with a false level of determination, the group climbed up a ladder, moving on.

The Treasure Huntsman: The Oblitus Heart - Part I

Written by Samuel Gaitskell

kaymakli_underground_city.jpg

David, Julia, Nathan and Ryan cautiously walked along, David aiming his torch forward, as they ventured deeper into the underground city of Oblitus. It had been a good few years since they began this little treasure hunt, and after countless false leads, they’d finally found the fabled buried city.

The group wandered through what looked to be a long since abandoned street, lined with ruined, ancient buildings of stone and wood. Statues of sorts were found on just about every corner, depicting what looked to be gods of some sort, though time had worn away most identifiable features. Hell, time had worn away just about everything down here.

'Could we please take a break soon?' asked the ever impatient Ryan, drawing deep, heavy breaths. The group had been walking for a good few hours at that point, so a break did seem necessary, even to David, who had proven to be nothing but stubborn not only on this trip, but ever since Ryan had known him. All Ryan needed to do was throw the slightest of nods to David before he collapsed onto the ground and began to rummage through his bag for something to eat.

'What are we looking for?' Nathan asked, as he took his seat on a crumbling stone wall. 'I mean, I know we’re looking for the lost treasure of whatever, but where would that be? The middle of the city? At the far end? Hidden inconspicuously in an ancient toilet of some kind?'

'I doubt that it’ll be in a toilet,' Julia chuckled, 'Considering that, according to our research, this city was made centuries before plumbing was around. They probably just threw their waste onto the road.'

Ryan stiffened a bit, realising that he was sitting on the road that more than likely was once covered in an ancient civilisations "leavings", so to speak. Still, unsurprisingly, it didn’t seem to dampen his appetite in the slightest, as he still shoveled various sweets into his mouth.

'Ryan, honestly, couldn’t you at least try to eat healthily?' Nathan sighed, looking down at his fellow treasure hunter. 'We’re searching for ancient treasure, not having a quick lunch break between finger painting and nap time.'

'Hey, this has a fruity gel in it!' Ryan argued, holding up some sort of candy in protest 'Fruit is healthy!'

'Flawless logic,' Nathan said with a roll of his eyes. 'Honestly, why are you even here? I doubt that we have much use for such a bumbling, childish arse such as yourself-'

'Can you two please spend just ten minutes without going at each other’s throats?' groaned David, looking between the pair, before his eyes rested on Nathan. 'Ryan is here because we need him here, just like we need you. He’s not going anywhere, no matter how much you want him to. So would you please kindly suck it up for the sake of everyone’s sanity?'

Nathan begrudgingly mumbled an apology to Ryan, who surprisingly didn’t bother to gloat too much, before the group was left in silence. Julia spent her break reading away at some sort of leather-bound book, Nathan and Ryan spent theirs in silence, Ryan quietly eating, Nathan keeping a cautious eye open, and David spent his time idly enjoying the silence.

'Did… guys, did you see that?' Ryan suddenly began, a level of panic in his voice which seemed to spread to the others. Ryan quickly shot up onto his feet and pointed into the inky blackness ahead of them 'Over there, I could have sworn that I saw something moving.'

David cautiously raised his torch and swept it along the general area where Ryan gestured, to find nothing more than decrepit, dusty ruins. The group carefully studied the scene for several moments, before deciding that, in reality, nothing was there.

'We should get moving again.' The now slightly paranoid David said, hopping to his feet and throwing his bag back over his shoulder, the others following his example. 'Just… keep an eye open, everyone.'

***

Grizzly and The Killer Vampire - Part II

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

 Photograph by   Ján Jakub Naništa

Photograph by Ján Jakub Naništa


- Click here to read Part I -


The walls were lined with old oil paintings – mostly of forest landscapes and night skies, but here and there Grizzly would spot some old portraits of two beautiful people. A man and wife. The lady, he recognised, was the same from the tombstone outside.

He lowered his head and followed the bloody arrows throughout the musky scented hall, stopping every now and then to try one of the many doors lining his path. Each was locked and bolted. With every denied click a pounding echo of fear shuddered through his ears. His poor little old man hands trembled so ferociously he brought Sebastian the nutcracker back out to clutch him comfortingly between his palms.

Then came an uncomfortable churning feeling in his stomach. Like a sickness induced by the mind being aware of another presence in the room. As Grizzly hobbled through the long corridor, the sickly feeling got stronger, and he became certain someone was following him. But where was they? He kept asking himself.   

A flourish of candlelight appeared before him and he realised he had come to the end of the hall. There was a thick door surrounded by bloody arrows and flickering torches, with the sign DINING HALL/KITCHEN above it.

Grizzly gulped, but once again lifted his beaten trousers high up his hips and reached his wrinkly fist out to knock politely on the surface of the door. The wood creaked open as Grizzly knocked and he gently stepped inside.

The room was engulfed in darkness, but a sickly sweet aroma wafted through the air. His stomach growled at it, but his brain was less excited. It wondered what could be making that smell from the dark depths of the shadows.

There was a sudden clapping noise from somewhere in the dark, and the room erupted with a series of tall candles like magic. And a golden glow cast twitching shadows across the now visible stone ground. A long mahogany table sat in the middle – laden with meats, vegetables, and foods of all sorts. Mountains of croissants and other baked goods were piled against each other and two wine glasses filled with a suspicious red substance sat untouched on each end of the table.

Seemingly set for two.

Grizzly's heart jolted inside his chest like a pair of maracas working over-time. A strong, fleeing pulsated around his brain and told him to run, run! RUN!

He couldn't move. The sight of all that food screamed at him. He hadn't eaten in so long, and it wasn't fair. He was a good man – a nice man. Someone people should be friends with, not afraid of! He started to cry again and held Sebastian close to his heart. His tears got caught in his unkempt, bushy beard and he patted it dry with a musky lapel. Why did things have to be so hard? He never complained about his life or how things had played out for him, and yet here he was – so desperate for food he was putting himself in such a danger. And he knew he was in danger. 

Something gently patted him from behind.    

He slowly glanced over his shoulder.

His eyes widened. A strong shiver exploded through his entire body. His mouth went dry.

A pale, slender man with dark eyes and pointy cheekbones stared down at him with a doleful expression, patting Grizzly's shoulder lightly with a set of bony fingers.

Grizzly shrieked and flung himself away, tripping over his own feet and landing painfully on his backside.

This was the man from the portraits. The husband standing beside his beautiful wife, not looking a day older. But how was that possible?

The man clasped his hands together and flashed Grizzly a smile. 'I am so glad you could make it to my home,' he said with a thick Romanian accent. 'But I must ask, child, why do you weep?'

For some reason, this question caused Grizzly to weep even further. As the man talked he flashed the hobo a set of sharp fangs and the dull light from the flames made them glisten and shimmer. Grizzly didn't like it one bit.

The man was almost twice the height of our friendly hobo and hovered over him like a bulimic sasquatch. He extended his hand and gestured towards the table. 'Please, take a seat my friend.' The way the Romanian spoke made Grizzly light-headed and the room spun around him. He felt like he was being mocked and looked at with eyes as hungry as his own. But in a far meaner way. 'I did set it up just for you,' the man added.

Grizzly's brow furrowed and he was afraid to move. 

'As soon as I saw you enter my woods I knew we would be the best of friends,' he whispered with a sly chuckle.

Grizzly shivered.

'I may have already had supper,' he flashed the hobo a quick smirk, 'but I'm sure I could fit in seconds.' His eyes turned an unnerving shade of red and his fangs peaked out of his gums like two knives ready to start carving. 

Grizzly screamed at the top of his lungs and jumped up from the hard ground – bounding passed the vampire with every ounce of strength he had left. He burst out of the dining hall and ran as hard as he could back through the creepy corridor of creepiness – desperate and begging all the Gods for energy.

'I ain't done nothin' wrong! I ain't done nothin' wrong!' he screamed.

Sweat flung from Grizzly's forehead and he prayed for the strength to escape. He knew the outside was a cold and desolate place for him, but now he decided he'd rather take his chances with the unforgiving weather, than become some mean vampire's midnight snack! He flashed a glance behind him as he frantically sprinted down the isle. The visage of the pale-faced Romanian stared relentlessly back at him, levitating off the floor and rapidly following behind him with his chest thrust out like a hummingbird.

Grizzly squalled and jerked his head back in front of him.

He managed to run his way back to the main hall and grasped the thick handles of the two large wooden doors as quickly as he could. He heaved and pulled for a few moments before they gave and swung open with a noisy creak. He bolted down the stairs, past the monument and back into the forest – never looking back again.

The vampire stopped at the entrance and called out to the hobo as he bounded away. 'No, wait!' he yelled, holding out his arms. 'I just want to be friends!'

It was too late. He lost sight of the man in the dark fog wafting from the forest and had spooked him to the point of no return. He let out a long, disappointed sigh and slowly skulked back into his mansion.

'I'm so lonely…' he said to himself.

The wind picked up and slammed the doors shut violently, but he took no notice of it. Instead, he slumped down on the end of a velvet sofa and covered his face with his pale, bony fingers.

'Stupid Alphez!' He slapped the side of his face and starred solemnly at the floor. 'Stupid vampire! Stupid, stupid, stupid!' There was a golden-framed mirror hanging from the wall beside him, he turned to look at it and saw the reflection of the couch staring back at him. 'Was it something I said?' he asked with a shrug. He glanced over to the red arrow he had painted months ago, welcoming visitors to his dining hall. After all, Alphez was a fabulous cook and he wanted to share his talents with the people. He hadn't had a proper dinner party in nearly three centuries. And that was upsetting.

He shook his head at the arrow and huffed. 'Perhaps the red paint is a tad off-putting?'

Alphez stopped and cocked his head at something on the floor. A small, wooden something that stared back at him with a friendly face made of acrylic paint. It was a small toy nutcracker with a weather-beaten paint job and well-loved personality. Alphez flashed a look at the main doors, believing the artefact must have belonged to the friendly bearded gentlemen.

He picked up the toy and swayed back into his dining hall, placed the nutcracker on one end of the table before taking his place at the other. He raised his glass of priceless Italian red wine and took a sip.

'Ahh,' he sighed, 'good year.'

He looked up at the stiff nutcracker and smiled at him. 'Welcome to the Mikkael Mansion!' he said, humouring himself. 'I hope you like your stay here. May I ask you name, sir?'

 There was no reply.

'Hmm,' nodded Alphez. 'The silent type, are we? Well that's okay.' He studied the face of the nutcracker and tilted his grey head at him. 'You look like a Sebastian if you ask me.' He raised his glass again and grinned at the toy. 'Well, Mister Sebastian, here's to the start of a most wonderful friendship!'

Alphez looked over his shoulder at a large painting of his late wife, Mona. She smiled down at him with all the grace and beauty he always remembered her exuding. He nodded at her while a small, perfect tear rolled down his undead face. 'You wont have to worry about me anymore, my dear,' he told her. 'I finally have a friend.'

He sighed and closed his eyes, breathing in all the delicious aromas of food from the table. He smiled to himself and thanked that friendly hobo, hoping maybe one day he might possibly return for his nutcracker, and the three of them could become the best of friends. Paint landscapes together, cook banquets and host dinner parties, maybe even start a band, who knows?

It sounded unlikely. But a vampire can dream, can't he?

And he did have eternity to wait and see, after all.

Saving Lives

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

 Courtesy of  Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

Dot, dash, dot, dot: L

Dot, dash: A

Dash: T

Dot: E

Late. Again. She didn’t even need to consult the chart to decipher the Morse Code. She was all too used to that particular pattern, and she was growing increasingly used to the strange heaviness that settled over her upon hearing it. It was an unsettling but all consuming weight that pushed her down and tightened her chest. It didn’t hurt her. Not in any physical sense, at least, but it reminded her of pain nonetheless. She supposed she was actually quite fond of Hopper. He was unusual. Awkward and uncertain at times, strong and in charge at others. And every so often, when El personally believed him to be at his best, he was silly. It was the silly version of Hopper that would put on the voices of the characters in the books they read together, and who taught her how to make a barricade out of her Eggo’s so the syrup didn’t touch the other food. It was silly side of him that danced in a way that never failed to make her laugh and told jokes she was sure only he would think were funny. She didn’t really understand them, but she liked to hear him tell them regardless. However, the very best thing about silly Hopper was that he so often led to the sweet version of Hopper. Sweet Hopper took some getting used to. The first time he had ruffled her rapidly growing hair she’d thought perhaps there was a cobweb caught in it that he was brushing aside. He’d chuckled at her nonplussed expression, until he realised that meant he was the first person to touch her in such a way, then his expression had darkened. Since then he had progressed to one armed hugs, pats on the back and this strange thing where he would lightly punch her in the arm when he was especially pleased. The contact was foreign and peculiar but El found herself craving it. It made her feel accepted, something she hadn’t felt since Mike.

Mike.

Her eyes drifted to the makeshift blindfold beside the old television set. She had time to kill. What would it hurt to check in on him? Except it did hurt. It hurt to be so close but unable to make contact. It hurt when she saw how much he missed her but it hurt even worse in those moments when he was able to forget about her. Sometimes she caught glimmers of him enjoying a life like the one he’d had before she’d dropped in and made a mess of everything. He’d be smiling, laughing with Dustin and Lucas, playing one of their games. She’d watch until she literally couldn’t see through her tears. No. She wouldn’t look in on him. Like Hopper would say “There’s no good can come of it.” So, the real question became, what should she do?

First things first. El grabbed the plate of dinner Hopper had left out for her and promptly dumped the vegetables out her bedroom window. She frowned at the growing pile of broccoli. Hopper insisted it was good but, in El’s experience, rats would eat pretty much anything and even the rodents wouldn’t touch the weird green stuff. And if the rats wouldn’t eat it, she wasn’t going to go anywhere near it. She replaced the missing vegetables with two extra Eggos and settled down to her feast.

She was just bringing the first forkful up to her mouth when she spied the coffee maker out of the corner of her eye. She shook her head, determined to focus on her meal but her eyes kept being drawn back to the bizarre contraption. Hopper said coffee was no good for her. But he drank it all the time. How bad could it really be?

El was only vaguely aware of the mess she was making in her haste to tear open the coffee and pour it into the compartment. She wasn’t sure what the small paper circles were for, so she decided not to bother with them. Instead she hastily emptied the coffee granules into the machine and filled it to the brim with water. She placed the jug underneath just as she had seen Hopper do countless times, and at the click of a button she was rewarded with the loud sputtering noise that always made her think the machine must be broken, but that Hopper assured her was perfectly normal. Whilst the coffee machine got to work, El’s eyes alighted on another way to keep busy.

Hopper’s record collection was extensive to say the least. He’d told her all the names of the bands and singers when she’d first arrived but she had long since forgotten all but a few that were his favourites. She picked a record at random, placing it on the turntable and lowering the needle, just the way Hopper always did. She didn’t know exactly where the needle was meant to sit so she nudged it forwards and backwards a few times. It made a peculiar, zipping sort of noise that made her smile so she continued swinging the arm to and fro, delighted to see just how loud a noise it could make. She was just considering seeing if she could make it play actual music when she spotted the rusty old pair of roller skates in the corner.

Hopper had told her there wasn’t enough space to skate in the cabin. He’d promised to take her out one day and teach her how to use the odd, wheeled shoes. El bit her lip in indecision. That had been 83 days ago. Perhaps if she pushed the couch to one side she would have enough room to at least have a go at skating. Leaving the record playing to screech and crackle, El raced across to the skates tearing off her beaten up old sneakers as she went. Her hands shook in her haste to fasten the buckles of the skates and they didn’t quite fit her feet but she couldn’t have cared less. Just standing up proved to be exceptionally difficult but eventually she found she could just about keep her feet under her if she clung to the bookcase. Every tiny movement nearly sent her flying as her feet jerked and slipped beneath her. It was a little frightening and difficult but unbelievably fun. Even when her momentum sent her feet skidding in opposite directions and landed her squarely on her butt, surrounded by the books she’d pulled off the shelves in a desperate attempt to remain upright, she still couldn’t keep from grinning like a fool. She hadn’t quite mastered standing in the skates but she was too excited to get moving to hold off any longer. She pushed off from the bookcase sending even more volumes clattering to the ground as she careened across the cabin straight into the dining table, colliding with one of the rickety wooden chairs and sending both them to the ground in heap of tangled limbs and splintered wood. Dazed but unharmed El tried to right herself when she spotted the coffee pot beginning to overflow. Obviously, she’d done something wrong. Hopper’s coffee never looked like that. The machine was pumping out a thick sludge that smelt burnt and bitter and was quickly oozing its way along the work surface and splattering onto the floor. In her rush to stand, El momentarily forgot the skates still affixed to her feet. She crashed into yet another chair, sending it skittering across the floor, before she gave in to scrambling on her hands and knees desperately trying to find something she could use to haul herself back to her feet. The, she would find a towel or a cloth or anything that might be useful in cleaning up the sludgey coffee. She grabbed hold of the cupboard door to her left and it nearly swung clean off its hinges under her weight. She crumpled to the ground once more, digging through the cupboard for something that might help. There was no towel in sight but what she did see froze her in her tracks. The box of lucky charms was partially obscured behind the tinned meats but there was no mistaking that packaging. Hopper had told her there were none left. She’d suspected he wasn’t being entirely truthful at the time, she hadn’t wanted to accuse him of lying though. He’d saved her from freezing and starving and he’d not hurt her or asked anything of her since. It felt wrong to question him when he’d shown her such kindness. Almost without realising, El found her hands reaching for the brightly coloured cereal box, all thoughts of the coffee long forgotten.

When the door to the cabin swung open some indeterminable time later, El was still sat on the kitchen floor amidst handfuls of dropped cereal and broken chairs. Her feet were still wedged firmly into the roller skates and thick, gloopy coffee covered a good deal of the counter top. Books were strewn haphazardly around the cabin and the scratchy crackling of the record player was the only sound to be heard. Hopper’s eyes opened wider than she’s have believed possible as he took in the scene before him. His mouth moved wordlessly, at first, then he found his voice.

'What in God’s name happened here, kid?' El locked eyes with him, not entirely sure how she could express everything that was inside of her. Her fear, her frustration, her gratitude and her loneliness and all the questions she had burning her up inside, questions about who she was, about the world, about the man who had taken her in and why he cared what happened  to her and whether she could trust the feeling of safety he gave her, the happiness he’d brought her. Hopper waited, the vein throbbing in his clenched jaw, his narrowed eyes pinning her to the spot. In the end she said the only thing she could.

'You were late.'      

On the Roof

Written by James McCann

7965824960_3ccfe1ca90.jpg

I can see the whole city from up here. Well, what’s left of it.

The riots started about a week ago; over what exactly, I can’t quite remember. It might have been a race thing, maybe a political thing. It was probably the price of petrol being raised, or a sports result. Something insignificant like that.

It was my idea to come up here, sit on the roof. A green blanket on the shingles, lay it down, and if anyone comes too close to the house with a look of looting in his eye, then blam! Unload the chamber of my shotgun.

Mel’s asleep next to me, curling up into my side, still clinging to my left arm wrapped around her shoulders. She handled the whole thing pretty well: no crying, no panicking, or any of the stuff that women always seem to do in films when there’s a crisis . She’s sleeping peacefully, her long black, curly hair falling down in tussles across her face. Her small delicate features cast tiny shadows over her. It’s a full moon and everywhere is lit up. She keeps burying her head into my chest, her eyelids too thin to keep out the light. At the very least no looters will be sneaking up on the house tonight.

I’m reminded, looking at her, of the first night I spent with her mother, Katie. We were on a company team-building trip into the woods and we got talking to each other by the lake. We inevitably got separated from the rest of the group. I’d rather have spent the entire weekend with Katie.  As it got dark, I made a small campsite and we huddled up for the night. It sounds corny, I know, but I wanted to stay like that, holding her, forever.

The most startling thing was when she woke up. Massive chestnut brown eyes looked up at me, like a very attractive rabbit caught in headlights. We made idle small-talk getting up before we finally worked up the nerve to kiss each other. We’ve been together ever since that weekend in the woods six years ago. My four-year-old Mel is the prize I won for giving my life to Katie.  She’s the spitting image of her mother.

Since that time, neither of us really made any progress at work; always opting for weekend and evenings together instead of over-time in hopes of a promotion.

Just as well, now.

The building we worked at was one of the first to go. A huge concrete and steel framed smoke stack. By the time all this is over, this city will be nothing more than smoldering ashes.

Once the burning stops, I’ll put Mel and a few of our bags into the back of the jeep and drive. And I’ll keep on driving until I find Katie.

The Matakana Faery

Written by Maquaela Adria

There is no easy way to tell the story that I am about to disclose. How would anyone find it easy to speak of lies, murder, and dark magic? But alas, this is a story that needs to be told and I am the one who needs to tell it. So pour yourself some tea and make yourself comfortable as I tell you the truth about the Matakana Faery.

******

The night was still and quiet back in March of 1838. The only sound heard by Phillip Ripton was his wife tossing and turning next to him. Every so often he would hear her mumble words that he could not understand. After listening for a while he came to the conclusion that she was having a conversation in her dream in a language that was foreign to him. Just as he was about to settle back down and sleep, Lauren jerked suddenly and screamed. When she calmed, he checked her vitals and gently shook her awake.

Moisture. That's all Lauren felt as she woke to the sound of her husband Phillip calling her name and shaking her awake. Realizing that it covered both her body and the bed sheets, Lauren knew that it was only sweat. This one fact immediately alerted her to the fact that she either had another nightmare or her fever was high again. By the troubled look in Phillip's eyes, she could tell that it was the latter.

'My love, I think it best if you try to stay awake tonight.’ Phillip stated. ‘I could barely feel you breathing through the sheets and when I tried to check your pulse it was so faint.’

‘Phillip,’ Lauren cut in. ‘Please stop fretting. It causes more harm than good.’

Phillip looked at his wife in the candlelight and gave her a soft smile. ‘I guess you're right.’ After giving her a light kiss on her forehead he lifted himself off the bed and stood up. ‘I'll go and fetch you some water.’

‘Thank you,’ Lauren mumbled as she slowly drifted back into a sleeping state. Her eyes followed her husband as he exited their bedchamber. After he was out of sight, Lauren allowed herself to be pulled back into the abyss of sleep. Just as her eyes shut, a small chorus of whispers floated in the room.

‘Lauren.’ they called. ‘We're here for you, Lauren. We've been watching you, Lauren. We're waiting for you, Lauren.’

‘Who are you?’ Lauren spoke clearly into the night. ‘What do you want with me?’

‘We will not harm you, Lauren. We do not want that for you. You will be with us soon. We want you to be with us.’

‘I don't know what you mean by “be with us”. Who are you?’ Lauren repeated.

‘All that you need to know right now is that you are dying. There is nothing that can save you as you are now.’ the voices chorused.

‘How do you know all of this?’ Lauren cried out. She was struggling to move, to open her eyes and look at the owners of the voices, but her body seemed to be in some sort of paralysis.

‘He's killing you Lauren. You don't know it but he's killing you. He's doing it with water Lauren! You don't see it, smell it or taste it but it can kill you. You can't be saved, Lauren. Not like this.’ It was then that Lauren decided to give up struggling and give in to whatever was telling her what she was hearing.

‘So what are you trying to say? Are you telling me that Phillip is trying to kill me?’ Lauren's question hung in the air.

‘No, not Phillip. Phillip can help you get to us. Phillip is good. Phillip is not trying to kill you, it is the one that suffered most from the famine back in the old land. He blames you and your family for the death of his own. He wants revenge.’

‘I have no clue of whom you are speaking,’ Lauren sighed out of exasperation. If she was being slowly poisoned, she wanted to know by whom so that she could haunt them from the other side.

‘Phillip knows.’ the voices replied. ‘He hears and he knows. Now sleep child, you shall soon be free.’ With those words, Lauren drifted off into the most peaceful slumber that she'd ever had.

Unbeknownst to his wife, Phillip had made his way back to the bedchamber and was standing at the door. Bewitched by the same magic as Lauren, he was unable to move although he had one advantage over her. He could see the owners of the voices. As soon as the beings disappeared, he moved to the desk, lit a candle and started to sketch. He did not want to forget what he'd just witnessed.

As soon as he had finished, Phillip placed the glass of water on his bedside, returned to the soft, cotton sheets and thought of all the things he'd overheard the creatures saying. What did it mean that I know whose poisoning Lauren? He thought. I do not know anyone that fits the... It was then that something clicked in his mind and a name surfaced: Kyle Moran. The person killing his wife was Kyle Moran the bartender.

It was a well-known fact in their small village that Kyle Moran had a Vendetta against Lauren’s family. Ever since his whole family had been killed in a fire that had burned down the old Matakana church during a wedding, Kyle had put the blame on Lauren and her family, the only ones to survive. Kyle had seemed harmless enough as his hatred had never been shown as more than a heckle here and there. It was because of this that Kyle Moran had not come to Phillip’s mind immediately.

******

Phillip was not proud of what he was about to do but he wasn't ashamed of it either. Since he had learned the truth behind his wife's ill fate, he had been unable to fall asleep. Three days passed and each night was the same. Finally, he decided that the only way for him to move past everything was to confront Kyle about the poisoning.

Three sleepless nights meant three nights of plotting and figuring out the details of what he was about to do and how he was going to do it. Phillip's main focus was trying to remain inconspicuous to his wife.

On the day of the intended confrontation, Phillip had taken ill with a severe case of the flu. He initially shrugged it off and went about his day in hopes of being well by nightfall, but after a visit from the doctor, he was placed on bed rest for a week. Every night he was visited by the spirits that came to Lauren and they told him everything. They taught him how to save her soul. They made him believe.

It was only after he returned to full health that he heard the news. On the night in which he was meant to confront Kyle, he had been murdered in an alleyway outside the bar.

It was almost a year later when the faeries visited again. Although in bad shape, Lauren had made it through the New Year and into 1839.

‘Lauren, it's time. Lauren, you need to come with us now. Let yourself go, Lauren.’ The strange creatures whispered in the middle of the night. ‘Phillip is going to help you.’

‘I'm scared.’ Lauren whispered back. Suddenly, she was filled with a warmth that could only be described as a phantom hug.

‘Lauren, there is no need to be scared. The spirits, the faeries, they've explained everything to me. You were always meant to be one of them. Faeries are the spirits of the purest people that have left the earth too soon. You'll be fine. It will all be okay. I promise.’ Phillip croaked out. From the dim candle light, Lauren could barely see his face but she knew that there were tears in his eyes.

‘I can't leave you.’ she mumbled. ‘I won't.’

‘Lauren, it's either we do this and you live on in another form or I let you die and be buried, never to be seen again. I can't do the latter. I refuse too, especially because there is another option.’

‘Lauren, we need to do this now.’ The faeries whispered.

‘O-okay,’ she stuttered.

‘Lay down.’ Phillip ordered gently and Lauren complied. He then got up from where he was sitting at the edge of the bed and walked towards the spirit who handed him something that looked like a tea caddy

Taking a deep breath he closed his eyes and recited the words that he'd heard every night while he was sick. ‘Give your spirit over to thee, sealed in this vessel of oak. From your homeland, this I command.’ The second time the spirits joined in.

‘Give your spirit over to thee, sealed in this vessel of oak. From your homeland, this I command.’

‘Give your spirit over to thee, sealed in this vessel of oak. From your homeland, this I command.’ 

It was at that exact moment that a key formed in the keyhole and the caddy unlocked itself. Inside was a small phial full of a purple liquid and on a small roll of parchment was a simple instruction. Drink.

‘Are you ready Lauren?’ Phillip asked.

‘I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Phillip –' she started but her words got caught in her throat.

‘I know.’ he said and lightly kissed her forehead as the light of the new moon infiltrated their small bedroom.

‘Now Phillip.’

Taking a deep breath Phillip lifted the phial to Lauren's mouth and she did as commanded and drank from it. Immediately all the candles in the room went out and all Phillip heard was a sigh from his wife. She was gone.

******

It was not until a month later that Phillip knew that it had worked. He was on his way home from work and was making a detour through the cemetery where they had buried Lauren's body. Suddenly he got the feeling that he was being watched. He turned back to check and caught sight of something he thought he would never see.

In the body of a sprite, he saw his wife's eyes staring at him. A small smile found its way to his face and he knew that it was all going to be okay. After placing a single white rose on Lauren's grave, he left the Matakana cemetery and walked home.

Scarborough

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

 Photograph by  Kilyan Sockalingum

Photograph by Kilyan Sockalingum

Amy pointed at the large stone mural that stood awkwardly in the centre of the town square. She made a strange laugh from the back of her throat and drew everyone's attention.

'Jesus, guys! Do you remember this thing?' she said, speaking as loudly as humanly possible.

We all gazed over the polished rock and nodded hysterically. A huge stone carving of a man with an eye-patch and a long sword by his side stood heroically in the centre of a small pond. I can't be sure what it is about revisiting your old childhood town that turns everyone into an obnoxious child seeing everything as some magical antique. All I could say was – the nostalgia was real.

At least for all my friends.

I gazed up at the monument and squinted, trying to recall any form of it in my memory. Nothing came. In fact, this whole town seemed a little odd. Something off about it and all round not quite right. All four of us stood in the centre of town, the rest of them laughing joyfully and retelling stories of past high school shenanigans. But something inside me felt loopy and uncomfortable. I scanned the area, seeing nothing but a bunch of scattered brick houses, limestone buildings that were decades old yet still in pristine condition, wiry trees sprouting out from small patches of soil in the otherwise perfectly symmetrical yellow bricked pathways, and finally, a large – almost impossibly large – oval to our left. It spanned out as far as my eyes could see and looking at it gave me a strange sense of claustrophobia. As weird as that sounds. 

But where were the people? The animals? Cars? Buses? Anything?

What is this place?

Tom patted my shoulder and I jolted back to reality.

'Does anyone even remember who that's supposed to be anyway?' he asked, laughing at the sight of the statue.

Amy shrugged and Brandon suggested maybe if we had listened more in history, we'd probably remember.

To that Tom had to say: 'Fuck history.'

I laughed and suddenly the uncomfortableness of the past five minutes vanished and I was back to my usual self.

This is Scarsborough. Your old home town. Born and raised.

I hadn't been back in years. No wonder it felt weird.            

My eyes started to wander and I noticed a large square clump of buildings on the other side of the square. My mind immediately identified it as the old cinema, and coincidently, our favourite place to hang out as noisy youths. 

'Guys, guys,' I said, nodding towards the place, 'now there's a piece of history.'

Everyone looked at it for a moment, then at each other, and at the same time we all howled out a loud hoot of nostalgic merriment. The looks we gave each other appeared as if we were all in the midst of telepathically thinking up ways to commit some juvenile crime. It would probably cause strangers to give us a wide birth, if there were any strangers around. 

'We've gotta go in,' said Amy. 'I bet it still looks the exact same inside!'

Brandon agreed, quickly followed by Tom and myself, and before you knew it we were already outside the cinemas doors looking up at the ancient lettering and boring, broken sign. I squinted and tilted my head back and tried desperately to read what films were being shown, but my brain decided reading wasn't going to be on the tables today. Each letter appeared slightly fuzzy and bleeding at he edges. It was like my mind knew there were words there to be read, but just didn't want to acknowledge it. However, even stranger than that, was the fact that I still knew exactlywhat was being shown just by glancing at the titles.

Dr. Strangelove, Murder Most Foul, The Flesh Eaters, The Incredible Mr. Limpet...

My brow furrowed, but before I could think too thoroughly about it, Tom butted in with his usual snark.

'Are we gonna go inside, or are we just gonna fucking stand here like a couple of retarded assholes?' he said.

'Okay, rude,' replied Amy. 'And offensive.'

Tom stroked her shoulder flirtatiously. 'You love it,' he said, slowly licking his lips.

Amy laughed at him then flung his hand off with a firm flick.

Brandon poked his head in as if from no where and gave the both of them a sly smile. 'I know I do,' he winked, jerking his eyebrows up and down like some kind of creepy porn star.

'In your dreams, fag,' Tom laughed.

'Are we gonna go inside though?' I interjected.

Amy smiled at me and nodded. She looked at Tom and nudged his elbow. 'See? Our beautiful Miss Curtis here didn't need to use the word “asshole” once.'

'It would've been so much cooler if she had.'

Brandon looked at Tom and shook his head while laughing before we finally made our way inside. The place still had those old rotating glass doors that creaked and groaned as you pushed through them. Each of us piled inside one slot and crammed our way through. As we burst out into the crisp, buttery air of the cinema, our eyes immediately were drawn to the strange contraption in the centre of the lobby. 

We stood there staring at it for a good couple of moments. Almost frozen. It looked like a stiff bear suit strapped to one of those gym machines with the weights on ropes. A “rope pull machine” I think they're called. Needless to say – super creepy. 

I noticed a short blonde lady behind the candy kiosk at the end of the room. The first person I'd seen this entire trip.     

Like four minutes?

She was slumped over the counter resting her head in her palm and seemed to take no notice of us, or maybe she just didn't care.

'I don't remember this thing,' said Amy.

Tom leant back and gave the contraption a tentative frown. 'Me neither,' he said. 'Its fucking creepy through, isn't it? Like, Jesus.'

I scanned it up and down. Gazing over the weird matte fur of the bear suit all the way to the uncomfortable mechanical aspect. I had no idea what it was, and it made me feel queasy all the way to my core.

'Art maybe?' Amy offered.

Brandon shook his head and pushed his thick glasses up the bridge of his nose, giving him his signature “nerd bro” look. 'I actually think it might be one of those new VR machines. You know the ones I mean?'

I looked at it again, trying to decipher which theory seemed more plausible. VR machine? Possible. Maybe you zipped yourself inside the bear and images of Canada streamed through your vision. However, I believed it was more likely to be artwork. Hey, if people can get away with selling their shit in a jar for thousands of dollars, this had to be at least somewhat of a contemporary masterpiece.

Whatever it was, my brain didn't want to look at it anymore. A strange acidic feeling cascaded down my throat and festered in the base of my stomach. I felt like a kid who'd just taken their first shot of alcohol: strangely excited yet as if I had been severely poisoned.

How did you even get to this town?

'What're those bars supposed to do?' I heard Tom ask. 'Like, if its artwork, why the fuck add some random pulley system? Fucking artists today, man.'

I looked over at the desk lady who still appeared bored and uninterested by our presence. I thought that was odd. I mean, if I was in her position I would've been thrilled to have some customers to converse with. Especially since the place was deathly empty, and looked like it had been for years.

'Hey!' I called out to her, 'do you know what this thing is supposed to be?'

Everyone turned their focus to her and awaited a response. She just shrugged her shoulders, averted eye contact and all around seemed completely apathetic. She mumbled something about “the newspaper” but I couldn't really hear. I quickly realised I wasn't going to get any more out of her, so I just let it go.

'whatever, guys. Instead on focusing on this trash, why don't we just go see a film while we're here?' I said.

'Only if its an R rated horror,' smirked Tom. 'Anything less and you may as well go home, shit into a diaper and call yourself a baby right now.'

Brandon popped his head back in and gave us all a grin like no other – like he was trying hard not to crack up and subsequently crap his pants. 'Hey, do you guys know what a pirate's favourite letter is?' he squeaked.

We all looked at him blankly and Tom's eyes narrowed almost to a close. 'R?' we all replied, regretfully.

Brandon raised a sassy eyebrow and shook his head. 'You think it'd be R, but it really be the C.' He burst out into a spout of fake, evil laughter and we all rolled our eyes.

Amy and I groaned and Tom's blank expression somehow had a blank expression of its own. 'Go fuck yourself,' he said, and we all laughed. We turned around to the kiosk planning to buy four tickets to whatever horror film they were currently showing.

But I for some reason stopped.

I thought I heard something. Like a scream or cry but from far away or deep under ground.

My heart started beating quickly and I had that sinking feeling like someone was watching me. I slowly turned around and again was presented with the unnerving sight of that weird contraption. Nothing had changed about it. Even so, my heart beat even faster. My skin felt clammy. My eyes wouldn't blink. I stared up at the face of the bear suit and tried to understand why this whole thing made me so uncomfortable. I felt light-headed and floaty.

Why is this thing so familiar?

A gross feeling pricked the inside of my mouth and a rotten taste washed down my throat. Tears started to swell in my eyes – not out of sadness – but fear. A different kind of fear. Fear of the truth. As I glared up at the mask of that ridiculous bear suit I noticed the horrifying fact that it wasn't empty.

Two eyes protruded from the holes in the mask. Staring at me. Bulging. Pleading. Alive.

I heard the faint noise again and realised it was coming from the suit. Someone was watching me – staring at me. Terror and pain painted across their bloodshot irises.

I looked over my shoulder and saw that my friends had disappeared.

Were they even here to begin with?

The desk lady still leant behind the counter. Uninterested.

I adjusted my shoulders and closed my eyes. Mentally preparing myself for what I knew I was about to do next. My brain screamed at me to stop. It was so loud and violent I felt like smashing my head into a pillar until blood caked my face and little lumps of brain exploded down the walls. The urge was so strong, but somehow I stopped myself.

Instead, I split open the back of the bear suit. A man tumbled out along with a foul, putrid odour. He landed roughly on the floor and curled up in the foetal position. I stepped back and looked down at him.

His hair was in clumps and blood was melted through it. Skin pale like snow and small bits of flesh were torn off or pecked at and he had multiple stab would across his entire body. It looked as if he had been fed to a school of very pissed-off piranhas. Tiny nibbles had been taken from sections in his body, and raw, exposed flesh was flaking off from everywhere.

I couldn't do anything but look.

The man's eyes were wide and wild-looking. I could tell he wanted to say something, but a gag strapped to his mouth prevented him from doing so, and bindings around his hands and legs didn't make things any easier.

I heard voices in my head telling me I shouldn't be doing this. This wasn't something I was supposed to be seeing.

But why aren't you scared like a normal person?

I knelt down quickly and unbuckled the gag around the man's mouth and threw it to the floor. He glared up at me with eyeballs still bulging. The sight of them made me want to be sick.

'Kill me,' he moaned. 'Kill me, please!'

I found myself stepping back again, shaking my head and shivering all over. I heard a creak from behind me and darted my head in that direction. The desk lady stiffly bolted upright and then casually sauntered over to me and the man. All the while rolling her eyes and sighing like I had just spilled something for her to mop up.

I stared in awe as she picked up the gag and stuffed it back into the man's mouth. He screamed and flung his head in every direction, kicking and writhing around like a dying lamb. The lady stomped on his spine and I heard a crunch that sent a shiver through my own. He screamed and saliva spat out from around the circular gag. Bits of skin rubbed off on the carpet and blood began to smear across the floor.

I was completely frozen. Why wasn't I helping? Why wasn't I doing something!? My blood pumped through my veins and I could feel it up and down my arms and neck. For some reason I knew I had no control over the situation.

My attention stayed cemented on the girl as I saw her begin to cram the man back into the bear suit. She heaved and groaned, lifting him up with all her strength and using the metal bars of the supposed “artwork” as leverage.

I watched.

When it was all done and fixed, with the suit back in its proper condition and stuffed with human meat, the girl looked at me and smiled. This was the first time she had properly acknowledged my existence. A shiver cascaded down my entire body. I didn't know what to do or what to say. For some reason I knew she wasn't going to hurt me, but an alarm in my brain still urged me to run away.

The silence was painful and the unintelligible voices in my head didn't help my composure.

'Well, Miss Curtis,' the lady said, placing a blood smeared hand on my shoulder, 'that's enough reminiscing for one day. You'd better wake up before you remember something else you probably shouldn't.'

I cocked my head at her and frowned before a deep breath shot into my lungs and I woke up gasping in my bed with sweat soaking through the sheets. I grabbed ahold of my chest and let out the longest breath of my entire life. Dry tears streamed down my face companied by fresh ones and the room spun around me.

'What the fuck was that?' I asked myself aloud.

I looked around my bedroom and grounded myself in reality. There was my bookshelf. There was my window, my door, my TV… It took a few moments to realise what had just happened and I sat up scared in bed and hugged my knees close to my chest.

It was a dream. Just a dream

Pretty weird that you would wake up right when that girl told you to though.

That doesn't mean anything.

Great! Now you're arguing with yourself! Congratulations! You're fucking crazy.

As I calmed down I let my head relax against the wall behind me. And when I had time to think and rationalise things, I realised small little clues that made it obvious I was dreaming. Like why I didn't recognise that stupid statue, or why I couldn't read the cinema sign and didn't even remember travelling to that town. That place didn't exist. And no wonder my friends just disappeared like that. Dream physics.

Still though. It didn't feel like any average nightmare. That man's eyes and his dry, brittle voice begging me to kill him – it all felt too real. And why did I know the name of that place? It seemed pretty strange that my mind would come up with something like that just for the purpose of some random dream.

I grabbed my phone from its resting place on my bedside table and quickly went to the internet.

Scarsborough I typed into the searchbar and within seconds ancient articles and photos came up showcasing some old town. I clicked on one after another and read through each and every piece of information I could find – figuring out what kind of place this was since apparently it was real.

But so what? So my mind read the name somewhere and my subconscious jammed it into my nightmare. No biggie.

Then my heart stopped. I came across an old newspaper article from the 60's with an old grainy photo of a girl standing proudly beside the bear suit from my dream. GIRL SAVES LOCAL THEATRE WITH HUNTING SKILLS the headline read. It went on to say how a young girl by the name of “Sandy Gillburt” revitalised Scarsboroug's old cinema by donating multiple taxidermy animals of her own making as a way to give the building a more “clubhouse feel”. Below the article was another photo. This time of Sandy with six other contraptions, each one a different animal.

I couldn't blink. And I couldn't stop reading. No matter how hard I searched, I found very little else on Sandy. No where did it mention a murder or any jail time. Not even a whiff of something dodgy going on at that cinema.

I frowned in disbelief, so much that I gave myself a headache. How did my brain know this? Especially since no one else seemed to. I had to be there. Witness it. How could I possibly know any of this otherwise? But this was way before I was born and in a different country too. I pulled up a picture of Sandy and stared at it. And stared and stared until my eyes felt like they were going to bleed.

That now familiar tingling feeling spread through my body as I stared into her eyes and those voices echoed back inside my skull to stop. Looking at her I felt something was wrong – something was weird. Like when you look at yourself in the mirror in the middle of the night and you feel like your reflection isn't just your reflection, but a different person actually staring back at you. And as I stared into Sandy's cold, phony, tainted eyes I felt like what I was looking at... was an old photo of myself.

I calmly turned off my phone and placed it back on the bedside table. Never blinking.

Well Miss Curtis, that's enough reminiscing for one day. You'd better wake up before you remember something else you probably shouldn't.

I don't believe in Buddhism or Hinduism or any of those cultures that believes in reincarnation, but my mind ached and felt as if it had thrown up on itself, and I rationed that if such a thing did exist, then your brain or soul or whatever sure as hell wouldn't want you knowing about it.

Whatever the reason for that hellscape of a nightmare, I can certainly say I have never been more disturbed in all my life. And because of it I will forever believe there is innocent blood on my hands in some weird, twisted way. But to Sandy Gillburt and the ancient history of Scarsborough, all I have to say is: fuck history.