“Quiet,” they bark at the boy chained to the corner of the room.

His face dawns blood, dried upon his cheeks, welled from his recently emptied eye sockets.

“Momma,” he cries.

“I said quiet, boy,” they demand once more.

“You don’t want me to kill her, do you?” they threaten, hovering a peculiar knife over a corpse.

Their hinged blade punctures through the vessel’s torso, the blood collects along the edges of the observation table trickling down into two separate oak barrels. Wax melts onto the cold concrete floor as candles dimly illuminate arcane symbols hastily scribbled on the cracked stone walls. Poorly secured shelves present mason jars like trophies containing a variety of liquids and herbs preserving indistinguishable monstrosities. Thin twine hangs severed fingers over the boy’s head accompanied by chimes made with empty bottles filled with teeth like some sort of nightmarish crib mobile. A gust rushes through the corroded steel barred cellar window. The witch is still, they place the blade aside admiring the crescent moon’s pleasant shift from a calming cool blue to a warm orange hue. Revealing themselves from the darkness, their flesh is torn almost down to the bone, their face is mostly burned making their jaw the only distinguishable feature, and their figure is as fragile as the crystal glassware scattered amongst the cellar tabletops.

“It’s time,” they say.

The witch gathers a candle, their spellbook, and a copper goblet reforged by thirteen generations of blacksmiths belonging to the Paladins of Criafar. Placing the candle in front of the boy, they kneel lighting it ceremoniously. The boy quivers, whimpering before the presence of the witch who mockingly smirks at him turning through their spellbook with intent, and pleasure, to harm him.

“Please,” the boy starts.

“I just want to see momma,” he pleads.

“Don’t worry,” they scoff.

“You will,” the witch whispers into his ear.

Rising, they grasp the goblet with purpose, presenting its copper casing towards the moonlight revealing a hidden text that glows a similar orange tinge. The text is illegible however symbols throughout match those drafted amongst the walls. The witch submerges the goblet in one of the oak barrels, filling its contents with blood. The blood bubbles for a moment, further highlighting the goblet’s engravings. The witch indulges themselves by inhaling the steam as if it’s a warm cup of cider on a gloomy fall afternoon. The bubbles settle and the glow fades as the witch again approaches the boy. The boy continues to whine as the witch begins to gently caress his cheek.

“Shhh….there, there, boy,” the witch consoles him.

“Where’s momma? Is she alright?” he stammers.

“Momma’s resting, dear,” the witch answers glancing over at the corpse on the table.

“Momma, momma please,” he continues.

As the boy continues to call out, the witch forcibly tightens their grip on his jaw. Mouth agape, he pulls against the steel restraints, pleading for freedom. The witch ignores his requests, raises the goblet to his lips and looks towards the moon.

“Under the moon, that’s been set ablaze. Over the boy, with a stolen gaze. Consume the blood of this bastard’s creator, for life will be restored near death, but no later,” they read aloud.

The witch pours the boys’ mothers blood into his mouth, he quickly begins to choke on its thick consistency. Coughing up blood onto himself, the witch tosses the goblet aside and proceeds to close the boy’s mouth and clasp his nostrils shut.

“Swallow it boy,” the witch commands.

“Don’t you want to see momma?” they ridicule as the boy’s limbs writhe within the shackles.

Unwillingly, the boy swallows his mother’s blood. The witch holds him a bit longer enjoying his struggle, eventually tossing him back to the corner. On his hands and knees, the boy gasps for air in between dry heaves. The witch waits, staring attentively. Suddenly, the boy releases an otherworldly screech, stretching his limbs as far as the restraints will allow. He collapses. The witch draws nearer, optimistic. Immobile, the boy’s body lays lifeless on the cellar floor amongst a puddle of his blood and urine.

Anxiety overcomes the witch as they straddle the boy’s corpse. Eyeing the window, the moon begins to slowly return to its original temperate blue color. Rushing towards their spellbook, the witch begins to doubt themselves frantically sifting through the pages, carefully reviewing the ritual once more. Shackles begin to rustle behind them, relieved they grin turning towards the boy who gradually awakes. Stretching his arms out, he rubs his eyes, immediately realizing his vision has been restored and his wounds have been healed.

“It worked!” the witch exclaims.

Now aware of his surroundings, the boy’s quick session of relief swiftly shifts to panic as he witnesses his mother’s body sliced open on the table presenting her organs to the nauseating, musty cellar room.

“Momma,” he shrieks.

“Momma, wake up. Momma, please,” his cries fade as he’s brought to his knees in exhaustion.

The witch makes haste as the moons shift is imminent. Retrieving the tossed goblet, they submerge its now empty basin into the other oak barrel presenting it to the night sky. The boy sobs as the witch knocks back a glass of his genealogy. After the final drop passes down their esophagus, the witch drops to their knees, raising their arms to the stars, presenting their whole being to the changing night sky.

“Yes, yes, yes,” the witch moans as pain passes through their body.

The boy watches in terror and confusion as the witch’s empty flesh pockets fill with white skin that shines against the stars, lushes dark brown locks flow from their once rotting scalp, and their eyes become once more, filled with life. As if a pig is being massacred, the witch expels a hellacious screech. The boy covers his ears before the witch eventually collapses and begins to convulse.

Reaching for the candle still lit in front of him, the boy leans in for a closer look as the witch’s convulsing starts to seize. The boy’s panicked breathing gently pushes against the candle’s flame. Their body is still as the crickets accompany the winds whispering through the chimes above his head. Suddenly, the witch awakes forcefully grabbing the boy by his throat, then pleasurably inhales through their restored anatomy as the boy begins to gasp desperately.

“Mmm, you have your mothers eyes,” the witch mocks, tightening their grip.

Hot wax drips between the boys loose grip of the candle. Singing the edge of his palms, he releases the open flame onto the witches tattered robes; it ignites. Unaware they’ve been set ablaze, the witch cackles as their fingernails dig into the boy’s skin. His blood runs down their hands, his eyes wide; they kiss the boy on his forehead tossing his defeated corpse back into the dark corner of the cellar.

The witch turns towards their spellbook salaciously licking the boy’s blood from their fingers. Kicking another lit candle over, the flames begin to travel up their robes quickly disintegrating the worn fabrics. Sprinting towards the well, the witch leans over the cobblestone casing, pulling the rope to retrieve the bucket from below. The witch is able to douse themselves as infernos consume the tapestry, the bodies, eventually reaching potion vials filled with flammable contents. The witch turns and makes haste for their spellbook however the flames envelop any viable path. Escaping with their life, the witch hastily makes their way up the cellar stairs. Smoke rises to the night sky while ashes scatter amongst the desolate woods. 

First light approaches, as hikers come across the warm embers and debri.

“Look,” one says sifting through the ashes.

“What is that?” the other questions as they uncover a textbook.

The spellbook and copper goblet present themselves…unharmed.

Cover Art: Joy Marino (@joymarinoclicks)

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

DISCLAIMER: The Gatekeeper, and characters surrounding this series, are works of fiction. They bear no relation to actual persons and are not to be associated with the author’s sexuality or gender identity.

TRIGGER WARNING: Throughout this series, there will be instances of homophobia, transphobia (including use of dead names + incorrect pronouns), sexism, verbal/physical abuse, domestic abuse, suicidal ideations, self-injury, and dysphoria. If any of these topics have proven to be harmful to you as a reader at any time, please continue with caution. The author’s intention is NOT to upset readers but to shed light on unfortunate circumstances that may still occur today for our LGBTQIA youth.

Remember that you are not alone. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The Trevor Project has trained counselors that are able to support you 24/7. Also available to assist you through online chat and text.

Standing proudly atop the jagged cliff edge, Warrior Orion gazes upon the tormenting labyrinth deep within the Valley of Shadows. Staff at hand, he takes in the mountain air knowing his journey will be risky and arduous. Committed to retrieving the rose-tinted ruby he once strung around his neck by a thin reddish silver chain fashioned with the blood of his tortured mother, Orion will let nothing stand in his way. Deceiving in its layout, legend tells that the labyrinth holds many of trials for any adventurer to brave. Each corner holds the extremes of any climate; from the scorching, driest deserts to the most frozen, dead winter tundra. Warlocks, Cutthroats, Paladins, and Necromancers shroud themselves throughout the thickening labyrinth walls awaiting to challenge any intruders. However, perhaps the most wicked being lurking amongst the harrowing groves may not seem so harmful a first glance, but don’t be fooled. The Gatekeeper takes no prisoners. This murderous flesh splicer arms himself with a rusted sickle stationed in a sheath hewed by the scalps of his victim’s firstborn children.

Approaching the entrance, Orion smugly eyes the towering walls of the labyrinth.

“Well…,” The Gatekeeper begins.

“Who are you, demon?” Orion demands, holding his axe at the ready.

“Demon, well that’s a first,” he scoffs.

“I am The Gatekeeper,” he humbly replies.

Observing the rose-tinted ruby tucked within his pelt lined with infantile skulls, Orion raises his axe asserting his stance.

“Ahhh…if the ruby is what you seek, best not be tongue and cheek. Time does not exist within these walls. Nor age, nor pity…nor mercy. Through frigid winds, scorching sands, and humid jungles, those before you have underestimated the challenges these climates present. So…I implore you, I entreat you, I dare you; enter through the labyrinth gate, but save your breath, and accept your fate. For there is no light…only death awaits,” The Gatekeeper threatens as the corroded gate creaks opening behind him.

“Your threats are empty, demon,” Orion confidently sneers.

“You would be so surprised, warrior. Some who claim their path is light, spout darkness in pursuit of deceit,” The Gatekeeper warns.

TAP. TAP. TAP.

“Closer now warrior,” The Gatekeeper strikes the steel bars with his sickle teasing Orion.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

Orion forcefully shouts towards the sky beginning to charge the entrance as The Gatekeeper begins to fade away.

BAM. BAM. BAM.

“Sweetheart? Ori, honey? It’s mom, are you almost ready?” Orion’s mother knocks outside his bedroom door shouting over the power metal blaring inside.

“Ugh!” Orion groans slamming his composition book shut opening his bedroom door holding his flannel closed, sporting basketball shorts and long socks.

“Mom, I thought we talked about the whole ‘sweetheart’ thing?” he replies.

“I know. I know. And I’m sorry but your father is already waiting in the car. Humor me for a minute, will ya?” she continues.

“Ok, but I’m not wearing this,” Orion grabs a black sheath dress presenting it unamused.

“Look, you know I’m on your side here,” she begins, pretending she didn’t see the ace bandage tightly wrapped around Orion’s chest.

“…and if your father wasn’t running the ceremony, of course, I’d want you to wear whatever you’d like, but I just, I can’t…help me, help you,” she bargains.

“Alright, alright. I understand,” Orion agrees aware of the potential chaos rebelling can concoct when it comes to his father.

“Give me three minutes,” he sarcastically smiles.

“Okay sweetheart,” his mother accidentally replies immediately beginning to apologize.

“Mom! Ugh!” Orion shuts the door.

“I’m sorry. I’ll be in the car, love you, Ori,” she shouts through the door.

In front of the mirror, Orion takes off his flannel revealing his homemade binder. Attempting a deep breath in, he flexes his biceps releasing the air with a confident smirk.

Glancing at the sheath dress, his cheerful grin wilts. Disappointed, he turns the mirror around, regrettably slipping into the dress.

BEEEEEEP.

Orion’s father impatiently lays on the horn in their driveway.

Reaching for a couple of pens, one black, and one red, Orion grabs his composition book swiftly making his way down the stairs.

“Sorry dad, had to finish up a few things,” Orion apologizes buckling his seatbelt.

“I understand that this may be a difficult time for you, but I have a duty to serve. Not only my family but also my community. Do you understand that?” he irritably spouts from the driver’s seat.

“Yes, sir,” Orion reluctantly replies eyeing his mother in the passenger’s seat with her head down.

Entering the labyrinth, Warrior Orion confidently marches into the unknown. He turns back as the gate closes slowly behind him. Three corridors present themselves, each as seemingly distant and eerie lined with dead trees, hazy air, and moist crumbled stone walls. No end in sight. However, the entrance of each path is marked by freshly slaughtered creatures hung by stakes punctured through their backs angled up to pass through their chest. Their blood puddles underneath their defiled carcasses releasing a wretched stench. An anaconda, a sheep, and a young boy present themselves like trophies murdered by The Gatekeeper himself. Taking one step closer, flames burst from under each of them. The boy awakes in a panic writhing in pain attempting to pull himself from the wall. Orion hesitates, unsure if he’s able to assist the boy.

AHHHHH.

Placing both hands on the wall behind him, the boy screams in excruciating pain pushing his body up the stake. Just outside his reach, the boy fails to free himself accepting his fate as his body descends back down towards the cold stone wall. The flames grow higher closing off each entrance, Orion must decide as the boy’s skin begins to bubble.

Approaching the boy, the flames seize, and the other two paths grow over with barbed vines.

“Who did this to you?” Orion questions as the boy struggles to breathe between the pain.

In hopes of comfort, the boy looks to Warrior Orion in his final moments.

“Darkness falls to those who give in to the labyrinth, light is rewarded to those who triumph. Go, warrior, show no mercy,” the boy softly replies as his body collapses over the stake lifeless.

“Are you ready?” Orion’s mother says standing at the open car door.

With a simple nod, Orion exits the vehicle onto the cemetery grounds. Chin down, he follows his mother towards the ceremony, his father already beginning to speak at the podium. The temperate September air playfully sweeps the remaining leaves aged and fallen in beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds. Snowy mountain tops line the distant horizon proceeding the rolling hills of wheat fields already harvested and awaiting the return of spring. Orion rubs his bare arms as goosebumps form.

Orion stands uncomfortably amongst the few in the crowd finding it difficult to focus. Sora wasn’t the closest friend, but he was amongst a handful of outcasts in Orion’s school. After he came out, his friends started drifting apart and even their parents asked them to stay away. His mother sits emotionless, disappointed even. Rural America, somehow moving forward, yet stuck in its traditional roots. Small minds gathered with a collective ignorance stewed within religious hierarchy’s, comfort in the familiar, and fear of change. Your roots either take to the soil in which you’ve been planted, or you make way and uproot to something bigger and better.

“As Gods children, we are made in the image and likeness of Him. This responsibility deserves a certain amount of dignity and respect. One of the first commandments we learn in scripture relates to the understanding that you should not take the life of a human being. We do not have the authority to give ourselves life, nor do we have the authority to take that life from ourselves. God shapes lives through suffering. Our lives are not in our hands,” Orion’s father shares.

“Lord we ask that you take this boy, that you remind him of your eternal sacrifice. Romans 6:23 states ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Amen,” he concludes.

“Amen,” the few reply as Orion stands upset but silent.

Onward on his path, the fog thickens as Orion ventures deeper into the labyrinth. A great distance in without a turn, sign, or even sound, he begins to question his choice in direction. Lowering his weapon, the warrior’s axe strikes the ground somewhat crumbling the asphalt underneath his feet. Curious, he taps the ground once more; the earth begins to tremble underneath as Warrior Orion stumbles a bit. With one last determined swing, Warrior Orion crashes through the floor falling violently to the caverns below. Immediately standing to his feet, Warrior Orion grabs his Axe circling the hollows in a panicked defense. The dim light from above fades as the ground reforms above him. The gentle dripping from the narrow pipelines echo through the seven corridors. Warrior Orion’s boots slosh about in water filled with rotted remains, stumped limbs, and bloodied shreds of garments. A gentle wake pushes against his ankles coming from one of the passageways littered with empty bottles and molded scraps of sustenance. Warrior Orion grasps both hands readily around the handle of his axe preparing to contest whatever comes his way.

“Looks like it might rain soon,” Orion’s father states looking to the sky as he drives attempting to unwrap his fast-food hamburger.

Orion sits quietly in the back seat staring out the window.

“You know, I was surprised that Sora’s father wasn’t there,” he continues in aim to spark conversation.

“Did you talk to his mother, Oriana?” he adds in between bites.

Orion ignores his father.

“Sweetheart, hello?” he persists.

“Please don’t call me sweetheart,” Orion answers.

“Why not? You’ll always be my sweetheart, our sweetheart. Right, honey,” he pleasantly smiles looking to his wife.

Orion’s mother uneasily smiles towards her husband as he grabs her hand with his greasy palm. Looking back towards Orion she mutely empathizes with her son. Orion clenches his fists, then takes the pen from behind his ear opening his composition book.

The wake strengthens as the creature draws nearer. Its back surfaces only a moment presenting crimson spotted sores wading through the refuse then disappears into to the shallow muddled water. Warrior Orion combs the murky puddle around him with his axe. There’s nothing. He looks once more, squinting down the shadowed tunnels as more water begins rushing in from every direction.

Lifting his axe, the water level rises rapidly past his waist, then his shoulders. Suddenly, the Cesspit Gar sinks its teeth into Warrior Orion’s leg. Collapsing, he takes a panicked breath in as the gar pulls him under dragging him to the bottom. Jousting his axe into the gar’s mouth, he attempts to break free, but its grip is unwavering. Releasing his axe, Warrior Orion clutches each end of the gar’s long snout, and with a forceful heave, he unhinges the impressive clutch the hideous creature has upon him.

Snapping wildly back at him, Warrior Orion grabs ahold of the primitive beast keeping his head away from its many rows of barbed teeth. Wrestling against him, the gar manages to plunge them both to the nethermost region crashing Warrior Orion to the seafloor.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

The gar frantically bites around Warrior Orion’s death grip on its neck. The creature’s sores begin to secrete an acidic ooze burning through Warrior Orion’s hands.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

Persistently nipping, the gar knows its ooze continues to eat away at Warrior Orion’s flesh. Desperately scanning the depths, debris and human remains scatter the grimy, muck covered sands below. Amongst the rubble, the blade of Warrior Orion’s axe teases him.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

With a hole blistering through the inside of his palm, he knows he hasn’t much time. Releasing his grip on the creatures third strike, its nose buries deep into the sand as Warrior Orion rolls to the side hastily reaching for his axe.

“You alright Ori?” Orion’s mother asks as they pull into the driveway.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” Orion answers a bit disorientated, arm already extended to the door handle.

“Right, hope you brought your umbrella ladies. It’s really coming down out there,” Orion’s father expresses taking the last sip from his soda cup. The kind of sip where you know there’s nothing left, but you keep sucking the straw because the annoying noise it makes.

Orion caps his pen, clutching his composition book close to his chest making his way inside.

“Wow, do I got mustard on my mustache?” Orion’s dad asks jokingly.

Orion’s mother shakes her head, then exits the vehicle swiftly running to the door.

“Oh, come on,” his dad starts again shaking out his umbrella by the front door stepping inside.

“She knows I would’ve shared the umbrella, right?” he states.

“Are you that dense?” Orion’s mother replies.

“Excuse me?” he retorts.

“You embarrassed that boy and his family,” she starts.

“What are you-,” she barrels over him.

“That poor boy took his own life and you said those awful things. Awful, awful things. How could you do that?” she adds passionately.

Orion moves to the top of the stairs listening in.

“I was doing my job,” he sternly answers.

“No. That’s not your job. Your job is…” she’s at a loss for words.

“To inform the people of His word?”

“The kids dead,” she jumps back in.

“He’s dead Martin, and you just fucking spit all over his grave-,“

BAM.

She falls to the floor as he hits her in a spout of anger.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” he continues, looming over her as she crawls back into a corner.

Loosening his belt, Martin continues to pursue her.

WHACK.

She shrieks in pain as he hits her with a sinister grin stapled across his face. Orion jumps, cringing to each crack of his belt.

WHACK.

Her cries are almost silenced by her agony as she lies helpless on the living room floor. He winds up for another swing.

The gar pulls its head from the crusted seafloor, approaching in a rage.

WHACK.

Warrior Orion slams the blunt end of his axe into the gar’s bloodthirsty eyes, then pushes from the bottom eager to resurface. With an exasperating gasp for air, Warrior Orion swims down another path through uncharted waters and unknown remains.

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

The Hewitt House in Granger, Texas. As seen on Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). Originally standing on the current grounds of the University of Texas, this architectural piece of horror film history moved to Granger, Texas in the 1930s. Current residents assure visitors and fans of the films that no one was murdered at this house. No Trespassing signs are posted around the gated entrance with a flyer stating they “do not offer tours, nor can you come closer to take photos”, but encourages guests to take photos from the road.

NOTE: “This is a working farm and people do live here.” If you’re a fan of the films and are planning a visit, please be respectful of the grounds and the family that lives there.

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

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© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Be sure to check out part one if you haven’t already: All My Friends Are Freaks

Sunlight peaks through the ripped sheets acting as makeshift curtains in this distressing excuse of a mobile home. Crucifixes ironically line the walls with quotes of false hope like “God bless our home and all who enter”. Cigarette ash falls onto my head as my foster father reaches over me extinguishing another butt in a beer can on the coffee table. Sweeping the ash from my journal, I continue to write, scribbling through the obvious grumbles of hunger coming from my stomach. After a quick swig from his flask, he derisively snorts in my direction coughing up a loogie onto my notepad.

“Dinner is served,” he mocks, laughing himself into another coughing spell.

Grasping my skull for balance, he stands then stumbles towards the bathroom. Encasing the forest green ball of mucus, I close my journal listening to his stream hit the toilet bowl. My stomach rumbles once again. Curious if he has left any scraps on the table, I peruse hastily through the bottles, cans, and ashtrays uncovering a few forgotten chicken nuggets. Glancing towards the bathroom while his stream continues, I blow ash from my foraged treat. The toilet flushes as I begin to scarf more down chewing vigorously in anticipation of his return. With a painful swallow, I open my journal jotting down anything that comes to mind seeming busy. Making his way back down the hallway, behind my busy eyes I tremble, swiftly wiping the crumbs from my face. My foot taps anxiously, but I bury my head into what I’m writing.

Approaching me, he looms villainously, sporting a criminal smile. Belt already at hand, he takes a swing hitting the side of my leg. WHIP! Jumping to my feet, I make a break for the door. WHIP! Striking my back, I cry out in pain falling to the floor. Turning to him, I crawl backward shielding my face as he winds up for one more. WHIP! Breaking the skin on my arm, I hold it close to my chest. WHIP! With a backhanded return, he continues to lash until the fact sinks in that I’m an unwelcome guest. WHIP! Swiping the side of my head I fall defeated to the floor. A few moments pass, with some extra beatings to be sure.

“Oh look, the dogs pissing on the carpet again,” he leans over to shout in my face.

His breath reeks of brown liquor and stale cigarettes invading my senses like a toxic fume of discomfort and hatred. My vision gently fades as a light seemingly passes by my eyes. I can see him confidently stumble off dropping the belt by my side, whiskey bottle now at hand. Light passes by my eyes again, brighter than before.

“The convulsing has ceased,” a nurse sporadically states as others gather around me.

“We’re just passing four minutes,” another nurse says grabbing my wrist.

“Son, can you hear me?” he asks as I slowly open my eyes drained of all energy.

“Can you hear me?” he repeats.

Nodding my head, I realize I’ve moved to the floor. Groggily I turn my torso situating myself in my own puddle of piss.

“Do you know where you are?” he asks checking my awareness.

“The hospital,” I mutter flinching from the bright day room lights.

“What’s your name?” he continues.

“Twitch,” I confidently smirk back at them.

“Let’s get him up,” he states pulling me to my feet.

An MHW grabs my other arm as they drag me out of the day room. Picking my head up for a moment I can see Ethan standing by the doorway in tears. Placing me on an examination room table my head hits a pillow and I immediately want to fall asleep, but I can hear Annie screaming down the hall. The only reason I know it’s her is by how confidently she disses the MHW’s. No one compares to the amount of courage she holds within her heart. SLAM! The quiet room door shuts, silencing her cries. In attempts to sit up, my head feels full of concrete immediately touching back down on the pillow. Lowering the lights in the examination room, an MHW slides a chair in the doorway scrolling through their phone as my eyes gradually close.

The gossiping chatter of patients lining the halls of the unit wake me up. Sitting up slowly, I hold my head for moment regrouping my surroundings. Stepping out of the examination room, the remainder of the children’s unit is lined up to head out.

“Twitch!” Ethan excitedly shouts running over to me.

“Hey Ethan, you guys going to lunch?” I ask.

“Dude, it’s almost six o’clock. We’re going to dinner,” Ethan answers.

“What, no piss stains? Someone’s growing up,” he teasingly adds.

“Pretty sure I left it all over the day room floor,” I return.

We both share a laugh.

“Glad to see you’re doing alright. You scared the hell outta everyone,” Ethan states.

“Have you seen Annie?” I inquire after a quick look down the line.

“Not since this morning,” Ethan’s excitement fades.

“Dude, she thought you were dead. We both did,” he continues.

“We talked about this before, it happens all the time,” I try to explain.

“No Twitch, this time was different,” Ethan expresses making his way back in line.

“Eyes forward, silent mouths until we reach the cafeteria,” an MHW declares before waving his access card by the magnetic lock system.

A loud buzzing indicates the doors to the unit have been unlocked. Ethan waves as they make their way to the cafeteria. Dr. Shaundry slips through the open doors as the patients exit. Greeted by the nursing staff, Dr. Shaundry smiles and waves like a cocky pharmaceutical celebrity. The doors lock behind her.

“Mr. Gatto, glad you’re up and about. You’re just the person I wanted to speak to,” she starts.

“My name’s Twitch,” I reply.

“Right. Let’s talk in here, shall we?” she points towards the day room.

Head down, I follow her into the day room. Finding my usual seat, I pull my gown over my legs holding my knees close to my chest. Staring at the floor, even though it’s been scrubbed thoroughly, I can still make out my piss stain, faintly shining under the blinding fluorescents.

“Mason,” she starts.

“Twitch,” I sharply interrupt.

“Yes, Twitch. First, I wanted to commend you on being so mature this morning. The nursing staff mentioned to me that you exuded a bit of growth in cooperation prior to the…your…the emergency,” she continues seemingly suspect.

“With that said. The medication you received earlier today wasn’t intended…it didn’t agree with your system. Do you understand what I’m saying?” she questions in a conflicting tone.

I nod my head in agreement but remain silent and now a bit confused.

“Perfect. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to take you off SP1, and onto SP2. After a few days, we can explore the idea of letting you leave the unit, but for now we want to make sure you’re safe,” she finishes.

“We’ll talk again in a few days. Keep up the good work Mr. Gatto,” she states closing my chart.

“It’s Twitch,” I whisper to myself as Dr. Shaundry hastily exits the day room.

Dr. Shaundry checks her phone before making a stop at the nurse’s station. She seems upset speaking with the head RN. With their hands raised, they seem to be oblivious as to what Dr. Shaundry is upset about. Assertively pointing to my chart, Dr. Shaundry checks her phone once more, then exits the unit bumping the dinner cart on her way out.

Missing lunch, my stomach is prompt to remind me that it’s time to eat. The unfriendly aroma of the cafeteria’s poor interpretation of Salisbury steak lingers into the day room. Annie jokes that if you rinse the congealed gravy from the sides of that rubbery slab of the reconstituted meat product that it resembles the soles of our shoes they’ve conveniently confiscated upon admittance. I usually just smoosh it between two pieces of bread covering it in ketchup hoping to mask the stench. Approaching the steel shelved trolley, I begin to rummage around for a tray with a sizeable helping. One of the nurses turns to me with a false sense of pity.

“How are you feeling Mason?” she asks.

“My name’s Twitch and…alright, I guess,” I gently respond.

“Ah, well then…Twitch, thought you’d like to know that they brought you extra chocolate milk from the cafeteria,” she happily gestures towards a few extra cartons on another tray.

“Don’t they bring those when there’s a new admittance?” I question skeptically of her offering.

“Well, yes. You’re quite observant, aren’t you? Tell you what, you take the extra carton to the day room and it will be our little secret,” she states placing a carton on my tray.

“Sure, thank you,” I finish walking towards the day room puzzled.

“Ah ah ah, forgetting something?” she snidely asks.

“Pull the plastic from your tray here, you know the drill,” she continues pointing the trash can.

Uncovering the meat and potatoes, the rancid steam assaults my nostrils. Throwing the plastic away, the nurse sarcastically smirks as I turn away.

“Let us know if you need anything else, Mason,” she calls out as I enter the day room.

“It’s Twitch,” I say under my breath.

Digging in, I stick my plastic fork into the overcooked and under seasoned thin slice of meat. Using the edge of my spoon, I do my best to cut off a piece, but am unsuccessful. Placing my spoon aside, I lift the entire slab attempting to take a bite chewing forcefully through the tough lump like a vulture pulling the intestines from a rotting corpse of an elk.

“A little barbaric, don’t you think?” Annie mocks from the entrance of the day room.

I laugh a bit, grinning as I place my food back down. Taking her usual seat, Annie releases a deep sigh, then starts eating dinner. There’s an odd feeling between us that I can’t describe. I want to speak, but I feel she wants to say something first. A mutual misunderstanding. After a few bites, Annie just pushes her potatoes around her steak.

“I-“

“Look-“

We both start, interrupting each other. Our uncomfortable, yet calming stillness is accompanied by the steady rainfall outside.

“It’s not very good,” I start.

“Is it ever?” Annie shyly smiles back.

The silence returns as our awkward moment is spotlighted under the bright fluorescents.

“Did you see Ethan, yet?” Annie asks.

“Yeah, he’s alright, I think. Are…are you alright?” I ask.

“Am I alright?” Annie begins.

“You’re the one that almost died,” she returns.

“You spent a whole day in the quiet room,” I retort.

“Ethan thought you were fucking dead Twitch…and so did I,” Annie expresses.

“Look. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, alright? They gave me the medicine, then I had a seizure, and now everyone’s either kissing my ass or chewing me out. The nurse even gave me an extra chocolate milk because she thought it would make me feel better or something,” I vent.

“Wait, back up,” Annie says.

“I said I got TWO chocolate milks, you want some?” I offer.

“No, you idiot. What do you mean everyone’s kissing your ass?” Annie asks.

“Oh, well Dr. Shaundry came in right before dinner and took me off SP1 and said the medication didn’t agree with me or something,” I explain.

“Then, the nurses were all smiley and nice handing me an extra chocolate milk, it was weird,” I finish.

“They fucked up,” Annie says to herself.

“Yeah, they did. If there’s a new patient, they’re not getting any chocolate milk,” I boast polishing off the first carton.

“No, Twitch. They fucked up. Don’t you see? The medication they gave you is what caused your seizure. That’s why Dr. Shaundry took you off SP1, that’s why the nurses were being so nice to you, and that’s why you got a second chocolate milk,” Annie exclaims.

“They could’ve killed you,” she finishes.

“You’re thinking way too much into this,” I reply.

A sudden flash of lightning followed by a roaring boom of thunder adds to the torrential downpour outside. The unit doors buzz as a mental health worker enters with a new patient. The boy is audibly sobbing dragging a soaked knapsack behind him, his clothes are covered in mud and hair as greasy as it could be. Head down he follows the MHW into the evaluation room. Annie and I continue picking around our trays. After a few minutes, the boy emerges from the evaluation room with the same defeated look we all had after being felt up like we’re magically hiding weapons up our asses. The MHW holds his clothes and shoes directing him towards dinner trays and the day room. Shuffling slowly towards us he grabs a tray and makes his way in continuing to whimper. Annie and I look to each other, then back at the boy. He places the dinner tray in the seat next to him and pulls his knees to his chest.

“First time here?” I ask.

Looking up for a moment, a faint black eye shines back at us. Grasping my second carton of chocolate milk, I look to him again, then walk over to him offering it up.

“Hey, ummm…my name’s Twitch and that’s Annie,” I start.

There’s no response. Looking to Annie I shrug my shoulders.

“So, I think this was really for you, but they gave it to me because they almost killed me,” I continue.

The boy glances up with a concerned expression. Turning to Annie again, she covers her face with her palm.

“I’ll leave it on your tray. They like to take notes on things we do, so try to eat something. Doesn’t have to be much,” I say trying to be supportive.

“Anyway…if you need anything Annie and I have been here for a while and know quite a bit. Our friend Ethan as well,” I finish, taking my seat near Annie.

“Idiot, you scared the shit out of him,” Annie aggressively whispers to me.

“I did not. The last thing I wanted to do after the MHW’s probed me was eat,” I retort.

“My name’s Samuel,” the boy quietly states.

“Right. Like I said, I’m Twitch and this is Annie,” I repeat myself.

“How long do I have to stay here?” he asks wiping snot from his upper lip.

“Uhhh…well probably shorter than us,” I joke.

“Usually three to five days,” Annie jumps in slugging my shoulder.

“Your parents bring you here?” she adds.

Shaking his head, he begins to hold his knees tighter.

The unit door bursts open as the other kids arrive back on the unit rushing into the day room. Ethan sprints in moving my tray aside taking his usual seat.

“Dude! Did you guys get any of that banana cream pie? It was so good,” Ethan exclaims.

Samuel sits up promptly, staring at Ethan with intent in his glare.

“Hi. I’m Ethan, what’s your name?” Ethan extends in a welcoming tone.

Awaiting a response, we all sit awkwardly twiddling our thumbs hoping he might reply.

“Ethan, this is Samuel. He just got here while you guys were at dinner,” Annie affirms unable to look away from Samuels fixated gaze of Ethan.

“Well this sure has been fun,” I interject.

Collecting my scraps of food, Annie and I dump the trash from our plates outside the day room returning our trays to the steel trolley unit. An earsplitting shriek painfully echoes through the halls of the children’s unit. Pushed aside by a nurse, an MHW rushes closely behind into the day room. Through the observation windows, Annie and I observe Samuel pounce violently onto Ethan tackling him to the day room floor. Another MHW blocks the door as we watch Samuel viciously claw at Ethan, tearing into his gown just enough to break the skin on his chest. While the MHW’s attempt to rip Samuel from Ethan, Annie aims to barge her way through the blockheaded bodybuilder obstructing the entrance. Successfully restraining Samuel, Ethan hurriedly crawls backward to the far corner of the day room.

“Code green children’s unit. Code green children’s un-,” the nurse is cut off as lightning strikes nearby cutting off power to the hospital.

Annie shoves her way through hastily making her way to the back of the day room in aid of Ethan. The MHW at the door rushes to assist in wrangling Samuel who cackles wickedly, then willingly surrenders to the power of the MHW’s. Entering the day room, I pass by Samuel who’s sporting a conceited grin with a bit of Ethan’s blood dripping from his chin. He groans in agony as an MHW digs his knee deeper into his back. The fire alarm sounds before the antique backup generator can kick in. Shielding my eyes from the flashing lights, I continue towards the back of the room reaching blindly in front of me. Annie eventually grabs my hand pulling me behind a cluster of chairs as the alarm continues to piercingly wail. She’s screaming, but I can’t make out anything she’s saying. The lights are too overwhelming as I become dizzy. Squinting my eyes, I use one hand to visor my vision slowly raising it hoping to read her lips as she shouts.

“He’s gone,” Annie shouts.

“Ethan’s not here, we have to go,” she says attempting to pull me to my feet.

Unconfidently finding my footing, Annie directs us out of the day room. Afraid to open my eyes I can hear the cries of other patients as MHW’s cluelessly attempt to regain control of this maddening situation. Forcefully grabbing my shoulders, Annie shoves me forward into a closet closing the door behind us.

“Fuck, c’mon Annie that hurt,” I cry out.

“Shhh,” Annie whispers.

“We’ll be alright as long as no one finds us in here,” she continues.

“What do you mean Ethan was gone?” I ask with a low voice.

“He wasn’t there, Twitch. When they pulled Samuel off, he crawled to the back of the room, but he wasn’t there,” Annie quickly attempts to explain.

“You think he got out the day room back door? The power might have cut out the lock systems,” I inquire.

“No, no. Any door leading directly outside is bolt locked, he’d need a key. There’s no way Twitch, there’s no way!” Annie mutters frantically.

“Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out just try and calm down,” I add.

The alarm sound subsides, Annie and I cover our mouths as we hear MHW’s walking about the unit unable to gain control of the other patients. SLAM! Annie and I jump as the unit door bursts open without warning.

“All unit doors have malfunctioned, middle unit patients are attempting to escape,” an MHW shouts onto our unit.

“We need assistance immediately,” he continues.

“Two of us will stay here, the others will head to the middle unit,” another answers.

SLAM! They swiftly exit the unit as the doors crash behind them. We can make out a few pairs of boots from underneath the door. A thick pink substance runs from under my gown. Annie nudges me pointing to it, as I slowly sit up hastily wiping it before it leaks out onto the unit.

“The majority of the kids are back in the day room; how many are we missing?” the MHW’s converse directly outside the closet.

“I don’t know two…three?” the other answers.

“You search the right corridor rooms while I watch the day room. Then we’ll switch. No room goes unturned,” they split.

“Twitch, this is our only chance. We have to go now,” Annie insists almost pushing me out of the door.

“Go where?”

“We have to find Ethan while the unit doors are unlocked,” she persists.

“Fuck alright let’s go,” I muster the courage slowly opening the door.

Staying low Annie and I use the nurse’s station as a barricade. Glancing towards the quiet room, sounds of hissing and snarling echo towards us.

“You hear that?” I ask as Annie sneaks into the nurse’s station.

“Annie, no. C’mon let’s go,” I encourage.

Annie hands me a few pens, then we turn towards the unit doors. Glimpsing at the quiet room monitor on the counter, Samuel can be seen struggling. His limbs are contorted wildly as he gripes towards the wall. Annie and I stare at the screen in awe as we witness his bones bend and crack. Even without sound, it’s terrifying to witness. He stops. We turn to each other, then back to the screen. Samuel is gone.

“Go. Now!” Annie exclaims as we both sprint towards the unit double doors.

“You ready?” she turns to me.

“Let’s do it,” I whisper back.

With a quick look over our shoulders, Annie gently pushes the doors open just enough for us to squeeze through.

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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Waking to an unbearable pain, I begin to grind my teeth failing to convince myself to fall back asleep. Scrolling through my symptoms on the internet I’m fed ridiculous amounts of red flags and hypotheticals. Unable to fully extend my torso I stumble half-bent, like a miserable hunchback towards the front door. Trusting the fresh air may give some relief, I step outside to admire the clear Texas night. The moonlight accompanies millions of stars dimly illuminating the surrounding farmland. With a moment of peace, I take a deep breath through my nostrils lengthening my poor posture. Immediately regretting this decision, the pain heightens as I’m forcibly bent over once more. After a short spout of obscenities and pleading to a deity I don’t believe in, I ask a friend to drive me to the hospital. Like a determined senior citizen rushing for the early bird special, I shuffle to her car.

“I’m so sorry,” I mumble in agony trying to find a comfortable seating position.

“It’s alright… if it was me, I’d want someone to do the same,” she expresses.

“I really do appreciate it,” I continue.

“I was up anyway, wasn’t sure why…but I was up,” she explains.

About twenty minutes from the emergency room, I roll the window down letting the crisp Texas fall air cool the back of my neck. At this point, nausea is an understatement. The pain has reached a point where I’m unable to speak without some type of abdominal repercussions. Pulling into the parking lot, I’m astonished how empty it is. Growing up in a city, I guess I’m oblivious as to how empty the ER might be on a Saturday at 01:30AM in rural Texas. Anxious, my brain begins to cycle through the possibility of surgery, my fear of needles, the chances of having a seizure because of the added stress, dehydration, and sleep deprivation. Before my thoughts get the best of me, a throbbing protuberance from my gut reminds me to keep hobbling inside.

Greeted by an empty waiting room, a security guard stands patiently behind the intake window. A nurse pops his head out of the unit door as my friend casually gestures at me hunched over. Turning my head, I smile grinding my teeth. Explaining my symptoms, they presume appendicitis as a possible diagnosis. Beginning to prepare an IV, the nurse throws me a gown asking the generic medical history questionnaire. Struggling to find a comfortable seating position, I writhe around clenching my fists. After changing into the gown, another nurse hands me a urinalysis sample cup. Having to pee anyway, the only issue is the level of pain it might take to stand back up. With assistance from a few, I make it to the restroom to provide an adequate sample, then make my way back to lay down.

Asking for my arm, he doesn’t grasp how intense my phobia of needles truly is. I’m not upset, I’m afraid, and he’s just trying to do his job. My entire body begins to tremble as my nerves act up and my mind plays an amateur snuff film where I’m the unpinned voodoo doll of a deranged witch doctor. Offering her hand, my friend consoles graciously understanding this is an uncomfortable situation for me.

“The fluids may feel a bit cold,” the nurse states taping over the IV catheter.

“What’s your pain level at?” he asks.

“Around a seven,” I reply continuing to shake on the hospital bed.

“Alright, well we’re giving you fluids, Ofirmev for the pain, Zofran for nausea, and Toradol for the inflammation while we get you set up with a CT scan here shortly, in the meantime try to relax a bit,” he continues.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m shaking…I’m sorry,” I continually apologize as my pain level rises.

“Not a problem, that pain medicine takes about twenty minutes to take effect. If you’re still having issues, we can give you something a little stronger. I’ll give you some space and check on you in a few minutes,” he finishes with a pleasant smirk.

My pain level gradually escalates as I’m attempting to distract myself talking to my friend about work and checking my phone. Unable to mask the level of pain, my body squirms as tears roll down my face. The sensation of fire ants seeking shelter within the burrows of my intestines becomes a growing constant. This is it, I thought to myself. This is how it ends.

The radiology technician explains the process of the CT scan as others help in transferring me onto the motorized exam table. My friend stands patiently behind the window viewing the screen with the technician.

“Essentially, the system is going to take a three-dimensional image of your abdomen,” he begins.

“Once you’re under the imaging device, I’ll need you to hold your breath as it processes through, can you do that?” he requests.

I nod in agreement as a nurse fiddles with the injection port of my IV.

“You’re going to feel a warm sensation throughout your body,” The radiologist calls out a little too late.

An extreme warmth floods my insides conjuring nausea unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Turning my head to the side, I believe I might vomit. The unpleasant feeling lingers as the exam table begins to slide into the cylindric imaging device.

“The warmth is from the omnipague and it lights up your organs on our monitor here so we’re able to see better,” the technician explains as I’m attempting to breathe through intense nausea.

“Alright, I’m going to give you a countdown. When I get to one, I want you to hold your breath as long as you can or until the imaging is complete, you understand?” he requests.

“Yes,” I reply swiftly, anxious to get out of this claustrophobic death magnet.

“Three…two…one,” he counts down.

Taking a deep breath in through my mouth the exam table underneath me evaporates as I fall into a cratered pit dropping into a lake of murky water. Opening my eyes, the surrounding water is a dreary shade of grey with floating remnants of dismembered limbs and shredded hospital gowns. Making my way to the surface, I spot a rocky shore a few meters out. Sprinting through the foul open waters, my hands pull through unknown extremities as my feet are teased by the leftovers of nameless corpses.

Trudging onto land, the jagged stones dig into the bottoms of my feet bringing me to my knees. In disbelief, I lay ashore for a moment as the rancid waves continue to crash onto me. Crawling forward, two torches ignite posted at the entrance of an ominous cavern.

“Oh, c’mon, am I dead?” I complain attempting to pick myself up off the rocks.

Rising to my feet, I notice my abdominal pain has subsided. Examining the rest of my body, my fingers run across a delicate burn that travels up the side of my torso. Seeking better light, I walk towards the cavern entrance grabbing a torch. As I shine the flame upon my flesh it begins to pulsate rapidly, stressing scales that glow in its embers.

“Alrighty then…painkillers must have kicked in,” I conclude resuming into the depths of the cavern.

Passing the threshold, the other torch dies down, disintegrating to dust. A gentle gust hauled its ashes along the bouldering moist walls of the cavern. Funneling through the seemingly endless depths of the hollow, the only element that seems to differentiate is the air temperature. As I decide to take a moment of rest a violent quake strikes the ground followed by a powerful wind that carried the stench of the waters below. The sounds of roaring rapids approach as I begin running in the opposite direction. A dim light ahead inspires me to dash promptly towards it. Within arm’s reach, the waters engulf me, viciously tossing me around like a ragdoll in the washing machine.

My frightened eyes awaken on the exam table now surrounded by doctors. The pillow underneath my head covered in sweat, I attempt to adjust to the light of the room becoming increasingly dizzier. Spewing onto the soiled linens, the doctors assist in shifting my body, so I don’t choke on my own vomit. Gagging, my eyes grow wider as something blocks my airway. Encouraging me to cough, the nurse begins delivering back blows as they rise me to a standing position. Expelling blood from my throat, a charcoal black serpent slithers from my esophagus to the floor making its way down the hospital halls leaving a trail of blood, bile, and ash. Falling lifeless to the floor, my corpse begins to burn, crumbling before the feet of the group of mystified health professionals. My friends’ whereabouts are still unknown.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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This historic mansion in Texas was built in 1895 and rumored to be home to the spirit of a young girl. Dawning an old-fashioned dress, the young lady has been seen staring out the bay windows of the first floor. An apparent suicide has also been rumored in the upstairs nursery. Arriving at night on this residential street, my team and I were able to capture a few photos of the exterior while quickly roaming the grounds. Peeking inside the windows from the porch, we only found antique furniture and a grandfather clock.

Once home to a blacksmith and hardware merchant F.W. Schuerenberg, this was the second location marked by the Texas Historical Commission on my journey through the lone star state. Later research uncovered the great grandchild of F.W. Schuerenberg claimed that her father “…Schuerenberg Joseph Marek lived in this house while growing up and never heard stories about happenings. My father died, suicide not in Texas, when I was 13.” She states. “Had contact with my aunt and visited this house and asked questions about family but no comments about ghost.” She goes on to say here: F.W. Schuerenberg House Haunted History

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

The Idea and Inspiration

The Killing Floor, my first screenplay ever to come to life outside of my university acting and film classes (I was a theatre major…shocking, right?). Eager to share my art with the world, I hastily began to draft a short film after gaining inspiration walking through an arboretum at the university I was currently employed at. I remember walking through the thick forestry up a steep hill coming across this open, and flat patch of land. “This must be where the students have their satanic rituals.” I think laughing to myself. Embracing the open space, a story begins to form in my head as I pace quickly leaving circular tracks in the snow. The Killing Floor was born.

Poster

SCENE ONE

Michael Karon sits close to his Christmas tree grasping an almost empty bottle of whiskey. His clothes are tattered and covered in blood. A half-wrapped present lies before him and a pistol on the floor to his side.

Michael’s takes a final swig of whiskey and tosses the bottle in front of him.

Michael picks up the pistol next to him, cradling it in his palms.

Matthew stands atop a mountain pass within a firing trench. Michael Karon, Matthews father, stands beside him giving verbal pointers. Matthew draws his arrow taking aim. Breathing in the fresh mountain air, he focuses his attention to the beaten target ahead.

MICHAEL: Envision the arrow puncturing the target before you release. Push your shoulders downward. And when you’re ready…slowly release your breath and let it fly.

Matthew slowly releases his breath; the arrow takes flight. Striking the target meters out, he celebrates.

MATTHEW: I did it…I did it dad! Did you see that?

Matthew hugs his father who proudly embraces his sons’ accomplishment.

Michael places the barrel of the pistol against his temple.

Matthews head lies upon his father’s shoulders.

MATTHEW: I love you dad.

MICHAEL: I love you son.

A loud gunshot is heard.

Snow falls over Michael Karon’s home, his Christmas lights are perfectly fastened, and beautifully organized. His Christmas tree can be seen through the window of his living room. A dog can be heard barking in the distance.

Matthew 4:16 “…the people dwelling in darkness

    have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

    on them a light has dawned.”

Scene 1 BTS

Pre-Production

Beginning to draft the screenplay for fun, one of my friends was still a film student at the university that needed content for their senior film. During the early stages of pre-production, holiday break was drawing closer. University students were tired, and finding a crew was becoming more difficult than we imagined. Still, we persisted to go through the casting process and get everything we could. Obviously, in projects like this people wear many hats. Attempting to create casting calls, reach out to locations to lock down shoot dates, find necessary film equipment, and a few extra hands to help on set. In a small mountain town, right before holiday break…this wasn’t impossible, but we found ourselves running short on time.

SCENE TWO

Elementary language arts teacher, Michael Karon, wraps up a lecture on dramatic reading.

MICHAEL: When portraying a character from any script, not only do outside forces effect their motivations, but internal conflicts may also affect the way our character walks, talks, and reacts.

Brian rests his head in his palm staring out the window. A student in the back raises their hand.

MICHAEL: Yes, Amy.

STUDENT: I don’t understand Mr. Karon. How would we know if our character doesn’t feel good?

MICHAEL: Well, we can only go with what the writer gives us…right? So, if our character is described by our writer as ill. They might walk around holding their tummy, or they sound nasally always about to sneeze.

Brian joins in the conversation.

BRIAN: What if your character wasn’t sick, but they were not themselves?

MICHAEL: How so?

BRIAN: Well. Just because a character doesn’t feel themselves, doesn’t mean they’re sick. What if they’re just sad, or another character hurt them? What if they love someone, but don’t have the courage to say so?

The class laughs, Michael waves them off.

BRIAN: I just…I don’t think it’s always that obvious. You know?

MICHAEL: I do. We all know. True internal conflict stems from our emotions, our desires, and the obstacles pushing us further away from our objective, our goals, our dreams. Remember, what makes a great story isn’t always where the characters end up, it’s how they overcame their failures, how they celebrate their triumphs, and what they…

The bell rings indicating the end of the period. The kids quickly scurry out to the door as Michael attempts to get a final word in.

MICHAEL: Don’t forget to have your group presentations and skits ready by Monday morning-

They’re gone before he can finish. Michael begins to pack his things as a student approaches his desk.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon?

Michael turns and greets the young man, a friend of his sons.

MICHAEL: Sorry Brian, didn’t see you there. What can I do for you?

Brian avoids eye contact while standing awkwardly. He stammers as he begins to speak.

BRIAN: Matt and I…I…I just…

Michael stops him with a consoling mannerism.

MICHAEL: Brian. It’s alright buddy. Matthew is just…he’s just lost. He’ll find his way home.

There’s a long pause as Brian collects his thoughts.

BRIAN: I think I know where he is.

Michael’s expression quickly changes as Brian continues to ramble on.

BRIAN: Well, where we were. He went through and I told him not to. I wanted to tell you, I just didn’t think you would believe me {and then my dad said that I’d just make things harder for you}

MICHAEL: {Brian…Brian!}

Brian flinches, Mr. Karon lowers his voice.

MICHAEL: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. Just…just slow down and start from the beginning. What do you mean “he went through”?

Brian reaches inside his bag and places a tattered leather-bound book on Mr. Karon’s desk.

BRIAN: Matthew and I found this book. He thought…we thought, it would be cool to follow its instructions.

Michael picks up the book slowly thumbing through it as Brian elaborates further.

BRIAN: I mean, it’s old…we didn’t think it would work. It has a map of town with cool places we’ve never explored-

MICHAEL: Your dad’s seen this, right?

BRIAN: Not really.

MICHAEL: What do you mean?

BRIAN: Well, he said not to tell you and just to stay out of it, but I couldn’t just leave-

MICHAEL: Has. He. Seen. This?

BRIAN: No, but-

Michael quickly packs the book with his things and exits, Brian follows.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon. Mr. Karon wait.

SCENE THREE

Pastor Stephen hangs Christmas lights outside his church. Atop a ladder he reaches across hammering in some nails, continually stringing the lights as he goes along. Michael approaches smoking a cigarette.

MICHAEL: Need an extra pair of hands pastor?

PASTOR STEPHEN: (surprised) Michael? (beat) Hold on. One second.

Pastor Stephen quickly finishes hammering in the nail he was working on, then heads down the ladder to greet Michael. Michael goes in to shake hands, but Pastor Stephen goes in for a hug.

PASTOR STEPHEN: It’s been a while.

MICHAEL: Yeah.

PASTOR STEPHEN: I…um…I’m sorry to hear about Matthew. I’ve been praying for you.

MICHAEL: I appreciate that.

There’s an awkward silence between the two of them.

PASTOR STEPHEN: What brings you here?

MICHAEL: Surprisingly, Brian did.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Everything alright? He really enjoys your class.

MICHAEL: Ha-ha. Yeah, everything’s great in class. He brought a strange bit of text to my attention. Claims him and Matthew followed its contents to open some type of…doorway or portal?

Michael hands Pastor Stephen the book. Pastors Stephens eyes light up in shock as he glances upon the cover, he tosses the book on the ground before him. Michael retrieves the text brushing off its casing.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Where did you get that?

MICHAEL: Brian handed it to me after class. What’s the problem?

PASTOR STEPHEN: My son?

MICHAEL: Yes.

PASTOR STEPHEN: No. no. no. It can’t be.

MICHAEL: Steve, what’s the issue here?

Pastor Stephen heads towards the entrance of the church up the stairs.

PASTOR STEPHEN: We can’t talk here. And do not bring that inside this building.

MICHAEL: Steve, can you tell me what the fuck’s going on here? What is this?

Pastor Stephen approaches Michael aggressively pushing him into the wall.

PASTOR STEPHEN: If my son held that book, then my life is in danger.

MICHAEL: Get off me!

Michael pushes Pastor Stephen away.

PASTOR STEPHEN: That book has been only heard of, never seen. Its contents are dark, but not as ancient as it may seem.

MICHAEL: Oh enough with the end of times bullshit, come on Stev-

PASTOR STEPHEN: You want answers or what!?

Michael nods.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Stemming from this town, I only thought they were rumors, but it must be true.

Pastor Stephen heads back up the stairs, Michael tries to follow.

MICHAEL: What are you talking about?

PASTOR STEPHEN: [To himself] The bastard child strays from the flock. [To Michael] Your son is alive Mr. Karon. Meet me at the old docks tomorrow after church and I’ll explain further.

Pastor Stephen locks the door in Michaels face vanishing. Michael pounds on the door calling out to him.

MICHAEL: Steve? Steve! Steve?! Where is Matthew? Steve!?…Fuck!

Scene 1 BTS 2

Portraying A Character That I Created

Not going to lie, I thoroughly enjoyed becoming the character Michael. The look and motivations were loosely based off a professor I had in college. He spoke about his kids and how he would do anything to protect them. Obviously, I wanted the character to care about his son. The self-loathing and medicating was more of a reflection of my personal thoughts on the holiday season. Self-medicating is something I’m very familiar with, especially during the winter months. Those scenes, I found, really hit home as an artist and actor on set, but also as a reflection of what my holiday season used to look like. Taking the partner out of the equation was crucial to the motivations of Michael. His son is everything, and without him during this time of year should feel more than detrimental.

Michael Karon

MKMK

Production and Downfall

All the promotional shooting was complete, and we began filming scenes when we could. We all had day jobs and responsibilities that had to come first, time was already…not on our side. One of the kid actors was very experienced on camera, the other was almost brand new with some stage experience in school. Eager to learn and passionate about the project, we decided to take time aside and give him some acting lessons. It’s not hard to explain, but he was the character he was cast for. Being himself was what we wanted and being a character is what he believed it to be. Which is fine, like any film set the down time should be filled with banter and fun. We cast T.J. Tranchell, author of Cry Down Dark and Asleep in the Nightmare Room, to play Pastor Stephen and he was all for it from the beginning. Introduced from a mutual friend, T.J. and I immediately connected as horror fanatics and writers. Be sure to check out his Author Website. The families were taking holiday vacations, so we began pushing back shoot dates and our time eventually became so tight. With another job starting out of state I was getting ready to leave the area. Alongside the film to-do list, I was training two individuals on my day job and that had to be my main priority. We completed about half of the filming, then the project was terminated.

Full Cast

SCENE FOUR

Snow covered pines surround an old fishing dock. Michael waits sleepless smoking a cigarette on the dock, gripping a coffee cup dozing off.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon? Mr. Karon? Mr. Karon!?

Brian is heard attempting to snap Michael out of his blur.

BRIAN: You alright Mr. Karon?

Michael sits up, his cigarette is burned to its end next to his feet. Pastor Stephen approaches the dock with his dog Guinness by his side.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Hey Brian take Guinness for a walk, let me talk to Mr. Karon for a while. Alright?

BRIAN: Yeah dad. Come on Guinness.

Brian runs off the dock off onto some trails, Guinness follows. Pastor Stephen takes a seat next to Michael. They stare off admiring the silence over the reservoir and picturesque view of the snow caps in the distance.

“You can always rinse the surface, but the stain will remain.”

PASTOR STEPHEN: It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

There’s a moment of silence.

MICHAEL: I taught Matthew to fish here. Diane and I would come camping and he’d wake us up before the sunrise ready to cast off.

PASTOR STEPHEN: You must keep it together Michael, he’s still out there.

MICHAEL: Ha. Yeah.

Michael lights another cigarette and begins to pace around the dock.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Michael…you smell like an old sock soaked in whiskey.

MICHAEL: Kentucky bourbon to be exact.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Even in the worst times, you have a quick wit. I know the holidays aren’t really your favorite time of year, especially since your wife passed-

MICHAEL: Look. Steve. I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but I just want to find my son.

Michael places the book on the bench between the both of them.

MICHAEL: What is this? And how does it correlate with my son’s disappearance?

Pastor Stephen takes exasperating sigh, then proceeds to explain the meaning of the text.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Alright. In the early 80’s the Palouse area was home to an estranged cult that believed bastard children possessed satanic powe-

MICHAEL: Steve. What does this have to do with Matthew?

PASTOR STEPHEN: Just hear me out. I’m not preaching at you, okay?

MICHAEL: I’m sorry, continue.

PASTOR STEPHEN: This cult believed a child born out of wedlock could be used to open doorways or portals of some kind directly connecting our world to the nine circles of Hell. This book is basically their “how to guide” on opening these circles to earth.

MICHAEL: So…then where’s Matthew?

Pastor Stephen flips through the book for a moment.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Here. Limbo. The first circle of Hell, an inferior form of Heaven.

MICHAEL: But he’s not dead, so couldn’t he just leave?

PASTOR STEPHEN: I’d imagine it’s as if a ghost surrounded us in our world. We wouldn’t be able to see them, but they could see us. So, if Matthew’s alive in Limbo then-

MICHAEL: Then he’d be invisible to the others in Limbo.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Exactly.

MICHAEL: Wait. When Brian handed me this book he said something like “he went through, I told him not to go through”. He didn’t think I’d believe him.

Michael’s cigarette burns to its end singeing his fingertips he jumps up.

MICHAEL: Ow, fuck!

 Guinness barks aggressively in the distance, Pastor Stephen runs off after Brian and Guinness.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Brian!?

Michael grabs some snow to ice his finger and glances over the water. Matthew stands across the reservoir alone, Michael yells out to him.

MICHAEL: Matthew? Matthew!?

Pastor Stephen quickly makes his way through some brush on the back trails searching for Brian and Guinness. Pastor Stephen stops for a short moment hearing Michael call out to his son, then proceeds searching for Brian and Guinness. Guinness screeches from afar, Brian screams in anguish. Pastor Stephen picks up his pace in fear for his son’s life calling out to him.

Michael turns back towards the water, Matthew sits on the edge of the dock fishing singing “I’ll Fly Away”. Michael approaches slowly.

MATTHEW: “I fly away, oh glory. I’ll…fly away. In the morning. When I die, Hallelujah by and by, I’ll…fly away.”

MICHAEL: Matthew?

MATTHEW: [Monotone] Diane says hello Michael.

Michael reaches for Matthew’s shoulder, he turns quickly covered in ritualistic paint and blood. Michael falls over the bench behind him, as he recovers Matthew is gone. Michael gathers his things quickly, then runs to the trails after Pastor Stephen.

SCENE FIVE

Michael makes his way through the thick brush following the barks of Guinness. Slightly off the trail in a large snowy clearing Brian lies motionless in a pool of blood. Guinness’ barks are silenced, Michael sees Brian and approaches quickly. Pastor Stephen is nowhere to be seen.

MICHAEL: Brian. Brian wake up. Brian!?

Brian regains consciousness slowly. Noticing the blood next to him, Brian begins to panic.

BRIAN: Who’s blood is that? {Dad. Dad! Where’s Guinness? Where’s my dad!?}

Michael attempts to comfort Brian.

MICHAEL: It’s alright. {Brian. Brian, it’s alright, but we have to go.}Let’s go!

Michael picks up Brian and carries him quickly off the path as Brian continues to cry for his father.

Brian is silent in the car staring off out the window as Michael drives back towards town.

MICHAEL: You alright bud?

Brian doesn’t respond.

MICHAEL: I’m sure your dad just got scared and head back home. He’s probably there waiting for us now, alright? It’s going to be fine.

With no response from Brian, Michael pulls the car over turning it off.

MICHAEL: Look, Brian. Please talk to me. We’re in this together now. What’s wron-

Michael reaches out to console him, but Brian’s frustrations lash out.

BRIAN: I saw him, okay!?

MICHAEL: You saw who?

Again, no response. Michael becomes frustrated.

MICHAEL: You saw who Brian? Who did you see!?

BRIAN: Matthew! I saw Matthew, alright!?

Michael stands down. There’s a moment of silence.

MICHAEL: I believe you. I saw him, too. Except…it wasn’t him. He was angry…hurt, and his face was-

BRIAN: Painted.

MICHAEL: Yes.

Michael fumbles through his things quickly and pulls out the book.

MICHAEL: Brian, he’s trying to reach out to us. He needs our help. You have to show me where you guys went the night Matthew went missing.

BRIAN: Area occisio…

MICHAEL: What? {What does that mean? Brian?}

BRIAN: {Area occisio…area occisio…area occisio!}

Brian takes the book out of Michael’s hands and thimbles through diligently.

BRIAN: Look.

Brian hands the book back over to Michael marked at a certain page.

BRIAN: When we first read through the book we weren’t sure if it was explaining how to get to a certain place or a specific time.

MICHAEL: That doesn’t make any sense.

BRIAN: Of course it doesn’t…you have a very limited imagination. Alright, it’s a map of a timeline. A journey of this group…kind of? They explain where they go and when they go, time being specific and seeming important. You follow?

MICHAEL: I guess…

Brian points to a specific note on a page.

BRIAN: Here. “Et trahentium ius vel sinistram non furca, esse certus ut semita levi. Cum pervenire ad magnitudinem planitiem quae non est remedium ad te pervenit occisio areæ.”

MICHAEL: And that means…

BRIAN: And you’re the teacher? We translated here: “The trail will fork left or right, be sure to take the path with light. When you reach the vast plateau there is no cure, for you have reached the killing floor.”

MICHAEL: So, let’s go there!

BRIAN: Hold on. Like I said before it’s a timeline. Next to each instruction or clue or whatever you want to call them, there’s a specific time. Plus, I didn’t go past this point. Matthew went through, I left.

MICHAEL: Why not?

BRIAN: You wouldn’t believe me if I told you…

MICHAEL: Try me.

BRIAN: At the fork, it says to take the path with light, right? Well, you think there was anything lit at 09:45PM in middle of the woods?

MICHAEL: No…

BRIAN: Exactly. There was this blinking light that was showing us where to go…we could feel it. It was like a presence was guiding us, almost pulling us towards the plateau. I waited at the fork as Matthew went in, he kept saying everything was getting brighter and darker at he same time until he just stopped talking. I yelled for him, but he never responded. The blinking light got faster and faster, like it was coming closer trying to get me, so I ran.

MICHAEL: So, what’s the first step here? How do we find him? Where do we go first?

BRIAN: I’m not going!

MICHAEL: What?

BRIAN: I’m not going…just take me home.

Michael takes a moment, then starts up his truck. ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ is heard coming from the radio.

MICHAEL: Fine.

Michael turns the radio up, angrily puts the truck in gear and heads back towards town.

What I’ve Learned and What I Take Away

In a nutshell, be prepared and have time set aside.

I believe this project could’ve been completed if we began much earlier than we did. Juggling a full-time job and making a short film was not ideal. Focus needs to be on the project and the people participating. The people involved deserved our full attention. Especially if actors are working for free, there’s no reason not to put them first.

At all costs, avoid mixing hats you’re wearing.

At times I was writing parts of the script while on the phone scouting locations and emailing talent to interview. Don’t recommend that. Ha-ha. Take the time for each detail. Obviously, in productions like this you’re going to be doing multiple jobs. Plan accordingly, schedule intelligently, and act only when fully prepared.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

This abandoned farmhouse in central Texas was an unplanned pit stop, but definitely worth the exploration. Locals rumored satanic rituals and “sinful behaviors” happening at this location. Upon further investigation the only sin we could see is a few beer bottles littered around the property. Classic shag carpets were torn up from the floorboards and a deteriorating structure was all to be found. If anything, the lack of graffiti and vandalism was disturbing in its own way. We left only footprints behind in this forgotten shack somewhere deep within the lone star state.

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Pull out your holy water because this abandoned church in central Texas definitely possessed my interest. The cemetery with well-dated plots and unmarked burial sites surrounded this structure with the faded message of “Help Restore Me” painted on the front wall. A cultish altar draped with red shag carpets overlooked limited rows of pews covered in dust and cobwebs. What made this even more unnerving was the vintage Halloween decorations laid out on the pews in the back.

A historical marker from the Texas Historical Commissions posted on the grounds reads as follows: “Pioneer area settlers organized the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in 1852 on land donated by James R. Hines. Early ministers included notable Baptist leaders from Old Baylor College at nearby Independence. The church building was dismantled and rebuilt in the new town of Burton on land donated by F. A. Rice and A. Groesbeck in 1882. At that time the congregation was renamed Burton Baptist Church. The sanctuary was rebuilt after being damaged in the 1900 storm and on Feb. 18, 1983, it was moved here to its original site. It now serves as a reminder of the area’s rich pioneer heritage.”

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© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

The sun shines brightly through the blinds of my empty apartment as the alarm on my phone continues to ring. Just a mattress, blankets, and a few pillows placed in the center of my living room beside my half-unpacked suitcase. Embracing the nomad lifestyle for as long as I can. Today? It’s Sunday. As most of this quaint college town either make their way to church or sleeps off a hangover after attending that rager on Greek Row, my friends and I have our own sense of community. In the form of empty bottles as targets and shell casings falling to the icy mountain back roads. The Sunday Crew. With a mixture of interests, we planned something different for all of us to enjoy. A paranormal investigation at an abandoned school. In the thinly populated town of Elk River stood an abandoned school rumored to once employ a teacher that communicated with the dead. Most of the town thought he was just going insane after his daughter passed…grief can really fuck with your head. Once the Potlatch Sawmill went under work became scarce diminishing the population significantly. Elk River Public School closed its doors in the early 1980s only to be a rotting trophy overlooking the town with trailer parks, a general store, and a lodge for tourists hoping to enjoy the snowmobile trails or hunting season.

After throwing coffee on, I text Copper to let him know I’ll be ready soon before hopping in the shower. Copper was the most honest person I’ve ever met. Regardless of your feelings, he’ll tell you exactly how it is. That’s what I like most about him. No bullshit. He says most people from Alaska are that way. Cold state, cold people. He taught Gawk and me how to shoot guns and enjoy the mountains for all they’re worth. Hawk, or as we call him, Gawk, works with us at our day job and became a part of the Sunday crew unconventionally. He’s kind of just that awkward guy who enjoys laughing at our jokes and chips in for weed. He’s wicked smart, the youngest on the crew, and just a fuckin’ goon overall.

Knowing Coppers got to pick up Gawk, I’m in no rush this morning. We’re supposed to rendezvous at Safeway with Sarah and McKenzie around 08:30AM but knowing them they’re probably running behind. Sarah’s filmmaking experience is nothing short of amateur. Given that most of us are skeptics of the whole paranormal thing, she’s just hoping to get some stunning shots of the building for a film class assignment. McKenzie is just here to have fun. Sorority girl, free spirit, and yeah…she loves her cats. McKenzie is the kind of girl that underestimates her own potential focusing on others success while ignoring her own. That’s why I think she enjoys hanging with The Sunday Crew. Everything we do is together. As much as we banter back and forth, we build each other up twice as much. Besides Gawk. He’s basically our banter post. He’s a good sport about it though. The best cone of shame model we’ve ever met. Ha-ha.

With my towel around my waist, I pour myself some coffee, add a little schnapps, and check my emails. One of the few negatives about being a nomad is we usually don’t buy furniture or televisions because before you know it, we’re off on the next adventure. I have a few dishes from the local thrift shop, a coffee maker, an inflatable mattress, and an internet connection to watch The Office over again on my laptop. After answering a few emails, I double check that my bag is packed with lunch and any other shit I may need. Throw on my clothes for the day, grab my jacket, and head out for a cigarette. Nasty habit, I know. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to quit. Every summer I head to work in Maine, and that’s the only place I don’t feel the need to pick up a cigarette. Besides being able to work and live in many different states, a major positive about being a nomad is experiencing the culture of each place and having the knowledge of where I’d like to finally settle one day. Maine, well…that’s at the top of my list.

Daydreaming, I accidentally drag into the filter of my cigarette burning my fingertips as Copper pulls up jokingly honking his horn at me. “Where’s the Gawk man at?” I jokingly retort noticing the empty passenger seat. “He’s in the back seat, you ready?” Copper says eager to get on the road. “Yeah, let me grab my bag I’ll be right down,” I respond heading back up the stairs to my apartment. Locking the door behind me I shuffle enthusiastically back down the stairs like a kid on Christmas morning. Giving Gawk a quick playful jab, we all laugh as we head off to meet with the girls at Safeway. “Once we leave town, it’s basically just a straightaway through some pocket-sized cities on ID-8 E and we’ll be there in about an hour,” I say out loud with the biggest grin on my face. This is the shit I live for. Exploring abandoned buildings and chasing the make-believe. All in the best company.

Pulling up to the Safeway, we’re already a few minutes behind schedule and still no sign of Sarah and McKenzie. We head inside to grab some snacks and energy drinks. I’d say we’re the loudest people anywhere we go. After a few gags pointed at Gawk in the store we all make our way back to Coppers car seeing McKenzie parked nearby. “Bitch you stopped for coffee and didn’t ask if we wanted anything?”  I joke holding my own concoction of coffee and peppermint schnapps in my hand. “Get in bitch, we’re leaving,” Sarah says. “We’ll just follow you goons since you have the directions,” I shout to Copper and Gawk as I step into McKenzie’s car.

I knew we would be heading into the deep woods of Idaho, but I didn’t think about how scenic the drive would be. Each town we passed grew smaller in population, but more visually striking and vaster in land. The back-mountain roads were laced with miles of snow-covered trees and seemingly endless hillsides. We pass a practically empty cemetery atop a lonely hill in the town just outside of our destination. A family is gathered around the only headstone in sight mourning the loss of a loved one. As we’re the only cars passing through, they glare at us crossly as if our presence was disturbing their private ceremony. Finally, we pass the town sign reading Elk River. Pulling in, our mouths were agape at the school hanging over the town at the top of the hill. Some windows smashed, doors beat in, and grounds ultimately trashed. What surprised me the most was the lack of ‘No Trespassing’ signs that are usually posted all around these places. But hey, I’m not complaining at an enter at your own risk situation. Before we could even chat for a second, Sarah had her camera out making her way around the building exterior. Without hesitation, I make my way towards the back entrance. “Wait,” McKenzie says. We all stop and gather around a pitiful plot marked by torn crime scene tape, a memorial for Catherine Walker written on a paper plate, and two wooden stakes in the form of a cross. “Wasn’t she found just last week?” McKenzie asks. “I know she’s been dead for a few decades, but damn…she’s already forgotten again.” Sarah adds. We all sit in an unexpected moment of silence as the frigid air moves up the back of our necks. In a way, I think we all were reminded at that moment to appreciate our lives just a bit more. “It’s cold, can we- “. Copper smacks Gawk. “Ow, Copper. What the fuck?” “Ruined a moment Gawk…now this little girl can’t rest in peace.” Copper teases walking back towards the back entrance. “Hey, I didn’t fucking kill her.” Gawk shouts following Copper. Sarah and McKenzie laugh at Gawk as they head to the front entrance. Oddly wallowing at this poor young girls’ demise, I stay there a moment sipping my holiday season beverage of depression and loneliness. “You alright?” Copper states in a consoling tone. “Yeah…yeah, I’m good. I thought you went inside.” I reply lighting a cigarette while wiping a tear or two on my jacket. “Gawk and I were waiting for you. Let’s go fuck with the dead!” He eggs on smiling as he runs back.

Entering through the back we believe we may be in either the storage or cafeteria. Two totally different rooms…I know. It’s difficult to tell with the amount of damage around us. Long, bench style lunch tables are folded against the walls. With a variety of different trash items, mold, and mysterious puddles of murky liquid scattered around the floors, we begin to search for higher ground. I don’t know where you grew up, but I think it would be quite odd to go to a school that serves grades K-12. One school. Every grade. Even in its hay day, that’s still a tiny town. Making our way to the front, Sarah and McKenzie avoid stepping on the shattered glass from the broken entrance doors. A vintage vacuum stands ironically next to the thousands of sharp pieces. With a classroom to each side, we begin to explore as a unit. The shrill carpets are torn from the floors, some windows covered, and the inside walls lined with classic green chalkboards. I begin searching the drawers of the only desk in the room. Gawk stands awkwardly close to the exit as Sarah and McKenzie’s eyes are drawn to the view of their cameras. Copper sifts through a few bookshelves finding nothing but dust, empty beer bottles, and makeshift ashtrays. Emptying the drawers, I only find the remnants of mice nests. Ready to move on I head to the adjacent classroom. The same setup, just a little less run down. I stare at the chalkboard where someone has written “Go to the BELL TOWER” in fresh white chalk across the center. “Hey guys, get in here!” I shout. “Was that there when we came in?” Gawk states a little uncomfortable. “Joseph, what the fuck man?” Copper questions. “Guys, it wasn’t me!” I express attempting to defend my point. “Alright, then let’s go to the bell tower.” Copper grumbles as he walks back towards the main entrance. “I feel like that was already on our fuckin’ agenda assholes,” I add walking with them. We begin to ascend the massive stairwell. “Gawk, where are you going?” Copper asks noticing he’s walking towards the back entrance. “I got to go to the bathroom. You got a flashlight?” Gawk inquires. We all laugh heading back down near the poorly marked restroom. “I’ll go with you, you know I always have to piss,” I add. I’ve explored endless abandoned buildings, but this bathroom didn’t smell half as bad as most. Usually, there’s some sunlight shining through, but on the first floor, I understand why there wouldn’t be a window. A few urinals, two stalls, an elongated mirror, and for some odd a reason a shower made up this restroom. Trying to stay as far back from the urinal as possible, I take aim and begin to pee. As soon as I noticed Gawk isn’t at another urinal, I hear his stream hit an empty porcelain bowl. “Are you using the stall?” I ask questioning his choices. “Yeah…I can’t pee with people watching.” He returns. “I mean…I would’ve just let you go first-” “BOO!” Copper screams in my ear as I fall to the floor. “Fuck man! What the hell?” “Found your chalk boogeyman.” He spouts proudly throwing a piece of white chalk at me. Sarah and McKenzie enter. “You guys done jerking each other off in here? There’s so much more to see in this place.” Sarah mocks. “Whoa.” She audibly admires the huge mirror behind her. “Let’s get a picture of us all,” McKenzie adds. “Gawk! Put your dick away and come take a picture with us!” Copper laughs to himself. “It’s not flushing.” Gawk replies as we all facepalm. “Just…just get out here.” I end. Staring at the mirror we admire this moment. The Sunday Crew. A combination of fun and fucked up make for one dysfunctional family photo.

After that impromptu photo shoot, we finally head to the second level. Cork bulletin boards and torn wallpaper hang loosely on the walls. There are a few more classrooms around, collectively we walk into a class to be greeted by a rodent friend scurrying across the floor. A loud thump echoes from the classroom downstairs. Much like our rodent friend, we scurry down the stairs once again, to find a ladder has been placed in the center of the room. “Hello?” I call out, in hopes I receive a reply.  There’s none. “Someone’s just trying to fuck with us, you guys- “. McKenzie freezes as she stares at the chalkboard that now has the phrase “Go to the BELL TOWER” written a hundred times over. “Obviously they want us to go to the bell tower,” Copper says smartly in attempts to hide his anxiety. Gawk runs swiftly to the back entrance towards the car. Chasing after him we realize the back doors are renewed and the tables are set for lunch.

A school bell is heard as about a hundred elementary age kids rush in finding a seat chatting loudly with each other. “Well…I guess we know this was the cafeteria.” I utter trying to lighten the mood. “You guys see this, right? There’s no way I’m this drunk.” “You’re always drunk.” Gawk mumbles. “Hey, fuck you man, you know I hate the holiday season!” I shout back. “Guys, can we argue about this another time? We’re in a literal nightmare at the moment.” McKenzie interrupts. “Holy shit, it’s him.” “It’s who Joseph?” “The teacher that talked to the dead. That’s Tom Walker.” Walking away from the crew in attempts to get a closer look, I’m immediately grabbed behind my ear by a strict older man who drags me to a seat. “Ow. Fuck, man. At least buy me dinner first.” I whine. “Quiet, lunch will be served shortly.” He states firmly. Releasing my ear, he walks on staring cruelly at my friends. They join me at the table in haste. “Okay…Joseph, don’t take this wrong way, but WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!” McKenzie cries in my ear. “Don’t you think if I knew…I’d tell you.” “WELL, YOU FUCKING BROUGHT US HERE!” She screams. “Calm down McKenzie, Jesus Christ. We’re all a bit lost right now.” Copper adds hoping to de-escalate the situation. “Just give me a second.” I sit in my own thoughts for a moment going through every paranormal book, film, text…anything to get some type of answer. “Alright look.” I begin to think out loud as everyone gathers around. “We’re here. And the school’s in session, but not really. We know the school was abandoned in the eighties, so we have to be somewhere in that time.” “So, we time traveled… “. Gawk interjects. “No. Shut up.” Taking a drink from my flask I attempt to dig deeper as my fingertips tap violently on the table in front of me. “Alright…so. We must be stuck in a memory or an event. There’s a theory that haunted houses give you a look at what happened and why it’s being haunted.” “What do you mean?” Sarah questions. “It’s called a time loop or slip or…fuck I don’t know. Anyway, it’s like watching a movie from the past…you see everything like it was. Before all the paranormal shit takes over.” I poorly explain. “The only thing to do now…is sit back and try to enjoy the show.” I finish. “Well, that’s just grand.” McKenzie stands. “‘Enjoy the show’. You say that like this is some…some immersive theatre display. News flash city boy! You’re not in Brooklyn anymore and I know-“

“QUIET!” The cafeteria becomes silent as the old man’s icy voice sends shivers down our spines. McKenzie sits. “Lunch will be served shortly. Line up accordingly.” He announces. “Guys, I really don’t think I could eat anything right now.” Gawk whispers. “Shut up Gawk.” We all whisper back. Trying to fit in we all line up with the other kids for lunch. My eyes are glued to the teacher table where Tom Walker seems distraught. The other teachers seem to be conversing around him as he chain smokes mouthing the text of a book he’s reading on the table. “So…what grade are you in?” Copper asks the girl behind us. “She can’t fucking hear you moron.” I mock hitting him on the shoulder. “How was I supposed to know?” “We’re only supposed to see what they want us to see. You’re a ghost in their world.” I explain. “What kind of mindfuck is that?” Copper says to himself, still in slight disbelief. I look back to the teacher table and Tom Walker has left. Grabbing my tray quickly, I push my way through the line scoping the cafeteria for him. He’s gone. Immediately tossing my tray aside, I decide to explore on my own. Walking out of the cafeteria directly under the stairwell to the second level there’s a classroom list on a bulletin board. Skimming through with my index finger, I look for Mr. Walker. Elementary English…Second Floor…Classroom B. Knowing that the elementary class is currently eating lunch, I make my way up the stairs.

Reaching the second floor I’m pushed aside by an aggressive young woman angrily marching towards Classroom B. I follow. “Dad? Dad!? What the hell is this?” She yells into the classroom with a notebook at hand. Tom Walker comes into view. Still, cigarette hanging from his lower lip. He’s shaking…and seems sweaty. “It’s the book. The one.” He stops to look around as if it’s a secret. “He…HE gave me.” He continues to answer, pointing to the ground. “Who dad? Who gave this to you? It’s filled with gibberish; did you write it?” She asks concerned. There’s no answer, she begins to grow more concerned. “Dad, there’s blood and pictures of mom in here. She’s dead dad, you have come to grips with that. SHE’S DEAD! Georgia’s dead! Don’t you understand that!?” He pulls her inside the classroom with force covering her mouth as she tries to fight back. Trying not to bring attention to myself, I move closer to the door but stay out of sight. I feel that I should run in and help her, however, this already happen. Will my actions change the outcome? Will the time slip end? Am I thinking too much on this? Probably. Inching up to the classroom door frame, I hear Mr. Walker speaking softly, yet promptly. I can’t make out anything he’s saying so I decided to take a peek. Feeling like a drunk bootleg version of a classic mystery gang, I stretch my neck around the door frame immediately regretting that decision. My back hits the wall behind me as my eyes close and my heart rate spikes. Attempting to breathe through a panic attack, glimpses of his exposed body hanging over her lifeless corpse flash before me as I sink lower to the floor. With a miniature blade, he seems to be carving distinct markings into her body while continuing to whisper over her. “What the fuck is going on up here?” Copper says making his presence known. Tom Walker pauses his chanting and intently charges us both. “RUN!” I scream as we both sprint down the stairs running into Sarah and McKenzie. We all stop to collect our thoughts. As my breathing begins to normalize, I give a panicked recap. “The teacher. No pants. Running…so fast. All the rolls just-“. “GUYS!” Copper interrupts. “Guys, we’re back.” He says with a sigh of relief. “We’re back? We’re back!” McKenzie exclaims as they embrace one another. The time slip has ended. Still collecting my feelings on the ground, I notice Gawk is missing. “Where’s Gawk?” “He was just right behind us…I swear he was right here.” Sarah says as we all begin to panic searching around this abandoned school hastily for our friend. “Hello?” We hear from above. “Hello?” We all call back looking to the worn wood rotting from the ceiling above. “HELLO?” It calls once more. “It’s Gawk!” I yell sprinting up the stairs. “Gawk, where are you? Gawk!” We continue to cry out. “HELLO!?” He cries again. Clearer in location, our attention is now on a small closet door. We’re frightened as the sun has set and darkness resides over us. With only the light of our camera, I reach slowly for the door handle opening it swiftly. A frigid wind comes through the shattered window, inside stands a ladder and broken chalkboard that reads “Go Up!!”.

With slight hesitation, I begin to climb the ladder ascending towards our original goal…the bell tower. “Ummm…I’ll be down here,” McKenzie calls out. Continuing on, Copper follows closely behind. As we reach the top it’s almost just like an attic, but with a larger window. “There’s not even a fucking bell up here!” I shout down to them. “Who cares, is Gawk alright?” McKenzie yells back. “He’s not up here,” I reply. “There’s just a bunch dust, molded insulation, and a cigar box. I could go for a smoke right now.” Opening the cigar box, it’s filled with worn papers, broken pens, and a leather-bound notebook. The papers had an illegible scribe written in red ink covering every inch of open space. “This guy really missed his wife.” Copper states sifting through the notebook as I examine the papers a bit closer attempting to read the papers aloud, but I just make myself sound drunker than I already am. “HIC EN SPIRITUM SED NON INCORPORE EVOKARE LEMURES DE MORTUIS DECRETUM ESPUGNARE DE ANGELUS BALBERITH EN INFERNO INREMEAB-uh fuckin’ hell.” I put the papers aside rubbing out my eyes. “By all means, have another drink, Joseph.” I wave him off. “Look. There are just endless letters to her about how much he wishes he could be with her again and that they’ll be together soon. Here. December 17th, 1976 ‘Our daughter looks just like you, gorgeous in every way’. What a freak.” He elaborates. “Wait, is that Walker’s journal?” I question. “Uh, duh. He’s the only psycho here, besides your drunk ass.” He replies. “First, fuck you. Second, that doesn’t make any sense. His wife was dead well before then.” “Alright then Sherlock, guess the guy was just insane. He talks about taking his own life to be with her or killing his daughter, so they can be a family again. Then just repeats wa ta na siam wa ta na siam wa ta na siam, whatever that is. It just gets more fucked up as you keep reading.” “What if he wasn’t just trying to talk to the dead, he was trying to raise them? Through some sort of sacrifice or ritual or something.” I conclude. “Now you sound just as insane as he did,” Copper says with a slight hint of anxiety under his breath. “These markings are similar to necromancy, he was digging this into his daughters’ skin when I saw them.” “Hello?” A fading voice calls out to us. “Hello?” We both call back. “Who’s there? I have a gun!” Copper adds. “Gawk! Is that you man? We’re done playing games. Come out!” I yell.  Suddenly, our lights go out and I’m frozen in fear. Chills roll up my hands onto my wrists as I can feel every hair on my arms rise with goosebumps. A moist, rancid breath hovers my ear. Its tongue reaches out to tease me laughing as I quiver. “What’s wrong Tom? I thought you liked when I did that.”

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