Authors: A.R. Wise
Cover by AR Wise and AJCorza (Deviantart)
Edition, License Notes
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PART ONE -
THE SECOND COIL BEGINS
Imagine waking up in the middle of a maze. The walls are too high to climb and the floor is too tough to dig through. You have no idea how you got there, or which way is out. No one answers when you scream, and you’re burdened by a sense of impending loss. You don’t know what it is that you’re afraid of losing, but the feeling
Of course, the thing you’re losing is your sanity, which becomes more evident as you claw at the walls. Madness lingers in these
long halls, and it’s only a matter of time before they close in on you.
Now, do your best to imagine that the walls are made of memories. It’s a maddening thing to consider, but that’
s the point. You’re probably visualizing the walls as television screens, displaying your past, but that’s wrong. There are no walls. Instead, you’re walking consciously through a moment in time that has already passed, but is slightly different than it should be. You try to walk in the same direction that you did when the moment truly occurred, a slave to a recording, but it’s impossible to recreate every step. These little deviations, whether it be turning left instead of right, or saying yes instead of no, are all that’s needed to start you in the wrong direction. Then, before you know it, you become lost in your own mind.
The walls of your maze are made of your own past, but they’re tricking you. As your sanity fades, so too does your realization that the walls are false. These aren’t your memories, but that’s not the sort of thing a rational mind could ever hope to understand.
Memories belong to us. They’re the only things we ever uniquely own. Thoughts and memories are what sanity clings to.
To get out, you have to be just a bit mad; you have to accept the maze. The only way to find the exit is to understand the walls, but once you do, you’ve already lost.
The Watcher in the Walls has won.
Lost in Widowsfield
Alma Harper couldn’t speak.
She was in Jacker’s van, seated between Aubrey and Rachel, terrified as the others stared in shock out the windows. It was a sunny, spring day in Widowsfield, and the people of the town were going about their business as if nothing was wrong. A UPS truck was parked outside of the corner book shop, and the driver was loading boxes onto a dolly at the rear. There was a long haired man switching discs on his Walkman as he passed the truck, and smiled at the driver as he went. Beside that building was a restaurant, called the Salt and Pepper Diner, and Alma could see a chubby man sitting in one of the booths beside the window with a young boy across from him. The child was staring at their van as they passed.
“What’s going on?” asked
“We’re in 1996,” said Stephen as he nervously pivoted in his seat. He looked back at them, and then out his window. “Look at the truck.”
“What truck?” asked Rachel.
“The UPS one,” said Stephen. “Remember how I told you a UPS driver disappeared at the same time as everyone else? And look at that car parked over there.” He pointed at a green Ford truck parked on the side of the street, in front of the UPS tru
ck. “See the license plate tag?”
In the center of the plate, between the numbers, was a green tag that had the numbers 96 on it. Jacker put the van in park, even though the light had turned green. “Holy shit,” he said as he ran his hands through his hair. “Holy shit, holy shit…”
“This can’t be,” said Aubrey. She had her hands on the back of Jacker’s headrest and stood, though she had to hunch over as she did. “You guys are pulling some sort of prank on me. Right?”
The car behind them honked, frustrated that the van was still stopped at the light. Jacker put the van back in drive and yelled, “This is no prank!” He turned into the parking lot of the credit union that was beside the Widowsfield Emergency Service
s Center. The bank’s sign displayed the time, 3:14, and the green light flooded the van as they passed it.
“This place has been deserted for years,” said Aubrey, her tone nearing panic. “This is insane.”
“Hold up,” said Jacker as he parked at the entrance of the Emergency Services building. He rolled down the window and leaned out to speak with a woman standing near the glass door of the center. “Excuse me, ma’am.”
“Yes?” asked the woman after she took the last drag of her cigarette.
“This is a weird question,” said Jacker. “But could you tell me what year it is?”
“Seriously?” asked the woman with a scowl. She dropped her cigarette to the pavement and stamped it out. Alma noticed that there was an ashtray several feet from the woman, apparently pushed away from the entrance to keep people from smoking near the door.
“I know it’s a weird question,” said Jacker.
“It sure is, pal.” The woman stayed near the door, annoyed, puzzled, and slightly fretful of the big man in the van
who was asking such an odd question.
Alma heard dogs barking and the noise caused her heart to
beat faster. The sound was familiar, distinctive, yet she couldn’t fathom why she felt that way.
“Please?” asked Jacker. “Just tell me what year it is.”
“Or who the president is,” shouted Stephen from the passenger seat.
“Get a life, weirdos,” said the woman as she opened the door to
the building to go back inside.
“Smooth,” said Rachel. “Maybe she’ll call the cops on us and we can ask them what year it is. I’m sure they’ll be willing to listen to our story of how we time travelled here.
Maybe they’ll ask about the flux capacitor you installed in the van.”
“Just park in one of the spots,” said Aubrey. “Let’s get out and see if we can find a newspaper or something.”
Jacker pulled the van into a parking spot as Stephen took out his cell phone. “Nothing,” said Stephen as he showed the others his phone. “There’s nothing on it. The damn thing won’t work.”
“Is it dead?” asked Rachel as she got her own phone.
“Yeah,” said Stephen. “It won’t turn on.”
“Mine won’t either,” said Rachel. “What about the rest of you? Does anyone’s phone work?”
Alma was going to look for her phone when a thunderous noise shook the van. Rachel and Aubrey screamed as Jacker cursed, but Alma covered her ears. While everyone else was shocked by the sound, she somehow knew it was coming. It would precede the fog.
“What was that?” asked Stephen.
A shadow blocked out the sun for a moment, as if a plane had flown low overhead. Then the dogs started barking again, this time closer.
“He’s here,” said Alma. “We have to run.”
“Who’s here?” asked Rachel.
“The one that controls the fog,” said Alma, near tears.
“What fog?” asked Stephen.
“This fog?” asked Jacker as he pointed out the window.
Thick mist was rolling down the street, sweeping across the pavement as if made of liquid. Every shape caught within it seemed to disappear nearly completely, as if the fog was erasing everything in its path. Green electricity snapped within the cloud, carried across the features of the shapes that the fog had swallowed. Then they saw the silhouettes of creatures moving within the mist, short but fast, with canine heads. The top of the fog was draped with what looked like strands of black wire that twisted in and out of each other.
“Get us the fuck out of here!” Aubrey grabbed Jacker’s shoulders and shook the big man.
“Yeah, yeah, okay,” said Jacker as he put the van in reverse.
“No,” said Alma. “We have to run! Just get out and run.” She climbed over Rachel’s lap and grasped the handle of the sliding door.
“What are you doing?” asked Rachel, unsure if she should restrain Alma or let her open the door.
“We had to run!” Alma was past desperation as she yanked at the handle.
“Had to?” asked Rachel.
“He’s coming!” Alma was frantic as she pulled up the lock on the door so that she could open it. Jacker had already put the van in reverse and was screaming back at Alma to shut the door. His window was open and she could see the fog advancing when she looked back at him.
It was sliding over the cars in the lot, the green electricity furiously zapping along the metal as it came closer to them.
“Close the door,” said Jacker.
Alma paused and looked at him, dread and sorrow filling her as she saw the fog flow up to the side of the van. “Goodbye, Jacker,” she said as the fog seeped in.
It came through his open window, tendrils creeping in like sentient roots digging for sustenance. They swarmed over him, wrapping coils around his neck and arms. He tried to scream, but the fog constricted until his voice was choked away from him. He struggled, but the force that collected him was too strong. It swept over his skin as the dogs barked outside, almost seeming to laugh at his pain.
Stephen, Rachel, and Aubrey screamed in terror as they watched the fog consume Jacker, but Alma looked away. She knew what it looked like to see a man’s skin peeled off. Somehow, this all felt too familiar.
The mutated dogs swarmed the van, their ravaged hands scraping along the side. What had once been children had become a twisted mix of human and beast, nude and bearing large gashes across their pale skin.
The children’s hands had become shattered mounds of flesh and bone, as if they had been thrust into a grinder and smashed until useless. Their heads were not human, but canine, hairless and with wholly black eyes. Their teeth were too large for their mouths, sometimes tearing through the flesh of their own lips, seeming to grow larger as the creatures wailed.
Alma saw the fog seep out from under the van and had to leap a foot away to avoid it. Then she turned and yelled at the others to get out. The town had erupted into chaos as the fog descended, bringing the mutated children with it. One of the creatures appeared at the rear of the
ir vehicle, its eyes locked on Alma, and it started to howl. Others had crawled over the hood, scrambling to climb using their shattered hands, hooking bits of twisted bone into the crevasses of the hood to pull themselves up. They all stared at Alma, intent as they swarmed, and each of them howled after a moment of watching her.
“Jacker!” Aubrey was screaming their dead friend’s name.
Alma didn’t need to look to know what was happening. The fog had dragged Jacker’s head out of the window and the hideous monstrosities that swarmed the van were tearing his face apart as he squirmed in his seat. They didn’t eat him, but clawed at his skin with their shattered hands while biting at his eyes. He couldn’t scream, because the fog was choking him, but he could gyrate in his seat, fully conscious through the entire ordeal. That would happen until the fog decided to end his life. It would start by hooking into his skin, and then it would peel him apart, stripping his flesh away like the top layer of an onion.