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October Days of Fear Celebration is Here!

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas can keep its carols. Thanksgiving can go stuff a turkey. Easter? Just hop on out of here.

This is Halloween season, where things that go bump in the night step out to show themselves to the world. It’s that special time of year where new slasher movies are released on streaming services every fifteen minutes, and when a young man’s fancy turns to the Saw franchise. Pumpkins with scary faces carved into them and fire burning inside are put out where even the smallest of children can reach them. Children demand candy with the threat of doing a horrible deed if that demand is not fulfilled.

It’s the best month of the year, and no one can tell me otherwise. You can try, but I’ll just stick my fingers in my ears and say “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” repeatedly.

There’s a lot on tap for this month on the site, including daily (yes, DAILY) new content! Let’s take a look.


A new microhorror story every single day of the month at 9am EST, starting October 1

An entire novel, Blackwood: Family Business, which will be released every weekday. This starts on October 3, and there will be two new chapters each weekday at 12pm EST. This concludes on Halloween, where the remaining chapters will be published.

Multiple new short stories released throughout the month. These will be released at random times and on random days, just to keep you on your toes.


Not to mention some truly micro microhorrors on Twitter, new narrations and videos of my stories by a variety of content creators, and a number of surprises as well!

Be sure to subscribe to the site, follow on Twitter and Facebook, and check back daily to be a part of the fun!

The Fun Starts on October 1!

Only three more days until October, which means only three more days until content starts to flow like wine here on the site.

I feel like I’ve been uploading stories, microhorror stories, and novel chapters day and night for the past week. For those who may not have seen the original post about this, here’s what’s coming in October:


A new microhorror story every single day of the month at 9am EST, starting October 1

An entire novel, Blackwood: Family Business, which will be released every weekday. This starts on October 3, and there will be two new chapters each weekday at 12pm EST. This concludes on Halloween, where the remaining chapters will be published.

Multiple new short stories released throughout the month. These will be released at random times and on random days, just to keep you on your toes.


I decided to kick things off a bit early with the release of Hogs, which can be found here.

Enough of the shilling, and onto the question!

If there’s someone out there that’s good at using either NightCafe or DreamStudio to create AI artwork, I’d greatly appreciate some tips for how to evolve images once they’ve been created. I’m the first to admit that this isn’t my particular forte, and I’ve been having problems with finetuning pictures by changing specific parts of them. A quick and dirty tutorial of how to change particular parts of an image on AI art generators while leaving other parts alone would be great, assuming that the ability to do so even exists.

Hogs

In college, Thomas Eiden had studied under a professor named Dale Collins.  While that name is meaningless to most people, he was a legend in journalism circles.  He had worked for the New York Times for decades back when that had really meant something, and he had used his platform to expose everything from killers to corrupt politicians.  To his students, that meant that you listened when he imparted his wisdom during class.

He had taught many things that ended up having a major impact on both Thomas’ career and his life in general, but there was one particular piece of advice that he had especially taken to heart.

“You’re the follower,” Collins had said.  “The story is the leader.  You follow wherever the story leads.”

It was a tremendous piece of advice to any aspiring journalist.  On many occasions a journalist would start looking into one thing only to learn that the actual story that needed telling was something else entirely.

Thomas had written for a number of publications since college, mostly magazines and newspapers.  Eventually, he decided to expand into writing books, and his first published one had been a biography.  The subject of the biography had been a no-brainer; ever since he was a child, he had been fascinated by a particularly notorious former resident of his home town of Lamplight Bay.

Albert Bertelli, a criminal better known as Big Man Bertelli, had lived in the area back in the first half of the 1900s.  While most crime bosses chose to live in cities such as New York City or Chicago so that they were close to their businesses, Bertelli instead preferred to pull the strings from a distance and use trusted lieutenants as his mouthpieces.  He had his hands in everything imaginable, from brothels to bootlegging to good old-fashioned racketeering.

Big Man Bertelli was known for his brutality when handling anyone that crossed him or his various operations.  His tendency to drink mass amounts of alcohol didn’t help his demeanor, but he was just born ugly of soul, as Thomas’ father used to say.  There was a story that had long circulated that Bertelli had once decided that the standard cement shoes were too good for a police informant that his men had caught snooping around one of his warehouses.  Instead, he had personally gone to Chicago to pour the cement down the man’s throat before pushing the poor guy off a pier.

Then there were the pigs.

The locals told countless stories about Bertelli and his supposed pig farm.  Children still sang a song about it while they were jumping rope or trying to scare their friends.

Big Man Bertelli walkin’ down the street

Owns every person that he’ll ever meet

His men never have a grave to dig

‘Cause if you cross him he’ll feed you to his pigs

Bertelli had been infamous for making his enemies disappear.  No one really knew for sure how he accomplished the disappearing act, but according to legend he had a pig farm hidden somewhere beyond the outskirts of town.  It had never been proven, but that unsubstantiated claims were all many people needed to mentally put two and two together.

As Thomas had written in his book, the truth was that Bertelli had used a number of different methods to get rid of people that crossed him.  Tony “Two Guns” Yancy had been gunned down by him personally in the back room of a pool hall, for example.  He has also all but admitted that he was the one responsible for bashing in Michael O’Sullivan’s skull with a hammer.  Still, the rumors about the secret pig farm he reserved for people that he really wanted to watch suffer lived on.

Recently, Thomas had been commissioned to write a series of articles for the local newspaper about historical figures from the area.  At first he was asked to focus on lesser known people that had had a positive influence on the community.  He had written about politicians, activists, and artists.  The editor never came right out and said it, but Thomas had the feeling from the woman’s demeanor and various remarks about the readers that she wanted to make things more classy.

It didn’t take long for that ill-fated and more than a little condescending idea to fall flat on its face.  The fact of the matter was that most readers didn’t care about local heroes.  They wanted the blood and guts and that creepy little feeling that comes with reading about the darker side of their town’s history.

Thomas was asked to write five more articles, one of which would run each week on Friday.  These articles were to spotlight the more unsavory parts of the town’s history.  He had written up a list of who he wanted to feature, and right at the top of the list was Big Man Bertelli.

The articles ran as intended, and he was pleased to see that the editor didn’t touch much of anything that he had written.  There were always some changes made after submission, and as a writer he knew that intellectually, but there was always some small part of him that detested when a single word that he’d written was removed.  It was simple vanity to believe that there was no way to improve on his work, and he knew that it was ridiculous, but it was a vanity that most writers shared.

In a complete coincidence, his final article ran the week of Halloween.  He had saved Bertelli for last so that the short series went out on a strong note, and by all accounts it was a success.  He basked in what little glory writing an article for a local paper brought with it for a few days before moving on to other projects.

He received a call from the paper a little over a week later.  The caller introduced herself as a member of the paper’s office staff before informing him that they had received a package addressed to him.  He wasn’t sure what to make of that.  No one had ever sent him anything via an employer before, and when he said as much the women assured him that it wasn’t unheard of for them to get mail for writers.  It wasn’t commonplace, but it did happen.  They made arrangements for the package to be sent to him via courier later that day.

The term ‘package’ had been a bit misleading.  What was delivered to Thomas was a thin manila envelope.  After thanking and tipping the courier, he closed the front door of his apartment and walked into the kitchen as he carefully tore the envelope open.

Inside was an old black and white photograph.  He held it up to the light to get a better look.  It took him a few moments to figure out exactly what it was that he was looking at.  The picture showed Big Man Bertelli, dressed in a long coat and wide-brimmed hat, standing in front of a wooden fence.  There was a disturbingly wide grin on his face, one filled with dark humor and something that he could best describe as satisfaction.  He felt a wave of revulsion wash over him.  It was clear that whatever had brought about that particular smile was something truly horrible.

Tearing his eyes away from Bertelli’s face, he closely examined the rest of the picture.  It had been taken at night, and even with the light of the flash and another source of illumination coming from just outside the viewable area it was difficult to make out details of the area around the man.  His eyes fell on something between the slats of the fence.  He took off his glasses and held the picture up close to his face.  Staring out from between the wooden planks was a large pig.

Thomas blinked.  Assuming the picture was real, he was holding proof that Bertelli’s pig farm was real and not just an urban legend.  He felt a surge of excitement.  Flipping over the picture, he found that a phone number had been written on the blank side in blue pen.  Without hesitating he retrieved his phone and dialed the number.

A man’s voice answered on the third ring.  It was deep and raspy, the kind of voice that came from years of hard drinking and heavy smoking.

“What?” the man demanded.

“Yes, hello, my name is Thomas Eiden,” Thomas replied, a bit flustered.  “I received a picture with this phone number on the back of it.”

The man’s tone instantly became more friendly.  “Oh, yeah, the guy from the newspaper.  Good to hear you got it.  You never know with the mail being the way it is these days.”

“No, I suppose that you don’t.  Listen, this picture…”

“I thought you might like it.  I remember the day it was taken like it was yesterday.”

Thomas frowned.  “I’m sorry, are you trying to tell me that you are-”

“Big Man Bertelli?” the man finished for him before letting out a hoarse laugh.  “Of course I’m not saying that.  I’m not a nutjob.  My father worked for him back in the thirties and forties.  Tended the farm in the background of that picture I sent you, in fact.  He used to take me to work with him when I was just a pup.  That was, oh, three quarters of a century ago.”

“You were actually at Bertelli’s pig farm?” Thomas asked, more forcefully than he had intended.

“Damn right I was.  That’s why I sent you that picture and my number.  I read that article of yours in the paper, and there was all that nonsense that’s been floating around since forever about him and the pigs and all that.  I thought you might get a kick out of seeing the real thing.”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “You mean the farm itself?  How?  It still exists?”

Another laugh.  “Sure does.  Right where Bertelli left it.  Be happy to show you around the place if you’re interested.”

They made arrangements to meet at an address that Thomas didn’t recognize the next day.  His hand was shaking as he wrote it down on a small notepad.  There was always a chance that this was some sort of elaborate prank or, despite the man’s assertion to the contrary, the guy was crazy, but he didn’t think so.  Between the picture and the matter-of-fact way the man had spoken, he found himself believing him.  Still, he had to accept the possibility that he felt that way because he wanted the man to be telling the truth.

The drive to the address he had been given was uneventful.  About halfway there it began to rain, not a steady downpour but that spurting kind of rain that somehow manages to be even more miserable.  The clouds overhead cast everything in an unpleasant gray tone, and not even the colorful array of fall leaves clinging to the trees managed to lighten it.  He refused to let the weather bring down his spirits.  He was on his way to see a place that he had been thinking about since he was a child.

He almost missed his turn when he arrived.  He felt the tires slide for a brief but stomach-wrenching moment, but they found their grip on the wet road and he was able to maneuver the car onto the dirt driveway.  It led into a thick patch of trees that blocked out everything beyond the road.

It was at that point that he began to get nervous.  If this was some sort of setup or sick game, it would be taking place at a very isolated location.

He was put at ease when the car emerged from the trees and into the clearing beyond.  The run-down building and decaying fences of the farm certainly gave off an unsettling vibe, but the old man standing next to the rusting pickup truck was hardly intimidating.  He looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over.  Thomas pulled up next to him and got out of the car.

“Ah, there you are,” the man said with a grin missing more than a few teeth.  “I thought you might have gotten cold feet.  Name’s Peter Snyder.”

“Thomas Eiden,” Thomas replied, shaking the offered hand.  “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

“Not a problem.  Well, what do you think?  Is this place everything that you hoped it would be?”

“Honestly?  It’s a bit of a shithole.”

Snyder laughed.  “That’s right to the point, and I can’t say that you’re wrong.  There hasn’t been anyone around to take care of the place in decades.  It used to be quite the looker in its day, though.  Big Man made sure of that.”

That seemed like as good a time as any to start the interview.  Thomas took his phone out of his pocket to start the voice recording app.  Before he could even turn on the screen, however, Snyder began to speak again.

“I gotta confess, Mr. Eiden, I’ve got a bit of an ulterior motive in bringing you out here,” he said.  “Oh, don’t get me wrong, this is Big Man’s farm, all right.  He did indeed bring people here to make sure they stayed gone.  So you’re going to get your money’s worth visiting here.  More than your money’s worth, I’d bet.”

Thomas opened his mouth to speak, but Snyder turned on his heel and headed towards the fenced-in yard.  He was surprisingly quick for a man his age, and Thomas didn’t catch up to him until he was nearly at his destination.  Turning around, he leaned up against the rotting wood of the barely standing fence and nodded once to himself.

“Most people think they know how much of a monster Big Man Bertelli was,” Snyder said slowly, an unreadable expression on his face.  “I don’t think anyone really knows how bad he was, though.  Well, anyone but me, and that’s because I witnessed the monster in action more than once.”

He pointed over his shoulder at the muddy turf behind him.  The fence wrapped around a large portion of the yard, with one side attaching to the back of a barn that seemed on the verge of collapsing.  There were only a few ragged tufts of grass that managed to grow inside of the perimeter.

“He’d keep them cooped up inside that barn most of the time,” Snyder continued in a quiet voice.  “They’d grunt and squeal and scream.  I thought it was just about the saddest sound I’d ever heard.  I told my Pa that once, and he said that Big Man loved hearing it.”

“He liked hearing the pigs cry out?” Thomas asked as he finally got the recorder running.

“Hogs,” Snyder corrected him firmly.  “Not pigs.  Hogs.  These weren’t cute little pink animals with curly tails and a friendly disposition.  These were massive animals.  Even the smallest were north of two hundred pounds.  Thing is, even though they were huge, they could move fast.  They could chase down a man running as hard as he could within the blink of an eye.”

Thomas shuddered, and it had nothing to do with the cold rain.  “And he trained them to kill people?”

“Not at first.  In the beginning he left the training to my Pa.  Gave him a real detailed list of what he wanted, and Pa delivered for him.”  The old man stared off into the distance.  “It’s surprisingly easy for hogs to get a taste for people.  It doesn’t take much at all.  Pa started with mixing blood in with the water they drank.  Pretty soon they would barely drink if the red stuff wasn’t there.  From there…  Well, from there the feedings got worse, let’s just leave it at that.”

They were silent for a long moment.  Snyder didn’t seem to be in a rush to continue his story, and for Thomas’ part he was at a loss as to what to even say after a statement like that.

“You, um, you said that Bertelli left the training to your father at first,” he said eventually.  “That makes it sound like things changed later.”

“It did,” Snyder confirmed with a nod, bringing his attention back to the journalist.  “For a long time Bertelli was satisfied with my Pa’s work.  He’d have his thugs snatch up people and bring them here.  It was mostly people that had managed to get on his bad side.  Cops, prosecutors, snitches.  He’d have them brought out here and tossed into the hog pen.”

He scratched his chin for a moment before continuing.  “Guys like Big Man are never satisfied for long.  They want more.  Bigger.  Better.  Big Man took over the hog training, and his methods were a lot less kind than my Pa’s.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Thomas said, “but how were they different?”

“He beat them to make them meaner.  You could hear the howls from a mile away.  He said that it toughened them up.  He wouldn’t feed them for days.  They’d be starving by the time someone got thrown into the pen.  Those hogs would make a beeline straight for the poor bastard and tear him apart in a frenzy.”

“Jesus.”

“Yep.  He took it one step further, though.  He was sure to only breed the biggest and nastiest ones together while he let the weaker ones die off.  Every generation was a better killing machine than the last.”

Thomas took a moment to let what he was being told sink in.  Bertelli had basically been conducting crude experiments in eugenics.  It was simultaneously fascinating and revolting.

“It was around the third or fourth brood that things started getting strange.  There started to be some…  I guess you’d call them abnormalities.  Some of the babies were born with tusks.  Wild hogs have them, but the first of these particular hogs had started out as farm animals and none of them had tusks.  Some of the babies had these weird deformities on their hooves where the tips were pointed and curved.  And then along came Stella.”

“Sorry, Stella?”

“She was massive.  Had to have weighed at least four hundred pounds when she finished growing.  Long tusks that could punch right through flesh and blood, and these sharp teeth that she used to bite and tear.  Her hooves were hooked like claws.  Her hide was thick and tough, and it stretched real tight against her muscles.  I had never seen anything like her, and I’ve never seen anything like her since.  When she looked at you it made your blood run cold.  You knew she was sizing you up, figuring out how she wanted to end you.”

Thomas had a number of questions to ask, but Snyder continued before he could ask any of them.

“I watched Stella kill quite a few full grown men on her own without any trouble.  Now, I get this next part is going to sound a little wild, maybe even crazy, but I’m telling you, she enjoyed the killing.  She would toy with them sometimes.  She’d let them get back up after she knocked them down, and the second they were on their feet she’d shove them down again.  Big Man loved that.  He loved her from the moment he laid eyes on her.  He decided she was going to be the blueprint going forward.  He made sure that she had her pick of the boars.  She probably would have had that anyway, as she tended to kill any sows that got near her.  Soon all of the hogs he kept were these unnatural-looking monsters.  I don’t use that term lightly, Mr. Eiden, but that’s what they were.  Monsters.”

Snyder abruptly stood upright and started walking around the fenceline.  Not sure what was going on, Thomas followed him as he practically waded through the thick mud that pulled at his shoes with every step.  The old man led the way past the yard and towards the woods beyond.  He stopped next to a rotten stump and pointed at the ground.

“Right here is where Big Man died,” he said.

“What, no, that’s not right,” Thomas disagreed with a shake of his head.  “Bertelli was killed in a car bombing outside of the Douglas Theater during a trip to New York.”

“I hate to correct you, young man, but you’re the one that’s wrong.  That bastard, may he rot in hell, was killed and eaten by his own hogs right on this very spot.”

Snyder spit on the mud in what was either disgust or hatred, most likely both.  “Bertelli got the results he wanted, and he got a whole lot more along with them.  The hogs started getting too strong, too fast, too smart.  They weren’t satisfied with the scraps that were being offered to them anymore.  They wanted out.”

He nodded towards the fence.  “My Pa and I were over on the other side of the barn when it happened.  It was late, and believe me, this place gets dark at night.  Can’t hardly see the nose on the front of your face when the stars aren’t out.  There was just this single light at the top of the barn that shined down into the pen.  Bertelli had brought up another guy from the city for his hogs to meet.  Pa didn’t like me seeing that sort of thing, for good reason mind you, so he took me around the building.

“Not seeing didn’t mean I couldn’t hear it.  The same kind of screams that I had heard a dozen times before echoed all over the place.  It’s not the screams that were the worst part.  It was the sounds that came after the screams stopped.  These wet sucking sounds, like meat being pulled off the bone by a butcher.  It was…  Well, you can imagine what those noises were.”

Thomas could indeed, but he didn’t want to.

“This time was different, though.  Normally you’d know that everything was over when you heard the hogs grunting and shuffling back into the barn.  That didn’t happen on this particular night.  Instead of things quieting down, they got louder.  The hogs started squealing and crying out.  I swear that I could actually feel the rage coming off of them even from the other side of the barn.  It was like heat coming off of a road on a hot day.  Bertelli was yelling at them, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.

“Suddenly there was this sharp crack.  It made my blood run cold.  My Pa told me to stay right where I was and walked back around the side of the barn.  Well, I was scared, but I was still a kid.  He was only gone a few seconds before I started to follow him to see what was going on.

“I got to the other side of the barn just in time to see the last of those monster hogs forcing its way through the hole they had made in the fence.  The light shining down on the pen was bright, but it didn’t reach past the pen itself.  I could just barely make out Bertelli running just as fast as he could away from the animals.  He couldn’t outrun them, and I suspect he knew that, but he tried anyway.”

“And here’s where they caught up to him,” Thomas said slowly, looking down at the spot that Snyder had indicated a few minutes earlier.  “He didn’t get far.”

“Not far at all,” Snyder agreed.  “Like I said, he didn’t have a chance.  No one would have.  They did just what they had been bred and trained to do.  When they were done, there was nothing left of the great Big Man Bertelli.”

They were silent for a long moment.  It was a lot to think through, and Thomas mulled over what he had been told as best as he could.  He blinked as a thought struck him.

“The car bomb was attributed to the O’Connor family,” he said.  “Danny Ricci, Bertelli’s second in command, had a major grudge against them.  When he found out what happened to Bertelli, he must have staged the bombing so that the family would have no choice but to go to war with the O’Connors.”

“Could be,” Snyder replied with a shrug.  “I don’t know anything about any of that.  I don’t think that you’re quite appreciating what I’m telling you here, Mr. Eiden.  Bertelli’s hogs, the ones that could tear a man limb from limb and had the disposition to do just that, got free that night.  Think about that for a second.”

Thomas’ eyes went wide.  “Jesus.  What happened to them?”

“They went off into the woods.”  He motioned towards the trees.  “That particular forest goes on for miles.  Sometimes hunters come out of it with strange stories.  Black bear carcasses completely stripped of flesh.  Odd tracks in the dirt that they can’t identify.  Sometimes they say that they’ve seen unnatural animals in the shadows of the trees.  Most people write them off as eyes playing tricks and the product of one too many bears.  I know better, Mr. Eiden.  I know it’s Stella’s offspring.  Hell, maybe that sow is still out there somewhere.  I can’t imagine that’s the case after all these years, but if any hog was stubborn enough not to die, it was that one.”

Thomas took off his glasses and looked up at the overcast sky, ignoring the rain that pelted his face.  “This is a hell of a story, Mr. Snyder.  It’s a lot to unpack.”

The man bristled.  “I hope you’re not implying that I’m shoveling you a load of shit.”

“No, not at all.  I’ve interviewed a lot of liars over the years, and you don’t strike me as one.  I guess what I’m wondering is, why me?  Why now?  You’ve sat on this for so many decades, but you reached out to me.  I’m hardly the first person to write about Bertelli.”

Snyder didn’t answer.  Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper.  He held it out to Thomas, and he took it curiously.  He put his glasses back on and used one hand to unfold the paper while using the other to protect it from the rain.

It was a newspaper article.  It had been carefully clipped out, and the title ‘Boy Killed in Animal Attack’ was circled with a thick black marker.  He quickly read through it.

“That’s from four days ago,” Snyder informed him.  “The police think that it was a dog, but no dog did that.  There was almost nothing left of the poor kid.  They were only able to identify him because they found a few hairs on a ripped off piece of shirt.  They matched them to those of a boy that went missing a week earlier.”

“You think it was the hogs,” Thomas surmised.

“I know it was.  There’s no question in my mind.  At my age a lot of things in my body are failing me, but this brain of mine is still sharp enough to put two and two together.  And let me tell you, Mr. Eiden, this is only the beginning.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Like I said, these woods go on for miles.  On the other side, though, they’ve built a big housing development.  Backed some of those properties right up to the treeline.  Dozens and dozens of three bedroom, two bathroom houses filled with men, women, and children making a whole lot of noise and drawing a whole lot of attention to themselves.  Having barbeques out in their backyards, with all those delicious smells wafting through the air.  It’s a nice safe neighborhood, too.  The kind where you let your kids run around in the yard while you take care of some things inside the house.”

Thomas stared at Snyder through the falling rain.  The old man looked right back at him with a serious expression devoid of any humor.  It was clear that he had thought this through, and that his thoughts had led him to some very dark conclusions.

“We have to tell someone,” Thomas said finally.  “We have to warn someone about the danger those people are in.”

“Tell who, exactly?” Snyder asked with a shake of his head.  “The police?  Do you really think they’ll believe it?  Besides, they already searched the woods and came up empty when they were looking for that kid.  The hogs are smart, Mr. Eiden.  They know when it’s time to hide.”

“You’re telling me that there’s nothing that can be done?  I don’t believe that.  I can’t believe that.”

“I didn’t say that.  Come with me.”

Snyder led the way to the ancient barn.  It appeared to have once been painted red, but the paint had faded into a dark gray.  The roof was warped, and it took a moment for the elderly man to force the right door open.  He went inside without looking back.  Thomas hurried after him.  As he went through the door and into the structure, he was momentarily confused as he realized that Snyder had disappeared from view.

Thomas heard the sound of metal colliding with his head before he felt the pain.  He lost all control over his muscles, and he collapsed onto the dust and grime-covered barn floor so hard that it rattled his teeth.  He opened his mouth to cry out.  What came out instead was a low moan that was barely recognizable as human.

“I’m sorry this is how it has to be,” Snyder said as he stepped out from behind the barn door.  “I truly am, Mr. Eiden.  Maybe if I had another choice…  Well, no sense in dwelling on what we don’t have, is there?”

Thomas felt his body being dragged further into the barn.  The old man was strong for his age, and he was in no condition to fight him.  The world was swimming before his eyes, blurred and swirling around in all directions.  His stomach churned.  Somehow he remained conscious.

The dragging stopped.  Something cold and hard pinched into the skin of his left wrist, then into his right.  His head was raised off the ground and his chin was placed onto something he recognized but couldn’t identify in his current state.

“Head wounds bleed the most,” Snyder told him from somewhere above.  “I’m going to let as much blood drain into the bucket as your forehead is willing to give before I move onto other parts.  No sense in wasting any.  Just going to have to work around this big ol’ dent your skull put in it when I hit you with it.  Should be fine.  These old ones are a lot more durable than the plastic pieces of shit most places sell these days.  They cost more, but it’s worth every penny.”

Thomas blinked in a fruitless attempt to clear his vision.

“You probably won’t believe this, but I’m doing what’s necessary.  The only way that I’m going to keep those hogs around here and away from those houses is if I give them a reason to.  They want human blood and meat, and, well, I’m sorry to say that’s where you come in.”

He tried to bring his hand up to wipe at his face, but something was stopping him from doing so.  It took a long moment for him to realize that the pinches he had felt were from him being chained down.

“You asked me why I decided to tell you about Bertelli and these monster hogs of his,” Snyder was saying.  “Truth of the matter is that I looked into you before I sent that picture.  No wife, no kids, no real ties to anyone.  You’re pretty much alone in the world, Mr. Eiden.  You’re not even a real employee of that newspaper you write for, just a freelancer.  I guess you could say that I brought you here because no one would miss you.  That’s the trick to disappearing someone.  Make sure that there won’t be many people asking questions when the deed is done.”

Thomas felt a tear stream down his cheek.

“I’m going to get as much blood out of you as I can without killin’ you.  That way I can spread it around the treeline on this side of the woods and keep them drawn over this way.  That alone isn’t enough for them.  I suspect they have to have the thrill of the kill as well.  There needs to be some life left in you.  Well now, it looks like this particular well has run dry.  Time to drill a new one, if you catch my meaning.”

Thomas wasn’t sure how long the bleeding process lasted.  Each cut made him feel weaker, and he wasn’t able to fully regain his senses.  The small part of him that was still thinking rationally wondered if the blow to the head had caused permanent damage.  His limbs began to grow cold, and his body started to shake.

“Looks like we’re out of time,” Snyder said slowly.  “It’s been good talking with you, Mr. Eiden.  For your sake I hope they make it quick.”

With the last of his strength, Thomas forced himself up onto his elbows.  He squinted in a final attempt to be able to see straight.  It worked enough that he could just make out the barn door less than half a dozen yards in front of him.  Something was standing just inside of it, something huge.  The creature exhaled, and he felt hot air wash over him even from that distance.

For just a brief moment, his vision cleared.  It happened too quickly for him to get a good look at the animal, but what he was able to see made his heart skip a beat.  Long broken tusks.  Sharp bones protruding from the body.  A mouth filled with razor-like teeth, the canines so extended that they hung out over the jaw.

The hog snarled as it charged towards him.  Thomas screamed.

Room for Two

NOTE: Room for Two will be narrated EXCLUSIVELY on the YouTube channel Septic Theory. It’s a new but incredible channel for horror narrations and stories, so be sure to check it out at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbk8RkvntXridf4he37-6YA

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a number of well-intentioned people in my general orbit comment that they’ve noticed a large uptick in the amount of alcohol that I’ve been consuming.  That’s a fancy way of saying that I’ve been drinking myself into a stupor every night.  Now, I can’t say that they’re wrong.  I also can’t say that their concerns aren’t valid.  I also also can’t say that I’m not drinking enough daily to drown a fucking fish.

You know what I can say, though?  I can look you right in the eye and say with absolute certainty that if you ever have to find out what’s in the dark waiting for you like I did, you’ll be inclined to knock back some shots, too.

There are two things that you need to know right off the bat about how all of this started.  The first is that my father was the head of a very prestigious crime family.  By prestigious, I mean that anyone with half a brain was afraid to cross it.  Since I’m not an idiot, I won’t be providing either his name or the name of his, shall we say, business venture.

The second thing is that I never got involved with his dealings, not at any point in my life.  My mother, bless her soul, made sure of that.  I never had a desire to be a part of that world anyway.  Sure, the money would have been appreciated, but when you grow up hearing stories about people that never got to enjoy the fruits of their labor because of the dangers associated with working for my father, you understand that there are better ways to support yourself.

The problem, at least in my case, is that there are other folks out there that couldn’t give two shits about the personal choices that you’ve made.  This was a point that was made to me rather violently one Friday afternoon.  One minute I’m walking down the street through my supposedly safe neighborhood, and the next I’m being snatched by two thugs that could best be described as living mountains.  The smaller, and I use that term loosely, of the two shoved one gloved hand over my mouth, and they carried me into the back of a waiting van with no effort.  A gag was shoved into my gullet and a hood was thrown over my head.

There was no way to know how much time had passed when the van finally came to a stop.  It had definitely been a while.  I heard the van’s back doors open, and a moment later I was being pulled out of the vehicle.  The hood was removed.  I gratefully breathed in the fresh air through my nose.

Standing in front of me was a woman about six inches shorter than me.  She seemed even smaller with the two giant men flanking her.  The expensive business suit and the gun holstered around her waist said louder than words that this was a woman that both demanded and deserved respect.

I felt the blood drain out of my face as I took a quick look around and found that we were standing in a cemetery.

The woman explained to me that she and her associates were employees of a certain business rival of my father’s.  Her employer had come to the conclusion that it was time for my father to retire, and that part of his retirement plan should be to give up his territory.  At the same time, her employer didn’t want to get blood all over the streets.  It was determined that the best way to make the transfer of power nice and clean was to abduct me and use me as a bargaining chip.

She turned and started walking across the cemetery.  The two large men gripped me under the arms and half carried, half dragged me after her.  It was an old graveyard, with heavily weathered and broken headstones that were in the process of being reclaimed by the grass and weeds.  Our little group came to a stop in front of a gnarled husk of a tree with an open grave in front of it.

I tilted my head to look inside the hole.  It went down a good five or six feet, and there was a coffin at the bottom.  Its lid was open, and there was a lime green oxygen tank placed inside of it.

The woman gave me a long look before asking me if I knew where I was.  There were the beginnings of a pretty nasty smile at the edges of her lips.  That didn’t bode well.

I couldn’t answer because of the gag that was still filling my mouth, so I simply shook my head.  She proceeded to tell me that I was standing in front of the resting place of Tabitha Alden, a woman who had lived in the area almost four hundred years earlier.  The local townspeople had claimed that, after being mocked and humiliated by a group of children, she had made a pact with the Devil.  She used her newfound powers to enchant the children and force them to hang themselves in the nearby woods.  The stories also said that she had helped a demon possess a minister, who had gone on to murder half a dozen of the town residents before they managed to subdue him.

She had been proclaimed a witch, and the sentence that came with it was death.  The townspeople had carried out that sentence by burying her alive.

My captor informed me that, unlike in the story, she was going to give me a choice.  I could choose to get into the waiting casket willingly, or I could choose for her to put a bullet in the back of my head right then and there.  One of the men pulled out the gag so that I could respond.  It wasn’t much of a choice.  I picked the casket.

As I slowly lowered myself into the coffin, I was careful to avoid stepping on the oxygen tank.  Like I said earlier, I’m not an idiot.  Like Tabitha Alden before me, they were going to bury me alive for as long as it took for my father to agree to their terms.  The last thing I needed was to accidentally damage the only thing that would be keeping me alive.

That was assuming my father actually gave into their demands, of course.  I figured it was a coin flip at best.

I laid down in the casket.  It was disturbing, to say the least.  I barely fit inside of it; there wasn’t much room for me to move my arms or legs, and the top of my head bumped against the wood.  The woman instructed me to put on the plastic mask attached to the oxygen tank, and I complied.  It covered my nose and mouth, and it fit tightly against my skin.  I once again did as I was told as she had me turn the tank’s valve to open the flow of oxygen into the mask.

One of the men reached down into the grave and, with a snort of amusement, slammed the coffin lid shut.

I had done my best to stay calm when my kidnappers had been able to see me.  I was determined not to give them the satisfaction of seeing me afraid.  They obviously wanted me to be, because there was no other reason to pick this particular location for the burial and to tell me the story behind it.  The moment the wood closed down over top of me and I was plunged into darkness, however, the fear began to overtake me.  It was the sound of the dirt being shoveled onto the lid that really pushed me over the edge.

I screamed for them to let me out.  My voice was muffled by the mask, and what noise did escape sounded flat in the confines of the coffin.  It started out as a demand, but it quickly turned into a plea.  I yelled that they didn’t need to do this, and that I could speak with my father on their behalf to get him to give them whatever they wanted.  I told them that they didn’t have to do this.

The only response was the thudding of more earth slapping against the lid.  Each thud grew fainter and fainter until they stopped entirely.

I tried to push against the top of the casket with my hands, but I couldn’t get much force behind it due to the limited space.  Changing tactics, I bent my legs as much as possible to push with my kneecaps.  The wood creaked as I pressed into it, but it didn’t budge.

They had actually done it.  They had buried me alive.  My mind reeled at the thought.  Intellectually I had known that it was going to happen, but the reality of being trapped under half a dozen feet of dirt was something else entirely.  I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around it.

I was panicking.  My body thrashed as I unsuccessfully fought against the confines of the coffin.  I kept crying out loudly, although I don’t remember what I was saying.  It doesn’t really matter.  The words weren’t important.  They were just a byproduct of the terror I was experiencing alone in the dark and unable to move.

I think it was the hissing of escaping air that brought me back to my senses.  My struggling had caused the plastic mask to slip off of my nose.  A new fear began to creep in: if the mask came all of the way off, I would likely suffocate.  Forcing myself to move slowly, I managed to slide my hand up my chest and to my chin to grip the plastic.  It took a few minutes, but I was able to get it back into place.

The near disaster made me understand that I needed to keep a clear head if I had any chance of surviving.  Continuing to panic would only make me go through my limited supply of oxygen faster.  I didn’t know how long the tank would last, and I really didn’t want to test the limits.  Allowing myself one deep breath, I exhaled slowly and waited for my heart rate to slow back to something resembling normal.

I laid silently in the dark for an indeterminable amount of time.  It could have been minutes, or it could have been hours.

I had never been in total darkness before.  Sure, I had been in rooms with the lights off or other places where it was hard to see, but this was the total absence of light.  It felt like the darkness was physically crushing against me.  It was thick and oppressive.  It was alive.

The silence was another matter.  In some ways it was worse than the dark.  Instead of feeling like a living organism, it was a cold nothingness that swallowed everything.  Any noise that I made was instantly cut off.  There’s no way to put into words the sense of isolation I was experiencing.

For a long time the only things I could hear were the air being released into the mask and my own heartbeat in my ears.  My limbs started to tingle, and because of the close quarters I wasn’t able to stretch them to relieve the uncomfortable sensation.  I noticed that my body was itching in multiple places.  I was able to scratch a few of them on my upper body, but the majority of them were out of reach.  Worse, they became more and more irritating.  The thought occurred to me that this must be how people went insane.

I was momentarily distracted from my discomfort when I heard a new noise.  It was very faint, and it only lasted for a moment.  Between the volume and the brevity I wasn’t completely sure that I had heard it at all.

It’s been so long.

I instinctively tried to sit up at the sound of the voice.  My forehead slammed painfully into the casket lid, and for a moment the darkness was filled with bright lights that flashed before my eyes.  I blinked a few times to clear them.

It was a woman’s voice.  Not the woman with the gun.  The pitch was different, and it was dry and raspy.  It sounded like it was coming from far away, like I was standing at one end of a tunnel and the speaker was at the other end.  I smiled broadly and sighed in relief.  There was someone near the gravesite.  My father must have cut a deal and my kidnappers were back to dig me out.

I listened intently and waited.

There was nothing.  I felt the hope start to slowly drain out of me.

That hope was quickly replaced by unease.  I knew that I had definitely heard the woman speaking.  There was no question in my mind about that.  Had someone just passed near enough to the grave for their voice to penetrate down through six feet of dirt?

The itching returned as I contemplated the other possibility.  Hearing voices that weren’t really there was a sign of going insane, wasn’t it?  I clenched and unclenched my fingers.  Would I even know if that was happening to me?

I suddenly felt absolutely certain that I was no longer alone.  I tried to tell myself that was impossible.  I was buried in a fucking casket, for God’s sake.  Of course I was alone.  I was being stupid, and that was all there was to it.

It was easy to prove, too.  All that I had to do was reach up with one hand and touch the wooden lid.  It would take less than a second.

Instead, I pressed myself as tightly as I could against the floor of the casket and put my hands at my sides.  No matter how logical I tried to be about it, I couldn’t convince myself that there wasn’t something horrible directly above me in the infinite darkness.

I heard a scratching noise from below me.  It was coming from outside of the casket, down deeper in the ground.

I’ve been so alone here.  Here below the world.

The woman’s voice wasn’t coming from the outside world.  It was in my head.

The blackness above me shifted.  It wasn’t anything that I could see or hear.  I can’t explain how I knew it had happened, but it did.

The scratching grew louder.  It was still below me, but it was slowly getting closer.

I thought about what my kidnapper had said about where I was being buried.  She had told me that the coffin was above a witch’s grave.  I had dismissed that as a mere scare tactic, but I was starting to believe that there was something to what she had said.  A chill ran down my spine and I shivered.

The scratching drew even closer.

Let me show you.

I felt tiny spots of cold against my forehead.  It was like icy fingers being pressed against my head.  The darkness erupted in red light, and my eyes opened wide as images flashed before them.

I saw a woman with long dark hair walking through the woods.  She was wearing a gray dress with a matching bonnet.  In her hands was a piece of rope that was tied to a dark sack that she dragged behind her.  It looked heavy, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by the weight.

She came to a clearing in the trees.  There were stone slabs and monuments that formed a ring, and in the center of the ring was a raised platform made of rock.  She dropped the sack in the center of the platform before untying it.  There was a moan from inside of the bag, and the small hand of a child reached out through the opening.

My vision blurred.  When it cleared, I was looking at the same woman standing in front of a small house with wooden sides and a thatched roof.  Just beyond the cottage was a wide river that raced off into the distance.

She was surrounded by dozens of people dressed in shabby clothes and holding large torches.  They were pointing and yelling at her.  They leveled accusations at her that she was a witch, and that she had defiled their town.

The woman tried to reason with them, but when it became clear that it wasn’t working, she shrugged and smiled wickedly.  She raised her arms, and the river rose up into the air and diverted course towards the gathered mob.  The water slammed into them and rushed over them as they tried to break free.  When the river retreated back into its banks, most of the people were left dead or dying in the mud.

Everything went blurry again, and moments later I was looking into a deep pit.  The woman was lying at the bottom of it, thick iron chains wrapped around her body.  Men were using ladders to exit the hole, and after they were all out the ladders were pulled up after them.  As a haggard-looking priest loudly recited prayers, the men began to shovel large mounds of dirt back into the hole.  The woman screamed obscenities at them as they worked.  Soon her shouting stopped as she became covered in soil.  The men continued their task as the sun began to set over the horizon.

I was suddenly back in the darkness.  I gasped as I released the breath that I didn’t know that I had been holding.  Below me, the scratching was louder and closer.

I would have been questioning my sanity if the time for that hadn’t long passed.  Sanity had gotten off the elevator at the ground floor.  Down here in the basement there was only the void and the nightmares that dwelled inside.

Tabitha Alden was free of the heavy chains she had been wrapped in, and she was clawing her way up through the earth towards me.  Maybe she was still alive somehow, or maybe death simply wasn’t enough to stop her.  It didn’t matter.  All that mattered was that she was coming and there was nothing that I could do about it.

Don’t be afraid.  There’s plenty of room for two.

Manic laughter filled the void.  My terror got the best of me, and I began to kick out my legs to strike the side of the casket as I screamed incoherently.  In that moment my rational mind was gone, and in its place was only primal instinct.

I could hear the digging below me even over my screeching.  The rhythm had gotten faster, as if it was more eager now that it was getting closer.  It took a huge amount of effort, but I was able to take back control of myself and quieted down.  The scratching sounded like it was only a few feet below me now.

I was hearing something else as well.  At first I didn’t notice it over the echoes of the fading laughter, but eventually it was loud enough for me to detect it.  It was a faint metallic jingling coming from up above.  It sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.

The witch must have heard it as well, because the digging stopped and everything was silent except for that noise.  I could feel that the presence inside the casket with me, which I was now convinced was the spirit of Tabitha Alden, had turned its attention upward.  The temperature inside the coffin began to rise.  She was angry, and her rage was radiating off of her spirit in waves of heat.

It doesn’t matter.  They’re too late.

The scratching began again, but this time it was more frantic than it had been before.  It took me a moment to process what she had just said.  Once I did, things clicked into place and I felt a small glimmer of hope.  The metal jingling was the sound of a shovel striking dirt.  My kidnappers had returned and were beginning to dig me out.  The witch’s assault had turned into a macabre race, and I was the grand prize.

There was a small thump just below my head, and the scratching ceased for a brief moment.  The witch’s body had reached the bottom of the casket.  I could actually feel the fingers scraping against the wood as it started to crack and splinter.  The boards were slowing her down, but they weren’t going to stop her for long.

The darkness above me didn’t seem quite as complete as it had been just minutes earlier.  The shovels were close enough now for me to hear each scoop as they cleared away the soil.

The witch made a sound like a growl.  It was filled with frustration and desperation.

The soft hiss of air in my mask stopped.  The oxygen tank had run out of air.  That probably should have concerned me, but I figured that my fate was going to be decided one way or another before I would have a chance to suffocate.

I had a new and more immediate problem to deal with anyway.  The temperature in the casket had risen so much that it was starting to burn.  I felt like I had a sunburn across my entire body, and the pain was slowly increasing as the shovels drew closer.  Not having any other choice, I grit my teeth and tried to relax as much as possible.

My head moved down about half an inch as the first wooden board broke away.  The witch’s spirit laughed in satisfaction.  I quickly lifted my neck so that the back of my head was no longer touching the coffin floor.  I was horrified by the prospect of her fingers coming into contact with me.

A shovel struck the top of the casket lid.  There was a shout from above, and I could hear more of the dirt being quickly removed.  At the same time, a second board snapped.

TOO LATE.

The third board shattered, and I felt fingers grab the back of my head.  They were freezing cold against my burning skin.  I felt them flex as they dug past the hair into my flesh.  My mouth opened wider than I would have thought possible and I screamed wordlessly.  The spirit’s laughing turned into an exalted cry.

I clamped my eyes shut as the casket lid was thrown open.  The presence was gone, the fingers were no longer gripping me, and I was once again alone inside the wooden box.  One of the large men that had initially taken me pulled me out of the grave and set me down on the cool grass.  My eyes gradually adjusted to the light and I was able to open them again.  I had never seen a sight as welcome as the faces of my kidnappers.

The exchange went off without a hitch.  My father had promised to give up his territory in exchange for my safety, and he was a man of his word.  After a brief handshake between him and his now former rival, I was handed over and that was that.  My kidnappers’ employer was now significantly wealthier and, more importantly, had a stranglehold over the city’s organized crime.  

I think my father was secretly happy about the overall outcome.  He had been thinking about retiring for quite some time, and now he was able to do that while guaranteeing that his employees would be taken care of.  Besides, he had his big stacks of money to cry into if he ever missed the life of a crime boss.

And me?  Me, I got a parting gift.

I had come out of the casket physically okay.  My skin had been red from the heat, but I hadn’t suffered any lasting burns.  When a doctor had looked me over I hadn’t told him what had happened, and he said that he thought the odd redness was from hypoxia.  Apparently a lack of oxygen can cause your skin to change color, anything from blue to red.  Weird, huh?

Mentally?  Not so much.

A few days after my ordeal, I started to hear it.  It was that same scratching and clawing noise that I had heard coming up towards me as I laid inside that casket.  Instead of coming from below, though, now it was in the back of my head.  I could hear it scraping against the inside of my skull.

I tried to ignore it at first.  I tried to convince myself that it was just some kind of PTSD, and that the sounds only existed in my imagination.  That didn’t work, so I tried therapy.  The shrink told me over and over again that what I was hearing was just a manifestation of the trauma that I had suffered, and that none of what I thought had happened inside the coffin actually had.  His words rang pretty damn hollow.

At three in the morning on a cold November morning, I woke up standing in front of that gnarled dead tree marking the grave of Tabitha Alden.  There was a shovel in my hand and a freshly dug pile of dirt next to me.  At my feet was a hole leading down into the earth.  It was still dark out, and the only illumination came from the headlights of my car.  It had been driven far enough up the small hill for the lights to reach.

I had no idea how I had gotten there.  I didn’t know the “how”, but I was pretty sure that I knew the “why”.  The witch was in my head.  She had waited until I fell asleep and marched me back to her grave like a puppet to dig up her body.

I got in my car and started driving back home.  I passed by a bar on the way, and, deciding if there was ever any time that I had needed a drink it was now, pulled the car into the parking lot and went inside.  I ordered the strongest drink the bartender had and downed it in one swallow.

That was when I figured out that drinking helps with my little problem.  It stops the scratching noises, and I haven’t had another sleepwalking incident since I started getting plastered on a nightly basis.  I guess my brain’s no use to anyone when it’s turned to mush, not even a witch.

There’s only so long that I can keep this up, though.  The way I’m going now, if Tabitha Alden doesn’t get me, my liver will.  I’m going to have to sober up soon, which means I’m on borrowed time.

There won’t be room for two in my head much longer, and I’m the one that won’t be staying.

The Nightmares We Share, Out Now!

I am so proud to announce that my very first collection of horror stories is now available on Amazon, both in paperback and Kindle format.

This has been a long time in the making. There were a few times that I didn’t think that I’d get this far with it, but holy crap, here we are.

The Nightmares We Share collects eleven of my favorite stories that I’ve written. It includes:

The Rotten Man
A House
Mr. Gangly Walks the Halls
Where the Light Fades Away
The Commitment of Charles Mayweather
Lunch Date
I’m Lonely
Transfigured
The Devil’s Tone
Polar Night
The Writer

You can find it here at Amazon.

To everyone that helped make this possible (and that very much includes every single person that has read one of my stories!), thank you. To the first of many!