WHITE SUIT DEVIL: By Ben Talley

Do you ever wonder about the man in the white suit?

You sat at that bar that one morning when you didn’t have to go into work so early and you thought breakfast at the diner down the street would be nice. You had coffee and some bacon and eggs, read the paper. It was a quiet morning. Not the café, it was busy as usual. Silverware and plates and cups all clanked together in a rhythmic hustle and bustle that was almost soothing. Sounded like progress. Sounded like everything was all right with the world. The clanking meant the diner was in business and business meant that the diner could stay open and that meant that the old man working the register for the past fifty years could keep it open maybe just a little bit longer. Maybe until he died. After that the future was uncertain. But the future up to that point would be all the owner had to worry about. All in all it was a good morning.

Until you noticed the man in the white suit.

He was eating flapjacks. Not a few flapjacks, not a breakfast plate of flapjacks. This was a dinner plate. A plate stacked so high the only obvious course of action after consuming them would be to sleep it off. They didn’t seem to faze him, though. Each bite was bigger than his mouth should’ve been able to hold. Yet there he was, bite for bite. Unhinging that jaw with strangely sharp teeth. Was that an old person thing? If you keep all your teeth longer than you’re supposed to, do they naturally sharpen? No wonder most resort to dentures. And with bites like those he wouldn’t be far away from them. Who eats flapjacks in a white suit anyway? Maybe he has a business meeting or a reverse funeral to attend later. But syrup on white? That’s a cause for concern. Maybe the man’s rich? Maybe he couldn’t care less whether or not he got a gob of syrup on his bone white suit because he could simply go buy a replacement. That must be it. He’s so wealthy he can go to a diner and eat a heaping stack of pancakes doused in syrup in his best suit whenever he damn well pleases. What a way to live.

Satisfied with your newly invented backstory for the mysterious man at the counter, you went on to finish your breakfast without even the slightest awareness that he had turned his attention to you. His full, undivided attention (which unnerved you because who can do that these days?) was focused on you. This wasn’t the first time someone had locked eyes with you. You knew the drill. Either look away immediately as if it never happened, or keep the stare for a few seconds longer if she’s cute. He wasn’t cute, though, nor could you look away. His stare was cold, a peering chill that pierced right through you, hooked you, and held you in place. His blank expression was a hypnotic leash that you couldn’t tear away from, no matter how uncomfortable you were.

Thank God for the waitress. “You done, sweetie?”

“Oh! I’m sorry, what?”

“Are you done? Need a refill?

“No, no I’m fine. Just the check, please.”

“You got it, honey.”

For a moment you stared at the table left empty by the waitress, afraid to look back up in the suit’s direction. But curiosity got the better of you, as it always does. How relieved you were to find out he was gone. The day could go on as planned, and the entire debacle would be willfully purged from your mind.

You don’t wonder about the man in the white suit anymore, because he’s right there. Standing in the doorway of the hospice room you now occupy, he gives you that same look he did forty-three years ago. Only now there are no questions, no made-up backstories. In all your people watching you never once stopped to consider that you might be the people he’d been watching. That we’re all being watched. When he looked at you all those years ago he saw this very moment. You can see it in his eyes. Stark black eyes that contrast the unstained, bone-white suit.

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©2015 Benjamin Talley

From Alabama to Los Angeles, I write because if I can no longer scare myself, I might as well try scaring others.

 

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PENUMBRA: By C.M. Crockford

He walked along the dirt road with nothing but darkness before him. The sun that had burned liquid heat into the air earlier in the day seemed to have vanished from thin air, seemingly wiped from existence. Only the stars lit a path for him now, and even they glowed far from everything, distant and oblivious. The route back to his house was familiar to him, but all memory of the daytime journey was gone. Perhaps it was the alcohol clouding his thoughts, a remnant from the daytime barbecue that had faded as dusk drew near, but he couldn’t be sure. Vacant blackness loomed over all, silent in dominion.

He had lived in the countryside all of his life. He was familiar with the quiet of the earth, the wind that spoke through the rustle of the trees, the white winter that buried the light and the green. He loved it, hated it, understood it’s patterns and mutations. He took comfort in it’s permanence, its eternity. But the dark here was a different animal entirely. The dark was hidden and deep and kept its terrors protected from sight. It was not like the night of the city, where the street lamps provided a shield of some kind and there were apartment buildings filled with stinking humanity, with technology and plastic and burning screens. At least there was a barrier against the catacombs and secrets of the natural world, the secrets of the dark. The dark of the country, of the endless, treacherous forest whose sounds and cries would enter your skin and never left you, had no such protection. Thus, in the fevered rush of his mind and the fear that was quickening the beat of his heart, shadows crept behind him in every direction.

His pace quickened. He was a young man, but childhood fears seemed to have overtaken him. He recalled as a little boy walking down the stairs into the basement, staring down at the void between each step. He would pull the metal string turning on the light, but the sickly glow made little difference. As he stepped down to grab the laundry his mother had asked him for, he could hear the eerie thrashing and of the machines, the water churning.

He gazed into the dark abyss looming before him, struck with thoughts of the unimaginable. It was as if one could hear other sounds alongside the thrummmmmmm hummmmm whispers of another world that he did not know and could not comprehend. He would finally bolt up the stairs, his shoes clomping on wooden finishing, and slam the door; then he would breathe deep and feel the relief of being back in the real world, one of light and color and things known and seen, a world that felt sharply, nauseatingly familiar. The unknown was forgotten.

Returning to the present, he flinched at a sound somewhere in the distance. He tried to look for the source, but could only see great oaks and birch trees; some were devoid of any greenery, naked and empty. Their frail branches were as harsh as claws, one arm pointing upward as if in accusation. Others were brambles and ferns that would soar in color in the daytime; in the shroud of darkness they became great shades, monsters in waiting. The trees and plants had altered into beasts of nature, of slumbering, dormant power.

He stumbled on hard gravel and his leg teetered, getting caught on a bramble patch on the edge of the path. He could feel the thorns scratching at his skin. Pain seared upward and he cried out in surprise. A little blood oozed from a cut in his thigh as he pulled it away. He stared at the landscape, uneasy and tired, and he wondered then if his wound could attract something. Something that liked the taste of blood, that could it leaking from his body and would lick its lips in anticipation, lurking, readying itself for movement. It could hide in the dark, inching forward little by little, stalking him, and then…

You’re being ridiculous, he thought. Why the hell was he sweating, why did he keep making darting glances back and forth? There were no monsters, no ghosts or ghouls out to get him. It had been hundreds of years since vampires or witches were seen as more than old stories,it was the 21st century after all. Logic and reason were what mattered, not blood and old stories and fears of the dark. There was nothing unnatural out there that could hurt him, only bears and owls and deer and wild raspberry patches and the leviathan trees, beautiful and humming all the days. It was a beautiful night, after all. The world was silent and still, his footsteps crunching and alive on the gravel. And he could see the mountainside up here, the living painting that he and the residents of his small town had grown so used to. His house was close now and he’d arrive home shortly. There was nothing out here, nothing.

“Nothing to be afraid of,” he said to himself.

“I agree,” something behind him replied, something ancient and large and knowing and sharp and dark and breathing and not of the known world, something talked about in the old stories, something with teeth and claws and that had been following him all this time, “nothing at all.” Suddenly he could feel hot breath on the back of his neck, and he looked back and began to scream.

And then it was upon him.

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©2015 C.M. Crockford

C.M. Crockford lives in Boston where he writes and sings in a band. He enjoys reading cosmic horror and generally any culture that will frighten him to his core.

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