The Black Rabbit

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by Ann Sepino

3 short stories I've written during lockdown.



THE BLACK RABBIT

 

An unexplainable thing happened on the night I intended to kill myself. I returned from a midnight walk with full intention of doing what I had thought about for so long, for reasons I do not care to go into.

Beneath my feet, there was an empty bottle of sleeping pills that I had taken all at once. In my left hand, I held a half-full glass of whiskey on the rocks. In my right, I held a Beretta 92fs handgun loaded with a single dumdum bullet. The choice of bullet came from a single thought, I wanted to make sure I got the job done.  How embarrassing and depressing would it be if I botched my suicide?

The combination of 11 heavy dose sleeping pills and the dumdum bullet gave me zero doubts about surviving. I burrowed into my swivel chair with the darkness as my only company, sipping my final drink, swirling that dry and spicy taste around my teeth and tongue. That taste I had grown to love at night and despise the following morning.

In that moment, I felt the most unusual sense of freedom, completely unlike anything I had ever felt before. I raised the gun and pressed it to my head, feeling the cold metal press against my temple and closed my eyes, ready to be free.

BANG. BANG.

I dropped my drink. The glass slid out of my hand as my grip weakened and smashed shards scattered across the floor as it smashed down. I thought I had done it—pulled the trigger and this was my final moment playing out. But why would there be two blasts? No, I hadn’t done it.

The sounds were someone banging their fist against my front door. If I had chosen to keep on living, this might have annoyed me. My grandfather always used to tell me there’s a special place reserved in hell for those who waste good whiskey and I had just wasted a fine glass.

Instead, I simply sat there, waiting for them to go away so I could carry out what I intended. Whoever it was would go away eventually. It couldn’t have been someone I knew, not at this hour.

After a few silent minutes passed, I took a deep breath. One of my last and raised the gun once more. When it was mid-way to my head, my door was once again rocked by three hammer-fisted blows even louder than before. I jerked my hand, dropping the gun. Thankfully, it didn’t go off. My eyes began to feel heavy as I frowned at the gun on the floor and gripped the sides of my chair out of frustration, trying to calm myself down. It sounded like they were trying to tear my door down. Driven mostly by anger at the interruption, I investigated.

I yanked the door open with the intent to tell whoever it was to fuck off, but the words died on my lips. There was no one there. Even when I peeked further out, the darkness remained my only companion.  Standing up made me aware that the combination of whiskey and sleeping pills had made me slightly inebriated. I looked up into the night sky, unfocused. I heard a low humming near my feet. As I looked down, a black rabbit stared up at me. Not completely alone after all, it seemed.

Although it looked like an ordinary black rabbit, something was off. I stared into its odd eyes; pitch black except for the very center, which was crimson with ember-like flecks of gold and orange—something I had never seen in an animal before. I don’t know how to explain this, but somehow, as we both locked eyes, I knew those knocks had come from the rabbit. It felt as if those eyes were somehow communicating with me and telling me the worst is yet to come. Those two pits of hell, continued to burn holes through me, penetrating my mind as if looking for something. I had never experienced something like this before, I did not know how to reject it. The unearthly sensation of holding the rabbit’s gaze became unbearable. So, with a titanic force, I pulled away and returned to reality.

Now that I had pulled myself away from the hypnotic like state, I briefly entertained the thought that the rabbit knocked on my door, but I returned to my senses and dismissed the thought. I was so irritated that I would have shot its head clean off if I had a second bullet. Perhaps the sound of a gunshot would scare off whoever had knocked on my door.

Looking down at the rabbit, I said, “So what do you want?” No luck in my voice scaring it off. It continued to stare at me with those eyes like the flames of hell trapped inside of them.  Enough was enough. I slammed the door in the rabbit’s face, retrieved my gun, and threw myself back into the chair.

Once again, I prepared myself to end it all. For the third, and hopefully final time, I brought the gun to my head, closed my eyes and rested my finger on the trigger.

Just before I pulled the trigger, a brick crashed through my living room window, completely shattering the glass, and skidded across the floor with an awful screech. I began to realise the effects of those sleeping pills must have truly been hitting me at this moment as the brick flying thorough my window barely caused a reaction.

Still, I could not understand what was happening or why. I should not have been nearly as afraid as I was—I had a gun in my hand—but I sensed this was only the beginning. As I approached the window, that same black rabbit sat outside, staring at me from a distance. I rubbed my eyes and lightly shook my head. Had I already shot myself? Was this my eternal punishment for ending my own life? Was I destined to be eternally tormented by this demonic animal?

Unfortunately for the rabbit, I decided that my only bullet would be used for a different purpose. I made my way outside to confront it, but it had disappeared. Still, it had to be close. I could hear that damn humming. What happened next was so utterly bizarre that I became rooted to the spot, hesitant to trust my own senses. I heard my front door slam shut. As if someone from inside slammed it shut with a forceful push. I wanted to blame the wind but there wasn’t even a slight breeze, slightly afraid, I slowly turned around to look back at my house and I finally found the rabbit. It was staring at me from inside my house, those horrific eyes unwavering mocking me, knowing that I had come out here to kill him. The staring was the worst part. The eyes of that rabbit slowly dragged me down deeper and deeper into a descent of madness. I went from wanting to take my own life, to being completely focused on putting an end to that malevolent rabbit.

I wanted to take a shot at it from where I was, but there was too high of a chance that I would miss. Even so, I didn’t dare move. I was cemented to the spot, wishing I could kill it with a glare. Not being able to move was agony. I just wanted to go inside and start again, forget about the rabbit. But I couldn’t. Something inside me said I needed to do this—even if only to get rid of the thing. Instead, I closed my eyes out of sheer frustration, just for a moment. But when I opened them again, the rabbit was gone.

Slowly I unfroze, no longer a slave to that small creature and little by little I could feel my body again. I could move again. When I entered the house, the rabbit was sitting in my chair.

Wasting no time, I raised my gun and fired directly at its face. Somehow, it managed to jump out of the way. It was probably a trick of the dim light, or the stress that I had been through, but I could have sworn it cast a shadow on the floor when it moved. Except it wasn’t the shadow of a rabbit. It was the shadow of a man. At the time, I think my brain refused to register the unsettling image, for it was too terrifying to confirm that the rabbit was not ordinary. And I needed all my courage to kill it.

Using my only bullet, the bullet meant for me, was so infuriating that I dove after the rabbit, hoping to grab it so I could snap its neck. I did it. I caught the fucking thing, squeezing until I felt and heard a CRACK!
As it lay there, lifeless in my hands, I laughed maniacally.

My eyes felt heavier than ever before. The fatigue of the night had started to set in. I could get another bullet tomorrow. Tomorrow would be the day, if the pills and alcohol didn’t take me in my sleep tonight. When I moved to go to bed, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I glanced to the side.

The rabbit was gone.

Maybe I hadn’t snapped its neck, just a leg or rib instead?

Immediately, I stood and scanned the room. It had returned to its spot on the chair, eyes trained on me.

I had celebrated too early. The torment was fresh again.

I started this day hoping to end my life. Now, I knew I just could not spend another night with the constant intimidating presence of that fucking rabbit.

Strangling hadn’t worked. A point-blank bullet hadn’t worked.

Maybe fire would. I would burn my house down. If the damn thing turned out to be fireproof too, then at least I would die free from that stare. One death was just as good as another.

I went to the shed where I kept a can of gasoline. When I returned to the house, it was there. Waiting.

I poured gasoline around the living room. With no hesitation whatsoever, I struck a match and threw it to the ground. Then I sat down in the chair and pulled the rabbit onto my lap like it was some sort of pet.

Together, we watched the flames as they danced closer.

In that moment, I remembered why I had wanted to take the quick and painless route out of existence. This pain was excruciating. Still, as unbearable as it was, the one thought I had in my mind as my body burned was that I would finally be free of the thing that had tormented me so much, in such a short span of time. As the pain became more unbearable, regret sunk in and I realised this is not the way I wanted to die, oh my god what had I done? I would have given anything in that moment to choose life over this, however the fire engulfed me. My last memory of that night was screaming as the fire grew closer and everything went black,

Then I opened my eyes…

I looked around in a daze, recognising parts of my bedroom. The blanket covered me with its comfortable weight. It was daylight outside.

For a moment, I didn’t dare move, I had been on fire—how could I bear to look at myself and see the burned, mangled flesh of my body? How could I have possibly survived?

Once ready, I took a deep breath and sat up.

There was no pain. My body was whole and healthy.

Had it been a dream? It couldn’t have been. Had the sleeping pills caused some form of hallucination?

It had felt so real.

I dismissed the thought of it being a dream, but rather a preview of hell.

I fell asleep that night with thoughts of suicide, but after living through that horrible nightmare something had changed inside of me. I sat up, remembering those haunting, immobilising eyes, those flames against my skin. Something about the memory of those eyes and that final moment of regret made me realise I did not want to die at all. All I wanted was to go outside and embrace the smell of the fresh air outside and feel rays of sunlight against my face. The value of existence had become very dear to me. All thoughts of ending my life, were gone. I felt as if something had been awakened within and my heart now expanded with benevolence towards all beings on this earth. I must reconcile with those I have wronged. I must live. I must go on.

 

 

THE OBSIDIAN BOX
 

My clothes were drenched as I powered through the heavy downpour. My car had broken down a few miles back and the signal on my phone was dead. I had finally made the decision to walk the rest of the way home, despite the storm warning that had fuzzed through on the radio before my engine gave up. The weather was making this feel a lot longer than 4 more miles but there was no other choice.

Thunder shook in the dark clouds above, sending rumbles through the earth, whilst white streaks of lightning tore cracks in the sky. My muscles quivered against the high winds and cold rain, and I crossed my arms, looking down at my feet. The trees of the forest stood tall on either side of the narrow, empty, double-lane road. Every time the lightning struck; the shadows of their branches jumped out at me like dark arms in the night. Above the sound of the rain, I could hear little else but my own breathing and my pulse beating strongly in my ears.

Halfway there.

Well, halfway to praying that some other reckless soul would be out on the long stretch of country road at this time of night. It was a distant hope, but it took my mind away from the cold and the fear that lightning could potentially strike any of the towering trees around me. I turned around for a moment to face where I had come from.

Darkness. A whole and swallowing darkness.

I contemplated going back to the safety of my car. But it was too late to go back now.

Right when I was about to reorient my direction, a light appeared in the distance. I had to squint at first to make sure that I was not imagining it.

Yes. It was real. This must have been what a miracle felt like.
I made out the shape of two yellow headlights on high beam. Back-pedalling, I kept my focus on the car and stuck out my arm in signal.
 Please stop.

My hand was shaking rather violently from the cold in my bones. I hoped I did not look like a crazy person.

Hope was rising as it neared.
But that hope disappeared as quickly as it came as the car rocketed straight past me. 

“Holy shit!” My eyes glued to the lights of the car as my heart sunk. Watching my only hope of getting out of this storm drive further and further away.

However, the car swerved on the slippery road. Then, the screech of tires pierced the air as the wheels lost their grip. I watched as it veered unnaturally to the right and slammed head-first into the trunk of a tree.

For a moment, everything went silent, and I just stared dumbly with my mouth agape and hands gripping my hair. Then, the lightning resumed, and a cracking thunderclap shook the ground. I broke into a run towards the totalled car. Grey smoke was escaping from the hood as I approached.

“ARE YOU OKAY?” I shouted out, but my voice was drowned out by the storm. The windows were tinted black, and I couldn’t see a thing from outside. Acting on instinct, I went straight for the driver’s seat and pulled open the door. I did a double take, frowning in disbelief. There was no one there. I stared for what felt like minutes, folded and elapsed into a single second, before shaking myself back to reality.

“Hello?” I stuck my head inside and checked the rest of the seats.

Empty.

Stumbling backwards, I scanned the outside surroundings. Where was the driver? Did they leap out before the crash? I circled the car but found no one. So, I searched the car once more. The backseat was littered with tiny shards of glass and a single pair of bolt cutters. I opened the glove compartment.
Nothing.
There was a dark leather briefcase on the passenger side, but it was wedged tightly against the dashboard and the crushed car frame. I tried to pull it free with no success. Coughing from the smoke, I stepped away in a stunned daze. I fished my phone out of my pocket, but the signal was still dead. The screen was quickly soaked by the sheets of pouring rain. I cursed and shoved it back into my pocket.

What the hell...my mind sought desperately for an explanation. And that’s when I heard it.
A sound. A cry. Like that of an animal. Then whimpers.

Adrenaline was pumping through my entire body, and since the thunder had been drowning out all the sounds, I assumed for a moment that I had imagined it. But it came again. More distinct. The more I concentrated on it, the more I was sure that it was real.

I suspected it was coming from the trunk. Slightly hesitant, I approached the rear of the car. The trunk had been unlatched in the crash and was narrowly ajar. I lifted the trunk door, and the whimpering stopped.

There was a large, obsidian coffin of a box with a single padlock in the centre.  A glowing, emerald cut stone rested in the middle. The beauty of the gem had sucked all my attention, until a thumping came from inside. Then, the whimpering resumed, and strange, nonsensical mumblings followed.
Whatever was inside was speaking. It wasn’t an animal. It was human. I quickly fumbled at the lock with my numb hands, but it was thick and solid. The obscurity of this situation began to weigh heavy on my mind. While gripping the lock in my hand, a part of me, a primal, survivalist part of me, screamed to forget the coffin-box and just run, as if I never saw anything.

Something about all this seemed very unnatural and I questioned if getting involved was a good idea.

What if the driver was out there watching me? But whoever was inside was crying and I consciously could not leave someone locked inside in what appeared to be a coffin.

What if whoever was driving was planning to bury someone alive? No, I told myself I must lean into the fear and help.

I suddenly remembered the bolt cutters that had been poking out from underneath the backseat. I ran to retrieve them, the rain still lashing sharply against my face.
Placing the clip to the solid metal lock, I forced the two handles towards one another, straining and grunting as the lock resisted. It didn’t budge on my first try, and I had to try again. And again. There was more pounding from within. I wanted to just forget all this and run away, but the sound of the whimpering inside persuaded me to fight through.

On the fourth attempt, the lock snapped.

I froze for a moment as the weight of my situation began to settle. Then, gathering the courage to do what needed to be done. I took a deep breath and threw the bolt cutters aside, slowly placing my numb, aching fingers around the lid and lifting. The trunk light was flickering, and it took me a second to make out what was inside. I stood there open-mouthed.

A young girl shivered from inside. She looked no older than eighteen and had long brown hair that trailed past her hips. She wore a strange cloth wrap around her torso and waist with weird glyph-like markings on them that looked completely alien to anything I had seen before. There was a blindfold around her eyes. She sniffed at the air and muttered something under her breath. She was curled in a foetal position with her hands tied together in front of her stomach in black cloth. Her bare feet were rubbing rhythmically against one another.

I had no idea what to do.

She continued to sniff at the air, then stopped. It looked like she realised that she was no longer trapped in the coffin. She suddenly moved her body, twisting and turning, desperately trying to sit up.

“Hey…I’m not going to hurt you.” I could tell she was trying to say something, so I leaned closer towards her to hear.

The girl reeled back, and she whispered “fire.”

“What?” I said in confusion. In that moment, the hood of the car burst into flames. The blaze seared itself into the dark of my eyes.

“I need to get you out of here.”

I could tell the girl was in shock, but I did not have any other choice. I reached for her, and

when my hand touched her skin, she whimpered even more. The flames grew bigger, even amidst the downpour. I was sure the car was about to blow. I wrapped my arms around her upper body and legs, hoisting her out of the car. It appeared that she wanted to resist me and struggle as I picked her up, however she seemed to submit as I did so. Her body quivered madly as the cold rain fell on her skin. I only had one thought on my mind. Get as far away from the car as possible.

I broke into a run through the trees. My body moved itself. I was only aware of my ragged breathing, and the shower of water around me. I hardly even felt the girl in my arms. I didn’t understand what I was even doing. I just ran.

The car exploded.

Despite the distance I had covered, the sound of the explosion sounded close, and I felt the heat of the flame on my back, so I didn’t stop running. A second wind burst through my muscles, and I suddenly felt invincible. I felt like a god or a hero with a strength I had never experienced before. I jumped over logs and rocks, and my legs kept extending forward, even though the explosion had already happened.

Eventually, my second wind crashed, and my mortality returned to me, making my muscles heavy and tired. A flash of lightning revealed a stone hovel, or what looked to be the beginning of a cave formation. It would barely fit us both, but it was shelter. I finally collapsed on my knees with the solid stone as a roof over my head. Exhausted, I laid the girl down on the ground.

I sat back against the rock wall to catch my breath. My head was spinning, and my body was trembling violently. I had been warm for that short moment of strength, and now that it was gone, the cold came rushing in, fiercer than ever, my teeth chattering madly as I concentrated on not throwing up. I turned my attention to the girl, and she was convulsing, like she was having some form of a small seizure.

Christ. There was no time for me to rest. I untied her wrist and ankle restraints and rubbed her skin back and forth, trying to create some friction to heat her up. After a while, a part of her seemed to come back to, and she sat up, fumbling at her blindfold. I helped her take it off.

Her eyes were closed at first, squeezed shut.

I watched as they slowly opened. The air was sucked from my lungs. My heart froze. Time stopped. Her eyes were not of this world.

They were an arctic blue, except her pupils were larger and yet narrower. More resembling a feline than anything human. Her eyes were fixed on me, and her brows dropped into a scowl. I was stunned into silence. Sensing my passivity, she spared a glance around her, taking in the surroundings before her eyes darted back to meet mine.

She began to speak, and her scowl shifted into worry. But this time, my ears didn’t register the sounds at all. They came out muffled and strange, like within a different spectrum of sound. She grabbed my hand and gave it a light squeeze. Suddenly, my ears adjusted, and I could make out tones and syllables. It was not an earthly sound. It was strange and disconcerting and beautiful all at once. Like notes played underwater and the float of bubbles upwards. Her tone grew more urgent, and she gestured with her other hand. I could make out squeaks and trills to her language, akin to something like that of a dolphin.

I shrugged, still at a loss for words.

She paused, then closed her eyes. The features on her face softened. Watching her was like looking up from the bottom of the ocean as rays of sunlight danced on the surface waves. It wasn’t until this moment that I noticed this girl’s beauty.

The girl opened her eyes once more and met mine. She reached far into me, searching inside my head, like how a librarian might roam a bookshelf, trailing her fingers over spines. My shivering stopped, and in the next moment, our minds seemed to synchronise. Her gaze pulled my consciousness back to the forefront, and the world suddenly came into focus again. Her eyes were wide and childlike, looking deep into me, reading me like I was an open book. She nodded, and I knew in that instant that she realised what I had done for her. She reached for my other hand, and as both of her hands touched mine, a voice sounded inside my head.

Thank you.

Her voice lingered in the soft spot of my mind, and it felt like fresh spring air and softly singing bird trills. Its memory was a tingle and hum of energy and impulse, like she spoke directly to the neurones in my brain.

Panic rose from somewhere deep inside me, but it was quickly met with another feeling. The feeling came from her. It was the clear blue of falling waves against a sandy shore. It was the calm of a gentle ocean cove and the song of seaweed swaying ever so lightly in a slowly moving current. It was a feeling of complete happiness I don’t think anyone has ever experienced. It was so overwhelming that I wanted to break down and cry. Cries of pure happiness.

She squeezed my hands slightly more and smiled. Close your eyes.

I felt my nerves ease and relax as I shut both eyes. I felt what felt like the rays of sun brush against my body on a warm summer’s day at the beach without a care in the world and when I opened my eyes, I was completely dry.
She smiled a sad smile, and her feline eyes looked off into the rain. I wanted to speak; I wanted to ask her questions.

But nothing came to my mind. Somehow, I was completely thoughtless. Each moment was crisp and alive, full of life. I could hear each individual raindrop pattering against the soil. I felt the warmth exude from my body in the calm relaxation that had settled over me. My breath rose and fell like bellows to the rhythm of the earth.

 

The strange girl raised her hands up and fiddled with something in the long veil of her hair. A leather cord came loose from one of her braids, and when her hand withdrew, she was clutching something in her palm. Her arctic eyes flicked up to mine, laced and steady with a fierce seriousness. Despite that we were not holding hands anymore, I still felt connected with her. She opened her palm, and lying there, attached to the cord of leather, was an aquamarine cylindrical crystal. A high-pitched hum rang outwards as she revealed it. I frowned in confusion. Despite the assurance she had given me, my mind was still having trouble accepting any of this as real.

She smiled to reassure me everything was going to be ok and then dug a little hole in the earth with her fingers. She unwound the cord from the singing crystal and then planted it in the earth like a seed. She looked at me with a grave expression on her face and reached out to touch my hand.

Let it grow.

My mouth moved to speak, but she put her soft finger over my lips.

This time she softly spoke again and whispered, “Let it grow.”

Then, without another word, she pulled me in close for a tight squeeze. Once again, I felt her emotions like the song of the sea, and before I could experience another dose of what I can only describe as pure ecstasy, she let go of me.

She gave me one last smile before stepping out into the rain.

“Wait...” I reached out for her, but the night swallowed her in a second. I knew deep in my bones that I would never see her again.

 

FREDERICKS DEAL

 

I

Two long-time elderly friends, Richard and Frederick, wandered down a street filled with boarded-up, dark red archaic houses—the same street Richard insisted they always stroll through on their walk home. A man like Richard, who always wore crisp suits, polished shoes, and had developed a perfect etiquette from his days at Oxford, would never fit in in a place like this.

However, in the past few months, rumours about Richard had been circling the town. Some rumours suggested that Richard had begun to indulge in what could only be described as ‘pleasure seeking’ acts that grew far more extreme and wicked with each rumour. Frederick had overheard: “Not even Dante himself in hell saw such barbarism,” when other men were in discussion about these circulating rumours.  

Frederick had known this man since he was 15 years old and refused to believe any of it. Still, he could never understand why Richard wanted to spend more than a second in this street.

Its residents were widely known as having extremely violent tendencies, so, in Frederick’s eyes, danger always felt omnipresent here. The reputation of the street alone always caused him to unconsciously bite his nails and constantly look behind to his left and right as if he were expecting someone to attack.

“Richard, I must know. Why do you always insist that we take this circuitous route home? Especially through this disgusting God-forsaken Street!” Frederick said with a light quiver in his voice.

Richard smiled and proceeded to flip a golden pound coin into a homeless man’s lap, which he always did without fail.

“Well, I am afraid until now, I have not always been honest with you. For my fortune did not come from hard work mixed with a stroke of opportunity, but rather from a deal I made many years ago.”  

“And what deal was that?” Frederick asked, extremely curious.

Richard paused for a moment before replying, “A deal with Satan.”

Frederick gasped. “A deal with Satan?” he repeated. Both remained silent for a short time until Frederick finally decided to break the uncomfortable silence. “How is that even possible? How on earth did you even go about finding such a wretched creature in the first place?”

The serious response from Frederick caused Richard to chuckle.

“Oh, he is not so wretched when he is capable of giving you whatever you want. With him, your sincerest desire can come to life. For a price, of course. Some people’s deepest desires can cause them to suffer all their life, that one thing they want more than anything but could not achieve in any regular circumstance. So, in my eyes, it is a fair trade. If you believe in him enough, he will find you.” 

While reflecting on what he had just been told, Frederick stared into the overcast sky and said, “Despite my religious doubts, I still do my best to try and lead an honest life—even without the promise of a rewarding afterlife. But for those who do believe, I suppose it is unfortunate if they fall for Satan’s treachery. Tell me about this deal, Richard.”

He took a deep breath then explained. “It has been going on for many years now. A gold coin appears in my pocket, and I have 48 hours to deliver it to that unfortunate soul we just walked past. And yes, unfortunately, it must be delivered by me. For this trade, I am promised constant wealth. Unfortunately, this prevents me from travelling, but I’ve seen the world enough times to not care anymore at my age. And of course, if I do not hold up my end of the deal, he will own my soul for all eternity.

Frederick was unsure if he believed what he was hearing. “So, if I were to walk back to that man and take back the coin you just gave him, your soul would be forever damned?”

Frederick’s reasoning made Richard smile. “I think you might find that the almighty Lucifer himself would come for you.”

“Come for me?” Frederick snapped. “What on earth would he do that for?”

“For interrupting our deal. It would be for the Master of Punishment to decide what happened to you thereafter,” Richard said and smiled strangely.

“No offence to you, Richard, but I begin to fear that you’ve gone mad! No wonder all these twisted rumours are circulating about you.”

Richard still held that strange smile on his face. “And I fear you have been ignoring religion for too long,” he said in an almost mocking tone.

“Religion? Ha!” Frederick retorted. He quickly turned around and wandered back to the homeless man, taking the coin Richard gave him earlier. When he returned, he held up the coin.

Richard’s face flared crimson out of horror. “You fool!” Richard screamed. “If you do not return that coin, I fear he will come after you! And I promise you, on my life, that this is real!”  

Frederick began to laugh, certain that his friend was going senile in his older years.
“Why don’t you go and give him another if you are so concerned?” 

“It must be the coin that has already been given to him on the day,” Richard said sternly, wide-eyed.

“Worry not, for I am an atheist and do not believe in such a being. He can do me no harm, even if he truly exists.”

With deep concern, Richard muttered, “I pray for your soul, for an unimaginable calamity awaits you.” The two finally parted ways, unaware it was the last time they would see each other as friends.

 

II

Later that night, Frederick laid next to his wife, Anna. As always, he turned his head toward her and said, “Goodnight, my love.” Shortly after, he faded away into a much-needed sleep. If you were to ask him about his dreams in the past, he might tell you he was not much of a dreamer. Tonight, that was going to change.

He might as well have died in his sleep and walked through the gates into the eternal flames of Hell. It was nothing like he could have ever imagined in his sixty-eight years of life. There was no way to escape from the burning heat of the flames or the tormented, harrowing screams unlike anything ever heard on earth, so loud and terrifying. He wanted nothing more than to put his hands firmly over his ears and crawl into a ball with his eyes deeply shut and try to shut out all the unthinkable horror that was far beyond any regular understanding of what it meant to be afraid.

But something would not allow this. An unseen force was forcing him to walk through the fiery fields of Hell. He could feel the fire burning his skin, but it did not appear to physically leave any trace, as if he were fireproof but still able to feel like he was being burnt alive at the same time. The insufferable pain, the distressing sounds, and the sour-miasmic smell were too unbearable. Had Frederick been presented with an option to end his life, he would have done so without hesitation.

Finally, the flames went down, and the screams stopped. Everything was pitch-black. For a moment, there was nothing. No pain, no noise, no anything.  Frederick felt something behind him but was physically unable to turn around; the sensation of it became unbearable. It was almost like being trapped in what could only be described as a void.

That was until a deep, unearthly-like voice broke the silence, roaring from every direction at once, “You took my coin! Now you are in my debt!”

And, finally, just when it seemed like it would never come, Frederick opened his eyes, and was back in the safety of his own bed. His trembling body was slick with sweat, his night shirt stuck to him, but he eventually returned to reality. He laughed nervously, followed by a long sigh.

Nothing but a foolish nightmare, he thought with a big smile of relief on his face. He looked towards Anna, hoping to tell her about it, only to find the sheets were soaked with blood, her eyes glazed over and that her throat had been cut wide open.

Frederick stared, mouth agape, heart pounding. Unable to move, he continued to stare until he finally gathered enough courage to place his shaking hand on her to confirm that this was real. Swiftly, she turned her head towards him, looked him in the eyes, and let out a scream like what he had heard in his nightmare. She then screeched, “Frederick!”

The shock of her voice caused him to wake up again, out of breath, as if he just experienced a hypnic jerk. Although checking on his wife required nothing but a simple turn of the head, the image of his bloody wife was now engraved into his mind as he lay there, too afraid to check that she was alive. Reasoning with himself that it was just a nightmare, he finally decided to look at her, discovering that she was alive and sound asleep. The nightmare had frightened him so badly that he decided to check her pulse—just to be sure. Although he was safe at home, he still felt the heat of those flames on his body, as if they had somehow burnt him in reality without leaving a physical mark.  

 

III

Frederick could not stomach anything but tea the following morning. The sickening mental images from his dreams still lingered in the back of his mind.

He was alone today, as Anna had planned to spend the day with her sister. She walked in, kissed him, and wished him a good day before leaving, unaware that something troubling was on his mind. Sitting there deep in thought, he unconsciously removed the gold coin from his pocket, playing with it in between his fingers. He stared at the coin. On the very same day that I removed this stupid coin from that unfortunate man, I happen to have two unimaginable nightmares in a row, he thought.

Frederick was not much of an active dreamer, so could it be that Richard was telling the truth? Frederick continued to sit in deep reflection, rolling the coin through his fingers. “Ridiculous!” he said.

The front door sprung open, giving Frederick a slight fright, causing him to accidentally knock over his tea. He naturally assumed Anna had returned having forgotten something. However, instead of his wife, an unknown man comfortably made his way into the kitchen. Frederick jumped out of his chair, mug clenched in his hand, positioned as if ready to strike. Giving the stranger a quick up and down, he observed that this unknown person was rather well-built, looking somewhere around forty, with slicked-back black hair and eyes so green, you felt as if you owed them something.

“Who the devil are you?” Frederick asserted.

The unknown visitor gave a wide smile and replied, “Well, my new acquaintance, you’ve just answered your own question.”

Frederick had no idea what he was talking about and assumed he was dealing with someone attempting to rob him.

“What are you doing in my house?” he asked, slamming the table with his free hand. “Get out at once! Or I shall call the authorities!”

Completely unfazed by all of this, the stranger laughed. “The authorities? What do you think they will do? If anything, they should arrest you for stealing from me!”

Frederick furrowed his brow. “I’ve never stolen anything in my life. What the hell are you talking about?”

The stranger pulled out a chair, sat opposite Frederick, made himself comfortable, and removed a gold coin from his pocket. With a wide, mocking smile, he said, “Does this look familiar to you?”

Completely forgetting about the coin until now, Frederick reached into his own pocket. The coin was gone. Could this man possibly be who I think he is? Frederick wondered.

“Yes Frederick, that is exactly who I am,” said Satan, keeping that large mocking smile on his face. Frederick sat silently, in complete bewilderment at his situation.

The devil took notice of this and decided to break the silence. “Do not look so worried, I am not here for your soul, that is, unless you do not wish to help me.”

Those words hit Frederick even harder than the dreams the night before had hit him. He still couldn’t bring himself to speak back at first, but his words eventually returned to him.

“Help you? But I’ve never made a deal with you?”

“While this might be true, for now, you stupidly interrupted my deal with your good friend, Richard, despite him trying to warn you. Which, unfortunately for you, entitles me to your soul.”

Frederick’s shoulders slumped as he put his hands on his head and squeezed his eyes shut.

“However, you are truly fortunate, for I want Richard’s soul a lot more than yours. He’s been a very naughty boy lately. It never ceases to amaze me what people will resort to for entertainment when they inevitably get bored of being able to afford whatever they want. Oh, the things I could tell you about your friend. The rumours? They are absolutely true.”

The devil paused, allowing his words to sink in. “So, if you are prepared to help me, I will take his soul and allow you to keep yours.”

Frederick secretly hoped this was all Richard’s doing—an elaborate joke. But the reality of this situation came to Frederick all at once. Remembering how convinced Richard was, the nightmares of the flames and Anna, and the coin disappearing from his pocket into the devil’s hands. Finally, raising his eyes from the floor, he met Satan’s soul-piercing eyes.

“Oh, you’re thinking about it. How exciting,” he said menacingly.

“You want me to help you take one of my closest friends’ soul in order to save mine,” Frederick muttered. “I’m unsure if I am capable of such an act of selfishness.”

“Believe me, Frederick, I have known human nature for a very long time and every single one of you is capable of such a thing, especially if it means your own survival. But if you truly feel like you aren’t capable of this, perhaps I’ll have your wife’s head slowly cut off in front of you for a few hundred years while you start your time in Hell. Did you enjoy your dream about her last night?” he asked. After a short time, the devil stood. “Well, I tried. Off we go then!”

Frederick leapt from his chair. “Wait!” Frederick called. He thought about the fire, the screams, and the mental image of his murdered wife from last night. Unable to bear the thought of his innocent wife being harmed, even if it was just an illusion, he shamefully uttered, “Just tell me what I need to do.”

 

IV

For the first time in what felt like a lifetime of walks together, Richard found himself walking home without Frederick. Receiving word that his friend had fallen ill, he decided he would drop by with a bottle of vodka, knowing that no matter how ill Frederick was, he could not turn down a glass. But first, he had his own business to attend to.

Seeing the homeless man, Richard reached into his pocket for a coin, only to feel a sudden, sharp pressure in his lower back. After that pressure alleviated, and the realisation of what had happened set in, Richard took a few stumbling steps backwards, an intense pain spreading throughout his entire body. When his legs faltered, Richard dropped to his knees, wheezing, and still holding on tight to the gold coin. Desperately crawling, trying to pull his body weight towards the homeless man, “Please help me,” he pleaded. “I won’t have enough time to make it, help me across the street before I die.”

A familiar voice replied, “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Richard.” With what little strength he had left, Richard rolled onto his back and looked into the eyes of his attacker.

Frederick.

The intense pain of this discovery hurt him more than any knife could. A moment of silence hung between the two as Richard lay there, bleeding out. 

“I’m sorry, Richard. I truly am,” Frederick said sadly, but sincerely.

These were the final words said to Richard as Frederick watched his friend slowly and painfully die. However, moments before his death, Richard was able to mutter a final sentence. Frederick leaned down to hear Richard whisper, “Even when we meet again in Hell, I will never forgive you for this.” 

 

V

Frederick sat at his kitchen table in the early hours of the morning. He had not moved from this spot since the news of Richard’s murder reached him, so Anna thought of this as a grieving process. As he sat there, he tried to make sense of it all.

It has been two days since I betrayed and killed my best friend. I am aware that because of me, he is now suffering in Hell. I feel like I should not be able to continue living with myself. However, I appear to feel no guilt at all. I have restrained myself from doing wicked things all my life, mostly in fear that my guilty conscience would destroy me, and yet I feel nothing. Not a shred of remorse for what I have done. How can this be?

Leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, he continued to dwell on these thoughts. Suddenly, he erupted into laughter.

He was completely unaware that the devil stood behind him, smiling.




Submitted: July 22, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Alexander Carolan. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Vance Currie

Being a bit short on time, Alex, I read only the first of these stories. (I would have posted them separately if I were you). It was easy to read and I didn't trip over any grammatical errors. I think you are a good writer. As for the story, I love paranormal mysteries, and you held my attention with this one right to the end.

Thu, July 22nd, 2021 10:06pm

Ann Sepino

These are fantastic! I read all three, and I can't decide which one I like most.

I love the way you create mysterious and sinister characters. Not a lot is revealed about them, but readers could still pick up on the intentions behind their actions. And I enjoyed your signature narrative style and pacing. Most of all, I'm impressed that you ended each one at the right part, i.e. at a point that leaves them open and yet makes the story feel complete.

Wonderful job, and welcome to Booksie! :)

Sun, July 25th, 2021 4:08am

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