Stitched Saturday

Unedited, uncensored, unsettling…

The last writing prompt was for stories related to abandoned buildings, and Ezekiel and Aiden more than rose to the challenge and have gifted us with two incredible stories; two amazing original tales – Shadowend Funeral Home by Ezekiel Kincaid and Bargain Basement by Aiden Leingod. To finish it all off, a related tale by me, David Court. The first ever story I had published, The Shadow Cast By The World.

After the stories, there’s some exciting news relating to Stitched Saturday.

Shadowend Funeral Home – Ezekiel Kincaid

“Shadowend Funeral Home?” Robby Falcon turned his gray F-150 off the main road of Baker High School and onto the service road that led to the interstate. “Brayden, that placed stopped being scary when we were in elementary school.”

Brayden Briley, while packing his dip can with a loud pop, said, “Look, Falcon, it’s not about being scary man. It’s about having the place to ourselves.” Brayden opened the dip can, swiped out some tobacco, and stuck it in his front lip. He then wiped his lip and checked his face in the side mirror to make sure no remnants of tobacco hung on. He looked at Falcon again. “Remember? Privacy?” Brayden reached in his back pack and produced a dime bag of weed and a fifth of whiskey.

Falcon did a double take. “Brayden, dammit! Put that away man. People can see!” Falcon swiped with one hand, keeping the other on the steering wheel, then turned left to merge onto the interstate.

Brayden chuckled, “Don’t be such a baby, Falcon. No one can see.” Brayden stuffed the alcohol and weed into his back pack, hiding them underneath his history and math book.

Falcon’s face relaxed when he saw Brayden stow their stash away. “And how do you know Shadowend will not be occupied with other said teens engaging in underage drinking and other shenanigans?” He checked the rearview. His curly, sandy blonde hair damp and disheveled from 7th hour P.E.

Brayden placed an arm on the seat and grabbed Falcon’s shoulder. “Look man, that placed stopped being a party spot in the early 90s man. Sure, in the 80s it was the place to go. The stories were fresh then and people were looking for a scare. The place is so dead now, that not even the cops go out there. It’s perfect. The funeral home is considered so lame and overdone, its almost like its not even there.” He removed an empty plastic water bottle from the cup holder and spat.

Falcon sped up and merged. “Did you invite them?”

“Yeah.” Brayden spat again.

“And?”

“And they said they’d come. What’s the big deal?”

Falcon gave Brayden a backhand to the chest, making a hollow echoing sound throughout the cab. “What do you mean ‘what’s the big deal’? I’ve been trying to go out with Sarah since like 8th grade.”

Brayden made an umf sound and almost spat his dip on the windshield, then giggled. “I know, so don’t screw this up. Which, by the way, when I talked to Annie and invited them, she said that Sarah had told her just the other day about how hot you looked in your baseball uniform.” He jabbed Falcon in the ribs. “Huh? Huh?? Hey slugger?”

Falcon swiped at Brayden’s hand and gave a half smile. “What time did you tell them to meet us out there?” Falcon took his exit.

“2:00 am.” Brayden scratched his head, disturbing his short and wild black hair.

“2:00 am it is,” Falcon said, and took a left.

# # #

The full moon hung high over Shadowend that night, directing its rays on the dilapidated funeral home like a spotlight, as if the structure was a lone actor on a stage of rustling tree branches and waving grass. Falcon and Brayden pulled up to the building five minutes before 2.

Shadowend sat on ten acres of land. An overgrown road with busted asphalt led back to the main building, which sat encircled by a wrought iron fence. The once active funeral home and cemetery stayed in business until 1980, when unexpectedly, the owners fled or disappeared. Soon after, the rumors circulated about the owners. A Satanic cult, eaters of the dead, child murders, aliens, and whatever else the imaginative minds of teenagers could come up with. But the truth was, no one knew.

The lights of Falcon’s truck shined on the face of the funeral home. The Victorian looking house, once a pristine white, now faded old and graying, like a sad old man in his last years of life. The windows were cracked, and some had holes the size of baseballs in them. The screen door sat cockeyed on its hinges, and the post which held up the awning of the porch leaned like the Tower of Pizza.

“Oh, nice pick Brayden,” Falcon said, staring through the windshield. “I hope someone doesn’t fart too loud. They might knock the place down.”

“She’ll hold, capn’,” Brayden said in a terrible imitation pirate voice. “Now come on.” Brayden grabbed his backpack and got out the truck. Falcon killed the engine and followed.

A few seconds later, headlights appeared. It was Annie and Sarah. The two girls hopped out of Annie’s white Mustang. Sarah waved a bottle of vodka at them. “The whiskey won’t be enough, boys.” She winked at Falcon.

Falcon gave Sarah a nervous smile. Man, she looked so hot, he thought. Her red hair glistened in the moonlight, as if each particle were made of rubies. “You look nice.” Falcon said, then regretted how awkward it sounded.

Brayden snickered then said, “Yeah Sarah, I tried to talk Falcon here in to wearing his baseball uniform, but he refused.” He put his arm around Annie and gave her a wink.

Sarah cut her eyes at Annie, then Brayden.

“Oh whatever,” Annie said. “We all know you have the hots for one another. Just get it over with.”

Falcon and Sarah exchanged skittish smiles, then Falcon reached out his hand. “Come on, let’s go explore the house.” Sarah flipped her hair over her shoulder and grabbed his hand. Falcon walked her down the cracked cobblestone walkway and up the porch to the cockeyed screen door. Annie and Brayden followed.

Falcon turned his phone light on, then opened the front door. His light reflected off a dangling chandelier, hanging almost head level. Directly in front of them were red, carpeted stairs with white railings. Strewn across the floor were broken pieces of furniture, mortar from the ceiling, and numerous beer cans.  In the back of the room, a dark hallway drew their attention.

“What do you think is back there?” Sarah asked.

“The morgue,” Brayden said stepping through. “Come on, or you just gonna sit there and stare at it all night?”

The four teens eased through the doorway, letting the screen door bang behind them. They skipped to the hallway, as if dodging landmines, trying not to trip on all the debris scattered across the floor. With all the lights on their phones shining, the group followed Brayden down the long hallway, then half way down, turned left.

Their lights gleamed back at them, reflecting off a rusted chrome table, littered with grass, dirt, empty cigarette packs, and other pieces of trash that had deteriorated into unrecognizable black smut. A tube from the embalming station dangled over the side.

“Come on, Annie. Climb up there and lay down.” Brayden raised his eyebrows and winked.

“That is so disgusting.” Sarah coughed and placed a hand over her mouth.

Annie slapped Brayden. “So romantic.”

A deep humming noise, hollow and echoing, buzzed from the back of the mortuary.

“What was that?” Falcon asked.

Brayden motioned with his head. “Sounded like it came from the cold chambers.”

“Cold chambers? What’s that?” Annie tilted her head.

‘The place where they would store the bodies.” Falcon said and followed Brayden to the back of the room.

The cold chambers sat along the wall in rows of threes. The doors were open, and the table on the one at the bottom left was rolled halfway out.

The humming noise came again.

“Where is that coming from?” Sarah stepped closer.

Falcon shined his light on the cold chambers. “Sounds like its coming from one of those.”

The sound flowed again, this time softer.

Brayden eased forward and knelt by the cold chamber; the one with the table rolled out. He held his hand over the opening, palm facing forward. “I feel a breeze.”

Falcon knelt beside him, and crawling halfway into the chamber, shined his light into the back. “You guys aren’t going to believe this.”

Sarah placed a hand on Falcon’s leg. “What?’

“There’s an opening back here. Like a tunnel or something.” Falcon crawled further in. A trash bag had been duct taped over an opening and it crackled as a breeze waved it. He pushed the bag aside with the back of his hand and shinned his light through the opening. “Oh yeah. It’s a tunnel.”

“Sweet,” Brayden said. “Let’s see where it leads.”

“Um, no!” Annie grabbed Brayden’s jeans by the waist and tried to pull back.

Sarah cracked open the bottle of vodka and took a swig. “Come on, Annie. Don’t be such a girl.”

Annie snatched the bottle from Sarah and took a hit. “Fine.”

“Hey give me some.” Brayden tried to grab the bottle.

Annie pushed his forehead. Brayden chuckled, took the bottle, and drank.

“Hey assholes, y’all coming?” Falcon’s voiced flowed from the tunnel. He had already entered.

The three teens giggled, then entered the tunnel also.

The tunnel sloped in a slight decline, and there was dirt on all sides, top, and bottom. They could still feel the cool breeze coming from ahead of them. The air smelled musty, like an old library. Falcon fought his way through spiderwebs and other retreating insects.

“Hey Annie, let’s hope they ain’t got no rats down here,” Brayden joked.

“Ew, shut up.” Annie slapped his butt.

“Hey! Stairs!” Falcon yelled from the front of the line. Before him, the tunnel widened to a winding metal staircase. The teens scurried down the steps, and when all their feet touched the floor, they stood, mouths agape at their surroundings.

“What is it?” Sarah turned in circles, shining her light, then snatched the bottle from Annie.

“Stain glass window. Pews. Looks like a church,” Falcon said.

“Buried under ground?” Annie asked.

Falcon shrugged, still glancing around.

“Holy shit! Look at that!” Brayden pointed his light straight ahead.

The teens stood at the back of the sanctuary. The middle aisle led to where the pulpit should be, except there wasn’t a pulpit. What looked to be an old pine box rested in the middle of the stage, having been covered with stacks of old Bibles and religious relics. Only the corners of the pine box remained visible. Bibles and relics had even been piled on the floor around it and up the sides.

Falcons started down the aisle. “That’s odd. Like really odd.” He craned his neck around and glance at his friends, then smile. “Let’s check it out!”

Brayden raised his eyebrows and followed.

Annie protested, but went along. “Look, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason why that box is covered with Bibles and stuff. We should leave it alone.

Falcon arrived first and blew the dust off some of the Bibles. “What do you think’s in the box?”

Brayden lifted his shoulders, then he and Falcon exchanged mischievous glances. “Let’s find out.” The boys began to push and fling the Bibles and relics onto the floor, making loud thuds and clanging sounds.

Sarah drank some vodka, not at all interested in this little adventure anymore. Annie bit her nails and fidgeted with her hair.

The top of the pine box had torn out pages from the Bibles glued to it.

“You think it’s a coffin?” Brayden asked, running his hands along the pages.

Falcon nodded. “Sure looks like it.” He studied the relics on the floor, then grabbed one. It was an old iron cross, with the end fashioned in a point. Falcon jabbed the point between the lid and the box and pried. He went along the entire left side, popping all the nails loose. He threw the relic to the ground, then called to the girls. “Hey ladies, time for the big reveal.”

Brayden rubbed his hands together, giddy as a school girl. Sarah huffed, drank some more vodka, then shuffled over rolling her eyes. Annie tip toed, her palms sweating.

“Guys, like I said, that thing was buried for a reason. I don’t think opening it…is a good idea.” Annie bit her lip.

Brayden rubbed her back. “Oh come on. Are you serious? It’s probably just an old decaying corpse.”

“Yeah and besides, we’ve found something here no one else has. Who knows? Maybe this discovery will make this place poppin’ again.” Falcon grasped the lid with both hands and lifted it opened. The old wood groaned in protest.

Brayden shined his light into the coffin, and his mouth fell open. Annie clamped a hand over her mouth with a gasp. Sarah dropped the vodka bottle, and Falcon furrowed his brow. Lying in the coffin was a body no more than five feet long. It was wrapped in faded cloth. Written on the cloth were more religious symbols and phrases in Latin. White hair snaked out from the corpse’s head, and a small opening was cut over the mouth. In the opening was a rolled-up piece of paper.

Falcon went to pull the piece of paper out its mouth but was stopped by Annie’s hand clamping around his wrist. “No. Absolutely not,” she grimaced. “This isn’t right. This doesn’t feel right. We need to go.”

Falcon jerked his arm away, and dismissing her, and retrieved the paper. He unrolled it.

“Well?” Brayden asked.

Falcon handed him the page. “More Latin.”

Brayden tossed the paper on the body. “Too bad none of us can read it.” A movement caught Brayden’s attention. He saw it out the corner of his eye. He stared down at the corpse. “Hey did y’all see that!”

Falcon waved a hand at Brayden. “Stop messing around. I’m gonna shut the lid.”

“Thank God,” Annie mumbled, rubbing her arms with her hands. “Feels like it’s gotten colder since we’ve been here.”

“No, I’m serious – look at her mouth!” Brayden pointed.

The group leaned in to get a better look. The cloth around the corpse’s mouth moved in and out, as if it were breathing. They all saw it.

“That’s it I’m done.” Annie pushed away from the coffin and sprinted down the aisle toward the stairs. The other three turned their attention away from the coffin and watched Annie in disbelief.

Sarah was the first to look back at the coffin. When she did, she screamed. The corpse sat up, and the breathing became more visible, as the cloth around its lungs expanded and relaxed. In reactionary manner Brayden, who always carried a folding knife with a four-inch blade, whipped it out and started stabbing the corpse in the chest. He than stabbed it in the stomach, tearing away the old cloth. A translucent liquid poured out, followed by a flurry of baby eels.

“Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod!” Brayden dropped the knife and leaped back.

Falcon slammed the lid and dashed towards the stairs. Sarah had already joined Annie once the corpse sat up. The four teens scurried up the stairs, crawled through the tunnel and out the cold chambers. They ran back down the hall, then paused at the front door. A shadow moved passed the window, and faint moaning sound came from the porch.

“Is there another way out?” Sarah asked between breaths.

“The back.” Brayden turned toward the hall and sprinted, the others right behind him.

The teens arrived at the back door, which was a faded and chipping white. Brayden turned the brass deadbolt and opened the door. Concrete steps led down to a cobblestone walkway. The walkway led to the abandoned cemetery. Through the clearing they could see a tall hill. The full moon hung over it, illuminating the top. They watched as shadows loomed. Something approached from the back side of the hill. As the things moved closer, the shadows took form. They looked human.

A few seconds passed, then, attached to the end of the shadow, a mass of human figures appeared. They walked with contorted and jerky gestures. Some tripped over each other and rolled down the hill. Then the teens heard the moaning sounds.

Brayden slammed the door and locked it back. “Guys we are seriously…”

“The truck,” Falcon interrupted. “It’s are only chance. We can make it if we go now.”

The others nodded, and they took off down the hallway. Falcon was the first down the hall. He went to pass by the mortuary room but jolted to a stop. The others bumped into his back.

“What the hell? Why’d you stop!” Sarah shrieked.

Annie shined her light ahead, then let out an ear-piercing shrill.

The corpse from the coffin stood in the middle of the hallway. The grave cloths hung off her in shreds. Her skin was as pale as the moonlight. Symbols were cared into her body; not the religious symbols that once decorated her coffin, but different ones. Evil, dark looking ones. Eels still pumped forth from her stomach, falling to the ground with sloshing and splattering sounds. Her white hair seemed to glow, and her eyes looked like dark red marbles sitting in her head. She opened her mouth and her tongue flopped out, falling all the way to the floor with the eels. It stayed attached to her mouth, and the end dance and curled on the floor. Yellow eyes formed in the tip of her tongue, as did a slit. The slit opened, and the bottom of her tongue unhinged like a snake, revealing fangs.

Annie turned to run away. The tongue wrapped around her ankle, tripping her to the ground. The eels were on Annie before her face thudded against the floor. In a matter of seconds, they had eaten her skin off.

Brayden went to grab the tongue. When he got close, it struck him on the hand. Brayden felt a warm liquid pump from the fangs into his hand. The liquid filled his entire body within moments, and a burning sensation hit him all over. He looked at his arms, and his pores leaked a red and purple liquid. Brayden fell to the ground in pain, where he sweated his insides out his pores till he died.

Sarah and Falcon couldn’t move. Fear deadened their limbs. They gawked as the tongue grew in length and thickness. The tongue sat up, staring at them with its yellow eyes and flickering tongue. It struck Sarah first, right in the mid-section. She screamed and grabbed for Falcon. Falcon tried to hold on, but the snake proved too powerful. He watched with tear-soaked eyes and a pounding heart as the tongue-snake swallowed Sarah. Even when she was in its belly, he could still hear her screams.

Falcon backed away and stepped into the mortuary. The tongue shrank and rolled back into the lady’s mouth. She matched Falcon’s steps, going with him into the mortuary. A clattering sound rang out as Falcon backed into the embalming table. The lady’s hands extended with a slow, smooth movement towards Falcons’ neck.

Falcon stared deep into her dark red eyes. His head spun, and he became disoriented. He fell back and laid on the table. The last thing Falcon saw before he died was the embalming needle moving up his nose.

The lady didn’t bother to dispose of the bodies. She even left Falcon lying on the embalming table. She shuffled out the room, then went down the hall toward the front of the house. She walked around the staircase and into the sitting room. She sat down in her rocker and rocked, reminiscing about her days at Shadowend, when the home was in its prime.

Bargain Basement – Aiden Leingod

Jacob could not shake the feeling he was being watched.

Although he did not consider himself to be the paranoid type, what disturbed him most was the pristine condition of the extravagantly decorated apartment. ‘There’s no way I can afford this’, Jacob thought, as he perused the lavish living room and attempted to guess from what exotic locale each eccentric furnishing originated. Despite stubborn doubt gnawing its way through the neglected part of his conscience that dealt solely in dwindling finances and longstanding debts, he had little choice but to believe the scrap of torn newspaper he’d found fluttering on the cracked marbled pavement among scattered piles of fallen and withered golden leaves in the gentle autumn breeze just hours earlier. The ink-printed black-and-white advert was humble and brief, but clear and straight to the point. Apartments were for rent at affordable prices, and if you wanted one, drop in for a friendly chat. And, what’s more, the address was located only a short stroll around the corner from the cramped, one-bedroom flat which he currently occupied. Fortuitous, especially considering that his at-present living arrangements were best described as Olympic-level sofa surfing.

Apart from the garishly over-designed Italian sports car in the gravelled driveway, there were no immediate clues that the person who owned the property in question wanted for anything, even tenants. Jacob steadily ascended the glorified, washed-out grey staircase towards the front door – a monolithic slab of cold steel covered convincingly by simple black wood-grain and a tarnished brass handle – but before he could reach the lofty concrete peak, a middle-aged man clad in an unassuming black suit, tie and shoes stepped out of the stale air and cool darkness into the dying amber light of the eve and lingering odour of fresh rain. The pitiful state of the interior – much like the faux cream leather crassly adorning the seats of the Italian sports car – caught Jacob more by surprise than the sudden appearance of the supposed property owner.

“Apologies, sir. I did not realise you were there,” said the man. His tone was low and quiet, yet soft enunciation unmistakable. Jacob took a keen step backwards and to the side as the man gestured with an open hand down the sodden stairs to the equally rain-slicked pavement below.

“Unfortunately, the only apartment we have for rent at the moment is in the basement. As you no doubt witnessed, the ground – and additional four floors, no less – are in desperate need of renovation,” the man said, as he and Jacob slowly descended to street level.

“If you would please follow me, sir.” The man turned his back to Jacob and descended yet another flight of stairs towards an ominous white door with a gleaming handle. Jacob swore he could see his own reflection distorted in the polished metal from the top of the stairs, like the way in which people claim that they can see their house from an elevated position. After a few moments of hesitance, Jacob did indeed follow, drawing a cigarette from the half-empty packet in his loose trouser pocket. As he tentatively ignited his plastic lighter, the man spun his whole body around in an impressive imitation of how an extremely observant owl might rotate its head.

“I’m afraid there is no smoking allowed in this building, sir. You may remain outside if you wish”, the man said, his tone now firm, delivery still monotone. Jacob paused for a moment, and then reluctantly returned both cigarette and packet to their worn fabric prison. The man, satisfied with Jacob’s timely accommodation, turned back to the sunken doorway. He carefully turned the handle, and opened the door to reveal a hallway ornate as if pure snow melted by shafts of incandescent sunlight.

“Please. Do come in,” the man said, gesturing again an invitation to Jacob with an open hand. Once more, Jacob followed.

“I’m an…estate agent of sorts. My clients see the infinite potential in this remarkable building. You may think of them as ‘Angel Investors’, but not quite. They’re not really interested in money,” the man said, as he beckoned for Jacob to follow him down the hall, through a doorway into the living room.

“And the catch?” Jacob asked cautiously, his voice echoing as he followed.

“There is no catch. That’s the point. We just want to cater to those in need. And since you came here, you’re quite obviously in need,” the man said, unmoved by Jacob’s brazen scepticism.

“So, what happened to the previous tenants?” Jacob asked, caution undeterred.

“The young gentleman moved on. If memory serves, he relocated down south to a new posting. An amicable agreement,” the man replied without pause. Jacob seemed perturbed at the concise answer he was given but never asked for.

“We’re offering you a fixed-term contract for one year. If you do decide to leave us, all we keep is your initial deposit of ten thousand,” the man stated, apparently disregarding Jacob’s previous questions. The estate agent’s cell phone suddenly rang. His ringtone was jaunty and whimsical – juxtaposed with the man himself.

“Please excuse me, sir. I must take this call – one of my clients. You understand,” the man said. Jacob nodded slightly – a token gesture inefficient at hiding his impatience. As soon as the man left the living room, Jacob collapsed on something resembling a sofa, though it was far too comfy. Now Jacob was absolutely convinced that this was literally too good to be true and that he’d simply become the subject of some sort of hidden camera show, himself just another unsuspecting – and humiliated – member of the public. It didn’t help matters that a particularly ruthless private landlord had been the reason that he’d unwillingly taken up sofa surfing in the first place.

“Detached facade. Excellent transport links. Scenic views. Potential holiday home. Room for improvement. One might say even drastically so. And value for money,” the man said, in a hushed tone, as Jacob listened in. A barely audible guttural tone could be heard on the other end of the line. The man remained silent, only nodding his head intermittently.

“Yes, sir. Of course. I understand,” the man said. He put his cell phone back into the pocket of his black chinos and returned to the living room, where Jacob had sunk further into the sofa to mask his spying.

“Is something the matter, sir?” the estate agent said.

Jacob shook his head and extracted himself from the leather abyss. The man produced a folded piece of paper from his breast pocket and held it up to the last embers of light piercing through the large window. Unfurled, the piece of paper was revealed to be the contract which the man had spoke of. Jacob stood up and squinted – the font looked like it had been ripped off from the medieval times, perhaps even earlier.

“Oh. You’ll be needing this. How forgetful of me. I do apologise, sir, The man said, producing a black fountain pen from his other breast pocket. Jacob snatched the fountain pen from the man and chewed restlessly on the top. He could take out another payday loan, and there were certainly no shortage of lenders, legal or not. They’d never be able to find him here at his new abode, not if he enacted the usual con of supplying the address of the poor frenemy he was presently intruding upon. Before he could finish the thought, ‘apartments do cost an arm and a leg in this city’, he’d signed right on the dotted line. The man grinned in an expression that was at once uncharacteristic and disturbing, leaving Jacob with the keys and a promise that he would, ‘return in one year’s time to check on your progress, as we agreed’.

Over the twelve months that followed, Jacob moved in and achieved a level of success unprecedented in the thirty-plus annals of his largely uneventful, inconsequential existence. First he found that traffic lights always turned green just as he crossed the street, then a whirlwind romance with a supermodel, and finally, riches that once seemed impossibly out of reach, thanks in part to all the scams he’d successfully pulled off and the ten thousand that the man nor his clients had bothered to collect. In truth, Jacob found the timing of everything to be a bit too convenient. And to be blunt, he was more paranoid then ever. Critical mass was not far away.

An urgent knock at the door jolted Jacob from an impromptu afternoon nap, and consequently, a reoccurring nightmare in which he felt as if he was falling for eternity. All he wanted was to be alone; he could do without distractions, even it did so happen to be good news. Jacob arose wearily from one of the grossly oversized designer leather seating apparatuses he’d snapped up at outrageous prices throughout the year. Since his brief supermodel fling had imploded, he’d revived the art of sleeping on sofas, but at least this time he could call them his own. Until the ensuing court case, that is. He staggered towards the door, still half-asleep, and opened the door, if only to cease the knocking that resounded off the pounding headache of his hangover.

Who – or what – Jacob saw utterly terrified and amazed him in equal measure to the point that he no longer comprehended the emotions. He rubbed his eyes in a comical fashion to reassure himself that he was still in the land of the living, though there was nothing remotely laughable about the situation itself.

“Remember me, Jacob?”

“Bryan?” Jacob said, his breathing shallow. It was only then that he realised it was one year to the day he’d signed the contract. That day also happened to be the anniversary of the demise of the literal ghost from the past that floated in the air before him. A demise he had inadvertently engineered.

“And you. Who are you, anyway?!” Jacob sneered, turning his attention towards the man, his true identity still unknown, yet dressed in the same black attire.

“It is said that criminals always return to the scene of the crime,” the man said, endangering nothing except Jacob’s state of mind.

“You left me for dead, Jacob! We were going to take on the world together! It doesn’t matter that all of our efforts, the money, went up in smoke – there’s always another con to be had – but I wasn’t supposed to!” Bryan interrupted at the top of his transparent lungs. Jacob swiftly backed away and haphazardly reached for a block of knives on the kitchen counter. He drew a large steak knife constructed from fine stainless steel and shakily held the blade at arm’s length, daring the apparition to approach – or die again trying.

“You’re going to stab a corporeal being and his bodyguard? I knew you were stupid, but come on…”, Bryan said, slowly walking on thin air towards Jacob with his arms outstretched. Jacob’s headache suddenly intensified. He dropped the knife – which stuck into the elaborate vinyl floor with an awkward twang – and sharply pulled both his hands to his forehead. He blindly stumbled backwards and skirted along the counter, bringing several expensive pieces of kitchen equipment and utensils crashing to the ground before falling down himself.

“Aw, had too much to drink? You always were a lightweight. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure to do enough drinking for the both of us,” Bryan remarked, an edge of malice apparent in his disembodied voice. Jacob’s headache continued to expand, like the guilt he’d foolishly attempted to keep buried all these years, until the sheer tension felt like his cranium was about to collapse.

“I forgive you, brother,” Bryan whispered as he embraced Jacob. A flash of light engulfed the kitchen, and bounced off the many reflective surfaces, inappropriately mimicking a mobile disco. A brief silence followed. Jacob huffed to his feet and dusted himself off.

“My ears are burning. So is the rest of me, come to think of it,” Bryan said, his voice emanating from Jacob’s body.

“That will pass in time, sir. Growing pains,” the man gestured with an open hand.

“Do you always do that?” Bryan said, annoyed.

“Apologies, sir. I will leave you to re-acclimatise to your surroundings, and return in one year’s time to check on your progress, as we agreed,” the man said, spinning impressively once again, and disappearing down the hallway, before the front door opened and closed with muffled thuds, as if someone had just been thwacked over the head with a heavy, blunt object.

“I should bloody think so too – it’s about time,” Bryan muttered under his breath. Bryan sighed and patted himself down. He drew a cigarette from the half-empty packet in his loose trouser pocket and lit it using one of several matches scattered on the floor, displaced from an intricately carved wooden box in the carnage moments ago.

“Filthy habit,” he remarked. Circles of smoke lingered even after he stubbed his cigarette out on the counter after one long drag. Bryan made his way to the front door, and whilst checking the lock was locked and the latch was latched, found a envelope as white as the other side of the door. It was from the payday loan company. They’d found out where Jacob lived and were sending their best debt collectors round in the morning to collect, by any means possible.

“For the love of God, Jacob!”

Always read the small print.

The Shadow Cast by the World – David Court

I consider myself a patient and tolerant person, but do you know what I really hate about the homeless? The fact that they’re always feeling so bloody sorry for themselves – and that the very last person they’ll blame for the position they’re in is themselves. You want to hear some of them – they’ll blame their ex-wives, the police, cosmic-bastardrays, absolutely anything – all conveniently forgetting the fact that they’re more than likely an alcoholic with a lengthy police record, a medium sized gambling problem and a short temper.

I speak with some authority on this matter because I’m one of them and have been for the past two years. Although I don’t blame society, fluoride in the water or even Tory Britain – I’m solely responsible for my own fate and I’d be an idiot to argue otherwise, although truth be told I’m an idiot anyway. I’ve got what they call an addictive personality (“Aye, addicted to being a scumbag” my gargoyle of an ex-wife would bleat) which is where all my problems stem from. I can’t turn down a drink or a bet when there’s still money in my pocket, or there are people around to borrow money from – and over time those people dwindle in number because you’re simply not somebody they like – or trust enough – to hang around with any more. And then your life crumbles like parchment – You lose your job, then your car, friends and wife. And finally hope.

I said I didn’t blame anybody else, but I never said I wasn’t allowed to feel sorry for myself. I’ve got so little left, you can at least afford me that dubious luxury. Soon I won’t even have that left.

It was the early hours of yesterday morning that I found myself staggering drunkenly out of A&E, having been hurriedly patched up once again. A throbbing from my bandaged temple reminded me that some scumbag had knocked me to the ground for the handful of winnings I’d just collected from the bookies, taking the very last thing I owned in the world other than the clothes I was wearing. Some kind-hearted Samaritan had scooped me up from the gutter and dumped outside the hospital, and here I was, several hours later, clumsily wobbling down the street high on a heady cocktail of exhaustion, cheap booze and possible concussion.

I needed somewhere to collapse and even in my confused state knew that in these dawn hours all the usual haunts would be occupied. I staggered down random alleyways and paths, my course dictated by seemingly nothing other than whichever direction I drunkenly slumped towards with every crossroads or junction. And by chance and the magical powers of my beer compass, I found myself leaning against the wall of a long abandoned factory.

A rusted sign bearing a 20 year old telephone area code warned me of the security firm guarding the premises, so naturally I ignored it. A convenient gap in the rusted metal railings allowed me access to the premises and it took only minor effort to prise loose a length of warped and damp plywood allowing me into one of the buildings. With only the merest hint of the rising sun shining through my makeshift entrance, I staggered towards a far darkened corner and with my last vestige of conscious effort hoped that fate would be on my side to protect me from injury – and I pitched myself forwards.

My last thought then was one of relief. My fall was met by the corner of the room and as I slid slowly down it towards the floor, consciousness faded.

I recall stirring at certain intervals, conscious of the concrete floor on my cheek, the sound of my laboured breathing and the scent of decay and rust in the air. And another sound – unusual but not enough to cause alarm to sufficiently rouse me from my semi-comatose state – the sound of rubber being strained, of something membranous – something animate – moving and fluid in the pitch darkness.

Progressively the fog in my head dissipated and I began to wake from my slumber. I had only vague recollections of staggering here, the briefest of remembrances about where I was and the happenings of the evening before. I slid upright, the concrete wall against my back for support. The room was in absolute and complete darkness – I could vaguely hear the sound of daily activity outside but not a dot of sunlight could be seen. I was pretty sure I hadn’t gone blind, so I’d been either moved in my sleep or even the plywood I’d removed to gain entrance must have been replaced.

Unsteadily, I stood up and listened carefully. The sound of birdsong outside and the distant sound of rush-hour traffic and – straining to concentrate – that anomalous sound again that I’d heard through my slumber. It sounded as though somebody was faintly rubbing their finger across the surface of a balloon – that and a barely audible sound of something bubbling.

I needed to find a way out of here. I turned to the wall and placed both my hands against it and began slowly walking towards my left – My fragmented memories vaguely recalled how I’d entered the room in the first place. Within moments I found my path blocked by something waist height – probably a workbench of some kind – I’d knocked something metallic from it which clattered noisily on the concrete floor. I gingerly placed my fingers on the benches edge and slowly followed it around until I was back at the wall. I continued with my delicately slow journey for a few minutes until I recoiled in surprise from the wall. What had been cold concrete had suddenly become crusted with something moist, something organic. I sniffed my fingertips – the scent was not unlike moss, but with a bitter coppery taint.

I steadied myself, cursing myself for being so skittish. This was an old damp and abandoned building – it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of reason that there would be mould or moss on the walls. I took a deep breath and replaced my hands on the wall and continued onwards. The walls were damp but not overly so, the surface feeling a little like peach fuzz beneath my fingertips. Even through my boots I could feel that the floor had adopted a similar texture – and then I found myself treading on something that popped noisily under my feet.

Something liquid sprayed out, and the air was filled with the hideous aroma of something bilious. I found myself gagging on the scent and I found myself retching and trying desperately to hold back vomit. My hands moved from the wall to clutch my stomach which was by now churning violently. The sensation passed after a few minutes and I frantically breathed in deep mouthfuls of air despite the nauseating fragrance still present.

Hands were on my shoulders and I found myself being dragged backwards, a grubby oily hood pushed over my head. I hadn’t even had time to acknowledge what was happening before my hands were tied behind my back and I was pushed to the floor. I kicked out a foot and connected with something that cried out in pain, and tried to shuffle backwards. Something heavy struck my face and I fell back, and then my legs were tied.

Barely able to struggle now, I found myself being dragged by my ankles across the room. Even though the pitch darkness my captor navigated with ease – I could feel myself moving past objects – my prone body clipping the odd thing briefly – and then the surface I was being dragged across changed from concrete to rough carpet and I was thrown against a wall.

I heard the sound of a heavy metal door closing, a light switch being flicked on – and then dull brown light permeated through my hood. At least I wasn’t blind, I remember thinking. The very tiniest of the most infinitely minuscule of small mercies, all things considered.

I sensed somebody approaching and the hood was unceremoniously ripped from my head. I blinked, my eyes unaccustomed to the light. A silhouette stood above me, details becoming clearer as the uncomfortably silent seconds passed. It was a tall and thin man, clad in a featureless navy blue boiler suit. His hair was short, white and neat, his face angled and gaunt, eyes hidden behind a blindfold which he slowly and carefully unwrapped from his head.

The blindfold now fully removed and carefully placed into a pocket, he crouched in front of me. His eyes were small, the pupils a piercing grey.

I craned my neck and looked beyond him at the room. We were in a long abandoned windowless office, bereft of any furnishings save a torn Playboy 1993 calendar (July, Brunette, Fake breasts) hanging from a cracked eggshellblue wall. The room had two solid doors, one of which led back into the room I’d just been unceremoniously dragged out of. Both doors looked relatively new in comparison to their surroundings.

I watched in silence as he got back to his feet and removed a large padlock from his pocket, walked over to the factory door and fastened it securely. He switched off the light in the room we were in and I heard him push on the door a few times to check the effectiveness of the padlock. A murmured sigh, and then the lights were switched back on.

I hate uncomfortable silences. I tend to have the habit of breaking them by blurting out the most inappropriate things, but this was an odd position to be in. What’s the acceptable etiquette for knowing what to say when one has been bound and dragged around a room? I could bear the silence no longer.

“Who the FUCK are you?” I screamed, struggling to free myself from my tight bonds.

“I’m the caretaker”, he replied in a dull monotone that betrayed not a speck of emotion, “and you’re a trespasser.”

“I’m sorry I broke in, but.. but I needed somewhere to sleep”, I muttered, “and I thought this place was abandoned. Call the police, if you have to, and I’ll get out of your hair. I was attacked last night and I wasn’t thinking straight.. I could -”

His hand leapt to my collar and in a single effortless move on the caretakers part I was hauled up and pushed against the wall. He quickly leaned in, his face next to mine, angry mouth flecked with spittle, a hateful expression on his face.

“Did you see them?’, he roared, “When you broke in.. DID YOU SEE THEM?

“I didn’t see anything – It was dark when I broke – when I came – in. I was pretty much dead to the world so I – anyway, did I see what?

The caretaker relaxed his grip and I slumped back against the wall. He turned his back to me, straightened himself, and stared at the padlocked door.

“Compared to us, they’re quite new here”, he said, his voice now perfectly calm, “but they thrive in the dark places. They grow there, but they’re quite quite vulnerable until – until they’re ready. If you even see them, they’ll die. They only continue to exist through our ignorance. They arrive here in the unseen places – the cracks between the worlds – and gain their sustenance by existing in the places that we do not know, the places where we do not look.”

“What are you talking about?”, I asked, now convinced that the caretaker was quite insane, “What are new here? What’s growing?”

“Given time, they emerge.”, he continued, apparently oblivious to the fact that I had even spoken. His expression was that of a man reciting well- rehearsed lines, his forehead furrowed in concentration. “They’re quite beautiful, it’s been written. And they will harvest us all – and Man will wish that he had paid closer attention to the world around him. To the wasted unseen places. And these beautiful specimens are so very nearly ready.”

There was silence for a few moments. He stood there, his back to me, and I sat there – confused and afraid. An uncomfortable silence again, but one which I felt I incapable of breaking. I simply didn’t know what to say. And then, at once, he was on me. A glimpse of a raised fist above me, and then darkness again. Unconsciousness and I seemed to have become quite familiar friends in the past few hours.

I awake, still in darkness. A cold unforgiving concrete floor beneath me, the familiar violent bilious scent filling my lungs. My hands and feet are now untied and my fingertips drag across something damp and warm. It feels like a sheet of thin rubber, the surface contoured with thin veins. I drop it, and then hear the sound. Shallow breathing from in front of me, and then behind. And to my left, and to my right. The sound of claws being scraped across metal workbenches.

And just before they are upon me, I think of the abandoned places in the world. The factories, the flats, the railway buildings, the basements and the sewers. The ignored places where man does not look.

The places where man will soon not dare look.

And finally…

And there you have it, the last Stitched Saturday post for a little while. But, as promised, we’ll be scouring through the best of the submissions we’ve received – no mean feat, as you can imagine – to compile them into The Best of Stitched Smile, a book containing the very best stories we’ve had. More news on this as we have it, but many thanks for all your writing efforts!

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