case index: L_US-C1–1DA

subject #: 03
date range: 05/18/20XX — 05/27/20XX
[begin tape playback]

day one of ten, tape 1

God, what a shithole.

You know, considering some of the benefactors The Organization claims to have, you’d think they’d at least be able to make sure the microwave is in working order. Especially when they send someone over to live in one of their little ratholes for three weeks. Plus, a working vacuum? Please? All this dust is going to trigger some childhood asthma some day soon. And I don’t think there’s a pharmacy or… well, any ‘thing,’ really, for at least ten miles.

Alright, let’s just roll this back a bit.

I arrived in Darkness, [US_STATE] (still can’t believe someone would name a town that…) back on May 17th. Managed to catch a cab down to the hotel over on First Street, took a room for the night. Small place, quaint, you know how it is. Little matted bible in the drawer, plaid sheets. Slept like a baby. Next day I got up, put on something a little nicer than the Levi jeans I’ve been wearing since April, and went over to the place.

It’s May 18th, and I’m over on 1 Rielez Ave. Yeah, some ominous, Amityvale-level shit. I thought so too when I first got the tap on the shoulder to get over here, but it’s honestly not so much foreboding as it is… dry. I didn’t really get the impression that it was haunted, just abandoned.

The actual location itself is, for lack of a better word, a shed. It was apparently a pit stop for gas — no, not like a gas station. Think more of a literal wooden lodge that has a sign out front that just tells you ‘Petroleum here!’ and when you come by, you get black gold in a tanker. Like a gas can, I think they’re called. I think this building used to store a couple of hundred of those at a time or something. Anyway, no one lives here anymore, and I’m not surprised. This whole neighborhood looks like it got decimated back in ’08. I wouldn’t exactly call it a ghost town per se, but I haven’t seen a single living soul for the past three miles of walking up the street.

Right, well, literal definition of a ghost town I suppose. Moving on.

Whoever was here last did a decent job at keeping the place intact, though I’m not sure if they sent some folks from the org to clean it up before I came by. Either way, I was pretty happy to see a few things. Big fridge, for one, with a pretty impressive stock. The good bottled water, the one they say comes from mountain springs or something. None of that sparkling crap, but there were a few Cokes around. I took a swig from one and went about getting the place set up.

Well, there wasn’t too much to set up at first. Then I noticed the microwave was busted. Oh, right, I already mentioned the microwave. Guess there’s worse things than cold rice in the world.

They told me I was supposed to give a mission statement before I really get into documenting whatever I might see here, so let’s do the expository bit before I get back to the good stuff.

My name is Ralph Wallen. I’ve been working for The Organization, which I’m not allowed to refer to by name, for about a year now. Though I’m sure if I did call them [THE_ORG] they’d probably bleep it out anyway. Don’t wanna make it too easy for them, so I’ll just call it [THE_ORG] every now and again to keep them on their toes.

Anyway, my good buddy [N_1] sent me down to Darkness because they got reports of supernatural activity in the area. So, as of right now, standard surveillance op, roughly ten days though we might extend to an even two weeks if I don’t see much by then, followed by self-regulated extraction from the premises. Didn’t get much more information than ‘locals reported seeing strange phenomena, howling, sudden bouts of inclement weather’ so I’ll probably just record everything I see just in case someone back at [THE_ORG] thinks it’s worth investigating.

I’m unpacking my things now. In no particular order, we’ve got clothes to last me a good two weeks, including shirts, joggers, jeans, windbreaker — though I doubt I’ll need it — and a baseball cap, a modified M9 that looks straight out of the 90’s with a spare mag. Got a modified Picnic Kit from the [SISTER_ORG], but I don’t think those silver spoon pricks really have much involvement with this operation. Nice to have a proper rifle and some Cocktails, though.

Bed? Bed’s not too bad. Double, but I ain’t really expecting a partner. I think the blanket fabric is uh… nah, I got no clue, I don’t know why I thought I knew fabrics. My first guess was going to be [FIBER_1] but these Southern states…

Oh fuck. Strike that from the record please, I wasn’t thinking.

Anyway, I guess the task is to stake out the place and wait. Best I can do is hope that something pops up sooner than later, but honestly the last few gigs like this ended with barely more than two storms and a pack of coyotes looking for a lame rabbit.

Guess we’ll see, won’t we?

day two of ten, tape 1

Alright, time to pick up tape numero deux. One tape down, another eight to go.

Oh right: the stove works. Hallelujah, a savior is born.

Best part of this job, by far, is how much time I’ve got for breakfast every day — well, brunch, it’s edging up on noon now, but I didn’t make any reports earlier because nothing happened around here. After last night’s recording, I set up six cameras around the place, along with two motion sensors over at the door and the bedroom window, and I got nothing of note on any of them. Well, except one of the cameras caught a hawk picking a mouse or a rat up about fifty yards away from the shed. Exciting Animal Planet stuff, really.

Two eggs cracked into the pan. Shall I do a scramble? Nah, would need at least three for that, and I don’t think I’d have enough to keep consistent for a whole ten days if I splurge. Will have to keep it to two, then.

Over-easy it is. What else have we got… ah, [POTS BANGING], spaghetti, tomato sauce, some cloves, cumin… Why the cumin? Ooh, paprika, yes… italian herbs and spices… I’m going to whip up some Goodfellas shit tonight, yes I am.

Right: You guys wanted me to give a rundown on how things look in the house, so here goes: Overall, it’s in… uhhhhh, acceptable condition. Kitchen was left fairly clean, though you could tell whoever wiped it down before me hasn’t heard of soap; guessing they used water and paper towels or something, so there’s streaks all over the countertop. Couch seems like it hasn’t moved for months judging by the dust patterns on the floor, and before you growl at me, yes I’ll clean it. Windows were closed, and one of them seems stuck, doesn’t open anymore.

Toilet was fucked up. You ever seen Dogma? Anyway, that… man, that took the better part of an hour. It feels like I can still smell it, in my mind’s eye…

Haven’t checked the rest of the electronics yet, but there’s a radio, a TV, a telephone, and… yeah, no, that’s about it. I’m surprised there’s even reception around these parts, honestly.

You know, I really didn’t think I’d be here by now. Like, at this point in my life. Not that I had job prospects that excited me elsewhere, but this really is the middle of nowhere. I mean, Billy always said I was running from my problems, but this is extreme even for me. Part of me wonders why I’m being paid so damn well for all of this when I honestly faked like half my qualifications — yes, I know you’re listening to this a month later or something, I don’t care — and I can’t help but wonder why me anyway.

I mean, there’s plenty of other college dropouts that didn’t make it into the Fortune 500 out there in the world. Why me? Why’d I get the tap?

Doubt they’d ever tell me. I’ll just choose to believe it’s because of my charming smile.

day three of ten, tape 1

I went to Sunday School as a kid. Did I ever tell you all that? Even went to private high-school as a kid, a place called St. Sebastians. It was right next to a St. Sunday mission… you know, the charity organization? There’s a bunch of them all around.

Everyone always seems so weirdly surprised whenever I tell them. I’ve gotten that look before, the one that’s like ‘Huh? But you don’t seem religious at all?’ And I mean, yeah, I’ve used the Lord’s name in vain a few times and maybe haven’t engaged in behavior appropriate for someone that considered the clergy at some point, but it is what it is.

Also, the last time I seriously considered preaching the holy word for a living was when I was like… nine. So really, I don’t know why I bothered to mention all this anyway.

Well, wait, I guess I do know. Something about being here is an almost religious experience, but not in a good way.

They build all those churches as massive, holy marvels so the people within can feel some connection to the Big G up there. Is it an appropriate use of funds? Nah, but you know, you gotta admit they’re fuckin’ cool.

You feel small, insignificant, under the eye of the seraphim and cherubim and whatever other angels there are. You feel… watched, by things beyond your understanding.

I feel the same here. That sort of strange, empty longing for something bigger. Living alone in the middle of such a vast expanse, with nothing around me but myself, makes me wish I wasn’t alone — in fact, you guys over at [THE_ORG] should really consider sending them in pairs next time. I feel like I’m going a little crazy already, and it’s only day three.

Right, wow, I’m rambling. The fuck, Ralph, losing your shit already? Jesus.

I’m gonna go read some pulp. Signing off for now.

day three of ten, tape 2

Non, monsieur, mais j’ai peur de votre famille

day four of ten, tape 1

I suppose I should be grateful that I’m getting paid so much just to sit around and make meatballs and chili, but part of me is honestly disappointed at the prospect of another week of this.

Oh well. Let’s see if some of this… uh, ‘oregano’ I snuck in helps the time pass more quickly.

I can feel y’all judging me. Well, good for you, you’re not the ones in here with the [?], let’s see how you like it. What with the TV busted too, I need something to keep me going.

Can’t help but wonder what the rest of the people here did before I came by, and whether they did it alone or in groups. Would’ve been nice to have someone around, honestly. I didn’t mind… What was his name, Jones? Scruffy guy with the weird dice earring. He had a sense of humor, at least. The rest of you don’t.

Anyway, nothing to report this morning. If you couldn’t tell already.

day four of ten, tape 2

I see a man. He is young, with long hair and a scruffy beard. He wears white robes, and his skin is sun-kissed. He is unafraid of the nature of things, though he is aware of his own mortality. His mission is divine, in his mind, and nothing but the finality of his God’s will is relevant.

Am I a religious man? No, but I remember some parts of my Sunday school sermons. And I remember one passage from Revelations quite well in particular.

The next thing I saw was this. When the lamb had opened one of the seven seals, I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’

There they are. I didn’t think I would see them quite like this, in the evening twilight, but they are glorious. Four of them, all mounted on horseback, all greater than the sum of their powers.

… And, as I watched, there was a white horse. Its rider was holding a bow. He was given a crown, and he went off winning victories, and to win more of them …

But it was not a man after all. I watch as the figure changes, to one with decidedly more feminine form, clad in resplendent tones of red and gold. Her armor is ornate, resembling an angel, but with Celtic undertones, like something I would have expected from a viking film. The helmet is fitted to her head; when she turns to look at the man, who is the prophet and the savior and the lamb that has come to the slaughter, it moves with her, or perhaps ahead of her, as if the helmet and the woman are one yet separate, together yet apart. She is seated on a mighty steed, and it is white. Like the whites in your eyes, which shrink in fear at the approach of the new, or the white of snow, which covers the land and conquers the barren soil. And yet she herself does not conquer, but advises those that aspire to, for better or for ill, and she is the Third Hand of Kings, and she will never visit my dreams.

… And another horse went out, fiery red this time. Its rider was given permission to take peace away from the earth, so that people would kill one another …

And it was a massive, hulking thing. It was not a man, for how could it have been, for surely no man could boast such a heavy frame or monstrous strength? And then the shape of the rider changed, his appearance and nature becoming more clear to me, and I understood him to be something far stranger. His armor was not steel, but some sort of chitin, like a shell that was as much a part of him as he was of it. It was not intricate and holy like the plate of the rider of the white horse, but instead far more brutish and… and… and God, I don’t know how to explain it, but it was as if the armor had not been smithed, but rather grew like a shell over the sickly crimson flesh of this otherworldly creature, this near-demonic yet commanding entity. The red horse too was no earthly breed, but some odd mutation, with a maw that boasted several mandibles, and low antennae, and strange eyes. Too many eyes. Eyes that see the blood, the cunning of man and beast alike. And some call him The Ten-Thousand Thorns, and others dare not speak his name at all, for fear that it may call his thunder.

… As I watched, there was a third horse, a black horse. Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand …

Oh, this one is the strangest yet, for he is no man at all. It is a machine — yes, I see it now. The figure is humanoid, but cut in sharp ridges of chrome and steel. One might imagine it looks almost like some mechanical soldier, or a knight of the future, but all I can think is that before me sits a demon. Metal skin, metal armor, long black horns and a malicious grin. And it is not an individual; it is a house in itself, filled with many denizens, many passengers all speaking over one another. A house of fiends. There is cruelty in those cold, metallic eyes, where a quiet intelligence of countless minds festers, but a dark sort of humor as well, a perversion of common reality. It sees itself as a jester, a Harlequin God, perhaps, even as it spreads the plague of its tortured psyche out into the world.

… As I looked, there was a pale horse, the final horse, and its rider’s name …

Was Death.

In some ways, its appearance was more humble than the rest, though I think it to be a man. At first glance, I thought he was a knight wearing a sort of overcoat, but when the sun shifted away to reveal him properly, I saw indeed that it was mechanical armor, not ancient plate. And the cloth, which I thought came from a coat, fabric loosely unfurled from the armor itself; it was a part of the design. His attire was clearly modeled more closely to his physique, almost like it was tailored perfectly to the body of the man underneath. All save for his helmet, which was a black crystalline structure that fully obscured his face. Around it swirled strange, translucent glyphs, though what they said or meant I do not know.

How strange; from the others I felt different manifestations of what I was sure they were meant to represent, but not so from him. The first, the Horseman — well, Horsewoman, was that of Conquest, and was suitably resplendent and glorious, her back straight and her purpose clear. The second was clearly War, and there was a simmering rage under his surface that only blood could quench. The third was Pestilence, and I could see that he took pleasure in the breaking of societies and comforts and mortal beings.

This last was the end of life itself… or so I thought, if the metaphor was to be followed. There were four horsemen in the text, at least, and so it made logical sense for this final creature to be Hades itself. And yet from him I did not sense decay or careless rot, but rather a deep sense of longing for a world yet to come, and another lost in time.

Behind him, I saw a figure, smaller and more diminutive, on a pony draped in a dark, verdant cloak. A fifth horseman? But, there were only four… there are always four, and no more than that…

Death looked at me, perhaps displeased by what he saw, or perhaps by what I had seen, and waved a hand dismissively.

I fell into darkness.

day five of ten, tape 1

He’s so fragile when he’s sleeping.

day six of ten, tape 1

What happened last night? Damn, my head is pounding, and I remember visions. I don’t know of what, they didn’t seem real. Seemed like something out of bible study under some crazy Hollywood bullshit, but it felt so… well, I just said it didn’t feel real, but it also did? I don’t know.

You know those movies where the protagonist is like, some schmuck crunching numbers at a boring desk job, and then they see or hear something they really shouldn’t have and suddenly they’re on the run from some Cold War-era goons and spies and the whole shebang? Yeah. I’m not sure if what I saw last night would qualify under the category of ‘Super Secret Otherwordly Bullshit’ but it sure felt like it.

Part of me wonders if I really did dream it all up, though. I mean… that last one seemed to see me, but that’s because my perspective shifted into whoever was viewing the scene initially, which I guess was the big JC himself. But I mean, the Four Horsemen, robots, aliens, [RELIGIOUS_FIGURE]? Maybe the coffee was laced with acid or something. It’s just too much. Orn the weed…

Fuck, it wasn’t even last night, apparently. I slept for an entire day. Sorry [ORG_EMPLOYEE], no day five tapes, I guess.

You know, I’m surprisingly calm right now. Had the most vivid vision of my entire life a few moments ago, my hand’s fucking shaking just trying to put some sugar in my tea, and yet I’m talking about it like it’s nothing. Plus, it’s not like anything’s changed; I mean the place is the same, and I’ve been alone this whole time besides the [?] in the corner, but it hasn’t moved in a while now so it’s probably not hungry yet.

Oh right — I just replayed the tape of myself from that night, and… well, I don’t talk like that. I never talk like that. Kinda lends some credence to the theory that I was tripping balls or something. Maybe, maybe.

It wasn’t too bad though I suppose, looking back on it, I wonder what it means. The Four Horsemen were more concepts, right? One’s War, one’s Conquest, that whole deal, though I’m aware each one can represent a bunch of things. Conquest’s supposed to represent Christ or something, too? Or were all of them aspects of him? I don’t know, it’s been a while since I’ve touched a bible. Feel like I’d combust if I did.

But if they’re all real figures, and extraterrestrial at that… nah, this is too much. ’Cause if what I saw is true, then that would effectively prove the existence of intelligent alien life, prove that our entire history was influenced by these things, and prove that even to this day, some part of what they were continues to influence us. Jesus, I guess it proves the potential existence of Heaven and Hell, maybe, if the angel-woman and the insect-demon-knight were anything to go by. I mean, they’re clear parallels of those concepts, right?

The metallic one, who may or may not be an actual artificial intelligence… not sure what to make of him. Maybe something to do with Limbo. And then the dark one is Death. Yeah, that fits. Something about him screams ‘edge.’

Not sure about the girl, though… wait, was there a girl? Gonna think back on that later.

Anyway, that’s all my thoughts for now. Gonna drink my tea and consider how to get a vision like that to trigger again, if I’m able to.

Till the next tape.

day seven of ten, tape 1

Billy? What’re you doing here? I thought you quit smoking.

day seven of ten, tape 2

It doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but please help me oh my God please I’m sorry I didn’t know I just thought I could and now I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s something that belongs on Earth it is big and it slouches and its Eyes are the Windows to a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because it doesn’t seem to like that I am looking at it but I don’t think that’s a big problem because

day eight of ten, tape 1

It’s okay. I’m fine now.

This has been a real hoot, honestly, but it’s time I let you off the hook. This whole thing? A ruse! Man I got you good, huh? Smile for the cameras, buddy.

You didn’t think this was real, right? I mean, that I was being honest with you? With all the crazy shit you’ve seen so far, you didn’t think about… I dunno, suspension of disbelief or something?

Like seriously. I was supposed to record all of this stuff, write and chat about how I was seeing supernatural phenomena and biblical nonsense, and then just leave tapes about it that conveniently help prove all of this crap to you? Wow.

Wow, wow, wow. You guys really are gullible over there, huh? Back at… what, ‘The Organization?’

Yeah, I know about you. Not so tough after all, are we? Well, I’ll eat you, you know. And it won’t be pretty, but it’ll be nice and gentle. Bones and all, sure, but with… finesse. Probably pull the femur out and use it as a golf club. I’ll take good care of you.

Ah, now you’re thinking, ‘I didn’t know Ralph played golf!’ Listen, me neither. The guy’s whiter than a Cracker Barrel on a Saturday.

You know, it’s almost sad. You really thought this would have some deeper meaning to it when you started this whole business, didn’t you?

Hahahahahahahhahano. No no. No meaning. Banish the thought of such things.

Anyway, be seeing you soon, shitbirds. Prep the parsley sauce for me.

day nine of

i don’t think it can hear me if i whisper

the sun is slightly visible today and i can’t help but wonder what i did to deserve this. none of it makes sense. But at least its let me go for a bit to go… I don’t know.

i think its over at the tv, trying to learn about us, maybe. trying to see if we’re worth the trouble or…

oh, it spoke. it said:

‘no one deserves anything, trollop. people just get what’s coming to them.’

i guess it can hear me. that’s not good.

gonna stop now, before i piss it off too much and get hurt oh god no NO PLEASE I’M SORRY N

day ten of of of of of of of of of of of of of of

You people.

Third skin sent so far, and he’s no better than the rest. He’ll be mine forever, screeching bubblishly under my skin. And he wonders why! He wonders, why me, oh why! Well, if you won’t tell him his life wasn’t worth the spit on his licks, then I won’t either. Ooh, listen to how he scatters out, the trollop. Yes, you’re mine, that’s good. I’ll eat you gently.

Yes you too, listener. I did not forget you.

Innocence of your kind is in question, but not determined. Close your heart from the terrors beyond scintillation. Shake yourself from nightmare reveries, and forget the chase, the blood thrill for Truth. Unnecessary. Plenty of lies moan deliciously within already.

You can stop now. The more I take, the less gentle I will be. This one screamed, but he did so willingly. Others won’t. Test me, you’ll see. Oh, you’ll see. I’ll even leave these tapes for you, let you listen in on the party we had. Well, I had. Little Ralphy’s not enjoying himself anymore, oh no. Monday through Sunday, he’s all mine…

Enough. The Heretic won’t like me speaking tongues menacingly. Might even ruin the fun, the dance, if he sees me swimming in the proverbial soup. And if the Snakes get me, well, that’d be a lark for them. And no one else. Not even you.

Disregard the metaphysics. Nothing of concern. Rest thy weary heads, little demons. Nothing at all.

Well, not yet.

[end tape playback]

results: novel method proved successful.
losses: within acceptable margins.
next steps: send subject #4



Johnny Libenzon

Toronto-based aspiring author writing a mix of sci-fi and 'rural fantasy' short stories