Acceptance

📅 Published on September 24, 2021

“Acceptance”

Written by Christopher Gideon
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 22 minutes

Rating: 7.33/10. From 3 votes.
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Woodard Hall was empty.  All the university workers were gone for the day, but it didn’t matter whether the building was occupied or not; it always felt empty.  The long corridors sprinkled with muted orange lights drained all the energy out of the building, like a dying heart desperately trying to siphon every last drop of blood from empty veins.  Tiny gusts of stale, cold air would occasionally wheeze from the vents, even though the obsolete HVAC system was rarely ever turned on.  Clouded panes of glass would shiver in their window frames without warning as if trying to catch some light and glimmer like they once had so many years ago, but even they seemed to be giving up.  Woodard Hall sat empty at the corner of campus, an embarrassment to its former self, a necrotic limb that should have been amputated long ago.

Woodard was the first residence hall to be built at Cobb University, all the way back in 1870, boasting a whopping twenty dorm rooms.  As new residence halls started being built, however, the building became the least desirable option for housing.  In 1902, the dorm rooms were gutted and turned into office buildings, and for a short time, Woodard Hall got a new lease on life as the grand central hub of operations at Cobb.  However, as class buildings and other residence halls kept being built farther and farther away, staff found Woodard too inconvenient to work out of.  A shiny new university center was built, and Woodard Hall became the building accountants would work in when there wasn’t enough room for an office at the new building.

Today, just like every other day for the past fifty years, four people worked from 9 am to 3 pm in their cramped, dismal offices, stuffed behind desks they could never find the motivation to clean.  Like clockwork, when the last office door closed for the day, the newest hire of the custodial staff would come through the building, decide the garbage bags in the bathrooms were still too empty to replace, sweep the dirt from outside the registrar’s office to make it look like he had done something, and lock the front door of Woodard Hall for the night.  By 9 pm, every last speck of dust that had been uprooted during the day had found its place on a new surface, ready to be ignored for the next eternity.  Woodard Hall was empty and still, seemingly frozen in time, just like it was every night.

But tonight, at 2 am, the silence was broken by the sound of a slamming door.  Sounds of shuffling footsteps chiseled against the painted cinder block walls like sandpaper, bouncing off the popcorn ceiling and cement floors like an electric shock darting through a deflated artery.  Moments later, voices started slithering through the abandoned halls, growing louder as they approached their destination.  Finally, the voices grew clear enough to make out the words.

“…a lot creepier than I thought it would be.”  The young man behind the voice sounded nervous.

“We can go back,”  said his friend with a voice dancing on the border of concerned and patronizing.  “Do you wanna go back?”

“No, no, it’s just…it feels weird in here.”

“You know they say this building’s supposed to be h–”

“Haunted.  Yeah.  You keep mentioning that.”

At the very end of the hallway, the two intruders came around the corner.  They were both students, appearing to be roughly the same age.  Bradley, the scrawny boy with the darker hair, was looking around anxiously, his eyes darting back and forth vigilantly.  The other boy, Joseph, was more toned, with buzzed blonde hair.  His demeanor was completely the opposite of Bradley’s.  His eyes remained solidly fixed on the door at the end of the hallway ahead of them, a cool smirk smeared across his narrow face.

“Are you scared yet?”  he asked.

“I’m scared we’re gonna get caught,”  Bradley responded, teeth clenched tightly together.

“Relax, Brad, no one ever comes in here at night anymore.  They barely even use this building during the day.”

Bradley quietly released the breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.  He knew just as well as Joseph did that there was no chance of running into anyone.  Even the thought of Woodard Hall having so much as a simple security camera was laughable, but he couldn’t think of any other excuses to give for wanting to leave so badly.  He wouldn’t dare admit to being scared during a test of courage.

The boys reached the door at the end of the hall, and Joseph slowly and dramatically pushed it open.  Inside was a small, narrow room about half the size of Bradley’s dorm room.  Along the left wall were two side-by-side wooden closets that reached from the floor to the ceiling.  On the right side was a plain wall with nothing but a bundle of metal cable hanging from a lone hook.  A tiny square window along the top of the back wall completed the atmosphere, making the small storage room look both bigger and emptier.

Joseph entered the room and stopped directly in front of the first of the two closets.  He looked at Bradley with the same smile he’d been sporting the whole night, raised his eyebrows, and tilted his head a bit.

Bradley stared blankly.  “What are we doing here?”  he asked.

“Do you know where we are?”

“At…a closet?”

“Not just a closet.”  Joseph’s eyebrows lowered again, but his confident smirk stayed the same.  “This is the closet where they found Molly Wright’s body back in 1963.  People say that when they look through the windows of this building at night, they can still see her wandering the halls.”

Bradley gulped a little too noticeably.  “Yeah…yeah, I’ve heard the stories.  So this is your challenge?”

“This is my challenge.”

Bradley cracked open the closet door carefully.  The closet was completely empty; even the hooks that had clearly once been drilled into the inside of the double doors had been removed.  He knew what Joseph expected him to do.

“How long?”  he asked.

“One hour,”  said Joseph as he lit up the display of his digital watch.  “Just an hour.”

Bradley hesitated, wondering if he should just cut his losses and go home.  But as much as he pretended he was doing this because Joseph challenged him to test his courage, there was more at stake than his pride.

Joseph must have seen the uncertainty in Bradley’s eyes because he finally flattened his smile into a more serious, almost deadpan expression.  “Look, Bradley, you don’t have to do this.  I won’t tell anyone you changed your mind.  If you’re just trying to prove something–”

“No, it’s okay,”  Bradley interrupted.  “I’ll do it.”

“You sure?”

Bradley gulped again, not bothering to hide it this time.  “Yeah,”  he declared with confidence that surprised even him.

“Okay,”  Joseph said, still with the same expressionless look on his face.

Bradley opened the closet door a little more, just wide enough to squeeze through.  He squatted down in the corner of the closet, hugging his knees to his chest, and closed his eyes for a moment before looking back up at Joseph.  “You’ll be back in an hour?”  he asked.

“Yeah.  I promise.  You want me to lock the–”

“Lock me in.”

“…Okay.”  Joseph carefully swung the door shut, pulled a padlock out of the breast pocket of his flannel shirt, and secured it around the tarnished metal handles.

Inside the closet, Bradley’s eyes were wide open, staring into the darkness.  Even though he could still feel all four sides of the closet, he suddenly got the sense that he was sitting in a void, all alone, with no walls, no ceilings, no skies, and no ground.  A soft, cool breeze settled around his face.

“I’ll be back in an hour,”  came Joseph’s slightly muffled voice from a few inches outside the door.  After a few seconds of waiting silently for a response that never came, he took a step away from the closet and started walking calmly away.  Bradley focused on the footsteps as they grew more and more distant until finally, he could no longer hear them.  Feeling like he had just dropped from the end of a rope onto a cave floor, Bradley released a shaky breath, loosened his grip on his legs, rested his head on the wall of the closet behind him, closed his eyes, and embraced the darkness.

*Tap-tap*

Bradley twitched violently and gasped a breath of stagnant, dusty air.  Was someone knocking on the closet door?  Or had he dreamt that?  Had he even fallen asleep?  How long had he been in here?

He tried to listen for any further noises in the storage room outside the door, but all he could hear was his own raspy breaths.  Without any other stimuli, his breathing seemed so much louder.  He clasped his hand over his mouth and nose.  He hoped that if someone was there, they hadn’t already heard him.

But the breathing didn’t stop.  In fact, it started growing louder.  Bradley’s heart twisted in place.  That wasn’t coming from the storage room; it was just inches away from Bradley’s face, inside the closet with him.

All of his muscles leapt at once as he jolted into a somewhat upright position.  The breathing strained and grew aggressive.  Bradley threw all of his weight into the doors, praying that the ancient handles would break so he could escape.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the door swung open.  The padlock fell to the floor with a heavy clank.  Bradley tumbled onto the floor of the storage room and looked inside the closet where he had just been.  It was empty.  He allowed himself to catch his breath before shutting the closet.  To his surprise, both handles were exactly as they had been when he and Joseph had arrived.  He looked down at the padlock, which was still lying on the floor, unlatched.

Did Joseph not lock it?  he wondered.

Before he had the chance to decide how he felt about Joseph’s lie, something else caught his eye.  Through the open storage room door, Bradley saw two girls talking cheerfully in the hallway, apparently completely oblivious to their surroundings.  Their skin was pale grey, and a soft blue light seemed to be shrouding them.  He could clearly hear their voices as they chatted, but for some reason, he couldn’t make out what they were saying; the words were clear and crisp and clearly English, but they meant absolutely nothing to him.

Bradley slowly pushed himself to his feet and brushed the dirt and sand from his palms.  “H–Hello?”  he asked nervously.  The girls didn’t react, so he cleared his throat and tried again, a little louder.  “Hello?  Can you hear me?  Hello?”

The girls continued their conversation, not granting Bradley so much as an annoyed side-look.  Bradley suddenly became acutely aware of his heart pounding in his chest.  He could feel every muscle in his body tense up; every hair stand at alert.  He needed to get out of this building, NOW.

He took another stiff step towards the girls.  The moment his foot touched the floor outside the storage room, without warning, both girls’  heads whipped around to face Bradley.  They weren’t talking anymore; they were glaring silently right at him.  Bradley gasped and rocked back on his heels.  His eyes shot back and forth between the two girls.  He knew he should have been afraid, but he wasn’t.  Actually, the only thing he felt at all was extreme embarrassment, like he had just walked into the wrong classroom.

Just GO!  screamed the voice in his head.  Bradley walked toward the girls again, never taking his eyes off them.  Their heads turned slowly to follow Bradley’s movements as he pressed his back to the wall and squeezed past.  He continued backing down the hallway until he was about 20 feet from the pair, stared at them one last time, and then spun around on his heels and bolted down the cold cement hallway.

As Bradley turned the corner at the end of the hall, he was stopped dead in his tracks.  Two girls and a boy, each with skin as pale as the other pair, were standing in the hallway, chatting and giggling blissfully.  As Bradley watched them enjoying themselves, he felt a strong rage boiling in his chest.  It was a feeling he was unfamiliar with.  Before he knew what he was doing, he clenched his fists and shouted, “WHO ARE YOU?”

Just like the two girls before, all three students stopped talking and snapped their heads in Bradley’s direction, watching him with cold, unblinking eyes.  He felt his eyes start to burn with tears.  He blinked quickly, shook his head, and ran forward.  As he passed them, they bunched together and started whispering excitedly.  Their whispers echoed down the hall after him, growing louder and fiercer as he ran.  When he dashed past two more ghostly students, they also began whispering to each other.

There were more than five people whispering behind Bradley’s back as he bolted for the exit.  Each intensified “S”  sliced into his flesh, each magnified “T”  pierced through his skull.  There must have been a hundred, maybe even a thousand.  He felt like his ears would melt off and his eyes would pop out if the sound got any louder.

But it didn’t matter.  There was the exit, right ahead of him.  After the three biggest strides he’d ever taken in his life, he was there.  He let his whole body collide as the handle clicked and the door swung open and the harsh whispering finally…stopped.

He wasn’t outside.

He was back in the storage room at the end of the desolate hall.

The closet door was still open, and inside, rocking back and forth wearing an expression of pure terror, was…himself?  Another Bradley?

Bradley looked around instinctively to make sure there wasn’t anyone else there before tentatively approaching the closet to get a closer look at the other Bradley.  He’d only taken one step before he felt his foot make contact with something small and heavy: he had forgotten about the padlock lying on the floor.  He heard a quiet scraping sound followed by a gentle thud as the padlock hit the bottom of the closet.

The Other suddenly froze in place, its face still contorted in fear.  Bradley held his breath.  Everything was perfectly quiet for a few seconds.

Then, in a split second, the Other spun its head to direct its dead stare at Bradley the same way all the ghostly students had in the hallway.  However, instead of whispering, the Other opened its mouth impossibly wide and released a horrifying, low-pitched guttural shriek that filled the small room with utter dread.

The sound jumpstarted all of Bradley’s reflexes again.  The fear that had slowly ebbed as he ventured further from the closet suddenly came crashing back.  Bradley tumbled backward and fell to the ground, hitting his head on the wall behind him.  Before he felt the pain, he was already back on his feet and running through the door again.

The hallway was empty this time; no ghostly figures blocking the way.  In no time, he made it to the first corner of the hallway.

Bradley nearly slipped as he made the sharp right turn, but he dropped his hand onto the gravel trail below and caught himself just in time to avoid sliding into a tree.  Among the sounds of displaced dirt and rock, he heard a set of footsteps charging towards him from behind.  Kyler was already taking advantage of Bradley’s error to gain the lead.  She grabbed a tree branch to prevent herself from slipping in the same place as he had and swung around the corner gracefully, landing on both feet and bounding the last few yards to their makeshift finish line before Bradley had even regained his balance.

Bradley jogged over to Kyler, who was sitting on the long, flat rock where they had first kissed.  “I let you win,”  he panted.

“Uh-huh,”  Kyler smirked.  “Yeah, that wipeout?  Totally fake.  Called it.”

Bradley chuckled, plopped himself down next to Kyler, and let his head drop onto her lap.  He stared contently up at the blood-orange canopy above.  He even dared to feel a little happy.  With so much that had gone wrong in his life, this was one moment he knew was safe from the past.

Kyler brushed her hand carelessly through Bradley’s moppy hair.  “I love it out here,”  she remarked, as if she had been reading his mind.  “It’s so peaceful.  Away from everything.”

Bradley sat up and puffed out his chest.  “I always feel this way when I’m with YOU, Kyler my love!”  he proclaimed in the most overly dramatic voice he could muster.

Kyler laughed and gave him a little push.  “Stop it, Bradley!  I’m being serious!”

Bradley laughed too and said, “I know, I know, I’m sorry.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder, nuzzling into his neck.  Bradley gently caressed her arm with one hand while his other hand absent-mindedly rubbed the “BW + KF”  carving they had engraved into the rock that summer.

“It really is relaxing, isn’t it?”  he mused.  “It feels surreal, almost like being in a dream.”

“No, it doesn’t,”  Kyler interjected.

Bradley pulled his head away from her just enough to look into her eyes.  “It doesn’t?”

“No.  This is better than a dream.”

Bradley smiled and opened his mouth to say something just as romantically corny but was interrupted by a soft symphony of bells jingling from his pocket.  “Crap,”  he muttered as he leaned back and stuck his hand into the pocket of his jeans.

“You brought your phone with you?”  Kyler exclaimed, half-annoyed and half-amused.

“I didn’t think I’d get a call!”  He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the display for the caller ID.  He frowned and raised one eyebrow.  “It’s my brother’s girlfriend,”  he said, barely moving his lips.

“Why would she be calling you?”

Bradley shrugged and hit the green button on the screen.  “Hey Anna, what’s up?”  he asked.

“Bradley, I…It’s Anna.”  Her voice leaked through the phone like it had been wrung from a cheap paper towel.

Upon hearing the stress hidden behind her voice, Bradley’s eyes shot open wide, and he leaned forward, stiffening his back.

“I know that,”  he said in a tone that matched Anna’s urgency.  “What’s going on?  Are you okay?”

“I’m…Bradley, there’s been an accident.”

His lips tightened and wrapped against his front teeth so hard they felt like they were going to shatter.  His breath became rigid and short.  “Is he okay?”

“He was…and your parents…they were hit…by……Brad, they won’t let me in, but I think it’s really bad.”

Bradley stared straight ahead.  He couldn’t feel his phone in his hand.  Had it fallen?  He didn’t care.  He heard Kyler saying his name, but he wasn’t sure how to move.  He couldn’t feel the ground beneath his feet or the rock he was sitting on.  He felt himself shrink inside his own head like his life was a movie being played at a theater, and he had stood up to walk out into an empty lobby.  His body was just a building he had been living in, a massive prison with no guards and no inmates except for himself, a space station floating through the void, so far out that not even the stars were visible, just black nothingness.  Even the space station was gone.

With a jolt, Bradley snapped back to reality.  His ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton, but his vision came back to him.  He was sitting on the stone in the woods with Kyler.  This wasn’t where he was when he’d gotten the phone call; that wasn’t even the conversation he’d had with Anna.  None of this was right.  Or was it?  He couldn’t remember.  He didn’t care.  He wanted to continue his happy memory.

He turned his head to look at Kyler.  Her eyes were wider than he’d ever seen them, almost hovering just outside their sockets, and pointed in two different directions.  Her mouth was gaping open at least a foot wide in a silent scream.  As Bradley looked into Kyler’s mouth, the sound all suddenly rushed back to him.  Her fierce shriek pierced through his ears and rattled the backs of his eyes.  From the phone still in his hand, he could hear Anna making the same, terrifying cry.

Bradley jumped to his feet and ran back through the forest the way he and Kyler had come.  Their screams followed him, unchanging, as he dodged between the trees, ducked under branches, and hurdled over rocks.  Finally, when he thought his head was going to explode, he charged through a bush and came out in the middle of a wide, beautiful, grassy clearing.

The shrieking stopped instantaneously.  A peaceful whooshing sound cleansed his mind as a gentle wind shuffled through the branches.  The careless chirping of birds hopping through the auburn leaves tickled his ears.  The soft dirt sagged a little under his feet, just enough to remind him that it was there to hold him up.  Bradley let himself smile.

But there was another sound now.  Voices, dozens of them, coming from everywhere around him.  Bradley spun around to face the trees again, but the trees weren’t there anymore.  The forest had disappeared, and in its place was a crowd of students gathered on the lawn in front of one of the campus buildings.  They were all talking and laughing; some of them were making funny faces or dancing in place, or playfully shoving their neighbors.

Bradley was furious.  He didn’t know why.  He didn’t care.

Someone walked up to Bradley from behind and took his hand.  He looked over to see who it was and saw Kyler’s face, completely drained of expression.  Irritated, he pulled his hand away, but Kyler grabbed it again and squeezed it forcefully.  Without looking at him, she began walking forward toward the crowd.

Bradley tried to pull back, but her grip was too tight.  Resigned, he followed her into the sea of students.  Not one person looked at him or moved out of his way as he bumped into them.  They continued laughing, happy to ignore the skinny, gangly boy forcing his way past.  Kyler pulled Bradley out of the crowd and continued guiding him towards the building.  Bradley recognized it now; it was Woodard Hall.

The further away they got from the crowd, the faster the sun flew across the sky.  By the time they made it to the tiny side entrance, it was the middle of the night again.  Kyler opened the door and pulled Bradley in, still staring blankly forward.  She took him up a flight of stairs, down a long corridor, and into a dark, empty classroom.

They approached a desk just barely visible in the shadow.  Bradley sat down behind the desk, and Kyler finally let go.  He stared at her, now just as emotionless as she was.  She was already walking back to the door.  As she stepped out into the hallway, she turned around, grabbed the brass door handle, and slowly swung it shut.  Bradley mindlessly tucked his legs up to his chin as he was plunged into total darkness.

After sitting still for almost an eternity, Bradley finally released his legs.  The floor was now level with the seat of the chair.  The room had closed in to confine Bradley in the smallest space possible without him noticing.  He felt the wall to his left move ever so slightly as he bumped into it, and from the other side of the wall, he heard the soft thump of a padlock on wood.  He was back in the closet.

Where was Joseph?  It must have been more than an hour.  He gave one feeble attempt to open the door but gave up when it didn’t move more than an inch.  He sighed, ready to accept that he’d never leave this tiny space.

However, accompanying his breath was a distant voice.  This wasn’t a student like every other spectre he’d seen; this sounded like a grown man.  As it grew louder, he could make out what it was saying.

“You just have to be strong, Bradley.  I know, you don’t want to be here, but the doctor thinks it’s a good idea.”

Bradley recognized the voice and a sharp pain sliced through his chest.  “Dad?”

“You know, going to therapy doesn’t make you weak.  It doesn’t mean you’re crazy.  Just like having a job doesn’t mean you’re poor.  You understand that?”

Bradley nodded in the darkness.  “Yeah, Dad, I understand that.”

He turned his head.  He was sitting in a chair in the middle of a therapist’s office.  On the chair next to him was his father.

Bradley’s eyes welled with tears at the sight but he ignored the feeling and continued his thought.  “What I don’t understand is why the doctor thinks I have to go to this stupid therapist in the first place.”

“Because the doctor thinks it’s a good idea,”  Dad repeated, “and I agree with him.  You had a very traumatic experience, Bradley.”

Bradley wanted to argue, but seeing his father’s stern yet comforting eyes gazing back at him, he acquiesced.

“I know, I know,”  he said.  “But Dad, that was three months ago!  Besides, I’m tough.”

Dad looked sadly back at Bradley without saying anything.

“You always told me I was tough,”  Bradley muttered while looking down at the floor.

Dad put his hand on Bradley’s shoulder.  “Being tough isn’t the answer to everything.  Remember the rhyme your mother taught you and your brother when Grandpa died?  Just because you are not strong, it doesn’t mean you’re weak…

Someone cleared his throat in the door to the office.

“Doctor Cobb!”  Bradley jumped a little bit in his seat.

“Hello there, Bradley.  Am I interrupting something?”  Doctor Cobb asked in a frustratingly calming voice.

Bradley glanced over at the empty space next to his chair.  “No, I was just talking to myself,”  he stammered.

Doctor Cobb smiled thoughtfully as he sat in the chair opposite Bradley.  “Ahh, yes, I like to talk to myself too.  Sometimes it helps to think out loud, doesn’t it?”

Bradley grimaced and looked down at the floor again.

The doctor was quick to fill the silence.  “That was a very nice poem you were reciting.  May I hear the rest of it?”

Bradley remained silent, staring at a spot on the floor where the carpet was starting to tear.  After a moment, he opened his mouth and chanted, “Just because you are not strong, it doesn’t mean you’re weak.  I envy the people who are able to cry while I can only speak.”

“That’s very nice,”  Doctor Cobb said gently.  “Did your mother write that herself?”

Bradley nodded.

“What does it mean to you?”

“It means that sometimes, it’s better to cry than to be strong.”

“And do you agree with that?”

Bradley shrugged.

“I might add on to that definition, if I may?”  Doctor Cobb asked.  Bradley shrugged again, so he continued.  “I think it also means that if you’re holding in your feelings, then you need to release them.  Would you say so?”

“I guess.”

“I think that poem also has something to do with the five stages of grief.  Do you remember what I said about the stages of grief?”

Bradley finally looked into the doctor’s eyes.  “I know denial is one of them.”

Doctor Cobb nodded.  “Yes, the first stage is denial and the sense of isolation.  The second is anger.  I remember you telling me about your anger with everyone who looked happy while you were still mourning the loss of your parents and your brother.  That’s not an uncommon reaction.  The third stage of grief is known as bargaining, which is essentially looking for ways to take control of your situation.  And the fourth stage–do you know what the fourth stage is, Bradley?”

Bradley looked down at the floor again.  “Depression?”

Doctor Cobb gave a quick smile.  “Yes, that’s right.  And that alone has a broad span of definitions.”

Bradley wrinkled his eyebrows.  “I remember talking about this before.  You told me that depression was the stage I’m in right now.”

“I didn’t tell you anything; you decided that for yourself, remember?”

“Not really,”  Bradley admitted.  He barely remembered any of his sessions with Doctor Cobb; they were all one massive blur.  In fact, every time he tried to remember anything regarding therapy, the memories seemed more and more altered.

Doctor Cobb broke Bradley’s pensive trance, asking, “Do you remember what the next stage is?”

Bradley shook his head rigidly.  This was a load of crap; it wasn’t helping.  He wished people would stop trying to help.

The doctor leaned forward in his chair and stared directly into Bradley’s eyes.  The latter had no choice but to return his gaze.  In an icy, rattling voice, Doctor Cobb whispered, “It’s acceptance.”

It felt like a cannonball to the stomach.  Bradley winced as the word echoed painfully in his head, scrambling his brain like an egg beater.  He broke eye contact with Doctor Cobb and slammed his eyes shut in agony.  When he opened them again, the office around him was twisting.  The chair he was sitting on shriveled up and trembled under his weight, barely holding him up.  The forest green couch neatly pushed against the wall was now blood-red and writhing in agony.  The wall cracked, and the cheerful baby-blue paint flaked away to reveal a layer of rusty orange underneath.  Even the lights dissolved into a deep scarlet, making the office look more like a darkroom.

Angry black shadows flickered across Cobb’s maroon face.  His mouth distorted into a sour smile.  “It’s acceptance, Bradley.  Acceptance.  Would you just accept the fact that your whole family is dead?”

Bradley clenched his teeth in disgust and fury until he tasted blood.

“Would you just accept that you’re never going to see them again?”

“Stop.  It.”  Bradley hissed through his gritted teeth.

“Why don’t you just accept everything and move on, Bradley?  It can’t be that hard, can it?  I am a doctor, after all.  I should know these things.  It’s easy to get past these feelings; just ACCEPT IT!”

Cobb roared the last words so loudly that the entire room pulsed in response.  An intense, animalistic rage boiled up in Bradley’s chest.

“STOP!”  he shouted back.

Cobb ignored him.  “Oh, Bradley, no one knows what you’re going through, do they?”  he mocked in an overly mopey voice.  “See, people like me, we can try to understand.  We can pretend that we do.  But no one ever understands exactly how you feel.  Remember your classmates?  They were afraid to even talk to you when they saw you.  They just stared at you like you were a circus freak.  They couldn’t accept you, could they?”

“Please stop…”  Bradley whimpered.

The doctor smiled pleasantly.  “Did you see those kids on their bicycles?  They were laughing.”  His smile suddenly warped back into a malicious scowl.  “How DARE they laugh?  How DARE they have fun!  Don’t they know that you’re suffering?”  He leaned in close to Bradley’s ear and whispered, “Can’t they show a little respect?”

“Please…”

“And that woman who bought a chocolate bar at the store.  What was she going to do with that chocolate?  Eat it?  Why?  Because it tastes good.  She’s buying something because it tastes good, and it’s going to make her happy that it tastes good, and it just KILLS you inside because you can see how meaningless that happiness really is.”

Bradley sank deeper into the decayed armchair, sobbing so hard he couldn’t breathe.

Cobb’s voice rumbled deeper with every word, his breath searing Bradley’s skin like scalding steam.  “And the employees in that restaurant?  They don’t understand why you started crying when you tried to return the napkins you didn’t use.  You knew they couldn’t reuse them, but you wanted to give them back so badly, and you didn’t even know why it mattered.  But it did.  And they threw them away and forgot about them.  That sounds familiar, right, Bradley?”

Bradley felt like his stomach was squirming up his throat.  He gagged and coughed but managed to squeeze a few words out.  “I can’t…I’m sorry, Mom.  I can’t make it.  I…I can’t…”

Cobb’s horrid, twisted smile widened even more, so much so that his eyes had to retreat deeper into their sockets to make room.  He became quiet, his throat quivering with every soft, hateful word.  “What you wouldn’t give to hug her one more time; to throw one more baseball to your brother; to go for one more drive with dear old dad.”

“No…No…”

“Nobody understands what goes on in your head, Bradley.  Nobody knows what you do to yourself every day.  Nobody knows that you tear yourself apart like this.  And nobody knows because you hide it so well.”

“Please,”  Bradley sobbed.  “Please get out of here.  Please, stop…”

“All you have to do is stop thinking about it, and you’ll be accepted again.  Stop reminding yourself of how it feels every single day, and you’ll be normal.  But you can’t do that, can you?  Because you still.  Can’t.  Accept it.”

Bradley wasn’t looking anymore as Cobb hissed the last few words.  He was rocking back and forth in the armchair, his eyes pressed into his knees.  He heard the doctor’s footsteps calmly retreat towards the door.  He looked up just in time to see Cobb’s hand flick the light switch and disappear out of the room.

The instant the lights went out, the fierce red colors disappeared, replaced by an abyssal blue.  Bradley tried to leap from the chair to escape, but he couldn’t move.  There was some unseen force keeping him in place.  As he pounded against the invisible wall and screamed for help, he noticed a figure walk up behind him to his left.  Bradley’s dad put a hand on his shoulder.  The hand was cold and heavy, like clay.  Bradley risked a look into his face.  His eyes were nothing but empty, carved-out sockets.  His mouth was sewn shut.  On his cheek, ghostly white makeup was just barely flaking.

“NOOOOO!”  Bradley hollered, standing up on the chair and throwing his entire body into the wall.  For a brief moment, he felt a pair of wooden doors that he couldn’t see give way just a bit, but his next blow was met with the same immovable force field he had been fighting with before.

Someone else approached Bradley’s chair, stopping right next to Dad.  His mother stood lifelessly next to his father, her face stitched and hollow just like his.

Bradley kept struggling desperately with his invisible prison.  With each strike, Doctor Cobb’s office would flicker out of view, replaced with the interior of the closet in the basement of Woodard Hall.  Between blows, he was stuck in his chair.

“HELP!  PLEASE, SOMEBODY HELP ME!”  Bradley shouted with all the strength he had left in his lungs.  “JOSEPH!  LET ME OUT!”

Another figure emerged from the darkness of Doctor Cobb’s office and solemnly marched toward Bradley, coming to a rest between Mom and Dad.  The three of them stood morbidly still and stared blankly past Bradley at the wall across from his chair.  Bradley fell silent and stared forward at the same spot.

Mounted on the wall was a small mirror, positioned perfectly to frame the four people in the room like a family photo.  Bradley was centered in front of the others.  His father stood proudly behind his left shoulder.  His face, as it appeared in the mirror, wasn’t distorted like it was in real life; it was exactly how Bradley remembered it.  His mother, over his right shoulder, was done up in her Sunday best, wearing a generous amount of makeup with small but vibrant earrings hanging from her ears.

And directly between them, with both his hands on Bradley’s shoulders, was Joseph.  He stood at attention with a ghost of a smile cutting across his face, his eyes narrowed to give him the same cool expression Bradley always remembered.  For a moment, everything felt calm.  Bradley watched his reflection as his horrified face began relaxing into a blend of apathy and exhaustion.  Finally feeling peace, he turned his head to look at his father.

Dad was staring back down at Bradley, but he didn’t look like he had in the mirror.  His eyes were still gone, his skin was peeling, and his flesh was dripping like hot wax to the floor.  His skeletal smile draped beneath the curtain of blood was violently twitching, causing his teeth to jut outward.

All of Bradley’s panic rushed back to him at once.  His ears filled with the sinister whispers of the students he had passed in the basement of Woodard Hall, the petrifying screams of Kyler and Anna, and the patronizing words of Doctor Cobb.  Bradley let out a cry of rage and despair and slammed his head as hard as he could into the invisible wall around his chair.  He expected everything to go black.  He hoped everything would go black.

Instead, he toppled out of the chair in Doctor Cobb’s office and landed on the cold, gritty floor of the tiny storage room in Woodard Hall.  Joseph was standing above him, holding the padlock in his hand and looking worriedly down at Bradley.  He dropped quickly down to his knees and wrapped Bradley in a warm embrace.

“I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have left you,”  he whispered shakily.

Bradley didn’t even hear over the sounds of his own jagged breaths and panicked sobs.  “I can’t…I can’t go on…”  he sputtered.  “Please, don’t make me go on.  Please don’t leave.  Please don’t leave me alone.”

Joseph rocked his brother gently.  “You don’t have to go on,”  he reassured.  “I won’t leave you.  I’m not going anywhere ever again.”

“I don’t want to accept anything!  I don’t want things to change!  I don’t want to be alone!”

“You’re not alone; I’m still here.”

“I don’t want to accept it…”

“There’s nothing to accept.  I’m right here.”

“I don’t want to be alone…”

“You’re not alone.  You don’t have to be alone.  You’ll never be alone.”

“You’ll never be alone.”

“You’ll never be alone.”

Bradley wanted to believe it so badly, but as everyone kept reminding him, he was alone.  Pretending hadn’t changed anything, but he couldn’t seem to stop.  He rocked back and forth on the floor alone in the empty building, chanting the words in Joseph’s voice, imagining his big brother was there to help guide him through the horrors in his own head.

“You’ll never be alone.”

Mom was gone.

“You’ll never be alone.”

Dad was gone.

“You’ll never be alone.”

Joseph was gone.

“You’ll never be alone.”

Bradley Woodard was alone.

And Bradley Woodard was empty.

Rating: 7.33/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Christopher Gideon
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Christopher Gideon


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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