📅 Published on October 11, 2020


Written by Heath Pfaff
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on 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


Rating: 8.75/10. From 4 votes.
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The world came back into focus.

She stood motionless at the edge of the bed, watching me from beneath the decaying black shroud that covered her head. Two white, reflective orbs passed over me.  I could feel the pressure of her dread gaze as it seemed to push me into the mattress.  For all the difference it made, she might have been sitting on my chest.  I struggled to move, but my arms refused my commands.  I fought to call out, but my voice was stifled by the pressure holding me to what should have been my place of respite.  The horror of her presence was consuming.

I called her the “Witch.”  I’d met her enough times now that I was familiar with how this would play out.  She would watch me, standing quietly between the door of my bedroom and the foot of my bed, and nothing I tried to do would make her go away.  The Witch would not leave until she was ready to go, and then she would flow out the door as though she were smoke on a strong breeze, distorting and peeling away from reality in an instant.  The pressure would leave my chest, and then I would break free of my sleep paralysis and try to put away the horror of what had just happened.

That was how this worked.  Knowing what was happening, understanding what I was feeling, that should have made it easier to cope with this terrible fabrication of my mind, but it never did.  Being told by professionals that this wasn’t real, and it was nothing to fear, did nothing to alleviate the sensation of being in that moment.  Logically some part of my mind knew that I was safe.  The Witch wasn’t real.  She couldn’t hurt me.  Logic, however, had no place in this hell between dreams and waking.

My heart was racing beneath my ribs.

Wake up.  Wake up.  Please, just wake up.  I could hear the words as though I was speaking them aloud, but I could tell my mouth wasn’t moving.  No part of me could move.

Then, when my horror felt that it could grow no further, the Witch moved towards the bed.  This had never happened before.  I’d seen her hundreds of times, and hundreds of times she’d entered through the door, stopped, and stood in place until she vanished in a streak.  Never, not even once, had she taken another step forward after stopping.  I felt my breath catch in my lungs, and then she took another step forward.

A hand rose at her side, arm draped in the same decrepit, dark fabric that covered the rest of her, but this was the first time I’d ever seen a piece of this entity’s body.  The skin was gray-green and brittle looking, as though it might crumble away if touched.  Her fingers were long and gnarled, a claw more than a human hand, and as I watched the digits bent in unsettling ways, the main knuckles of the fingers flexing backwards as though they hinged in either direction.  It stepped forward again, and for a brief moment I managed a clearer view of those two glowing orbs hidden beneath the draped hood.  They were perfectly round, bulging forward, but set too far apart for a human face.  The part of my brain that knew what a human should look like immediately rejected even the vague positioning of the “eyes” that I was seeing, recoiling at the inhumanity of the hidden visage.

I suddenly had a disturbing feeling that this thing, this horrible nightmare, was about to speak.  I wasn’t sure why I thought this to be the case, what intuition might have brought my frantically scrambling mind to that conclusion, but I knew that it was about to utter some string of words, and I knew equally well that hearing them would work to unravel my mind.  The last hold I had on reality would fray and parts of my reason would scatter into the abyss.

“Bring it to us.”  It spoke a single short sentence in a voice that hissed and churned like bone dragged across brick until it splintered.  The words cut into my mind and for a moment I had an image of some gargantuan nightmare floating in a sea of darkness, a tall man standing before it with bottomless eyes peering at me through the void.

I found my scream.  The bed rushed up to hit me in the back and I let out a roar of terror that filled the space around me before I sat up straight in bed, one hand knotted in the sheets at my side, and the other grasping something heavy and solid.  My eyes devoured the area at the foot of the bed, reaching across the space before me and demanding reason to be restored.

It was.

The room was empty.  The place before me was empty, and the doorway to the hall was open, a faint glow of daylight tracing in from the window at its end.  I looked down at my hands and discovered that I was clutching the revolver I kept locked in the gun safe next to the bed.  In shock, I reached down next to the bed and pulled the safe up onto the mattress.  I put the gun away quickly and locked the box.  I didn’t remember having taken it.  I’d never done anything like that before.

“Nate, are you alright?”  The concerned voice coming down the hall was followed a moment later by my wife rushing her way into the room. I could see the worry evident on her face, but as she took in my current state her features softened some.  “Sleep paralysis?”  She asked, making her way to the bed before sitting on its edge and reaching out to rub my shoulder.  Her eyes caught the lockbox sitting on the bed next to me.

Of all the pieces of my life, Kayla was the best by far.  She was solid when everything else was chaos, and she put up with all of my many, many faults.  Just seeing her normally helped to chase away the nightmare, but today it didn’t want to let go.  I forced a smile and nodded.

“The Witch was around for a visit again.  I woke up startled and grabbed the box.  Luckily I didn’t get it open…”  I tried to make things seem less dire than it had felt, and I didn’t want her to know how close I’d come to disaster.  The truth was that I was tired and afraid.  For some reason, that morning, I felt worse than I could remember feeling in a long time.  Desperation and fatigue clung to me.  “Perhaps we should change the code to something I don’t know.”

Kayla stroked my back and nodded.  “We don’t want you hurting yourself.”  She looked sadly at the pills piled up on my nightstand.  “The new medication isn’t working then?”

I shrugged.  “The nightmares are less intense, but the sleep paralysis hasn’t changed.  The doctor did say we might need to increase the dosage.”  I pointed out, not wanting for Kayla to give up hope on this route just yet.  I held little real hope for myself, but I didn’t want to see Kayla sad.  I’d pretend if it made her feel better.  I’d been on the new pills for a few weeks now, and they were supposed to be helping me.  Maybe that morning’s sleep paralysis attack had just been a side effect of the new medication kicking in?  “We’ll give this some more time. I’m sure it’ll help.”  I told her, swinging my legs to the edge of the bed so I could get up.  I slid the lock box back into the nightstand.

Kayla sighed and gave my back one more rub before she stood up again.  She was already dressed for work.  She even had her mug in one hand.  She must have heard me just before heading out to the garage.

“I gotta get going.”  The apology in her tone made me feel guilty for worrying her right before she had to go.

I smiled harder, if you can do such a thing, and nodded.  “Yeah, go ahead.  I’ll be fine.  Just have to shake off the dream.  I’ll grab a shower and some tea, then I’ll be back to myself.”

She knew me far too well to buy that, but I knew she’d at least accept my effort.  “Alright, okay… if you want, you don’t have to do that bike thing today.  It can wait.”

The bike thing!  I’d entirely forgotten about that.  It had been bothering me for a while now, but I knew that I needed to get it done.  Kayla’s lab was running a charity event, and I was supposed to go pick up a bike that was being offered as one of the prizes.  Kayla would have done it herself, but the guy offering the bike wasn’t available when she was.  That meant she needed someone to help out.  That meant I needed to help out.

Along with my long list of other problems, I also suffered from agoraphobia and crippling social anxiety.  The first was tied to the latter, but part of my progressing therapy involved trying to expose myself to situations I would normally avoid, even if it was uncomfortable to do so.  So, when Kayla had said she’d needed to find someone to make this pickup, I had volunteered.  I immediately regretted doing so, but Kayla had been so proud of me that I couldn’t go back on my word.  For once, I wanted to do something for her.  I wanted her to be able to rely on me, and chances for that to happen seemed far fewer than she deserved.

“No, I’m going to do it,”  I told her firmly. “You already set things up, so I’m going to go over there and pick up the bike.”  Saying the words made me feel a bit sick.

She hesitated a moment before replying, a fleeting moment of concern touching her features again.  “Okay, but don’t push yourself.  We can always call him and let him know that you can’t make it today.  Let me know soon if you’re not going.  He’s expecting you for 10.”  She spoke softly to me before she leaned in to kiss the corner of my mouth.  With that, she was on her way to work, and I was alone to try and figure out my day.  I looked at the time.  I needed to get moving.

It felt like I was ready to head out the door with impossible efficiency.  That was the way it always felt when I was getting ready to do something that I was dreading.  I took a few deep breaths as I set the GPS on my phone to take me where I needed to go.  The bike had been built by a man in a town an hour away from where we lived.  I was hoping the drive, at least, would be somewhat relaxing.  I took a dose of lorazepam and prepared to go.

I made my way into the garage, pulling the house door shut behind me and dousing myself in the darkness of the carport.  The automatic light had been out for a few months.  It was one of those annoying problems that you never really thought about until you were on your way out, and then you told yourself you’d get it when you came back, but you never quite remembered.  I reached into my pocket and hit the unlock button on my key, causing the car to chirp and light the room.

The headlights flashed, blinking once before coming on.  For just a moment, as the room was bathed in the harsh white light of the led headlamps on that first flash, I thought I caught a glimpse of two glowing orbs staring in my direction from the other side of the garage.  My entire body tensed, but when the lights came back on there was nothing remaining but the empty place where my wife’s car would normally be.  I forced myself to laugh.  It sounded strange in the echoey garage, but the noise of it helped me to focus on the immediate moment again.  My dream had shaken me.  It wasn’t surprising that it was sticking with me.

I pushed down the fear and got in the car, opening the garage to let in the daylight.  There seemed to be fewer monsters beneath the sun.  The last thing I needed to deal with today was clinging nightmares, not when I had other – less ethereal – fears to face.

The road to Black Creek wound through the western New York hills as though it had fallen into place by chance, and not by the design of any reasonable human agency.  I’d grown accustomed to driving on such meandering stretches of asphalt over the years.  That these were mostly paved was a blessing.  Soon enough I found myself centering in on the location marked on my GPS.  As I drew ever closer to my destination, the trepidation of what was to follow was growing inside of me.

If I was lucky I would arrive and someone would be waiting to greet me, perhaps a single person who had been keeping an eye open for me.  They would be cordial and give me what I needed, and soon enough I would be back on the road with my prize locked securely in the back of the car.  If I was less lucky, then no one would be there to greet me and I’d have to approach the house and knock on the door.  I hated knocking on doors.  It was difficult to voice why it bothered me so much.  There was an uncomfortable element of the unknown. In my head I was already playing out several different possibilities that might occur if I did have to go to the door, most of them ending with me doing something awkward or embarrassing.

The GPS informed me that I’d reached my destination as I pulled my car up to a dirt driveway that cut its way through a line of trees.  There was an old mailbox post with the address number posted on it to one side, confirming that this was where I wanted to be, though the post was falling over, and the mailbox was a rusted, crushed piece of metal that looked like it probably wasn’t in use anymore.

The “driveway” was little more than a pair of tracks cutting up through some overgrown grass.  It took me about a hundred yards up to what should have been the house, but in place of the home I expected to find was a pile of scorched timber laying in a heap in the middle of the field of grass.  I almost stopped the car and turned myself around, but ahead of me I saw a relatively new truck parked in a partially cleared off space near the burnt husk of the home.  There was a man standing next to the truck and he waved as I approached.

I pulled the car to a stop as Amalie Bruun sang the lines,

“So I ran into the forest black
Hoping to find an answer in the woods
But this time, this time I must turn back
The only answer is I never could.”

I switched off the car, took a deep breath and got out.  The man, Mark Felker, made his way over to me as I put my keys in my pocket.  My eyes passed between him and the burnt-out home in front of us.  He was a short man, at least a foot shorter than I was.  He had wide, dark eyes and a smile that looked as nervous as I felt inside.  He was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt that looked as though it had seen some better days.

“Nathan?”  He held his hand out to me.

I put on my best imitation of a confident smile and forced myself forward.  I hated touching people, especially those I didn’t know.  It wasn’t a matter of fearing they were dirty or anything so easy to explain.  I simply didn’t like getting physically close to those I didn’t know very well.  Even close friends I rarely ever came into contact with.  Still, I took his hand and shook it firmly as I nodded.

“Mark?”  Though at this point it was merely a formality.  He nodded.  I found my eyes slipping back over to the house.  The skeletal remains of the tragedy kept drawing my attention.

“Is this…recent?” I asked him, confused about why we were meeting here.

Mark shook his head.  “No, not recent.  This happened several years ago now.”  He said, waving a hand at it as though to dismiss the wreckage.

“Oh…” I wasn’t sure what to say.

“The bike is over here.”  Mark pulled my attention from where it lingered with a gesture in the opposite direction.

I glanced where he was pointing, and then jumped sharply.  There was a barn there.  It might seem strange to jump at the presence of a building, but there was more to it than that it was there…  I hadn’t noticed it until that moment.  I had driven all the way up the driveway without seeing it, and I’d even gotten out of the car while looking in that direction.  I could have sworn the barn wasn’t there before.

“…up here to work on things in peace and quiet.  I don’t have the money to rebuild so there is only the barn now.”  Mark’s voice drew me back into the moment.

I nodded, not having really heard what he was talking about, and still unsettled by the barn.  It was old.  I’d seen these kinds of barns before, the old fashion style.  If you pictured it painted red and white you’d known exactly what it looked like, but this one was the color of heavily weathered wood, wood at the very end of its functional age.  I wouldn’t have dared go up into the loft in this thing.  It looked as though it was ready to quit existing at any moment.

I found a growing sense of unease taking hold.  Today had been a strange day so far, and I was increasingly uncertain if I was ready to go any further.  I was half tempted to get back in my car and leave at that moment, but that would just mean that Kayla would have to come here on her own to finish this.  I was already here.

“The bike is inside the barn,” Mark explained, starting off in that direction.

“Oh, do you mind if I stay here while you get it?”  I felt an intense desire to avoid the barn, to avoid going any further onto this property at all.

Mark hesitated before turning back to me.  “Oh, well, there are actually a few different bikes.  I thought you might like to take a look at them and see which you’d prefer.”  He laughed a bit.  “Maybe even take a couple off of my hands.”

I chewed on my lower lip nervously.  I wanted to tell him just to bring the one in the picture, but I also didn’t want to start a confrontation here with him.  I didn’t do well with confrontation.  I did my best to hide my discomfort before nodding.  “Alright, let’s see what you have.”  Having an extra bike could only help Kayla, right?  This would be for the better.

“Good!”  He barked a short laugh and started leading us up a rough and overgrown path towards the barn.  There were a few uneven flagstones marking the path on the way, but it was clear no one had bothered to keep them up in a few years.  “Back when my wife and girls were still here I used to keep this all tidy, but there isn’t any reason to do so anymore.”

“They don’t come up here anymore?”  The words tumbled out over my lips before I really thought them through. Just a few hundred feet from the burnt-out remains of the man’s house, I knew I’d made a mistake.

Mark stopped for a moment, his eyes fixed ahead of him.  Finally, he shook his head.  “No, they’re with Him, now.  They were in the house when it burned down.”

“I’m… I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to…”  I felt terrible.  I couldn’t think of any words that might help, but thankfully Mark cut off my attempt to fumble for something that was even half as sincere as it needed to be.

He turned and looked at me.  His dark eyes looked sad, but there was a cold distance behind them as well.  “It’s alright, Nathan.  I have faith I will see them again.  Destiny wouldn’t be so cruel as to keep me from them.”

I was happy he turned back around and began walking again before I had to reply.  I didn’t know what to say.  I supposed I was happy he found comfort in his faith.  “Have you been building bikes for a long time?”  I asked, trying to get back on more comfortable ground.  We were getting closer to the barn.  It loomed over us like the hollowed corpse of an ancient, dead titan.  I had the impression that its doors were like a mouth, and as Mark unbarred them he was actually removing their muzzle.

“Building?”  He seemed confused, but then nodded.  “Yes, for a while now.  Go ahead in while I latch down these doors so they don’t swing in the wind.”

I took a step forward and stopped.  The inside of the barn was dark.  The light coming in through the open door barely seemed to penetrate the depth of the black within. I took another couple steps forward, squinting to try and see the bikes.  “It’s dark.”

“Yes, it is.”  Mark’s voice came from behind me.  A moment later the world crashed into blackness as the doors at my back swung shut.

I was confused.  The doors had blown closed.  That was my first rational thought.  It hadn’t been that windy, but Mark had said he needed to fasten them.  I waited quietly for a few moments, expecting them to open again, but they didn’t.  The only light that existed came in from the seam beneath, and the one where the two large doors met.  Somehow the rest of the building, despite its old, decayed state seemed to hold out all of the sun.

“Mark?”  I called out, my voice too small, as though I was calling into an area that was barely big enough to fit my body and the air directly around me.

“I’m sorry, Nathan.”  His voice called from the other side.  “He said it had to be you.  Destiny is inescapable.  It brought my family here, and now it has brought you.  I’m so sorry.  Just…  Just do what it wants.  You will in time anyway.”

His words sparked a panic in me.  “What do you mean?”  That answering voice – my voice – was strange to my ears, strained as it was by fear and confusion.   The crack beneath the door, the thin sliver of light from the outside world began to slip away.  It dimmed as though the sun was passing behind an increasingly dense cloud.

“Mark!”  I shouted this time, coming forward and banging the side of a fist against the barn’s entrance.  It barely gave to my angry strike, and nothing of my rage seemed to slow the coming of the darkness.

The hairs along the back of my neck prickled as though a spider had crawled its way across my skin and I turned in place as quickly as I could, pushing my back against the wooden door and peering into the dark that had been at my back a moment before.

“Hello?”  My voice was so small, almost like a child’s.  Who was I even calling to?  I was alone here, wasn’t I?  No.


Even as the question passed over the surface of my mind I knew the answer.  Two orbs of white winked into existence, perfect circles of predatory malice.  She was here, and for a moment I almost felt relief.  If she was here, then I must be dreaming.  I’d only ever seen her in that moment of paralyzed anguish between sleep and waking.  This had to mean I was actually back in my bed, unable to get up, frozen in place and feeling helpless.

“Not real.”  The words I spoke shook that frail hope.  The rough texture of the wooden door against my fingertips whispered “Lies!” to my last lingering hope that this was still a dream.  I could move.  I could talk, and I could feel every shallow gasp of breath as my lungs filled with fetid, old air.

“Reality as you see it is frail.”  A smooth, resonant voice peeled from the void.  My eyes were drawn towards it, away from the glowing circular orbs that had so fixated me a moment before.  Something was coming through the dark, moving towards me.  “Your kind build laws and reason upon an existence that is far more vast than you can perceive, Nathan.”

The man stepped from the shadows and into a light that seemed to almost rise up from the air about him, as though his presence so irritated it, that it couldn’t help but highlight his features.  He was tall, with an oddly noble bearing, dressed in a suit of black that seemed tailored perfectly to his frame.  His face was almost plain, but for a small smile that stretched too far across his jaw, and eyes that echoed the void at his back.  There was nothing behind them.  Looking into his eyes was like looking into absolute emptiness, and I found that I couldn’t meet his gaze for more than a moment at a time.

“I don’t understand what’s happening.”  I managed to say, pushing myself against the door more firmly.  It felt like a wall now, like there was no give to the large barn doors at all.

“I am building something, Nathan, something vast and important.  You will be a part of the mechanism, but first you must agree to take your place.  We must enter an agreement.”  It smiled even more widely, exposing a mouth packed full of hundreds upon hundreds of needle-like teeth.

Every fiber of my body was shaking, as though fear had gripped me down to the cellular level.  “I don’t want to be a part of this.  I just want to go home.”

“Bring us her heart, Nathan.”  A voice hissed into my ear, and I turned my head to the side to see the two glowing eyes of the Witch just inches from my face.  Her crooked hands reached forward and grabbed my head, twisting my attention forward again.  The black-eyed man was closer.

“Nathan, bring us Kayla’s heart and we will stop your suffering.  Fulfill the contract.”  His hand reached forward and I could feel his cold fingers covering my face.  I struggled to move, but I felt trapped in place.  Everything was dark.  Everything was still.

It all began to fade.  The image of the black-clothed man, the shadow of the ruinous barn, and the sad, empty eyes of its keeper began to bleed away from me.  Then, I could see once again.

The world came back into focus.

She stood motionless at the edge of the bed, watching me from beneath the decaying black shroud that covered her head. Two white, reflective orbs passed over me.  I could feel the pressure of her dread gaze as it seemed to push me into the mattress.  For all the difference that it made, she might have been sitting on my chest.  I struggled to move, but my arms refused my commands.  I fought to call out, but my voice was stifled by the pressure holding me to what should have been my place of respite.  The horror of her presence was consuming.

Rating: 8.75/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Heath Pfaff
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Heath Pfaff

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on 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).

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