R.I.P. Ellen

📅 Published on July 19, 2020

“R.I.P. Ellen”

Written by Craig Groshek and Irving Crane
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 — 24 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Paige watched with wide eyes as her friend was ushered into a cage with iron bars jagged with rust.

An iron arm swung the cage over the edge of the filthy fishing boat.

Paige pressed her hands together, her eyes welling with panic.

”No, please!” she pleaded. “She doesn’t have that much money. Let’s just forget about all this, please!”

The one burly man next to the crank that raised and lowered the cage shot her a look that clearly indicated how much he didn’t care about what Paige thought of the whole affair.

“Please just let her out! Just let us go!”

“Lady,” the man snarled, “you’re not the one that financed this little expedition so you’re not the one we’re taking orders from.”

Just as Paige started up with more mewling, the man hit a release next to the crank and the cage plummeted into the waves with a splash, her friend Ellen grasping the bars from the inside. Paige yelped. The chain reached its end and became taut, throbbing like a heartbeat.

Paige took a few urgent steps toward the crank operator, but two other brutish men with short necks and broad shoulders blocked her.

“You don’t listen too good,” they grunted. Paige imagined her friend screaming, struggling, panicking. Bubbles were rising from where the cage hung in the depths.

After a dreadfully long time, it was pulled up out of the water. Ellen’s wetsuit-clad body was revealed. She slid her mask and her breathing apparatus off her face and she pumped her fists in the air with a loud whoop!

Paige shaped a steeple over her nose with her fingers as she shook her head.

“Paige, Paige… I got pictures!” Ellen yelled as she held up a large waterproof camera. Paige wouldn’t even look at her.

“So how many do you think you saw?” asked the crank operator with folded arms. Excitement radiated from Ellen’s face.

“Oh, God. I don’t know. Probably six or more?”

The man nodded and shifted his fat cigar to the other side of his face.

“So that means it was a successful dive. That plus the camera rental is going to put you at about four grand.”

Ellen stepped out of the cage and handed the waterproof camera off to one of the men.

“We’ll get these uploaded and give you a code so you can access them.”

Ellen shot the men two thumbs up. She turned to Paige and gave her the same gesture. Paige just glared.

“If it’s all the same to you ladies, we’re heading back to shore,” said the crank operator.

* * * * * *

“Four thousand dollars, Ellen. Four-freaking-thousand dollars.”

“I know, isn’t it a steal?” Ellen exclaimed.

“You can’t afford that much. You could barely afford the money that got you out here.”

“Well, yeah, but you’re not exactly made of money either, and yet here you are.”

The boat they had just been on motored off into the fog.

“That wasn’t even an actual diving boat.”

“Paigey-Paige-Paige, anything else would have been much more expensive. Last I checked, a fishing boat floats just as good as any other.”

“And that diving cage. I swear to God, some of those bars looked completely rotten. May as well have shielded yourself from those sharks with a garbage can lid.”

“That only adds to the thrill of it.”

Ellen slung her bulky diving gear over one shoulder. Paige didn’t know how that slender little woman had so much strength. Any average day, Ellen Morgan looked like a mosquito with sky blue eyes and very short blonde hair.

Ellen wasted no time in adding the pictures from her dive to her social media. Horrible “fish-eye” perspective shots of shark noses, shark eyes, and shark teeth, like the animals had been looking into a funhouse mirror.

Paige’s inbox filled up with private messages from Ellen’s friends and family. None of them had anything good to say about her practically tongue-kissing the wildlife.

“What were the bars of that cage made from? Waffle cone?”

“You are keeping an eye on her… right?”

“I thought you said you were going to talk some sense into her.”

That was something Paige indeed said she could and would do… when she thought that this was just a phase. A bump on the road for a woman another year farther from her youth.

But the closer that sixty-third birthday loomed, the more restless Ellen became. It was harmless at first. There was a big amusement park nearby, clearly a knockoff of Disneyland (and a successful one) with roller coasters that never sat still too long. Ellen began riding them. No problem, right? Well, she began riding them often, visiting the park just for them. She would bring friends and ride the ‘coasters long after her friends felt like their stomachs were hanging out their noses. They waited to see Ellen look exhausted and worn out, but no… something inside her had awoken to the taste of adrenaline and it was getting a bigger appetite with each ride.

Then at one of their sushi dates, Ellen asked if the establishment had pufferfish. Yes, that pufferfish. Paige was apoplectic.

“You can’t behave like this! You’re a sixty-two-year-old woman!”

The more Paige tried to put on the brakes, the more Ellen floored the gas. She glimpsed a date circled in Ellen’s daily planner that said “Rock Climbing, Red Cliff State Park.”

Then there was a video on Facebook of someone recording Ellen diving off a waterfall into a spring.

Paige dialed up her mama hen act and demanded that Ellen never do anything like that again.

Ellen promised.

Then a month later a video surfaced of Ellen bungee jumping over a gorge.

“I promised I’d never do anything like that again! It’s different! There’s no water!” Ellen laughed in the face of her best friend who was red as a tomato.

Paige insisted on coming along on the shark dive outing just so she could cause as much trouble as possible. Well, she failed. Ellen had become a rolling stone straight out of an Indiana Jones movie: unstoppable and picking up speed.

Several months passed without Ellen doing anything else that looked like suicide wrapped in Christmas lights. Paige hoped that it was a sign that perhaps she was going to finally come to terms with the fact that there was nothing wrong with turning sixty-three and that it would be worth it to see it.

Paige had seen her father go into the ground when he was only forty-seven. She had also buried a child at only eight. Losing one more loved one, she thought, would push her over the edge.

She had gotten good at finding excuses to pay her best friend a visit and check on her. This time she was bringing over a new casserole. Ellen’s humble, light gray bungalow gave no indication of the recently restless and wild old woman that bounced around within.

The large orange cat on the porch sniffed at the familiar sight of Paige. His name was Baker, named for Ellen’s favorite doctor in the Doctor Who series, Tom Baker. One of the things that Ellen and Paige both held in common.

She smiled at the cat as she waited for the door to open.

“Are you keeping that wild owner of yours from any more crazy adventures?”

The answer came as soon as the door opened. Ellen was wearing outdoor hiking gear and a backpack that was complicated enough to have been military-issued.

Then there was the wide explorer hat on her head.

“Ellen…”

“Paige! Oh, how are you? Whatchu got there?”

“It’s a new casserole I’m trying to get the hang of. Thought I’d test it on you. Now, whatchu got there?” Paige frowned at the hat.

“Y’all can call me Dora!” Ellen said with a quick bow and trotted back inside.

Paige mouthed a silent Ah, fuck before crossing the threshold. She saw the brochure before Ellen could hide it. It was for a mountain climbing expedition in the most treacherous part of the Rockies, and the pamphlet wasn’t shy.

Reaper’s Leap: Danger, Dismemberment and Death, if You Dare!

Paige set the casserole down to arrest the brochure with both hands like it were a live fish that would wriggle away.

“Ellen Morgan!” she spat.

Dora Morgan!” Ellen replied.

“What in Mother Mary’s blazing asshole after twenty tacos is this shit?!”

“It’s a brochure!”

“You’re going mountain climbing?”

“That’s what mountains are for, Paige!”

“You’re almost sixty-three!”

Ellen twirled around the room like a child, mumbling in a deep, derpy voice, “Ewwen, yer almost sixty three, durr-durr-durr…”

Paige wasn’t amused.

“You’re gonna give me a heart attack!”

“Then you should be like me and live a little before that ticker flickers out.”

“Ellen!”

“You keep saying my name like it’s some magic word. Haven’t you noticed that it doesn’t help anything? You were saying my name over and over after my roller-coaster binge. You were saying my name over and over when you found out about the rock climbing and the bungee jumping. The nice men hosting the cage dive with the sharks said that you wouldn’t stop saying my name while I was underwater. I dunno, didja ever think that babbling my name like a parrot is only making things worse?”

Paige’s eyelids fluttered as she held up her hands and her mouth hung open. Then she pulled her long auburn hair back and held it tight.

“You almost said my name again, didn’t you?”

Ellen put one long finger to her friend’s lips before she could answer.

“You can say my name until you poop your pants. But I’m going to do what I want, like always. And this time, it just so happens to involve mountains.”

“And suicide!”

“No, just mountains.”

They argued for a good hour, something that resulted in Paige storming out of the house without the casserole, as if she were giving her best friend the luxury of a last meal, though the expedition wasn’t due for another week.

The day arrived and Ellen patted Baker on the head and whispered him a farewell. Naturally, she had talked Paige into looking after him. The double doors of a silver bus parted and Ellen trotted through as though they were the gates to heaven.

She looked at the brochure again. The front was a picture of the path they would be hiking. It looked like the road to hell. Jagged rocks like misshapen teeth awaited anyone with unsure footing. Thorny trees that didn’t offer much shade.

“Well, don’t you look excited,” said a low voice from the seat behind her. It was a young and athletic woman with a shaved head and eyes like black coffee. Her whole bearing suggested sports and adrenaline.

“I am excited! Oh gosh.”

Her name was Sarah. They chatted most of the ride and Ellen loved every minute of it.

* * * * * *

The busload of mountaineers unpacked at one of those single-level hotels that were nothing but thin walls and moth-eaten fabric. Dinner and sleep were rushed through like an obstacle course at Basic Training, and the early sunlight of the next day found everyone headed up the trail pictured on the brochure, and it looked no less infernal in person.

“We’re on an express elevator to Hell!” Ellen shouted.

“Going down!” said Sarah from a few paces ahead of her. The two women exchanged looks, verifying that they were indeed quoting the same movie, and they giggled like fifth-graders. They ascended rapidly through the toothy landscape. Mountain towns soon looked like clusters of pebbles. Ellen couldn’t get her fill of pictures, ending up at the rear of the group.

One minute the noon sun was bearing down on them. The next minute, there was the cool scent of rain and thunderheads closing in. They looked like they were great chunks of the jagged, saw-toothed mountains that had levitated into the sky where they churned with electricity.

Ellen pumped her fists and whooped at the sight. But she was the only one that thought so well of the brewing storm.

“Stay close to the rest of us!” Sarah warned. No sooner had she spoken than the rain slammed into them like a tidal wave. Their guide, the loud and jolly Roger, was swept off his feet and rolled down the face of the mountain like a meatball in a red shirt.

Lightning struck so close that the thunder felt like it was going to rattle their teeth loose. They all found themselves breathing through their mouths so they wouldn’t drown.

Sarah was sure that a couple of others had been washed or blown off the trail, but she couldn’t see who. It felt like hours before she could see more than a few inches in front of her. She renewed her grip on Ellen’s hand as they all hunkered down in place to try and ride out the onslaught.

Little by little, the rain let up.

Little by little, they could see again.

Sarah gripped the hand in hers tighter and looked over to ask Ellen if she was okay. She discovered that it wasn’t Ellen’s hand she was holding. She looked around. Ellen wasn’t with them.

They detoured down to one of the villages, a trip that took several hours too many. A search and rescue team was formed and began their grueling rounds. They found Roger dashed open like a watermelon. They found the broken remains of the scrawny college girl, flecks of her own glasses in her mouth.

But they never found Ellen.

She was someplace dark and cool where the storm reached her only as a steady drip-drip-drip in the puddle she lay in. Memories replayed themselves vividly and she thought she was reliving certain moments over and over.

The rain had sent her tumbling down the mountain. The ground had disappeared. Daylight was replaced by pure black. Something huge, presumably the ground, gave her a full-body pimp slap. The world was very still and quiet except for the dripping. This along with the smell of earth told her she had found a cavern.

She had a feeling that she was the only one who was going to know about that cavern for a very, very long time. Something rippled through her chest. A laugh? A sob? Maybe both.

She heard a far-off sound. A shuffling. She supposed that rats or cave crabs or something were on their way to strip the meat from her body. She perked up a bit when she thought she heard voices mixed in. There was no mistaking it. There were voices. The rescue team hadn’t given up on her. It surely had been because of Sarah. She wasn’t going to let them rest until they found her.

She tried to call out, but her diaphragm didn’t dare allow it, not with broken ribs against her lungs like the switchblades of a gang of robbers. It didn’t matter, they were getting closer. Strange. She couldn’t see any flashlights. Perhaps they were using night vision? She held her head up in expectation. The voices were all around her. Something about the chatter didn’t feel right and the sound began to leach the hope out of her heart.

And then all was silent. Ellen held her breath.

No pain could prevent it from coming out as a scream when vice-like hands gripped her and dragged her away.

Days later, through a mile of solid rock above where Ellen had landed, a rescuer in a neon orange vest was speaking into a walkie. He was saying that the body of the sixty-some blonde wasn’t turning up. The radio crackled back that the search was officially being called off.

The rescuer tightened his lips and nodded.

“Over,” he replied.

* * * * * *

Darryl Waltman hated delivering bad news. He had done his share of it over the course of his career, but he never got completely numb to it. He always got a little twinge, a flutter in his chest when he knew he had to make a phone call and tell someone that somebody wasn’t coming home.

He was in one of the few villages along the mountains that could get a decent cell signal. He had to stand outside the general store that was placed at the edge of town next to the hand-painted sign that said WELCOME TO WESTCHURCH. POP. 165.

Darryl tried the old blonde’s publicly listed landline first, chancing that she had some family living with her. Someone answered on the second ring.

“Hello, this is Paige.”

“Hi, Paige, this is Darryl Waltman. I’m a detective. Listen, are you family with Ellen Morgan? There’s been an accident.”

He laid the whole thing on her and she went to pieces over the phone. Something Darryl experienced many times, but again… it never got to be an easy thing.

The call ended and Darryl was free of the grieving woman who would cry her eyes out. He looked out over the land that sloped down into the base of the mountain and out into forever, paved with pines and dirt and endless wildflowers.

His stout stomach growled at him. He eyed the one luxury that Westchurch boasted: the aging donut and coffee shop. The owners, a middle-aged couple, had found a not-so-gently used neon sign on one of their vacations. It was set out in front of the dumpster of another donut shop in Detroit. Hey, maybe it still worked… and if it did, nobody would miss it. The sign did work, but it had spasms, mostly in the donut that formed the O in “coffee.” Mabel and Dave ran the generator for a few extra minutes every day so that the cells would have enough juice to power the sign in the evening and in the morning. Not that they really had anyone to show off for in a town like that but… you know. It was nice to have.

The sign wasn’t lit. Darryl squinted at his watch. Maybe they decided to switch it off early today.

A dull bell sounded when Darryl pushed the door open. The place looked vacant, but he could smell the coffee and the cinnamon, so he knew there were people here.

He sat on a barstool and looked at the old black and white television set that prattled away on the coffee-stained counter. There was a breaking news segment.

“The residents of the small mountain hamlet of Thistle Creek woke up to find that twelve people had all died mysteriously. Two of them were visiting from out of town.”

Darryl cocked his head as the screen switched to one of the locals, an elderly man that must not have been used to the sight of news equipment. He kept flinching at the microphone being shoved in his face.

“They’s just gone. Couldn’t-a been more than a day. Nobody suspicious of any strangers, ‘cause all the strangers were part of the ones that died. My brother found one body, then I found one, my sister. Then everyone’s minds are, yuh know, heightened. We all did a town-wide check and the bodies kept piling up. Looked like they all died o’ same time, but we’ll never know.”

“Mabel? Anyone?” Darryl called out. A mental shadow passed over his face.

“Hey, Dave? It’s Darryl. I need to talk to one of y’all.”

He made his way to the door that led behind the counter. He could feel his heartbeat picking up.

“How’re we doing today, folks? Lots of good coffee and donuts to fatten up the law enforcement?”

The kitchen was empty. Hints of smoke came from one of the ovens. Darryl opened the door to find some donuts turned to charcoal. Darryl never poked around back here before. But he was pretty sure that Mabel would never let that happen to the donuts.

“Dave! Mabel! Hello!”

He checked the bathroom, which was really just a closet with a toilet installed. The door was locked. Darryl pounded on it.

“Hello in there?”

There was an answer. A single dull thump.

Darryl pounded again, but the door didn’t unlock and the thump didn’t come a second time. He tore the door off of its rotten hinges and the cold dead body of Dave faceplanted onto the floor in front of Darryl’s feet. His pants were around his ankles and a folded piece of toilet paper was in his limp fingers.

* * * * * *

Paige sat in her silver BMW in the parking lot of the church, watching people go in. A breeze caressed her through her open windows. It was the only sound between the dull chiming of bells.

She didn’t want to go in.

It would be admitting that Ellen was gone.

Admitting that she didn’t stop her. Couldn’t stop her. Couldn’t talk some sense into her. She had tried and tried and tried, talking until she was out of breath and words alike. And it hadn’t been enough.

She switched on the radio.

“… piling up around several towns nestled in the most inaccessible corners of the Rockies. All of them have no trace of foul play or poisoning, yet evidence suggests that they all died at the same time. Tension is mounting as the people in these isolated settlements no longer feel safe in these places where the world’s problems usually seem so far away.”

She switched it off.

When it was clear that there was nobody else to go ahead of her, Paige went in. The sounds of bawling and electric organ blended together.

She could feel herself being speared by the eyes of Ellen’s family. She knew they blamed her. Her closest friend and confidante her whole adult life. The one person that could have reintroduced Ellen to rational thinking. Yeah. The friend that failed. Paige wanted to weep for herself as much as for Ellen. She knew it was selfish but how else could it be spelled out? What other conclusion would the family have reached? First her father and her son, and now her best friend.

The crying around her teased her own tears to the surface and she didn’t want to break down in front of all the accusing stares. She sprang to her feet and walked toward the front double doors of the funeral home.

Her tears clouded her vision so much that she was blinded long enough to collide with someone. Her nose was assaulted with a stomach-shredding stench. Mildew, sweat, human waste. She staggered back and wiped the tears from her eyes.

She didn’t remember the ear-splitting scream that people told her she made before she passed out. All she remembered was looking into the filthy face and cataract-clouded eyes of Ellen.

* * * * * *

So Ellen showed up to her own funeral. Could have been worse. She could have come to see Paige after the whole thing was over, forcing her to have to tell her family that her best friend was back from the dead and they’d write it off as a fish story, and it would be like that scene from THEY LIVE where Roddy Piper just couldn’t get anyone to see for themselves that he was telling the truth.

Ellen had finally made something easier for Paige. They all sat in the ER with noises and faces much like the ones at the funeral.

Family got called to come back and see Ellen first. Paige’s heart was in her mouth as she waited her turn.

“Paige Fisher?” the nurse called next. Paige was startled and jumped to her feet.

“You can come back now.”

She was trying not to run. Ellen’s family briskly walked past her in the narrow hall.

She was led into a room and there she was. All cleaned up, but still changed. She turned her head towards Paige revealing those eyes like milky marbles. The next revelation was Ellen’s right arm… the absence of it. Paige clamped her hands to her face, unable to take her eyes off of her ruined friend. Her cataract eyes tracked her as she crossed the room to sit on a stool.

“Ellen, it’s me,” she croaked, barely speaking above a whisper. She didn’t answer. Paige waved her hand. Ellen waved back.

“She can see you,” the nurse said. “She just can’t remember you.”

“What?”

“Amnesia. Significant memory loss and possible psychosis from head injury.”

“But I have perfect sight, Mommy,” Ellen interjected, and added nothing else.

“Her arm was lost in the mountains. Apparently severed and cauterized in the wild.”

“Oh, my god,” Paige repeated over and over to herself.

“Are you ready for The Harvest?” Ellen said, looking at Paige.

“What?”

Ellen didn’t explain.

“She keeps speaking about some sort of harvesting. One of the reasons we want to monitor her for signs of psychosis. With the exception of her arm, the only thing that really seems to be broken is her mind.”

“How soon can she go home?”

“Once we know she can walk and function, she can go home in a few weeks. Possibly sooner if there’s someone that can live with her to help her get used to living without an arm and monitor her state of mind.”

And that was all Paige needed to hear. She wasn’t leaving her friend’s side again. Ever. She visited daily. Even if it was just for a short while before visiting hours were over. She told Ellen all about their lives, especially their friendship. How it started in grade school and lasted all through college and beyond.

Ellen seemed to listen. She never said much. Nor did she let on that she remembered any of the experiences Paige related. When she did speak, it was only about the coming Harvest. How she was going to dance among the pale broken stalks as the storehouses are filled to the brim. Strange shit like that. Paige figured out before long that questions about The Harvest were the only questions Ellen would respond to. So she would ask questions, even if the answers never made any sense. She figured any workout for her synapses was better than no workout at all.

Weeks later, Ellen had some questions of her own. The doctors saw this as progress since up to that point all her cognition was reactive. She didn’t have any questions for her family. Only for Paige. This made her feel redeemed on some level.

“Tell me more about when we were young,” she would say. Vague much?

The questions never got more specific. So she’d get stories that ran the spectrum from their childhood up to their 20s and 30s.

She started asking more about their college days. Paige didn’t remember much of those days, courtesy of many mind-altering substances. She was embarrassed about what she could recall and often lied to Ellen. But she somehow knew when she was lying and called her out on it.

Those college days. Man.

Paige referred to them as their Death Days. All they wore was black. They’d get hammered, high, or both and visit art galleries in their altered states. It was Minneapolis. Art was everywhere, so a dilapidated apartment full of paintings curated by fellow college students counted as an art gallery.

Somewhere between looking at art and having “just one more,” gorgeous boys would get involved, but nobody remembered those details. Just that they had to introduce themselves when they woke up.

They both tried painting. Paige tried writing. Under the influence, of course. Everything she made was death-centric. Dying and darkness and despair, it was nectar to her drug-addled soul.

Ellen would ask questions about that creative phase. Paige was surprised to find that it made her uncomfortable to regurgitate those old, trite verses.

When you’re in college and all lit up and you have your whole life ahead of you, you have the luxury of rolling death around in your mouth like forbidden candy just to see how it tastes. After burying her father and her son and especially after almost burying Ellen, Paige no longer saw death as tragically gorgeous and poetic. No longer considered it to be the source of everything beautiful, but rather the annihilation of it. She would try to change the subject, but then Ellen would regress back to being unresponsive.

* * * * * *

Paige stood with Ellen in front of Ellen’s house. She was finally allowed to come home, provided Paige would look after her. At the sound of the door unlocking and opening, Baker ran in to greet them, but as soon as he saw Ellen he arched his back and hissed. Ellen stared dumbly at the animal.

“I guess Baker doesn’t recognize you,” Paige said, her eyebrows furrowed. She thought cats remembered their humans for life, even after they change hands.

“Baker…” Ellen mused.

“You named him after your favorite doctor.”

“I don’t remember a Doctor Baker.”

The cat fled at the sound of his name.

The two women went to the backyard where a small patio was fronted by flower beds. Ellen gazed down at the blossoms that had gone a bit wild in her absence. Paige hoped that seeing the colorful plants would reach her in some way, but she didn’t seem to register anything.

“You pulled weeds out here every evening. Sometimes I was afraid you’d start pulling up your plants if you couldn’t’ find any weeds,” Paige chuckled. Still no reaction.

Days turned to weeks as Paige guided Ellen through the motions of daily living. She never quite took to anything one hundred percent. She had to be reminded to lower her fork after taking a bite of food. She had to be reminded that she needed to make it to the toilet before she couldn’t hold it.

Paige kept trying to get Baker to sit in Ellen’s lap. He would let Paige pick him up but he would wrestle free and disappear whenever he saw Ellen.

One warm night, Paige sat next to her friend on the couch. They both watched the television, basking in its pale rays. Nothing on the screen could elicit a laugh or a cry or a twitch from Ellen. Not that night, not any night since she’d been home.

Paige fiddled on her phone and imagined how crammed her physical mailbox must be. “Okay, I’m going to make sure everything is in order at my house, then I’ll come right back, okay?”

As usual, Ellen didn’t answer.

* * * * * *

Her house was unchanged, timeless like a monument or a tomb. She sat down on her bed and suddenly felt how tired she really was. A photo album lay on a small glass bedside table. It was full of photos of the adventures of Paige and Ellen, some recent, some distant.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the front door. She stood to answer, but froze as soon as the knock came a second time. Only this time it was on the wall right next to the doorway to her bedroom. She was anchored to the spot for many long seconds. A slender arm coated in grime and dirt reached inside the doorway and knocked on the wall just above the light switch. Paige stared at it with clenched teeth. The shoulder that the arm was attached to came into view revealing that the arm was attached to nothing at all. It floated limply in the doorway. It wore a ring. One of Ellen’s.

The hand flicked the light switch off. The floor opened up beneath Paige and she fell with blinding speed into a void. The arm followed.

Somehow the arm was suddenly attached to Ellen as she lay on a raised stone platform bathed in a sickly green light. The light came from things resembling egg sacs the size of basketballs, only they were bioluminescent. They hung over Ellen from web-like strands. The platform was surrounded by… things. In robes. The robes seemed to float as if the wearers were underwater. Ellen’s eyes darted from one form to another as they loomed over her. One of them casually reached out and touched her broken arm with hooked fingers. The limb was snapped off her body like a celery stalk. The shriek of pain was almost inhuman, though Ellen was the source. Blood spattered Paige’s face. It was warm.

Warm like the sunshine that was on her cheek.

Paige’s eyes shot open. She had fallen asleep and slept all through the night. She had completely left her friend alone.

She didn’t feel like this much of a failure since Ellen’s funeral. She was out the door in an instant and sped over to Ellen’s house, rehearsing her apology. All words fled her when she arrived.

The flower beds and the grass and the trees – which had all been vibrant and lush the day before – were dead. Not just wilted. Dead. The flowers were shriveled husks. The grass was gray as ash.

“Ellen? Ellen!” Paige yelled as she ran inside the house. The door was ajar. Search as she may, Ellen was gone. Baker was curled up in the recliner where he would sit with his owner and watch TV. Something about the cat tugged at Paige’s senses. She just had to get a closer look at him. His eyes were wide open, but all the color was drained from them. His body was perfectly still. And cold.

Ellen was paying for a ticket to the very theme park where her appetite for thrills began. The girl in the window avoided looking into those opaque eyes. They were cast high up towards the looping tracks of the rollercoasters. In her line of sight, much closer, were power lines where half a dozen crows sat. Like static in a fading television signal, the sky became peppered with more crows. They circled high above, gradually lowering. The din of their voices was just barely getting through the haze of the park’s sounds. Children pointed up. Adults squinted and shielded their eyes.

Nobody was paying attention to Ellen, her blank eyes like granite carvings, a smile twisting her lips, and the vortex of the crows narrowing above her.

She breathed onto a clown that was in the middle of twisting a balloon into the shape of a dog. He had looked up to see what everyone else was gawking at. The air that came from her mouth was distorted like the air above a fire. He collapsed, several balloons flying off into the sky to be impaled by black beaks.

A woman, apparently part of a family of five including three kids, heard the clown go down. She spotted Ellen just in time for her to breathe on her and all five people wavered and fell. Five wisps of something evanescent, like vapor, snaked into Ellen’s mouth.

A middle-aged man heard the family hit the ground and he thought he was witnessing heat stroke. Then he started to feel dizzy himself, and something also left his mouth and entered Ellen’s. Confusion kindled in the crowd. People were falling with no apparent cause. The means of their death was invisible and silent. Whatever was causing the tide of death made people run, creating even more confusion. Which created stampedes. Which were far noisier and more visible than Ellen, who crept along and exhaled death on everyone she could get close to. Far too many people ran straight into her miasma of doom. The crows above her tightened into a black funnel with the tip just above her head, and the more perceptive folks in the crowd could tell that whatever she was, she was best avoided.

Kip Lancaster sat behind his usual wall of flat-screen monitors that had been jimmied into a security system. Each one had nine feeds running into them from all over the park, so the waves that Ellen was making didn’t look like more than agitation in the crowds. It took a minute to get his attention. He first saw that people weren’t just strolling around anymore. It looked like there was some sort of evacuation but nobody knew where to go. Then he saw lots of people lying down in places they shouldn’t be: the middle of roads where there should have been heavy foot traffic. Men, women and children. Had there been a bomb or something?

He scratched his beard with one thumbnail before grabbing the walkie.

“This is Kip. I think we’ve got something really bad. Lots of people down on the ground and running around. Maybe an accident? Looks scary on the monitors.”

Voices chirped back that they’d check it out.

By then there were bodies strewn about in every imaginable way. Standing in line for funnel cakes. Whirling rides were full of screaming kids because the operators were slumped by the controls, dead. Those still living were a tide of panic that knocked over vendor stands and trampled the slow and the weak.

The handful of security guards dispatched to investigate couldn’t safely get onto the fairgrounds. They could, however, see the cyclone of crows that was now a black pillar that terminated at some point among the chaos, like a great phantom finger saying YOU ARE HERE.

An older guard got on top of a vendor’s trailer that hadn’t been knocked over and looked out over the heads of panicking people. He looked through his binoculars at where the tornado of crows came to a point.

“Matthews to Kip. I don’t know what I’m looking at, but there’s a funnel cloud of crows out here and uh… shit, this is weird. It’s following a woman with… glowing eyes?”

Kip found the feed that showed what Matthews was describing and zoomed in as much as he could. The image was grainy but one thing was sure, crazy as it was. Anyone that came close to this woman fell over and didn’t get back up.

The camera picked out a clump of flowers in a planter in the woman’s path. The blossoms winked out of existence as they shriveled up.

Kip radioed out again: “Looks like she might be using some sort of chemical agent. Everything around her just dies.”

Four officers in blue uniforms converged on Ellen. Their service pistols were drawn and they yelled something to her, something else to each other. They all moved in very close. Kip shook his head.

“Tell those officers to keep their distance, for Christ’s sake. Everyone that–”

One of them made a move to restrain Ellen and this emboldened the other three to also close in. Her mouth opened wide, the video feed was scrambled for a second, and then four officers fell down and didn’t get back up. Four trails of gray pixels snaked from each body into the woman’s mouth.

Kip swallowed hard at the sight. His eyes took it in, but his brain was trying to spit it out.

“Kip here. All four dispatched officers are down.”

Kip zoomed out and was startled to see the dozens, hundreds of bodies that had accumulated while he was zeroed in on this strange woman.

“Kip to anyone still following the situation, please respond.”

There was no answer.

“Does anyone read me, damn it!”

Something caught Kip’s eye on another video feed. He had seen countless vehicles stream out of the parking lot. A civilian vehicle was heading in. It smashed through the park admission gates and slid to a sideways stop near ground zero. Another woman jumped out of it.

“Ellen!” Paige called at the top of her lungs, as she stood only a few meters from her best friend who had a black cloud of carrion-eaters twisting above her, shedding feathers like volcanic ash. The sound of their wings and their voices was deafening, and yet Ellen halted as if she could hear her name being called.

She looked at Paige.

“Ellen, what is this? What the hell did you do?”

She raised her one arm to Paige and her mouth spoke. Paige heard a voice that may have come from her friend, or it may have come from the ground beneath her feet, she wasn’t sure. But the sound made her tremble.

“Paige, baby, it’s me, Daddy!”

It wasn’t Ellen’s voice – It was her father’s. Male. Baritone. Full of the love that she hadn’t heard in years.

“Daddy..?” she whimpered.

“Mommy-mommy-mommy,” Ellen’s mouth moved again, this time with a much higher voice. “Mommy, I miss you!”

Paige reacted like she had been stabbed in the stomach. It was Bobby’s voice. Sweet little Bobby. Her vision swam as her feet couldn’t keep track of the ground.

“Oh, Sugar. Come to Daddy! We can finally be together,” Her father’s voice again.

Paige barely managed to focus her eyes to see Ellen coming toward her with a royal vanguard of crows walking ahead of her.

“Take our hand, Mommy!”

The sound of crows roared like ocean surf.

“Come on, dumpling. Daddy has waited for this for so long.”

A sob wracked Paige’s abdomen and pulled her face taut like there was a bridle in her jaws. She held out her shaking arms toward Ellen, not in protest, but in invitation.

Ellen opened her mouth wide and the air around her began to shimmer.

Pink mist burst around her blonde hair and a dark crimson spot bloomed on her forehead. She faceplanted a few feet away from Paige, revealing Kip Lancaster, holding a service pistol that had belonged to one of the fallen officers. With the crack of Ellen’s skull against the ground, the cyclone of crows scattered.

Paige registered no shock or dismay as the young security guard approached her and made sure she was alright.

Police arrived. So did the coroner. He nearly joined the body count out of sheer shock.

The scene was bathed in flashing LED lights for some time. The more officers questioned witnesses, the more insane the story sounded. One of them nervously stroked his mustache as he talked to his comrade who held a clipboard.

“Nobody is going to believe any of this, Johnson. I swear… nobody! Hey! This is no time to be smoking!”

Johnson turned to the other cop and stared at him with his mirrored sunglasses. Officer Mustache nodded.

“Sorry. I could have sworn I saw smoke coming out of your pie hole. I mean, you passed your personal record of three months without a cig, so yeah. Just trying to help.”

The computer from inside the squad car bleeped to life and the mustachioed officer ducked in to check it out. Johnson quietly adjusted his sunglasses, briefly revealing his eyes, which were white as marbles.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Craig Groshek and Irving Crane
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Craig Groshek and Irving Crane


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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