Short Story Sunday: The Top Hat

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[It’s not Sunday, but I was sick yesterday so here’s a creepy story for a crappy Monday. Or would that be a crappy story for a creepy Monday? Only one way to find out — keep reading.]

Every person’s home is where they feel most comfortable at. Over time I came to realize this is not solely because of shelter and warmth, but because of privacy and safety. Outside in the world the flow never stops, there are living beings all around us, you’re never truly alone or solely with someone you trust. Even if you are alone, the possibility that someone could be right around the corner, hiding in the bushes, or watching you from a window of the nearby building never fades away. But when you’re at home you’re behind walls, you’ve hidden inside your castle and you feel beyond harm’s reach.

My family’s castle walls were shaken about 10 years ago on a fine Sunday night. The events started during the day, but no one quite noticed. Or more precisely, me and my sister noticed but we weren’t truly paying attention. We were kids, I was 9 and she was 7. As every night we set on to have dinner, and while my parents finished their food, me and my sister were always late because we didn’t feel like eating our vegetables. While we were still eating and our parents were cleaning around the kitchen, my mother called my father to see something. Through our kitchen window they were seeing someone standing outside our house. They were trying to whisper but we could still hear them and among the whispers I heard the man looked to be wearing a top hat.

This is when the realization came to me that earlier while we were playing in the yard there was a tall man in a long black coat walking across the street. He was wearing a top hat and it appeared as if he’s checking out the houses on the street. I immediately told my parents we had seen someone like that today while we were playing, and I got told to eat what’s in front of me and not pry on conversations. But I could see the worry on their faces and I know dad went out with his baseball bat to look for the man. I finished my food quickly and went to the living room where I could look outside through the windows — my dad was circling around the house. He didn’t found anyone though so he returned inside. My parents said that someone was likely just walking by, but I heard them double check the house doors are locked before going to bed.

The next day went about as any regular Monday. We were lazying around yet our parents hurried us so we’re not late for school. It was a silly routine, head to the bathroom to clean up yourself, head to your room to change and get your school bag ready, head to the dining room for breakfast, and finally get in the car to be taken to school. And as with any routine, it didn’t include anything out of the ordinary. This means there was no mention nor talk, and likely no thoughts either, about the man from last night.

That only lasted till my history class. I couldn’t pay attention, I was bored, so I resorted to looking at the other kids and looking outside the windows. This is when I saw him again, the slender elegant man with the top hat looking at me from outside. I was scared and I panicked, yelling out in fear. The teacher was worried so she came rushing toward me, trying to make sure something hadn’t happened to me as I had apparently fallen from my chair. After a short period of class chaos, I was sent to the principal’s office, my parents were called and I was quickly taken home. To this day I’m not fully sure why I reacted that way, but whenever I look back at things I feel this was when I first sensed the danger. Something’s eating away at your privacy and safety and it seems to be stuck to you, there is no other feeling but terror in that realization.

I spent the day at home, mostly watching television and cuddling myself on the sofa. But the bad feelings never went away, now I felt confined to these walls and even there I did not feel safe. Things got worse during dinner when my mother once again looking outside the kitchen window noticed the same man with the top hat standing outside. She didn’t tell us that, but she didn’t have to. The plate from her hands quickly fell on the floor, she yelled out my father’s name, and with a shaky voice told him that he’s standing outside again. This time my father didn’t go outside, instead he called the police. I’m not sure how much my sister understood, if any, but the shattered plate and the shouting seemed to have scared her quite enough on their own.

The police arrived soon, but left just as quickly. They searched around and found nothing so it was decided the neighborhood is safe enough and they’ll just have a patrol car drive around every now and then. I felt better knowing the police will be keeping an eye, but it didn’t seem to help my parents. They stayed up after we went to bed and it was clear they were worried. When we woke up in the morning you could see the worry on their face — a pale white shade with big dark circles below their eyes, and it looked like the coffee pot hadn’t slept at all that night.

With the exception of that, the day seemed to go on fine. I kept looking outside the window during classes but there was nothing out of the ordinary there. The out of the ordinary came midway through my classes when I was told I’m to leave early and my father was there to pick me up. They didn’t want to let me know what had happened, but we got home quite fast and me and my sister were ordered to go in our room. Once there, my sister told me she had seen the man with the top class while she was at school and that’s why my parents were called there and why we’re at home now.

While we were in our room my thoughts were revolving around the man with the top hat. I could never make out his face, his head always seemed to be leaned down and the top hat covered the rest of it. A slim dark feature in a long dark coat and a top hat, if it wasn’t for his posture one could almost thing he wasn’t human. My parents looking out of the windows the rest of the day. They even opted out of making dinner so we had pizza instead. Me and my sister were eating in the living room while watching television, when my mom called my dad. He went to the window to check for himself, then rushed to grab his baseball bat and went outside. My mother went to lock the door behind him.

Me and my sister were watching through the windows as the figure in the top hat made its way north toward the nearby woods, and my father run off after him. It’s been 10 years since that night, but my father never came back. Even the police couldn’t find him and they did a heavy search for him for a number of days. There was no trace of him nor the man in the top hat.

I did saw the man in the top hat a week ago though. We were at a friend’s house for a party, I went out on the balcony for a smoke and that’s when I noticed the dark figure down in the shadows. He was wearing different clothes, but the hat was the same and that gave him away. I froze, all the fear and terror from back then returning to my mind and wrapping my body in invisible chains. But as he walked away he crossed a place where the street lamps reached him with their light and that’s when I saw the face below the top hat. That’s when I saw my father wearing the top hat.

Short Story Sunday: Murder and a Smile

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You’re a student even after you finish your education, living isn’t cheap and you aim to get by with as little expenses as possible. So I found myself two new roommates, Joshua and Chris, and we rented an old apartment in a poorer part of the city. It was on the third floor of the building, it had a room for each of us, plus a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. A nice addition was that it had a small balcony, though there wasn’t much of a view from it as a very tall and broad oak tree was situated in front of it.

Thing went well for the first few weeks, the living conditions were good, the job wasn’t horrid and the payment was decent. There was even a non-working holiday which gave us a prolonged weekend and I decided to head back home and spend those days with my family. Or at least I thought I will. On Sunday I got a call from Chris, who wanted to make sure I heard the news from him — Joshua was dead. There is no right way for delivering news as those, especially if you’re going to say it was a suicide, as this appeared to the case.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Who could, in a similar situation? I may not have known him that long, but he had never shown any signs of being unhappy or that he had trouble. As earliest as I could in the morning I went back to the apartment. Chris was there, but he looked even worse than me, his face was as pale as marble and he had a troubled look. That could not be solely from lack of sleep. Unfortunately, I was correct in my assumption. He thought the police are passing it off as a suicide but to him it looked like a murder.

He was the one who found the crime scene. He went to get food, and upon his return he found Joshua in the yard, body broken in a thousand pieces and blood splattered everywhere. After calling the police, even though panicking he spent a few moments examining the place. There was blood where the body was lying, that would have been expected, but there it also everywhere nearby on the ground and even some on the building. He thought it didn’t look like the body was dragged around either, it looked like it was thrown around. Chris wasn’t pale because of lack of sleep; he was pale because of what he had witnessed.

At first I thought the shock had done its job and he was exaggerating the details unintentionally. But I went outside and there was blood on the side of the building. The ground looked clear, whatever the cops did overnight they must have cleared that somehow, but the side of the building still showed evidence from the crime. That’s not the worst part, after turning around I noticed blood on another place — the huge old oak tree. Someone clearly attempted to clean it off, but between the barks the red color was still running. It was a horrid sight that forces your mind to imagine what happened here. I was failing at that but it didn’t help with feeling bad.

As I was getting back to the apartment I noticed someone leaving. Chris explained it was a neighbor from the top floor; we had never seen him before because he avoided walking around and preferred staying closed in. Apparently he offered Chris his condolences and told him that he too had experienced something similar, his wife died two years back and the case was also closed as a suicide. Not only that, but over the last two years the man had learned that several tenants had died in the same manner since the building was constructed, and there were other killings near the buildings — in all of those the cases were closed off as suicides or were never truly resolved.

We were enraged, but that rage was engulfed with fear. We didn’t know what exactly had happened or why for that matter, but we did know it was no suicide and it seemed clear the authorities are ignoring it or avoiding it. It may need digging deeper, it may need a lot of effort and courage if we ever feel capable of following up on what happened. One thing was clear to both of us, we could not be spending a day more in this place where each look outside the window would remind us of what had happened to Joshua. We packed our bags that same day and went out to look for a new place.

As I was walking away from the building I threw one last glance at it. The huge oak tree stood out among all things, now all red and creepy. At that moment, in that specific light, it seemed like the blood had formed a face on it. A face with a grotesque and maniacal red smile on it.

Short Story Sunday: Cinema Night

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Being part of winter the months of January and February are usually filled with cold, rainy, and windy days. Thus one usually finds it enjoyable to spend those days at home with a cup of warm coffee. Or, since it is also the awards season for motion pictures, one might also enjoy going to the cinema to catch up with award nominees. My roommate and I are avid movie fans so that’s what we used to. It all stopped one night four years ago.

The night I have in mind we were going to see a thriller romance, which we would usually avoid but it featured Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp so we thought to ourselves how bad can it really be? Awfully bad, apparently. I guess it didn’t help that I had pulled two shifts at a fast food restaurant before going to the midnight screening of the movie. Somewhere along the way I must have fallen asleep. Which is quite normal with me being tired and the movie not entertaining enough to keep me awake. What isn’t normal is waking up all sweaty and frightened as if I’ve had a nightmare but not remembering any details. The first thing I realized is that I was at the cinema. The next thing I did was look left to where my roommate was sitting but he wasn’t there, his seat was empty. In fact, after looking around the room I noticed all seats were empty. The cinema was empty, there was no one there but myself.

I was more confused than frightened at this point but I could sense a fear setting in. I saw the movie was over, though a black screen was clearly still projecting, as if the credits were to run but there was no change. If the movie ended, why wouldn’t my friend wake up? Why wouldn’t I wake up from noise of everyone else leaving? Aren’t there staff members who check the rooms after each screening ends? Too many questions and no answers. As I moved toward the exit of the cinema I pulled out my cell phone with the idea to call my roommate, but it had likely ran out of battery because I couldn’t turn it on. No biggie, I told myself, until I reached the cinema’s front door and realized it’s locked. I tried pushing, pulling, even kicking it but it wouldn’t budge. While with each push and pull and kick I could fear my heart racing faster and faster. How did this happen? Am I spending the night at this place?

I was set on finding a phone, they had to have one somewhere. Making my way through the halls though, I started pondering if just sleeping off the night isn’t a smarter move. I could hear noise. The noise quickly turns into more clear sounds. And the sounds soon turn into voices. What if I’m not alone here? Is that a good or a bad thing? My brain was tired, my body was exhausted, I needed sleep and not creepy thoughts, so I took a deep breath and moved toward the source of the voices. Getting closer to them, I realized they’re not actual human voices. It sounded like they were coming from a TV – and rightfully so, there was a movie playing. From fear to disappointment, I could not catch a break. I had almost decided to give up and find a comfortable place for spending the night, when I noticed a black shadow in the front rows. It looked like a small dark figure moving quickly between the seats, making its way toward the back exit of the room. In the dark I could not see who or what it was, I just stood there observing its movement. As the light of the movie changed, from dark to light, I caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared through the exit. An extremely thin, crooked figure. It wasn’t small as I thought, it looked tiny because most of its body was slithering on the floor.

I was seeing everything from a different point of view now – there was no sign of my friend, my cell phone wasn’t working, I was in an empty, locked up cinema, and there was something else with me there. Something I couldn’t even define and the bare thought of it send shivers down my spine. I was frozen, blocked, unable to move or maybe I just didn’t know where to go but I knew I was just standing there. I tried to shake off the negativity from my mind and left the room. I decided I’ll lock myself up in the owner’s office so I made my way down the hall. I didn’t make it even ten feet when I saw the thing again. It was coming from the restricted areas, it had likely visited the offices – but how did it get there so quickly? Or were there more than one? I noticed that I can hear the thing making a snake-like hissing, but stronger, sharper, and it sounded a bit deeper. It’s probable that in the previous room the sound from the movie was preventing me from hearing any of this, but now the hall was mostly quiet and I could hear it. I could hear it clearer and clearer. It was coming this way.

At this point I was completely worn out. My body and my mind kept reminding me about the lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of water, and pointing to the excess stress, dismay, and fear. I did not have the energy or the will to pretend that I’m strong or that I’m smart or to make strategic moves. I decided to make a run for it. The bathroom was close, I could lock myself up in there and hope I make it to the morning. Due to being exhausted my running wasn’t very fast, and even though I’m sure my feet were stumping on the ground and my heart was thumping, all I could hear was the noise the slithering was making. I was so focused on reaching the bathroom that I didn’t think about other possibilities – just as I was about to enter the bathroom I noticed there’s a short corridor on the right that has stairs which lead to the roof. I pushed the bathroom door as hard as I can, hoping it distracts the thing, and made a run for the roof.

The idea of getting away from that thing and that place gave me hope and strength, I could feel myself rushing at a faster pace than before. In fact I was moving so fast that I completely forgot to lock the door behind me. I thought to myself if there are stairs to the roof then there must be fire-escape stairs that lead down from the building. And there were, I could see them as soon as I came out on the roof and without even stopping to take a breath I kept running. I’m not sure if due to my state or my rush, as I was going down the last stairs I slipped and couldn’t hold onto them. Within a second I found myself on the ground, lying on the back and my whole body aching while all I could do is let out a scream of pain.

I keep going back to this moment, I’m not sure if it was a response to my scream or a victorious roar of its own, but at that exact moment the thing peeked from the room and let out a vicious hissing sound that resonated across the whole street. Despite all the pain and exhaustion, I pushed myself up on my feet and started running. I never glanced back, not even once. I just kept running. I do not remember how but apparently I almost made it to the hospital, I had collapsed nearby and someone picked me up and took me inside. I awoke the next day, but the joy of surviving last night’s happenings quickly faded away. While I made it out alive, I  was informed my roommate didn’t, or at least they couldn’t find him. In fact, they couldn’t find any of the people who were in that cinema last night, I was the only person who made it.

It’s been 4 years and the police never really got any leads on the case. But then again, I never told them what truly happened to me that night.

Short Story Sunday: Don’t Mind the Rain

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I find it soothing to sit by the window and listen to the rain pouring outside. There’s something peculiar about it, a soft noise that shatters the silence and puts you at comfort. I’m in my twenties now, living alone, it’s a Sunday night and I’ve already prepared for work in the morning so I’m lying on the sofa with my eyes closed and listening to the rain.

But my story doesn’t start here. My story starts in my childhood, during my years in elementary school. As it is common among kids of that age, we did a lot of sleepovers. The first one I remember was at Michael’s house. It took place on a Friday; his dad came to pick us up from school in their van and brought us directly to their house. It was Michael, me, Dean, and Henry. We spent most of the day playing outside in their yard. It was a large yard with a freshly mowed grass, several large trees and a few swings among them. To top it all there was a tree house skillfully hidden behind a layer of leaves – the perfect thing you need for pretending you’re ninjas or secret agents. All in all, there were enough things to keep us busy throughout the day. It feels like dinner time came barely moments after we started playing.

After dinner we resided to Michael’s room. We talked about happenings at school, we shared jokes and stories. As the night went on we could clearly hear the rain on the windows, and as it almost felt eerie combined with some of the scary stories being shared. You would think a bunch of little kids wouldn’t be able to sleep all night when they’re scared, but likely due to the sound of the rain or because we were tired from playing all day long, we quickly started falling asleep one by one. I had a bit of trouble sleeping on new locations, that’s probably why I was last to fall asleep, but the sound of the rain definitely helped.

I thought I was already asleep when my heartbeat became more prominent. The sequential lub-dubs were louder and louder each time. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t my heartbeat, but someone coming up the stairs. By the time I realized this, they were already at the door. Out of nowhere I felt a strange fear taking over my body. I noticed that I could no longer hear the rain, and I did not know when or how it stopped. In fact, I could no longer hear anything – it was a complete silence excluding the movement of whoever or whatever was outside that door. Even scarier is that I did not hear the door opening, yet I knew deep down that it was already in the same room. The sound of their movement was no longer muffled; there were neither walls nor doors separating us from it.

At this point I was seriously panicking, yet I could not do anything because I was immobilized, bewitched, and unable to move my body in anyway. My eye lids would not open regardless of the effort I put into the task. But whatever was in the room didn’t have this issue; it was now moving directly toward us. Directly toward me, more precisely. I could not hear my heart but I was sure it was beating like crazy at that moment. Beating like a person locked behind bars, as that is how I felt as the thing approached me. Or at least I thought it was approaching me. A few feet away it stopped and silence devoured everything but my thoughts. If I was afraid when it was coming my way, I have no words to describe my terror of not knowing what it’s doing or where it’s going. With no previous warning, the thing let out a ravenous loud roar and in the same instant my body shut down, the fear and shock likely too huge for the little boy back then.

I cannot tell you what precisely happened. What I can tell you is the next day we all woke up in Michael’s room, except Michael himself. Michael was gone, nowhere to be found. He still is, actually, they never found him and they never even got any lead as to what had happened to him. The same could be said of the rain. You see, when we told our story to our parents, they reassured us there was no rain and we were likely hearing something else. But we all know what we heard that night and in the nights to come, though I never shared with anyone what I heard during my attempt to fall asleep.

I didn’t even share it with Henry when Dean disappeared the same way. And once Henry disappeared the same way, I had no one to share it with even if I wanted to. So you see, when the sound of the rain is there it means there is no silence and that means the creature isn’t there. That’s comforting to know and that’s why I don’t mind the rain. But come to think of it, I’m not hearing the rain…