by Max Barry

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This story was submitted for Vocal's Little Black Book Contest:

Thomas sat in bed thumbing the mysterious notebook, it was small in comparison to his typical college ones, and it was exceptionally aged, as if it would crumble to dust in his hands at a mere touch. The first thing he noticed about it was it seemed to be very well used, the pages were dog-eared in specific places throughout and most of the pages had at least one tear to their name. The notebook was made of blackened leather, and on the front was a single name: Winston Mathins. Thomas recognized this name as one of his great-uncles, his name came up occasionally during dinner with his family, and it seemed the consensus was that Winston was a shut-in, who kept to his house in his later years. His wife was concerned with his mental health, as Winston repeatedly told of nightmarish creatures visiting him in the long night and giving him promises of great wealth and long life. After Winston and his wife divorced, the great wealth part of his disillusion seemed to come true, as Winston happened upon hoards of money, though he never revealed to anyone how he accrued his fortune. Winston passed a week from yesterday, at the ripe old age of ninety-seven, and he left Thomas - to his surprise - the notebook, and twenty thousand dollars, which Thomas remarked was “but a drop in the bucket of Winston’s actual fortune.” but Thomas held his tongue, as many in his family believed the money to be dirty, most thought Winston was involved in organized crime. Thomas’ curiosity got the better of him, and he opened the notebook to the first page.

The first page was dated September 7, 1968, and it read as follows: “My psyche is shattered, any doubts about otherworldly beings have now left my mind as of today. I have been having visions of ghoulish creatures harassing me in my home and when I am alone in town, they speak in tongues which I can not recognize by voice, but burrow into my mind clear as day. I have visited my priest and he has told me that these devils are Lucifer’s minions, that they are trying to lead me to sin and that I should repent for my transgressions to God in heaven for even lending an ear to these heathens. I pray fervently each day and night, but that has done nothing to quell these visions and ease my mind. Until yesterday I assumed I was going mad and planned to end it all the coward’s way until something some may call a miracle, but I call an affront to God. These demons once again appeared to me, there was three of them, all in ash-gray suits, all roughly the same height, one could mistake them for ordinary humans, if not for their eyes, which were as dark as coal, with not a trace of a pupil. This time their words came through perfectly to my ears, and their voices relaxed me off the stool that was under the noose I had tied from the support beam above my bed. I sat dead center on the bed in a comatose state, two of the figures sat down on the left and the right of me, and the final pulled up a chair and sat directly in front of me. The one situated in front of me began his speech; “We have been eyeing your progress for some time Winston and we finally believe you are ready for our gifts. Let me make one thing clear before though, we are not “Lucifer’s” minions nor are we devils in disguise, we exist in the fabrics of this universe as beings of order and as beings of absolute certainty. The knowledge we hold of this world and all of its secrets would crush your feeble human mind at a mere taste of ours. You are not special in any way, though you are the lucky human in which we will bestow our gifts at a small cost that we will now explain to you in vivid detail.” The being pulled a small black notebook out of its suit pocket, the very one in which I write these words. “You are to write in this notebook every waking day your experiences in life, your mundane tasks you do every day, your experiences at your job, your romantic partners, anything and everything that goes on in your life. You are to do this until you pass from this world and upon your death, we will find someone else in your family to start their story. In exchange we will offer you immense wealth and longevity.” The figure then pulled a piece of paper out of the suit pocket, “This is a binding contract that will seal our deal, and – if ever broken – you will immediately suffer an immense heart attack and die on the spot. The rules of the deal are simple, do not tell anyone about what transpired here today.” The figure pointed to a spot to sign on the bottom on the contract and pricked my finger with his nail, I signed the contract in my blood without even thinking about the consequences of such a deal, the figures’ presence spurred me into a rash decision. The figure clapped his hands, “Excellent! We will meet each other again near the end of your life.” With that statement the figures vanished before my eyes, all that remained of this event was the notebook I held in my hands.

Thomas was taken aback by the first entry and – thinking it to be the ravings of a madman – continued on through the next couple of entries. Every entry from the first was simple mundane content of Winston’s life, which seemingly lived up to the rules of the contract which Winston signed in blood. Thomas spent the whole night reading the entries, which ended with Winston’s passing. Upon reaching the end point the notebook grew hot in Thomas’ hands, which caused him to drop in in shock. Picking the notebook up from the floor, Thomas was shocked to find the name written on the front was now in fact his own, and all the pages of the notebook were crisp and without tear. Opening the notebook up Thomas also discovered the pages were now blank with only a heading of today’s date remaining on the front page. Thomas was frozen in fear when in the corner of his eye he spotted the same three figures walking up to him. They started with the same statement that they had greeted Winston with, “We have been eyeing your progress for some time Thomas and we finally believe you are ready for our gifts.”

This a short story I have been working on:

“Wake up. It’s time.” A voice emanated throughout the cramped prison cell. Jacob stirred from his uncomfortable sleeping position and opened his eyes. He did not recognize his current setting nor had any notion of how he had arrived here. “Who… who said that?” Jacob looked around the room, it was completely barren except for a few points of interest. The bed Jacob had woken up on was situated in the corner of the room, and was completely flat and bolted to the ground. Straight across from him was the door to his cell, it lacked any form of identifying features, save for the fact that it appeared to open electronically, without any form of handle or keyhole. The voice chimed in again, this time a bit louder, as if the person on the other end was already getting agitated with Jacob. “That isn’t important right now, it is time for your first test.” Jacob tried to pinpoint the exact location of where the voice was coming from, but failed, it seemed like the voice was all around him, trapping him in an invisible barrier of sound. “Step out of the room.”, the voice demanded. With that order came the sound of Jacob’s cell opening, the door sliding into a recess in the wall. Jacob was still a bit groggy, and thus took longer to exit his cell than the voice had wanted. “I am a very busy person Jacob, this is your life in your hands. Either get a move on or I will be forced to dispose of you.” Jacob quickened his step until he was fully outside his cell, whereupon the door closed behind him. “Good. This is a perfect time to share an important detail with you regarding your unique situation. I assume you have noticed the device around your neck?” Jacob hadn’t, but acted as he did, and nodded. “That device is a specially made electroshock collar, designed to deliver increasing amounts of watts into the body. This is how I am going to discipline you.” Jacob felt the device around his neck, and concluded it seemed to do exactly what the voice described. “You will get a grand total of two warnings before your life will be forfeit, the first warning will be a light shock, the second will be a painful shock, and the third… let’s just say the device is designed to be lethal. Now, walk down the hall a bit, I will tell you when to stop.” Jacob complied, and proceeded to walk down the lit hallway. The hallway was just like his room, barren. There wasn’t any windows to speak of, so Jacob didn’t know if he was above ground or not, he assumed he wasn’t. Jacob saw some doors down the hallway and the voice told him to stop at the first one. The doors were all numbered, with the first door being appropriately marked as one. The doors continued for some time down the hallway, until Jacob couldn’t read the numbers anymore. “These doors lead into your trial rooms, where you will be tested on your survival abilities in different horroresque environments, these trials may or may not get harder as time goes on, it depends on you really. Now, enter the first room.” Jacob did as instructed, the thought of the collar around spurred him to take the voice’s demands seriously. The door slid open in front of him and Jacob stepped inside.

Six statuesque templates of eldritch horrors stood circled in the room. A single tape and a tape player to play it sat in the middle of the statues, as if beckoning to be heard, the statues were faceless and unnaturally smooth, with their “limbs” positioned in a wicked way. Even without their faces one could feel a sinister presence watching them if they lingered in the room for too long. Jacob reluctantly entered the ringed circle. As soon as he was completely in the circle the statues of the beings suddenly shifted their position, and proceeded to trap Jacob inside. Jacob was not sure how the statues had suddenly moved, and a quick glance down on his hands confirmed his suspicions, there was no visible track or machinery that would allowed the statues their quick movement. Rising from this position a sudden pain entered Jacob’s mind, the pain was indescribable, with the only sensation even remotely fitting being a “gnawing” feeling at the back of Jacob’s mind. He fought the sensation as best he could and stood just in time to catch a glance of one of the statues closest to the tape player inserting the tape into it. The room fell unnaturally silent as the tape began to play, there was silence for what seemed like ages, until a voice broke through it. “My name is professor Wilkins, this is a log transcribing items found in an ancient temple my team and I explored in an uninhabited part of the Philippines.” Sounds of shifting paper can be heard before Wilkins continues speaking. “The temple was discovered deep within a mountain, scans of the area inside a cave indicated an entrance that presumably was untouched for millennia, a couple of hours digging later and we were successfully inside the temple. The first thing we were greeted to inside was skeletons, hundreds of them in fact, all laid out in seemingly ritualistic poses, it was safe to assume this was a mass suicide. The walls above the skeletons were adorned with otherworldly figures, there were sentences which we assumed chronicled the creatures, part of which were written in Filipino, but most were written in a language we have yet to identify.” The professor takes a break to take a drink from his cup. “One thing was certain in these murals though, these “creatures” were not keen on these humans, the murals depicted – among other things – other mass suicides like the one we had come across, the creatures feasting on the dead of the tribe while the tribe prayed to them, and most shockingly, the creatures, ahem, mating with the females of the tribe, a process which looked horrifyingly uncomfortable, especially to the females of our expedition team.”