Part 1: Blonde
“THUMP!” Owen angrily slammed his fist against his computer desk, only to immediately draw it back in pain.
Crap, he thought. I need to get a hold of myself…
He’d been scrolling through news articles all morning for any evidence that his post on Station 8 had resulted in any deaths, only to come up with absolutely nothing.
Maybe there’s some other way to test this?
He could use an instant message program or SMS. If that failed, he could always try Station 8 again.
“UUUURGH!” He clinched at his forehead. He’d gotten so frustrated that he’d given himself a headache. Combined with the harsh light from his computer screen, it was proving to be extremely painful.
He rubbed at his eyes as he felt a dull throb in his skull behind them.
Maybe I should take some pills, he thought, straightening up from his chair.
Just then, he heard a sudden knock at his door, making him jump in surprise.
“OWEN, MY BOY!” his step-brother shouted from outside. “IT’S YOUR DEAR BROTHER CYRUS! OPEN UP!”
As if to punctuate his request, he gave the door a few more pounds with his fist.
Damn it, Owen thought, eyeing the black envelope that was laying next to his computer monitor.
Perhaps it’s finally time to make my move.
“Comiiiiing!” Owen shouted. He decided to leave the photo in his room for now and wait until the proper moment to strike.
As he headed to the door, Cyrus knocked once again.
“I SAID I’M COMING!” Owen yelled. He unlocked the door with a “click-clack” and opened it up, revealing Cyrus’ tattooed face. Behind him stood two of his lackeys, who currently had smug grins on their faces.
“What’s going on?” Owen asked, growing nervous.
“Owen, don’t tell me you forgot!” Cyrus said, bearing his teeth in a sinister smile. “It was my birthday yesterday, and you didn’t even call!”
“W-what?” It was true that Owen forgot about that whole thing, but Cyrus wasn’t the type to make a big deal about a birthday.
“Aren’t you gonna let us in, bro?” Cyrus asked, his smile fading slightly.
“Uh… Y-yeah,” Owen stammered. “Come on in.”
He opened the door further and moved out of the way, letting the trio enter his apartment. Cyrus was tall and lanky, his body covered in black tattoos. He never had hair for as long as Owen knew him. It had always been closely shaved.
The two friends he had brought with him were like opposites in terms of their appearance. One was tall and fat, while the other was fairly short, but had arm muscles nearly as big as his head.
The fat one wore a black hoodie and kept fidgeting with the waistline of his pants. Owen suspected that the man had a gun concealed and was struggling to find a good position for it.
The two henchmen made themselves comfortable on Owen’s couch while Cyrus frantically paced around, examining the place. It seemed as if he were high on something, a possibility that was extremely likely.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been here, huh?” He said, opening up Owen’s fridge. “You got a nice place, bro!”
“Thanks,” Owen said blankly.
He heard the “clink” of Cyrus removing bottles of beer from the fridge. He returned to the living room holding three of them, and gave two to the men on the couch. The short one popped the lid off of his bottle with his front teeth, prompting a laugh from Cyrus.
“You see this guy?” he asked, glancing back at Owen. “He’s always doing wild stuff like this.”
Owen said nothing and simply watched them from the small hallway that led to his bedroom.
“I’m sure you know why I’m really here, right bro?” Cyrus asked, unprompted.
“Yeah,” Owen replied quietly. “You want your money, right?”
“Hahaha!” Cyrus laughed and pointed at him. “See, guys?” he asked his friends. “I told you this kid was smart!”
Owen was getting tired of Cyrus’ attitude, but he knew he was helpless if he said anything. These three were hardened criminals and wouldn’t hesitate to take him out if the need arose.
Or maybe even just for fun…
Owen turned around. “I think I got some in my room,” he said as he walked away.
“It’s okay, bro!” Cyrus called from the living room. “We’ll wait!”
Owen marched immediately towards the black envelope. He snatched it off of the table and, after taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, turned to head back to the trio.
He didn’t have a solid plan this time around but, if he didn’t give it a shot now, he might not get another chance in the future.
“Real quick, guys,” Owen said, slipping the photo out of the envelope. He made sure he could only see the back, just like last time he unsheathed it. “What do you see in this picture?”
The three men simply stared at the photo for a moment. The fat guy was the first to break the silence.
“I dunno,” he said in a deep rumbling voice. “Some ugly blonde chick?”
All three of them laughed.
What? She's blonde now?
“Yep. That’s what it looks like to me!” Cyrus agreed. Before Owen could react, he snatched the photo out of his hand.
“N-NO!” Owen shouted, shocked and horrified.
Cyrus turned the photo over, examining it closely. “What is this, Owen? A Joke?... What’s thirty-three?”
Not sure what else to do, Owen desperately covered his face with his hands.
“Hey, what’s this kid’s problem?” The short man asked.
“Not sure, Benny,” replied Cyrus. He gave Owen a slap on the shoulder. “Hey! What’s the deal with you? What’s going on here?”
Owen refused to answer, infuriating Cyrus further.
“HEY!” he shouted, giving Owen another slap. This one was hard, and knocked Owen onto the floor with a whimper.
“Your brother’s all messed up,” Benny commented.
“He’s just playing with me,” Cyrus said, giving him a weak kick. “Aren’t ya, bro?”
Owen began muttering something in a voice that was too low for the three men to understand. Annoyed, the fat man stood up and removed the pistol from his pants.
“Settle down,” Cyrus told him. “I got this.” He grabbed Owens arm and pulled the pitiful man towards him.
“I don’t wanna see,” Owen whimpered. “I don’t wanna…”
Intrigued, Cyrus glanced back at the photo in his other hand.
“You afraid of this thing?” he asked, shoving the photo into Owen’s face. “Huh?”
Owen shrieked and clasped his face tighter. Cyrus was far stronger, however, and was able to tear one of Owen’s hands away.
“GAAAAAH!” Owen let out a pained scream as his eyes finally glimpsed the photo. A flash of white shot through his brain, and he felt as if his heart were about to explode in his chest.
"SMACK!" Cyrus grabbed Owen’s mouth to shut him up.
“Listen here, Owen,” he said, his voice shifting into a deep angry growl. “You need to get yourself under control right now, or my friend here will have to put a bullet in your skull. Understand?”
Owen silently nodded, prompting Cyrus to finally release him. A warm tear streaked Owen’s cheek as he turned his head away from the men. He already knew it was over for him.
“Next time I come here, I want my money!” Cyrus demanded. Owen laid there like a stone, his eyes tightly shut, and listened as the trio of thugs left his apartment, slamming the door shut loudly behind them.
Once he was sure they were gone, he sat up slowly. He blinked his eyes, trying to erase the image from the photo, which had seemingly been burned into his retina.
Face down on the carpet next to him was the photo, now crumpled and frayed from the struggle earlier. As he stared at the little handwritten “33,” he could have sworn he heard a distant mocking laugh.
Part 2: Ice-cold
Cyrus gripped the pistol in his waistband as he wandered through the dark empty lot. The headlights of his jeep were the only source of illumination, casting long shadows across the grass and dirt.
His two companions, Benny and Frankie, stood waiting by the jeep. Frankie had his big arms crossed over his even bigger chest, and tapped his foot impatiently.
“I’m tellin’ you,” Frankie shouted in his rumbling baritone. “There’s no one here!”
“I definitely hit someone!” Cyrus assured him. “Just because you didn't see it, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, Frank!”
Frankie sighed. Cyrus was in a bad mood, and that meant everyone else was going to be dragged down into the mud with him. It was always that way.
“Gah!” Benny cried out, spinning around frantically. “Who touched me?!”
“Someone there?” Cyrus asked. He pulled his gun out of his pants, but kept the barrel pointed towards the ground.
“I swore I felt something!” Benny replied. “Like a cold hand or something.”
“No kidding?” Cyrus began his trek back to the jeep, but was stopped dead in his tracks once again when a hideous cry filled the air. It sounded like some kind of dying animal crossed with the voice of a weeping woman.
“What the hell was that?!” Frankie asked, finally joining in on the panic.
Cyrus racked a bullet into his pistol’s chamber. “I dunno, but we gotta get out of here.”
Frankie grasped the handle of the jeep’s back door, but immediately leaped backwards as a figure inside the car pressed itself up against the window. It’s dark hair plastered itself against the glass, as if pulled there by static electricity, and it’s wide fang-filled mouth opened up in a wet distorted smile. Above the gaping maw were two eyes shining with an unnatural spectral light.
“Oh f-” Frankie immediately pulled out his own pistol and fired three shots through the window, shattering it. The figure, however, seemed to have disappeared completely.
“What are you doing?!” Cyrus yelled. “That’s my car, you bastard!”
Frankie pointed desperately towards the vehicle, his hand visibly shaking. “There’s someone in there!”
“He’s right!” Benny added. “I saw it too!”
Cyrus’ bloodshot eyes widened in shock. “R-really?” he stammered. “How?!”
“AAAAAAAAARRRRRGH!” The same cry from earlier sounded from the opposite side of the lot, prompting Benny to join the other two in drawing his pistol.
“WHO THE HELL IS THERE?!” Cyrus shouted, waving his gun around in a mad panic. “SHOW YOURSELF!”
“AAAAAAARGH!” Several more screams sounded, combining into an unbearable, wretched cacophony. The three men spun around desperately, trying to catch a single glimpse of the entities making the noise.
“BANG BANG!” Benny fired off some shots into the dark patches of trees surrounding the lot. “BANG BANGBANG!” Cyrus followed, then Fankie.
“GAH!” Benny screamed in pain and dropped his pistol to the dirt. It went off on its own, firing a bullet straight into Cyrus’ leg.
“You dumbass!” Cyrus yelled, grasping at his injured leg. “Why did you-”
Benny was currently holding his arm, which appeared to have been bent by some supernatural force half-way up the forearm. The bone had seemingly been snapped into a perfect right angle without drawing any blood whatsoever.
“AAAAAHHHH!” Benny shouted with a mix of pain and terror. Frankie backed away from the small man, his eyes almost bulging out of their sockets.
“WHAT THE HELL, MAN!?” He shouted. “WHO DID TH-”
The fat man stopped dead and clutched at his throat. He leaned forward and began dry-heaving. Cyrus couldn’t do a single thing except watch on in terror as a tangle of red hair burst forth from his mouth.
It can’t end like this, he thought, his head now drenched in cold sweat. IT CAN’T END LIKE THIS!
“GRURGH!” A pale hand pushed its way out of Frankie’s mouth next, its thin fingers curled and gnarled.
Cyrus squeezed his trigger with as much force as he could muster and unloaded eight more bullets in Frankie’s direction. Before he could finish off his clip, he felt a pair of ice-cold hands grab the sides of his head and squeeze it.
Before turning his gun on himself, Cyrus let out one final helpless scream. His final thought was of Owen showing him that damned photo, a slimy smug grin on his face.
Part 3: All for Nothing
The black envelope, and the photo that was inside of it, were in shredded ribbons on the floor of Owen’s living room. Beside then, Owen paced around manically, rubbing at his aching temples in anxious desperation.
Think, Owen! THINK!
He had hoped that destroying the photograph would stop the curse from taking effect. There was a moment of hope when the picture that was printed on it mysteriously faded into white nothingness after the first tear, making it disappear forever.
Unfortunately, Owen began hearing strange whisperings and taps on his apartment’s windows shortly afterwards, and every time he closed his eyes, he still saw that chilling face from the photo, smiling at him with a disturbingly wide sinister grin.
When his original plan failed, he also deleted the scan file from his computer, hoping to erase any trace of the photo’s existence. Once again, this had no effect whatsoever.
“Huh?” Owen saw something in his kitchen area from the corner of his eye. He turned his head to see a bandage-wrapped woman with messy red hair staring straight at him. A strand of drool dripped from the corner of her disfigured mouth while her eyes glowed with a strange demonic light.
“GAH!” Panicked, Owen flopped onto the floor and desperately scrambled away from the hideous creature, only to look back at the kitchen and see that it had already disappeared.
What the hell?! he thought. His entire body felt as if it were covered in cold pins and needles as his bloodstream received an infusion of adrenaline.
“Knock knock knock” Owen jumped upon hearing someone at the door behind him. He quickly shot upright and took a few steps back from it.
“Cyrus?” he called. He waited for a response, but nothing came. “Cyrus, is that you?”
… Still nothing.
They’re screwing with me, Owen thought. These creatures… whatever they are. They’re trying to mess with my head.
Judging from Austin’s death and the footage Owen had watched of the paranormal investigators, people who saw the photo didn’t die until around midnight. That meant Owen still had around five hours left to figure out what to do
But what could he do at this point? He had already destroyed both copies of the picture and was now completely out of leads.
It’s no use, he concluded. I’m done. I don’t have enough time to do anything at all.
As the realization sunk in, he let out a groan of despair and buried his face in his hands. His life had been so short and so miserable. Why did he deserve such a thing? Did he do something in his past life that he was now being punished for? Was this some twisted form of perdition?
He let out another long whine of sorrow and his hands became wet with salty tears.
“I don’t wanna die,” he whimpered to no one in particular. “I don’t wannaaaaa….”
Just then, a thought occurred to him. He still had five hours. That should be enough to tell everyone his story. He could let the world know he existed and warn younger people not to end up like him.
Suddenly energized by this new mission, Owen marched to the computer in his bedroom and sat down in front of the computer. He opened up an empty document file, painting the entire screen a brilliant white, and got ready to type.
What should I talk about first? he asked himself, his eyes illuminated by the glow of the monitor. How do you even go about starting something like this?
He mind struggled to find a starting place. He typed in “I was born in,” then quickly erased it, dissatisfied with how plain and boring it was.
Suddenly he was questioning if he even had anything worthwhile to say in the first place.
I’m truly worthless, he thought. What a boring waste of flesh…
All of those years of pure misery and torment were for nothing in the end. He didn't learn any secret wisdom or find any strength in the end. He simply wallowed in his sorrow and failed to accomplish anything until the very end. There was no story there; nothing worth telling.
There was no point to any of it. No point...
As he sat and stared at the blank document in front of him, the hands of the clock ticked on and on.
Part 4: Escape
Illuminated by his computer monitor, a defeated Owen Greene sobbed into his arms. Behind him, his bedroom light flickered as if it were on the verge of dying out. The shadows seemed thicker and more oppressive than before, and rusting noises could be heard from every corner of the room.
Owen had been at his computer for 3 hours, and had accomplished absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, ignoring the ghastly creatures was getting increasingly difficult.
“SKRITCH SCRATCH!” One of them clawed at the bedroom door from the other side.
“HAHAHAHA!” Another let out a ghoulish laugh that seemed to come from everywhere at once.
“Stop stop stop stop,” Owen chanted to himself, trying to will the spirits away. “Stop stop stop stop stop…”
“CLICK!” the sole light fixture in the room flickered out. One of the creatures now stood in the corner of his room… then another… then another.
In a matter of seconds, a half dozen dark ghostly figures surrounded Owen’s computer chair, their glowing eyes piercing the thick shadow that had now overtaken the room.
“Go away…” he muttered. “Go away go away go away…”
The entities laughed, and he felt them place ice-cold hands on his shoulders. They caressed him gently, playing with him.
“Go away,” he repeated louder. “Go away!”
Just then, he heard the soft voice of a woman humming a melody. It was one he recognized immediately; the same melody he’d been humming merrily to himself after Austin’s death.
That song, he thought, his eyes growing wide. What is it?...
Little by little, the lyrics finally came trickling in from his memory banks.
“Little white flowers will never awaken you…”
Ah, that’s right... How could I forget?
In truth, there was a way out of his situation. It was the same one he had been considering when he first came across that damned van.
Owen made up his mind. He stood up from his chair and turned around to find the apparitions completely gone. They definitely knew what he was planning.
This must be what they want, he thought. Well, fine… They’ll get it.
With less than two hours left until midnight, Owen got to work on his one final chance to escape.
Part 5: The Deer
A lone deer stood in a field, watching a large jeep shudder as its engine died. The headlights that had been reflected in the deer’s eyes flickered out, plunging the field into complete darkness.
Three figures laid motionless beside the vehicle, the ground beneath them wet and muddy from their blood. No noise punctuated the silence of the scene outside of the wind and the occasional buzz of a fly.
The deer surveyed the scene. Its head suddenly jerked to the side as if it saw something move. However, there were only shadows, and the deer resumed its leisurely trot through the darkened field.
If one listened very closely, however, they would have heard a young woman’s laugh mixed in with the howling of the cold wind.
Kimura gasped as he awoke. He raised his head and found himself once again on the cot in his investigation team’s hotel room. The place was dark and empty, save for Mike and Mitch at the other end typing away at their keyboards.
Another vision, he thought, resting his head back onto his pillow. Does this mean it has happened again?
He let out a long deep sigh and closed his eyes.
Detective Mendez would be there soon, and Kimura would need all the rest he could get to prepare for their meeting.
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