Chapter 9:



Part 1: Trouble

Mike Andrews splashed cold water on his face, wincing as make contact with his skin. After drying himself off, he gave his face a few slaps as an extra measure.

While he had originally planned on going home around eight o’ clock, he ended up staying behind to keep reviewing the data that had been handed over by the owner of Station 8. He had assumed that it would be a quick job, considering the image board wasn’t extremely popular in the grand scheme of things. It turned out that he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Just another hour, he thought, glancing up at the clock in the break room. It was already nearing ten.


“CREEEEAAAAK!” He heard the squeal of an old computer chair wheel and ran out to the main room to see what had happened. He had been hearing strange noises for the past hour, but couldn’t track down the cause of any of them.

After looking up and down the room a few times, he concluded that everything was just as he had left it.

What the hell is going on tonight?!

When he turned back towards the break room, he saw a figure standing directly in front of him, blocking his path. Its strands of dirty blonde hair were splayed out wildly in every direction, and its eyes were glowing with an intense bright light. Under those eyes, the figure’s mouth ground its jagged teeth together spastically.

“GAH!” Mike quickly picked up a coffee mug from a nearby counter and tossed it at the creature. To his surprise, the mug simply struck the far wall and shattered into pieces. The figure appeared to have vanished entirely.

What the hell?! Mike thought. This isn’t cool! What’s causing all of this?!

Just then, a connection was made in his brain, and he remembered something that had happened a couple hours ago.

Now that I think about it, that thing looked kind of familiar…

He ran back to his computer and opened up the folder he was keeping the suspicious files in. There weren’t too many at the moment, so it only took him a couple seconds to find the particular file he was looking for. He quickly double-clicked on it, opening it up in an image previewer program.

The image that came up made him feel as if he’d swallowed a rock and it had just landed in his gut. Perspiration began to form on his pale forehead.

That picture… It looked different earlier!

The picture, entitled 433.jpg, depicted a woman with dark black hair down to her waist. She was back-lit by a window behind her, through which a bright red sky could be seen. The little bit of the woman’s face that was visible looked… off. It was distorted, with a disturbingly large mouth full of teeth that were too thin and sharp to be human.

What unsettled Mike the most, however, was the fact that there was a different woman in the photo when he had saved it earlier.

What’s going on here?...

He closed out of the photo again, then reopened it. This time, the woman in the photo had red hair, and her face was more visible than last time, covered in scars and wrapped with ragged bandages.

Oh no… Oh no no no no no…

He repeated the process once again, this time producing a woman with brown hair and a face covered in blood. Then a woman with grey hair. Then another blonde with a different face from the first one.

How many of these things are there?!

He quickly grabbed his notepad and began scribbling descriptions of the women into it. One by one, he noted them down, until he thought there would never be an end to them. After half an hour of this process, he froze in fear. The thirty-third time he had opened the picture, there was a woman directly in front of the camera. Strands of white hair fell in front of her face, and her bloodshot eyes were looking off in different directions.


He jumped at a sudden noise to his right, but quickly settled back down when he realized it was his cell phone.

Kimura is calling, Mike thought, noticing the name on the caller ID. He must have seen something in his dreams.

He immediately answered and put the speaker up to his ear.

“Mike,” Kimura began. His voice had a slight nervous quaver to it. “You’re in trouble.”

“I know.”

Part 2: 11:30

Fabi couldn’t have predicted the chaos he would walk into after opening that door to the hotel room.

Kimura, Mitch, and Victoria were all standing around Mike, who was seated in a computer chair with his hands covering his face. Fabi could hear his panicked breathing all the way from the entranceway.

Oh no, Fabi thought as he approached the group. He remembered Mike’s screaming face in the dream he had earlier. This is bad, isn’t it?...

“What’s going on?” He asked.

Kimura was the first one to respond. “I told them not to open any video files just in case this happened, but…” he sighed deeply. “I never thought it would be a picture.”

“A… picture? What do you mean?”

“Remember that film reel I told you about?”

Fabi’s eyes widened as he came to a terrible realization. “Oh god…”

“He saved some kind of picture because he said it made his head feel weird when he first looked at it,” Mitch added. His face was covered in nervous sweat and Fabi could see the dark circles of sleep deprivation around his eyes. “Apparently the picture changed every time he opened it, and now he says he’s seeing weird ghosts standing around.”

“Speaking of which, are they still there?” Kimura asked.

Mike uncovered his eyes and looked around before nodding silently. Now that his face was uncovered, Fabi saw that his cheeks were wet with tears. Victoria appeared to have been crying as well. She stood behind Mike with a hand placed gently on his shoulder, saying nothing as usual.

Kimura grabbed a notepad from a nearby desk and handed it to Fabi. An entire page was covered in hastily scribbled notes, ending with a big “33.”

Fabi looked at the paper, then back up at Kimura. “W-what is this?” he stammered.

“Notes that Mike had written down. According to his description, the photo depicted a different woman every time he looked at it. He counted thirty-three different women in total.”

“Are the ghosts the same women from the photo?” Fabi asked.

“Apparently yes.”

“What time is it now?” Mitch suddenly asked.

“Eleven-thirty,” Kimura replied.

“And you said the other people all died around midnight?”

Kimura said nothing, opting to answer with a slow solemn nod instead.

“Ohohohooooooh…” Mike covered his face once again and sobbed. “I don’t wanna diiiiie,” he whimpered.

“Everyone remain calm,” Kimura told them. “We’ll try to figure this out togethe-”

“GAAAAAAHHH!” Mike stood up and screamed, cutting Kimura off before he could finish his sentence. He turned and stared at an empty spot behind the computer chair, his face filled with pure panic.

“IT TOUCHED ME!” he shouted, pointing at the air accusingly. “I felt it!”

“Mike, there’s nothing there!” Mitch told him. “Are you sure?”

Mike began back up from where he had been seated. “It’s there!” he cried. “I can see it!”

All four of them backed up from the spot, Victoria almost tripping over herself as she did so.

“It’s coming towards me!” Mike continued. He turned and quickly booked it towards the hotel hallway.

“Wait, Mike!” Kimura called after him. “Where are you going?!”

Mike gave no reply but a scream of terror.

Part 3: Going Up

Mike’s heart felt as if it was going to burst out of his chest as he fled into the hotel hallway. The whole place seemed darker, the shadows longer, and the air felt cold and sharp as he inhaled it. Above him, the hotel hallway’s fluorescent lighting flickered frantically. Insects crawled over the panels, buzzing to and fro with incessant spastic energy.

Where can I go? he thought, his mind swiftly racing through all of the options at his disposal.

He quickly decided on the elevator and made a left turn down the hallway. Once he arrived at the elevator’s metal doors, he mashed the call button, which lit up with the usual yellow light.

Come on come on come on, he thought, feeling beads of ice cold sweat roll down his forehead as he waited.

At last, one of the doors opened, revealing a massive twisted face. It glared down at him with wide bloodshot eyes that twitched around like a lizard’s behind dirty white locks of hair. From its wide wrinkled mouth extended a long grey tongue that lashed towards Mike like the tentacle of a kraken.

“GAAAH!” Jumping out of reach, Mike ran as fast as he could back to where he came. Fabi was opening the door to the hotel room, and watched Mike approach with a look of deep concern.

“Mike, where are you going?!” he asked. Before Mike could respond, several thin pale arms reached towards him from behind Fabi. A deformed black-haired head peaked out from over Fabi’s shoulder and smiled at Mike mockingly. He heard the laughter of women coming from every direction.

“Mike, what’s wrong?”

Ignoring Fabi, Mike ran further down the hallway, trying to escape the horrid ghouls that were pursuing him.

“CRASH!” Mike burst into the hotel’s stairwell. He attempted to go down the stairs first, only to see a half dozen pale ghosts crawling up towards him on all fours, their movements jerky and twitchy like that of an insect.

“Oh god…” The only way left to go was up. He quickly booked it up the steps, climbing two at a time, until he reached the rooftop. Normally, he would have been completely exhausted at this point, but the adrenaline pumping through his veins fueled him. He leapt through the door at the top, emerging into the dark of the night.

Part 4: Killer

Much to Fabi’s surprise, Niles Ishida had followed Mike down the hallway. He seemed just as confused as Fabi was.

“Kimura called me,” he began. “What the hell is going on?”

“Seems like we found what was causing all of those deaths,” Fabi told him. “And now Mike is next.”

Niles’ eyes widened with shock as the realization began to set it. “You mean it really is supernatural?”

Fabi shook his head. “Don’t know, but we gotta get Mike under control. Follow me.”

He led Niles to the stairwell, followed closely by Mitch and Kimura. After going through the metal door, they all paused to figure out where to go next.

“You think he went down?” Niles asked.

“I don’t know. Should we split up?”

They didn’t have to decide, as they heard Mike scream from above.

“He’s on the roof!” cried Mitch. “Come on, let’s go!”

They all ran up the steps, Fabi first, followed by Mitch and Niles, with Kimura at the rear. One by one, they flew through the exit at the top and landed onto the building’s concrete roof. Standing in the center was Mike, who glanced around with bulging eyes in a state of obvious panic.

“Mike!” Mitch shouted. “You need to calm down and get yourself under control! We’re here for you, man!”

“No no no! You don’t understand because you can’t see them,” Mike told him. His voice was cracked and strained. “They’re all here right now! There’s so many! Oh god! They’ve got me surrounded…”

“There’s nothing there,” Niles said, his voice cold and calm.

“There is,” Kimura replied. “I can assure you.”

Niles furrowed his brow. “What?...”

“It’s just like I saw in my dreams.”

“NOOOO!” Mike screamed again and collapsed onto his knees. He attempted to hide his face, but one of his arms stretched itself out instead, as if it were being pulled by some invisible force.

“CRACK!” the arm bent itself backwards, making a wet snapping sound.

“NO!” Mitch shouted with impotent fury. His hands were balled into white-knuckled fists. “STOP IT! STOP!”

The shoulder of Mike’s other arm dislocated itself and popped out of the joint, making the arm hang limp at his side. He tried to scream again, but he could only groan in agony. It was as though his throat were too swollen or clogged to get anything out.

“K-kill me,” he managed to wheeze as his head began to twist unnaturally. “Kill… me…”

Mitch dropped down next to him, his face now wet and shiny from his tears. “I’m sorry,” he whimpered. “I’m so sorry, Mike. God damn it, I’m so sorry.”

Fabi felt at his handgun concealed under his raincoat.

Should I do it? He asked himself. I don’t want him to suffer like the others…

“BANG!” Before he could find an answer, Mike was face-down on the concrete, a pool of black blood forming quickly beneath him. Fabi could detect the faint smell of gunpowder in the night air.

“NOOOOOOOO!” Mitch screamed and buried his face into Mike’s Hawaiian shirt, where he began sobbing loudly.

Niles Ishida stood with his pistol extended. The expended bullet casing, which had been ejected from the gun, now rested on the ground beside his Italian leather loafers. He turned his head towards Fabi, his eyes steely and calm.

That man… he’s a stone cold killer, Fabi thought.

As they listened to Mitch weep over his fallen friend, a chill ran down Fabi’s spine. He didn’t know why, but it felt as if this were just the beginning.

Part 5: Gone

The light from the ambulance lit the hotel up in brilliant shades of red and blue. Fabi watched from the stairs at the hotel’s front entrance as the paramedic crew wheeled Mike’s corpse up to the back of the squad and lifted it into the back.

Reality still hadn’t set in yet. It felt as if he were watching a movie play out in front of him.

Is he really gone just like that?

As the paramedics closed the doors to the back of the ambulance, Fabi tried to get one last look at Mike’s face, but the angle he was observing the scene from obscured it entirely.


Slowly and cautiously, the ambulance pulled out into the darkened city street and drove off into the night. It became smaller and smaller as it moved towards the horizon until it resembled a small insignificant toy.

And just like that, Fabi was alone again with that all-to-familiar silence that was almost like a soundtrack to his life.

He pulled his raincoat closed as a brisk breeze passed by, cutting through his clothing and giving him goosebumps. He took this as a sign that it was time to check on Kimura and headed back to the hotel’s front entrance.

Part 6: Alone

Kimura was alone, seated in an office chair and staring down at the hotel room’s dark carpeting. He didn’t bother to even lift his head as Fabi entered the room.

It was obvious Kimura was in an immense amount of distress. Considering his usual steely personality, this wasn’t something Fabi had ever expected to see. Mike’s death had apparently hit him hard.

Fabi cleared his throat. “Kimura,” he began. The man still refused to look up at him.

“What’s going to happen from here?” he continued. “Are the feds on their way?”

“They’ll be here later today,” Kimura replied in a hoarse voice. “We’ll have to quarantine the hard drives with the Station 8 data on them to make sure the picture doesn’t get out.”

Fabi nodded. “I see… How are you holding up?”

Finally, Kimura raised his head. He hadn’t been crying, but his eyes were very tired and bloodshot, likely from a potent combination of sleep deprivation and sorrow.

“After Ito, I promised myself I wouldn’t let it happen again,” he said. “But I’m still here and another of my partners is dead thanks to my carelessness.”

Fabi took a step towards him. “Don’t say that. You didn’t know any of this would happen.”

“But maybe I should have known. Of course it’s a possibility! If a film reel can kill, then so can a photo, right?”

Fabi couldn’t think of a reply. He simply stood there, locking eyes with Kimura’s intense glare.

“I put my crew in harm’s way,” Kimura continued. “Maybe it should have been me instead.”

“Cut it out!” Fabi shouted, suddenly angry at Kimura’s self pity. “Mike also knew his work was dangerous, but he did it anyway! Do you think he’d want to see you sitting here feeling sorry for yourself after the sacrifice he made? HELL NO!”

Kimura’s eyes were wide with shock. He sat there in stunned silence for a moment. Fabi assumed that it had been a long time since anyone had spoken to him in such a way.

“Y-you’re right, Fabi.” Kimura slowly stood up. Fabi could hear the pops of his joints as he did so, indicating that he’d been seated there for too long. “I’m sorry for losing my composure. I want to do my best to make sure Mike’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.”

Just then, Kimura smiled ever-so-slightly, and Fabi finally felt as if there was finally a light at the end of the dark tunnel they’d been trapped inside.

“Get some rest, Fabi,” Kimura continued. “I’ll be sleeping here tonight. I need to make sure the federal agents know all of the details when they arrive, but I’ll need your assistance to do so.”

“Of course,” Fabi replied. “But I don’t have too much time to for sleep.”

Kimura’s eyebrows raised at the statement. “Why is that?”

“I have a hunch related to the case that I need to check out. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Part 7: Unfinished Business

Back at the police station, the early morning sun slowly began to pour in through the tall windows. Seated at his work desk, Fabi sifted through the surveillance camera footage they received from the A+ Store for anything suspicious.

The footage encompassed Austin Goldthwaite’s entire shift as a cashier, from the time he arrived through the glass double doors, to the time the police showed up after his death. This meant there was a lot of footage to examine.

There’s gotta be something, Fabi told himself as he clicked through the video’s timeline. At least give me a hint…

“CLUNK!” A thick porcelain mug landing on his desk, throwing off his intense concentration.

“Huh?” He turned to see Wendy smiling down at him.

“You’re here early,” she said. “How long have you been here?”

“A few hours.” Fabi grabbed the mug she had set down and casually blew on the scalding hot coffee inside to cool it down. “We got a good lead on the Austin Goldthwaite case.”


“If I can find just a few more clues, I think I might be able to crack it.”

“You seem pretty confident.”

“Well…” he tried to think of something clever to say, but nothing came to mind. “It’s because I am, I guess.”

“Well, don’t work yourself too hard, Sherlock,” she told him before leaving.

Why can’t she just let me be cool once in a while? he thought with a small chuckle.

Just then, he clicked on a strange still frame in the video. It showed a young customer standing in front of the counter and holding up a strange black rectangle-shaped thing.

What the hell?!...

He zoomed in closer to get a better look. The rectangle appeared to be flat, as if it were made out of paper. He let the video play for another few seconds before stopping it once again. The young customer seemed to have opened the top of it up to reveal something white underneath.

It’s an envelope! he concluded. Looks like it's sized to hold a greeting card or something.

He clicked play again and watched with a mix of fascinated horror and anxious excitement as the man pulled something out and held it up for Austin to see.

That’s it! he thought. It has to be!

As quickly as he could, he took a screenshot of the video and emailed it to Kimura. He then proceeded to whip out his smartphone and dial Kimura’s number. The inspector picked up immediately.

“Fabi,” he said. “How’s the investigation going?”

“I think I just found a lead. Check your email.” He sat and waited patiently for Kimura to open up his email application. He could hear the typing and clicks of Kimura’s keyboard as he did so.

“Good god!” Kimura exclaimed. “Check out the parking lot footage for this same time to see what car he was driving. We need to find this man.”

Fabi did just as he was instructed and opened up the exterior surveillance camera footage. Just a couple minutes before the screenshot he’d taken, a certain car rolled into the lot. Fabi’s jaw dropped at the sight of it.

The memory immediately came flooding back from that day after Austin’s death. There was a suspicious-looking man who pulled into the parking lot in a baby blue Toyota. He had locked eyes with Fabi for just a short moment before leaving.

It’s him, the one who started all of this. Fabi thought. He was so close the entire time.

“I’ve got the license plate number,” Fabi told Kimura. “We’ll run it and find the bastard.”

Part 8: Plain Sight

Owen Greene…

Sitting in the passenger’s seat of an unmarked police car, Fabi flipped through his notepad until he reached the page he was searching for.

He shook his head and muttered “Damn it…”

Officer Mackie shot him a quick concerned glance from his place in the driver’s seat.

“What’s up, Fabi?” he asked.

Fabi fiddled with the notebook page, his mind racing with regret and frustration. “This guy was right in front of us the whole time and we didn’t notice. He was right there.”

“You can’t get too caught up on those kinda details,” Mackie replied. “The past is the past. The only thing that matters right now is that we got him.”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe I’m beating myself up for nothing.”

In truth, the missing piece was always the photograph. Without knowledge of that kind of supernatural weapon, there was no tangible way to tie Owen to Austin’s death. After all, how could showing someone a picture kill them? Without the supernatural element, none of it made any sense.

The car began to slow as Mackie pulled up in front of the apartment complex. From Fabi’s vantage point, the place looked like just any old two-floor low income apartment building.

“This is it?” he asked.

Mackie nodded. “Yep. He lives on the second floor. You think he’s dangerous?”

“I’m not really sure,” Fabi replied, his voice weary, but slightly anxious. “Let’s not announce who we are when we knock, just in case the kid is feeling froggy.”

Fabi wasn’t sure if Owen would take some kind of retaliatory measure using the photograph or not. It was entirely possible he could open the door with the damn thing glued to his forehead or something like that. If he wasn’t aware that the police were onto him, however, the possibility of that happening was far less likely.

“Okay,” Mackie replied. “Let’s be low key for now and see what happens.”

“Just remember to let me know if you see a black envelope anywhere,” Fabi reminded him. “And for god’s sake, whatever you do, don’t open it.”

“Okay, okay!” Mackie chuckled. “Still have no idea what the deal is with the envelope, but I’ll let you know, alright?”

“Good. Let’s head inside.”

Part 9: Break-in

“Thunk thunk thunk!”

Fabi and Mackie had been pounding on Owen Greene’s apartment door and waiting for well over a minute. It made Fabi feel nervous. The best case scenario was that their suspect wasn’t home. The worst case scenario was Owen knowing they were police and planning out an attack.

The former was unlikely though, as they’d taken a look at the parking lot before entering the building, and Owen’s baby blue Toyota was indeed parked out there.

So then, he thought. What’s the holdup?

“Thunk thunk thunk!” Mackie gave the door a few more pounds.

“I think we should just bust in,” Fabi said. “I feel like something is wrong here. We got a warrant, right?”

“Uh… yeah,” Mackie replied, seemingly anxious as well. “Want me to do the honors?”

Fabi shook his head. “Nah, I got my heavy duty boots on, and this cheap door feels flimsy. Should be a piece of cake.”

“Very well,” Mackie replied, moving out of the way. “Let’s see what you got.”

Fabi lifted his leg and slammed the sole of his steel-toed boot against the door. Immediately, It broke the door frame and sent the door flying inward. The spot his boot had collided with left a noticeable crack in the wood.

“Jeez, dude!” Mackie said, jumping back a bit. “You weren’t kidding. What a piece of crap.”

Fabi ignored the comment. “Alright, let’s see what we can find.

They made their way into the dimly lit apartment and began their search. The furniture was sparse and the tabletops were largely clean, so it didn’t take long for them to come up short.

“Where is he?” Mackie asked. He had drawn his gun and now kept it pointed towards the apartment floor.

Drawing his own weapon, Fabi nodded his head towards the hallway at the back of the living room. Mackie nodded back in return and the two men advanced to what appeared to be a door to a bedroom.

This time, they wouldn’t have to kick it in. Mackie turned the doorknob and it opened with no resistance.

“Oh god-” Mackie jerked his head back and let out a ghastly cough. He looked as if he were on the verge of throwing up.

“What?!” Fabi asked urgently. “What’s going on?!”

Mackie breathed in deeply, trying to regain his composure. His normally pale face had turned even moreso.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m just not good with dead bodies.”

Fabi’s eyes widened in shock. “You mean…”

“Yeah. Seems our suspect won’t be giving us too much trouble. He’s gone.”

Part 10: They're Not Ghosts

Fabi watched from a distance as another dead man was put into the back of an ambulance that day. His phone to his ear, he listened to the ringtone as he waited for Kimura to pick up. In his free hand, he held a plastic evidence bag full of black shreds of paper.

“Fabi,” Kimura said immediately upon answering. “Any updates?”

“Yeah, he’s gone.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, just as Fabi had expected. They knew it was a possibility, but it still came as a shock.

“How did he go?” Kimura finally asked. “Was it the photo?”

“No. We found him hanging from his ceiling fan. He took his own life.”

“I see… and what about the photograph?”

Fabi lifted up the plastic bag as stared at the torn up pieces of the black envelope. Intermingled with them were blank white shreds of photograph paper.

“It looks like he tore it up,” Fabi told him. “There’s something weird about it though.”

“What’s that?”

“There’s nothing printed on the pieces of the photograph. It’s completely blank, as if the image disappeared after the photo was destroyed.”

Kimura thought it over for a brief moment. “That very well could be the case. When they tried removing a frame from the film reel I told you about, the frame also did the same thing. The image simply vanished before their eyes.”

“I hope that means it’s inactive now.”

“I hope so too.”

Fabi breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed like this was one more loose end that was finally tied up. However, there was something that was still eating at the back of his mind.

“Uh… One more thing,” Fabi said.

“What is it?”

“The kids' computer was on when we walked into the room.”

“Oh?” Kimura sounded intrigued. “Was there something on it?”

“Just a word document with a single sentence written on it.” Fabi felt a chill creep up his spine as the image of the scene returned to him. It had been burned into his memory, as clear as day.

“It said ‘they’re not ghosts. They’re demons.’”

Real Aire
Joe Gold