Mean Girls
Mean Girls

DITCH THE HEELS

I don’t mean “ditch the heels” the way Cosmo means it when they’re talking about paring ballet flats with a casual fall look as if it’s as unbridled as helping yourself to dessert more than once a week. When I say it I mean, “Wearing heels when your night’s basically a simple-sugar fueled bar crawl is begging for failure.”

If you don’t wind up tripping and spilling punch cooled with dry ice all over your nurses’ uniform, a guy dressed like Cookie Monster will surely get his fur tangled in your stiletto and take out half of the pumpkin carving contest in the process. And the host will cry because let’s face it: she was going to anyway.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

If you still have time, return the other two costumes you bought as alternates. You will wear them once, have your picture taken in them and you’ll never wear them again (if you’ve got a full bag of marbles.)

Think about it: When you walk into a Halloween party, you’re usually more drawn to the hot dude who taped a hand-written sign around his neck that reads, “Ebola.” It’s simple, it’s funny, you can see his face. The dude wiping sweat from his brow, holding a Bullwinkle head that matches his furry one-piece is getting “aww”s from sympathetic passersby wishes he was him.

And for chicks: Much like most situations in life, we’re totally set up for failure in this department. Skip the bejeweled face—it’ll take days to get it off. Don’t spray colored hairspray into your hair— it’s cheap and crusty and you’ll be rinse and repeating until it’s time to go to work on Monday. Skip the hot wigs, the parts of your costume that are hard to carry or maintain (take a walk around the block with your angel wings on and if they need to be adjusted more than three times, ditch them.)

You do not need to wear an “funny costume” that’s meme-able. There are people shooting cops out there. These times are too real for your bullshit.

AVOID THE HYPE

Ticket parties, long lines and packed subway rides are bullshit. Go to a small house party or a dive bar. It’s exactly the same thing as negotiating your tail while commuting four hours to a warehouse where you were told Diplo would be performing. Guess what? Diplo is not performing. The drinks are going to be weak. You’ll keep losing your friends. A stranger dressed as Amy Winehouse will try to sneak a finger in your felt leopard body suit.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

If you’re torn between a fifty-dollar costume and a ten dollar costume, go for the ten. If you can’t pick between the haunted house that’s a local tradition and the cheap-o one that let’s out directly in front of your favorite bar, you’re nuts. Who needs a haunted house? Life is scary enough. In addition to the dead police and the Ebola, there are also teens being shot by police, airplanes going missing, natural disasters, terrorism and Amanda Bynes. Keep it simple.

SKIP THE WHOLE THING

If your plans aren’t clear, don’t force it. Maybe see that movie “Nightcrawler.” I don’t know if it was the generous hit off my PAX that made it so, but that might have been the best movie I’ve ever seen. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a thirsty weirdo who’s desperate to get the best news cam he can. He gets himself into quite a situation! A situation so good that I refuse to spoil it for you!

Just go to the movies or have a game night (if you’re like, 33). Call over some friends, eat some special brownies and talk about your exes. Buy some curious-looking wines from Trader Joes and host a queer little wine party. Head over to Islands and get some burgers. Start your Christmas shopping. Halloween is over. TC mark









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Kris Williams
Kris Williams

I was never much for Halloween mazes; there were a lot better ways I could think of to spend 35 dollars. I guess I never saw the point knowing it’s not real and all. I mean really, how scary can a bunch of actors and smoke machines really be? Steve though…he was so amped to go, I just couldn’t tell him no.

“Alright, we’re here.” said Jade.

“Remember.” said Tanya, lined up to get in. “Stay close to each other so that we don’t get separated this time.”

“What do you mean this time?” I said. “Separated?”

“Yeah.” Tanya looked back and said. “It gets crazy inside the mazes.“

I didn’t take her too seriously… It was only a silly Halloween maze after all.

The line attendant started to make an announcement which broke my train of thought, “Please get your IDs ready so we can get the waivers signed and let you be on your way!”

“Why do we need waivers?” I said.

“So the actors can touch us!” said Steve, before the line attendant could open her mouth to speak.

“And we want that why?” I looked at Steve, then the rest of the group, who also seemed all for the idea.

“It brings the whole being-chased-by-a-killer feeling to life.” Said Tanya.

“Okay…” I said louder than I intended.

“Alright! Time to be scared to death!” Said Steve

“Yaaaaaaaay.”


From the outside, the maze looked quite big and intimidating, though as it turned out, the massive building was just where souvenir photos and payments were taken. Past the building and through to the outdoors was where the real fun began. The Haunted Corn Maze which then led to the Carnival Mirror Maze.

“Here it is!” Said Steve.

“Still not sure I’m seeing the point of this…” I said, with a semi puzzled look on my face.

“The corn maze! The part everyone looks forward to!!!” Steve moved closer to me and started whispering. “Plus, places like this will have the girls all over us. The experience is to die for.”

“We have to get through the maze while all sorts of monsters and killers chase us.” said Tanya.

“Right, we went over that…but I mean-” Mid-sentence, what Steve had said settled in and I shut up, realizing the quieter I was, the better chance we had of Steve’s plan working.

“Can we please make sure to not get separated this time?” said Jade.

“I’ll see you on the other side, be quick and stick together. Don’t get separated!”

Steve wasted no time ignoring Jade’s request and running off into the maze, which was actually really well put together. The long dirt pathways, walled by tall cornstalks, did a good job of forcing a sense of foreboding to wash over me and the other maze-goers. Combined with the dim artificial twilight, this place was actually kinda creepy!

By the time we got inside the maze chaos had already broken loose. People were screaming and running into each other all over the maze, seemingly with no direction. Everyone had lost their minds, or at least that’s how it seemed…Something must have really freaked them out.

We were about halfway to the mirror maze when I heard a very realistic chainsaw start buzzing over the sounds of people screaming in terror. Whatever it was that I was walking toward, Steve was running away from…until he ran into me, knocking us both to the ground.

“Ru…run for your lives!” yelled Steve, as he scrambled to his feet and ran off into the darkness.

Immediately, I noticed the chainsaw buzzing had stopped. I picked myself up and looked at the girls.

“Steve really gets into this doesn’t he?”

“No..some…something is wrong.” said Jade.

“Something does seem really different with him.” said Tanya.

“Okay?” I said, holding back a laugh. “What is he possessed or something?”

Both of them looked as if they had seen ghosts. Granted, I knew they scared easily, but I was under the impression that they enjoyed it, so I stopped talking and kept walking. We followed the path until we came across some strange marks on the ground. I thought someone had been dragged off the path into the cornstalks, but strangely enough, I hadn’t come across any actors…The people seemed to be hiding and no one else had come in behind us.

We kept making our way through the maze and came across a man lying on his back. Only his upper body was visible on the path, while his legs hidden by the cornstalks. The man reached his hand out to me. Naturally, I grabbed his hand to help him up and pulled. I froze in horror… His body was severed at the bottom of his torso. The rest was…gone.

I looked back at the girls, trying to hide my shock and horror, but the looks on their faces said it all…this maze had just gotten real.


Frozen in shock, I continued holding his hand and staring in disbelief. His body just…stopped…at the torso. The look in his eyes told me that he was definitely not an actor. His grip went limp in my sweaty hand, his face white and the life left his eyes. It wasn’t until Tanya let out a war cry and ran off that I gained the capacity to let go of the poor man’s hand and try to make sense of my surroundings..not that there was any more than corn, darkness and terror surrounding me at this point.

That was also when I realized that Tanya hadn’t run down the path, but instead, into the tall corn stalks.

“Drew, I’m scared.” Jade almost whispered. She grabbed my arm with both of her trembling, little hands. “Please don’t lose me.”

“Wait! What the fuck is going on???” I started to pace, realized that the path was a bit narrow and walked in tight circles instead. “We need to get out of this fucking maze!”

“I know, but. I…I’m scared Drew” Said Jade, who was nearly crying and walking in tight circles right behind me.

The truth was, I was fucking scared too. I picked a fine day to leave my phone in the car, along with my favorite knife, which I carried with me basically everywhere. Oh, and my pre-game alcohol. How would I protect Jade? I didn’t even have a way to protect myself! Come to think of it, Steve had convinced all of us to leave our phones, and in the girls cases, their purses in his car, so as not to provide any kind of distraction whilst in the maze so we could better immerse ourselves in the experience, to make it seem more real. Well, it was real alright and I was going to die sober.

“I won’t lose you.” I looked around. “Maybe we should head towards the screams. That’s where the other people are.” I didn’t sound reassuring, but it was the best I could do in our situation.

“Are you crazy!?” “I’m not getting cut in half!!!” Said Jade.

“Oh, so you’re planning to fight the killer off chainsaw and all since we’re staying here?”

I know, I sounded like a dick, but this really wasn’t the time to be arguing with Jade.

“Well…I…” said Jade, probably realizing I was right.

“Right. We stay together and find the crowd…use them for cover.” I said.

“But if they are screaming, doesn’t that mean that they are in trouble too?

“We just need to get close enough to someone else in this damned maze to make sure neither of us are the killer’s next victim.” I looked at the ground. “When the killer attacks someone else, that is when we will make a break for it, okay!?”

Jade looked me with large sorrowful eyes “What about everyone else?”

“After seeing what just happened.. Jade, It’s every man for himself. Trust me on this one…”

Jade squeezed my arm. “Just don’t let me go.”

“I won’t.”


It was scary enough seeing the man that was cut in half, but I was able to convince myself that he was an isolated incident…then we walked past 5 or 6 more. The bodies that we passed as we made our way through erased any trace of that idea…I realized we were in a bad place.

Also, it seemed that I was so caught up talking, I had failed to pay attention to where I was walking. I had no idea where we were, or where we were headed. I was also partly distracted with the thoughts running through my head…and partly with what we were seeing as we wandered the maze. Luckily the corn maze wasn’t big enough to be terribly difficult to navigate.

Jade opened her eyes. “We’re lost aren’t we?”

I thought it was strange she didn’t keep her eyes open, although I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to see the gruesome picture this maniac painted. The killer seemed to be going for quantity, not quality. Even though I only saw only 6 of the killer’s sloppy kills on the maze paths. I could only imagine what it looked like in the tall stalks.

“Lost? No…Well kinda…I mean I was…thinking.” I said.

“You think this is the time to be daydreaming! You have to get us out of here!”

“Then we need to hurry. It’s too quiet in here…I don’t think there are very many of us left in the maze.” I said.

I stopped talking when I heard rustling that was slowly coming toward us. Jade heard it too and hid behind me. My heart started to beat rapidly, and I became a little short of breath.

A hand popped out of the corn, then a face…it was Tanya.

“Tanya!” said Jade.

“Have you seen Steve?” I said.

Tanya didn’t say anything to either of us, or even make eye contact.

“Are you alright?” asked Jade

Tanya didn’t say anything…with her mouth. Her face said it all. She starting walking toward us. After her 3rd step, she fainted, falling face first into the dirt. I walked up to her, with Jade still holding onto my arm. Once I was close enough I saw the knife in her back and the blood starting to pool. “Tanya!” I yelled. I knelt down to examine her wound and immediately noticed the handle of the knife. Then I choked a little bit. Either the killer and I shared the exact same taste in knives, or this was my knife which I had left behind in Steve’s car.


I pulled the knife out of Tanya’s back. Jade screamed and jerked away from me. I turned around to face her and she took a couple steps back.

“What’s wrong?”

“Drew!? How…how could you!?”

“You can’t be serious!” I took a step forward. “I haven’t been out of your sight since we got here.”

“That’s what scares me.” Jade took a step, leaving her back against the opposite edge of the path from me and Tanya. “I know that’s your knife!”

I looked down at my hands, which were now covered in blood – Tanya’s blood. I was frantic, what just happened?! I looked back at Jade. “Yeah, the same knife I left in STEVE’S car!” I realized another step toward Jade might make her run off to the same fate as Tanya. “The same Steve that convinced us to leave our things in his car…the same Steve who we last saw leaving the scene of a man who… was cut in half! That’s where my mind was when…”

“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!”

Jade screamed and disappeared into the corn stalks. I ran in after her and kept going until I reached a small clearing that was empty, save for a cross, which at some point, probably housed a scarecrow. At the end of the small clearing was the entrance to the mirror maze.


I thought that the corn maze was creepy, and that was before there was a maniac running through it killing people…The mirror maze though, it put the corn maze to shame. It was nearly pitch black inside, the only lighting came from the glow in the dark floor tiles. I’m not sure whether it was scarier that the beginning of the maze was empty, or that the reflections in the mirror were perfectly clear despite the lack of lighting.

I told myself to keep calm, remain a cool head about this whole situation or else I’ll never escape here alive.

For a split second I got so caught up looking at the distorted reflections of myself in the mirrors, I had forgotten why I had run into the mirror maze in the first place.

Then I felt a tug on my pant leg.

“Whaaaa!” I jumped a little, then spun around. I didn’t see anything but mirrors. I kept looking around and the back of a little girls head appeared in a few of them. I looked down to see a small girl, around 7 or so, she had dark silky hair and pale skin which seemed to glisten in this Mirror Maze. She was wearing a matted and torn white dress, with a matching white bow headband in her hair.

“Can you help me?” Said the little girl.

How was she so calm?

“What is your name little girl?” I asked.

“Helen.”

Did she just almost smile.

“Helen. you should get out of here. it’s dangerous.”

“I’m all alone now. Can I come with you?”

I thought it was peculiar that a girl so young was in here. It was even stranger to me that she didn’t even seem scared. I just chalked it up to a curious kid who had snuck in and now found herself lost. Still though, why the strange attire? There was something not quite right, I felt an eerie presence. She was kinda creepy, but I could not abandon her.

“Did you come here alone?” I asked.

“Come on. This way.”

Helen walked down what I think was a mirrored hallway; the mirrors, poor lighting and fear made it hard for me to get a bearing on my surroundings. Helen’s reflection left all of the mirrors. I kept watching, but couldn’t keep up. Helen disappeared down the dark hallways.
Where did her reflection go? I can still see mine!

I continued to walk in what had appeared to be the direction she had gone.

“Helen! I thought you were coming with me!”

“Shhh.” Said Helen. “I’m over here.”

I looked around and I still couldn’t see a reflection of Helen, just every angle of myself. I turned and looked behind me…still nothing.

“This way, we are almost there.”

I turned back and caught a slight glimpse of Helen’s white dress moving straight down a hallway to a set of doors. With my eyes and mind playing tricks on me, it looked almost like she was gliding. I followed her outside to the same small clearing I had crossed to get into the mirror maze. This time through the scarecrow was back.


It was now getting dark outside. At the opposite end of the small clearing I saw a petite silhouette sitting huddled in a ball, hugging herself while rocking back and forth in a fetal position. I walked forward to get a better look at the scarecrow in the dark… Only to see that it was Steve!

I gasped and stumbled back, slightly losing my footing. I stared up at him. He was wearing overalls and a red flannel shirt which had been stuffed with straw. After regaining my footing, I slowly approached once again to examine my friend. His throat had been slashed ear-to-ear! My jaw dropped, all I could do was shake my head in horror and disbelief and slowly take a couple of steps back. What was going on here?!
What was happening?!

“He slit his throat.” I heard Helen say from behind me.

“What!” I turned my back to the figure across the clearing and looked at Helen.

“He killed them all, then he slit his throat.”

There was that almost smile again! Helen wasn’t making sense and was creeping me but. Something was definitely off about her. I knelt down to Helen’s level to hear what she was whispering, but she stopped talking.

“You crazy little girl! Why would he-How could he-“

“Maybe he had help.” Helen was beaming, not even attempting to hide her smile.

A cold chill hit me and traveled the length of my spine, causing me to shiver a little as the pieces fell into place. Before I could try to stand back up, Helen grabbed the collar of my shirt.

“They all deserved it. Now they will know what it’s like to be here alone.”

I closed my eyes.

“And guess what?” Helen pulled me close and whispered in my ear; “You’re next!” TC mark

Cliff Barlow’s second book, Darkness Prevails, is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.

darknessv3









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recuérdalo siempre
quotes on we heart it

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stephen h
stephen h

I used to meet my boyfriend where the cobblestone paths leading out of our backyards converged; three meters past the fallen willow tree, 27 steps away from the abandoned cottage, and close enough to the river that we could hear the splash the fish made when they jumped out of the water. I sat down on the ground and tried listening for his footsteps crunching the fallen leaves, but it was silent. I turned back around and sneaked a peak at the old cottage. It had always had that alluring ‘I wonder who used to live there’ vibe, but Ryan and I were always too busy to go check it out.

A loud crack erupted behind me and I stood up straight. The water wheel on the right side of the cottage turned methodically, the vines that had grown around it snapped and tore. Dust swirled in the air. Finally, the familiar crunching sounded behind me and Ryan walked into the clearing. He embraced me, but his eyes were fixed on the turning water wheel the whole time. Neither of us had ever seen it turn before, and the place where the two cobblestone paths met was a frequent getaway of ours. A light turned on in the cabin, and Ryan’s eyebrows knitted together. The doors and windows were still boarded up. He walked over to the cabin, and I staggered behind him, clamping the back of his jacket and occasionally shielding my eyes behind his shoulder. A shadow swept past a space between two boards.

Ryan cupped his hands and peaked into the window. I watched carefully from a few feet behind him. The window had been opened from the inside and there was a slow rocking sounding from the other side of the wall, like a rocking chair moving on wooden floors. I grabbed Ryan’s sleeve and peaked through a crack between his head and a piece of wood. The rocking stopped and we were left in a silence that sent shivers straight through me. A woman appeared and I flew back. Her skin was charred and patches of it were missing, and her teeth were rotten. Her eyes were a stone gray and it was hard not to look deep in them. Her wrinkled hands reached through the window and she scratched Ryan across his left cheek. He jumped back and fell, placing his hand over his bleeding face. All at once, the water wheel stopped turning, the light turned off, and the window shut with a loud thud.

Ryan stood up and ran to the door, pounding his fist on it. “Screw you!” he shouted. Nothing in the house stirred, but he kept pounding.

“Ryan, let’s just get out of here,” I called to him. He finally stopped pounding and just stood at the edge of the doorway, breathing heavily. Drops of blood oozed from the three scratches on his cheeks and he wiped them away with his jacket sleeve. A few fish splashed a good distance away in the river, but it didn’t make Ryan smile like it normally did.


The incident at the cottage was a foggy nightmare that followed me around for days after. Ryan had missed classes that Monday because he wasn’t feeling well, but I assumed he went back to the cottage while he knew I’d be busy. I went to his house the following Tuesday, not to confront him, but to check up on him. Before I could knock, his front door was opened and his mom and neighbor walked out. Both were smiling, but there was something off about them. His mom’s skin was tinted yellow and his neighbor, Jolene, who was elderly, had dark bags under her eyes. They both greeted me with warm hugs and his mom invited me in for tea.

“I think Ryan’s sleeping. He hasn’t been feeling too well,” she said. “But you know Ryan. One day he’s a complete mess and the next day he’s as good as new.” She smiled and sipped her tea. I took a drink of tea and looked around their living room. I had been there about a dozen times or so, but I was still amazed with his mom’s collection of butterflies. Ryan’s mom had always had an obsession with them. She had one case full of large Monarchs and another with Buckeyes. Monarchs were my favorite, and I could sense his mom’s admiration of my own admiration. She got up and walked towards the case. “Did you know the Monarch butterfly can fly as fast as 25 miles per hour?” she asked.

I shook my head and stood next to her. “I had no idea,” I said. She was about to go on when the doorbell rang. “Oh, will you excuse me? It’s probably Jolene. She always forgets something when she comes over,” she said as she tittered to the door. I looked towards the stairs to see if maybe the doorbell had woken up Ryan and he had come downstairs, but he hadn’t. I saw something flutter out of the corner of my eye and turned back around. One of the butterflies started moving. It writhed in its small confinement. A strange green liquid oozed from its lower end and leaked down the front of the case. The butterfly continued wiggling. I looked at it, trying so hard to figure out what it was trying to do that I ignored the fact that it should not have been moving at all. It managed to turn around and stared straight at me. Its torso was normal, its appendages fine, but its face did not belong to its body. The old woman stared at me, the same cynical smile on her face. Her face seemed more charred, her eyes more gray, and green liquid still oozed from her lower end.

“Chelsea?” Ryan called from the staircase. “What are you doing here?” His voice was a bit raspy and he seemed paler than normal. His plaid pajama pants hung loosely around his waist. His mom was at the door still, talking to Jolene. “Come here,” I whispered, gesturing my hand to show urgency. He swept down the rest of the stairs and over to me. I pointed at the largest butterfly in the case, not that I had to. The green liquid continued to pour and the woman hadn’t lost her cynical smile. Ryan stared at it, confused for a second when finally he snapped his fingers. “Oh, that’s right! Monarchs are your favorite,” he said. I looked at him with confusion. By this time, the green liquid had started to bubble and the woman was laughing. “Don’t you see her face?” I asked. “It’s the woman…from the cottage.”

“What woman?” he asked. The scratch marks on his face looked as if they hadn’t started healing yet. “The woman who attacked you.” I gently put my hand on his injured cheek. “Chelsea, I wasn’t attacked by a woman,” he said, his tongue clicking against his teeth as he said it. I knew this meant he was confused, and possibly angry. “The one in the cottage. On Saturday.” I clarified, even though I thought it was ridiculous that I had to.

“That wasn’t a woman in the cottage on Saturday, Chelsea.” I took a step backwards. I had no idea where Ryan was going with this. It was clearly a woman who attacked him. Her skin was burned, her hair fell in wiry ringlets around her face, her wrinkled hands reached through the slit in the boards and scratched his face. I saw it. I was there. “It was an animal,” he said. “It had fur and horns, and it reached out and scratched me with its claws.” I walked past him and sat down on his couch. “You’re lying,” I said. “It was a woman. Her skin was burned and she had gray eyes.” “Its eyes were red.”

His mom returned back from speaking with Jolene, rolling her eyes playfully. “She’s a crazy woman. I’ll never understand her.” She walked up to Ryan and placed her hand on the nape of his neck. “Are you feeling better?” she asked and he nodded. I looked back at the Monarch butterfly, but it looked as if nothing had happened. “Your scratches look better,” she continued. “How did you say you got them, again?” Ryan shook his head and looked at me imploringly. I couldn’t read him like I normally could. “It’s not important,” he said. I could tell the worry lines on his mother’s face got a tad deeper. His mom walked away, clearly dissatisfied with his answer, but I knew she was not going to push it because I was there.

We sat in silence for a while, confused by our two very different accounts of what had happened that previous Saturday. I looked up at the monarch butterfly, but it was still normal. Ryan shuffled uncomfortably on the couch. “I should go,” I said, neglecting any notion of talking about the situation further. Ryan saw me out and closed the door behind me. I turned back around after he closed the door only to see the woman looking at me through the small stained glass window on his door.


Ryan called me a day later to tell me Jolene had died. His mother was completely distraught he said. She had been doing just fine the day before, and I refrained from commenting on how bad her eyes had looked. She may have acted fine, but she clearly was not doing so well. I knew Ryan and his family were close with her, and even though he didn’t admit it, I could tell he was hurting. I offered to come over to keep him company throughout all the chaos, but he declined. He claimed it was too much of a madhouse at his place, but he did not want to leave his mom alone, so he did not come to my house either. He also used the excuse that he was still sick, but I knew deep down that even though all of those things were true, he just didn’t want me to see him upset. He was the same way when his younger sister passed away a few years before. My mom knocked on my door and I told him I’d call him back.

She walked in with a solemn look on her face and sat next to me on my bed, grabbing my hand. Her hands were freezing, but I didn’t let go. “There was an accident today,” she began. She was always one to get straight to the point. “Your teacher, Mrs. Howard, passed away.” I sat back, my heart trumpeting in my chest. Mrs. Howard had called in sick that day, but I didn’t think too much of it. I thought it was just a cold or she had lied because she went to that huge concert the night before. She was so young. Then my mom’s words finally registered in my mind. “What kind of an accident?” I asked.

My mom’s face contorted a little. “They said she got sick while driving. Lost control of the wheel. They found vomit in her car and the school said she had called in sick today.” My heart thumped harder against my chest. I thought of Ryan and all of the other people who seemed to be sick, like Jolene. “I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she said. She went to sit closer to me on my bed and I waved her away. “I need to call Ryan back, real quick,” I said. She kissed the top of my head, more awkwardly than lovingly, and left my room. I dialed Ryan’s number and he answered on the second ring. “What did your mom need?” he asked. I swallowed hard, my chest hurting for a bit after. “Mrs. Howard passed away this morning.” I said. There was silence on the other end. “How?” I tried not to picture her losing control of the wheel, but it was hard not to. “They think she got sick while driving and lost control of the wheel.” “Sick?” “They found vomit in her vehicle.” Again, more silence.

“Did you hear about Jason?” he asked finally. “Wells?” “He’s dead too.” Jason had called in sick all week. We thought he had pneumonia, like he did when we were in eighth grade. “I guess his stomach bug was a lot worse than they thought,” Ryan said, coughing a little. “Please tell me you’re feeling better,” I said, and he laughed. “I am, I promise. It’s now mostly just a cough and a little stomach ache.” “What about the scratches?” I asked. The woman’s face flashed in my mind, and I cringed. Her rotting smile still haunts me. “They’re doing better, too.” Relief rushed to me. We talked for a few more minutes, but he said something was going on outside and he had to go. I didn’t question him about it, though. Maybe I should have.


Ryan wasn’t feeling much better, but he was tired of being locked up in his room, so we decided to get coffee downtown a couple of days later. I was worried that he wasn’t feeling better, but I thought if he felt well enough to leave the house, I should be thankful. I still didn’t say anything about seeing the woman twice while at his house. I didn’t really think he’d believe me. It was a quiet afternoon to say the least. We didn’t talk much. He just stared into his coffee absentmindedly as I played games on my phone until it died. It was not an awkward silence, though, because silence with Ryan was never really silence at all.

As we walked down the street the coffee shop was on, his nose started bleeding, one drop then two until a full stream came out.

He kept coughing into a tissue and when he pulled it away, it was stained with blood. Suddenly, he collapsed to the floor, convulsing. Vomit spewed from his mouth. I dropped down next to him, although I was unsure of what to do. I screamed for help and a group of people in front of us turned around. They stared at us in horror, some were stationary, and others took pictures. One woman pulled out a handkerchief and covered her face. “Call 911 please!” I begged, remembering the dead phone in my pocket, but after they were done staring, they took off running. Occasionally they’d look back at us but they never turned around to help. A woman stepped out of the boutique we were in front of, but the second she noticed Ryan’s bloody face and the vomit on the floor, she covered her mouth and nose and ran in the opposite direction.

I heard a click and an employee in the boutique locked the door and shut the blinds. I screamed for help again, but everyone’s ignorance was almost as loud as my screams. Ryan was still shaking. His eyes had rolled into the back of his head and vessels in them had burst, making his eyes a dark red color. I searched his pockets for his phone but realized it had fallen into his vomit. I grabbed it and the screen was dark. I clicked every button on it, one by one, frantically and hard, hard enough I thought I might break it, until it turned back on.

The ambulance arrived too late. By the time they reached us he was gone. His blood was smeared all over me. One paramedic assessed his lifeless body immediately, but the other hesitated, scared of what might happen to him. They placed him on a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance, but it was no use. All their methods of resuscitation failed. I rode in the back of the ambulance with them as they tried bringing him back. I remember crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. All the memories we had of sitting in silence at coffee shops together and meeting up where the cobblestone paths met, all the things we did together, everything that was once held by two people dangled in front of me, whisked up in the hands of one person. My hands served as a temporary solace as I used them to shield my face, but when I let go and the tears had stopped falling, I noticed the woman on the other side of the ambulance. She was looking down at Ryan, a smile on her face. One of the paramedics walked in front of her, and by the time my view was clear, she was gone.

His funeral was held on a cold Monday. His parents and older sister asked me to sit with them in the front. His mother’s skin was still a funky yellow color, like when a nasty bruise starts fading away and it goes from purple to a gross yellow-ish brown color, and his sister kept sneezing in between sniffles. I turned around to look at all the people who came. The news that morning reported many people being incredibly sick. They all had the same bloody noses and uncontrollable vomit, so not many people showed to the funeral; there were some people from school—teachers and students, and some of his coworkers sat in the back, but most of the rows were empty.

Ryan’s parents gave me a ride home after the services and gathering at their house. They didn’t say a word the whole ride over except for when we pulled up to my house. His mom thanked me for coming, her voice shallow and her eyes dark, but his dad just stared out the window. As soon as I closed the door, they drove off. I walked up to my door, but it was locked, which was strange. My parents never locked the screen door. I called for my parents but no one came. I looked at their cars parked in the driveway and the light that was on in the kitchen, and knocked on the kitchen window.

I heard sirens and saw an ambulance pulling out of my neighbor’s driveway four doors down. Another one zoomed down a nearby street. I knew it was the plague that had taken Ryan’s life. I knocked on the screen door again, loudly, and finally my mom came up to it. She didn’t say anything, she just looked at me. “I’ve been out here for like five minutes,” I said. “Didn’t you hear me knocking?” Again she just stared at me.

“Your nose is bleeding,” she told me. I felt a stream of blood drip off of my upper lip. I looked down at the splatters it made on the floor and noticed my wrists and hands. My wrists had splotches of yellow on them and my hands were a dull gray, like they had been dusty and could have easily fallen off. I tilted my head back and stepped closer to the door, expecting my mom to open it, but she backed away instead, grabbing our wooden door. Her body language told me she was going to close it and her eyes told me she only kind of regretted it. “Mom,” I begged her.

“You’re sick,” she said. “I can’t let you in here,” and she slammed the door. I could see my dad in the living room, sitting on the couch, his head slouched. I stepped back, feeling woozy. My nose kept bleeding. I ran over to one of my mom’s potted plants and threw up. Tears streamed down my face. How could my mom throw me out? She was never the warmest person, but I was still shocked. I tried walking down the steps to my porch, I had to get away from there, but I tripped and fell, knocking myself unconscious in a pool of my own blood and vomit.


There were still chunks of vomit in my hair when I awoke. Chinese food had been a mistake. I had tubes in my nose, but right away I knew I wasn’t in a normal hospital. The air smelled wet and dank, the walls were a funky gray color, and I was on the floor. I sat up, my back aching, and took a look around. There were a few machines and monitors hooked up behind me, as well as everyone else, and I had strange wires attached all over me. There were other people lying on the floor too as well as some lying on broken cots. Some were turned on their sides and others were moaning. A man was staring at me from across the room. He looked like he hadn’t bathed in a while. The lighting in the room was awkward and inconsistent. A woman lying next to me sat up.

“I didn’t think you’d wake up,” she cackled. “Most of them don’t.” She had a small butterfly-shaped broach pinned to her robe. I felt a brush of cool air beside me and looked to find the man from across the room now sitting next to me. “Do you know where you are?” he asked. I shook my head and he laughed. “Fresh meat,” he breathed. The woman hissed out a laugh. “Let her be. From the looks of it, she’s going to be in here a while.” “From the looks of what?” I asked and she pointed at me. I looked down at my hands and then up my arms. My skin was still a yellowish gray. I had large blisters on my forearms and legs. “I think your hair is falling out too,” the man said. “It’s evolving,” the woman acknowledged.

A tall man in a hazmat walked up to us, and they scattered. He yanked me up by my arm and stabbed a needle in me. A red, hot heat flushed through my upper arm and when he yanked away, my arm cramped. He walked away without saying a word and the man and woman scampered back over. The man came up to me and grabbed my hair, gently though, and observed it. The woman sniffed me like she was a wild animal. “How long do you think she will be sick, Frank?” the woman asked.

The man curved his finger on his chin. “It’s hard to say,” he said. “How long have you had symptoms?” I blew off his question, and he and the woman returned to their own business, snickering. At that point, I had no idea how long I had been in that place, but I knew I hadn’t started showing symptoms until after Ryan’s funeral. They hit me like a brick wall. After what had happened to Ryan, I knew I had about a week.

There were no windows in the room and I couldn’t find any immediate doors. The lights didn’t seem very secure on the ceiling. There was nothing on the walls or ceiling, and the only things on the floor were us and the machines we were hooked up to. It seemed like more people were moaning at that point and it strongly smelled of vomit.

“How’d you get sick?” a boy asked me from behind. He looked to be about my age, maybe a little older. There was a part of him that seemed not to care too much about anything, especially being sick. “I know how I got sick. I was bit by a snake.” He stared at me and I stared back cautiously. He had shaggy, long hair and veins stuck out on his neck and forehead. His eyes looked hollow. “It was a python. They aren’t even indigenous to this area. Were you bit too?” I shook my head. He laughed a little. “I know. You kissed someone who was sick.”

Ryan came to mind and my heart ached. My head was swimming as well. Pythons didn’t inhabit the area and the animal Ryan described didn’t even seem like a real animal. I looked up at the ceiling and the woman from the cottage was sprawled out on it, like she was lying on the ground. I stood up and looked at her closely. The boy followed my gaze and stood up as well. “You can see the snake too?” he asked, and the woman hissed at us.


I started marking the number of days I spent in that quarantine by writing tally marks underneath one of my machines with chalk I found on the floor. I could never tell if it was day or night or what hour of the day it was, but some of the other patients and I gathered they gave us shots at least once a day. I wasn’t sure what effect the vaccines were supposed to have on us. I wasn’t feeling any better; my nose would bleed often and I still had the nasty blisters on my arms. Everywhere I went I felt the woman’s presence. They’d give us three meals a day, that surprisingly weren’t that bad and the communal bathrooms weren’t too horrible either. It was the lack of presence, authority, and professionalism that bugged me out. It clearly wasn’t an official establishment.

The boy who saw the snake died on my third day there. Hours before, he had been screaming about the python; that it was too close to him, too near, but every time I looked over at him, I saw only the woman. I could tell by the other patients’ faces they too did not see the snake, but only whatever their illusion was that haunted them.

The doctors seemed to be thinning out. By the third day, their numbers had dropped drastically. The nurses too. Things seemed to be going crazier than when I first arrived because of the even greater lack of supervision.

Frank bothered me every so often. He would sniff my hair or bang on one of my machines. At one point, he almost cut the tubes attached to me with a sharp rock. The doctors, or whoever it was that was helping us, would have to stop him from doing this or that. The strange woman left me alone though. She would sit idly by and snicker. Everything made her laugh. The only patient I really talked to was the boy who saw the snake. The others were either too wild or too much in pain to be someone whom I confided in.

On the fourth day, the doctors took blood from us. The woman next to me said they did so every other week. “You better start appreciating needles,” she said. “Because they won’t appreciate you.” “It’s to see if we’re clean,” Frank said as the doctor wrapped my arm.

“They have about thirty of us in here, but the whole town is sick. People are dying left and right, and if they can clear us to go home, they can bring in more people.” I looked at the man, incredulous of what he was preaching. “How do you know this?” I asked. “I have my sources.” “Do you think the shots they give us actually help?” I asked him without missing a beat. He and the woman cackled, and the man pretended to wipe away a tear. “Don’t you know the only way to not be sick is to get rid of illusion?”

Before I could ask him what he meant, a nurse walked up to us, clad in her hazmat suit, and helped Frank off of the ground. “We need to disinfect you,” she said. “And then you’re free to go.” The man jumped up and down giddily. The nurse put a mask over him and as they walked away, he turned and said, “See? You need to get rid of illusion.” I stood and ripped the wires and tubes off of me. “What do you mean?” I shouted, following closely behind them. Another doctor came up to me and stopped me. “You can’t go any farther, ma’am,” he said. I didn’t try to struggle, knowing it only would make things worse. “Just tell me what you mean!” I shouted one last time. The man stopped and turned around, much to the nurse’s dismay. “I know you’ve seen it, lady. I don’t know what it is you’ve seen, but I know you’ve seen it.”

Frank and the nurse disappeared and I returned to my spot. The doctor hooked the machines back up to me. I heard a slow, methodical laugh coming from behind me. I half expected it to be the crazy woman next to me, but when I looked over, she was sleeping. I felt a hot breath on the back of my neck, and when I turned around I was looking into the gray eyes of the woman. I closed my eyes, hoping she would disappear, but when I opened them she was still there. She was breathing heavily, her smile gone. I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck. I noticed a necklace draped around her neck. It was gold and had a small heart charm on it with a green rhinestone in the center. It looked just like the one I gave my mom for her birthday last year. She noticed that I was staring at it, and with an awkward grunt, she crawled away.


My fifth day there, while in a hot, frenzied sleep, I dreamt I was back at the cobblestone paths with Ryan. He was normal and happy; the willow tree was still fallen over, the cottage deserted. He was telling me a story of a time when he and his family went camping. He had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom when he noticed a strange animal rummaging through their supplies. The animal had horns and long claws and tufts of its fur were missing. Ryan tried not to make a sound, scared the animal would pounce on him, but he stepped on a twig, and in an instant the animal was staring at him. Its eyes were red and beady. I never found out how that story ended, but every time our senior class would take a trip out to the campgrounds, Ryan never went.

When I woke up, I realized it wasn’t a dream I had had, but a mere recollection of something that had happened a few months prior. Frank’s words sat at the edge of my brain, taunting me with what had to be done. “Get rid of illusion,” he said, like the whole disease was a placebo. The blisters on my arms burst and puss came out freely. My hair still hadn’t stopped falling out and my skin was still an awkward yellow. “I don’t know what you’ve seen, but I know you’ve seen it,” his words repeated in my head over and over again. I knew I had only a couple more days.

Through the wooziness, medications, and sickness, it took me a while to finally grasp what he was saying. I figured it was nighttime when I woke up because everyone was sleeping and all the lights except for one were off. A low-hanging, dim light shined near the bathrooms. I could see a shadow of a woman with scraggily hair standing by one of the sinks. I unhooked myself from my machines and walked over there. I knew exactly who she was.

I tried not to stumble over the people as I walked over. I was doing my best not to step on anyone’s hands, feet, or hair when I noticed Ryan’s mom lying down on a broken cot. Her breathing was slow and shallow, but her eyes were opened. They looked up at me as I walked up to her. “Chelsea?” she breathed. “Is that you?” I nodded and kneeled down beside her. I looked over to see if the shadow was still there, and it was.

“I didn’t know you were in here, Mrs. Hale.” I whispered to her. She had dark bags under her eyes, and it looked like she hadn’t eaten or slept in days. “Is Mr. Hale here as well?” I asked, but she didn’t answer me. “Can you hear her laughing?” she asked me. I didn’t hear anything. “Can I hear who laughing?” I asked. “Kayla,” she answered. She didn’t even have to think about it. “Ryan’s sister?” I asked.

Mrs. Hale sat up. “She follows me around. I see her everywhere. Ever since I got sick. She follows me.” The only way to not be sick is to get rid of illusion. She started shaking and I grabbed her by the shoulders. “You have to let her go. That’s the only way you’ll get better.” I laid her back on her cot, and after a few minutes she closed her eyes. I turned back around and the shadow was gone, but I knew the woman was near. I walked into the communal bathrooms. It was divided into two sections—men’s and women’s—and a flimsy wall divided its entirety from the rest of the room. I heard the rocking sound again, like the time at the cottage, and followed it. There was shuffling in one stall. A low rustle, like something was trying to be discreet. I walked up to the stall next to it, pretending I was going to open that one. My heart pounded, my cheeks felt flushed.

I held my breath and kicked in the stall door, but nothing was there. A stall door at the other end of the room slammed shut. I slowly crept over. Every step I took was like a bowling ball being dropped on the floor. I had to slow my breathing to stop myself from panting. I was about to open the door when another one opposite of me slammed. One by one, they all slammed shut. The sinks turned on full blast, quickly overflowing. The light flickered. The woman started laughing, but I couldn’t tell which stall she was in. Get rid of illusion. I kicked in two stall doors to no avail. I went into the second and kicked the toilet paper dispenser until it detached from the wall. I picked it up, determination coursing through my veins. The laughing got louder, and I followed it until I reached the last stall.

I forced open the door, but the woman wasn’t there. “Boo!” I turned around to find the woman cackling behind me. She reached out and tried to scratch me, but I knocked her arm away. I bashed her with the toilet paper dispenser and she fell to the floor, still cackling. She lunged for me and I whacked her again. I hit her again and again, until she was nothing more than a green, bubbling puddle on the floor.


Two weeks later, after they took a blood test, a nurse placed a mask over my face and escorted me out of quarantine. The other patients moaned and hollered, but we did our best to ignore them. The crazy woman next to me had croaked right before the blood test. That morning, when she woke up, she looked up at me and told me she could never get rid of illusion. “How would you know what is real?” she asked. Within a few minutes she was gone.

I walked through town, still in my patient robe and slippers, my bag of possessions they had found me with tucked under my arm. I passed the coffee shop Ryan and I frequented downtown and the boutique he died in front of. I passed my high school, his house, and mine. I passed the old cottage, the fallen willow tree, and the cobblestone paths. I walked straight down the main road until I came to the edge of town. Not once did I see a living soul.

I kept walking until I knew I was far enough away.

I stopped at a diner, about twenty miles outside of town. A crinkled ten dollar bill sat at the back of my wallet and I knew that would be enough. A sweet, curly-haired woman waited on me and the diner had a small-town, family-owned feel to it. The floor was tiled with black and white checkered tiles, the walls were painted pink on the upper half and blue on the lower, and they had pictures of racecar drivers plastered on the walls. One wall had Polaroid pictures of all of their employees. I saw a picture of the boy who was cleaning the table next to mine, of the lady waiting on me, and one towards the bottom was of Frank. He had the same wild look in his eye and he still looked like he needed a bath, but there was something knowing about his smile. And I looked down at my stack of pancakes and smiled the same way. TC mark

Cliff Barlow’s second book, Darkness Prevails, is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.

darknessv3









Thought Catalog

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Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus

1. The Racist Asshole

Blackface, afro wigs, binidis, geisha makeup: this person sees nothing wrong with appropriation. They’re over age 18 and have no ~youthful ignorance~ excuse. Tell this person to get a Tumblr and a fucking clue.

2. The Asshole Who Condescendingly Asks What You Are

“What are you supposed to be?” Supposed? Um, I am a zombie sailor, you pretentious dick in a beret.

3. The Asshole Who Thinks They Obnoxiously Have To Stay In Character

This asshole dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow and all of the sudden they’re constantly talking in an accent and asking where the rum’s gone. You actually would like some of the rum, but they will not let up. They’re Mary Kate Olsen, chainsmoking inside your apartment even though you expressly forbid lighting up indoors. They’re the terrible Bridget Jones with the lazy British accent and even lazier lame sweater set costume. Worst of all, they think that their getup is superior to everyone else’s just because they’re letting it run their lives.

4. The Halloween Truther Asshole

“Did you know that ‘all hallow’s eve’ was originally a Christian holiday designed t-” ERROR 404 REASON FOR BEING THIS MUCH OF A DOUCHE NOT FOUND ;;;;;;;;

5. The Group Photo Asshole

“Everyone get together! OMG! SO GOOD! MAKE A FUNNY FACE. OMG. You NEED a picture together! KRAMER AND ROSS, I LOVE IT!!!!!”

6. The ‘Too Soon’ Asshole

Costumes for 2014: Robin Williams, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the Ebola virus, Ferguson. This asshole’s parents never told them ‘no.’ Just no.

7. The Asshole Who’s Covered In Fake Blood

This asshole would be totally in the spirit and awesome if they hadn’t used the janky homemade formula that makes their fake blood rub off as a bright red stain on everything they touch, including, but not limited to: you, your clothes, your friends, your friends’ clothes, your possessions, your walls, the keg, and your sheets.

8. The ‘I Hate Slutty Costumes’ Asshole

This asshole tends to be a guy, but it can also be a holier-than-thou girl who’s decided it’s their completely alternative, indie, original idea to hate the idea of a ‘slutty’ take on any costume. They are not here to have fun, they are here to preserve the tradition of the holiday itself. Catch these assholes sipping a craft beer, talking to no one, and side-eyeing every single person in a Hermione outfit that isn’t a black robe and a frizzy wig.

9. The ‘My Costume Involves A Water Gun’ Asshole

This asshole came to bring the LOLz by turning every other partygoer into a drowned rat. They could’ve been considerate and put tequila in their watergun, but no, it is just water, and it is just the worst.

10. The Asshole Who Thinks Hating Halloween Is Cool

This person lives at the intersection of Insufferable Avenue and Pretentious Street. They’re somehow ‘too old for this’ yet still out at the bar with you, and when you ask them why the hell they actually came out, they’ll be like, “I’m asking myself the SAME thing.” And then both of you will disintegrate into the ether of actually being characters in a poorly written Zach Braff movie.

11. The Asshole Who’s Dressed As Genitalia

“Isn’t it HILARIOUS that I wore this giant condom out? LOL? Get it?! I’m a dickhead!!!” Okay, yeah, it was funny for five minutes but now you’re touching me and I’m uncomfortable.

12. The Asshole Who Doesn’t Get Why No One Gets Their Costume

They look like they just walked out of a GAP ad and you have no idea what they’re supposed to be and they keep baiting the hell out of you to get it. “The lead singer of Mumford & Sons, come on!”

13. The Genius Asshole Who Wore The Exact Same Costume As You

You. Fucking. Asshole. Did we just become best friends? TC mark









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Dreams never end
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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

1. And then they started walking over.

2. Are you still up right now?

3. We need to talk, he/she said.

4. [INSERT EX'S USERNAME] liked your photo

5. [INSERT EX'S FACEBOOK NAME] is attending

6. Hey, isn’t that him/her over there?

7. You have seven new voicemails from:

8. Connect with [EX'S NAME] on LinkedIn!

9. Don’t look, but he’s coming over.

10. “I miss you, can we talk?”

11. When can I bring your stuff?

12. “Ran into _____, they looked good.”

13. “Wish [EX's NAME] a happy birthday!”

14. “I saw that you unfollowed me.”

15. *Phone rings* Call from Restricted

16. “Let’s Get Back Together” (Part 5)

17. *Accidentally swipes ex right on Tinder*

18. “Let’s get coffee and catch up?”

19. *Your ex’s favorite song begins playing*

20. *Stops at longest light: THEIR CAR*

21. *Opens wallet for condom: THEIR FACE* TC mark









Thought Catalog

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