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[It's Arknights!] Chapter 4: Penguin Logistics
Texas straightened her tail and cushioned her back against it while driving with both her arms on the steering wheel, still expressionless. Exusiai seemed to be a bit tired, and was currently snoring on the passenger seat. Li Lin, who sat in the back seat, was feeling very uneasy.
This was the first long distance travel he has had ever since he was taken in by Exusiai. Lungmen, the nomadic city, was larger than expected. After seeing cars driving on the driveway for over half an hour, the city’s neon lights still shone all around them. All the shop signs and cars that flew past him made him feel as if he was still back in his old world.
If he wasn’t looking at Texas’s tail and Exusiai’s halo, Li Lin would have thought he had just called a taxi.
Yet, there were no buts. He has been here for four whole months.
Well, it was his first time experiencing a terrorist strike though.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my whole life……”
Sitting upright in his seat, Li Lin let out an emotional sigh as he watched the passing scenery outside.
Although both Texas and Exusiai looked a bit down, Li Lin didn’t take it as something needing his attention.
Maybe it’s because he has a strong mentality, or maybe he already has some mental preparation since he had been transported into this world, but he wasn’t too shocked or terrified when the explosion had occurred. Rather, he felt relief as the line ‘Finally, it’s here’ flew past his mind. When he was blasted sideways by the blast, his reflexes were even a bit faster than Texas’s.
To be totally honest, Li Lin felt his heart beating out of his chest when he saw the sniper in black on the opposite building.
He was a useless shut-in in his old reality, then he lived off of someone else freely for almost four months here, but when he saw the flashes coming from the sniper, Li Lin admitted that his heart started to pump excitedly like never before. In other words, he was looking forward to it. When his normal everyday life was torn into shreds and blew right apart by the explosion, he felt joy and happiness like nothing he had ever experienced before.
How did the saying go? “If a man hears the Way in the morning, he can die content in the evening”. People living in the peaceful areas always have a terrible craving for war and terror. Almost all of them can only cry out for their parents when they truly face terror, but then, there’s also a tiny minority that doesn’t act that way.
They sing, they cheer, they play rock and roll on the battlefields, charging into enemy lines while playing an accordion.
Li Lin thinks that he might be one of those people.
“…… Sorry for letting you see the dark side.”
Seemingly getting the wrong idea of Li Lin’s straight posture and trembling lips, Texas looked at him from the sideview mirror, stayed silent for a while, and spoke softly.
“Penguin Logistics deliver the goods that our client requests us to deliver. We don’t care about what the goods are, neither do we care who the recipient is. If it can be delivered, we deliver it. So, our situation might be a little dangerous here, it’s not as good as you think.”
The traffic light turned red.
Texas shifted the gears down, her hand rummaging the insides of her pocket but finding nothing.
Li Lin could see clearly from the rearview mirror that Texas curled her lips frustratedly. her tail that was acting as a cushion also swayed, seemingly unfulfilled for something. She was acting like a long-time smoker without a cigarette.
“Then, was the one that attacked us a dissatisfied client? Or an enemy of the client?”
Li Lin, after some pondering, asked Texas after he judged it as a good moment to do so.
“Why did they not aim at us, but rather the bedroom?”
“You will attract the Lungmen police force if you kill, and we don’t know which organization was behind the attack…… The sniper was a Sarkaz mercenary, I saw her face.”
Her hand wiggled around her pocket for a few more times, but it didn’t feel anything, not even a chocolate bean. Texas gave out a long breath and just kept her hand in the pocket. She switched the gears back up and spoke while taking a glance at the now green traffic light.
“She was tall, wearing a cape, had a pair of black horns on her head, and used explosives and a crossbow. I recall her being a quite famous mercenary, but I don’t know why she attacked us. No matter, that’s typical Sarkaz behavior. Crazy, shady, will do anything for money……”
“Maybe it’s a rumor? I read some info stating that Sarkaz people aren’t like what the rumors portray them to be.”
“If it was just a rumor, then she wouldn’t have attacked us. The Sarkaz only export mercenaries, and almost all of them are somewhat famous. It’s a pain in the ass being the target of a Sarkaz mercenary, but Penguin Logistics had never gone overboard in our missions…… at least no one knows when we do. Maybe there was some leaked information. Boss will handle it.”
Texas shook her head, without too much hatred on her face.
For an organization that operates in the grey areas of law, facing explosions, gunshots and even Arts bombardments are just an everyday occurrence after all. During his bedtime chatters on the double decker with Exusiai, Li Lin did hear frequently about Exusiai boasting about how many people she had shot.
Before Li Lin could ask any more questions, Texas suddenly accelerated as she drifted through a turn, which made the seat-beltless Exusiai ram her head into the window beside her. Before she could let out a grunt, Texas slammed the breaks, and Exusiai slipped into the space under her seat. Li Lin felt his teeth hurt as he saw the whole scenario unfold.
“Anyways, welcome to Penguin Logistics.”
Undoing her seat belt, Texas pointed to the tall structure that had a weird, abstract penguin logo on it.
“Here’s our headquarters. You can walk around in there, I’ll go explain to the Boss and get you your employee card. Exusiai, follow me.”
“Huh? We’re here? Why do I feel like I’ve been hit……”
“Just your imagination, catch up.”
“Wait a minute…… Ah, Prophet, I’ll lend you my employee card first. you can swipe that card for anything you want. I’ll be back soon, just wait for a while.”
Exusiai got out of the car, still dazed, and handed Li Lin her employee card under Texas’s impatient gaze. After briefing Li Lin on some things to look out for, she walked into the building while yawning, with her messy short hair and the red marks from the impacts just now on full display.
They came in strong as three people, and just after a few minutes, there was only Li Lin left, standing in the first-floor lobby, not knowing what to do. They said he could walk around to check out the surroundings, but he didn’t know what there were to check out, neither when they’ll come back down. He could only look at Exusiai’s employee card to pass time since he had nothing else to do.
It wasn’t long before he heard a slightly strange greeting coming from his side.
Li Lin, who was playing with Exusiai’s card, looked up and saw a pile of meat blocking his view.
Nope, to be more accurate, it was a woman wearing a T-shirt with the word “Meat” on it.
The orange-haired woman looked around mysteriously, magically took out a bunch of colorful stuff from her pockets, and asked Li Lin in a joyful manner.
“What’cha want, brother? Croissant has anything yer want right ‘ere ya know? Seein’ ya have an employee card, Imma give yer 40% off.”
Do you guys at Penguin Logistics not have an enrolment test or something?
Besides, this body language, this marketing procedure, you’re reminding me of another penguin.
Looking at the woman with bull horns and a mischievous smile, then at the Penguin Logistics logo on her jacket’s shoulder, Li Lin shook his head decisively.
I'm a 'phony' paranormal investigator, and I'm in over my head.
Apologizes for the opening rant. I just wanted to make sure all *that* was clear from the get-go. My name is … well let’s go with Peter and my real job was building-inspector. Yeah, I’m that guy that everyone hates because I have to tell them when they didn’t do the job right the first time. Well, that’s the stereotype at least, as far as I know, I’m fairly well-liked. (Of course, I generally worked with people that can do the job right the first time so, ya know...) My trade comes with a lot of cool gadgets like a thermal camera to check for insulation leaks, an electromagnetic field detector to check for bad wiring, and useful knowledge about electrical, plumbing, air ducting, et cetera. These trade tools and skills ended up being the start of my current ‘job’.
It started a few years back when my old buddy, let's call him ‘Louis’, and I were having a boy’s night out at our favorite tavern. Louis is an accountant, married to a lovely woman, has two little kids he loves dearly, but he had a problem that was driving him nuts. They had recently moved into a new house and his wife and kids were convinced it was haunted. Strange noises, flickering lights, cold spots, et cetera. All the usual sorts of ‘phenomena’ that can usually be explained by loose ducts/pipes, bad wiring, and poor insulation. Louis had tried to convince his family that there had to be rational explanations for it all; but they were all so scared and so worked up they had convinced themselves it was a ghost, that they have to leave, all that nonsense. It was so bad the kids were struggling with school due to lack of sleep, and Louis and his wife were constantly on each other's nerves.
It was then I had the most brilliant idea ever... that I would later come to regret. I told Louis ‘hauntings are all about psychology, people think there is something to be scared of so they get scared, it doesn't matter if the thing they’re scared of is real or not’. Thus I reasoned If fear could be caused by something *thought* to be scary, perhaps it could be cured by something *thought* to deal with the scary thing. I remembered seeing this tell-all story about a fortune teller once, she explained ‘people don’t really want their fortunes told they just want good news and they want to believe it. That’s what she really did, figured out what her customers wanted, and put on a big mystical show and told them what they wanted to hear.’ I could do the same thing for Louis’s family. So I proposed a plan, “Go home, tell your wife and kids your friend the paranormal investigator is coming tomorrow to get rid of the haunting. We'll make a big show of the whole thing to sell it psychologically, then I’ll go over the pipework, electrical, and whatnot. I'll help you fix whatever is really creating the bumps in the night, and that should solve the ‘haunting’.” Louis agreed.
I arrived the next day and put on the show. I went for this whole Ghostbustersesque science-based approach to occultism. I told Louis’s wife and kids about my trade tools and how they were used both for home-inspection and ghost hunting and we made a sort of game of checking the house out. We laid down some newspapers and the kids helped me draw protective wards from ‘magically infused salt’; which was just table salt from a bottle marked with occult runes I found on-line. I made sure to draw ‘real’ protection symbols because I knew the kids would look them up on-line just like I did. I burned some sage with a few nice smelling herbs mixed in to ‘cleanse negative emotions and energies’ (again something I learned from Youtube). As I had expected we found some old wiring that needed new insulation (EM fields can cause feelings of paranoia), a few loose pipes, and some old insulation that needed to be replaced. We got everything fixed up and soon after the ‘ghost’ was gone.
My paranormal investigator career should have ended there, but it didn’t. Turns out Louis’s wife was WAY into the occult and paranormal. I mean she had special teas and crystals, she was a part of multiple paranormal related groups on Facebook; the whole nine yards... and she had fallen for my act hook, line, and sinker. She decided to tell all of her friends about how I had saved her family from the ghost, and the next thing I know I’m getting calls and messages from people asking me to investigate their hauntings. Now, I could have just ignored them, or just explained it was all an act, but there was a problem. What would happen if word got back to Louis’s wife and kids that I was a fake? I couldn’t be sure, but probably nothing good.
Of course, this was also an opportunity. What I was really doing with the ghostbuster stuff? I was home-inspecting...just with an extra bit of showmanship and improving. So I figured I’d run with it. I’d tell people to call my company and schedule a ‘home-inspection’ (which was what I had to call my paranormal investigation work for ‘tax reasons’) and I’d just do the whole show and get paid to do my job. I didn’t charge extra! Even if someone offered to tip me I always turned it down. I made good money just doing my job. I didn’t need extra… well at the time I didn’t.
I would come to regret not taking the extra money after the pandemic hit. The unfortunate design flaw in the profession of home-inspector is you have to be able to go INSIDE the homes to inspect them. If people are afraid of a deadly virus, that doesn’t happen so much. After three months of not being able to do any jobs, the company I worked for went belly up. (Smalltown companies not being ‘too big to fail’.) I was now unemployed and trying to find a new job during a pandemic was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Financially I would be alright for a while, but as of this writing the pandemic is still going and I’ve even seen reports of some places having ‘second wave outbreaks’ which says to me it's not getting fixed anytime soon. So one day I got a message on Facebook, someone tried to contact the company to schedule me for a ‘haunting-inspecting’ (that’s what we ended calling it) and found out the company was gone. I explained what happened, and then they asked if they could ‘just hire me directly? Maybe pay me under the table, if taxes are an issue?’ They were quick to add that normally they would never propose such a thing, but they feared for the well being of their two-year-old and their spouse was serving overseas.
Now, just so it's clear the ‘tax reasons’ as you’ve probably surmised was just a cover on my part to explain away why the ‘professional paranormal investigator’ had a day job; just another part of the act, really. I hesitated as I thought about how to reply to the message. Everything I had done so far was above board. In terms of legality I had been paid to inspect a home and that’s what I had done every time. I just happened to do some other stuff as a free service to give families peace of mind. Of course, that wasn’t an option anymore. I’ll spare you the legal BS, but essentially I couldn’t ‘legally’ or ‘certifiably’ do home inspections without being a part of a licensed company (the laws are weird here). Of course, there were no laws against selling peace of mind. I had a N95 respirator as part of my trade tools (and I mean the real deal with replaceable filters and eye protection) so the virus wouldn’t be a problem. What if I just went over and did my thing? Most of the little repairs I could do myself, anything I couldn’t handle I could recommend a friend that could (and they needed work just like I did). All the ghostbuster stuff would still be technically free so I knew I wouldn’t be conning anyone. So, I agreed to help. (Turned out they had a lot of bad wiring and an infestation of a mold that could cause hallucinations. It was no wonder they were seeing things.)
Well, the requests kept coming and I kept doing my bit. Things were fine till last Saturday and my most recent case... Now keep in mind I had encountered some weird things while doing this job. Like one time the ‘ghost’ turned out to be a psycho that had been living inside the walls of the client’s house. (I just about screamed when I spotted him with my thermal camera.) A few of the haunting cases turned out to be stalkers, heck there was this one time I had to knock out a punk with my monkey wrench when he tried to break in. This last case though, even with all of my experience; there were things I can’t explain. I’ll do my best to recount the events below.
The client lived in a huge manor house in a heavily forested area. It was a really old place, one of those turn of the century constructions that had been added on to and updated over the decades. The clients were a family of five. The husband (whom I’ll call Winston) was a nurse, the wife (Dana) a school teacher. They had one daughter (Janine) in her twenties who was living with them because she lost her job during the pandemic. There was a ten-year-old boy (Raymond), and a baby boy (Oscar). Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself the same question I did when I first saw their home. ‘How did they afford a huge manor type of place on those two salaries?’, well turns out there was a good reason, though I didn’t discover it till shortly before I began writing this.
I pulled into the driveway and found Winston waiting for me. Even before I got out of my truck I could tell he was on edge. Keep in mind he was a big dude well built. He struck me as the type that could handle himself in a dicey situation. Yet, his hands trembled as he waved to me. I also noticed he had set up a lawn chair in a sheltered spot near the garage, which meant he felt more comfortable waiting for me outside on a cold windy day rather than inside his own house. Something must have spooked him good. I pulled on my mask and hopped out of the truck. Before I could even introduce myself he jogged over to me and started talking up a storm. “Thank god you’re here!” was all I could make out before his speech devolved into overly excited non-sense and frantic hand waving.
It took me a few moments of my own gesturing to get him to calm down enough I could actually talk to him. “Winston WINSTON! Calm down. Ghosts feed on fear, you have to calm down or you’ll just make it stronger.” That was popular theory within the ghost hunting community. It was one of those pearls of wisdom I used as part of my act. I hoped it would be enough to get through to him.
Winston looked briefly alarmed but began to settle down. I tried to encourage him. “Deep breaths, relax. Where is the rest of your family?” I had been expecting five but had only met him thus far. I had a sudden worrying thought that maybe the reason he was so panicked was someone was in immediate danger.
“Dana and Janine took the kids out; they'll be back later. I figured it would be safer if they weren’t here for this.” Winston explained between ragged slow breaths. “Honestly if it weren’t for the damned pandemic we’d all be in a hotel or something.” He looked me up and down, sizing me up. “How can you be so calm when you deal with this paranormal stuff all the time?” He asked in an almost pleading tone.
The real answer was ‘I know all the paranormal stuff is fake’, but I didn’t say that of course. Instead, I shrugged and opened the side door of my truck. “It’s all about professionalism.” I began calmly and methodically equipping my gear as if everything that was going on was just another day on the job for me. “I’m supposed to be the expert, right? If I start panicking then everyone else is going to as well. So no matter what I never show fear, I get scared sure… I’ve had a few nasty encounters, but so long as I act like I’m not afraid I tend not to feel quite so scared. ‘Fake it till you make it’ like they always say.” In truth Winston's nervous deposition had me on edge, but true to my own advice I wasn’t showing it.
He nodded slowly, “Right, professionalism… okay.” He let out a long slow breath.
“Alright so tell me what’s going on in your house.” I made a big show of bringing out my ‘ghostbuster’ gear; such as the bottle of ‘magic salt’ I talked about earlier and my ‘photon buster’; which was another prop I came up with for showing off to kids. It’s just a high powered flashlight with an engraved lens. I had researched banishment runes online and scratched them into the plastic, so the symbols are projected like the bat-signal.
“There’s so much I hardly know where to start.” He began with a sigh.
“Well, start at the beginning. What did you notice first?” I prompted and we began walking to the front door.
He struggled a moment as he tried to collate the contents of his memory. “Well… it started with little things. We’d hear odd noises at night, felt cold spots, lights flickered…” I had heard all that before, but the next part surprised me. “So, I had a buddy come in and check the wiring and whatnot, assuming there was a mundane explanation… he found and fixed a few issues but the phenomena didn’t stop.” This was the first time I had ever done one of these after someone had already done what I was planning to do. At the time I reasoned the buddy might have been an amateur, thus hadn’t found every issue or maybe he didn’t do the fixes right.
Winston continued, “After a while, we had gotten used to the little quirks, but things started getting worse. Objects would move when no one was looking. On at least three occasions I set my coffee mug on the table turned away for a moment and found it tipped over and spilling out on the floor. I thought maybe I had knocked it over by accident the first time but, by the third, I knew I hadn’t.” I wrote that one off as clumsiness and denial. Sometimes people blame ghosts for losing their keys and wallet around.
“And it just kept getting worse!” He continued. “Soon we’d find paintings on the floor, furniture toppled over, books pulled off the shelf and stacked on the floor …” He listed off a few more things, most of them I could write off as exaggerations, people forgetting to close drawers, or a bored ten-year-old trapped indoors making a mess.
I thought I had it all figured out then Winston dropped the bombshell. “It got really bad when I opened the hidden room, and then there’s what happened in the kitchen this morning!” I paused just short of the front stoop. “Hold on… secret room? And what was that about the kitchen?” Winston opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn’t seem to find the words. After several long moments, he finally said, “You’ll just have to see it for yourself…” He opened the door and gestured for me to enter.
Unconsciously my hand rested on the handle of my monkey wrench as I walked in. I didn’t know what to expect now. I stepped through the threshold and immediately felt a chill run down my spine, causing me to shudder involuntarily. “You feel it?” Winston asked as he stepped in behind me and closed the door, but didn’t lock it; as if he thought he’d need to get out in a hurry. “Chilly in here,” I admitted. I heard a familiar beeping and realized my EMF detector was on and going utterly nuts. I turned it off figuring there must have been some bad wiring on the doorbell or something. “Kitchen is this way.” Winston gestured with a shaky hand and timidly began walking down the hall.
We reached the kitchen, Winston stopped at the entrance and refused to take another step. I walked in and … well… it was just plain unreal! Someone had taken every knife from the butcher’s block and shoved them into the ten-foot-high ceiling hard enough to make them stick. Every drawer and cabinet was wide open and every item (pots, pans, boxed foods, fruits, etc) was placed on the floor arranged by size order. The refrigerator, a huge two-door model that must have weighed at least three hundred pounds was UPSIDE DOWN! As if someone had managed to lift the entire thing up and flip it over! The doors were hanging open and the contents of the fridge had violently spilled out onto the floor in a sticky mess of broken eggs, milk, and juices. The mixture of fluids was smeared across the floor up the wall to the ceiling as if a dozen hands had dragged the mess around. I blinked as I took in the scene. Most of it I could explain away, but the refrigerator? The knives shoved into the ceiling? Who or what could even do that?
Winston’s question snapped me out of my confused stupor. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” There was a frightened tremor in his voice. I could see the fear, and the pain of having his home... his family's safe haven so violated in his eyes. Without really thinking I answered out of reflex. “Yes, twice. The first time it was staged.” I had one guy try to ‘debunk’ me, to expose me as a fraud (which I sort of am, I suppose). He set up a fake haunted house with various tricks and spooky events to make me think it was actually haunted. Of course, I ended up catching on to his plan and his scheme failed. (He did a lousy job installing some of his tricks. I ended up fixing a few of them for him.) I might have thought Winston was trying to pull the same thing, but I could see the pain and fear in his eyes. If he was putting on an act it was Oscar-worthy. I continued, “The second time…” I fell silent as I thought about that moment I found the intruder hiding in the walls of a previous client’s home. I felt the air in the room suddenly grow colder, and shivered involuntarily. I swallowed and took a good long look around before turning to Winston and saying, “Have you called the cops, yet?” Winston winced and half nodded, “We’ve had to call them several times over the months. They came out a few times and checked the house top to bottom, they never found anything. I think it’s to the point they’re not taking me seriously anymore. I called them just before I called you and they haven’t arrived yet.”
It was time to get out. Whatever was going on here was beyond me. It would take at least three really strong guys to flip that refrigerator and they might still be in the house waiting to strike. “We’ll call the cops again and wait for them outside, it’s not safe in--” I was suddenly interrupted by a woman’s scream! It shattered the quiet like a hammer to a mirror. I felt my heart jump into my throat and had to swallow hard to force it back down. Winston's eyes shot wide open as he heard it, then called out his wife’s name in terror. He turned and ran towards the source of the scream before I could stop him. Dana should have still been out with the kids, it couldn’t have been her, but I doubted Winston was in the proper mindset to realize that fact. Of course, if it wasn’t her who or what the hell was it? I hesitated a moment deciding between pursuing Winston not wanting to let him face whatever threats there may be alone, or running outside to safety and calling the professionals to handle this. I ran after Winston, reasoning he was likely in immediate danger and I was the only one around that could help him.
It was a struggle to keep up with Winston. He was in full-on panic mode, and I was carrying around a bunch of heavy tools. I caught a glimpse of him as he turned a corner and began trotting down the stairs into the basement. I made to follow him but paused for a moment as something odd caught my attention. The basement door was secured via a rope so it couldn’t be closed. One end of the rope was tied around the door handle, the other was secured to a hook screwed into the wall. I puzzled a moment as to why it was like that, but soon Winston’s frantic call for his wife down the basement reminded me of the more pressing matters.
I made my way down into the basement. The sudden chilliness in the air took me by surprise. I felt the need to rub my arms to warm them up. I found Winston running around frantically opening cabinets, checking rooms, just tearing up the place whilst calling for his wife. “Winston!” I cried out. “She’s not here! Remember she’s out with the kids!” He didn’t even acknowledge me. I ended up having to grab him by both shoulders and shaking him as I reminded him his wife couldn’t possibly be here. The veil of fear and madness finally lifted from his eyes. “But, I heard her scream!” He protested. “I heard the scream too, but you already told me she took the kids away from here for safety’s sake. She wouldn’t come back until the problem is dealt with, right?” My words seemed to sink and he relaxed and spent a moment trying to catch his breath.
I was rather winded myself and leaned against the wall as I gasped for air. It was hard to take deep breaths to the mask, but I knew more or less how to. My eyes happened to settle upon something my brain couldn’t make sense of. “What heck is that?” I gestured to an opening in the basement wall. It was hinged like a partially open door but just looked like a wall. There was no door frame, or handle just an angled section of the wall leading into an open space behind. Without even having to look Winston answered. “That’s the hidden room we found last night. All the really weird stuff happened after we opened it.”
The air coming from the secret room smelled like stagnation and death even through the mask, and I had just changed the filters. So how I could even smell it was mind-boggler. The inside of the room was darker than a moonless night. As if the light from the rest of the basement was unable to pierce its abyss. I used my thermal camera to look inside, but I didn’t dare cross the threshold. The room was at least twenty degrees colder than the rest of the basement, and I mean right up to the hidden door, which should not have been thermodynamically possible. With the aid of thermal vision, I could see the contents of the room: a table, large hooks hanging from the ceiling, a drain in the middle of the floor, a rack of butcher’s tools. By this point, I had a dozen questions jockeying for attention in my mind. The one that came to the forefront of the moment was, “Winston… why do you have this room in your house?”
“I didn’t know it was there, I swear!” He replied defensively. I hadn’t meant my question to be an accusation, but it must have come across that way. “Just happened to find the hidden door cracked open last night and I opened it up the rest of the way to take a look inside. I’m pretty its the source of the haunting.” I stood there stunned unable to form a coherent sentence to speak. More questions filled my mind. ‘Was this real?’ ‘Is this place, ACTUALLY haunted?’ ‘Where had the scream come from?’ ‘Was all this a setup?’ one in particular though that had been at the back of my mind demanding attention suddenly came to the forefront. I asked him, “Winston, why is there rope keeping the basement door open?”
In an almost off-hand manner, he answered, “It slammed shut on Janine once trapping her down here. Some sort of force must have been holding it closed because it took me, Dana, and a crowbar to get it back open, even though it doesn’t have a lock.” Above us, there was a loud tearing sound and then a wooden SLAM! We were both startled by the noise and then looked up the stairs. Sure enough, the door was now close. I could see the part of the rope that was still tied to the handle hanging limp. Judging by the fraying the two halves of the rope had been torn apart. Winston chanted ‘No no no no!’ As he raced up the stairs and began shoulder ramming the door in an attempt to break it open.
The air suddenly grew colder, so cold I could see the fog of my breath puffing through my respirator’s vents. The lights began to dim and flicker threatening to go out. I focused on staying calm, reasoning this could all still be some sort of test or the work of some home invaders, but all that went out the window the moment I saw the THING manifesting in the dark of the secret room. I couldn’t really see it with my eyes, mind you. In fact, if I hadn't happened to look into the room with my thermal camera that very moment I might never have known it was there. I watched through on the LCD screen as a swirling vortex of cold air formed in the room from seemingly nowhere and began gradually pulling itself into a monstrous human shape. It was at that moment I realized just how screwed we were. This was it. This was an actual haunted house. This wasn’t someone’s test, this wasn’t some home invader’s elaborate plan... Something I could not explain was happening before my very eyes!
The inky darkness of the shadows in the hidden room began to slither forth like the tentacles of a creature from Lovecraftian nightmares. I was shocked, so dumbstruck and stunned at what was going on I didn’t even react till one of the tendrils touched the toe of my boot and I felt a sudden icy coldness in my toes like dipping them into a frozen lake. The pain was enough to snap me out of my stunned state and send me running to the stairs. When I reached them and started climbing I stopped and due to some sudden inspiration drew a line of salt and a protection symbol across the first step. I guess because I had done something similar so many times it felt natural to do it while in a panic, or something.
Winston was still banging on the door trying to get it open. I moved next to him and began slamming into it with him. I tried the knob, it turned freely, but the door wouldn’t budge. It just felt as if something was holding it closed by pressing against the other side. The inky tendrils of darkness kept creeping towards us the void seeming to swallow any light, maybe even the basement itself. Think of it as like a wall of pure black slowly closing in on us. There was no way we could get out in time, the door was just starting to buckle but we couldn’t get it open fast enough. It had almost sat down and given up, but then the strangest thing yet happened. The darkness got to my line of salt and was suddenly halted. I heard a frustrated roar echo from the depths of darkness as the hungry voice pushed against an invisible wall.
Winston turned and saw the salt holding back the darkness then he looked to me. “You’re the actual real deal!” He declared with a renowned vigor in his voice. “I guess so!” I answered back and redoubled my efforts. “Same time on three,” I suggested and indicated the door. My partner nodded. “1.. 2.. 3!” We slammed into the door causing it to buckle and crack. “1.. 2…” I faltered as the stairs beneath my feet suddenly shook violently as if a giant hand had grabbed them and began thrashing violently. I looked back and realized the shaking was scattering the salt I had laid down, our protective wall was crumbling! Winston looked back and realized the same thing. We exchanged a glance and at the same time, we shouted ‘Three!’ and slammed into the door, busting through in a storm of splinters.
We fell through then scrambled to our feet. Winston slammed what was left of the door closed behind us and propped it closed with a chair wedged under the handle. I drew a wide semi-circle of salt around the door and chair and quickly drew every useful symbol I could think of. I was startled by the door shaking suddenly as if struck by something on the other side, I almost stepped on the circle which would have broken it, thankfully Winston was there to help me regain my balance.
“How long will the salt hold?” He asked. “No clue!” I answered. “Let’s just get out of here!” The lights suddenly flickered out and the floor beneath our feet began trembling as if there were an earthquake. The inky black shadows began oozing up through the floorboards like rising floodwaters. I didn’t have enough salt to cover the entire floor so escape was our only option. We sprinted towards the front door in a panic. Winston was screaming asking ‘What the hell is going on?!’ My only response was ‘Just keep running!’. We made it into the hallway and it was dark due to the lights going out so I took a flashlight from my tool belt and flicked it on. We ran down the hall but Winston suddenly skidded to a stop in front of me and I accidentally ran into him. I was about to ask him why he halted when the answer became apparent. There were ‘branches’ of shadows blocking the exit like the wall of a hedge maze. We could see the front door and the safe haven of outdoors just on the other side of the barrier, but couldn’t get through. Winston grabbed a potted flower off a nearby table and threw it at the barrier, maybe to breakthrough or just out of anger. The pot shattered against the shadows as if it were a brick wall. I tried flinging my salt at it, but it didn’t seem to have any effect. The wall of creeping darkness had already blocked off the way we came and the only door in the hallway we could reach led into a closet.
I scanned around frantically with my flashlight looking for any other possible options when Winston suddenly grabbed my hand. “Your light, shine it on the branches!” He shouted as he forcefully directed the beam. When the light touched the shadowy branches they began to tremble and shrink. I didn’t understand why at first but then I realized I had accidentally grabbed my photon buster flashlight. Any branches touched by the projected banishing rune were withering away as if being touched by a flame! Just before the encroaching wall of darkness could reach us we burned a hole through the blockade and slammed through the front door.
Never had the warmth of daylight felt so good as when we emerged from that haunted house. Winston’s family had just pulled into the driveway when we emerged from the nightmare. A woman I presumed to be Dana excited her van and helped her husband off the ground. She looked and saw the wall of shadow chasing after us. “What God’s name is that?!” She screamed. Winston took a hold of her and began directing her back to the van shouting for his family to get out of there. They all quickly piled into the van and peeled out. I was right behind them in my truck.
So… Now we come to present to me writing this right now. Winston and his family are staying with me at my place, we’re all fine. We had some concerns about Covid, but frankly compared to everything else that happened it doesn’t seem like such a pressing issue anymore. We tried calling the cops, but they didn’t believe a word of what we said. As of right now, I’m at a loss. There is clearly some evil force running rampant through Winston’s home. In fact, I did some research about the place and found some dark history. The manor was once the home of a serial killer back in the 1880s. He managed to avoid justice for years thanks to being the brother of the town’s mayor. Eventually, the citizens of the town took justice into their own hands. They broke into the manor in the middle of the night and lynched him in his own kitchen. Over the decades dozens of families have lived in the home, but never more than a few months at a time. Winston and Dana had been told by the realtor there were reports the place was haunted, but at the time they didn’t believe in the supernatural. To them, it was just old rumors that had thankfully brought the price of the home down enough for them to be able to afford. I find myself scoffing as I write this. The American dream turned into a nightmare outta hell.
Thus I turn to the internet, to anyone reading this. Winston, Dana, and their children need help. They’re looking to me to give it to them but I don’t know what to do. If there is anyone out there who can help in any way please reply to this thread. I may be a ‘phony’ but I’m not heartless. I’m not leaving them to try and deal with this on their own.