I never regretted working in that charity shop. It was strictly volunteer stuff, only on weekends and a few solitary evenings. The shop was small and cramped, and we never got many visitors, so my lonely shifts were, more often than not, spent quietly sitting at an abandoned counter.
My stupor was roused one evening, by the sound of the door swinging open. A short man pushed into the shops shaded interior, carrying a small cardboard box. He was well dressed, in a casual shirt and smart looking pants, and a pair of thick glasses sat on his head, underneath a rats nest of curly, greasy hair. By the looks of things, in his early thirties, judging by the thick mess of stubble that clung to his chin.
“Good afternoon,” I greeted the man as cheerfully as I could.
He nodded a polite acknowledgement to my greeting then slammed the box on the counter. Before I could say a word, he closed his eyes, uttered something under his breath, and jogged out of the door, hands firmly rooted in his pockets.
As the door slammed close behind him in the late autumn breeze, I wordlessly inspected the box. It was tattily masking taped close, and Chinese characters were scrawled on the side. I don’t speak mandarin, so I ignored this writing completely. As I tore through the tape, my hands came into contact with cold plastic. Opening the flaps, I saw a huge collection of flash drives, video cassettes, tapes and games cartridges.
Picking up the first USB drive, I saw it had the label The Lion King. I figured it must be a bootleg copy of the movie. We couldn’t sell it, but I might be able to get some use from them personally. Looking through the others, I found such movies as The Expendables, Casablanca, The Shining and Star Trek. All stored on USB drives, presumably pirated copies.
I lined up all the thumb drives on the table. There was around 20 of them, which even without the films could be worth a bit, depending on their size.
Next I moved onto the video cassettes. Some of these were movies as well, such as A Bug’s Life, but some here more cryptically named, like Johnny’s Football Game, Birthday Party or LMESKD. I figured that maybe they were some of the guys old home movies that he had mixed in by accident. I couldn’t sell them, but I figured if I put them aside, he might realise his mistake and come back for them.
Finally came the games cartridges. They were a mix of N64 and Nintendo DS games, and unlike the Videotapes, they all had legit names of games on. These, these we could sell. Retro games were kind of getting popular now, and some people realised that you could shop around charity shops for cheap and rare games.
Outside, the sky had split, and thick grey shafts of rain drove through the cold air. The charity shop was in a bad location, down a narrow side street, near the motorway overpass. We were crammed between a dirty hotel and a block of flats, and through the flyer plastered window, I could see a group of teenagers sheltering in the warm glow of the Chinese takeout across the way.
I sighed. It looked like we wouldn’t be getting anymore custom today. Flicking off the main store lights, I grabbed the box and headed into the backroom, figuring that I should take a look at some of these movies. We weren’t supposed to close until half-past, but it was five twenty now, closing ten minutes early wouldn’t hurt. We had an old computer terminal set up in the storeroom, so I sat down at that, among huge shelves of dusty paperbacks, racks of dirty clothes and teetering piles of VHS tapes, all illuminated by the flickering fluorescent lamp that buzzed inside its wire cage.
I selected the USB titled The Lion King. Pushing it into the computer, and opening it up, I found a single folder titled The_Lion_King. Inside were two word documents, and an .Avi file which also bore the name of the Disney film. Clicking on it, I saw the opening first seconds of Lion King.
After five minutes of the Lion King movie echoing around the deserted storeroom, I was bored. It was half-past five, and my bus home didn’t arrive until seven.
Usually, I went to get something to eat, but with the rain, I was more inclined to stay in the shop as long as I could. Mick, the manager, had clocked off early today to meet his daughter from the airport, so I was left here to lock up.
All on my own. Going back to the box, I pulled out The Expendables. After plugging in the USB, I was soon looking at the comfortingly familiar face of Stallone, amid swathes of brilliant orange explosions and rapid gunfire. Slowly, I sank deeper into the worn office chair I sat on, eyelids becoming heavier and heavier, until the movie was just a thin sliver of light between them. Then I fell asleep.
A shouting outside the shop window shook me from my slumber. Rubbing my eyes, I saw the movie had finished, and the computer had moved on to its cheery windows screensaver. I panicked, and pulled out my cell phone to look at the time.
10:13 pm. Crap, my bus was supposed to leave two hours ago. I pulled on my jacket, and ran to the door. It was fully dark outside, and a drunk was in the takeaway roaring in anger at something or another. I locked the door, and walked briskly towards the main road. It was still pouring with rain, litter strewn swirling puddles forming on the dirty road. The main road was still busy, bright headlights passing through the darkness at an astonishing rate. The bus stop was five minutes up from here, under the motorway overpass, and down by the parade of shops. I often went to the chip shop there when I was waiting for a bus.
When I got to the rusted metal shelter, illuminated by the chemical orange glow of a single streetlight, it was empty. No sign of a bus, or even another person. The timetable was partially torn, but I found Thursday intact, and scanned down to see when the next bus home was.
Tomorrow. The next bus home was tomorrow. My heart sank when I realised I was stuck here for the night unless I walked. I lived in the next suburb along, but the only way on foot was down the canal, unless you wanted to risk walking by the motorway. I was tired, and it was dark, so I decided to shell out for a taxi. Normally I avoid taxis at all costs, but it seemed like I had no other option right now. Pulling out my phone, I trawled the recesses of mind for the number of the taxi company. Nothing came up, my mind had gone completely blank.
Sighing further, I trudged over to the 24 hour mini-market that was wedged in the parade of shops, next to a hairdressing salon and a closed down travel agent’s. The door screeched as I came in, and the attendant at the counter gave me a board look from behind her magazine as I pushed my way into the otherwise empty store. The shop was cramped, but brightly lit. My trainers squeaked on the grubby tiles as I strolled over towards a notice board that hung on the wall in the corner. It was adorned with hundreds of Lost Dogs and For Sales, but on the top left was a single solitary business card pinned up, which read Taxi 247. After keying the number into my cell phone, I heard a cough from behind me. It was the cashier from her counter, I guess she was signalling to buy something or get out. Feeling embarrassed, I turned to the nearest shelf and grabbed a can of cola. Going for my money, I felt a huge gap in my trouser pocket. My old leather wallet was nowhere to be found. Managing to scrape together enough loose change to buy the drink, I stormed out the mini-market cursing myself at my stupidity. I had left my wallet in the charity shop. I paced back down under the flyover, and down the side-street to the store. The Chinese takeaway still had a couple of people in, even at this late hour, so I half nodded at them as I passed. They watched as I scrambled around the door, pushing in the key and finally getting it unlocked. Flicking on the lights, I hurried through the silent store to the staff room, to get my wallet from the locker.
Inside, the staff room was warm. Under the gentle pool of light given by the bare light bulb, the room was almost welcoming. The worn carpet rustled gently below my feet, and I plonked myself down on the tatty sofa, suddenly exhausted. Yawning, I checked my phone to see what time it was. 10:33pm.
Jesus, why was I tired now? It wasn’t even the night time proper in my regards, on a Saturday I would only just be leaving the house around this time. I sighed, too apathetic to call a taxi. Looking around the room, I spotted the box of USBs, tapes and games from earlier. Once again standing up, I gave it an absent minded second inspection, while mulling over my options. A rogue thought flitted through my mind, a grey unidentified shape in the otherwise clear and logical landscape inside my head.
The reality of the situation soon dragged me back down to earth. There was no shower; no food; no bed. The grease coated and sweat stained sofa in the staff room was uncomfortable as hell, and it reeked. Groaning, I pulled out my cell phone, and dialed the number for Taxi 247. “Hello, you have reached Taxi 247, how may I help you?” A shrill voice. The operator was female, and by the sound of it, slightly drunk. “I need a taxi. erm...” My voice trailed off, the fleshy passage of my throat closing up.
“Where to?” The operator sounded bored. Very bored.
“Seven...Seven Averona Road, Black-Brook,“ I decided after a few seconds.
“And where shall we pick you up?” The voice crackled on the other end of the line.
“The bus stop on the corner of Trenton Street, in half an hour.” With a sigh, I pulled open the staff locker, and saw my dirty leather wallet lying prone in the shadows.
“Someone will be there real soon.” After this cold dismissal, the operator put down the phone with an echoing click.
With a yawn I tried to remember if there was anything else I needed to do before I locked up and left for the bus stop for a final time. Nothing sprung to mind, so I gathered up my stuff, slid my phone back into the pocket of my faded jeans, and flicked off the lights.
The walk up to the bus stop was a lot more unpleasant this time. As the time marched on, the weather had taken a foul turn. Cold sprays of rain splattered the pavement, chilling my exposed skin, and scattering the pavement into a cracked mirror of murky rivulets. The wind rustled the rundown gardens of the dark and silent houses that I passed on my way. Children’s swings creaked gently, bright plastic dull under the disorientating cocktail of shadows and street lights. I reached the bus stop with time to spare. Sitting on the wet metal bench in the shelter, I watched the far away glow of cars and trucks speeding past on the motorway flyway, a foreign sight in my dark wet world where I was the only inhabitant, a lone soul lurking the empty darkness of the sodden streets. Finally, 11 O’clock came.
Inspecting the warm glow of my cell phone nervously every few seconds, I watched the clock for nearly half an hour, until I decided something was up. It was 11:30 PM, going on midnight. The blurry allure of sleep tugged on my muscles, dragging me down into the viscous abyss of the tarmac. I could barely stand, every limb weakening to the point where I was moments away from flopping down, and collapsing into the gutter.
In order to clear my rapidly fading mind, I leaned back against the grimy plastic wall of the bus shelter, and once again pulled out my cell phone. Dialing in the number of Taxi 247, I waited patiently until I was connected, ready to demand answers from the operator.
“Taxi 247, how may I help you?” The voice this time belonged to a different woman, one who was, chewing gum.
“I called for a taxi over an hour ago, and it hasn’t turned up!” I growled into the phone, trying to keep calm and sound like I wasn’t coursing with rage.
“I’m real sorry, things have been...” The Operator paused almost mockingly, “...real hectic around here tonight.”
I struggled to reply for a fraction of a second, but then pulled myself together, and got on to the most important question. “When will it get here?”
“I’m not sure darling” She paused again, this time to chuckle. “It could be a while.”
With a click, the operator disconnected. I stared at the phone in disbelief. “Fuck!” I hissed, almost crushing the handset in my fist.
Breathing in the cool night air heavily, I considered what I should do next. Resigning myself to the long walk down the canal, I tried to pull myself up. All my limbs felt like butter, melting down onto the cold plastic of the seat. My eyelids slipped shut slowly, plunging the street into total darkness. I could just hear strains of the far off traffic on the overpass fading, as I fell away down into sleep.
Remembering the sound that woke me up still sends chills down my spine. It was a scream, ear splitting and shrill, but more importantly, close. Sounded like a woman. Suddenly awake, my head spun around for the source of the noise still echoing in my ears. No one to be seen, in any of the directions.
Pulling myself up, I felt exposed. What time was it? How long had I been asleep on that bus stop? Pulling out my mobile phone, I checked the time. 12:35. Nearly an hour. Had my taxi been and gone?
My thoughts spiraled back down to the distressed call that had awoken me. Recalling the noise made my mouth go dry. It only felt half-real, like something that had slipped out of a dream.
Walking made my head spin. Each time I took a step, the impact shook my skull like an earthquake, reverberating around the chasms of my ears. Louder and louder. My foot slipped on the rain soaked curb, and I buckled, falling down into the gutter. The obsidian fluid that coursed through the gutter ran across my bruised skin, and I felt myself sinking down. Down into the impossibly deep drain, I was soon fully submerged, and still descending. Eyes wide open, I watched gleaming pearls of air escape from my cold lips in front of my eyes, the only feature in this otherwise infinitely empty void. My brain went numb, as I floated down, alone, and blissfully unaware of my surroundings.
“The doctors think he had some kind of fit. Some bin men found him unconscious in the gutter this morning.” Opening my eyes just a slit, I became aware of some voices chattering around me. A bright white light pushed through my eyelids, forcing them fully open. I was in a hospital room, lying in bed. In my arm, I could feel the uncomfortable press of a needle, presumably leading to an IV drip. Moving my interest into the room in front of me, I saw a nurse standing at the foot of my bed, talking to my father, who was sat at a chair next to me. In the corner, an old TV mounted to the wall blared. Other than the nurse and my father, the ward seemed to be unoccupied. All the other beds were empty, and lonely discarded chair lay on its side on the pale white tiles of the floor. “He’s waking up.” My father muttered. He sounded more bored than concerned.
The nurse's voice sounded familiar. “I’ll get Doctor Ryan.” Slurring the words of the sentence badly, she blinked slowly, then trotted off quickly to find the eponymous doctor. Whoever this man was, he wasn’t our usual family practitioner, Doctor Carrey.
For a few minutes, my father just sat looking at me blankly, making no attempt to start a conversation with me. I tried to speak, but my throat was drier than the Atacama. It felt like I hadn’t drank for a hundred years. Footsteps, loud and clear in the seemingly otherwise silent hospital, signaled the return of the nurse, and possibly the arrival of Doctor Ryan. A short man pushed into the ward and strolled up to the end of my bed, carrying a small black clipboard. He was well dressed, in a faded white coat that went down to his knees, a shirt with a button missing and a coffee stain streaking down one side, and a pair of thick glasses that sat on his head, underneath a rats nest of curly, greasy hair. By the looks of things, in his early thirties, judging by the thick mess of stubble that clung to his chin.
The nurse, who I recognized from seconds ago by her shock of artificially red hair, tailed behind him, like an expectant puppy, in awe of her master. When I saw him, I gasped, recognizing the man from the charity shop, who had delivered the box.
“Hey David.” He smiled widely after saying my name, showing of his plaque coated teeth. “I’m Dr Ryan. How are you feeling?”
“You’re the man...” I whispered, struggling for words. “...the man from the charity shop.”
Looking at his name tag in confusion, I saw it read not Doctor Ryan but six letters: LMESKD. My mind was reeling. What was going on? Why had this doctor been to the charity shop?
“I’m don’t know...” The supposed doctor began, before the nurse cut him off. “We have limited cast honey.” She lent in, and whispered to me. “Some people have to play more than one role.” My gut clenched, like I was about to throw up. What the fuck was going on? I looked at my father in desperation. He just sat there, unblinking, with the same look; one of mild disinterest. Doctor Ryan snapped his fingers, and I woke up.
All my limbs suddenly stiffening, I pulled myself up from the desk of the charity shop store room, heavy breath echoing in the dusty air. Blinking against the harsh light of the computer monitor in front of me, I saw, with some heavy relief, the end credits of The Expendables. The trappings of the dream rolled off, and slipped from my mind like tears falling from my cheeks.
Just a stress induced dream, most likely. After I realised it hadn’t been real, I started to laugh. It had seemed so real, but looking back the rapidly fading memories, the absurdity of the imagined situation struck me. I’d never fall asleep on a bus stop, let alone pass out in the gutter. Chuckling alone in an empty room seemed odd to me. Unsettling. Reluctantly, I stood, and checked the time.
Smiling, I realised I hadn’t even missed my bus; the whole ordeal had lasted less than an hour of real time.
On a hunch, I checked my phone for any reference to my call for a taxi. Sure enough, on inspection, the call log was empty.
Not a trace remained of my feverish dream.
With ten minutes to spare, wandered back again to the box. Absent-mindedly looking over its contents like I had in the dream, I spotted the VHS labelled LMESKD. Bringing back memories of the doctor in my dream, I picked it up.
The black plastic of the small box I held in my hands squirmed and flickered in the light as I moved it. I could almost feel the weight of the memories that were contained within. Racking my sore brains, I tried to think if there was a VHS player in the shop or store room anywhere that I could watch it on. I remembered there was an old TV-VHS combo, lying covered, gaining dust in one of these boxes somewhere. I didn’t know if it worked, but I had 15 minutes to spare, so there was no harm in looking.
Clambering through the mountains of books and dirty clothes, I spotted a large cardboard box behind a rack of jackets. Pushing them apart, I waved away the reek of musk, urine and very old cologne, before reaching for the box. It was very light. Too light to contain a VHS player, even a broken one, I guessed.
I was right. Beneath the ragged cardboard flaps, I found the box was just full of more T-shirts. Sighing, I pushed the box closed, and flung it back behind the rack of coats. My bus would be here soon, so I decided to give up trying to watch LMESKD. It didn’t seem worth it, just to find out what was on an oddly named tape. I began heading out of the storeroom, flicking off the light as I went. Before I went, I needed to take a leak. Heading to the staff toilet, I pulled open the peeling white door, and peered inside. The toilet was coated by a thin layer of grime, but looked usable. It was an old chipped porcelain thing, crammed into the small room with a dirty sink and a mirror that had a crack running down it. Brown streaks of damp slid up the walls to the small slit of the frosted glass window.
It was a scene I surveyed many times before during my lengthy shifts. Groping around for the light switch, a resounding click rang out, and the room was bathed in the warm glow of the flickering bulb.
After closing the door, and flicking the bolt shut out of habit, I inspected my grey shadowed eyes in the mirror, while pondering the mysterious six letters. LMESKD. I was so lost in my thoughts, the bang came like watching a horrible car accident from a long way away. At first, it didn’t seem real, like something happening to someone else. Then to true nature of the situation hit me, and I jumped backwards into the corner of the room, cowering in fear.
Something had been thrown at the window. I hadn’t seen what, but judging by the clatter it had made when it hit the ground, it had been something pretty large and pretty hard, but not thrown with enough force to break the thick frosted glass. Breathing heavily, I approached the window, and undid the hook. Pushing it open, I looked out into the dark yard. There wasn’t a soul around. The yard was empty, or at least as far as I could tell by the crack I had opened the window by. I steeled myself, and unbolted the door. I crossed the staffroom as fast as I could, and nervously, I fumbled with the cold metal of the back door, eager to get it open. Taking a step out into the cold night air was refreshing. The gentle tap of raindrops of the exposed skin of my arms and neck sent goose bumps racing across my body. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I stood for a few seconds, taking in the early evening atmosphere.
The sun was just setting, and my eyes eventually settled on the deep crimsons and oranges the were split across the Western horizon, behind the tall brick monoliths of the suburbs, and the chrome glass temples of the distant heart of the city. As my eyes became used to the night, and the black pits of my pupils had fully dilated, to take in as much of the quickly disappearing light as they could, I looked around for signs of the person who had thrown the object.
Despite the situation, I felt calm, almost uncaring, as I scanned the yard. A disused washing machine sat in one corner, flecked with deep ochre rust and the ever pervasive green mould. Thin veins of water ran down over the concrete, to the central drain, and down into the eager bowels of the sewer system. A dumpster sat in the other corner, underneath the now slightly open window of the charity shop’s staff bathroom. It was piled high with a squirming mass of black rubbish bags, that sat in a thin film of dirty rain water, litter bursting from the wounds, and spilling out onto the concrete.
The only other entrances to the yard were a thin alley that led down towards the back of the terraced houses in the estate, eventually joining with the path that led down to the canal, and the back entrance of a run down block of flats that leaned against the building the charity shop was in.
It was odd.
The attack, if you could even call it that, seemed deliberate. Whoever had been outside had probably seen me turn on the light, so they knew I was inside. Why on earth would they throw something, and then run off? Didn’t seem like the work of rowdy teenagers, I would have heard them talking and laughing moronically, like the ones that sometimes hang out in the yard always do. Rooting around on the floor, I found the object.
It was a piece of brick, about big enough to fit into my palm. It looked like it had been chipped off some wall. Again, this missile didn’t seem random. The brick didn’t seem to have been from anywhere around the yard, so someone had brought it with them.
The idea someone had planned this, had lay in wait for me to go into the staff toilet, made my chest tighten in fear. What was going on?
In the back of my mind there was a nagging question, which I was trying to ignore; was it to do with the box that had been donated today containing LMESKD among other things?
Gulping nervously, I tried to let it go, as I walked back inside. The possibility something bigger was going on scared me, but as I locked up the doors, and started to flick of the lights, I didn’t let it show, aside slight tremor of my hand as I locked the doors for the night.
Ten minutes later I was climbing aboard the brightly lit, but run down bus. Litter was flung around the aisles. The public transport vehicle pulled away from the flooded curb, as I flopped down onto the threadbare fabric of the back seat, in a cloud of dust and stale tobacco. The rest of the bus was empty, save one huddled elderly man and the dazed bus driver whose bald scalp glistened with sweat under the flickering neon lights of the cab.
Clouds rumbled unseen above the seemingly empty city, unlit by the forgotten warmth of the sun, or even a thin sliver of watery moonlight. Stygian ink flecked the virgin parchment of the window, obscuring my view of the darkened streets and houses. We soon left the suburb of Cedar Hill, and headed for several minutes through open fields, empty in the blackness save the occasional squat silhouettes of empty warehouses. Turning onto the bypass, we headed round the unlit roads into the run down flank of Black Brook. Passing the youth centre marked the transition into the suburb proper. Houses and streets began to spread across my view like varicose veins, their lights flickering vainly against the bastion of clouds that ringed the horizon. As we passed the park, I glimpsed figures by the war memorial, an almost comforting confirmation of my connection to the outside world. The centre of town, a barren high street of boarded up shops and run down cafes, was my destination. Dull street lamps lit the graffiti covered facades of the long shuttered buildings.
Muttering a brief word of farewell to the driver, I slipped off the bus, and started to walk. My flat was a couple of minutes away, but fortunately through the network of alleys and side streets that crisscrossed the estate, I could get there quickly. I just wanted to get home, and get to bed. It had been an odd and stressful day. My footsteps echoed across the dirty asphalt like splitting claps of thunder, ringing round the thin corridor of the alley. My flats soon came into view, a single rotting tooth in the empty maw of the sky. A lonely street light throbbed vainly next to the entrance, trying valiantly to hold back the swirling waves of a seeping darkness deeper than the most frigid untouched depths of the emptiest ocean.
I pushed through the doors into the lobby, a single bulb illuminated the peeling wallpaper. Crude messages and drawings adorned every surface, like the dizzying fractal of stains that were emblazoned into the fraying carpet tiles. Sighing loudly, I started up the stairs. It was good to be home.
As I climbed the steep concrete steps, I tried to shake of the odd sensation that stuck to my body like thick clay, choking up my throat and running down my windpipe. The air in those goddam flats felt as dense as earth, and tasted of ashes and burnt paper. It pressed down on me, pushing my clothes against my skin. It was all in my head, of course.
All in my head.
My floor arrived. I stood looking down the dimly lit corridor, for a solid minute. Straining my eyes against the darkness. After a while staring into the emptiness, I headed for my door. The dull metal 32 was glinting in the sleepy pale orange light that was washed across those grimy walls. My fingers gently played across the handle. I swallowed, trying to clear my throat of the lump that lay heavy on my neck, and turned the door handle.
The lounge was bathed with a sickly grey light as I walked in. A low hiss penetrated the air, almost as if it was from the cold snake of fear that was slithering up my bony spine. My father sprawled in front me on the faded recliner positioned by of the TV. By the look of things, he hadn’t shaved in several days, and his knuckles clenched a beer bottle tightly. His eyes were empty of everything. Empty of love, of recognition, of memory. He just looked bored. The TV was on, running a tape. It was just a blank white screen accompanied by the crackling I had heard when I came in. “Dad?” I stuttered in shock, but with a feeling of dull resignation, I already knew what was coming next. The one thing I didn’t want to hear; the one thing I couldn’t bear to hear.
My Father looked around to me with those dull eyes, and spoke.
“L-M-E-S-K-D” The letters came out of his mouth without care or compassion, without rage or loathing, without feeling. He just sounded bored. My head began to spin, the room swirling into a surreal mess of colours and lines, a melting fraying existence more like a Salvador Dali painting then something that belonged in the real world. Then I jolted awake, face on the desk. The desk in the charity shop store room. In my hand, I could feel a pen. Slowly, but surely, I pulled myself upright in the worn office chair. Questions quickly span into my mind, but the answers were slipping away at an even faster rate. The memory of my nightmare was soon lost in a swirling mess of memory and emotion. I would only ever retrieve it again many years later, through hypnotherapy. Shivering slightly in the dull air, I looked around the empty shop with some apprehension. These nightmares. I couldn’t remember even the slightest detail of them, but still they plagued my mind.
The pen in my hand soon came to my attention. It was a worn supermarket ballpoint, low on ink, and even lower on interest. What seemed more important though, was the torn piece of paper resting beneath it. Picking it up, I recognized the distinctive scrawl of my own handwriting.
Watch the tape.
The last letter tailed off dramatically, as if I had slipped off to sleep while I was writing, which at the time, seemed like a logical conclusion to make. Why I had written that eluded me at the time, but in my mind the how seemed fixed.
Watch the tape.
I knew what tape it meant, almost instantly. The tape that had plagued my mind, a thought that stalked through the shadows like a predator, consistent only in its depraved hunger.
I had to watch it.
Everything else was irrelevant. I could go home later. I didn’t even look at my phone to check the time. I had to watch the tape.
The store room was cold and empty when I entered, but I still twitched slightly with excitement and apprehension with the thought of what may have been contained inside. My breath was steady, but shallow. Through a short spell of searching, I located a pair of boxes that fitted the characteristics of the device I so thoroughly longed for.
Within the second box, was the VHS player that was needed, to watch the tape. The tape.
LMESKD; I had to find out what those letters meant. Mere seconds later I had the electronic device plugged in, and switched on, and I was preparing to watch the tape.
Slowly, I ran my hands once again over the lifeless black plastic. It was cold with dread, conjuring up eerie images in my mind of abandoned factories coated in rust and dark mud, wind echoing mournfully through the long forgotten corridors, stirring at polluted puddles, and playing gently with the lightest of the lifeless machinery. Click.
I pushed in the tape, and heard the spools whirring within the player. There was no going back now.
The screen was blank for a few seconds. Nothing. My heart was beating as I stared into the shining blackness. Line 1. The first text read. It was green, and small in the corner, flickering gently against the otherwise blank and dark screen. It flashed away, and the video began. The title card read Love Once Lost in plain white text on the black background. For all the world, it seemed to be some crappy B-movie, but unfortunately, I knew differently.
Love Once Lost opens on a group of men playing cards in some kind of industrial building. They are sat at a small folding table, stained with the excess of many previous similar meetings. All around them are piles upon piles of dirty boxes. They chat for a while, about drab meaningless things, like what they had for lunch, and which brand of cigarette is best. Soon, though, the conversation tails off, and they just sit playing cards in virtual silence.
Somewhere in the distant building, there comes a tiny clatter. The men became instantly alert, and all picked up weapons of some sort.
It appears at this point, the film was heavily cut, and had a scene edited out, maybe by censors or maybe by the studio itself. It cuts straight to halfway between a terribly choreographed fight between the card playing men and an intruder of some kind.
The slashed at each other with knives and baseball bats for a while, in the dark tight corridors of the warehouse.
I sat for the next half an hour or so, enthralled in that flickering, twitching film, purely because it was so strange to see. I had been expecting maybe the deranged perverse home movies of a sadistic killer, or some evidence of paranormal entities, but what I got was a B-movie.
The basic premise seemed to be as follows; a rich family survive a zombie outbreak in a mansion compound somewhere, but the teenage daughter falls in love with a man from outside the gates. She lets him in, but in doing so allows in all the zombies, who kill her family. After her family are dead, she goes with the man to a town where her brother lives, in the desert.
This was as far as I could tell mind. The film was horribly edited, and many of the scenes seemed to be randomly shoved together. The sets were also poor. The mansion seemed to consist entirely of cramped windowless rooms, decorated from top to bottom with this garish checkerboard pattern, that sickened the eye. After the run time hit forty minutes, the story started to fall apart rapidly. The two lovers arrived in the town, only to find it empty.
I was then treated to nearly 12 straight minutes of gentle clouds floating past in the dazzling blue sky, unsure if this was part of the film. After that, it ventured back to the checkerboard rooms, with shots of a man standing very still in the centre of those dizzying walls.
The camera began to spin, quicker and quicker, sending my head spinning. We returned to the story then, with a terrible, almost amateur shot, of the two lovers speaking inaudibly in an empty room, with the tops of their heads cut of the frame. The music was muted, as if playing distantly in another room of another house. Underwater.
Slowly, the film descended again into flashes of random, seemingly meaningless, images.
A man on the desert floor, shivering. A cup of water under a running tap, overflowing. Clouds again. A canyon, with a gentle stream trickling through the dusty rocks. The checkerboard room again, this time empty.
Then I recognized someone.
In one of these random shots, I saw the man who donated that very tape. He was cleaning the camera lenses, although he didn’t seem to be aware it was filming him. The contrast suddenly increased on film, along with the brightness. It was sickening to watch, nauseating even. I heard the man speak, but still the acoustics sounded submerged, indistinguishable. A sharp pain began to throb in my frontal lobe, like my consciousness was bleeding.
LMESKD. The letters flashed up, one at a time, on the screen, like credits, and a single shot was dispersed between those letters. The man I had seen before, standing very still in the centre of the checkerboard room, not moving or blinking. As the last letter flashed up, he changed. The creature in the chequered room was like nothing on this earth. I would love with all my heart to leave my description at that, but I fear I must continue, for the sake of my sanity.
Almost three times the size of a man, the thing clung to the dizzying expanse of the black and white roof. Using its thin claws, and almost muscleless arms, it pushed itself into the corner, silently observing.
I say observing as a figure of speech, as it had no noticeable eyes. Its circular mouth was ringed by 12 pairs of small depression, perhaps part of some unknown sensory apparatus, each one stained with a splash of dark orange skin, almost decorative in appearance. The mouth, and almost perfect flesh circle, contained four sets of long needle like teeth, that quivered gently as the creature breathed in and out.
The body of the creature was long and thin, more like the body of an enormous lizard then any primate or even mammal. It was made up of a long segmented abdomen, that tapered into a thin tail, with pairs of arms, or perhaps legs, emerging at irregular intervals. It had no noticeable fur, instead it seemed to be covered with some kind of translucent epithelial tissue, that glistening in the nauseating brightness, slick on top of the bone or cartilage plates that formed each segment. I was transfixed. And understandably so. In front of me was something that, according to science, shouldn’t exist. It was not of this world, not of this existence.
The screen faded to black, and the credits rolled. Right there and then, I knew my life would never be the same. I knew the knowledge of that thing’s existence would haunt me to my dying day. No matter what I did, no matter where I ran, I knew that every single night, I would dream. I would dream of men with boxes, buses, and VHS. of Doctor Ryan, the operator, and my late father. of clouds, checkerboard tiled rooms, and the desert. I would dream of the creature.
But most of all, most of all, I would dream of LMESKD.