When I was young, I used to love watching Are You Afraid of the Dark. Actually, I loved anything scary or Halloween related. I still do, and that’s probably why I love writing thriller and horror. This is a re-imagining of that show, but for the adults. So, hopefully every week on Friday, I’ll release a new story from the show (the show used to air Friday nights). The stories will start from the pilot episode The Tale of the Phantom Cab, all the way through the series finale. It’s a big commitment, so we’ll see how I do.
Anyway, if you love the show and love a good scary story, read on! (Oh, and hey, this is adult horror. It’s violent and not meant for those with weak stomachs or young children.)
Original Story by: Chloe Brown
Midnight Society member: Frank
Copyright © Acknowledgement for Source Material: Nickelodeon (a Viacom broadcast network).
In the dying light of a cool fall afternoon, the trees softly danced in the subtle intermittent wind while Laura and Nate wandered aimlessly though a dense forest. It wasn’t by choice, however. The compass they were using broke earlier that evening, and the sky was far too cloudy to guide them. To make matters worse, a dank and musty fog crept on them. It was only a matter of time before they would no longer be able to see where they were going.
“This is fantastic! You, the expert of all that is hiking, didn’t bother to check to see if your compass was working,” Nate said.
Laura sighed. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be an asshole. So, she was used to it. She just wished that he would take a day off to help their situation rather than make it worse.
She said, “Look, I said I’m sorry. What else do you want from me?”
“I think I got enough from you already.”
She winced, and sighed. They’d been married a little less than two years, and the last time she could remember truly smiling was two days before their wedding. She spent the rest of the time faking it. This hike was to be her final attempt to mend their relationship before giving up and ending it. So far, she’d failed. More than that, he’d failed.
Laura said, “I think if we go back the opposite direction, we’ll be fine.”
“You think so? You really think backtracking in this fog is going to be a good idea?”
“Why do you have to be such a dick?”
Nate walked up to her, grabbed her arm, and squeezed it until she whimpered. She fought him, trying to pull free.
He said, “What did you call me?”
“Let go! You’re hurting me!”
She wriggled, twisted, and pulled. Finally, he relented, but only because his malice was the driving force. He let go at just the right moment, and she staggered backwards into the darkness unknown. Her foot snared a root, and although she took two large steps to try to regain her balance, her foot landed in a slimy patch of mud.
Laura slipped, and started sliding down an embankment. She quickly grabbed thick weeds, and she stopped her descent. As she looked down, she saw nothing but fog. She had no idea how far down it went, and worried that it could easily be a deadly drop. She heard the roots of the weed she grabbed start to pop as they broke free.
“Nate, help me,” she called.
As the fog thickened, she saw her husband appear at the ledge above her. His angry eyes had transformed into that of concern. As he knelt down, the roots popped and she dropped a couple inches. He grabbed hold of her right wrist, but his muddy hands made for a loose grip.
Nate slowly pulled her up, and she kicked with her feet as she started to slip from his grip. She felt his nails dig into her skin. It hurt, but it slightly improved his hold. As she reached closer to the top, she grasped the root that tripped her. A moment later, she slipped out of his hands, and he fell back. She could see the fear in his eyes because for a fleeting moment, he thought she was going to die. Thankfully, the root proved to have a rigid enough grip for her to pull herself to safety.
They laid there in the wet dirt for a while. Laura’s heart beat so hard she thought it might explode. Nate was silent; probably it was because he nearly killed her. He took a deep breath and sat up next her.
He said, “I’m sorry, babe. I didn’t mean it.”
The problem was she knew he meant every bit of it, but at the same time, he didn’t mean it. He would always go too far, and when she was hurt, he’d apologize and tell her how sorry he was for doing it. She didn’t know whether he was just afraid that she might go to the police or that she’d die and he’d lose his emotional punching bag. Whatever his reason, it always came full circle to him treating her the same way.
She played along if only to savor the serenity for a moment longer. “I know you didn’t.”
He snuggled close and softly kissed her. If he only knew how disgusting it felt to show affection to him after what he just did, he probably would have let her fall. One day she was going to leave him, and she would never have to feel his acidic emotional torment or his sordid hands on her ever again. The only reason she hadn’t packed her bags yet was that she’d hoped it would work out. Well, according to her, that is. Her friend Ashley said it was because Laura had no job and thus no means of support if she did leave. Probably her friend was right, but if she could make him be a better man, then she could overlook everything else, right? Leave the past behind for better days.
Nate stood and then helped Laura to her feet. She brushed herself off and looked around at the dense fog. In the short time since the moon laid the sun to rest, the world seemed to have collapsed upon them. There was no more than a foot of viewable forest in any direction. All hope of getting out of there before it got too cold suddenly drained from her in icy beads of sweat. She thought about giving up, but then she saw the flicker of a small light in the distance.
She said, “Did you see that?”
“There’s a light over there. I think there’s someone else out here.”
“Over there.” She pointed, and then called out them, “We’re over here!”
Whoever was out there didn’t respond. Instead, ominous cracks of twigs and leaves broke under the weight of their anonymous guest. Nate took a step back, and Laura watched him disappear from her vision. It figured he’d feed her to the wolves to protect himself. She didn’t care, though. The likelihood that she would meet someone worse than her husband in that dark place was slim at best.
The person finally stepped close enough to see them through the fog, and it was a man carrying a big emergency flashlight. He was dressed oddly for being in a forest. More than that, though, he appeared to be wearing clothes from a different era. He had tight jean pants that flared at the bottom, snakeskin boots, and a tight, collared shirt. He seemed old enough to be stuck in the seventies, so she suspected it wasn’t as odd as she first thought.
“You guys look like you might be a bit lost,” the man said in a deep voice that sounded distorted from years of smoking.
Before she could answer, Nate said, “Yeah, we’re a little lost thanks to her.”
The man looked at them for a moment, a little bewildered at Nate’s accusation. “Well, the name’s Cornelius, but you guys can call me by my middle name, Alex. God knows why my parents chose that name, rest their souls.”
“H-hi, I’m Laura. This is Nate. We’re so glad you found us. If you could just point us in the way out of here, it would be really helpful.”
He pointed the flashlight off to his left, and Laura noticed his sleeves were absurdly long and covering both his hands. “You’ll want to go that way, but you’ll never make it to town before it gets too cold to survive out here. You’re a good four hours walking distance from anything.”
Nate said, “Do you have a car or something?”
“I do, but it ain’t workin’ right now. She’s been acting like I wrapped her around a tree. Stubborn as an old ox, but she still purrs when she wants to.”
“Well, do you at least have a phone?” Laura asked.
“Don’t you guys have one of those fancy cell phones?”
“They’re dead. They might be fancy, but the cheap pieces of shit die too fast,” Nate said.
Alex said, “I don’t have one, but I know a guy that lives nearby that might help you out.”
Laura said, “Is it far?”
“Nope. I’m actually surprised you guys missed it on your little adventure through here.” The man smiled, and for the first time he frightened Laura. “Well, follow me, I’ll take you there.”
Though Laura was no longer certain it was safe following the man, she knew they were better off taking whatever help they could get. Besides, even though Nate protected himself before anyone else, if he thought for one second she was in danger, he’d protect her. If there was anything good that came of his possessiveness, it was her safety. However, it came at a price any time she wasn’t in danger, which ironically meant she was in danger from him.
They didn’t have to walk far before she saw amber halos appear in the fog. The further they walked, the more narrow the light became until they arrived at a path leading to a small cabin. In fact, the walk was so short that it surprised her they didn’t see it earlier. Of course, their incessant fighting and the near death experience probably had a lot to do with it.
Alex pointed the flashlight at the door as Laura and Nate walked passed him. He said, “That’s it. Just make sure you know a thing or two about riddles.”
“What?” Laura said and turned around, but the man was gone. “Alex?”
“Where’d he go?” Nate asked, and then blew into his cupped hands to ward off the cold.
“I’ve no clue,” she said and walked to the end of the pathway. She looked at the sinuous fog slithering between the trees, but couldn’t find the man. He could’ve still been there because the fog was so thick, but she shrugged with indifference. “Doesn’t matter. Let’s see if this guy here can help us. It’s getting too cold to wait.”
“No shit, stupid.”
“Do you really need to?” She chastised, and he furrowed his brow at her.
She turned away from Nate and walked to the front door. The structure seemed poorly made. The roof looked constructed from crab grass and the walls from dried mud. The wood door didn’t match the rounded shape of the frame, and a flickering light glowed behind it. If they hadn’t needed the help, she might have suggested they find someone else to aid them, but as it were, the man who lived there was their only choice. So, she softly knocked on the door.
“Come on, Laura, you can knock harder than that.”
She grumbled and went to knock again, but heard the sound of locks disengaging. The hinges moaned as the door slowly swung open to reveal a frightening looking man. He had wild black and gray hair going in all directions. Some of it plastered to his face with sweat, which he tried to brush away with his plump hand. His eyes were wide and crazy as if he was angry for the interruption. He also had a wicked yet comical smile that bared unnaturally kept teeth.
His grin broadened. “Welcome to my home! I’m Doctor Chiece.”
“Doctor?” Nate said.
“Cheese?” Laura said.
“Yes, I’m a doctor, and it’s Chiece as in ‘iece’ like ‘niece’.” He said. “Come on in, get warm, have some tea!”
Chiece closed the door behind them. Darkened bookcases covered the walls, and on the shelves sat jars containing shadows submerged in liquid. In the back was a large metal table that looked much cleaner than it should’ve been, almost clinically clean. Near it was a toolbox secured by a padlock. There was a small kitchen partition and an area with a recliner. The place seemed much smaller than it appeared outside, but it was probably because of all the stuff he had packed in it.
“So, what’s a doctor doing all the way out here?” Laura inquired while trying to keep her attention off the creepy wall of jars.
“Doctors don’t only fix people, they—” Chiece paused, held up his index finger, and walked away. He returned with a soft squishy substance in his hands. “This is the brain of a wild boar! I’m a doctor of natural science, my dear!”
Nate said under his breath, “God, what a nut.”
The jiggling brain sickened her, and the strange stink didn’t help. She tried to hide her disgust with a smile as he set the brain onto a shelf. He wiped his hands on a thick brown cloth, lost his smile, and looked Nate right in the eyes.
“I am not a nut,” he said, and he stared at Nate for a moment too long for comfort. Then his creepy smile returned. “Don’t worry, young lady. I’m not offended. Not everyone’s comfortable with this kind of stuff. Tea?”
Chiece dunked a finger into a boiling pot of the brew, and tasted it.
Knowing where that finger had been, Laura cringed and said, “No, thanks.”
Nate said, “Yeah, me neither, Cheese. Got a phone we could use?”
“It’s Chiece, and yes, and you could use it. Will I let you, however, is an entirely different question.”
Laura asked, “Okay, well, will you let us use your phone?”
Chiece held his index finger against his lips for a moment, smiled, and then taped them as if he were thinking about something. “How are you at solving riddles?”
“I guess I’m okay at it,” Laura admitted. “Why?”
Nate scoffed loudly. “She fuckin’ wins all the time.”
“Wins?” Chiece said.
“We play this game—” Laura started, but Nate interrupted.
“A game she made up that she always wins.”
“Okay, okay. I get it. I get it,” Chiece said and turned towards Laura. “If you can solve my riddle, then I’ll let you use the phone. Fair?”
“Okay, I guess.”
Nate threw his hands into the air. “Oh great. She’s probably gonna screw this up somehow, too.”
Chiece stared at Nate again. He was clearly irritated with how he was treating her, and Laura wasn’t the least bit surprised. Chiece closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and finally said, “Okay, here’s the riddle. Is it possible to rearrange the letters of the words new door to make one word?”
Laura pursed her lips and thought about it. The phrase was two words, which initially threw her off because she couldn’t figure out how to make two words into one. Then she realized that just because it was two words didn’t mean that they couldn’t be only one word. So, she started to think about all the words that might fit: wonder, wooden, downer. No matter how many words she came up with, she could only think of words with six letters, but there were seven available. She took a deep breath, nodded, and looked at Chiece whose creepy smile was even bigger than ever.
“Sorry, I have no idea.”
Chiece’s smile crashed into a frown and he furrowed his brow. He seemed to be both disappointed and annoyed that she wasn’t able to solve his riddle. She was a little worried because his demeanor changed so quickly. She waited for his awkward calm to turn into violence, since that’s exactly how she expected her husband to react, too.
Nate said, “Really? We play that stupid riddle game all the time, and when we need you to actually do something with your useless skill you fuck it up.”
“I’m sorry, honey, I just can’t figure it out.”
Nate threw his hands into the air, wiped his face, and walked to the other side of the room near the fireplace. He continued to pace as his boiling point likely continued to rise. If they were alone, she knew he wouldn’t restrain himself. She was thankful Chiece was there regardless of how uncomfortable he made her.
The doctor said, “Get out.”
Laura said, “What? No, you have to let us use your phone.”
“I have to do no such thing. You failed, just like all the others.”
Nate said, “I’m gonna use the phone anyway.”
Chiece turned towards the table on which the phone sat and wrapped the cord around his hand. With one swift, quick pull, he tore the line from the wall. Not only did he pull the receptacle completely from its resting place, but he damaged the cord as well. Unless he had another cable around the house, he had successfully culled their choices for getting back to their car or the city before dawn.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” Nate said.
“You guys should leave. Now.”
Laura said, “What are we going to do?”
Chiece let out an obnoxiously loud sigh as he grabbed a book and opened it. “Leave. Head south from this house until you get to a street. Maybe you’ll get lucky.”
“Come on, Laura, let’s go.”
She had never felt more disappointed now than the day she realized she didn’t marry the man she thought she did. She knew Chiece could have easily helped them, but he refused to. Despite his strange and odd nature, she thought for a moment that he was actually a helpful man. She was wrong again.
Once they left the house, the forest immediately reminded her of how icy it felt. The fog was still there but even thicker and creamier than before. It seemed to stick to her skin, and Laura rubbed her exposed arms while Nate zipped up is jacket.
After about a mile of walking, they arrived at a small paved street, just as Chiece mentioned. There was a worn sign with no discernible writing on it, but its shape indicated that it might be an interstate. It didn’t really matter which one, since interstates ran throughout the entire county. The chances of someone happening upon them were greatly increased. She thought Chiece was a total ass, but she supposed he turned out to be somewhat helpful.
After about twenty minutes of walking and an uncomfortable silence between them, Laura heard gravel cracking and popping under the weight of something heavy. Laura stopped and listened. She looked behind them, and saw bright lights burn behind the wall of fog.
He huffed with impatience, turned around, and curtly said, “What?”
Laura hurried to the side of the street and Nate did the same. As the light neared them, the sound of a heavy-duty engine and the strong smell of exhaust permeated the area. Eventually, an old Chevrolet cruiser painted as a yellow taxi broke through the mist and stopped. Wisps of fog lithely passed in front of the headlamps as the engine idled. She couldn’t see the man driving the car, and she felt a little apprehensive about approaching it.
Nate probably sensed her inhibition because he grabbed her arm a little too hard, dragged her to the back of the cab, and opened the door. “Jeez, just get in will ya? I’m tired and want to get out of here.”
Laura stepped into the car with a forceful hand from Nate. He followed her in and closed the door. The back seat was bench-style without seatbelts. There was a faint smell of onions as if someone had picked them off a sandwich and left them under the seat. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant though, because sitting in the back of the old car reminded her of her father. He was a long-haul truck driver who often ate in his car and she observed similar smells when she rode with him. He was an amazing man who had long since passed, and it warmed her to be able to enjoy the momentary nostalgia.
The driver said, “So, where to, folks?”
“Do you know where Linem Park is? We’re in the long-term parking area over there.”
“Yep, I know it,” he said as he started to drive. “You guys are lucky I came by. I usually don’t drive this road on the weekends. The bars have better patrons, but I got to thinking maybe I ought to drive it just to see if anyone got stranded.”
Laura said, “I know, thank you so much.”
“What are you guys doing all the way out here, anyway?”
“We were hiking, but then we got lost,” Laura said. “We tried to get help from that strange doctor out there but he was kind of mean.”
The driver said, “I know him. He’s always hassling people about that damn riddle. I’ve picked a few people up that were lost like you and they all had the same story. I’ve never been able to figure it out, and it’s been forty or fifty years.”
“What?” Nate said, and then grumbled.
“Yeah, it’s a really hard riddle. I was giving the good Doctor a ride home one night and he told me he would pay me triple the fair if I could answer it. Told me I had to give the ride for free and pay him if I couldn’t.”
Laura said, “Pay him the fair?”
“Nah, the doctor does pretty well for himself. He is, however, in short supply of specimens, and that’s what he wanted. He didn’t really say what but I was sure I would get the riddle right. I was always good with ‘em.”
The taxi started to speed up. He wasn’t driving too fast for comfort yet, but it was reckless enough to get Laura’s attention. “Could you slow down a bit?”
Nate said, “Stop being such a baby. So what happened?”
The driver continued, “Well, he got what he wanted. He got a free ride and got his specimen.”
“What did he—” Laura started to say but the driver interrupted her.
“This,” He said and lifted his arms above the seat. The man had no hands. Blood drained from the stump as if freshly cut, and it stained the man’s sleeve dark red. It looked like someone took a dull cleaver to them.
As the taxi sped up, Laura wanted to scream. She could feel icy terror coursing through her veins like a slush of snow sledding down a frigid mountain. The cab continued to speed faster down the road, and the driver looked back at them. It was Alex.
His voice now far darker than before and he was spitting up blood. “You see, 50 years ago the old doc caused me to crash trying to take his specimens from me. When we hit the tree, I died instantly, and then he took my hands.”
“Stop it, stop the car!” Laura said.
Nate said, “Listen to her, man!”
The skin on the side of Alex’s face peeled down in jagged sections, and his right eye popped, dribbling mucus over the exposed muscle. His teeth suddenly shattered, and his jaw made a sickening crack as it tore off his face.
The man continued to tell his story, but his voice seemed disembodied because his disfigurement made it impossible for him to speak. “Hit that tree right off the route up here. You’d be able to see it if it wasn’t so damn foggy. It’s funny, folks that come around here are given the chance to solve the puzzle, or they get a free ride and a sudden stop. Here we go!”
The car swerved, throwing her and Nate against the door. As the car skid, she could feel the gravity shift outwards almost to the point where she could have been floating. She was far too terrified to actually know if she had been suspended in the air or not, but one thing was certain, the world slowed the instant the car slammed into the thick oak tree.
As the taxi came to a screeching halt, she felt her body fling forward. Nate went head first into the steel mesh cage, but she remained wedged in the corner. She watched blood spray from her husband’s mouth and it speckled her skin. Alex shattered the windshield as he flew through it, and the glass partially filleted his face. Finally, the back seat came loose and pinned Laura’s head against the metal mesh. The ice in her blood was now solid, she felt a blanket of warmth cover her, and then she sailed away on a ship made of shadows.
# # #
Wet horse screams from her husband echoed in dreams as she swam through the swampy nightmare to wake up. She felt a painful numbness all over her body. She tried to move her cold, tingling hands, and she thought they moved, but they also felt like phantom limbs. She dreamed about the man in the car with no hands. She imagined Chiece coming and taking her hands, too, and her eyes shot open.
Laura was in a room with a flickering light that cast strangled shadows against a muddy ceiling. The dry dirt had deep cracks in it, and some parts leaked water while others had small tufts of crab grass poking through. She heard a man humming with an excited jubilation, and she looked down.
Chiece stood in front of her with his bright, wild eyes and crazy smile. He wore a clear plastic garb splattered with blood, and underneath it was a white laboratory coat. Nate was just past him strapped nude to a metal table. Chiece had cut open Nate’s chest and had it spread open like the dissection of a frog. Blood covered the lower half of Nate’s body, and his intestines spilled out along the floor.
A sickness stirred in Laura, and she spit up vomit. Because of the incline, some of it sprayed out, but the thick of it poured down her chin and over chest. It had a putrid, sour smell, but it didn’t compare to the stench of her husband’s splayed body.
“Oh, God! What are you doing?” she cried.
Chiece let out a giddy chortle, but quickly stifled it. When he turned towards her, his smile was bigger than ever, a broad grin that rivaled even the most sinister of Joker’s evil façades. His eyes were lit up like the fantastical innocence of a child but marred by the flecks of blood spattered upon his leathery face. He had a large lump of mangled flesh in one hand and a larger-than-average scalpel in the other.
“Did you know that the average human kidney has about one million individual filters?” he said calmly as he poked the soft tissue with his index finger.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Isn’t it obvious, my dear? You didn’t solve my riddle.”
“It’s impossible to solve!” Burning tears crawled down her cheeks.
“No need to cry. It’s not your fault you weren’t able to figure it out. Not everyone is born a genius,” he said with arrogance.
“Please stop, please… please…” Her voice faded into a whimper.
“I’m sorry. It’s far too late for your hubby there,” he said through his wicked, happy grin. “I’ll tell you what, though. I’ll give you another chance to solve it. At least until I’m done harvesting what I need from him.”
He turned away from her while barking out his dark laugh, and returned to Nate to rummage around inside his body. She turned her head so she wouldn’t have to watch.
The answer seemed like it should be easy because she’d always been good at puzzles and anagrams, but now it was even more difficult because she couldn’t think straight. Having her dead husband laying in front of her with his head canted back and his face distorted with death’s scream made it impossible. However, if she wanted to live, she had to figure it out. If she didn’t, she’d end up just like Nate.
It’s just one word, she thought. One simple fucking word!
That’s when it hit her. It wasn’t an anagram. She was thinking wrong the whole time. It was a riddle, and riddles one have one rule: to deceive.
She screamed, “One word!”
She watched Chiece’s body tense up. He continued to face away from her, and his voice was deep, hollow, and muffled as he spoke into Nate’s open cavity. “What did you just say?”
“One word! One word! For fuck’s sake the answer is one word!”
Laura heard the thick sound of scissors cutting through tissue, and he yanked something from Nate’s body. He turned around with a bloody mess dripping from his hand, and set the sheers on the table. He walked towards her with her husband’s heart in his hand. She stared at that muscle, and even though she wanted to look away. She couldn’t.
“I knew in my heart you could finish this!” he said, and glanced at the heart in his hand, hoping she’d get the joke.
She didn’t care. Instead, she pleaded, “Let me go.”
“Oh dear, I think you misunderstood me,” he said and dropped Nate’s heart into a nearby metal pan. He picked up a surgical pen and began drawing on her forehead. “Why would I give up the chance to study such an exquisite brain like yours?”
She didn’t think it was possible, but his smile broadened further, a Glasgow grin of pure evil. He started laughing maniacally as he placed a piece of tape over her mouth. He picked up an electric bone saw from the table, and turned it on. The loud whirring sound startled her, and he moved next to her.
“Now, this is going to hurt,” he said, and laughed even harder.
Chiece brought the saw to her forehead, and started cutting into her skull. She felt the hot burn as it tore through her flesh, and blood with specks of skin spackled Chiece’s face just seconds before everything went black.