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The Last Meal of Laughing Boy Reilly-Fiction by Jason Butkowski
Miss Pearl-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Vegas, Napalm Strike-Fiction by j. brooke
Favorites-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Salton Sea-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
We Must Never Find Out-Fiction by Sam Graham
Collateral Damage-Fiction by Jim Farren
Radiant Night-Fiction byPauline Duchesneau
Late Returns-Fiction by P. K. Augustyn
Bad Influences-Fiction by Marci McKim
Where My Fathers-Fiction by Willie Smith
Nothing I Could Do-Fiction by Brian J. Smith
The Magician-Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Sky Toucher-Falsh Fiction by Jerry Vilhotti
Dark Morning-Flash Fiction by M. G. Allen
What Might Happen in Vegas-Flash Fiction by Bill Baber
San Mateo County Easter Egg Hunt-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Doing Some Resaearch-Poem by Roy Dorman
A Lack of Rain-Poem by Michael Keshigian
In Traffic-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Distinguished Souls-Poem by J. J. Campbell
The Ghosts of Murdered Children-Poem by J. J. Campbell
Digging Season-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Sometimes the Light is My Enemy-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Char-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Gone Feral-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Rat Tamer-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Imaginary Hedgehogs-Poem by Michelle Hartman
I Knew Him when He was Six-Poem by Michelle Hartman
A Reason for Everything-Poem by Michelle Hartman
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

mustneverfindout.jpg
Art by Daniel Valentin 2018 Model: Mohammed Ihsan Auqib

We Must Never Find Out.

By Sam Graham

 

 

The computer screen was blank apart from the word 'HELLO' in green text in the top left-hand corner.  The green cursor blinked below it, waiting for a response.  It was the first thing John saw when he opened his eyes.  He shot up from the bed, wide awake as he saw the wall behind it, then the room around him.  He didn't recognise any of it.  He was sitting on a bed that wasn't his in a room he didn't know.  He called out, but nobody answered.  His voice echoed for a moment, then there was only the static humming from the strip light overhead.  He panicked, eyes darting between the bare concrete walls with no windows and the two wooden doors, one near the bed and the other further along the long wall of the rectangular room.  The door farthest away was sealed by a rusted iron bolt on his side and the other had a rusted iron keyhole.  They looked old.  The keyhole was much larger than any keys that were made nowadays, and the lock was fastened on by thick square bolts.

The computer was still waiting on the desk near the bed.  John took a moment to compose himself, then got up and walked over, keeping watch out the corner of his eye for signs of movement.  A thin layer of grey dust covered the keyboard and before he touched any of the keys, he looked around the room again.

Nothing.  Not even a camera.

The green cursor on the monitor flickered, counting each second that he wasn't typing.  It was the closest thing to keeping time in there.  No clock.  No windows.  No sun.  No time.

Where am I?  He typed with one finger.

A few seconds passed before a reply came.

THAT'S NOT IMPORTANT

Who are you?  John typed.

THAT'S NOT IMPORTANT

How did I get here?

WE DON'T KNOW

What is this place?

WE DON'T KNOW

John, getting frustrated, looked around at the empty room again.  The air was cold and smelled of undisturbed dust and damp.  He wrapped his arms around himself as he shivered.

John continued typing: Let me out of-

YOU REALLY OUGHT TO ASK ABOUT WHAT'S IN THE NEXT ROOM

John read the message a few times before looking at the bolted door.  He never noticed a moment ago, but there was a rectangular slider covering a peephole.

The green cursor blinked, waiting for him to ask.  Instead, John edged towards the door.  What was so special about the room on the other side?  It seemed more important to the computer than he was.

The bolt was roughened by its rust coating.  Underneath it, John could make out tiny markings carved into the metal.  Lines and shapes like runes.  They made him uneasy about touching it.  There were no scrape marks in the rust.  The bolt had been there for some time, and perhaps had been closed all that time for a reason. 

Nerves took hold of him.  He stepped to the side of the door and with his eyes closed, pulled back the slider.

There was a sigh of stale air as he uncovered the adjacent room.  John stood back from the door and looked through the peephole.  He didn't understand.  He went right up to the door and looked deeper, but the other side was just as bare as this one.  Same shape, same size, same dimensions.  Aside from the lack of the bed, or the computer desk, the room was empty.

“What the hell?”  He said to himself, a little calmer for looking.  His voice echoed around the room longer than he expected, speaking back to him.  He went back to the computer.

Nothing in there. He typed.

A minute passed.

THEN IT'S ALREADY TOO LATE.  WE'RE SO SORRY

John shivered as the hairs his arms stood on end.  For a moment he stood still, looking between the blinking green cursor and the open peephole in the door, listening to the drone of the strip-light.  He went back to the peephole.  I could just open the door, he thought.  Someone's messing with me.  But even so, he couldn't muster it within himself to touch the bolt.  He slammed the peephole shut, scolding himself for letting them scare him and went back to the computer.

Let me out.

WE CAN'T DO THAT

Let me out now!!!!!

THIS ISN'T GOING TO HELP YOU

This is kidnapping you know?

THAT'S NOT IMPORTANT

Then what is so important?

THAT YOU NEVER LET IT OUT

What's in there?

WE DON'T KNOW

Where did it come from?

WE DON'T KNOW

What does it look like?

WE DON'T KNOW

Is it a person?

WE'RE NOT SURE

What will it do if it gets out?

WE MUST NEVER FIND OUT

The screen went blank.  The text disappeared.  The conversation was over and John was left alone.  He sat down on the bed, legs crossed, and wrapped the thin white sheet around himself while he waited for the computer to start up again, but it never did.  The sheet smelled like dust and other people's sweat and was speckled with patches of mould, but it took the edge of the cold off.  Stopped him shivering.

That door, the one the computer was so afraid of, the heavy-looking door, he was compelled to look at it.  It was older than the other one.  Its white paint was cracking and chipping off.  Dark patches of mould in the corners and rising damp along the bottom.  The bolt was his to open.  He must never let it out, but what was it?  There was nothing there.  He'd looked.  Just what had he been made custodian of?

He looked at the door to his right and presumed, with its large-bore keyhole and cold draught blowing from underneath, that it must be the way out.  But where was the key?  He looked under the bed and behind the computer, then it twigged.

The bolted door.

The peephole was open.  John was sure he'd closed it.  Though he couldn't precisely remember doing it, it was so short an action, he knew, instinctively, that he'd closed it.  He went over to the door again and looked through the peephole.  Again, nothing there, not in any of the corners, not at the sides of the door.  Just a cold draught coming through the hole.  He slammed the peephole shut, telling himself aloud that he'd closed it this time, then went back to the bed.

#

There was food on the desk when he opened his eyes.  John shot up and pounded on the locked door, calling out to whoever had brought it in to let him out.  Nobody answered.  There was just the striplight humming above him.  It seemed to have gotten louder.  Had he been asleep?  He must have been for someone to come in and leave it there without him noticing, but he didn't recall ever feeling tired, or dreaming.  He felt like he'd only closed his eyes for a few minutes.  At least I know there are people outside, he thought.  He ate the bowl of cereal, sandwich and drank the whole glass of water in one go, then put the dishes next to the computer that was still dead.

As he wiped his mouth on his sleeve he realised that he kept looking towards the bolted door.  Again there was a force drawing him to it, compelling him to look.  The peephole was open halfway.  It was too stiff with rust to have reeled back when he'd slammed it.  Something was opening it.  He tried to look away, even turned his back to it, but found himself looking over his shoulder, wary, needing to keep an eye on it.  He got up and looked inside.

John slammed it shut immediately and ran to the other door.  He hammered it with his fists.  “Let me out.  There's something in there.  Get me out.”  He said.  No response.  He bashed the keyboard, hoping to get someone's attention, but still nothing.  He shouted for help until he couldn't speak, then he collapsed on the floor by the locked door.  He closed his eyes and told himself not to look in again, never look in again, but at the same time knowing that he would have to.  There was no other option.  He had to know.

He touched the rusted metal slider and recoiled his hand instantly.  He knew he shouldn't.  He took a moment to gear himself up, then slid it open.

A mass.  A shadow in the corner of the room.  Thick and heavy.  Tangible.  A shape that defied any definition or form.

“Hello?”  John said to it.  The thing didn't respond or react, but John was scared to take his eyes off it just in case.  It wasn't there before.  What was it?  He stood there watching it, trying to figure out a logical explanation until he needed the bathroom.  He closed the peephole and relieved himself in the farthest corner from the bed, then went back to the door and continued watching the dark mass.  He had to keep watching it.  He had to know.  Time passed and he quickly became tired as the cold and the growing dread he felt beneath his skin sapped the energy from him.  All the while it never moved.  It never changed shape or size.  It was there, but it was nothing.  John closed the shutter and lay down on the bed, but he couldn't sleep.  Eventually he dropped off from pure exhaustion, and when he woke he felt like he'd only got a couple of hours.  He couldn't be sure.  Time was immeasurable.  The humming was constant.

#

There was more food when he woke, and the shadow in the next room was not there.  He was surprised to see the shutter was still closed.  Twice now it had opened on its own, but why not now?  He ignored the food and went straight to the door.  There was nothing in the other room.  The walls, the corners were all gone.  Only a thick, impenetrable blackness, impossible to see into.  Maybe the light bulb's gone, he thought.  He touched the cold metal bolt, anxious to open it and see just what was going on, but soon let go when he remembered the computer's words.  He peered into the inky void.  Not even the light from the striplight showed anything through the peephole.  The darkness was absolute.

He left the slider open, figuring that if anything changed in there, he'd know about it straight away.  He slouched on the bed for what could have been hours staring at the small rectangle of darkness and nothing happened.  Not until he closed the peephole for a moment then opened it up again.  The room was back, lit up, just as it had been before.  The lights weren't broken at all.  John was confused.  He didn't understand it until he saw the shadow again, this time in the opposite corner.  He realised that the inky blackness he'd been staring so close into was that shadow, pressed up against the door.

John slammed the peephole shut and ran for the bed.  He wrapped the sheet around himself, shielding himself from the door as he wept meekly for help.  He swore he'd never open it again.  And he didn't, but when he next looked out from under the sheet it was open.  It was back at the door, and two ovals of white light stared at him from the darkness surrounding the peephole.  As much as John wanted to close the shutter again he daren't go near it, because the lights-- the eyes, followed him.  As he walked around the room.  As he stared back at them, wondering what thoughts, if any, were going on inside it.  As he lay with the sheet over his head, sobbing and begging to be let out.

#

Time passed.

#

The sound it made eclipsed the humming striplight, but John refused to look from under the sheet.  The flaking remnants of his sanity wouldn't allow it.  They were all he had left now.  Besides, he could already see it through the thin cloth.  A crooked, horizontal tear had formed in it, undulating the sound.  Like static from a dead channel, gargled and choked.  Its whole form shuddered as it struggled to churn it out.  A constant note at first, then it changed.  Warped.  Altered pitch and rhythm.  John covered his ears to block it out, but it didn't help.

Then it started to speak.  Half-formed words from a half-formed mouth, it stuttered and choked out the harsh vowels.  John shouted as loud as he could for it to shut up, but it continued regardless.  He rocked back and forth trying to tune it out, forcing himself to think of somewhere else.  Home, work, with friends.  Anywhere but here, wherever here was.

“John.”

#

“John, take the sheet off your head and talk to me.”

John shook his head.  He couldn't hear it.  He refused to hear it.

“Come on.  This is silly.  You know it is.”

He pulled his knees up to his chest and made sure the edges of the sheet were still tucked underneath him.

“John, I just want to talk.  What's the harm?”

He edged himself further into the corner, closer to the walls.  His forehead pressed against the cold concrete.

“There's no point in being like this.  You look ridiculous.”

No matter how hard he pressed his hands over his ears, he couldn't block it out.

“Come on, at least eat something.  That food's been there for a day now.  You'll get sick.”

Please let me go.  God, please, if you're there, please, please help.  I can't take it.  Please help me.  I don't want to die here.

“John, what are you crying for?”

#

“I can still see you through the sheet, you know.”

John said nothing.  He kept the sheet over himself as he shuffled over to the food on the table.  It had gone cold what must have been days ago and hadn't been replaced when he was sleeping, because he hadn't been sleeping.  He was exhausted.  The pork tasted bitter and so did the potatoes.  He left the peas.

As he turned to go back to the corner, the bottom of the sheet snagged on the edge of the table, pulling out of his hands.  It fell to the floor, exposing him.

“There you are.  How you doing?”

John scrambled to pick the sheet up, snapping his eyes shut before he could see it through the peephole, but it was too late.  He already had.  In the corner of his eye when the cloth fell, he'd seen it.  He felt the meat and potatoes rising back up his throat.  He turned to the nearest corner as the food forced its way out.

“That's because you let it go cold.”

“Shut up.”  John said, wiping a dreg of saliva off his lip.  “Just shut up.  Get out of my head.”

“That's not nice.  All I want to do is—”

“Shut up.  Shut up.  Shut up.  For god sake shut up.”  He was stood in front of the bolted door now, facing it.

“I just want us to be friends.”

“You don't now anything about me.  You're not even real.”  John said.

“Well that's just not true, is it?  John, look at me.  I am you.”

“You're not me.”  John said.  “You're a thing.”

“OK, so then what am I?”

“I don't know.”

“Didn't your computer friends tell you?”

John didn't say anything.  He stared at it's face.  His face.  A perfect imitation, right down to the mole on his top lip and the hole in his left ear where he once had it pierced.  It wore his clothes.  It sounded just like him.  It spoke just like him…

“I thought not.  Just open the door and we'll talk.”

John took a step back.  It had never mentioned anything about the door before.  He shook his head.

“Why not?”

John glanced at the computer.  The thing must have seen it, because it sighed and said: “What, and you're going to believe them?  Tell me this, who are they?  What do you really know about them?”

“They said to never let it out.”

“And do you know why?  Did they tell you what I'll do?”

John shook his head.

“Didn't think so.  Did they tell you anything?”

He shook again.

“Did they tell you I have the key for that door over there?”  Its eyes cast toward the locked door and it held up a large-bore iron key, covered in rust, for John to see.  John at once realised why the person on the computer had said there was nothing they could do.  Why they were sorry.  The irony of his situation.  To leave, he would have to let it out.

“But even if you did manage to get that door open, do you think they'd believe you're you?  John, who do you think brought you here?”

#

Time passed.  The humming was constant.

#

The peas he'd left had furry white mould growing on them.   He was weak and tired.  Starving.  His tears had dried up from dehydration.

He tried to think of home and what it would be like now.  Would people be looking for him?  Were they worried?  Scared?  What would they think happened to him?  He knew he'd never find out the answers, because he knew he was going to die in this room.  He was certain of it, but he was also certain it wasn't going to be slowly.

“You know, even if you did manage to get out of this room, you'd be sent to a funny-farm.  Who'd believe you about all of this?”

It hadn't moved from the peephole since it first spoke his name.  It had been answering his thoughts for some time now.

He tried to ignore it.  Focused on tying the bedsheet into knots.  He thought of something else.  Someone else.

“She's probably missing you something fierce by now.  Probably worried sick, the poor girl.  Its not the first time she's been abandoned, is it?”  It said.  “Just open this door and we'll both walk free.  Imagine how relieved she'll be when she sees you home.  Well, at least, something she thinks is you.  And it won't stop there.  There's a great big world out there.”

John turned to the wooden door.  The way the thing looked at him made him cold inside.  Though it was his own face looking back, the one he'd seen every day in the mirror, he never knew it could look so cruel.

John wanted to close the peephole, but he knew it wouldn't make a difference.  It wouldn't shut it up.  It wouldn't let him sleep.  He made sure the knots were secure.  One around the chains that held the striplight, the other around his neck.  Then he stood on the table that he'd dragged into the middle of the room.  The striplight hum was so loud this close to his head.  It won't hurt for long, he thought.

“That's what you think.”  It said, smirking.

We must never find out.

He'd said the mantra so many times now it didn't mean a thing.  Any resonance it used to have was replaced by hunger, a yearning for sleep, for silence, sunlight, fresh air.  He laughed at himself for once thinking there might be a logical explanation.  It was foolish.  Logic and rationality were just human ideas.  The world and its monsters didn't revolve around us, or our ideas.  The thing in the other room was now more like John than he was.  He was no longer himself.  He was emptiness and desperation.  He was nothing.

He tipped the table over with his heel.

He fell.

A sharp jolt as the striplight took his weight.

The room went dark as the light broke.  The other room went dark too.

The plate smashed on the concrete floor.

The bedsheet tore in half and John hit the floor.

In the dark he could hear it laughing.  It was in his own voice just to mock him.  The damaged light fitting strobed and lit the room for a fraction of a second, and in that flash, John saw it grinning wider than humanly possible, its inky black matter showing as its skin split.

It mocked his failed attempt at death on his own terms.  His last choice.  Now there was truly nothing left.  The laughter hurt him, insulted him, made him angry at himself, angry at it.  He boiled over, too angry for reason.  There was only one thought left in his head and it was clear: One of them had to die.

John felt around the dark until he found a sharp piece of broken plate.  Grabbing it, he got to his feet and felt his way toward the wooden door.

John slid the bolt open.

The laughter from the other room twisted into the broken static noise from before it took his voice.  It rattled and choked, getting louder as the wooden door creaked open.  John could see nothing in the pitch black.  Then, through the strobes of light he saw it.  Walking towards him, its face twisted and black, then reshaping into his own face again.  Metres away.  Another flash.  Four feet.  The key was in its hand.  The static gargling was so loud now it was so close.  Painful, stabbing at his eardrums.  John thrust with the plate shard into the dark and hit nothing.

Then it was on him.

Its hand wrapped around his throat, crushing it, as it lifted John off the ground.  The choking static increased in pitch, becoming a shrieking, deafening wail.  John struggled.  He sliced the hand around his throat, his own hand, and the thing dropped him.  John lunged at it, taking it and himself to the ground.  He thrust with the plate shard again and again, feeling it sink into soft fleshy matter before he was thrown off.  He dropped the shard somewhere in the dark.  As the striplight flashed three times in quick succession, John saw the open black wounds.  Then they were closing up, then the holes in the skin and its clothes had joined back together like they'd never happened.

Without waiting, John launched himself at the thing, reaching for the key in its hand.  They struggled, both had one hand on it.  Both cried out in John' voice.  One toppled over the other, then back the other way.  They punched and scratched each other in the dark, rolling over fragments of plate and mouldy food.  Finally, John managed to wrestle the key free and scrambled toward the locked door, only to be dragged back by the ankle, inches away from it.  Both John and the thing yelled for help in the same voice and the same tone of fear and urgency.  They spat and cursed at each other.  One of them managed to bring a leg up and wedge it into the other's chest.  One thrust and the other was shoved back.  The key clanged to the floor, giving them the opportunity to grab it and get to their feet.

The key slid into the door, the lock turned, and the heavy door swung open, letting in light and a gust of cold air.  It was a stone corridor outside.  Light shining at the end.

“No, its not him.  Its the thing.  Stop it.  You've got to stop it.  Please!  Let me out!”  The John lying on the floor cried as the other John closed the door and locked it.  The John outside ran toward the light, towards the world outside, so glad to finally be out of that room, while the other was left alone, locked away, screaming in the dark.





Sam is 30 years old and from England. He first saw The Thing when he was 10 years old and has never looked back. It remains his favorite horror movie to date, and will stand in line for anything John Carpenter-related. One Halloween, while dressed as Michael Myers, he hung a “dead body” made from old clothes stuffed with newspapers and wrapped in a bedsheet from a tree. He was nearly arrested.


His favorite writers are Hemingway, Paul Auster, and Lovecraft.




In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2018