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Tales of Terror

Release the inner spook!

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Yes! Halloween is here, our most celebrated of non-holidays. This means a full week of costume-prepping, pumpkin-carving, sugar-affected attention deficit among all your children and, best of all, scaaaarrrrryyyyyy stooooorrrriiiiieeeees .

Since Pique staff toils daily in the terrifying realm of cougar sightings and, um, non-conforming space updates, we've decided to once again include a collection of horror stories that were conceived and written at this labyrinth of horror, Pique head office.

Keep in mind that these are works of fiction , so please refrain from calling the authorities if these stories concern you. We had a few issues with this last year. Seriously. We had to issue a clarification.

As a service to the community, we're issuing this alert: None of this is real. We repeat - none of this is real .

So cozy up with a box of bite-sized Caramilk bars and delve into the twisted, maladjusted minds of your beloved Pique writers.

 

Shadow on the bridge

By Stephen Smysnuik

A young American man was cycling down Prinsengracht on an unusually quiet night in Amsterdam's city centre. The moon had disappeared, shut out by a raid of murky cloud cover, threatening rain and killing the light. He navigated his way down the narrow, bricked street by disparate streetlamps, ensuring the spectral formation of every object he passed.

As he approached Reguliersgracht he saw the silhouette of a man leaning on the bridge's guardrail, facing the canal. The way he - assuming it was a he - was bent over, it looked as though he was missing a head.

As the American approached the bridge, the figure turned abruptly around to face him. There were two streetlamps across the street from each mouth of the bridge, casting a low, eerie light across the bridge. It was hard to see but it seemed the figure was indeed missing a head.

Confused, the American slowed to a stop, squinting in the darkness, sizing up this troubling shadow on the bridge. He'd seen strange things in the year since he arrived in Amsterdam and knew as well to err on the side of caution when riding through the 3 a.m. streets.

The figure was standing still, slouching forward with his arms swaying lightly by his side, like a pair of willow branches in a breeze. The American realized this man must be some hooligan in a headless horseman costume or someone pulling a prank on late-night commuters. He was probably doped up or drunk. The way he was standing though - it seemed peculiar.

The American called out, "Are you alright?"

No response. The figure stood, bathed in shadow, arms swaying.

The American grunted. This creep could clearly see him. They were less than 20 steps apart. He called out again, "Are you alright? Mister?" He repeated it in Dutch.

Silence, again. Now, the clouds came through in their promise and it started to drizzle. The American, dismissing the man as either insane or stoned, pressed on with his bicycle, rolling across the bridge and keeping his sights on the next streetlamp.

But as he inched toward the light, he noticed a river of dark liquid creeping along the road. He stopped again and bent down for a closer look. The liquid was black in this light and filling the crevasse between the brick, pressing forward, as if reaching for something. He dipped his fingers. Warm. He held it closer to the light.

"Blood?" he said. His heart started beating - hard, pummelling his rib cage. He reared around to face the man on the bridge and called out, "Hey! Do you need help?"

There was no response. There was no sound anywhere, he realized. The neighbourhood was totally still, utterly silent. On most nights after work, he'll see a few other cyclists, even a car or two, or some light peering through the windows of surrounding homes. But it seemed the whole city had fled on this moonless night.

He dropped his bicycle and ran back up the bridge, to the figure, which was bent over the barrier again, looking down into the canal as if searching for something.

"Hey!" The American pulled the man around by his shoulder, to face him. But there was no face, only a gaping wound where the head should have been. The lapels of the jacket were soaked with blood. Even in the low light, the American could see the wound was ragged, rough, as though it had been removed under strenuous circumstances.

"Oh, Christ!"

He let go of the body, which slumped against the guard railing as if it were tired. The American noticed that it had the same jacket as him. The body had a similar, slender build, and roughly the same height, he realized, if the head was still attached.

It raised its arm, swaying as if fighting for control of its own extremities. It pointed with one finger, arm now hanging over the rail, down into the canal.

The American's heart was now threatening serious action. The blood was pressing at this mask of his face.  He bolted, back toward his bike. As he picked it up, he glanced back at the bridge but the figure was gone. The blood was gone too. The streets were dry.

"I was totally spooked," he later told his wife at home after pedalling feverishly though the cool summer rain, and crashing on their couch. In wide, dramatic gesticulations, he relayed the story, choking on his own breath as he forced it out.

She, of course, seemed bemused. She asked if he was okay, did he need to go to the hospital. She was worried, clearly, but he said he was fine, he just needed a beer. She drew him a bath.

He didn't sleep. Reason assembled the pieces for him, extracting certain elements of the story and erasing others in order to weave a narrative that seemed probable, realistic - something he could live with comfortably.

The next day, on his way to work, he came upon the spot again. It was mid-afternoon and the neighbourhood was throbbing with activity. Pedestrians and vehicles paced along the narrow street where the figure had stood. In the daylight, he found no evidence of the previous night's drama.

He'd been thinking he was losing his mind. Or was it a ghost? Who was it a ghost of? Had he imagined the whole thing?

He had no idea. He stood at the same exact spot he had 12 hours earlier, peering down into the murky canal. He was wondering if anyone else had seen something similar on this bridge when he heard the collsion -metal crushing metal. He never saw it but witnesses would later attest - and there were many of them - that when the two cars collided just to the right of the American, it sent a hubcap slicing through the air, taking off his head and sending it tumbling into the canal.

 

 

Mr. Norbert's hook

By Andrew Mitchell

Mr. Norbert was a strange one all right, hooked hand and a hundred stories about where the rest of him went. "Down the Gullet of a Mako Shark" went one yarn, his best by my reckoning, though I was also fond of "Shot Off in the Vietnam War," and the always gruesome "Plastic Bag Caught in the Lawnmower." He was both caution and cautionary tale balled into one, but a fine wit to piss away an afternoon with.

At first people would stare at it, startled by its sheer "hookness," for lack of a better word. Prosthetics had come a long way after all, and I knew for a fact that at home he had a rubber hand that looked just like his other one, right down to his particular shade of skin. He just preferred the hook. But he won people over with his smile and his infectious joy for life anyway, and once folks snapped out of it and got comfortable around him the story of how he lost his hand always came up.

He would get solemn and serious, and motion for another round that the newcomers would always put on their tabs without complaint. And, in his deep baritone, Mr. Norbert would spin a tale so tall and wonderful that the world around you would fall away, even if you've heard that version of the story a dozen times before.

All of it was pure bollocks of course, but that didn't matter. The hand was his secret and he guarded that secret well behind a pack of well-crafted lies. He was an honest man in other ways, as far as I knew.

I never asked him myself. Not once, in 30-odd years of kinship. Every Thursday afternoon and Saturday evening he was around we rubbed shoulders at The Raven's Claw and talked about books we'd read and places we'd been, the state of the country in general and who was shagging who in Hollywood. We laughed a lot and drew others in, for we were friendly and good with people. But I never asked him the real story, for though I was sure he would tell me I was equally sure my not asking was partly why we were best of buddies.

And so we had the story of "The Car Crash," "The Mad Cambodian Swordsman," "The Misfiring Firework," "The Gambling Debt," "The Radioactive Waste Handling Unit," "The Rabid Pit Bull," "The Train," and so many others. And we were well entertained.

But it worried me slightly I admit, especially in the context of other peculiarities that surfaced over the eons we traded stories. Such as the very peculiar fact that Mr. Norbert was persona non grata at the local Catholic Church, forever banned from the House of God after making an impromptu confession one day.

Then there was his family. Mr. Norbert did well enough, a buyer and seller of old books who had adventured around the world and spoke nine languages, and they lived in a wonderful house. His daughter was beautiful and smiled a lot, though she was shy and a spinster who never married. His wife was sad and grey, and followed her daughter around with her hands clenched together, as if ready to catch her daughter if she ever fell backwards. There were deep secrets there and sorrows beneath the surface, no doubt about it. And it was none of my business.

But there came a day, a blustery Saturday in October where the rain turned to snow and back again. The Raven's Claw sat empty, but for Mr. Norbert and myself, and of course Peter the barkeep who kept his nose in the daily paper. Mr. Norbert was in a strange state of mind that day, laughing outrageously one minute and then withdrawing into himself the next. He looked as if he was fixing to tell me something, but didn't quite know where to start.

We sat in the good chairs by the fire, and read a little of our books in between snippets of conversation.

Mr. Norbert, chewing his thumbnail nervously, at last broke the silence.

"Mr. Arlen, I've known you for more than half my life. And you've never asked me what really became of my hand. Why is that?"

I shrugged. "It didn't seem like it mattered. You get along just fine without it."

"Maybe," he said evenly, holding his hook up to inspect it. "And maybe I get along better in some ways."

I put my book down then and leaned back in my chair.

"What is up, Mr. Norbert? You seem very preoccupied today."

"It's the real story that occupies me," he answered simply. "It never really ended, you see. It only began with a pound of flesh."

He laughed then, long and bitterly. Mr. Norbert motioned then for the bartender to bring us another round. When we each held a pint of dark bitters in our hands, we clinked mugs silently and settled in for a talk.

"I've never told anyone how I lost this hand, if you can believe it. The only ones who know are my wife and daughter, and they've told  no one. Do you know why that is?"

"No," I answered truthfully. "Once upon a time I suspected that it might be something embarrassing, like a run-in with the electrical box that took my uncle's thumb, but it seems you've already got a story for every silly thing a person can do."

"Well, I've never been afraid to laugh at myself; you know that better than anyone," Mr. Norbert agreed. "The truth is far worse, I'm afraid. And the reason I'm telling you the true story is because I may need a favour from you in the future."

"Ask it," I said, "and I promise to do what I can."

"Just this," said Mr. Norbert. "If I were to lose my other hand, would you still meet me here from time to time, and swap stories like we always have?"

"Of course I would! But why on earth should you lose your other hand? It almost sounds like you're going to cut it off yourself."

He regarded me balefully.

"My daughter," he said, "was born with a heart defect. She was not supposed to live out the year, as frail as she was, but she was a fighter - stronger than we were, I can tell you.

"'Pray for her!' said the priest and we did, but she only got sicker. Prayer was failing. Medical science was failing. Her days were numbered. So I threw down my Bible and picked up a different sort of book that I had acquired in my travels. It was in ancient Greek, though it was found in a cave in the Horn of Africa, surrounded by the headless skeletons of various northern Europeans in Templar armour - or so the story goes. It's an ancient book all right, and a strange one almost beyond value. And yet I never sold it or showed it to anyone."

"What is this book?" I inquired.

"It's a book of witchcraft, Mr. Arlen. And inside was a recipe for summoning a certain demon named Alziel, who has the power to grant wishes."

"Mr. Norbert!"

"It's all true," he insisted. "And I was desperate. She was - is - my only daughter. My wife could never have another. And I would have done anything to save her. Given anything.

"And so I followed the instructions, made the incantations and summoned an actual demon to my home."

He chuckled, fidgeting nervously with his hook.

"It was not all fire and brimstone, I can tell you, like it is in Faust. It was like inviting a corpse into your house, raining dirt and maggots onto your floor. And I asked this, this... apparition... to spare my poor daughter's life. Told him I would give anything in return. Well, Alziel pulled out a golden scimitar from a sheathe and took my left hand from my side in his own cold hand.

"It didn't hurt," Mr. Norbert added quickly. "Not at first. You see the blade was as hot as whatever hell I summoned the demon from, and it cauterized the wound cleanly as the sword passed through flesh and bone. 'Is it done?' I asked to the demon (in ancient Greek of course) 'is my daughter safe?' But he shook his foul head and said in a voice that sounded like the grating rocks, 'it is only half done, half of your reach for half of her life. I will return when she reaches forty years... for her or for your other hand.' He disappeared then, crumbling into a pile of black dirt onto the floor. I collapsed into a chair where I passed out in the sudden agony until my wife ran in, telling me that there had been a miracle at the hospital."

Mr. Norbert finished his bitters, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

"My daughter is turning 40 in a few days. I don't know if Alziel will return, but I tend to think he will. I can read the signs well enough. I can feel him coming, Mr. Arlen, for his other pound of flesh."

I had heard enough lies from Mr. Norbert's lips over the years to know the truth. And this was truth. Impossible but perfectly truthfully the truth.

"But Mr. Norbert," I said. "Don't you have a choice?"

"None," he said, and laughed. "She is my only daughter. I would give anything."

"Maybe you do have a choice," I said after a moment. "There is always another way."

A week later we sat, clinking glasses in The Ravens Claw. It was awkward for me, because though I was right-handed I usually drank with my left.

People avoided us, two bent old men with hooks for hands, but they would be our bosom friends soon enough. We were lively and fun after all. And we had a story to tell, a doozy we concocted about us escaping from a Moroccan jail handcuffed to one another.

"I can't thank you enough," said a tearful Mr. Norbert. I had given him little choice after all in taking his place.

"Pish!" I said. "You may have one daughter, but in all this lonely world I have but one true friend. And what's a bloodthirsty demon, more or less, between friends?"

 

The Spirit of Michael John

By Jesse Ferreras

 

It was cold atop Mt. Currie. Yet there stood Michael John in the middle of October, gazing down on a Pemberton Valley blanketed in strokes of red and yellow.

That he died 40 years prior allowed Michael to survive the climate. He didn't feel the minus 40 C temperature at the mountain's summit, but he still felt cold and alone. His new form defied description. He could not be seen. He could neither touch nor smell nor speak in a manner that humans could comprehend.

But still he could sense people, and they could sense him. He could see them, and travel up and down the mountains to observe the affairs of humans at close range. They could feel his presence whenever a draft passed through their front doors, or the poor weather stripping on their windows.

For four decades he watched loved ones grow old, their children graduate from high school. He could fly in and out of people's houses, sit with them while they were watching television, even float above people's beds in intimate moments.

He watched helplessly as his wife Gail lived alone in their house on Rancheree Street, keeping the fireplace lit and his seat at the kitchen table clean should he ever return.

He watched her speculate whether he'd simply left her. Was she not intimate enough with him? Not welcoming enough to his friends? Did she tie the knots of marriage so tight that they suffocated him?

None of it was true. She knew he did not simply run away. She knew, as did he, that he was murdered in cold blood, and that because his body was never discovered his spirit couldn't go to the Creator.

Michael died in 1971, at the age of 25.

He was a fierce, strong-willed man his whole life. As a child he avoided going to residential school when, at seven years old, he struck a Jesuit priest in the face with a rock.

The priest sought the police's help to find him, but when they arrived he could not be found. For the two weeks they searched, Michael lived in an istken (pit house) near Signal Hill, a place where before recorded time his people fought off the Tsilhqot'in who, coming from agriculturally decrepit lands, would raid other territories just so they could obtain food.

At only seven, Michael fended off a new breed of raider, one who wanted to kill him by stamping out his language, his traditions and his identity.

Eventually priest and police gave up, and before he was even a teenager, Michael got a new name: Eagle, the most powerful and authoritative of mythic creatures.

He grew to be revered in his community, fiercely protective as he was of his language and his heritage. He spoke English only grudgingly, because so many of his people had gone to residential school and taught not to be themselves.

He met Gail at 17. She was then a shy woman of 16, who didn't talk much but loved to sing her people's songs. One day at a community gathering he found her sitting alone with a drum, quietly singing to herself, afraid that a people cut off from their heritage would not appreciate her songs.

Michael went to her and asked her to play for him alone. Her voice carried like a wolf's cry and he told her to never again be ashamed of whom she was. From then on, they were inseparable.

As years went by, two men from out of town began to get comfortable in their community. They would come in a white pickup and park themselves at the local pool hall with a flat of 16 and a carton of cigarettes.

There they met Roland Jim, a short, weak, lonely man who would drink alone in the hall, watching the clock run to midnight before he went home.

The men befriended Roland and so gave themselves a reason to play at the pool hall. There were there visiting their "buddy," and in the meantime plying women with alcohol and taking them home to bed.

They grew to scare the community. On the way home from the bar they would smash empty bourbon bottles on the road, stumbling out of a smoky haze, then drive home.

One night Freddie and Frank Leo were playing pool when the men arrived. With three beers each down already, the men demanded that they get their time at the table. It was their time, they said, and their table. Freddie ignored them, took his shot, then one of the men broke a pint glass across his head. He and Frank were thrown out.

They were walking home angrily and stopped off at Michael's house. They told him what happened and Michael was infuriated. Gail tried to stop him from going but his fury overtook his reason.

He stormed into the pool hall and found the men drinking, smoking and laughing. Shouting at them to get out, Roland walked behind him and smashed a pool cue across his back. Then the two men began kicking him around on the ground.

They threw his wounded body in the back of their truck. Writhing in pain, he could not see, for it was dark out and blood blinded his eyes.

What happened then, no one knows. Michael was reported missing. The police investigated and called it a cold case. At a meeting with community leaders the acting sergeant said he was sorry he could not find him... and as he spoke he felt a draft waft in across the back of his heck. The office door was closed and there were no other openings to the outside.

The men returned to the pool hall weeks later as though nothing happened. Roland was no longer there... but Michael was. Though it was mid-summer, they felt cold in the enclosed space, shivering as they downed whiskey to keep themselves warm.

As they left, Michael rode in the back of their truck once more. He followed them home to a trailer park in Pemberton. The breeze they felt in the pool hall followed them each to their beds and no amount of drug nor drink could prevent it.

Michael spent nights in each of their trailers, entering their dreams to remind them of what they'd done.

The men continued to drink, trying hard to suppress the memory. Michael hoped that one would simply come forward and show where his body was buried so that he could pass on to the Creator. They drank and drugged themselves so much that their livers and lungs betrayed them. Michael haunted them to their dying moments and, living alone, he would be the only one visiting them for days before they were found.

The only one left was Roland Jim, and Michael opted not to haunt him, for fear he would do the same as the other men. With Roland gone, there would be no one left to tell the authorities where his body was buried.

Roland continued to live alone, hardly leaving his house, for he never visited the pool hall anymore.

Gail sought him out, trying to discover whether he knew anything of Michael's disappearance. She knocked at his house, but he never came to the door.

Forty years later, Michael remains missing. Gail still lives alone and Roland will not come to his door. His body has not been discovered and his killers have never been held accountable.

So still, 40 years later, in the summer and the fall, a strange breeze flows through the community.