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Tuesday, October 26, 2021
It all began with a framed poster, something that had caught Phil Mantillio’s eye when he was wandering around the local Spencer’s Gifts looking for a joke birthday present. Phil wasn’t normally the kind of guy to hang a poster on his wall, much less pay sixty bucks to have it professionally framed. I guess there was just something about the sight of those two heavily airbrushed and scantily clad women making out that excited his college-aged sensibilities.
Phil lived in the Theta Upsilon Omega frat house; a three story building just a stone’s throw from the SUNY campus. I know what you might be thinking but the boys of Theta Upsilon Omega were not known for their shenanigans. In fact they were more Revenge Of The Nerds than Animal House.
Maybe if Phil had been in one of the more debauchery oriented frats he might have been too busy partying to think about hanging smut on the walls. Maybe if somebody had reminded him there was a whole internet full of faux lesbians just waiting for him to download he would have kept his sixty dollars. Maybe if he had even the slightest understanding of the female sex he would have understood that his shiny new objet d'art would ruin his chances with any young ladies he might have convinced to come up to his room. So many maybes, any one could have saved him but not a one of them did.
They say the kingdom was lost for want of a nail but in this case Phil’s personal kingdom was lost because he had a nail. It was his lousy hammering of the thing that cracked the plaster of his wall into a fist-sized hole. He barely had time to mutter an “Oh shit!” before he saw the slim cardboard box of videotapes crammed between the inner and outer walls of the room.
I suppose Phil could have taken those video tapes to the college’s media center but instead he decided to stop by Vincenzo’s Pawn and pick up a VCR. Oh yeah, we’ve got plenty of the damn things in stock. Make us an offer.
Phil had been hoping to find something scandalous on those tapes but the first two were nothing but episode after episode of Green Acres.
The opening moments of the third video revealed chickens, a whole room full of chickens. The video camera was at floor level giving Phil a coop’s eye view of the proceedings. It speaks to Phil’s investigative spirit, or his boredom, that he fast forwarded through almost twenty minutes of poultry footage. The chickens milled about, the chickens alternately examined and ignored the camera, the chickens crapped everywhere. At the twenty-four minute mark the chickens began to panic. Phil set the VCR from fast forward to play.
A boot came crashing down in the midst of the birds, killing one of them instantly. The animals went wild, the screen became a storm of feathers and panic. Phil watched the pair of boots come down again and again, crushing the life out of the chickens with cruel determination.
Until that moment all he had seen of the ‘star’ of the video was a pair of workboots, a shape wearing heavy winter clothing and a pair of thick hands that clenched and unclenched spasmodically with every downward stomp.
Once all the chickens were dead the owner of the camera picked it up and glared into the blood and shit streaked lens. Whoever they were, they had chosen to hide their face beneath an ugly burlap mask. The picture then went to static. Phil sat there for a moment, shaken and confused, then he rewound the videotape and told his frat brothers there was something they just had to see.
They brought the tapes and the VCR down to the main room of the house. Phil hooked the VCR to the wide screen TV they all shared and then the boys of Theta Upsilon Omega settled in to enjoy the freak show.
Most of the tapes were more Green Acres, hour after hour of the show; sometimes a tape would be nothing more than the same episode over and over again. But mixed in with those shows was other footage, the person filming this never took off their heavy parka or the gunny sack they wore over their head. Maybe it was sexism but the members of Theta Upsilon Omega unanimously decided that this person must be a man.
Just as unanimously they all started referring to this individual as ‘Gunnyhead’.
The Gunnyhead tapes were sometimes unwatchable because of the quality of the recording and other times because of the subject matter. Most of the tapes were of animal mutilations. Fish were left to drown on land, cats and dogs were clumsily vivisected. All the while these animals suffered and died Gunnyhead worked in silence. That was one of the worst parts, if there had been just a touch of fiendish laughter or a few sentences of schizophrenic rambling the audience could have dismissed all this as an elaborate prank or a student film gone off the rails.
That is not to say that Gunnyhead was completely silent. A few hours of footage was devoted to him sitting in an easy chair, still masked and dressed for winter. The angle of the camera showed he was watching his favorite TV show and speaking the dialogue along with the main characters. His voice was soft and strong, a librarian’s voice.
Then there were the tapes with long sequences of Gunnyhead stalking someone. Always the viewer had the camera-eye view of the event as Gunnyhead would choose an individual, seemingly at random, and shadow them for hours. Each of these sequences would end with an abrupt cut to meat being chopped up on a filthy-looking cutting board. The meat was pale, raw and unidentifiable; it might have been just chicken or pork but there was no frame of reference for the audience to be sure.
All the members of Theta Upsilon Omega were certain the ‘meaty’ scenes had been filmed in the kitchen of their house. But when? The layout of the room was the same but the wallpaper and countertop were at least ten years out of touch with modern aesthetics. It was three AM when they loaded the last tape they would watch into the VCR. That was the tape that would send them running to the police, setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually involve yours truly.
The tape began with a close up of a campfire. It wasn’t much of a campfire really, more smoke than flames; probably because it was being fueled by a cluster of twigs, pine needles and a few clumps of organic looking matter. From there the camera swung around to show a hog. It was a huge animal, the kind of pony sized livestock that wins blue ribbons at county fairs. It lay on it’s side, not breathing, not moving at all. The camera drew closer to reveal the hog had been split open from throat to groin, then re-sewn closed again with lengths of metal wire.
Gunnyhead let the camera linger on those ugly stitches then moved his attention to the head of the animal. The mouth was stapled shut, the eyes gouged out.
A muffled sound broke the silence, something white fluttered behind the hog’s empty sockets, fluttered then widened.
Then the poor bastard sewn inside the carcass began to scream.
That was almost five months ago now. The Theta Upsilon Omega frat house has been shut down since winter break and now no one is really sure who owns the place. No one is really sure of anything when it comes to this situation. A real mystery.
That’s why I broke into the building on that frosty February morning. It was cold, too cold for snow but cold enough to keep potential witnesses in their homes. I had everything I thought I might need- a crowbar, a flashlight, my smartphone and some pepper spray. The back door was where I decided to try make my entrance.
Phil Mantillio and his frat brothers had wasted no time in packing up those tapes and bringing them straight to the local police station. They were pretty damn spooked and they didn’t feel much better when a Detective Bradshaw played the tapes back and found... Nothing.
Nothing but Green Acres episodes from beginning to end of them all. From what I’ve heard Detective Bradshaw doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and he isn’t too keen on the rest of humanity as well. He went ballistic on the boys of Theta Upsilon Omega, accusing them of trying to play a Halloween prank.
It took me very little effort to break the lock and get into the house. Once I was in there I closed the door and jammed it shut with the crowbar. I flicked on the flashlight and swept it across the room. Then I took some pictures;
Click: The empty counter and sink. There is a thin layer of dust over everything.
Phil Mantillio disappeared three days later that visit to the police station.
Click: The cabinet doors hanging open, one still has cans of soup stacked in it.
A week after that one of his frat brothers went missing as well.
Click: The parlor is just as empty as the kitchen. Brown butcher paper has been taped over the windows.
After the third vanishing in four weeks all the remaining members of the SUNY chapter of Theta Upsilon Omega quit college and fled to the safety of their parent’s homes; all except for the one guy that joined the army and decided to take his chances in Afghanistan. That was Private Rodney Shinn, and he was the one that told me about all this. He was something of a fan.
Click: There is a single footprint near the front door, the brown imprint of a work boot.
A week later after talking to me Private Rodney Shinn disappeared while on a daylight patrol. The other members of his squad said he had been on point. He went ahead of them around corner and then he was gone.
The last room on the first floor was cramped and windowless. I wondered if they’d used it as a bedroom, or an office or a maybe even a makeshift hydroponics lab. It’s gotta be 4:20 someplace right?
Click: The room is empty, the walls bare and thick with shadows. There is a tripod in the middle of the room, a digital camcorder sits atop it.
I pocketed my smart phone and approached the camcorder. The feeling of being watched didn’t kick in until I crossed from the hallway into that miserable little room. The urge to run became sickening as I passed around to look into the camera’s viewscreen. It was on, it showed an open doorway and walls that obscenities and nonsense verses had been carved into. There was a human figure slumped at the edge of the screen. There was no audio, and it was too dark to make out what the human shape looked like but I was sure it was either shuddering or sobbing.
There was no doubt in my mind this was more of Gunnyhead’s work. I paused to consider that video technology had become so ubiquitous that even the drooling psychopaths of the world were using it.
Speaking of drooling psychopaths the star of the show wandered into frame. A stooped figure wearing a dirty parka and a burlap hood. He peered in the doorway and stared right into the camera. The slumped figure went mad at his presence, squirming and throwing itself back and forth against the wall. Whoever they were they must have been secured expertly to that part of the room. I wondered how, then I thought of the description of the ‘luau video’ and of Gunnyhead’s expert use of wire and staples.
In the time it took me to consider these things Gunnyhead had stepped back out of the doorway, leaving nothing more on screen than the miserable figure in the corner and the defaced walls. I switched off the camcorder and unfastened it from the tripod. I wondered why I was bothering, the tapes had been useless as evidence so why would this thing be any different?
Still though, I had to try, even though if all I got for my troubles was a Green Acres marathon or worse yet the Beverly Hillbillies reunion special.
A floorboard creaked somewhere upstairs. The sound was so loud and sudden that I caught my breath and clutched the camcorder close to my chest.
There was another creak, then another. It was footsteps, slow and deliberate. I decided it was time to retreat.
Unfortunately I retreated right into the damn tripod. It hit the bare floor with a dull thud.
The footsteps stopped. I remember thinking to myself, Gee it sure would be nice to have that crowbar right now.
Heart racing I made my way back to the main hallway of the house, then paused at the bottom of the stairway. It was too dark to see more than halfway up the steps. Someone could have been standing at the top of the landing and I would never know.
A loud scraping noise made me jump. It made me think of spring cleaning and chests of drawers being shifted to find lost keys or pens.
More footsteps, then another thick wooden scraping sound. A moment of silence hung in the air before I heard the keen and crash of something heavy being pushed over.
A voice roared from upstairs, the sound of a madman’s rage. Something else crashed to the floor. Glass shattered. A jabbering howl reverberated through the house.
Then something small and metallic hit the landing. It bounced once and plunked down at my feet. I recognized them for what they were, I picked up the dog tags up and examined them.
They belonged to Rodney Shin.
I nearly knocked myself out trying to get out the back door. It took me the longest five seconds of my life to remember that I had jammed it shut. I whipped out the crowbar throwing it carelessly behind me. Then I was running out of the house, leaving the door hanging open behind me. I ran until my legs ached and my vision started getting gray at the edges.
No doubt about it. Things could have gone better.
I never did find out who lived in that house before the Theta Upsilon Omega boys moved in. There was talk of lawsuits and squatters but nothing concrete. Did anyone ever see a man matching Gunnyhead’s description wandering around sometime in the last couple of decades? Nobody came forward to say so.
It should also be noted for the record that I have no idea who burned that house down a few nights ago. My cousin Roy can account for my whereabouts all week. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Item: There is a lot of talk on the Internet about something called a ‘tulpa’. The legends say that the Tulpa is an imaginary being willed into existence. Think of a dream, or a nightmare, given form, think of imaginary friends brought to life, think of Calvin and Hobbes and Fight Club.
Is it a load of bullshit?
But who hid those tapes in the walls? And how did all that Gunnyhead footage disappear between the fraternity house and the police station? Had it ever been there at all?
Item: No trace has ever been found of the missing members of Theta Upsilon Omega. There are six of them left and they aren’t granting interviews to the likes of me. From what I was able to find out many of these once promising honor students have all become shut-ins and a few of them are hospitalized and receiving the best psychiatric care their parents insurance can buy.
Item: When I got back to the relative safety of the apartment I tried to play back the footage from the camcorder. Except, there was no memory card and this particular model of video camera doesn’t have any kind of internal memory.
Meaning that what I saw playing out on the little screen in that house was a live feed.
Al Bruno III
I can only hope this email reaches you. Have I ever told you that your steadfast friendship has been one of the great constants in my life? If not I should have done so far sooner than now.
The nightmare began a few evenings ago at the conclusion of my workday. I was strolling out of the Asylum, silently making my plans for yet another solitary post-divorce supper when I spied a cat lurking near my car. Its white fur was marked by a delightful confusion of calico colors. The animal appeared to be a stray but when I approached it did not flee or hiss. In fact it purred and allowed me to stroke its head.
Soft hearted as ever I decided to bring the animal home with me but when I stooped down to pick up the creature it bolted.
I watched after it, disappointed and saddened. The cat had moved with a pronounced limp, making me feel all the more concerned for its well being.
The confounded animal turned and seemed to regard me. Bemused I approached again only to have the cat retreat towards the wooded area that surrounds the Asylum.
Determined and foolish I made my way into the darkened treeline and in no time at all I was lost in a maze of hidden obstacles and shifting gloom.
Howard, I can almost hear your chortling at my foolishness. If only I could join you.
With all sight of my feline quarry lost to me I turned my attention to the task of finding my way back to familiar surroundings with a minimum of humiliation but as I stated before I was utterly disoriented. It seemed as though the very trees themselves were conspiring to confuse me. I wondered why I could not see the lights of the parking lot.
The woods around me grown so silent and so very cold. I endeavored to retrace my steps and after several frustrating twists and turns my light starved eyes began to perceive the shape of a house. There was no doubt in my mind that I had wandered so far astray that I was now approaching the neighborhood that bordered the far edge of the Asylum.
But I soon realized I was in error for there was no sign of the tall fence that separated the quiet street from the Kaydeross Asylum.
The house was the very antithesis of the kind of home you and I grew up in. Shadowed on all sides it slouched in the darkness like some great beast waiting to pounce on the weak and unwary.
At that moment I should have turned away, if not for the glint of light that caught my eye I would have.
Fitful, pallid and yellow, it emanated from the basement window. As I stood there, sweat prickling my brow, I heard sounds that rose and fell in synchronization with the twinkling light.
I crept closer, laboring to be as silent as I could. Each yard traveled seemed to take an eternity, I glanced upwards to see if I could somehow discern the hour by the evening sky but the looming trees obscured my sight. What might have been a few minutes but might also have been hours.
When I knelt beside the basement window I found the flickering light to be no brighter. The window was filthy and scratched, I had to all but press my nose against it to see clearly.
And what I saw left me so terrified a shrieking oblivion consumed my mind. I cannot say how I got back to my car no more than I can say where that terrible house truly was. All I know is that some hours later I found siting in the familiar driveway of my home. My shoes and slacks were caked with mud. When I got out of the car I screamed at the sight of the calico cat. Its mangled remains clung to the underside of the wheel well. There was something mocking about the rictus of death on its face.
Howard might well wonder what could have provoked such dread in a man you ordinarily know as cheerful and keen minded.
When I glanced in the window the first thing I saw was the shadows, twisted and swine-like they undulated around a solitary candle. That candle rested on an altar seemingly carved from a single slab of pearlescent black stone. A sense of ancient repellence came over me.
What hellish rites that altar might have presided over, and for how long? I imagined that the thing had always been there and the house had built up around it like a cancer.
Near the altar was an idol, gilded, blasphemous and unspeakably primitive, it gleamed and winked by the candle’s light. Like the altar the sight of the idol stirred in me the most primal fears.
The shadowy figures began to chant, the words made little sense to me - it seemed that they spoke a language no Earthly tongue could approximate.
But the voices Howard! Curse my ears! The voices!
I knew them, I have heard the same voices from behind the locked doors in the lowest level of the Asylum. Voices that whispered and gibbered and promised the darkest of raptures.
It has been a fortnight since that terrible evening. I have not ventured out. I have not answered the phone that rings ceaselessly. There is a frightful, feline yowling outside my bedroom window but I will not peer out of the curtain. Sometimes I hear heavy footsteps outside my bedroom door despite the fact I know that all the windows and doors of my home have been carefully locked.
I fear we will never speak again Howard, but do not investigate my fate however strange. There are things that lurk and promise in the night, there are nightmares that might one day hide behind the features of a friend...
Al Bruno III
Jessie Warren and his get rich quick schemes made him a source of embarrassment for the whole town of Zebulon, West Virginia. I got no problem tellin’ you and your deputies what I know but don’t try and pretend that you aren’t just a little bit glad that he’s out of your hair for good.
Did I know what he was up to this time? Of course, we were best friends, sworn blood brothers and I got the hepatitis to prove it. I was always the first person he came to when he had one of his money-making ideas. Jessie could always make things sound so simple. Why not make brew moonshine? Why not cook some meth? Why not start selling counterfeit fainting goats?
Now when he first started talking about making porno for the Internet I thought he might be on to something. He said that since I had a camcorder I could be a producer. I was a little interested at first but then things got weird.
We discussed the whole thing over coffee at Ralph’s Diner. See I figured that he’d want to do something normal and wholesome like the Bangbus but in a pickup truck. But oh no, Jessie had other ideas, he wanted to do something called shokushu.
Now I did not know what in the name of God and the sweet baby Jesus a shokushu porno was and when Jessie explained it to me I was sorry I did.
Shokushu is girls gettin’ it on with tentacles...
No, not testicles- tentacles. You know like on an octopus or a squid.
I didn’t believe him but damn if he didn’t have the pictures to prove it. I guess it was a Japanese thing. I don’t know which pictures bothered me more, the girls that didn’t look happy to be getting molested by an octopus or the ones that looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Say what you want about me Sheriff but I didn’t want anything to do with such a thing and that’s what I told Jessie. He spent the better part of fifteen minutes trying to talk me into it. He said he got a girl all lined up, said she was up for anything. I asked him who this girl was and he told me it was Eunice.
Now I gotta admit using Eunice was a stroke of genius. She is one beautiful girl and, ever since that mule kicked her in the head on prom night, gullible as Hell. I still said no and then he tells me he already ordered a freshwater squid from some guy down in New Orleans named Castro.
We all know there ain’t no such thing as a freshwater squid but Jessie didn’t want to hear it. He said he had that Castro guy coming up to his house in a couple of days.
Maybe I could have talked him out of it but right about right then Stella came over to refill our coffee cups. She took one look at those pictures of girls and octopuses and fainted. In the ensuing chaos I went my way and Jessie went his. I’m pretty sure neither of us bothered to pay the bill.
And that brings us up to tonight. It was about two o’clock in the morning when my phone rings and sure enough it was Jessie.
He’s voice is this scared whisper and he says to me, “I can’t find the squid.”
There was a long pause, mainly because I thought I was still dreaming so he spoke again.
“Are you listenin’ to me George? I can’t find the squid. I got up to take a piss and it ain’t in the bathtub no more.”
So then I said, “You bought the squid? You really did it?”
“Sure, it got dropped off this morning. Eunice helped me load it off the old man’s truck. I figured she should get used to touching it you know?”
What else could I say but, “And you put it in your bathtub?”
“It was bigger than I thought. Big as a man. It had green eyes and its skin changed color when it breathed. Eunice didn’t like it, she said she didn’t like the way it looked at her.”
Nothing he said was making sense, but that didn’t stop him-
“After Eunice left I tried to feed it a hamburger but the thing just left it floating there in the tub. Suddenly I felt real tired and went to lie down,” he sobbed a little, “I had these dreams. They were about this city with buildings all crooked and seaweed in the windows. I saw this shadow, then I felt like I was falling. When I woke up it was night time and I could hear it singing. It was coming from the bathroom and it was like nothing I ever heard before.”
A musical freshwater squid? I was speechless.
“I wasn’t scared of that thing in the daylight but now I was too scared to get out of bed. I just listened to it singing and sloshing around. By the time I got the nerve up to actually go and check on it, it was gone.”
At moments like this I always ask, “Jessie? Are you high?”
“Why was it singing? What does the song mean?”
Then he started screaming and there was these wet slobbering sounds and then everything got quiet. “Jessie!” I shouted, “Jessie are you all right?”
And then the part happened that no one believes, the that part makes me sure you’ll never find no trace of my best friend. The part that makes me tell you to drain the pond out in back of the Warren place and don’t let no one go in those woods alone.
This voice came on the line, it was all high pitched and sing-song but it spoke perfect English
And this is what it said;
“You fool, Jessie is DEAD!”
Yesterday I got married. Today the Halloween episode of my the Channel Ab3 Podcast drops. Truly my cup runneth over...