Can you explain what we're watching?
Uh, sure. Obviously it's a security video. You know, black and white, kinda grainy. Convenience store. Camera's up in the ceiling, looking down from behind the counter. On the counter there's the register, the Lotto machine, the controls for the gas pumps. Down on the floor's the milk crate you sit on when no one's in the store. Past the counter you can see a snack nut display and a cooler shaped liked a giant can of Red Bull. There's cases of Diet Coke stacked next to the entrance, on the left there.
Do you recognize this store?
It's the Florence AM/PM. Ha! Look (points to figure who has appeared from screen right, a young man in a hooded sweatshirt, oversized shorts and untied sneakers). That's me! Too bad they didn't get my good side (laughs). I'm walking over to play "House of the Dead".
For the record, will you read aloud the timestamp in the lower left corner of the screen?
Yeah, it's, uh, October 26th of last year. 1:30 in the morning.
Does that date hold any significance for you?
Huh. (Pause) I don't think so. Should it? I mean...oh. Oh, shit! That night! It's all on tape? They told me they lost the tapes! What--
There are some anomalies upon which we're hoping you can shed some light.
You mean like when Randy Lennox summoned an Elder God and it started pulling Tommy Ogden limb from limb? That was pretty fucking unexplained! That was some serious X-Files shit, am I right?
(Tape change: camera 3, magazine rack. Tape paused at 1:31:09)
Can you identify this young man?
Well, that's Randy. You can't see his face, but you can tell it's him because of that black raincoat he always wore. His hair's all hanging down like he's Cousin It or something. Last summer gas got so friggin' dear, I used to swear when it went to five bucks a gallon I'd just wring out Randy's head when I needed to fill up. I don't think that kid washed his hair once all of high school.
Did he frequent the AM/PM?
Yeah, most nights. Honestly, you hardly even noticed he was there. He just read magazines. Now see that guy? (At 01:28:41:09, the clerk behind the counter moves into the frame) That's my buddy Brad. The AM/PM got robbed three times last year, and each time it was when the clerk was alone in the store. So I'd hang out when Brad was working. Kind of like security, you know? Anyway, Brad wasn't supposed to let anybody do that--read the magazines. The manager would give him hell if the pages got wrinkled. But I talked him into it.
Because Mr. Lennox a friend of yours, as well?
I wouldn't go that far. He lived across the street from me. We sort of grew up together. We palled around 'til maybe 9th grade.
And after that?
I don't know. Once I discovered chicks, I realized that chicks would not dig on a guy who was too friendly with someone like Randy. So we stopped hanging out.
"Someone like Randy?" Can you say more about that?
(shrugs) When we were kids, we were kind of into the same stuff. Pokemon, when we were really young. Then "Magic: The Gathering," "Sandman". We LOVED comic books. But I turned him on to real books. Horror stuff, mostly--my older brother had left all his old paperbacks when he went to Afghanistan. When he didn't come back they were mine. Stephen King, Clive Barker, T.E.D. Klein, stuff like that. Randy's favorite was H.P. Lovecraft. "In the Mountains of Madness," that was his big one. Randy just thought Lovecraft was the shit. Me, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Too many big words.
So yeah, now that I think about it...Randy and me, we were pretty tight, I guess. At least until I told him about my cousin Stu.
What happened then?
I'm talking about Stu Cranston, the astronaut? He's my third cousin on my mom's side. Cousin Stu was one of the guys who went to the moon. He didn't get to take one giant step, though. He just stayed up in the main capsule, orbiting, waiting for his buddies to cruise around in their moon buggy and drive some golf balls and then come on back up. This was a million years ago, back in the fifties.
My Uncle Dave met him at a family reunion thing once. Said Cousin Stu didn't look so good. He was totally sauced, had bristles on one cheek, like he'd forgotten to finish shaving. And he smelled like ass. But Dave always liked outer space shit, he was always bragging about being related to a real-live astronaut, so he made sure he got Stu alone to talk. He asked him, you know, Cousin Stu, what was it like up there? Really? And Stu said, What they don't tell you is, you have to keep your eyes on something bright. The Earth, the Moon, a certain star, it doesn't matter. Because if you spend too much time looking in the space between the stars, you start to think there's something there. Looking back at you. Waiting, Cousin Stu said. Just waiting. He got this look on his face then, like he was trying to figure out what show was playing on a TV in another room. Dave said that was when he decided it was a good time to go looking for a beer.
And Mr. Lennox's reaction was...?
Randy liked that story. No, Randy fucking loved that story. He asked to hear it over and over until I got sick of telling it. He put it together with his Lovecraft obsession. "Stoney, do you think it could be real? Stoney, what if it's real? Stoney, what if there's really these Elder Gods that are so horrible you can't even look at them, and they're coming back to Earth some day? What if that's what your Cousin Stu saw?" until you were like, "Shut the fuck up, Randy! No wonder nobody likes you!"
Then all that shit about his dad started to come out. Randy's dad Mr. Lennox was the high school chemistry teacher...well, until he got caught diddling one of the girls on the JV track team. I didn't talk to Randy much after that. He stopped coming to school for about three months. And even after he did come back...one time I saw him in the corridor between classes. I'm on a basement pass, nobody else around, just me and him. He's coming toward me, head tucked into the collar of that black raincoat. I'm like, "S'up, Randy?" And he doesn't even look at me. Just scuttles on by.
So I hadn't talked to him in ages. But then early one Sunday six months later he comes to knocking at our front door. Smoking a cig, trying to look cool, but his hands were shaking. He kept licking his lips, which was pretty gross because he had this big cold sore. There was this estate sale on Birch St, see, some professor at Smith had kicked the bucket, and there was this book Randy wanted. It was something special, something he'd been looking for.
Did he tell you the title?
He did, but I don't remember. The author had a raghead name, Abdul somebody. Anyway the old lady running the sale only wanted two dollars for it. But Randy didn't have it.
"Please," he said. "Please, Stoney. There's nobody else I can ask." And he started to cry.
God, I felt bad for him. Randy's dad was in Walpole, his mom was the town bike, and if two bucks could get him a little bit of happiness, what the fuck? So I fished around in my mom's junk drawer until I came up with eight quarters. I didn't like how he looked when I handed it over--he was so eager. It was kind of sickening. He was just like, "Thank you, Kevin, thank you, thank you, thank you so much!" like I'd just arranged for him to lose his virginity or something! He shook my hand and practically ran down the street. I never asked him for the two bucks back, and he never offered. Honestly, I kind of forgot about it until that night at the AM/PM.
(Tape play resumes) Who is that approaching the counter now?
That's Oggy. Tommy Ogden. Cripes, look at the gut on him! He'd really let himself go. He's got a six-pack of Coors Light and now probably...yeah, see, Brad's reaching up to get him some Kools. Which is kind of funny, you know, 'cause mostly only coloreds smoke Kools. (Glances at Special Agent Cameron) Excuse me, I meant black African-Americans (coughs).
Were you acquainted with Tommy Ogden?
Of course, dude, everybody in Florence knew Tommy. That's his buddy with him, that fat fuck Calvin Hughes. Everybody called his Walrus. Used to be Tommy's defensive lineman, back when they were football stars.
Did Mr. Ogden have a particular antipathy for Mr. Lennox?
You mean did Oggy have it in for him? Well, you know why football didn't work out for Tommy, right? Everybody was saying he was going to make All-State quarterback, probably go to Notre Dame or Penn on scholarship, some D1 school, then go pro after that. They were practically already designing the statue of him for in front of town hall. But then he got in a fight and kicked this kid Jimmy Rickson in the head. It was Randy's dad who broke it up. The scuttblebutt was the principal wanted to sweep it under the rug, but Mr. Lennox insisted they call the cops. That's what Oggy said happened, anyway. So yeah, he had it in for Randy. Always asking Randy if his old man had diddled him when he couldn't get any underage pussy. Picked him up and stuffed him into garbage cans so he couldn't get out. Pissed on him one time. Pissed on him! His friends thought that was the funniest shit in the world. I'm sure Walrus would've joined in if he hadn't been scared to show everyone how small his pecker is. What is it with dudes like that? You hear about people falling through the cracks, the misfits, the fuck-ups, but people like Oggy and Walrus seem to think it's their job to stuff them right down there.
I gotta say, though, that night at the AM/PM, Randy kind of brought it on himself.
Rewind the tape a little. See how Tommy's banging his pack of smokes on the counter to pack them while Brad's making change? He kinda just talks over his shoulder to Randy, he goes, "How they hanging, homo?" Which for Oggy was being nice. But then Randy goes, "Ask your mother, my balls have been on her chin often enough." Louder than normal, like he wanted to make sure everyone heard him. Oggy, he does a double-take with his mouth hanging open.
How did the confrontation escalate?
Walrus started walking over, going, "What the fuck did you just say?" and Tommy just sort of shook his head and grinned a grin I really didn't like. I mean, it was like the way he looked just before he got into it with Jimmy Rickson. I called over, I said, "Hey, dudes, look, the kid's not right in the head, don't fuck with him." But of course they didn't listen. They headed for Randy, and Randy didn't flinch back at all. He had his own little shit-eating grin, like they were coming to hand him a big bunch of helium balloons and a door-sized check.
Was there a fight?
Well, I had just hit the "One Player Start" button on "House of the Dead", so my attention was elsewhere, okay? You have to understand, me and Brad had a serious rivalry for high score. It'd been going on for months, back and forth. But I'd been doing some research on the internet and found out there was this Easter egg in the game, you killed these certain zombies with a specific number of bullets in each and it would unlock this special boss level that'd take your score into the effing stratosphere and the machine would actually send email to Sega headquarters and they'd send you a free cabinet along with three E3 booth babes. No shit, it happened to this guy in Milwaukee. So that was going to be my night, right? But can I ask you guys something?
Is this off the record?
You're being recorded.
What I mean is, can I get in trouble for anything I might say here? Like, open myself up to prosecution if I make certain, uh, disclosures about my frame of mind that night?
All we care about is what you can tell us about the events on the night in question. We're not the police.
In that case, what you have to understand is that I was stoned out of my gourd! The kind of stoned you get before you go to the Pink Floyd laser show at the Planetarium. So stoned you see trails like you dropped acid, okay? I knew if I was going to set a high score, I needed to have an edge. So I'd been experimenting, and discovered if I smoked about a pound of dope and then drank a couple three of those AM/PM 32 oz. Turbo Gulps, it would just put me in the Zone. You could throw M80s at me and I wouldn't flinch. Especially with Killswitch Engage blasting through these really nice Seinheiser headphones I, uh, borrowed one time.
So what I'm saying is, past a certain point, I'm not really sure what went on between Randy and Tommy and Chris. There was some yelling, some banging. I thought I heard a lot of people shouting Tommy's nickname. "OGGY! OGGY!" But, um, don't you have it on tape?
This is as much as we have.
(tape change, camera 3)
As you can see, Mr. Ogden and Mr. Lennox appear to be exchanging words. Mr. Ogden pushes Mr. Lennox here--and then there's a tape malfunction. There are periodic tape malfunctions in all camera views from that point on. So we'd appreciate it very much if you could tell us anything you remember about subsequent events. Anything at all. Think hard.
Well, I'll try.
(tape change, camera 2)
Here we see you again, playing your game. Your friend Brad has exited--
That sneaky bitch! I totally missed that.
--the lights in the store are flashing on and off. Bolts of live current are arcing in the air above you. The store seems caught in an earthquake--there are items falling off the shelves, and at this point (time stamp: 1:35:06:12) an entire section of shelving collapses on the floor behind you, followed by a portion of the drop ceiling. You don't remember any of this?
Okay. Well. Like I said, I was pretty stoned. So flashing lights, the crunching noises, the screaming, I thought those were part of the game. When you're wasting zombies, that's kind of what you expect.
And here (time stamp: 1:35:41:00) there's a spray of dark liquid that covers the floor and the windows of the entrance doors. And you, I might add. Later analysis of your clothes revealed this to be blood belonging to Mr. Ogden and Mr. Hughes. You didn't notice this either?
Well, I did feel that. And I was going to look around, like, What the fuck, Brad, you asshole, spray me with Coke just because you know I'm going to beat your high score, bitch! But I've got really good will power. I wasn't going to let him distract me.
(Onscreen, Officer Howard Hurley enters through the AM/PM doors.)
Oh, Christ, here comes High Pockets Hurley, busting in like Dirty fucking Harry.
(Officer Hurley's gun is drawn. There is a flash as he appears to fire. At this point [time stamp: 1:36:59:59] camera 2 malfunctions. The associated videotape shows static for the next fourteen seconds. When the image clears, Officer Hurley is no longer in the frame.)
Officer Hurley hasn't been seen since the night in question. That brief glimpse is the only evidence we have that he arrived on scene. Can you shed any light on his fate?
He melted, man!
I'm telling you, that's him (points to slowly spreading puddle on floor of AM/PM). What's left of him. He came in screaming Get down! Get down!, busted a couple caps, and that was that.
You witnessed this?
He was, like, yea far away (indicates the distance between himself and Special Agent Mitchell). I felt his hand on my arm and I was about to tell him to fuck right off when it hit him. Whatever it was he was seeing. His jaw dropped. Then it stretched real wide, like a Christmas nutcracker. First his eyes caught fire and then he started screaming and then his lips were gone and then his teeth started dropping like Chiclets as his gums receded and he just plain melted away, like a candle under a blow torch. Total "Raiders of the Lost Ark" shit!
At 1:36:01:45 Tommy Ogden appears from the lower part of the screen, crawling towards the door. Halfway there, his progress is arrested, and he is by all appearances dragged back the way he came. Did you see who grabbed him?
Uh, no. Not exactly.
What do you mean?
I mean, I saw Tommy grab the push bar on the entrance door, and hang on for dear life, and go flying back when whatever was tugging on his legs finally got him. But did I turn around to see what it was? Fuck no!
So you understood that there was a real situation occuring, that was not a game-inspired hallucination, and yet you did not flee the scene.
As far as High Pockets goes, well, I figured I'd just overdone it a little bit with the weed and the Turbos. I could always go to Cooley Dick for some Thorazine later, if I needed to. But whatever was going on back there, it seemed like nobody was going to fuck with me as long as I was minding my own business, so why mess with a good thing? I kept my focus where it belonged, on wasting zombies. I mean, that Easter egg was this close! One more boss and those E3 booth bitches were mine. So I went for it, man. I went for the gusto. That's just the kind of guy I am. I'm Stoney, right?
At this point, (time stamp: 1:36:01:45) Mr. Ogden and Mr. Hughes appear to be exhorting you to escape.
(pause) You mean the way they're waving their arms at me?
Um, yeah. No. They're not exhorting me to anything. It was just a puppet show.
So gradually I was aware that someone was standing there trying to talk to me. And I'm like, fuck off, Brad, I'm gonna get the high fucking score and nothing you can do is gonna stop me! But they're still jumping up and down and even though I'm like this close to getting that Easter Egg, I think, shit, maybe there's been a terrorist attack on Northampton or something. So with one hand I keep firing and with the other I push the headphone cup off my ear. And I'm like, What, dude? What?? Dude doesn't say anything. So I give a quick look. It's Tommy. And Walrus on the other side of me. And dudes were dead. Dead dead dead. Black smoke curling from their eye sockets. Heads tipped back so that their mouths were open. And inside I thought I could see--maybe--the tips of tentacles, with little pinkish-purple suckers, okay? Like tentacles had shoved--the tentacles were wearing their bodies like finger puppets. Jerking them up and down, first one, then the other, so that they were waving their arms and flapping their jaws like they were having a fucking conversation. (Pinches fingers and thumb of one hand together like a talking mouth) "Hey Chris, this is turning into a real party, huh?" (Other hand, similar action) "Betcher ass, broheim, and the good times are just getting started! That Randy Lennox sure knows some interesting people! Hey Stoney, why don't you turn around so we can introduce you?"
At 1:37:31:07 the image distorts due to camera malfunction. There are forty-three seconds of static that follow before the tape resumes normal operation. Please go into detail about what happened during that period, if you can.
(pause) It--it touched me.
Can you say more about that?
(long pause) Do I have to?
Okay, okay. It felt like--when my nephew De Andre was teething, you'd put a little King Cobra on your finger and let him suck on it, 'cause otherwise he'd scream and scream? That's what it felt like. I was wearing shorts, and it was like hundreds of little mouths were opening and closing on my bare leg, pulling themselves up. I just froze. I think maybe I peed myself. I was trying to remember how to say a "Hail Mary" but I was hung up on the line The lord of swiss cheese...I knew that wasn't how it went, but I couldn't think of the rest. It kept going 'til it reached my face, and then it kind of...felt me. Like a blind person can supposedly know what you look like by touching your face? Like that. It felt me like it was memorizing what I looked like. I could hardly breathe. All I could smell was raw beef rotting in milk.
Meanwhile, I've got plastic guns in both hands, blue one in my left, red one in my right, like Chow Yun Fat in The Killers, and I'm fighting the level boss! Zapping the shit out of this thing that looks like a pussy with teeth, I'm thinking, Oh my god, I bet it looks like that and then I remembered the black smoke in Oggy's eyes and that's when I started screaming, "Kevin man I loaned you two bucks! Two bucks and I never even asked for it back!"
Then what? That was it. It was gone. I still have marks... (begins to pull up the leg of his pajama bottoms)
Here you are at 1:39:14:14. You are still playing your game as the first officers arrived on the scene.
You're fucking A right I am. Got the high score, too. Christ, I can't believe there's fucking tape of that night! How come no one told me there was a tape? Why didn't anyone tell the hospital people, man? I've been here almost six months! These assholes think I'm crazy! I wish I could've seen the looks on their faces when they found out there's a fucking tape! So when am I getting out?
Mr. Stone, there is no tape.
What are you talking about? We just watched it!
Mr. Stone, it would be in your best interest to forget whatever it was you think you saw. When the authorities recognize that you are recovering from your delusion, they will no doubt expedite the process of your release.
What the fuck, man! You have to tell them about the tape! You have to get me out of here! 'Cause I can help you, I bet. I've been thinking a lot about this. Maybe those cracks that the fuck-ups and the weirdos fall into, and the spaces between the stars that spooked the shit out of Cousin Stu, maybe they're sort of the same, in a way. Maybe Randy ended up in those places, in his head, and made some friends there. Some old, old, old friends. Maybe he learned how from that book, I don't know. Maybe other kids are learning how, right now! I bet I can help you find them. You could give me a job! I've got the experience!
Those are certainly interesting surmises, Mr. Stone. Thank you for your time.
Wait, wait! You gotta get me out of here, man! There isn't shit to do but sit around and stare at the walls. And these cinderblock walls in here are old, you know? There are cracks. A lot of cracks, and I swear to God some of them are getting wider, and--
--the more I look at them, trying to see if they really are, the more it starts to feel like there's something in there, looking back. It remembers me, and it--
Thank you for your time, Mr. Stone.
Dude, at least get me an XBOX!
Click here to read
by John Claude Smith
Only On The Freezine
Of Fantasy and Science Fiction
by John Claude Smith
Only On The Freezine
Of Fantasy and Science Fiction