22 Dec Why I Live in Arizona- CreepyPasta
Thalassophobia is characterized by a primal fear of open water. This can manifest in many ways, and be exacerbated by any number of fears. The ocean is vast, after all, and last I checked we hadn’t even bothered graphing out more than ten percent of them. Meanwhile we have wannabe philanthropists fixing to send us to Mars. But then, I suppose, the sand is always redder somewhere.
Fear of open water is not something I would ever have considered a problem. According to my ma, I was swimming like a pro by age 2. I did freestyle in high school but got a bit more into sailing, and after a tour with the USS Butler, I did some work with towing and salvage for the USNS. I’ve seen plenty of odd stuff out on the water-islands of trash you could fairly walk across, dead dolphins, belly up on toxic waters, as far as the eye could see, a failed piracy attempt that saw both vessels capsized-but none of that turned me away from the sea.
See, the logical summation is that the ocean, like any other fact of Earthly nature, is as gorgeous as it is indifferent. Respect must be given; and even then, sometimes, the ocean must take hr due. That’s why sailors work by routine as a rule, checking and double checking every knot in every rigging, gazing upon the waves for a change in the currents, trusting the stars over their own skewed sense-and then, even then, do they rely on superstition.
As for me, well, I relied on two inches of steel hull…but, although I wasn’t a practicing Catholic, I had my mother’s pendant with me at all times, a small silver disc pressed with the cameo of Mary.
So I got myself a nice stipend and settled down in New York for a while, doing contract work and saving up for a sailing trip around the world. And I still hate myself, hate the memory of my smug self as I haggled with the agent. I was doing fine, I could have gotten another place, hell, somewhere closer to the dock.
‘So what’s the catch? I mean…this place is too good to be so cheap.’ I folded my arms and leaned back as she averted her eyes, sweeping her already neatly pinned hair behind her ear. It was casual, but it was still a tell. She sighed, and met my eyes, and I could tell she wasn’t in the mood to tell me bold faced lies.
‘Well, to be honest…there was a death in this unit about two years ago.’
That had my brows raised, but before I could begin any belligerent questioning, she continued.
‘It wasn’t a murder or anything like that. Someone happened to…pass away in the tub.’
‘There’ve been two more tenants since, so there’s far more life to the place than…sad memories,’ she finished a bit weakly.
‘That wasn’t in the ad,’ I sighed. She pursed her lips and I looked about the place. Honestly, it was a nice place-the front door opened into a small foyer, an open living area with huge windows looking onto a sizable balcony, a full size kitchen (!!!). Even a nice hall linen closet, like ma’s house had. Already I could see myself frying up some buttered fish at the stovetop, or struggling not to pass out on the couch an hour into something. I made an offer.
The first night was like most in a new place. I unpacked the essentials, ordered some pizza, cracked some beers, and watched LeBron James take a laughable dive. I mean, the guy could fold me into a basketball and dribble me up and down the court, but I still snorted and called him a pansy. Playoffs brought out the best and worst in athletes.
You know how sometimes there’s this beat of silence between a broadcast and when they cut to commercial? I was gazing stupidly at the buzzing screen after the fanfare of ESPN passed when that delay hit, and in the quiet hum I heard it-this dripping, ever so quietly.
Whether due to my frugal nature or my adherence to neatness after several years following military protocols, I pushed myself off the couch and looked about for the source of the noise. Ah, I thought, heading through the broad open door into the kitchen. I turned the knob firmly and the dribble ceased. I got back to dissecting the feats of better men than I.
It was a week later when it woke me. The sky outside was that greyish tint where you couldn’t tell if it was 1 am or dawn. I slapped about on my bedside table for my phone and checked. 3:02. Goddammit. And then I heard it…a steady drip…drip…
I closed my eyes even as I rolled them back in my head. Of course I’d need to get a new fixture. The place was a little too good, and you know what, hey, on the bright side, I needed a project to keep me busy on my off days. I wanted to just drift back to sleep but for one, the way I’d woken was so…sudden and complete that I knew it would be a while to lower my heart rate, and for another, I really needed to empty my bladder.
I yawned widely as I plodded blindly down the hall, confident in my lack of tripping hazards, past the linen closet, towards the bathroom. I shivered, and realised that my feet were as cold as if I’d left them out during a foray up past St. John’s. Of course. I sighed again, and made my way to the bathroom, did my business, and made sure to turn the water off fully. I made my way back to bed and started to doze, and though I couldn’t be sure of it then, I can swear with some certainty now that the steady drip of water lulled me back to sleep.
So just under two weeks into moving into the place I was having issues with the water, the central air, and becoming generally more irritable over all. My sleep was suffering, though I had attributed that to being in a new place. Something else began to nag at me, however, something unreasonable and unseemly, something from the depths of my monkey mind, fueled by pop culture and campfire stories. I got my laptop out and started googling.
‘That lying tranch,’ I muttered to myself, perusing the article. It was sensationalized as all hell, as would be anything printed in the Post. George Rafferty had rented this unit two years back. Apparently some folks were sent round to check on him when he hadn’t come in to work for two days. By the time they found him he’d been dead for at least four days, since before the weekend, though the examiner couldn’t say for sure due to his water logged state.
Obviously this wouldn’t be much of a story to end up in the Post, nor would it have elicited such a reaction from yours truly, if it weren’t for a certain extra detail. That detail being that Rafferty was found in the hallway, not the tub. Now I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone to drown out of water-all it takes is inhalation into the lungs, after all. But that he was found water logged?
I sighed and considered the source. A little more furious digging and…nothing. It’s like this guy didn’t exist as far as any reputable publication was concerned. On a whim that felt a little guilty, I typed his name into the Facebook search bar. It was a common enough name and quite a few names popped up, but one stuck out to me-here was no option to contact or befriend them, and there was some script on their profile picture that reminded me of text on the cover of a paperback novel. A pleasant face smiled back at me, a balding man with a neat beard, the summer sun reflecting off his dark brown forehead. ‘1962-2018’, the text read. ‘Always Looking Forward’. The comments were all condolences and affirmations of love from those that knew him. The feeling of guilt intensified and I clicked away.
So what had I learned? I sighed, and looked around the place. The walls didn’t bleed. I didn’t see things crawling on the ceiling at night. The idea that I was being haunted by a ghost that made my fucking faucets drip began to seem more absurd, and though I should have been laughing at myself I just felt like a kid who got caught still believing in Santa.
Poor bastard, I thought. I wondered vaguely what organized crime outfit he’d run afoul of as I headed into the kitchen.
That night I dreamed about him. George Rafferty stood at the foot of my bed. I sat up and stared at him, his dead, milky eyes boring into mine. His smooth complexion had gone pale and mottled, the flesh puffing out so he was nearly twice his size in life. It bulged against the tattered remains of a suit and tie oddly, like a scarecrow stuffed to excess. He was absolutely soaking the floor around the bed, and I could hear it splashing from his fingertips like a spring rain.
He opened his mouth as if to speak, but his swollen tongue prevented him. Instead he just shook his head slowly, twice-no. There was something very sad about that one small gesture, and before I could say anything, ask him anything, he receded into the dark.
I woke with a start. The sky outside was that greyish tint, and I sighed, rubbing my eyes. For a moment I wondered why the dream hadn’t scared the piss out of me, but I shrugged it off and kicked myself for filling my head with visions of drowned men before bed.
The next day I noticed it.
I was sitting on the couch, working steadily through a Chinese food meal for five and watching the late, great Alex Trebek quiz a midwestern school teacher on what brought her to the show, when I heard it again, that goddamn drip, and I practically leapt to my feet. Hell, I’d cut off the valve under the sink if I had to, just to stop that annoying-
I stepped in something cold and wet.
‘What the f…’ The hallway was sodden. Enough water collected on the floorboards that I could feel it splash at every step. My eyes widened with fury as I stomped over to the bathroom, expecting to find a spraying faucet.
The bathroom was silent, pristine. The faucet didn’t so much as quiver with the threat of a droplet. What’s more, the floor was dry. I took a step back, directly into the puddle.
My mind began to reel but mainly with questions of ‘what the fuck? what is this? why? HOW?’ My eyes swept up and down the hall. The bathroom wasn’t the source of the flooding, and it sure wasn’t the living room. My eyes settled on the linen closet and I heard a small burbling noise as a ripple of water belched out from beneath the door.
My heart began to pound but filled with the need to make sense of the nonsensical, I leaned forward and gripped the knob, opening wide to what I knew to be a row of shelves and a stark metal bar running across the top of the closet. What I faced instead was…darkness. Chilly air billowed past me, causing my teeth to chatter involuntarily, cutting right through my woolen sweater. I tugged the sleeves down over my forearms and got out the flashlight function on my phone. It was a staircase, winding down, cut from some kind of dark, blue grey stone. It was impossible for me to see around the curve of the flight to the bottom with it’s helical design. But suddenly, I very much wanted to.
Something tried to hold me back, again, that small voice at the back of my head, the sailor’s intuition, the prayers of my ma-but stupidly, foolishly, I stepped forward.
I felt the darkness envelope me, and immediately turned back-the rectangle of light that was my apartment glowed pleadingly, the guys having far too much fun drinking shitty light beer cajoling me back to the television. Instead I turned and squinted into the depths, my phone’s light held aloft. I descended.
It’s a funny thing, what happens to your extremities in low temperatures. Blood flow generally rushes to those areas to warm them up, but as you get colder and colder, that blood recedes into your body, prioritizing your essential organs. Everything else becomes…alien. As I continued lower, I continually wondered why I didn’t just go back for at least some slippers as my feet became numb and sluggish against the cold stone. My teeth stopped chattering but my breath was nearly visible before me. And I started to hear an odd, familiar sound, like the snores of my bunkmates, or the soft rising and falling of ma’s respirator when she was in her last days. I forged ahead, my head spinning with questions, clouded by anxiety keen with delirium.
And then around a hundred steps down, I heard it more clearly, and I knew what it was, so familiar was the sound. It was the sound of waves, ebbing, flowing, lapping at a rocky shore. My confusion doubled. Was there some kind of underground pier connected to this building?
I descended further. 150 steps. 200. I was beginning to feel a bit tired, and was considering heading back up to plan an actual foray when I felt the air begin to change. The sound of the waves was all around me at this point. I continued, and the steps led to an archway, succinct and functional in characteristic ancient Greek brevity of style. I stepped through, and my eyes widened.
This couldn’t make sense.
Before me lay the sea, far and vast as the eye could see, just a few yards from where I stood. A massive, full moon hung in the sky-the sky!-above, refracted across the churning water. I gaped, and took a step forward, looking around, trying to take stock of the place. There didn’t seem to be anything nearby, just the rocky plateau that breached the night sea. I pinched myself.
‘This is…’ I shook my head, and turned to head back up the stairs. I needed to show this to someone-Mike or Pierre-
My heart stopped entirely.
The doorway was gone.
The stairs were gone.
I was alone on a rock some 15 feet across, in the middle of the-of-SOME-ocean.
A particularly large wave crashed against the rock and I sat down, very quickly. I whipped out my phone, and was not entirely surprised to see a complete lack of service.
The ocean, like any other fact of Earthly nature, is as gorgeous as it is indifferent. Much like a forest, by day, it dances, dappled with sunlight, populated by cavorting creatures that go about their business. If not wholly inviting, at least appreciable.
By night, nature takes her due. To walk around a forest at night is to tempt death. To be adrift at night is to experience death.
I tried to control my breathing as I looked around myself wildly, expecting the door to appear at any moment. It didn’t. I peered over the water, hoping to see the wink of a ship, or hell, the dark outline of land. The black sea and the black sky met in a perfect line.
That’s when I noticed that the sky was starless.
I don’t know why it didn’t click before, but something about that made me feel horrible. It was a sign I wasn’t on any seas I’d ever known.
I wanted to lie down and curl up, but no matter how I seated myself, the black limbo disoriented me, tricking me into feeling like I was capsizing. I sat on my ass and looked up at the baleful moon to try and centre myself. The wild thought of leaping in and just swimming occurred to me, and suddenly I was beset by the flash of a bloated, somber corpse, shaking his head, ‘no’.
The waves shifted and swelled, a massive, HUGE swell. I pissed myself. I fully expected it to crash over me and pull me under.
But it kept rising. My eyes widened and then I was weeping, weeping and whispering ‘no, no, no’ to myself. I felt the truest of fear. The fear that makes you genuinely and deeply call for your mother.
The wave pulled itself free of the water, showing itself to be a neck, an enormous neck that writhed over the spray, creating maelstroms in its wake. The mouth at the end of the blackened, serpentine figure opened and let loose a plaintive, piercing cry. It reverberated on the water and into the distance, echoing repeatedly. It also shook the teeth in my skull and made my lungs feel like they were going to collapse. It had barely subsided when I saw it-across the water, more massive snakelike figures were rising and wailing in return in different pitches, but all of them discomforting to mammalian ears. It rose in pitch to a deafening howl and the water raged, whipping up onto the rock and soaking my jeans. I clutched my knees to my chest, closed my eyes, and tried not to moan too loudly. My mother’s pendant was clutched tight in one hand.
I cant say how long I sat like that. It could have been for 30 seconds or 30 minutes. The noise abated. The water calmed. I opened my eyes to a black sea flowing gently, watched by the full moon. When I turned to check the horizon, I had to stop myself from crying out. The door had returned, set into a stone pillar that extended up, up, seemingly endlessly toward the sky. I didn’t care if it took me home. I needed to be out of this place. I crawled to it on my hands and knees, and seeing an ascending staircase enclosed by stone walls, I clambered to my feet, sobbing silently, casting my hand to the walls for support as I climbed back up. The waves receded into a snore, and finally a sigh, and the air got just a touch warmer. When my hands slapped against the flat wood of the closet door I nearly panicked getting it open, and fell into the hallway a shivering mess.
The agent didn’t know what I was talking about, and probably thought I was insane. By the end of it she just told me to take it up with the property manager. There were some words, some heated exchanges, but in the end I leveraged the fact that they had been less than honest about a possible homicide in the unit, and we managed to come to an agreeable understanding. I was able to get out of my lease at reduced cost and they didn’t have to deal with fringe weirdoes and the Post skulking around their building and driving prices down.
I decided to move somewhere the creatures that conjure ideas of world eating snakes and loch dwelling monsters couldn’t intrude. Before she passed, Ma always said the desert out here was her favourite place to visit-vast and wild. I’m glad I was able to give her ashes the kind of sendoff they deserve. And yeah, maybe there’s something out here, too-some cryptid that runs screaming across the sand, bleeding livestock for fun and feed. But you know what? I’ll take my chances, with my two feet on the ground, and Mother Mary in my pocket.
A word of hopefully redundant advice? If you happen to hear your faucets dripping…don’t go down those stairs.