Eric Neher is an award-winning author who lives in Newcastle, Oklahoma with his wife Tammy (The Traveling Nurse). He is a continuing contributor to Uniqelahoma Magazine, as well as having numerous short and flash fiction stories published.

Notable works include Permian Remorse, The Bane of Dave, Fractured Frame, The Cycle, A Haunted Cemetery, and Horrific Separation. His debut horror novel titled The Killing Pledge is now available.

Follow him on Twitte @ENeherfiction

by Eric Neher


Dave Reynolds opened his eyes, hoping that what he was feeling was not the beginning of a heart attack. But even in his semi-conscious stupor, he knew better. This sting had been felt before.

“They finally got you,” said a voice from out of the darkness.

Dave reached for the lamp on the nightstand and turned the switch. There was a flicker, like a projector coming to life. A beam fell from the ceiling, illuminating a woman sitting in a chair. He knew this woman because he had run from her in countless nightmares.

“What did you do to me, Mother?” he said.

“It wasn’t me this time,” she said. “You’ve been caught.”

He ignored her statement, casting it away like so many other senseless comments from before. There was no love between them; never had been. She was nothing more than a foundation for what he had become; a springboard into the terror that was his life. And for her, he had been a guaranteed monthly allowance from the government, the ticket that had allowed her to chase her one true love.

But no one wants to drown alone. And for a while, Dave did tread the water willingly, allowing her to pump her liquid poison into him. This escape only worked for so long, and Dave realized that there had to be more.

It was hate that eventually pulled him out of the fog and provided him with a purpose. Dave had gotten his revenge. But not on her. His mother didn’t need to be put down; she took care of that herself. All Dave had to do was stand back and watch as the last breath left her body.

“You’re not here,” he said to the woman in the corner.

“Are you?” she said.

It was a fair question, considering that he had no idea where here was.

The phantom light above his mother began to crawl across the ceiling, illuminating the foreign surroundings. The doorway was framed in varnished oak trim, much like the archaic tenement they had lived in when his father had left. The walls held the chipped texture of the trailer home they had when he was a teen. The nightstand, with its rounded legs and tarnished surface, came from his grandmother’s house.

Dave had awoken to find himself in a potpourri from the past talking to a ghost. Or, perhaps, he wasn’t awake at all. A moment of fear clutched his chest. Had he ever actually stopped using his drug of choice, or was this the result of a final ride with it?

“Do you feel any shame?” his mother said, snapping him out of his morbid thought.

“For you?” he said.

“Not for me,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m talking about the other women.”

It had to be a dream, those very words proved that. She had OD’d two years before his quest began.

“You’re the reason—” he began but was cut off by a sudden ring.

He followed the sound. An old Fisher-Price telephone sitting just to the side of the nightstand rattled in place. The candy-red receiver bounced with each trill, its exaggerated rotor flanked by a pair of blue eyes. Under it sat a grinning mouth. Dave leaned over for a closer look and saw faded lettering written in crayon across its side; FredDiE. It was done in his own clumsy handwriting, back when letters were new to him.

“You had better answer it,” his mother said.

“I don’t want to,” he whispered.

“You don’t have a choice,” she said, and as if to prove her point, FredDiE began to roll towards him on bent, plastic wheels.

“You must answer it,” his mother wheezed.

“Fuck it,” said Dave, reaching down and grabbing the headset. “Who is this?”

“Mr. Reynolds?” said a clear and pleasant voice. “Can you hear me?”

“I hear you,” said Dave.

“Do you know where you are?” said the voice.

“I have no idea.”

“Listen, Mr. Reynolds, because this is very important. You have begun the first phase. Do you remember our discussion?”

A feeling of hopelessness rushed forward, bringing with it a shrouded image of cinder block walls and iron doors.

“Are you still with me?” 

“Who are you?” said Dave.

“We don’t have time for that now,” said the voice. “What do you see?”

It was his mother. There could be no other explanation. She had finally brought home a batch of tainted heroin and now he was lost in some comatose state fighting for his life, probably in a hospital surrounded by police. Another pain struck his arm, causing him to wince.

“Am I dying?” he moaned.

“Yes,” said the voice, without hesitation.

“Can you help me?”

This time there was a pause.

“Hello?” said Dave, unable to hide the panicked tone entering his throat.

“I will help you,” said the voice, finally. “But you have to help me, first.”

“What do you want me to do?” said Dave.

“Tell me what you are seeing.”

Dave glanced over at an empty chair. “She’s gone,” he said.

“Who’s gone?”

“My mother,” said Dave, falling back onto the bed. “She was just here.”

“Your mother has been dead for six years,” said the voice.

“I know.” Of course she was dead; he had watched her die…let her die. So why was he in a hospital? Had he injected himself? Not a chance. He had walked away from that life long ago, and had traded in self-destruction for the destruction of others.

“What else do you see?”

“I’m in a room.”

“Is there a door?”

“Yes,” said Dave.

“What about a window?”

The spotlight again began to crawl, creeping its way past the empty chair and coming to a stop directly across the room from where Dave sat with FredDiE resting on his shaking lap. The beam brightened, revealing a pair of heavy curtains.

“There’s a window,” Dave whispered.

“Go to it and tell me what you see,” said the voice.

The plastic headset began to bend in his hand. The trembling intensified. Dave reached up with his free hand and wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead.

“Are you still there, Mr. Reynolds?”

“Why?” said Dave.

“Why, what?”

“Why do you want me to look out the window?”

“I’m trying to help you, Mr. Reynolds.”

“What is happening to me?”

A bolt of pain stormed up his arm, causing Dave to cry out.

“I apologize, Mr. Reynolds,” said the voice. “Go to the window and I will make it stop.”

Dave stood on rubbery legs and made his way across the room, tossing the curtains to the side.

“Please,” he said. “I’m here.”

The relief was instant.

“Good. Now, tell me what you see.”

A low half-moon hovered. Gusts of wind hissed through waving shades of black. A swing set sat thirty feet away, its rusted chains swaying.

“I see a yard and a…”

Motion caught his attention from the left. It was a woman wearing a long dress reflecting the teeth-yellow hue of the moon. The wind whipped at her dress, tightening it against her breasts, revealing shapely thighs. Dave leaned closer to the glass. She turned a startled face towards him, and then lowered herself onto the center swing. A sudden twinge of guilt gripped him.

“What do you see?”

“There’s a woman,” said Dave.

“Do you know her?”


“It’s important that you tell me,” said the voice.

The memory of the inferno in his arm was fresh. He couldn’t go through that again. This person on the phone obviously controlled Dave’s torture. But to admit that he knew her, to reveal this secret could very well bring with it pain much worse.

“Do you know her?’

“Yes,” said Dave.

“Very good, Mr. Reynolds.”

Admit to that, but nothing else. Dave repeated these words silently like a mantra as he waited for the next inevitable question. How do you know her, Mr. Reynolds?

He wouldn’t answer it...couldn’t answer it. But the question didn’t come.

“What else do you see?” said the voice.

Dave was about to respond when a large puddle of shadow began to move. It rolled out of the waving darkness, swallowing beams of yellow, as it made its way to where the woman still sat, her face now lowered.

“Hey!” said Dave, tapping on the glass.

“What’s happening?” said the voice.

“Something’s coming for her!”

The woman lifted her head, revealing hollowed cheeks and empty cavities where there had once been eyes. The shadow came to a stop just behind her and began to rise, spinning like a small twister, rising from the ground until it hovered just above her.

The woman turned her sightless face to where Dave now stood clutching FredDiE. She slowly raised her arm, extending a crooked finger, pointing at the terrified man.

The shadow collapsed on her like a thunderous wave, pushing her to the ground until all that remained was the puddle of black.

“She’s gone.”

“Did you try to save her?”

“I called out to her,” said Dave. “There was nothing else I could do.”

“Interesting,” said the voice.

“Look, I never touched her,” began Dave but stopped. The shroud was again moving, rippling like wind-driven water as it chewed its way towards him.

“No fucking way,” he said.

“What’s going on?” said the voice, and for a second, the absurdity of the moment burst through the fear. This man...this stranger, was talking to him on a toy that had long ago been forgotten, questioning these insane events as if he were taking notes. And yet, Dave found himself clutching FredDiE as if he were holding onto a buoy on an uncharted sea. And wasn’t that what this was, a strange place filled with monsters?

“It’s coming towards me,” said Dave, taking a step back. “What do I do?”

“Go downstairs to the front door and lock it,” said the man.

Dave turned to do just that but paused. A shape stood on the other side of the thin glass, no longer formless. It rested a faceless head against the window, black like melted tar. An appendage broke out of the undulating mass, its end shaped like a butcher’s knife. It began scraping against the window, sending shrieking waves throughout the room.

“It’s going to break in,” said Dave.

“I told you to go to the living room and lock the front door,” said the voice. “But keep the phone with you.”

You got that right, thought Dave. His run down the stairs seemed slow, as if he were churning his legs through water. He finally reached the living room, ran to the door and scrabbled against it.

He activated the deadbolt then turned and found himself in the middle of a large chamber. It was no longer a living room. Fluorescent lights lined the ceiling, casting artificial beams down on a white ceramic tiled floor. Metal panels stacked one side of the room’s wall. In the center of the room stood a stainless steel table with a scale hanging off to its side.

“Don’t panic,” said the man on the toy phone. “Tell me what you see.”

“I’m in a room,” said Dave, taking a step forward. “There’s a table in it.”

“Do you hear anything?”

“No,” said Dave, and it was then a heavy stench struck him. It was as if a sewage line had ruptured. But it wasn’t just that, there was a rotten smell like meat left out in the sun.

“Interesting,” the voice said after Dave had explained. A low grinding sound came from behind. He turned to see the handle of the door turning left and then right.

“It’s trying to come in,” said Dave.

“Keep moving,” said the voice.

Dave looked for an exit. Across the way, on the far side of the wall with the stacked metal panels, stood another door. Dave began to hurry across the room. He was just passing the table when a sudden crash froze him mid-stride. Three of the metal doors on the wall had opened. He stood with his heart pounding in his throat.

He watched helplessly as narrow platforms rolled out from the dark openings, and resting upon them were sheet-covered mounds.

“What are you seeing?” said the voice.

He could only answer with a gurgling whimper. Suddenly, as if synchronized, the sheets fell to the floor. Three young women lay naked, their skin ashen, their arms resting at their sides. The women began to move, each one tossing over a leg as they pushed themselves up. Fear created almost tangible electricity, jump-starting his legs, and he was again making his way towards the door. Dave reached the panel, twisting the knob but it wouldn’t turn.

“What do you see?”

“They’ve come back,” said Dave.

“Kelly Sims and Gloria Brown?”

“Yes, and one more,” said Dave.

“So there were three?” said the voice.

“Yes,” said Dave. 

“You must be honest if you want this to end. Is that all of them?”

Dave thought for a moment. His mother didn’t count; she had offed herself, and he was sure that the first one had survived.

“Yes,” said Dave.

“What is the name of the third one?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Try, Mr. Reynolds.”

Dave looked at the bloodless corpse standing closest to him. Her hair had been fiery red at one time. She had worked at the SuperCenter by his apartment.

“Carol Henley. Her name was Carol Henley.”

“And are they all there?”

“Yes,” said Dave.

“Then we shall carry on in good conscience,” said the voice.

“Wait,” said Dave. “Carry on with what?”

The phone was silent.

“Hey!” said Dave, clutching the headset. “You said you would help me!”

There was no response.

A crash echoed from across the room. The thing on the other side was still there. It was then that the lifeless body of Carol turned and made her way towards the front door.

“Don’t do that,” said Dave, stepping forward. The two other women shifted together, lumbering directly in front of him, blocking his way.

Dave could do little else but stand motionless clutching his toy phone. The woman reached the door, turning the lock. The panel creaked in its hinges as it slowly opened.

Within the doorframe stood the faceless killer who had consumed the young woman on the swing. The thing stepped into the room. Dave dropped the phone to the floor and rushed back to the door, grabbing the doorknob with both hands, twisting it with panicked desperation, but it was as if it had been welded in place. 

Whispered laughter sent needles down his spine. He turned back to see that the monstrous void now stood only six feet away from him, flanked by the victims from his past.

“Please,” he whimpered. “I’m sorry.”

The monster stepped forward, its oily skin rippling, bubbling like molded tar on a stove. Steam rose from its body with an overwhelming stench of rot and stagnant water. Within moments it had cleared, revealing a man that Dave knew very well. It was as if a mirror had appeared before him. The face was frozen in the twisted expression that each one of these women had witnessed as their lives ended.

Share with us, the ghostly harem said in unison as the horrific doppelganger moved closer to where Dave had fallen to the floor, his knees drawn to his chest, his hands covering his face.
Share with us the thrill that you provided, the women hissed.

Dave peaked through his fingers and saw that the tar-colored skin had returned. It was now towering over him, beginning to spin, rising until it was just inches away from the ceiling. A sudden inferno raced up his right arm, freezing his breath. The pain continued, spreading throughout his body like wildfire.

The room was drifting into night, going from white to sunset red. Five feet away from where he cringed, the phone again began to ring. Dave lay with his eyes shut, refusing to remove his hands from his face. An impact on his wrist startled them open. The Fisher-Price was there, its light blue eyes once again shining with eerie intelligence.

“Leave me alone,” Dave said.

The trilling bell continued as the wheels spun in place, skidding on the tile floor, pressing against his shaking arm. Dave’s hand shot out, grabbing the receiver off of the cradle.

“What do you want?” he said.

“I want to thank you, Mr. Reynolds,” said the voice. “The information you have provided will bring closure to the families.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You were tough, willing to go to the grave without ever relinquishing the truth. Your final ‘fuck you,’ if you will, to the world. And that’s where I came in. You see, Mr. Reynolds, my research deals with state-sanctioned psychedelic investigations, breaking through subconscious walls. What you are experiencing is my attempt at finding the truth.”

“You’re lying,” said Dave.

“Let me give you a quick glimpse of reality,” said the voice.

A wave rushed over the room, wiping away the row of fluorescent lights, melting the drawer-covered wall like plastic in a fire. Dave found himself staring up at a thin face. Wire-rimmed glasses magnified dark, narrow eyes. The man was wearing a white coat, like the one you find on a mad scientist.

Dave tried to sit up but was unable to move. He managed to tilt his head enough to see that he was strapped down. His right arm had been positioned out, like a broken wing, and stuck within it was a needle with a series of tubes connected. 

“This is where you really are,” said the man.

The memories returned, unwelcomed and vivid. Yes, it was like the ghost of his mother had said: They had caught him. For years he had sat within the confines of a six-by-eight cell, waiting for the final day...this day. And yet, this was something more than a state-sanctioned execution.

“The Midazolam is wearing off,” said the man. “The Bufotenin will last far longer. It was necessary to provide me with the information.”

“This is wrong…” began Dave.

“Is it?” said the man, his thin lips curving into a smile as he wrote on a chart.

Wait, Dave wanted to say, but his voice was gone, strangled like those girls from before. The man in the white coat looked past where Dave lay with tears coming out of his eyes and gave a nod. Another flood crashed over the room. Gone was the man in the white jacket, replaced by the spinning darkness. It hovered above Dave for only a moment before crashing down.

The man wrote, TIME OF DEATH: 01:24