Jeff Parsons has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. In addition to his two short story books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in The Horror Zine, The Best of The Horror Zine: The Middle Years, The Horror Zine’s Book of Werewolves, The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories, Aphelion Webzine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Bonded by Blood IV/ V.

For more propaganda, visit his Facebook Author Page HERE


by Jeff Parsons


We were young. The world was bright with bold adventures. Scary stuff— that was just stories. Not real.

So when Jimmy dared Martin and me to illegally enter the grounds of the Pilgrim State Hospital on Halloween, we were all in. It was daytime, and nothing bad happens in sunlight, right?

Damn, we were such idiots. I usually wouldn’t listen much to someone dressed as a bum, but then again, unlike Jimmy, I’m more of a follower than a leader. Martin, the same.

So we took the winding road to Pilgrim State, a building from the 1930s. A fickle breeze ruffled the ocean of tall grass surrounding us. The grass quivered much like my neck hairs, a queasy chill of separation from the sanctity of civilization.

I knew this was a mistake. My mind raced with possibilities, none of them positive: we might not be coming back; we could be kidnapped and tortured, held in some dungeon; no one would ever know what had happened to us. But I was twelve years old and peer pressure was a stronger motive than common sense.

Suddenly there it was: Pilgrim’s main building rose before us. Over ten stories high, this metropolis of insanity spread its many wings to dominate the landscape of support buildings. Aside from looming oppressive, monolithic, and ancient, Pilgrim’s buildings were sturdy, excessively plain but functional.

I was surprised to see that a few patients were outside, enjoying the fresh air. Some waved to us, smiling in appreciation of our costumes. One of the nurses watching over them glared at us for trespassing but didn’t tell us to leave, so we didn’t.

Then a guard came by, barking at the nurse to bring the patients inside. His tone softened when he saw us. “Boys, this is private property. You need to get on home. We just started a lockdown. We have to find a patient. This is not a place to be Trick or Treating.”

We muttered our apologies and left, toting our bulging Halloween bags. All in all, it wasn’t much of a dare. Just a new realization. Mentally ill people weren’t scary. At least not on purpose. They just seemed so lost. Afraid. Sad.

We left the Pilgrim State property, waiting to cross the busy Wicks Road traffic. The sun was beginning to set, its last rays golden over the expansive grassland and the surrounding pine trees. Even through the asylum wasn’t as scary as I had imagined, I felt relief that we were leaving before dark.

Apparently, the setting sun evoked exciting new ways to look for trouble, because Jimmy said, “Let’s take a shortcut. Forget the road, let’s cut through the lot.”

Directly across the street, the lot was an undeveloped mile-long rectangle of scrub pines, bushes, and weeds, dotted with junk piles and occasional dead animals. It was a dumping ground of imaginative play for young boys. 

“Nah. Let’s not. The lot road is too dark,” Martin said and silently I was thrilled that he took a stand. “Haywood Street is better.”

The streetlights were already popping on. Jimmy said, “Whasamatter, Marty, you chicken?”

Martin said, “Uh…no. It’s just hard to see in there. No lights. Nighttime.” Martin didn’t live up to his superhero costume, Captain Someone Or Other. And I was sure the superhero didn’t have a permanent mustache, either.

Jimmy winked as if sharing a private joke with me. “I bet Peter isn’t afraid. You coming with me, Peter? You like scary things, right? Ain’t you dressed as It?”

I nodded like an idiot before I’d thought it through, keeping in character with my clown outfit.

Jimmy continued, “Guess you’re a ‘fraidy cat, Marty?” He hissed with fingers held up like claws.

“No! I just…” Martin stomped his foot. “Fine! Fine, I’ll go.”

“That’s the spirit!” Jimmy approved. He was always daring us to do things we normally wouldn’t. Better than being bored, I suppose, but sometimes his ideas were God-awful stupid. 

“Now!” Jimmy darted across Wicks Road. A car driver honked his horn, barely missing Jimmy before moving on. Jimmy belly-laughed when he made it to the other side, hands touching upon knees, as if that was the funniest thing ever.

Martin and I half-heartedly laughed, but we had enough sense to make sure there was no traffic when we crossed, eyeing the lot ahead of us.

The lot’s dirt road provided access to the high-tension electrical wires that traveled the length of its forested land. Trees and bushes pressed in on us as we ventured down the road, isolating us from the fading lights we left behind.

At the lot’s halfway point, Jimmy brought up the real fear bothering me in this woodland realm of nightmares: the Public Work’s drainage site, hidden behind an aluminum chain-link fence, poking out from the bushes on our left.

Jimmy cried, “The sump! We have to go in there! Maybe we’ll see the monster everyone talks about!”

Being boys, we often played in the filthy sump during the day, but never when it was dark. The sump was the sunken repository of all local sewer drains. It was a disgusting canyon of stinking street soup. Naturally, we loved it, but after dark…oh hell no. 

“Go in there? Nope! Screw that!” Martin said with as much resolve as a twelve-year-old could muster.

We all knew the stories. The mish-mash of bodily fluids evolved into a DNA-creation, a monster that was blinded by sunlight but totally at home to roam at night. At nighttime, the creature lurked in the sinkhole amidst the stench of refuse and sewer runoff. It was something from an old movie about a creature in a lagoon; whatever that was, it sounded unpleasant.

“There’s no monster. It’s not real,” I affirmed, even though I had my lingering doubts. I glanced towards the end of the road ahead. A lone streetlight, a half mile away, was the only source of light. “But, it is dark. We could fall into the water.”

“Oh for god’s sakes, Peter, we’ll be careful.” Jimmy’s weasel words didn’t reassure me.

“Don’t listen to him, Peter. He’s just daring us like he always does. It’s because he needs us. He won’t go alone.” 

But I knew Jimmy was crazy. What if he did decide to go in there alone? If he went alone, he could get hurt. I’d feel bad about that. And, we’d hear about our cowardice forevermore in countless barbed jokes.

Mumbling, I resigned myself to the inevitable. “Okay, I suppose.”

“That’s the spirit!” Jimmy did a short happy dance.

Were we really doing this? This situation kept on getting worse and worse like an episodic nightmare where you couldn’t stop making bad decisions.

Trick or Treating postponed, we left our candy bags on the hard dirt road, and single file, entered the sump, squeezing behind the tall bushes through a broken section of fence that had been torn off long ago. This was literally a descent into deeper darkness; no light to guide us except a rising full moon and fuzzy, indifferent stars.   

Scrub pines and prickly bushes pawed at us as we slid and stumbled down the eroded sandy pit to the pond. Sludge-stained garbage poked out like vile once-hidden secrets from the oily muck of accumulated storm water. The nighttime air reeked with a not-so-subtle aroma akin to a used baby diaper set on fire.

Rats followed us in the bushes, and the smell grew like a powerful barrier as we picked a path to the sewer culvert, the source of this desolate swamp. Made of cracking concrete coated with algae, the culvert gurgled with slimy water from the recent rain, flowing deep enough to soak into our sneakers if we accidently stepped in it. 

We walked up the discharge ramp. Jimmy took the lead, and our feet often skidding as we struggled to stay upright before the culvert’s large circular hole. In the moonlight, I could see that Martin looked as scared as I did. What we knew to be fake in the daytime totally became real after dark: the monster came out at night and devoured everything it encountered.

Grinning wickedly, Jimmy picked up a short length of pipe lodged in the garbage and began banging it against the inside of the tunnel, every hit making my heart thump. Sprinkles of crusted scum fell into the water with each impact. “It can smell your fear. I heard it likes little boys. Soft, tender, and juicy. Boys like you.” 

“S-stop!” Martin wailed. He stuttered when he got excited. Or scared. I couldn’t say a damned thing because I was shaking so much.

That just encouraged Jimmy to bang the pipe even more. The sound echoed loudly, reverberating on itself as it traveled deep into the sewer complex. 

“Lives in the tunnels beneath the city,” Jimmy went on, laughing like a cartoon hyena.

I’d heard that too. A friend of a friend of a friend had overheard city sewer workers talking about someone getting attacked. 

Jimmy released the pipe. It bounced down the culvert slope. Moving in front of the tunnel, he poked his head in and peered into the endless darkness, whispering, “I hear it coming. Don’t you?” He turned to face us, arms outstretched as if weighing his options. “And who shall we feed it first? How about—”

A confused look crossed Jimmy’s face. Suddenly, his hands reached out to grasp the rim of the tunnel, muscles bulging. It looked like he was being pulled into the sewer.

Jolted, I peed my pants, warmth creeping down my legs.

Martin’s voice quavered, “Jimmy, whatcha doing? Stop fooling around.”

“For real! Help! It’s got me. Help! Oh my god, please don’t let me be eaten by the monster!” Eyes bugging, his feet slid further into the tunnel.

Martin and I rushed forward and grabbed hold of Jimmy’s wrists, resisting something else pulling on him from within the tunnel. It looked like…sinuous cables of garbage wrapped around his legs. 

“Pu-please! It hurts!” Jimmy cried, tears dripping, face taut, and with a final brutal tug he was drawn into the tunnel. His screaming face disappeared into the abyss. 

That face stuck in my vision. Imprinted for life. Barely breathing, Martin and I stood, trembling, galvanized with cold shock. 

Jimmy’s howls grew faint, fury boiled up inside me, replacing fear. “Dammit, we have to help him!” It took some searching, but I found the pipe and scrabbled up to the entrance.

“Hold on a sec,” Martin said behind me. 

“Huh? What?” I turned on him. “We need—”

He grabbed some oily rags from the ground and pulled string out of his pocket. He held a cigarette lighter to the rags tied about a short tree branch. Feeble at first, he coaxed it into a decent torch. Always trust a firebug to light things up.

“Good. You go first,” I said, pointing the way with the pipe.

He hesitated but rushed forward into the tunnel when Jimmy’s cry pierced the night.

I could deal with the sump smell, but within the sewer, it escalated into a full-out assault on my nose. The smell invaded my throat, so thick I wanted to gag from the foul cabbage flavor clinging to my tongue. I desperately focused my attention on not scraping my head on the round tube and trying to see around Martin who held the torch out before him. 

What are we doing? My instincts screamed at me to run. I had gripped the pipe tightly, only realizing it when my hand began to cramp up.

There was no way to stay above the water. We sloshed a long way in the dark, sneakers and pant hems underwater. Martin took the brunt of a slight breeze on our faces. The sulfuric stench of decomposition made me feel light-headed with a tickle in my throat.

The torch Martin carried gave us enough light to see a few feet ahead, which was good. What was not so good was the way the fire caused shadows to dance, making a frightening experience even scarier. Imagined ghosts and demons twisted and gyrated along the tunnel walls.

Ahead, the echoing cascade of water deluged into the empty space, but I could still hear Jimmy’s screams getting louder. I hoped that meant we were getting closer.

Finally, we entered a huge drainage collection area, relieved to stand upright again. On our right, a ladder was recessed into the concrete wall leading to a surface manhole. Martin’s torchlight didn’t reach the far walls, but there must’ve been at least a dozen connecting tunnels.

Jimmy heard or saw us, yelling, “Hurry! It’s got me! I can’t hold on much longer!”

There he was! On the opposite wall, high up, he held on for dear life, his arms laid flat on the wall, keeping his upper body out of a tunnel. Water splashed like a halo around his head.

Martin held the torch close while I jumped up to Jimmy, my fingertips barely missing his. 

“Hurry, Peter!”

In a flash, I imagined leaping up for a basketball rebound off a backboard. It worked! We clasped hands. I was hanging mid-air, pushing my feet against the slippery wall trying to pop Jimmy out. Jimmy screamed like a damned soul, being tugged on from both ends. 

Martin grabbed hold of my legs and pulled. With a sudden jerk, Jimmy jetted out of the feeder tunnel and landed with us on the wet, filthy floor muck. 

Miraculously, Martin’s torch didn’t get wet and go out. He got up quickly, helping us stand, urging, “Come on!”

Something grabbed my ankle, slicing through the skin into my muscles. The sewer creature tendril wrapped around my socks, visibly squeezing tighter. Martin yelped as well. I smacked the wiry tendril with the pipe, hitting myself in the process, and then swung it where the tendril writhed on the floor, repeatedly. I was hitting it but it wouldn’t let go. It constricted tighter. 

The pain!

Martin’s torch darted into my field of vision. The torch ground into the sewer thing’s flesh, causing it to release and whip back into the tunnel above. It was scary how fast it moved. 

“One had me too,” Martin said. Lifting and supporting Jimmy, Martin shuffled into the sump exit tunnel, torch lighting the way. I followed, realizing the tunnel was better than taking the ladder. We couldn’t possibly lift the manhole cover and Jimmy was helpless.

Martin huffed and puffed from exertion. “The one on me came from another tunnel.” 

I couldn’t help much except hold onto the pipe, walking backwards to guard our rear. I gulped, tasting the rotten air. “Who knows how many there are!” 

Martin slipped and regained his footing. Jimmy was moaning at this point, murmurs of, “Wanna go home.”

It was the worst feeling ever. So close to escaping; the thought of being attacked grew overwhelming. My chest felt tight. I couldn’t see much. The light continued to cast wavering, drunken shadows in the darkness, concealing what my imagination told me: they were chasing us.

The torch still sputtered, but there was only a thin strip of rags left. Martin was about to toss it away when I said, “Wait, give it to me.” I placed it against the dry curve of the tunnel wall. “Might keep it…them…off our trail.”

Martin’s eyes widened. Apparently, he’d never thought we’d be followed. “Let’s go. Don’t worry, Jimmy. We’ll get you home.”

And suddenly we were at the tunnel entrance, or exit for us. I breathed deeply of the fresh, outside air. Treetops swayed; shadows moved and the light wind rustled leaves. A flock of once-sleeping birds took to the air.

Jimmy and Martin climbed out of the sump and continued on without looking back. The sandy soil beneath me shifted, sending me sliding back down the slope. It was like one of those dreams where your feet refused to move fast enough when some unknown peril was closing in on you. 

I slowed my ascent and chose my foot placement better. Sighing when I reached the top, I saw my friends waiting for me on the road, resting, Jimmy held up by Martin. Relief made us crazy; we all giggled. Crooked what-the-hell-just-happened grins. Even Jimmy managed to flash his teeth.

We hugged.

“Jimmy,” Martin laughed. “You smell like shit.”

We all smelled bad but Jimmy was the worst. Wet egg farts came to mind as a comparison. 

I picked up our Halloween bags as we began our walk down the road. Our evening was returning to normal despite our costumes being matted and stained black, brown, and green. I tried my best to breathe through the side of my mouth when we helped Jimmy along between us. He was cold and clammy, and daaaamn, he stank.

We thought it was over.

We were wrong.

The road rippled about a hundred feet ahead. From the hard-packed ground, black tendrils snapped into the air, blocking our way out. How could the monster come out of the tunnel into the bright moonlight? Everyone knew monsters stayed hidden in dark places. Right?

I dropped our goodie bags. We turned, our hobbled pace back to Pilgrim State picking up speed.

We got no more than a few steps. More tendrils burst from the road surface. Not near us, as if toying with us, letting us know they were in control.

“We’re trapped!” Jimmy cried, becoming more alert.

The road didn’t have much cover—mostly small trees and scrub brush. But, towards home, the wooded area on the left held some promise of protection.

I blurted out, “We can lose them in the woods!”

“But the woods are too dark! We won’t be able to see them until it’s too late,” Martin whined. “Are you sure?” 

We turned around again. Towards home. Towards safety.

The road tendrils there swayed like snakes using their tongues to taste the air.

“No choice!”

We bolted into the woods. Jimmy found his second wind and led us into the maze of pathways through dark trees and harder-to-see bushes. We screamed, imagining the worst. My ankle protested mightily. I stumbled every other step.

Trees cracked and rolled. Leaves fell. Bushes rattled. In an ever-narrowing pursuit, it was still chasing us! Suddenly the disturbances were ahead of us as well. The things were circling around us, distance closing.

“Maybe we can hide in the fort?” I stammered. Our nearby fort was a hole in the ground covered by wood beams overlaid with mattresses, blankets, tarp, and dirt.

“Bad idea!” Martin answered. “We’ll get cornered!” He took out his lighter. “Circle of fire!”

Bent over, he walked in a quick circle, igniting the brown grass, adding sticks and twigs, until we were surrounded by a wall of rising flames. 

“And that’s better? Now what?” I eyed the fire warily. Gaps closed, greedily spreading outward. And inward!

“This will stop them. Should scare them off!”

Just then, tendrils slithered into the fire and instantly retreated.

Martin grabbed a flaming stick from the fire. I did as well, just in time—a tendril erupted up near my feet. I stabbed it. The stick’s flames were woefully lame, but it worked, for the tendril retreated.

My head wobbled, dizzy from breathing so hard. We were all hyperventilating, eyes running restless, waiting for another attack. But there was nothing more. No tendrils, but the fire began to sting my exposed skin.

A tall man in a dirty white smock appeared like a ghost from the darkness. His head was shaven, bold features highlighted by the fire below, looking ghoulish.

Realizing our plight, he began stomping on the fire ring, but to little effect. Shaking his head, he ripped a blanket from the fort. He swatted at the flames with the blanket, clearing a path. He threw the blanket onto the smoking embers, frantically indicating that we should leave.

Martin and I fled. Jimmy stayed behind, standing still, morose. I was about to go back for him, but the man beat me to it, entering the ring and sweeping Jimmy up into his arms. He joined us a safe distance away from the fire and placed Jimmy down, carefully, on the ground. Jimmy sat, unresponsive.

Someone must have seen the fire, because sirens sounded in the distance. We all continued to sit on the ground to wait.

The smocked man waved at the approaching calamity of police and firemen. He caught their attention then eased himself down alongside Jimmy. Draping an arm over Jimmy’s shoulder, he said, “Hey now, hey now, don’t worry, everything’s gonna be all right.” He had such a kind, tender voice.

Jimmy leaned his head into the man’s shoulder and cried; deep shudders, letting loose all the pain, fear, and anxiety. First time I’d ever seen him do that.

Police and firemen called out as they drew closer in the intervening woods. They ran the final steps to us, flashlights bobbing.

I kept an eye on the ground. We were probably safe with all these adults around, but I had my doubts. Martin was very quiet, no expression on his face, watching Jimmy and the man from a great mental distance.

The police and firemen looked angry when they reached us. Children battered. A strange man. They could only imagine the worst. Their alarmed reactions resulted in a chaos of misunderstandings. A policeman grabbed the man and lifted him off the ground. They turned him around and placed cuffs on his wrists.

“No, wait!” Jimmy called to them. “He didn’t do anything wrong! It was the monsters!”

“He’s an escaped patient,” an officer barked.

Easing Jimmy to one side, a paramedic assessed his physical and mental state, then cleaned up his cuts and abrasions. I didn’t know what was worse—Jimmy’s hollow voice responding to their queries or my memory of the monster he babbled on and on about.

Other paramedics saw to the rest of us. The paramedics recommended we go to the ER but we all declined, just wanting to go home. I knew I was in some kind of trouble, and adding a hospital bill to that wouldn’t help.

“We’re going to have some questions, and then we’ll get you home,” an officer told me.

I looked at the cuffed stranger and managed a short nod when our eyes met. He smiled back, a sad smile.

All of us got a ride home with the police. I must’ve looked like hell because my parents hugged me for a long time while they listened to the policeman describe what had happened. After, they gently guided me inside the house. I felt disconnected despite their concerned affections. I guess I was still in shock but changing into warm PJs and getting a large bowl of chocolate ice cream helped to slowly return me to normal. At least as normal I could ever be afterward. 

Ultimately, the incident was blamed on the escaped mental patient and the overactive imaginations of traumatized children. But we all knew better. Monsters are real.