Cryptic Fiction

Welcome to Cryptic Fiction. I created this site because I believe that the art of the story is fading.

For centuries tale-smiths passed down our history and inspired us, creating new worlds that excite our imaginations and explore our humanity.

I believe that we must not trade that vital part of ourselves and replace it with action movies filled with CGI, feeding our adrenaline but failing to satisfy our intellect. It's why I write, and I thank you for giving me an opportunity to reach out to you through my first love, the written word.

Tales of the Tormented - Volume 2

I hate airports. The mix of cheap cologne, perspiration, and the stale scent of disinfectants is enough to make anyone I know pray for the sudden onset of narcolepsy, or at the very least a mild case of dementia. There’s nothing worse than the stifling press of human flesh moving swiftly from gate to gate at airports like Atlanta, Dulles, O’Hare, or LAX. Yet I suppose that it’s a necessary evil that we all must negotiate on occasion, even if the experience is like being struck repeatedly with a ball-peen hammer while trying to recite the Star Spangled Banner during monsoon season in the African rainforest.

“The current threat level, is orange,” said the prerecorded voice over the intercom. “Please report any suspicious activity to your nearest TSA officer.”

Damn, I thought. There goes my plot to take over the world with my disposable razor and my one-ounce bottle of shampoo. But everything will be fine as long as I remember to take off my shoes at the security checkpoint. Oh yea, and let’s not forget that bottle of water, that thing could be a frigging weapon of mass destruction.

The phrase, “false sense of security” popped into my head while I dutifully took off my shoes, my belt, and my jacket. Sliding my laptop out of its case I placed all of my possessions into two gray plastic bins, making certain that I still had my passport and boarding pass ready for inspection. After all, success in life is all about the details.

Don’t you, my dear reader, find the irony of history in the arrogance of each civilization. From early Mesopotamia to the Roman Empire each bastion of utopia has believed itself both beyond reproach, and everlasting. Yet any history book shows us the folly of that linear thinking. In the final analysis, we are not immune from collapse. I often imagine that in a couple of thousand years the next great civilization will dig up our remains. And bantering over whatever form of mass communication they have they’ll talk about the latest archaeological discoveries. From a curious little device called an IPhone, to the massive statue of a woman in a place once called New York.

“Well we just don’t know,” they’ll say. “She’s holding a torch so we think that early American’s might have worshipped her.” And that civilization, whoever they are, will believe that they too are destined to go on forever, even as the clock ticks down toward their own inevitable demise.

Hello my dear reader, it’s me again, your friendly neighborhood salesman. Fortunately for me I made it through security, got dressed for the second time this morning, and hurried to my gate just to find that my flight has been delayed by a mere six hours (please insert your own brand of sarcasm here). The flight delays are due to a massive storm which is blanketing the Midwest. So when they show the beleaguered travelers at the airports on your local news look closely and you might just catch a glimpse of me. I’ll be the one sitting in the corner typing eagerly, while in the background you can hear the collective moan of college English professors the world over as I try to contemplate the complexities of the word whether, or weather.

I’m just a simple, ordinary, everyday kind of man. Yet by a strange twist of fate I have a gift, or a curse, depending upon your point of view, of being harassed by the spirits of the dead. I often wonder how this torment was passed down to me from my beloved grandmother, or why I would be of any interest to the spirits that continue to harass me night and day.

I suppose that being dead would alter your perceptions. Or perhaps the spirits just don’t care, and have nothing better to do with the rest of eternity. Either way, for me it’s a life of haggard and disjointed sleep. I walk through the world like a zombie, stumbling through my days in a hazy dreamlike state. Most people take sleep for granted, but not me. I hold sleep with equal measures of both terror and reverence. I long for it, I yearn for it, yet at the same time I dread soft pillows and warm blankets. I can feel the spirits around me waiting for the chance to torture me, thrusting horrible visions upon me. Vivid nightmares of such clarity and detail that I can no longer tell the difference between the waking world and the world that the spirits inhabit.

So as I wait patiently for my flight I would like to tell you the reason behind my rush to convey this story. As I sit on the floor with my legs crossed, tapping at the keys of my laptop with the adoration of a Buddhist monk who has just attained the seventh path in the Dharmachakra. The realization of “Right Mindfulness,” which means to understand reality as it is, and to be fully present in the moment.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

I looked up, my eyelids heavy as I reached for the hazelnut flavored coffee beside me. Standing in front of me was a tall nondescript fellow. He was dressed in a three-piece suit and his shoes were shined to a mirror finish. He was also wearing a black trench coat, but what struck me as odd was the black fedora he was sporting. It’s common to see all types of headgear these days; baseball caps, military caps, and a multitude of other choices. But a black fedora with a gray band appeared out of place in the middle of a bustling airport, like the man had stepped out of a time machine from the 1950’s or 60’s.

“Sure,” I replied.

The man smiled warmly as he pulled his coat around him and sat down. “So, are you stranded too?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Pity,” replied the man. “All this modern technology and humanity still can’t overcome the wonders of nature.”

It’s not often that I find a like-minded individual, and his tone suggested someone that was akin to my own way of thinking. Curious, I asked him, “What’s your name?”

“Oh my,” he replied as though he’d forgotten his manners in his pocket, and was rushing to retrieve them. “I’m so sorry. My name is Stolas, Nicholas Stolas.”

“Pleased to meet you Nicholas.” I took his hand in a more formal greeting. “That sounds foreign. Where do you come from?”

“Oh, many different places I’m afraid. You see I’m a collector of sorts. So I travel quite extensively.”

“Really, how fascinating. I’m a salesman for a manufacturing company in the United States. That’s not as glamorous as a collector, but I do get to travel a lot.”
Nicholas smiled, his perfectly shaped lips exposing teeth that were gleaming white. There was also a hint of mischief in his eyes, penetrating dark orbs that appeared to look through you, not at you. “You strike me as an individual of deep thought my kindred friend. A man who prefers to examine a larger view of the world, and not the minutia.”

“I like to find the irony in civilization,” I replied. I was delighted to have a pleasant conversation with Nicholas. Often the life of a salesman is a lonely one, with hour upon hour spent in solitude. Followed my meetings where every ounce of enthusiasm, charm, and humor must pour from you like a geyser in an ecstatic fit; which is then followed by another deafening silence as you travel to your next destination. In short, people who don’t have the tolerance to be alone and still manage to be outgoing when it matters don’t make it in my business.

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to use the restroom. Although I’d very much like to continue the conversation when I get back,” I told Nicholas.

“Of course,” he replied cheerfully, tipping his hat. “I look forward to it with great anticipation. And do be careful my good fellow, I hear that airport bathrooms are particularly harrowing these days.”

Rolling my suitcase behind me I negotiated the crowds, walking down the long terminal to one of the bathrooms. It was much as I expected, a gleaming row of urinals surrounded by colored tile and oppressive overhead lighting which was followed by an equally long row of stalls. The smell of time-released air-fresheners and floor cleaners caused me to wrinkle my nose in protest. I pushed past it all the same, intent on getting back to my conversation with the interesting man in the old fedora.

After I concluded my business I went to the sink to wash my hands. After all, weren’t we all taught that cleanliness is next to godliness. Looking up I saw my reflection in the mirror and recoiled in disgust. What I saw was not vibrant looking youth but a tired, worn, middle-aged man with deep bags under his eyes.

And it was then that I discovered something strange. As I looked around I noticed that the bathroom was deserted. Yet more than that I couldn’t hear anyone passing by outside. A leak in the sink dripped steadily and for a moment it was the only sound in the room. I felt a chill pass through me and I began to wonder if I was awake, or sleeping.

Again I turned to the mirror only this time it was not my reflection that I saw, but the visage of Nicholas, the man in the fedora. At first I thought he was standing behind me, yet upon further inspection I found that not to be the case. Instead his reflection had replaced mine. I stood frozen, horrified as I watched him smile at me, moving his hand to mirror mine, turning where I turned, and all with a fiendish grin on his face that I knew did not match my own.

“What the heck is going on here?”

The image of Nicholas crossed his arms, tipping his fedora as he winked at me. My heart beat faster as my pulse quickened, and I could feel the sweat of stress forming on my forehead. His eyes burned like molten copper and his white teeth had become razor sharp fangs. Suddenly he reached through the mirror and seized me by the wrists.

“Take this kiss upon the brow!” Nicholas shouted, his voice so deep and powerful that the walls began to quake. “And, in parting from you now, this much let me avow! You are not wrong, who deem, that my days have been a dream! Yet if hope has flow away, in a night or in a day; in a vision or in none; is it therefore the less gone? All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream!”

I knew the dark cadence of the words, had read the works of Edgar Allan Poe in college. But now, here, facing the man in the fedora who had become a monster, I screamed in terror. I fought and twisted, and finally breaking free from him I ran. My luggage was forgotten and I reached the terminal only to discover that all the lights, with the exception of one row in the middle, were dark.

I looked to my left, and then to my right. The airport had become a tunnel of shadows, devoid of the usual din of people. And for reasons I couldn’t explain, day was now night. The banks of television screens were snuffed out as well. While beyond the large windows of the terminal neither a plane nor a light could be seen in the distance.

I was fully panicked by now when a slow deep peal of laughter began, and I felt the prickling icicles of fingers tiptoeing their way up my spine. My eyes were wide, my hands shaking as I felt the hair on my arms and neck stand on end. Someone, or something, was breathing directly behind me. Whatever it was was taking large raspy breaths that chilled my ears and petrified me so completely that I didn’t dare to look over my shoulder.

A burst of sudden unadulterated terror and I bolted down the corridor shouting for someone to help me. “Please let this nightmare end!” I shouted in a mad fit.

The laughter faded, giving way to a low growl that followed closely at my heels. A row of lights overhead began to blink off and on, turning the corridor into a murky dark cavern. I dared look back one time and saw a thousand shadowy hands reaching out from the darkness to grab me from all directions.

And suddenly I was stopped dead in my tracks by two hands that felt like they were made of iron. I looked, and there was the man in the fedora in front of me. I screamed as I gazed into his demonic eyes and tried to break free, but it was no use. He smiled at me, but the gesture gave me no comfort at all, and with his fanged grin he shouted, “Gotcha!”

“Son of a bitch!” I cried out and opened my eyes, sitting up so quickly that I could feel and hear the bones in my back crack.

I was sitting in my chair at the airport, right where the dream had begun. And I was more than a little angry because normally when I’m in a crowd the spirits don’t attack me. I don’t understand why that is, but obviously the rule that I had conjured in my head wasn’t true.

I looked around and everyone near me was sitting some distance away. Like an invisible circle they had sensed that something wasn’t right with this haggard looking salesman, and without conscious thought had given me a wide berth. I found it odd that even subconsciously we appear to know things which we can’t quantify with our heads.

And then as I looked down the long illuminated corridor I caught a glimpse of the man in the fedora. He tipped his hat at me, nodded, and then vanished into the throng of people.

Gooseflesh rippled down my body and I stayed where I was, with no desire whatsoever to seek him out and confront him. Instead I rushed to pull out my laptop, and finding a suitable place on the floor I began to write.

Out of morbid curiosity I looked up the name Nicholas Stolas. I didn’t find anything until I looked for the surname Stolas. As I sit here with another three hours to wait for my plane, I can’t assuage my deepening sense of dread as I look at the result of that search for the fiftieth time. Stolas is said to be a Great Prince of Hell, and a collector of souls. A demon in Christian lore that sends his minions to torture and capture innocent boys and girls. His collection is eternal, and he is said to be the grandson of the great dragon Lucifer.

I can’t help but wonder if I am being collected. As a boy, while under the care of my grandmother, did I share her dark communion?

I don’t know the answers, and I’m terrified to know the truth. But I feel something, like I’m on the edge of a great chasm that threatens to swallow my soul. And I know that I have not seen the last of the man in the black fedora.