Worlds of Wonder
Perhaps one of the stranger tales to tell about our time creating Creepy America was simply how it got started. Unlike how it was sometimes insinuated, we didn’t simply wake up one day with the idea and the passion to start the show. In fact, Creepy America wasn’t supposed to be Creepy America at all. It was supposed to be “Faces of America”, and it started with a simple question:
“Hey, do you want to do a road trip?”
We were sitting on the porch of Zoey’s house, drinking beer and catching up. Zoey and I had been friends ever since grade school. Over the years we had gotten pretty close, especially during high school, but at this point it had been awhile since we had seen each other. I had gone to Indiana University because of a generous scholarship opportunity while Zoey went to our local community college. We remained friends on Facebook and messaged each other back and forth, but that summer we decided that I should go back to our hometown to meet for what might be the last time. We were both getting pretty far into our degrees and that meant that soon we were going to have to decide on jobs in those fields, at which point there would be no summers to catch up with.
“What do you mean, a road trip?” I asked. In case anyone is curious, I appeared the same way I always did in the show: curly brown hair, white skin, green eyes. It was a pretty hot night out, so I was wearing shorts. Other than that, I can’t remember much.
Zoey took another swig of her beer. “You know, a road trip. A road. A trip. The works.” She appeared the same as she always did, too. Pale skin, lots of silver piercings in her face, blond hair with one side dyed in neon rainbow colors. She smiled with one of those sweet smiles she always had.
I miss those smiles.
“Yeah, that sounds glamorous. Long hours on the road in a cramped car. Fast food every night. Seedy motels as far as the eye can see.” I scoffed and downed some more beer.
“Actually, I was thinking of an R.V.”
That caused me to raise an eyebrow. “You’re serious aren’t you?”
She picked up her laptop that she had beside her. “You remember that video essay I did for my Video Production class?”
“The ‘Faces of Ivy Tech’ one? Yeah, I remember. That one was pretty good”
“My teacher thought so too. So much so that he actually sent it to some fancy art group.” She clicked on the track pad and squinted to read something. “The Film Board of America. They loved it so much that they want me to do another one, but across the country, with different people in each state. A ‘Faces of America’ thing. Even gave me a grant to do it with.”
“Um… 50 grand, about-ish.”
“Wow… that’s uh, wow.”
“Yeah, I know, right?” She closed the laptop. “Anyway I also have an uncle who sells used R.V.s He’s willing to give me a pretty big discount if I pay cash for it. And then I remembered you. I figured we could take a year off and travel the countryside. You know, before I leave this town and you turn into one of those boring number people.”
“Accountant” I corrected.
“Isn’t that what I said?”
I sighed. “Zoey, I don’t know. I’m in the middle of school and to just postpone my degree like that…”
She rolled her eyes at me. “Oh, come on Liam. You have the whole rest of your life to be a boring adult. This could be our one last chance to do something big and exciting before we get those stupid nine to fives. An adventure, right? Like what we talked about in fifth grade.” She looked at me with bright eyes.
“Well?” she asked.
“I… I’m sorry, I just can’t. I’ve got too much to worry about right now.”
She frowned and looked down over the edge of the porch.
“Hey,” I said. She looked back up at me. “I’m still gonna be here for the rest of the summer, okay? Let’s try to enjoy that time.”
She nodded, but the disappointment was still visible on her face.
A few days later we were shopping at a thrift store. Zoey had mentioned something about “various odds and ends for the R.V.”, so we ended up driving to different Goodwills. We were at yet another one and the constant looking at towels and silverware was driving me a bit nuts, so I took a break from Zoey’s company and headed over to the far corner of the building where a bunch of posters and paintings were located. I flipped through them. Most of them were pretty standard fare: big inspirational words and prints of famous artworks. One of them made me stop, though.
It was a smaller canvas and an actual painting. I could feel the texture of the brush strokes. The picture itself was done in various shades of blue and silver. Two large planets encircled in swirls of gas hung in the sky joined by a pale moon. Mountains surrounded a beach with a large palm tree off to the side. Two dolphins, mid jump and shiny gray, were suspended in the air, all completed by an illegible signature in white.
It felt oddly disturbing to look at. Like a CGI figure that’s almost, but not quite, perfect. There was just something... not right about it. Curious, I turned the canvas over, hoping that there would be something on the other side to shed some light on who exactly painted this piece. On the back was a tiny printed sticker.
“Worlds of Wonder. #2 of 59.”
I flipped it back over to study the artwork more and traced my finger over the signature. I couldn’t even begin to make sense of it. All it appeared to be was a series of large messy loops. Glancing over the rest of the painting didn’t help much, either. I’m no artist, so I couldn’t really figure out anything that way. I stared at one of the dolphins.
I could almost picture it falling back into the ocean…
I jumped. I had been so engrossed that I didn’t hear Zoey walk up behind me.
She laughed. “Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that.”
“No, it’s okay,” I said. “I just… uh, got caught up in looking at this thing.”
“Here, let me see.” I handed the canvas over and she held it up. She smiled. “Wow, talk about strange.”
“Yeah, I know.” I walked over to the cart to see what Zoey had picked up while I was gone. As I prodded through some of the miscellaneous housewares in the basket, the painting suddenly joined them.
I raised an eyebrow and looked at Zoey. “Really? You’re buying that?”
“What?” she asked. “I’ve got a niece who goes crazy over this kind of stuff.”
“Dolphins on different planets?”
“Well, dolphins at least. Plus, she’s like five. She’ll flip over this.”
“Are you sure? It looks kind of… creepy.”
Zoey raised an eyebrow at me. “Creepy?”
“Yeah,” I was beginning to feel stupid, but I soldiered on anyway. “Creepy. It just… I don’t know, it doesn’t look right.”
She lifted the painting out of the cart and looked it over again. “I don’t see anything ‘creepy’ about it. Weird, yeah. I mean, it is kind of out there, but…”
“Never mind, let’s just go. These lights are beginning to hurt my eyes.”
Zoey ended up dropping me off at my house late. It was either midnight or one. I had bought a few things from the thrift stores, mostly just old paperbacks that had been on my list of things to read and, bags in hand, I walked up the steps of my parent’s house, unlocked the door, and headed upstairs to my room. Once inside I put the bags down and started taking things out. That’s when I noticed the painting again.
It was in one of the bags, lengthwise so it would fit, nestled in between two books. The cashier must have accidentally placed it in my bag when we were checking out. I picked it up and looked at it again.
The dolphin looked back at me. The black eye seemed to almost glisten,
I yawned, then shook my head. “I’m getting freaked out by fake dolphins. I need to go to bed.” Painting under my arm, I headed back downstairs and leaned it against the front door so I would remember to give it back to Zoey. Then I headed upstairs, put the new books on my shelf, and flopped onto the bed, still in my clothes. I was out before my head hit the pillow.
I felt very, very cold. I could only see black. I realized that my eyes were tightly closed, so I opened them.
I was standing on a beach at night. The whole landscape was awash with silver light. The white sand glowed with it. A few feet in front of me stood the water, tranquil and clear. Large blue palm trees swayed behind me, and behind them were grey mountains, also shining in the pale light. Looking up, I saw a huge multitude of stars, and hanging there like overripe fruit were two large gaseous planets.
I was inside of the painting.
Sure enough, just in time to punctuate my thought, a pair of dolphins leapt from the water. Diving back in, they swam away, chasing each other and leaping again.
The mist of the ocean combined with the night air made me shiver and I could see my breath in front of me. Clutching my arms, I turned around and almost tripped when my foot snagged something behind me. It was a sign. Well, sort of. It was more like two large planks of wood nailed together in a waist-high “T” shape. The top board had a shaky “2” drawn on it.
I figured it was just a weird dream. A very, very strange and vivid dream, but a dream nonetheless. My overactive mind had just taken the painting I had thought was so strange and was spending the night recreating it. No biggie.
Even so, I still felt a little on edge. I had this slight feeling of dread, like the kind you get at the beginning of a nightmare, where you realize something's wrong, but you’re just not sure what, and you know something's coming, but you’re just not sure when. The movement of the palm trees in the wind was making me jump when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. The planets overhead, hanging in midair and moving slowly, made me feel like I was being watched.
Again, I shrugged those feelings aside. So what if it was a weird dream? It was just a dream. Besides, I was lucid right now. I was in control. If anything scary did happen, I could just think it away.
A shiver went up my body. “Right,” I said to myself, “let’s get rid of this first”. I closed my eyes and imagined warmth.
After waiting for a moment, I shrugged and said “okay then we’ll just have to work on that later.” I headed along the beach with the ocean to my right. After walking a while, the beach turned sharply to the left, and again buried in the sand was another T sign, this one reading “16”. I looked over and the sand seemed to go on in a straight line forever.
There was a sudden splash to my right and ice-cold water washed over my skin. I stumbled backwards, falling over on my butt in the sand. One of the dolphins was in the water, about twenty feet away from me, splashing the surface with the flat of its tail. Once it saw that I noticed it, it made a strange chirping noise, like a cross between a regular dolphin sound and a cell phone ring, and disappeared back into the water.
“This is so bizarre.”
A muffled noise sounded off to my left and I looked over. Very faintly, almost blended into the sand, was a figure in white, frantically waving his arms and yelling something. I brushed myself off and started to walk in that direction, but it was quickly growing darker. I looked up just in time to see one of the large planets eclipse the moon, and then the dream ended.
I awoke in bed with sunlight streaming into my room and cold sweat sticking to my skin. Even though I was under my blanket, I was shivering, and the bed felt slightly damp to the touch. I touched my forehead. Clammy skin.
Was I sick? Was that a fever dream?
I headed over to my shower and turned it as hot as I could stand. I stayed under the water for a long, long time. Gradually, I began to feel better. Almost human. A half hour later, I was fine. I stepped out of the shower feeling great. Placing my hand on my forehead again after drying off, it felt normal.
Nothing indicated I was sick.
Walking back into my bedroom, I found the bizarre painting propped up against my bed. I picked it back up and stared at it.
“I thought I put you by the front door.”
“Musta forgot.” I threw it back on my bed. “I’ll have to remember to take you to Zoey’s when I visit her later.”
The dolphin watched me as I got dressed. I took it downstairs and set it off to the side as I poured cereal into a bowl.
I noticed the dolphin out of the corner of my eye, still glaring at me.
I put my bowl down and looked at it. “Maybe, maybe I could head over right now. I’ve got nothing better to do anyways.”
In this angle and light, the thing looked… almost angry.
I shuddered. “Yeah, definitely right now.”
“I think it got put back in my bag by mistake.”
“Huh. Whoops.” Zoey said as she took it from me. “I was wondering where it went.”
“What’s your plans for today?”
“Camera shopping, mostly. Trying to find the best models at my budget. Usually I just make do, but I’ve got so much I can actually get a decent model this time around. Want to come?”
I had a flashback of the forks at Goodwill. “No thanks, I’ll pass.”
The dolphin caught my eye again.
“Are you sure you want to give that to your niece? Doesn’t it seem… I don’t know, a little strange?”
Zoey laughed. “Are you still freaked out about this thing?”
I decided not to tell her about the dream.
I spent the rest of the day just loafing around. It was summer, after all. That was kinda the point. I played some random video games that I had bought a long time ago but never tried. Once I got bored of those, I picked up a paperback I had bought from Goodwill. I munched on some food. Nothing crazy.
Over the course of the day, I managed to forget about the painting and the weird dream, the details slowly fading with every passing hour.
By the time I had laid my head on my pillow and slowly drifted into sleep, I had forgotten it had even happened.
It was cold. Again.
I sat up with a start, inhaling the freezing, salt-filled air. I was back on the beach. The moon, the planets, the dolphins. It was all there.
I was back.
“What the hell? What’s going on?” I stood up and looked around.
As I did so, I saw a man behind me, leaning against a palm tree. He was a white guy with long greasy black hair and a beard to match. His face was gaunt and thin. He was wearing what I assumed used to be a very stylish white three piece suit with golden pinstripes, but it was now a dirty gray with rips and tatters everywhere. The whole outfit hung on him like a blanket. A very battered matching hat completed the ensemble.
Once he saw me looking at him, he straightened up. “Ah, you’re awake!”
I immediately took a few steps back and hit something. I spun around to see the “2” sign again, then faced the man. “What’s going on?”
“Calm down, I’m not going to hurt you, everything's fine.”
“Who are you?!”
He raised his hands in the air in a show of non-hostility. “I’m Greg Thornstine. A guy who picked up a ‘Worlds of Wonder’ painting, just like you.”
I stared at him. “Wait a minute, what?”
He smiled and lowered his arms. “Alright guys, it's cool. I think he’s done freaking out.”
Several people now came into view, standing up behind the small crest he was on. There was a Hispanic man dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, and older woman in a business suit, a teenage girl in black clothing, and another white guy in a camo jacket and pants. They all looked similar to Greg; thing faces, torn, baggy clothing, long hair and beards on the men. They watched me with a dull expression.
“Alright newcomer, welcome. This is Jose, Anne, Suzy, and Tom.”
They stared at me in silence.
“Oh, um… I’m Liam, I guess. What’s going on here?”
“Well,” Greg started, “at some point, you picked up a ‘Worlds of Wonder’ painting, just like us. I’m assuming the sticker on the back said ‘2 of 59?’”
Greg pointed to the sign behind me.
“So what, every time I fall asleep I come here?”
Jose said something in Spanish.
“Calm down,” Greg said, turning to Jose, “he doesn’t know that yet.” Then he looked back at me. “I’m afraid that’s just the beginning. You’ve visited here once before, right?”
I remembered the white figure on the beach. “Yeah. Was that you waving at me?”
He nodded. “This place draws you in threes. First night’s sleep, second night’s sleep, then on the third day. At some point after you wake up, you’re going to come back here. And that time, it’ll be permanent.”
I looked at the group. “I don’t believe you.”
The teenager shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. You’ll come here anyway.”
“This is just some weird dream I keep having. That’s all.”
The business woman rolled her eyes. “I told you Greg, this will get us nowhere.”
“Hush, Anne. It’s worth a shot.” Greg turned back to me. “Listen kid, you’ve got what we didn’t have. Forewarning. So listen very closely to what I’m about to tell you.”
I took a few steps closer and leaned in.
“When you wake up, grab food. Stuff your face like there’s no tomorrow. Cram your pockets with anything you can think of. The higher the calories, the better, but try to diversify. Meat, fruit, candy. Don’t worry about it spoiling, Just have as much on you when you come here. You’ll thank me later.”
I stared. Then I chuckled. I laughed for almost a minute straight. “You’re crazy! Scratch that, I’M crazy, YOU’RE not real! This is a dream. I’m not gonna start binge eating just ‘cause my dreams told me it was a good idea!”
Jose began muttering in Spanish again.
“I need you to listen to me. Please.” Greg looked at me with concern. “This is your one shot here. This is going to happen. I can’t stop it, and neither can you. This is your one chance to make sure your life isn’t a living hell when you get here. Please just take it.”
“Then answer me this: why has no one thought to try fishing?” I gestured to the ocean behind me, arms flailing.
At that moment, the dolphin jumped out of the water, chirping another mechanical sound.
“Ain’t no fish in that ocean.” The man in camo said darkly. “And before you go getting any bright ideas, there’s nothing in those dolphins ‘cept gears and springs. We’ve tried everything there is to try.”
I lowered my arms. “What about escaping?”
The business woman shook her head. “This place is an island. Nowhere to go. And even if we knew where we could swim to, those… things” she spat, looking out at the waves “would tear us apart in no time flat.”
“This is insane.” I whispered.
“Insane or not, it’s happening.” Greg said. “And it’s going to keep happening. For your own sake, Liam, do what I said.”
I moved around the sign and began backing up. “No no no no no no no, this isn’t happening. This isn’t real. This is just a weird dream, this isn’t…” I felt a sudden surge of cold around my ankles, Surprised, I lost my balance and fell backwards into the cool, dark water. I was buffed about by a wave, dragged farther in. I tried to swim up, but I couldn’t. The air burned in my lungs. I screamed, and stinging salt water filled my chest. Struggling, I slowly lost consciousness…
…and awoke in my own bed.
It was soaked. Every movement I made caused the mattress to seep salt water, like an over-absorbed sponge. There was a thin layer of it trickling down my body, and I was violently shivering. Even my teeth were chattering.
“W-wh-wha-th-the-f-f-f-f-f” I stumbled out of my bed, fell on the floor, and scrambled back up, putting the shower on the highest heat possible, stripped out of my clothes and climbed in, too shocked to think. After an eternity standing under the blazing hot water, feeling returned to my fingers, and I turned the heat down just a bit. I started going over my options.
What the hell was I supposed to do? Go to the police? And tell them what? I’m going to get kidnapped by a painting? A theoretical physicist might be more help. Or a ghostbuster. I laughed. I felt like a lunatic. I suppose I was close to becoming one.
“Calm down” I said out loud. “We’re going to approach this one option at a time. Just think of the next thing to do. After that’s done, you can think of what to do after that.”
Zoey. I’ll ask her. She’s handled the painting too. Maybe the same thing’s been happening to her, but she just wrote it off like I did. At the very least, she might have an idea of what to do next.
I stepped out of the shower, dried off, and went back to my room.
The painting was hanging above my bed’s headboard.
I looked at it, then touched it.
It fell to the ground. The wall behind it had no hooks or nails to keep it in place.
I grabbed the painting and rushed off to Zoey’s place.
“Alright, one more time. Slower please.”
I was at Zoey’s house, in her living room. Her dad answered the door as he was leaving to go to work. She was still sleeping, so she was talking to me in her pajamas.
“I’ve told you three times already. Why don’t you believe me?” I asked.
“I believe you. Or at least, I believe you think you’re telling the truth. You are way too freaked out to be making this up right now.”
“So what, I’m crazy?”
She looked at me. “That’s definitely one possibility.”
I waved the painting in the air. “Then how do you explain this?”
“Well, I’d rather not think you broke into my house and stole it…”
“Are you fucking serious! This is…”
Zoey grabbed the sides of my head and locked eyes with me. “Liam! Calm down! I said it was a possibility! I didn’t say that this whole painting kidnapping thing wasn’t also a possibility! Now, look at me.”
I stopped flailing about and kept eye contact.
“You are NOT going to get stuck in that painting” she said loudly.
“But Greg said…”
She stared at me.
“Right, I’m not going to get stuck in this painting.”
“Good.” She let go of me and walked over to her dining room table, where her laptop and a bunch of cameras sat.
I jumped up and followed her. “So what are we going to do?”
“You’re going to help me test this camera’s ability to stream.”
“What? Zoey, we need to do something about this!”
“This is something!” Zoey yelled back. Then she sighed and spoke in a much softer voice. “Look, I don’t know what to do. This is the best I can think of. This way, I can keep tabs on you all day. If the day goes by and you’re still on planet earth, we’ll deal with you being crazy. If you vanish and the stream goes out, I figure out how to get you back.”
“So that’s your plan? Wait until I get vanished then figure out how to pull me back?”
“Until we can think of a better one.”
I sighed. “Alright. I’ll wait here for you to get dressed, I guess.”
I was incredibly tense the whole rest of the day.
It was bad. I jumped at every little noise. Especially water. Anything moved, I immediately shouted at it. I alternated between filming and heading back to Zoey’s computer to watch her compare the qualities of each footage capture. It didn’t help that I was shaking the whole time, making the videos look pretty much incomprehensible.
The worst was when Zoey told me to go out into the neighborhood far away to test the range. Every time, she had to assure me that if the stream went out and I didn’t come back for five minutes, she would assume the worst had happened. When I was done filming, she would text me to come back, and I would bolt. Even though it was only five minutes, I swear they took forever. Something about being alone made me feel vulnerable.
Zoey, for her part, was holding it together remarkably well. She alternated between shouting directions at me and calming me down, then do some stuff on her laptop like nothing was wrong. Still not 100 percent sure how she did it; my behavior alone should have been enough to unnerve her.
It was about five at this point and the sun was just barely beginning to set.
“Alright Liam, I need you to go behind that shed.”
I looked over to the small building in her backyard. “That one?”
“Yeah” she looked over at me. “Don’t worry, I’ll be watching the footage the whole time.”
I inhaled. “Okay.” With the camera on my shoulder, I slowly crept up behind the shed and stepped around.
Suddenly, silver light bathed the landscape. It was that damn painting again. I twirled around, pointing the camera in every direction. “ZOEY! ZOE! ARE YOU SEEING…”
A fist suddenly landed square on my jaw. There wasn’t a lot of power behind it, but it surprised me so much that it caused me to lose my balance, falling over on the sand. I looked down to see the gaunt Greg fishing through my pockets, with the rest of the group behind him.
“Damn it! Nothing! Not one single thing! WHY DIDN’T YOU LISTEN TO ME?” He slapped my face hard, hard enough to sting.
“Come on, Greg, your little experiment didn’t work.” The business woman took out a sharpened shiv. “Time to do what we should have done originally.”
He glared at me. “Not even a single pack of Oreos? Come on, are you trying to get yourself killed?”
The teen girl scoffed and she drew out a similar shiv. “Like we wouldn’t have killed him if he did.”
“No, but, fuck, I miss Oreos.” Greg scowled and revealed a large hunting knife.
I panicked. Out of pure, primal reflex, I squirmed out from under Greg and kicked him in the face. He was surprisingly light and flew backwards, a sickening crunch coming from his face. I scurried to my feet and grabbed the camera, not sure why, and sprinted away on the beach.
“SHOOT HIM TOM!” I heard Greg yell from behind me.
“Only got four bullets left.”
“No, but just sayin’…”
There was a bang of sound and I felt a stinging sensation at my arm. I saw blood running down it and had to readjust my grip to keep the camera. There was another, and I felt a similar sensation on my leg.
“Stop it Greg! We’ve only got two bullets left! Let him bleed out.”
I kept running, but the beach seemed to go on forever. My muscles felt sore, My lungs were on fire. I felt close to collapse. I tripped over my own feet and fell face-first in the sand, salt and grit going up my nostrils and into my mouth. I started to get up, but I couldn’t. Despite the cold, I felt like I was burning up.
“I’ll get the fire going. Good eating for once.”
The heat kept rising. My flesh felt like it was on fire. I began to scream as my vision turned red.
“What the hell?…”
Darkness overtook me.
I woke up in Zoey’s back yard.
“Liam, Liam, holy shit are you alright?”
I coughed out bloody sand. “Never better. I’m just gonna…” My vision faded into black again.
“Hey, HEY!” Zoey slapped me. “Stay awake. C’mon, we’re going to the hospital.”
“Wonderful” I muttered as she dialed some numbers on her phone.
As we waited for the ambulance to get there, Zoey made me recite a cover story about how I had accidentally shot myself with her hunting rifle while she was showing it off to me. I later learned that this had two reasons: one, to keep me conscious until the paramedics could do their thing, and two, to give a good cover story to the police. As she told me later, “The last thing I wanted to have happen that day was to get my stuff ransacked from the Men in Black or something.”
Because I kept trying to fall asleep on her, she made me recite it over and over again. Good thing, too; I ended up telling it so well that when the cops had finished taking my statement, one of them told me “Sorry to trouble you, but it’s procedure. We just want to make sure this wasn’t something else.”
I smiled and told them I understood.
I spent a week or two in the ICU. The nurse told me that the shots were, luckily, grazes. Neither managed to strike any vessels, muscles, or bones, so all I needed was some blood and stitches, then some observation to make sure there were no complications.
My parents visited once or twice, and even Zoey’s dad. Zoey, however, stayed the most by my side, usually in a corner fiddling with her cameras or laptop. When I told her she could go home, she just scoffed and went back to whatever she was doing.
On the second day, I started feeling better and actually started to stay up instead of briefly waking up and then passing out. When Zoey came back to my room to hang out, I smiled and waved at her.
“Hey, you were right.”
“About what?” she asked.
“I didn’t get stuck in the painting.”
She shook her head and laughed. “Liam, I honestly thought you were crazy. I was gonna show you the stream footage after the day was over and then try to convince you to check into an asylum.” She sat down across from me and filled me in on what happened from her end.
Apparently, when I went behind the shed, the streaming didn’t stop. In fact, the camera showed Zoey everything that was happening: the beach, Greg, all of it. Later in the week, she played me the video that was taken, proof that I wasn’t insane. It shows everything, including the air going orange, dark, and then suddenly reappearing in the backyard.
As soon as Zoey saw this landscape with me in it, she freaked. She ran upstairs, tore up the painting and broke the wood canvas, and ran back to the yard, where her laptop was. When that failed to do anything, she ran back inside and got the painting scraps, threw them in the backyard, and set them on fire. After a second or two, the fire erupted and doubled in size, and a few seconds after that, the video turned orange. The fire died down and I was lying there, unharmed with the exception of the gunshots. Somehow, I managed to hold onto the camera the whole time.
“Good thing too, or I would’ve thrown you back there” she joked.
Both the SD card in the camera and the stream footage recorded the same thing. We spent a long time talking about what had happened, and we ended up deciding not to show it to anyone else. At best, they probably thought we were trying to pull some elaborate prank. At worst… who knows?
It must have really stuck in Zoey’s head, though, because after a few days, she asked if she could post it online, under the guise of a short horror film project and write out what had happened before that as a creepypasta-like story. She promised to change all the names. I didn’t see a reason not to, so I said sure.
After a few days, when I was no longer recovering but just under observation, the visitors stopped coming, and even Zoey showed up less frequently. Bored, I spent some time online, looking up “Worlds of Wonder.”
Nothing showed up.
The only thing I found was on Greg Thornstine. Apparently, he was once a multimillionaire heir and art enthusiast. He disappeared one night after acting irrationally and was never found. I read his whole story on an article entitled “10 of the Most Mysterious Missing Persons Cases in History.” No mention of the painting.
I couldn’t find anything on anyone else. Just a factoid that at any given time, around 90,000 people are missing in the United States.
I stopped searching after that.
One week later, I was out of the hospital. The doctor told me to avoid alcohol for the time being, so naturally, Zoey wanted to celebrate with beers at her place. I told her I’d come but not drink. She laughed and then told me she had something to show me.
We were once again sitting on her porch. With a flourish, she pulled out her laptop and showed it to me. It was the footage from the beach, uploaded to YouTube. It had 100,000 views.
“I just uploaded this, like, three days ago!” she exclaimed. “It’s already blown up! This thing is everywhere! And everyone’s talking about the story too! How it’s so weird and creepy! It gave me an idea: why don’t I do this stuff while I’m filming the ‘Faces of America’ thing? I’ll already be going place to place. I could do this, like, video pod format where each episode is a different city or state and I’ll talk about the urban legends and maybe even find something! Wouldn’t that be cool?”
"Before you say anything, I’m not trying to rope you into it. I mean, I already know you can’t come, but…”
Zoey looked at me. “Liam, don’t mess with me.”
“I’m serious. Zoey, I just saw something that shouldn’t exist. And nobody would know about that painting if you hadn’t have posted it. It makes…” I could feel myself blushing a bit, but I continued. “It makes me wonder what else is out there.”
Zoey didn’t respond. She just looked at me. Then she hugged me. Hard.
That’s how Creepy America started.