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January 12, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Have you ever felt wanted, but by something you seriously did not want to be desired by? Perhaps someone is attracted to you, and you can’t get them to acknowledge your lack of interest. Maybe there’s someone at work that you don’t care for, but they always talk to you. These people do not truly ask for you though. That admirer hopes for your affection and companionship. That annoying person at work, they just want a friendship with you most likely. Can you say, that something truly wanted you? Not something from you, but you; flesh, blood, and mind. Willing to lie, intimidate, bribe; anything it could think of to get you. Believe me, it’s something no one should ever experience.

My family and I moved into a large old house in our small town. Living there was a temporary arrangement. There was tension in the old house, and so my parents felt we should live somewhere else for a while. They just honestly felt that living somewhere else a bit nicer for a bit would relieve some stress.

I was merely eight years old at the time. I actually was quite excited to live in the house. There was no ominous feeling. I felt no dread as I explored the two story dwelling. It was old, and so naturally, there was that slightly decayed look. At night there was a lot of creaking and other small noises. For the most part however, it was a normal house. I’d play my Nintendo 64 every night before going to bed, keep the TV on, and fall asleep easily. If I wasn’t at school, I was probably playing around in my room. My best friend didn’t like the house as much however.

The first time my friend was over, him, my dad, and I discovered a compartment behind the wall in my parents’ bedroom. I was a scaredy cat, and didn’t want to go in. Feeling safer with the two however, I dared to venture into the compartment. It was cramped, too small for my dad to actually fit. My friend and I could, and there was nothing to be worried about. There was some red and black spray paint applied randomly, but otherwise it was just bare plywood and some exposed insulation. There was one thing in that compartment. Underneath a latch door, was some very grainy sand. Within this sand were buried army men, kinds I hadn’t seen before.

My father tried to squeeze in further to look. “Well, looks like someone forgot about their hidden army men. I suppose you two can have them now.”

The thing was, my friend and I both didn’t feel like taking those army men out. I didn’t really think about it then, but doing so now, it’s quite odd. Him and I both loved playing with army men for much of our childhood. Yet at that time, we both just unspokenly agreed to leave them. I really was ignorant, I just didn’t feel right about taking them. It was like they were still somebody else’s. To whomever they may have belonged to, I do not know. I was never able to learn who was there before us.

That event to me was insignificant, I really thought nothing of it. Still the nights felt easy, and I got plenty of sleep. My friend on the other hand, did not sleep so well. Whenever he stayed the night, he always complained to me that there were sounds in the walls. He described merely that it sounded like something was moving inside of them. I’m really not sure what the sound was like, as I never heard them while he did. Even when he woke me up in the middle of the night over the sounds he heard, I heard nothing.

The idea was still unsettling to me, even though I never heard it. I had come to know that the house held doors that were not in plain sight. There were small places you had to look to find. I always didn’t want to know though. I just stayed where I felt it was normal. I knew nothing of these other places. It was like I protected myself the way adults do — denial. I simply somehow did not accept anything could be odd. Ignorance is bliss they say, and so ignorant I was. It would be one night, however, that would break the calm for me.

It was Easter night, and I was up a bit later than usual. Somewhere between nine and ten. It doesn’t seem late, but at that age my parents took making me go to bed early quite seriously.

“I will not tell you again, go to bed. Do you want the Easter Bunny to come or not?” scolded my mother from the doorway to my room.

“Yes mama, I’m just changing now.”

So I went to bed with the TV on. I always just stared at it, falling asleep before an hour would have passed. I stared and watched Disney cartoons for some time, until finally I drifted off into sleep. This would be the last time I easily drifted off for quite a while.

I awoke, and heard loud noises from the kitchen. All sorts of things opening and closing. I heard the rustle of tableware in the drawer. I heard cupboards being opened, then quickly shut. For a while, I just lay there, listening. It was actually very close to me. My room was oddly placed, the doorway went directly to the kitchen. Being only eight years old at the time, I innocently believed the Easter Bunny was finding hiding places for eggs. What got me to get out of bed, was a call of nature. I slid out of bed, half awake, half asleep, headed for the bathroom. As soon as I walked into the kitchen however, a powerful thud was made in the room. I stopped, wondering if the Easter Bunny would be upset with me. There was indeed something in that kitchen with me. The Easter Bunny isn’t real though. I would have preferred that it was this friendly character of the childish imagination. What I saw however, was nothing remotely close.

As I peered into that dimly lit room, I saw a dark figure. At first, you perhaps would try to call it a shadow. This does not describe the dark entity correctly, however. Shadows are merely breaks in light, and are stuck clinging to surfaces. This thing, it was a pitch black silhouette, crouching like a predator in the open space. I was taken aback, but not as scared as I should have been. I was still half asleep, and couldn’t seem to take in what was happening in full. I simply stood there looking at it half dreaming. It, in return, simply stayed crouched in the shadows, staring back at me. It hid in the darkest part of the room, and yet the reason I could see it, was because it was darker than its own surroundings.

To this day, I cannot believe what I did that night. I slowly walked to the nearby bathroom, relieved myself, then hazily started walking back to my room. I halfway glanced at the ominous figure. It simply looked back at me, not moving, making no sound. Then as I crawled back into bed, I heard steps, and saw an elongated figure slowly pass by my bedroom doorway. Unnaturally shaped, unnaturally moving, and cold air sweeping through my room. It was like it didn’t really walk past, but stretched itself over. Knowing myself, I should have been in a fit of terror, but I simply went back to sleep.

That next morning, what happened during the night didn’t even occur to me. I simply went on with the egg hunt of Easter at first. Then I did remember eventually however, I remembered vaguely. I remembered the loud rummaging noises. I looked in these places, and in none of them were eggs found. My parents tried hinting to me that they hadn’t hidden any in the kitchen, without spoiling the holiday for me.

“But I heard it in these places.” I explained to them last night with some lack of recall. My parents just dismissed it, finding my story odd but sure it was just my imagination or a dream nonetheless. After the day had passed, I started to think about last night.

A sickening pressure built up within me. For some reason, I was being totally unaware of things that I should have been terrified by. I was always a very paranoid child. Even the silliest scary movies would make it impossible for me to sleep at night. One time my dad jokingly put me in the bathroom with the lights off, pitch dark. I screamed at the top of my lungs. He never did those kinds of things after that. My dad always liked playing jokes on us, but he didn’t ever exploit that fear again. I really was not at all hard to scare. After these thoughts crossed my mind that afternoon, I asked myself a question. Just why wasn’t I afraid before? That was easily the most horrifying thing that had ever happened to me. This house had unnatural feelings now. I finally felt fear, I finally realized what was happening. I never slept well in that house again.

At night now, I would lay awake for long periods of time. I felt like I heard so much more noise than before. Every night was like this, and nothing more. It was enough to leave me on edge, but my anxiety would die down a little each night. My fear would quickly rise up once more however, after I had the dream.

I woke up in the middle of the night. I saw a boy through my doorway, running around frantically.

“Get out! Get out! Leave me alone!” I clearly heard. The boy wasn’t speaking to me. He seemed to know I was there, but his attention wasn’t fixated on me.
There was something else in the house. Suddenly, I saw the same dark unnatural figure from that night. It drooped over the boy, and in pure terror he ran off, disappearing. The dream was already a nightmare at this point. Then, the figure stopped, dead silence took place. I felt it turn, its gaze came upon me. Then, slowly it forced itself over to me. How it moved, it’s impossible to really describe well with words. It stretched, and oozed, and seemingly hovered slowly. I was paralyzed with fear. It came closer and closer. Even when it came into the light, it remained a solid black shape. Then the light disappeared, but I could see it still. Nothing was darker than it; it was a vacuum of light. It came finally right to my face. With a knot in my throat, and sweat all over my body, I tried to squeak out a single question.

“Who are-” was all I muttered, and then it enveloped me, and the dream ended. I woke up then, covered in sweat, and my heart beating faster than ever. I was quick to call for my parents that night.

Luckily that was the only nightmare I had in that house. Well, the only significant one. I had a few other bad dreams, but they didn’t have that thing in them. I know that it was in that house that my misfortune began. A few other disturbing things would happen. Of course, the nights always were restless. I heard noises, but never to the full extent. Even then, the sounds in the walls my friend spoke of, I never heard. It was like, something wanted to be there with me, without me knowing. At this point I certainly believed the house was haunted. Indeed it was, from the very start of us living there, it was. The difference being, while we lived there, one entity belonged, and the other didn’t. One was there originally, and the other wasn’t. The original was a harmless resident, the other a malevolent predator.

One morning I woke up, and one of those army men was on my shelf. I never took any of them out, nor did my friend. Mom wouldn’t have bothered, so I assumed Dad must have done it. When I questioned him about it though, he gave me a confused look.

“I never got it out, I wouldn’t force myself in there just to get one army man.”

I was confused, and with the way things had been going, somewhat disturbed. That night I had another dream, it wasn’t too nightmarish, in fact it scared me more after I woke up.

In my dream, that same boy came in, he had tears on his face. He was pale, and looked like he hadn’t slept in days with purple bags under his bloodshot eyes. He stared straight at me, and in a weak sobbing voice said

“I gave you nothing.”

A strange sort of sound I can’t described started getting louder and louder, and the boy continuously faded.

“Don’t – don’t let this happen to you.”

Then he was gone, faded out completely. The dream either ended there or I simply couldn’t remember anything after that point of it.

Even though I was only eight years old, I knew what the boy was talking about. It just made sense to me, and I think you know what it meant already.

My family was getting better, and so my parents decided it was time to move back into our old house. I left that army man behind, where it belonged. I thought my worries would be over from there. I never had a weird experience in our actual home. It was a trailer house, a bit run down. Nothing unnatural however save for a place before it that burned down. As far as we knew, no one had died in the fire. Our house in short, had no dark history to suggest anything out of the ordinary could loom over it. I brought something back with me however, and as you know, it definitely wasn’t that army man.

Things were as I expected them to be after we moved back into our old house. There was nothing to terrify me. I was more worried about my parents going back to their irritable selves actually. They didn’t like the house, they never really had. They couldn’t afford to get something they liked however, and so that’s where we stayed. I spent most of my time either playing outside or in my room. I had mostly put the frightening events from the house we rented out of mind already. There were some things that had changed about me though. For one, no matter what I did it took me ages to fall asleep at night. I’d simply lay there. I actually wasn’t even scared, I just simply didn’t fall asleep. I had trouble falling asleep before after watching a scary movie with my family perhaps, but never like this. I’d lay there for hours after I went to bed wide awake for no apparent reason. It was an issue, but as far as my fear went, I was still fine. Sadly, I only had it this easy for about two weeks.

Strange things started happening once again in very subtle manners at first. One day, I was looking through my mother’s music albums. I was reading the back of one plastic reflective cover, when suddenly I noticed a black figure run behind me very quickly. It startled me, but after thinking about it for a while I decided that as brief as it was, it could have easily been my imagination. Sometimes a whole room would seem to be wrapped and covered in darkness for a mere moment, but I brushed this off also. Things only kept getting worse of course. First of all, my paranoia started to return. At night my sleep became even worse as I simply felt terrified. I would lay there, constantly scanning my room for hours. I always felt like if I didn’t watch my dark room diligently, something would surely take advantage of my vulnerability and do something awful. Every day I absolutely dreaded having to go to bed. My only sanctuary was the light shed by the television in my room, and the bathroom light that faintly shown through my doorway. Fortunately at this point, my terror really did seem to stem from nothing. The real oddities remained subtle things during the day. Feelings of being watched, noticing things out of place once in a small while, sometimes feeling uncomfortable being alone in a room suddenly for no apparent reason. These were all things that I knew my parents would simply be annoyed by if I told them.
“It’s just your imagination” or “You need to quit finding things to scare you.” Those are the kind of things they would have said I’m sure. Honestly, I kept telling myself that. I was trying to be as rational as an eight year old could be about it. My real feeling about it however? I didn’t feel safe at all, and my gut instinct knew something was not right in the house. Whatever it was that was disturbing things, it was becoming more bold.

One evening, I was playing some video games. I’ll admit I was a bit of a game junkie at that age. It was just getting dark, and I decided to wrap it up as I knew I’d be eating dinner soon most likely. I had a hook in my room for hanging up my wired controller. As I did hang it up, as soon as I let go, something shocking happened. It was like two other hands grabbed the controller and its wire immediately after I did. It quickly yanked it left, right, left, right. In a split second reaction time I fled from my room. My only thought was to reach mom and dad so I could be safe from whatever it was that just seized my gaming controller. I found them down the hall to my left in the living room.

“Don’t run in the house like some spaz for christ’s sake!” exclaimed my father, lounging on the couch with my mother. I contemplated telling them what happened, but I knew they wouldn’t want to hear it. I simply apologized then just watched the television with them, ate dinner, then avoiding going back to my room for as long as possible. I tried to get away with sleeping in the living room, but my mom nudged me to go to my room even though I pretended to already be asleep. My heart was pounding as I entered. My gaming controller was dangling from the hook, except now it was hanging on the right instead of the left side. My stomach twisted even more. Looking back it now, it seems insignificant, but at that time it was terrifying. I slowly slid into bed, had my television up playing cartoons as loud as I could get away with, and then I simply laid there. I constantly scanned around, more paranoid than ever before. I could feel the wrongness. I could feel how I was in danger, like I was some sheep unknowingly laying next to a wolf. Nothing happened that night however. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that… “it” was still there, but it was merciful enough that night to just drool over me, out of sight.

It was getting harder and harder to sleep, and thus harder to function normally. I’d have no ability to focus during the last weeks of school, and at home I frustrated my parents a lot with my tendency to always be out of it. I started seeing things at night, and I don’t know if it was my sleep deprivation or something real. I think that’s part of what added to the terror, my imagination and reality were getting more difficult to tell apart. To make it even worse, I think that’s what it wanted. At this point, I just thought something was wrong with me.

On one night, I would lay there as usual, paranoid and watchful as usual. Over time however, my eyelids grew heavier, and heavier, until finally, I fell asleep. I found myself in a dream. I was sitting in a room, in front my of piano I had started learning to play on not long ago. I for some reason, needed to talk to my mom. I don’t know why, note this was a dream, and it doesn’t entirely make sense. I sat up from the piano bench, and called for my mother. Down the hall I saw her peek around the corner. Immediately I felt uncomfortable, as the way she peeked was disturbing. She had a crazed look in her eye, and a artificial smile that no human would actually make.

“Mom…?” I barely managed to utter. I waited there, staring at her, while she eerily stared back at me with that crazed look and a maniac’s smile. Then suddenly she whipped around the corner, and from there it was the worst nightmare I had ever had. A loud shrill noise and rhythmic clanging rang throughout at an unbearable volume suddenly. I stared at my mother, and the dread that gripped my heart was so intense, I almost literally felt like my heart was about to explode. Her body made grotesque sounds of bones snapping out of place, things sliding around, fluids moving around inside her. Her face became more demonic than human, and she was hunched over like some animal. Anomalies were all over her, nothing fitting in place naturally. She quickly advanced toward me, every movement making more disgusting popping and cracking sounds. In her eyes I could see nothing but pure evil, a sadistic desire. The feeling of terror and dread was so pure and strong, it was a real feeling in my chest. When I snapped awake right before my “mother” reached me, my chest almost hurt, and I could feel my heart beating harder than ever. What made it even worse… I couldn’t yell for mom. She would have made my panic even worse. I couldn’t call for my dad without calling for her as well. I had no one to reach out to. I was so scared, I felt like crying.

Suddenly, I heard a faint knocking sound. Something was whispering a single word, and at first I couldn’t tell what. I made it out after listening as hard as I could.

“Chrissstopheeer…” it faintly whispered. My heart sank at the recognition of my name being pronounced with that eerie elongation.

“Christopher honey… are you ok? It sounded like you had a very bad dream…”
I recognized the voice as my mother’s, and suddenly despite the nightmare I had just had, I felt relief. I suppose it takes a lot to really be scared of your own mom. She was far better than what I thought it might be at first.

“Mom…?” I faintly said. It wasn’t really normal of her to talk to me without actually coming in my room, and the way she talked sounded off. She did come in after that however. “She” quietly and gracefully floated into the room. It looked like her at first. Then I saw it. Her eyes were nothing but hollow sockets. I didn’t run away though. I really should have, but I think I was just in so much shock, I didn’t really believe it. All I could do were choke out a few words.

“Who – who are you?”

She – I mean it, gave me an awful smile. It was long, from ear to ear, and sort of wavy, like some poorly made clay figure.

“I’m your mother of course.”

I felt a strong feeling to retort. This thing was definitely not my mother. I didn’t know what it was, but it was not my mother, it couldn’t even have been human. All I knew was, it wanted to trick me, and I wasn’t going to play along.

“No you’re not!”

It simply gazed deeper at me with those infinitely dark hollow eye sockets. Its brows furrowed, its mouth distorted into this disturbing frown, and spoke again.

“And you…” It spoke soft, and gently. It was without a care in a world, like it was the most innocent and caring voice you could ever have heard. Then, its voiced changed to be more fitting of the expression on its face. Its voice became warped, thick, and deep. “-you are mine!”

With that it reached out for me and I screamed on the top of my lungs. I ducked under its reach and ran out the hallway. My parents were quick to turn their lights on I could see as I headed for their room. I didn’t bother looking behind me.

At first they were quite concerned. After I started to exclaim to them what happened, my mother sighed, and father scowled at me.

“Chris, you’re nine years old now, it’s time to grow up. If you can’t get over these imaginary fears, we’re going to have to get you some help. Do you want people to think you’re crazy?”

“No dad…” I said with great shame.

“Alright, listen, we’re tired. Go back to bed and get some sleep so you aren’t a zombie tomorrow.”

There was absolutely nothing that would bring me back to my room. The amount of rejection I had of that idea was so strong, I would have rather slept in a sewer.

“No! Please! I can’t, please just tonight let me sleep with you guys!”

My dad looked angry now.

“You can’t be serious, you need to gr-”
“Jeremy” my mother piped in, “just this night should be fine, he’s obviously had a very vivid nightmare. You can be understanding of that.” My father sighed and relaxed his face.

“Alright Chris, but tomorrow you’ve got to get over this. Promise me Chris.”

“I promise dad.”

I climbed into bed with them and lay there, feeling safer than I ever had in ages. They both quickly fell back asleep from what I could tell. I felt relaxed, but I still had trouble sleeping in the room that was darker than I was used to sleeping in. I gazed out the doorway. My heart skipped a beat.

Past my parents doorway, standing away at an angle in the hallway, was my fake mother. It simply stood there with a stoic expression, staring straight at me. It whispered, projecting its voice at me.

“I was going to give you so much. I was going to show you things no one else can. We need each other Christopher. You need me as much as I want you.”

I simply stayed in bed, staying as close to my mom as I could, with hot wet tears running down my face. It went like that for some time. It told me about how it wanted to show me things. That I would love it if I only trusted it. It asked me to come see it, made bribes. There of course was absolutely no way I was going to believe anything it said. After a while, it started to get darker. It grew impatient, telling me if I didn’t come to it, it would grab me itself.

“Fine, cling to your pathetic mother you calf. What does she give you that I can’t?” The dark distorted voice started to return, and it began to lose the form of my mother and looked more like that infinitely dark shadow I had seen before. “Mark me boy, you can’t hide from me. You will be left alone, and there will be no one to help you.”

With that, it began fade to out. By that, I mean the shadow sort of just faded into the darkness, so that it didn’t stand out as an even darker part of the shadows.

The next day I managed to stay the night at a friend’s house. Right after that, I spent two weeks at my grandparents. I avoided having to sleep alone in a room for as long as possible. Some of those nights I had more nightmares. In one, I was back in my house. I was alone in the living room, sitting on the couch. The shadow appeared in the doorway adjacent to the hall, boring into me with two eternal green eyes. A thunderous demonic roar erupted through the room, and my chest felt like it was being tore open. The purest form of dread and terror was funneling inside of me, so strong it felt worse than the anticipation of death. I screamed and then woke up suddenly, in pure silence. The next dream, I was in a room I didn’t recognize with my mother and a stranger. I meandered around the room like a bored child would, when suddenly, two pitch black arms stretched across the floor and grabbed me, they came from a black void on the wall. Those same green eyes were present inside the void. I screamed, and screamed for my mother. She didn’t even acknowledge me. No matter how much I fought tooth and claw, no matter how hard I screamed, I was always dragged back towards the void, and my mother did nothing. The same feeling of absolute dread, pure and ancient terror, filled my being. I gave up, and right before I was dragged into the void, I woke up.

When I finally came back home, it was a happy reunion with my parents. I think they were happy to be away from my issues for a while, but they missed me. I went through the day as normally as I could, and I did feel a bit better despite the awful nightmares I had been having. When it was time for me to go to sleep however, I was still terrified. After that night of the thing trying to take me, I simply could not bring myself to sleep in that room again. I scanned around constantly, waiting for something terrible to happen. Much to my astonishment however, nothing happened. Nothing happened the next night either. Nothing for the next, nothing for the next month, nothing even happened within the next year. My life went back to normal.

I was 12 years old, and had come to think that the horrifying events from when I was eight and nine years old were simply products of my own mind. I really didn’t want to believe that it was real. Alas, I would be punished for betraying my own senses. I’ve never been confirmed to have any issues with my mental health. Believe me, I got myself tested after I grew up. If I ever was ill that way, I made a full recovery after my childhood. I have good reason to believe that I was healthy then as well sadly.

One evening I was home alone, my parents were out of town grocery shopping in a bigger city about an hour away. They could buy things there that weren’t available where we lived. I never liked going shopping with them, so I chose to stay home alone. It was about eight at night, and I was simply in my room watching television. Suddenly, I heard my mothers voice.

“Christopher, can you come help us honey?”

Normally I could hear my parents in the driveway before they came inside, but I figured I must’ve been really out of it watching television. It was typical for me to help them bring groceries inside as soon as they got home.

“Coming!” I said as I then walked down the hallway to the kitchen. My mother was at the table with her back turned to me, she seemed to be looking down. I noticed she was alone.

“Where’s dad?” I inquired.

“He’s going to the bathroom, come he-” I quickly tuned her out however. I had a quick nervous feeling as I realized that I had used the bathroom and didn’t flush. I ran back down the hall as fast as I could to the bathroom, then saw that dad wasn’t there. A thought popped in the back of my mind.

“God no, oh please god no.” I walked over to the bathroom window. and I ever so quietly strained to see out the distorted glass. I hoped with all my might that I would see my parent’s familiar car parked outside. – The car port was empty.

At this point, I knew what was in the kitchen, and I began to tear up. I had two ways of getting out of the house. There was the kitchen door, obviously out of the question. My other option was to run back into the hallway and into the living room, where the only door out was. This was still difficult, as I would have to get closer to it by going back down the hall. I felt a strong conviction to get out however, and quickly acted. I quietly but quickly paced down the hall. It was standing there waiting for me. Those hollow eyes, those infinitely dark, empty sockets. They bored into my own eyes, as if they were ready to devour me whole.

“Chris, I asked for your help.”

“Get away from me! I know what you are!”

“Don’t talk to me like that boy, get over here, now!”

“Leave me alone!” I quickly turned the other way back down the hall and ran into my room. I locked the door and quickly dragged my dresser in the way. I could hear it walking slowly towards my door. Thud. Thud. Thud. I backed away as far as I could from the door, whimpering and curled up in the corner.

“Let me in Chris. I’m not angry, I promise.” I didn’t respond, I just hoped with all conviction that it would go away.

I could see two black shoes through the crack of the door melt away into shadow.

“Let me in Chris, quit fucking with me!”

“What do you want from me!” There was a pause. All I could hear was my heart beat and the television in my room. Then suddenly, in a dark booming voice, it gave me its answer.

“I want you, you are mine calf!” With that, the power in the house went out. My television and the lights both went out, and my terror exploded. My door burst open and my dresser flew against the wall, nearly hitting me. I screamed, and felt two ice cold hands grab my ankles. All I could see were two green orbs above me. I gripped the floor as hard as I could, fighting with all my strength to stay put. It dragged me out of my room with ease anyways. It took me down the carpet hallway, some of my fingernails were torn off as I gripped the floor. At this point, I could process only one emotion, one thought. Fear, the desire to escape. It dragged me out of the door outside, and with a shadowy tendril it stitched my mouth close. All I could let out now were muffled moans of pain and terror. It continued speaking to me in its dark voice, but this time instead of it being a demonic boom, it was like a subtle whisper in the wind.

“We will have so much fun together Christopher. I’m so happy we’ll finally be together.”

I strained to see where it was taking me. I gasped in my mind when I saw where. We were headed towards my neighbour’s old well.

“Down, down, down we’ll go! Don’t worry, you’ll never be alone again!”

I tried to scream in response, but I simply felt more warm blood from my lips drip down me as my pleas for help were muffled.

“You had me worried little calf. I thought I was going to actually lose you. No one gets away from me.” It began to speak with an almost tired voice. “I’ve been doing this, for far, far too long to lose.”

We weren’t far from the well. At this point I was so exhausted I couldn’t even fight anymore. We reached the well, and it stopped. Its gaze turned to me. Our eyes locked together, and I submitted to my fate. It let go of me, and I couldn’t bring myself to get up to run again.

“Oh Christopher… we’ve been so hungry.”

Then suddenly, light flooded around us, and it quickly escaped down the well. My parents slammed on their brakes in the middle of the driveway and ran to me. I passed out after that.

My parents didn’t see the shadow, that was no surprise. My injuries were real however. My parents were terrified and had rushed me to the hospital after calling the police. The police led an investigation for whoever broke in and potentially tried to murder me. Obviously, they didn’t find anyone. To this day, my lips are incredibly scarred from the numerous stitching holes. Everyone was shocked by my wounds. I told the truth, but they all were convinced I was suffering from severe trauma, and simply couldn’t remember things correctly. I really do wish they were right.

I wasn’t alone again for quite some time, as my parents were horrified by the possibility that someone was out there still, preying on me. They never left me home alone, and they were very considerate of my fears.

By the time I was fifteen, the thing was gone completely. I think it really did move on. I’m retelling this story now because – because I want people to understand that this, or even worse perhaps these, are very dangerous.

First of all, no I don’t know what it was. I’ve read about a lot of demons from different religions and cultures. I’ve read about all sorts of evil paranormal entities. While I find common characteristics at times, I’ve never been able to determine what it actually was based on told accounts. Whatever it was though, I have a feeling that it was – very, very old. Like it was an ancient natural predator of humanity. The feelings I have, the things I suspect, are the result of my gut feelings from experiencing it. I think it preys on children and on children only. Once you become a teenager, the chance that it will chase after you are slim. It’s very familiar with humans, it has observed them for ages. It will attempt to mimic people its victim knows, but chances are it won’t do a good job. As well as it knows its prey, it is so different from them that it will always seem off when it tries to lie. I’m quite sure its never been human before. It seemed to possess a dominance over the boy in the old house. I think he was a lingering spirit. Don’t bother going to visit him, he probably was devoured. If anyone out there has encountered this thing like I have, please let me know. I’d be very interested to hear about your experience. I forgot about it for years, but I find myself worrying about it again. You see, I have a wife and kids of my own now. This morning, my oldest son came to me, and he told me something I did not ever want to hear.

“Daddy, last night there was a big scary shadow, and it tried to play with me. He said you and him were old friends, and that it was ok. I don’t like him.”

I really don’t know what I’m going to do… but I know what it was. Nobody is going to be sleeping alone tonight. Someone else’s daughter has already gone missing this week…

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Ascension

January 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The Harbinger always went for the freaks. They were its favorite. It wanted ones that would fight back, and ones that wouldn’t be afraid at first; or, even better, ones that believed they could win. Those rare humans with bravado and confidence so great that they actually believed they could defeat it somehow. Those were always the most pleasurable to kill. It loved watching the life fade from their defiant eyes as it slowly ripped them to shreds; watching as the realization that they were in fact powerless dawned on them.

For centuries, this ancient creature had hunted down humans; whether for pleasure, sport, or because it was compelled to by instinct, it thrived on the death of the human race. However, it had long since grown tired of the predictable frightened screams and wails of agony that often accompanied its various campaigns. As such, it had opted to change its prey demographic to the more interesting humans one might find among the masses. After all, Earth now had over seven billion humans infesting its surface; surely some of them would offer a more unique and exciting hunt than the thousands the Harbinger had culled before.

That said, finding less predictable humans among millions of their more boring counterparts was like finding a needle in a haystack. Ever since the Harbinger had changed its modus operandi, it had become frustrated by the slower increase of its kill count. It had no idea which was worse: killing worthless, boring humans in droves, or spending weeks tracking down potentially interesting ones – sometimes only to find out that they just reacted as disappointingly as the rest.

But then, the Harbinger found Adrian Bishop.

At first, Adrian Bishop appeared to be yet another ordinary human with an ordinary life. He was a younger man of average height and build, with pitch black hair and a simple suit under a coat. The only thing about him that attracted the Harbinger’s very selective attention was the fact that this man actually saw it. Normally the Harbinger existed on a plane of existence above that of humans; only when it wanted to reveal itself would they be able to witness its terrifying form. Yet, one morning as the Harbinger was prowling the streets of downtown Ottawa, a man stopped in his tracks and looked directly at it. The Harbinger, confused, looked behind itself, certain that the man had noticed something else and was just looking in its direction. Yet nothing noteworthy lingered there, while the man’s gaze was pointed upward to meet the eyes of the nine-foot-tall monster.

And then, Adrian Bishop did something completely unexpected: not panic, or flee, or even show a hint of fear – he simply smiled. It was a knowing, mischievous kind of smirk. If the hideously malformed face of the Harbinger could have made a surprised expression then, it most certainly would have. As if that wasn’t strange enough, the man then simply looked away, and began walking again as if nothing had happened. The Harbinger stood, looking all around for anything that might have caught the passerby’s eye, but it seemed almost undeniable that the man had been looking directly at it. Needless to say, this warranted investigation.

So, the Harbinger followed Adrian throughout his day. Unlike before, the man no longer paid it any attention, going about his daily business as usual. The Harbinger discovered that he worked at a local convenience store as a manager. From what it could tell, he was quite well-liked by his employees and superiors, and had an almost painfully cheerful demeanor. The day passed by rather uneventfully, and the Harbinger grew bored. By the time Adrian started to head home, it was starting to suspect that the earlier incident had all been some kind of unlikely coincidence, and that Adrian hadn’t seen him after all. Still, the inter-dimensional monstrosity didn’t have anything better to do at the moment, so it decided to at least follow this human back to his house.

As they arrived at the rather small flat, the Harbinger followed Adrian through a short hallway and into the living room. Adrian began taking off his coat while the Harbinger lingered in the hallway, glaring suspiciously at one particular locked door on the far end of the room. It felt something strange coming from that room; something… unnatural, yet familiar.

“You can quit hiding over there, you know,” Adrian’s voice rang out, almost catching the creature off-guard. “I apologize for keeping you waiting, but I’m afraid it was necessary to keep up appearances. Don’t want people thinking—“

Before the human was even able to finish his sentence, the Harbinger was upon him with a long, blade-like claw pressed against his throat and another huge hand clutching his head. Adrian didn’t so much as flinch.

“What is your true name?” the Harbinger demanded, its voice sounding like a whisper and a scream all at once. It seemed impossible to it that this human could see it. In its lifetime, it had come across humans who could sense it using somewhat of a ‘sixth sense’ before, but never one who could actually lay eyes upon it while in the higher plane. Surely this was another dark being in disguise.

“My name?” Adrian queried, the creature’s firm grip not doing anything to deter his vaguely smug attitude. “Adrian. Adrian Bishop, human being extraordinaire.”

Growing frustrated, the Harbinger increased the strength of its grip, causing Adrian to wince. “Ow, ow! Easy there. You don’t want to kill me, my friend.”

“And why would I not?” the Harbinger rasped. “No human should be able to see the beings of the higher plane. You lie.”

“Sorry, but I beg to differ,” Adrian replied. “I am aware that you and your kind possess a keen sense for the supernatural, right? So I ask: is there anything remotely inhuman about my being?”

As much as the Harbinger tried, the human was right; from what it could tell, the man currently held firmly in its clutches was nothing other than human. Were it any other sort of ethereal demon, the Harbinger should have been able to tell right away. “How then?” the Harbinger insisted. “Has your science truly come this far?”

Adrian chuckled, even as the Harbinger’s claw pressed harder against his soft flesh. “No, of course not. I am as clueless as you are when it comes to the origin of my little gift, as it were. I’ve been able to see boogeymen like you since I was a child. In fact, I’m not even the only one who can. Though I assure you, it comes as no surprise to me that you aren’t aware of our existence; perceptive humans like me are quite a rare find, even today, when there are many more than there used to be.”

The Harbinger was still uncertain of this human. However, it couldn’t deny the evidence before it; even now, it was still concealed in a different layer of reality, yet it was conversing with Adrian as if it were on his level. The hideous features of its face contorted into what might have been interpreted as a look of disgust; the very idea of being unintentionally seen by a mere mortal was mortifying. Yet, at the same time, it couldn’t deny that Adrian Bishop appeared to be one of the most interesting humans it had come across in a very long time. Not once during this entire encounter had he even shown a hint of fear, as if he knew he wasn’t going to die. While the Harbinger was extremely tempted to prove him wrong by skewering him now, it instead opted to wait and see what he would do. Part of the thrill was watching them squirm, after all.

The Harbinger released its grip on Adrian, prompting a brief sigh from the man; not of relief, but of exasperation. “About time you came to your senses. You are an easily excitable one, aren’t you Harbinger?” He turned around, actually looking at the monstrosity for the first time since that morning. “And a handsome one, if I may say so.”

“Do not tempt me, human,” the Harbinger growled. “Give me one sufficient reason to keep you alive for even a single second longer.”

“Oh, I’ll give you more than just one,” Adrian said, that knowing smirk returning to his face. “See, I know exactly why you’re here. I understand your way of thinking more than most. You came here to kill me, because you thought I was interesting, didn’t you?”

The Harbinger remained silent.

“You thought I might put up a fight or try to resist. Make the hunt a little more interesting, right? Yes, I can see it in your eyes… err, eye. We’re kindred souls, you and I.”

The Harbinger scoffed, its bones cracking as it held its head up high. “Do not be so impudent as to think you are like me. You are but a mere insect compared to—“

“Yes yes, I know, that isn’t how I meant it,” Adrian interrupted, prompting an irritated growl from the monster before him. “I’m just saying, I’m tired of it too.”

The man turned around, and began walking across the room to the locked door. “You know what I mean. The paranoia that begins to set in when you stalk them. The fear they feel when they realize there’s no escape. The frightened wails and screams when you’re flaying them with your knife – or, I guess, claw in your case. It’s all so overdone!”

Adrian brought out a keychain and unlocked the door, revealing a stairway leading down into darkness. “After a while, you actually want some resistance. You want to stalk people who will have different reactions; ones who aren’t so afraid in the beginning. Why, I’m sure you’re itching to wipe this smug smile off my face right now. And that’s exactly what I was counting on.”

The Harbinger narrowed its bulbous eye at Adrian as he flipped a light switch. “If you come with me, I can give you exactly what you want, Harbinger.” He turned around with a grin halfway deranged and devious plastered on his face.

“A good hunt.”

And with that, he began descending down into the stairway. The Harbinger wasn’t sure what to do. It felt extraordinarily tempted to kill this human, and watch that overconfident demeanor melt away in his final moments. Yet, it was intrigued; more intrigued than it had been in a long, long time. Though he was human in body, Adrian Bishop appeared to be something entirely different in mind: something far closer to the Harbinger itself than any human it had met before.

Ultimately, the choice was obvious; the monster followed after Adrian, and began its descent down the stairs.

“I’m glad you decided to make the right choice, my friend,” Adrian said.

The room at the bottom of the stairs was surprisingly spacious for a basement, with a floor and walls made of stone cold concrete; it was what painted them that was of particular interest. Strange, archaic symbols littered the surface of the room, drawn almost anywhere and everywhere possible in what appeared to be dried blood. The only place where they weren’t drawn was in the very center of the room, where another larger, circular symbol of a similar nature had been carved into the floor.

An assortment of cabinets was set throughout the room, some of which contained books and files, while others were packed full of glass containers, vials, and bottles of substances. A long table was set against the right wall, on which were set a variety of tools ranging from saws and hammers to strange little devices that seemed to be designed for torture. By far the most intriguing part of the room, however, was the two cages at the far end. Each contained a person: a male and a female, sitting in the corners of their respective cages, cowering at the sight of Adrian Bishop.

“Welcome to my humble abode, Harbinger. Feel free to make yourself at home.”

Taking a look around, the Harbinger recognized many of the symbols painted on the walls, though the one carved into the ground was completely unknown even to him. Regardless, he knew what this was. “So, you are one of those humans foolish enough to dabble in the Black Arts. I should have expected no less,” the Harbinger said.

“Well, yes, though I like to think I do a little more than dabble,” Adrian replied. He moved over to a swivel chair in the corner of the room and sat down. “I’m a bit of an aficionado when it comes to what people might refer to as ‘sorcery’. I’ve spent most of my life studying up, and I’ve even developed a few little charms and rituals of my own. It’s not that hard if you know what you’re doing, really.”

Turning the swivel chair around, he kicked the wall lightly, sending him rolling back. “I’m not really a wizard or anything. Rather, I think I’m more akin to a psychic than anything else. The Black Arts is just a really grimdark term to describe the various combinations of actions, words, and symbols which allow the human mind to tap into the power of this place you like to call the ‘higher plane’.” He shrugged. “I can’t claim to know how all of it works; that plane of existence is probably completely incomprehensible to us lowly humans. Frankly I think a lot of the procedures you need to go through to cast curses and spells are ridiculously convoluted and cliché, but hey, what can you do?”

The Harbinger was growing impatient. “What is your point?”

“Well, you were wondering why I can see and hear you, right? It’s just that some humans have much greater latent psychic potential than others,” Adrian explained, his chair coming to a stop as it swerved around to face the Harbinger. “And I happen to be one of them. We’re called Seers – a term I coined, by the way. We have a strong connection to the higher plane, which allows us to be able to perceive its residents, among other things. In fact – not to brag – but out of all the Seers I’ve met, I am probably the most gifted. It allows me to perform incantations and rituals that most could probably never do.”

The Harbinger scoffed, turning its attention to the two cowering humans in cages. They were almost completely naked, wearing only ragged underwear, and the rest of their bodies were covered in bloody bandages. They had both had their hands cupped over their faces, as if doing so would hide them from their captor.

“Are you sure you are not simply what humans refer to as a… ‘psychopath’?” the Harbinger sneered. Adrian chuckled in amusement, following its line of sight to the two captives.

“I don’t know, probably. Though I think I’m a tad more ambitious than the average psychopath, to be honest,” he said. “As for these two, they aren’t here to be killed. They’re more like… my lab rats.”

The Harbinger observed the so-called lab rats for a moment longer. From what it could tell they seemed utterly psychologically destroyed, as they did little more than rock back and forth or mutter while sitting huddled in the corners of their prisons.

“Hmph. I have not seen depravity such as this from your kind in many decades,” the Harbinger said, though for once it was more of a compliment than an insult. Its long, bony finger pointed in the direction of a cabinet filled with narcotics. “I imagine that is what those are for, then.”

“Very perceptive of you!” Adrian chirped, growing more enthusiastic. “At first they were just another couple of toys to be played with and discarded, but I confess, I grew a little too attached to them. The two of them were rather resistant, after all – the woman managed to hold out for a whole week before pleading for it to stop, you know! That is quite rare. And when the man noticed I had started following him, he actually tried to stab me! Honestly, I admired their willpower so much that I couldn’t let them go to waste. So, I decided to try some of my experiments regarding true fear on them. You would be amazed what a combination of hallucinatory drugs, some simple fear-induction incantations, and just a smidgeon of physical torture can—“

“Enough of your talk,” the Harbinger snapped. “I grow bored. Where is this hunt you promised me?”

“Hmm? Oh, right. My apologies, I don’t get a chance to talk about my hobbies very often,” Adrian said, scratching the back of his head nonchalantly.

He pushed his feet against the ground, sending the chair rolling back before colliding with the cage of the woman. Her whole body froze as she briefly glanced up at him, before she curled up into a ball. Adrian crossed his legs, staring intently at the Harbinger.

“Now then, let’s get down to business. My proposition is simple enough: I’m offering to become your supplier. I take it you’ve been having trouble finding humans worthy to hunt, right? Well, worry no more. I know where you can find them; plenty of them.”

Again Adrian turned around and pushed against the bars of the cage, sending the chair rolling toward one of the cabinets. Using a hand to stop himself, he pried open one of the drawers, revealing a laptop.

“Marvelous invention, the internet,” he continued as he booted it up. “It allows you to get in touch with people from around the globe. Not only that, but I think you’ll find that people are much more interesting under the veil of anonymity. Without judgmental old society glaring over their shoulder, they’re free to say whatever they want. It makes it an awful lot easier to identify the potential hunts.”

Adrian began tapping away at the keyboard as he spoke. “Over the years, I’ve spent a long time trying to find people who might be interesting. And I don’t just mean resilient people. I mean people like me – people who’ve seen what I’ve seen. Seers. It took quite some time considering how rare they are, combined with the heaps of fakes and charlatans out there. But I developed a way for Seers to reliably identify one another, and I got us to band together. Now, I run an entire online community full of users who are Seers. It’s strictly invitation-only, of course. Some are more psychically gifted than others, but they can all at least see monsters. Because of that, I can guarantee that none of them have lived a normal life, or could be defined as ‘normal’ people.”

The Harbinger was speechless. If what Adrian was saying was true, it had just stumbled across the greatest opportunity in centuries. It was almost too good to be true. And because of that, the Harbinger wasn’t about to believe him right away.

“Nonsense,” it replied. “As if that little device could be used to amass so many people.”

Adrian sighed and shook his head. “Come on, Harbinger, don’t be an old geezer. You know as well as I do it’s perfectly possible. It was through this website and the people in it that I first became aware of you, after all.”

The Harbinger perked up at this. “Is that so?”

Adrian nodded. “Yes, yes it is. I was just logging on now so I could prove it to you. If I remember right, I was first informed about you by a user who actually observed you for a time while you were in New York. They watched you stalk a kid named… hang on.” Adrian moved his finger across the touch pad and tapped it a few times. “Here we go. It was a girl named Lucy Wilder, sixteen years old. Lived in Brooklyn. Had a scar on one of her eyebrows. You killed her back in 2010. Ring any bells?”

The Harbinger thought for a moment, before realizing it did remember killing a young girl with a scar on her eyebrow a few years ago. “That hunt was… substandard,” it commented. It seriously doubted that Adrian could have found this out on his own. He must have been telling the truth.

“That’s unfortunate. I do find that teenagers are some of the most easily frightened, aside from small children,” Adrian said, closing the laptop. “So then, am I right in assuming you believe me now?”

The Harbinger was willing to believe that this claim of a Seer network was true, but something was still off about the entire deal. “You plan to sell out the people that you spent so long gathering? Why? Are they not your ilk?”

Adrian was silent for a moment, looking at the Harbinger numbly before he suddenly burst out laughing. “Ha! Wahahaha! My ilk? You must be joking!” he boomed, prompting more frightened shivers from the humans in the cages. Calming down, he continued. “Come along, Harbinger, surely you must see by now I’m nothing like these other humans. You think I feel some sort of attachment to these people? They’re merely more playthings to be toyed with, that’s all. I gathered them for a very specific purpose, in fact, which is why I need your help eliminating them.”

“And what would that purpose be?” the Harbinger asked.

“Well, experimentation, of course. But not like what you’ve seen with these people. I plan to conduct a whole new kind of experiment, for which I specifically need Seers,” Adrian explained. “The problem is, none of the Seers actually live nearby. They’re dispersed throughout the world, and I can’t get to them easily, even with the Black Arts on my side. But you can.”

“I will not capture them for you and bring them back,” the Harbinger growled. “I will not be your slave.”

“Come now, don’t take me for a fool; I know that,” Adrian replied. “The experiment I want to perform actually involves a ritual. I don’t necessarily need to be there to activate it. It’s just that the mechanism requires a particularly gifted individual as the sacrifice. All I’d need you to do is set the ritual up as per my instructions each time, and kill your victim in the ritual setting – after you’ve had your fun, of course. The instructions will be different each time as I try out different variants of this ritual, since it’s custom-made.”

The Harbinger grew somewhat suspicious as it listened to Adrian’s explanation. “What is this ritual you speak of?”

“Well, that’s an interesting question! You see, it involves the combination of a series of ancient incantations passed down through my family for generations, combined with some basic trigger runes, a Type 5 spell circ—“

“What is its purpose?” the Harbinger impatiently interrupted.

“Right, sorry, rambling. Basically, I want to reanimate the dead.”

The Harbinger let out a chuckle at this. “Hah, you humans never cease to amuse me. Your televisions have lied to you; the undead do not exist. It is impossible to reanimate a corpse after its soul is gone.”

“Ah, I know, but I don’t intend to let the soul leave its body!” Adrian excitedly proclaimed. “Without going into too much detail, the idea is to trap the soul inside the dead body using the brain’s psychic energy. The high psychic potential of Seers should make it possible to contain the soul even after death, since the brain doesn’t immediately cease functioning. Then, the incantation you recite should stir the trapped soul, causing it to reanimate the body. In theory.”

The Harbinger was sure that this foolish theory was nonsense, but the man seemed completely confident in his abilities. And it was none of the creature’s business whether the rituals succeeded or failed. All that mattered to it were the hunts which were being promised.

“It seems like a fair exchange, doesn’t it?” Adrian said, looking up at the Harbinger. “All you have to do is a bit of handiwork after your hunt is finished. You can spend as much time psychologically decimating the person as you like, but once the time comes to finish them off, I simply ask that you kill them according to my instructions. And believe me, the hunts will be well worth your while.”

The Harbinger stared down at the seated man. The offer was too tempting to resist. At this point, there was no way it could refuse; as much as it still desired to kill Adrian, it would be foolish not to take advantage of his offer first. Then, after Adrian ran out of victims to supply, his number would be up, and the Harbinger would claim its ultimate reward: that smug grin of his.

The Harbinger made a quick, jerky movement with its head that resembled a nod. “We are in agreement, Adrian Bishop.”

And so, the partnership between monster and man began.

[AB] logged in

[AB:] I made the deal.
[TR:] Oh god
[RW:] Video footage?
[AB:] I’ve emailed it to all of you.
[GP:] Holy shit i’m so excited!!!
[TR:] Excited? I’m fucking terrified!
[AB:] Fear of death will do that to you, my friend.
[RW:] Hmm… saw the footage. It really is happening then, isn’t it?
[RW:] Finally
[RW:] Finally our lives will completely turn around
[RW:] I thought I’d be excited when this happened, or terrified. But I’m not really sure what to feel
[RW:] It’s just… happening.
[AB:] I understand, Roland. I feel the same way.
[AB:] But if all goes according to plan, it won’t be too long.
[AB:] As you know, it won’t happen right away. I’m having the Harbinger deal with some bottom feeders before I set him on you. This serves the dual purpose of gaining the Harbinger’s trust and performing some last-minute tests with the ritual.
[TR:] Those test subjects of yours won’t rise up for long, right?
[AB:] Of course. I’ve mixed in limitation runes with the symbolic formula to make sure that the subject will die after a few seconds. As long as they rise up at all, we’ll know it was a success. Then I simply remove the limiters when our time comes, and voila.
[RW:] I know it’s a little late to be saying this but…
[RW:] Are you sure this will work?
[RW:] I mean, will it really believe that bullshit about making zombies?
[AB:] It does not care what my goal is with these rituals as long as it gets an entertaining hunt.
[AB:] You see, creatures such as the Harbinger may seem devilish and cunning on the surface, but really they are quite simple-minded. Most of their prowess as hunters comes from their instinct rather than strategic thinking.
[AB:] That, combined with its borderline god complex, makes it so that it would never even entertain the possibility of being outsmarted by a lowly human.
[AB:] I could go on about the psychology of such creatures, if you wish.
[TR:] Noooo!
[GP:] No offense Adrian but please spare us another one of your lectures
[AB:] Sorry, I thought it might make Roland feel better.
[RW:] I suppose you’re right.
[AB:] Just make sure you have your acts ready. If the Harbinger gets bored with hunting you, the whole plan could fall apart.
[AB:] You are all the most powerful Seers I have come to know these few years. I trust that won’t be too much of an issue, correct?
[TR:] Course not.
[GP:] Fuck yeah!!!
[RW:] Yes, I suppose so.
[AB:] Excellent.
[AB:] With your cooperation, it won’t be long before we all Ascend.

The following months were filled with bloodshed. Though it had initially been skeptical, the Harbinger soon began to realize that Adrian’s claims were entirely true. Its first victims were what its benefactor described as ‘monster hunters’ – those who used the Black Arts to target monsters and either kill or seal them away.

“Personally I find those people to be fools,” Adrian had complained. “They believe they’re righteous warriors of justice, saving the world from evil one monster at a time, or some nonsense. Hah! In reality, they’re little more than pest control. They only have enough power to put down the most inferior and feeble-minded of beings, and barely enough to seal away some of those on a higher level. None of them could ever hope to defeat a monster such as yourself – but believe me, they will try. Many of them have died doing so.”

Each of the hunters provided more entertainment than the Harbinger had in years. Most operated on their own, but those who were in close proximity to one another actually banded together to engage in their little hobby. Some of them were intimidated when faced with the challenge that was the Harbinger, but having been approached by creatures of the unknown many times before, they did their best to use their weak incantations and rituals to get rid of it. Some of the less experienced ones, who couldn’t have known how much of a threat it really was, even went as far as to taunt and threaten the beast. It was all quite amusing, watching the insects and their false sense of grandeur fall apart as the Harbinger haunted them day and night.

To perform the rituals, it would wait until night fell to take its victim to a deserted building such as an abandoned warehouse. Adrian requested that a video camera be set up so that he could observe, which was no easy task for the Harbinger’s long, clawed hands. All of the rituals were highly complex, requiring overly specific procedures to perform. It needed to carve a particular series of symbols and runes into the walls in a particular order, facing a particular direction, and at a particular time of night. What was even more convoluted were the necessary actions; during one ritual the Harbinger was required to move two steps back, stab the victim in both of their legs, move two steps forward, and scratch their eyes out. Then it would wait for five seconds before biting the victim’s nose off, and leaving them to bleed out.

Considering how much these procedures caused the victim suffering, the Harbinger had no issues with performing them, and actually enjoyed it to a degree. Though, one strange commonality that all of the rituals had was the final procedure: the Harbinger would carve a symbol identical to the unknown one in Adrian’s basement, and simply stand in its center. Then, it would recite the same incantation thirteen times before killing the victim and allowing their blood to pool into the symbol. After this, it would wait several minutes to see if the dead human revived; but never once did the ritual succeed.

The Harbinger brought this up with Adrian one day after its tenth kill. “Your primitive little rituals do not appear to be succeeding. Do you still truly believe that the dead can be brought back to life?”

“Theoretically, everything checks out,” Adrian said, frowning as he looked over a diagram featuring a strange pentagram-like symbol. “Honestly, I don’t know why this is happening. Maybe the Seers’ mental energy just isn’t powerful enough?”

The Harbinger was well aware that the problem was probably more fundamental than that. It did not know a great deal about the Black Arts; after all, it was already a being with a powerful connection to the higher plane, and thus had no need for them. But over the centuries, it had managed to pick up a few of the basics of sorcery, and after remembering some of that trivial knowledge, it realized that there were a few faults in the procedures Adrian had been performing. The way he was arranging the symbols and runes, they were geared to perform the basic function of displacing energy, which was probably just causing the victim’s psychic power to be sapped away before it could be used to trap the soul.

Although it was somewhat confused by the contradictory nature of Adrian’s ritual, it did not say anything. The Harbinger realized that the reason Adrian had made a deal with it was in order to test this ritual, which meant that as long as the ritual needed to be improved, the arrangement would continue. Thus, it resolved to allow Adrian to continue his foolish escapade until either he figured the problem out on his own, or the Harbinger grew tired of his hunts. Ideally, he wouldn’t figure it out until it wanted him to, at which point his ritual would be a success, and his ego would be at an all time high. That would be the perfect time to bring about his ultimate downfall.

Satisfied with its little scheme, the monster continued to humor the man. “Is there no way to gauge a Seer’s mental capacity?”

“Yes, it should be possible to judge how strong someone’s psychic connection is based on the level of the incantations they can perform,” Adrian replied. “But that doesn’t mean I know everyone’s psychic potential; I can’t force everyone on my site to undergo a test. That said, the ones I’ve been sending you after are, to my knowledge, relatively weak. I’ve been saving the bigger fish for later, since I’m sure neither of us wants to waste those too early on.”

The Harbinger perked up at this. It watched Adrian roll from one side of the room to the other in his swivel chair, as he picked up another diagram. “And why would you assume that of me?” it asked. “It makes no difference to me what my victims’ psychic potential is.”

“Oh, but it does, Harby,” Adrian was quick to respond, putting down his diagram and looking up at the being. “Mind if I call you Harby?”

The Harbinger took a long step forward, growling as it glared down at him. “Do not tempt me, human.”

Adrian chuckled, “What is that, your catchphrase or something?” he teased. As much as the Harbinger wanted to skewer one of his legs on the spot, it restrained itself. The sense of safety the man was beginning to feel around it would only serve to make his death all the more delicious.

“Anyway, do you remember the day we met, when you mentioned that I might be a psychopath? I did a little research on the subject, and I discovered that I actually fit the bill quite nicely. But for that matter, so do a few of my friends.”

He picked up a Rubik’s cube and began to fiddle with it. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the more powerful Seers were all quite similar in disposition to me. Those I know to be higher on the spectrum are more selfish, vain, and uncaring, while very skilled at acting like they aren’t. A few of them even admitted to being psychopaths or sociopaths when I told them I was the same.”

“To simplify, I can only surmise that the more powerful one’s connection is to the higher plane, the more of a monster they are.” He chuckled again, and haphazardly threw the cube over his shoulder. “Quite fitting, wouldn’t you say?”

“Interesting…” the Harbinger simply replied. “And would that not make you the king of the human monsters then, Bishop?”

With that knowing grin, Adrian turned his swivel chair to face it. “I suppose it must.”

A few weeks later, the Harbinger wiped out most of the remaining monster hunters. By the end of the five-month killing spree, however, it had been feeling increasingly drained of energy. It wasn’t sure if it was simply out of shape, or if the incantations and curses the hunters used had actually had some effect. Either way, it did not inform Adrian of this development. It was not about to show weakness in front of a lowly human.

That morning, as it entered the man’s basement to receive its next assignment, it found no one. Even the two caged humans were now gone, leaving only bloodstains where they had once cowered. As it prepared to wait for Adrian’s arrival, the Harbinger was suddenly overcome with a strong feeling of uneasiness. It knew this was its instincts alerting it to something unusually supernaturally powerful, but it was more than just the arcane images the room was plastered with. It felt… familiar, in fact.

It began to look around the dark room for the source of this disturbance, and its eyes came to rest upon the symbol carved into the floor in the center. It hadn’t noticed before, but that large, circular symbol appeared to be faintly glowing.

“What are you doing sulking in the dark down there, Harby?” Adrian’s voice rang out from the top of the staircase as he flicked on the light switch. The Harbinger didn’t reply as it watched him come down the stairs.

“I suppose you finished off Turner, then,” he said, taking a sip from a cup of coffee. “Good. I believe this would be a good time to start aiming a bit higher, wouldn’t you say?”

“You speak of the more gifted Seers?” the Harbinger asked.

Adrian set down his cup and moved over to his swivel chair, plopping down into it as always. “Indeed. But this time, don’t be surprised if they are actually aware of your existence,” he replied, retrieving his laptop from a table. “The monster hunters were very vocal about their experiences. I’ve done my best to restrict information about you, but word of mouth spreads swiftly.”

The creature scoffed. “Their struggles only make my hunts sweeter. Let them come.”

“That’s the spirit!” Adrian chirped. “Now, your next target is someone I’m quite familiar with. In fact, he is one of the greatest Seers I’ve ever met.” He began typing away at his computer once again. “His name is Roland Whittaker. Unlike your previous targets, this guy doesn’t actually have an address. He’s somewhat of a nomad; he has a lot of money, so he travels around, never staying in one place for too long.”

“So you do not know his whereabouts?” the Harbinger asked.

“Presently, he’s in Liverpool, England. Seems he’s staying in a hotel called the Nadler. But believe me, he’s a slippery fox. He’s eluded many a hunter before, both human and inhuman.”

The Harbinger eyed the man. “I thought you would be wise enough not to question my skill by now, human.”

Adrian shrugged. “Fair enough. I know your kind has their ways when it comes to tracking people. Just rest assured, this hunt will take longer than any of your others.”

As it turned around to leave, the Harbinger took one last look at the symbol in the center of the floor. It had stopped glowing, but the monster still felt uncomfortable just looking at it. “Bishop,” it called, “I have remarked that you have me draw this symbol during each ritual. What is the accursed thing’s purpose?”

“Hmm?” Adrian hummed, looking away from his computer screen and down at the symbol. “Oh, that? It’s just a Type 7 spell circle designed to enhance the incantation. That’s why you step into its center. That one is from a failed experiment; before I contracted you, I tried to perform the ritual on a regular person and failed. That’s all.”

The Harbinger made an approximation of a frown with its vertical mouth. Although the explanation seemed somewhat dubious, it didn’t care enough to inquire any further, and soon went on its way.

Adrian let out a heavy sigh as soon as his partner was gone. “Glad that’s over for now,” he said. “Can’t believe five months have already passed! Wow. Well, at least the fake footage is finally finished…”

He trailed off as he looked over to the cages, remembering that they were now empty. “Oh. Right. And so, my monologues are reduced to mere soliloquies. Oh, the shame!” he mused. Still no response. “Perhaps I’ll get a new pet after all…”

[AB] started a private chat with [RW]

[AB:] Gosh Roland, you haven’t a clue how stressful it can be keeping up a cool front with that monster around. Sometimes it looks like it’s about ready to slice me in half!
[RW:] Isn’t that the idea? lol
[AB:] Well, I suppose so, but I come last, remember.
[AB:] Anyway, I’ve sent him after you. Not to worry, the tests were a complete success. If everything goes smoothly you will officially be the first one of us to Ascend! Isn’t it exciting?
[RW:] Somewhat.
[RW:] I’m a bit number than I thought I would be
[RW:] In any case, footage?
[AB:] Already sent. As you can see, the experiments went swimmingly.
[AB:] …Hello?
[RW:] Hmm… so that’s what Ascension looks like.
[RW:] Not what I expected. And why does the camera cut out at the end?
[AB:] Well, it’s a powerful process. A measly video camera can only pick up so much. In fact, I had to buy a new camera each time because they kept getting fried! A lot of the footage was destroyed, too. What a waste.
[AB:] I can’t say I fully understand it. We’re dealing with the higher plane here, after all. But it seems the transformation emits some kind of energy wave that fries all nearby electronics.
[RW:] I see.
[RW:] When should I expect to see the Harbinger here?
[AB:] A day or two, I suspect, but be prepared at all times.
[RW:] Oh, not to worry. I am.

Two months. For over two months, the Harbinger chased Roland Whittaker around the globe. It remembered the first trap that the tricky weasel had laid for it. In Room 206 of the Nadler, several otherworldly beasts awaited. The place was covered in spell circles presumably designed to attract the demons, which immediately attacked. Enraged by the audacious and cowardly tactic, the Harbinger dispatched them all, going so far as to use one of the wolf-like things as a weapon to beat the other two to death.

The spell circles Whittaker left made it easier to track him, since the trail of energy left by their caster could be followed, much like how a bloodhound follows a scent. However, at each of the new locations the Harbinger thought he might find his victim, another trap laid waiting. Sometimes they were similar in nature to the first, and other times they were even more drastic. At one point, Whittaker must have realized that the spell circles made him easy to track, so he set explosives to blow up an entire motel while the Harbinger was inside. Of course, all this did was kill a few humans, but it was quite an amusing sight for the Harbinger to behold.

In fact, many of Roland’s traps involved sacrificing the lives of his fellow humans, which the Harbinger found to be one of the most entertaining parts of the hunt. For once, it felt as if it was chasing down a fellow monster, albeit a greatly inferior one. By far the most entertaining trap he had laid out was the final one, in which he revealed himself and confronted the Harbinger head-on.

It took place inside the gymnasium of a small elementary school in some backwater Scottish town. Roland stood on one end of the gymnasium, the Harbinger on the other, and the entire school’s student body stood between them, crying in fear and horror as their teachers lay dead around them.

“You should be thankful, monster,” Roland proclaimed. “I’ve done you the favor of guiding you to this wonderful little buffet here.”

He held up a small device as he stared at the monster. Roland was a tall, muscular man with graying hair and a confident, stoic posture. “But I’m not that nice of a person, as you can probably tell. Here in my hand I have a trigger that’ll detonate an explosive. Of course, I’m not expecting that this will kill you – you’ve proven your endurance more than enough. The point is, it will kill these children.”

“So I ask you, what would provide you more pleasure? Killing little old me, or these wonderfully terrified kids?”

The Harbinger let out a light chuckle. Its chuckle quickly erupted into a laugh; one so loud that even the confused children could hear it in the back of their little minds. This was perfect. Looking into his eyes, it could tell that this man thought he knew how to think like a monster. He thought that he and the Harbinger were the same! It was absolutely hysterical.

The Harbinger didn’t stop laughing as it dashed forward, reaching Roland in the blink of an eye. Before he could react, it sliced its claws through his tender flesh, ripping his arm right off. Roland screamed almost as loudly as the children, who were apparently smart enough to see their chance and begin running for the exit. But it didn’t care about them. The Harbinger made a twisted attempt at a smile as it dug its claws into the man’s shoulder and began dragging him away.

The following torture lasted another two weeks. The Harbinger wasn’t sure if Whittaker was an extremely resilient man, or if he simply lacked emotion. Either way, it took a very long time and a variety of different tactics to finally get him to crack. Adrian, seeing that his partner was having some trouble, even offered some advice.

“Try something a bit slower,” he’d said. “Trust me, with people like him, the elegantly simple methods are most effective. You’ll have to be patient, but it will be more than worth it.”

While the wait annoyed the Harbinger, Adrian had been right. The satisfaction of finally seeing Roland Whittaker burst into tears after having to sit in a dark room with only the sound of water dripping was enough to make it all worth it.

And so came the time for the ritual. The Harbinger dragged a shivering, near-dead Roland into the center of a room in some abandoned factory. This time, Adrian had requested a very large room, and a much greater variety of symbols. But as it was setting everything up, the malformed beast noted that Adrian still hadn’t corrected that fundamental mistake in the ritual’s symbolic code. It would only result in another failure.

It was just about to start setting up the camera when Roland whimpered.

“W-What… is this…?”

“That is none of your concern.”

“No… n-no this is…” he stuttered, letting out a few coughs as tears formed in his eyes. He kept trying to look around the room, struggling to move himself with the two bandaged stumps that were once his arms. “God no…”

“T-this isn’t… how it’s supposed to go,” he mumbled, letting out another few coughs. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be set up!” Now he was shouting feebly. “It’s wrong! No! No! This can’t be happening!”

The Harbinger perked up at this. It seemed that the man had caught on to the fault in Adrian’s ritual. It made sense; he was also well-versed in the Black Arts, after all. But the Harbinger couldn’t allow its benefactor to hear of this, so it stopped setting up the camera and moved toward the now hysterical Roland.

“No! I don’t want to die! I want to be like—“ He was cut off all too abruptly as the Harbinger suddenly reached two large fingers into his mouth and proceeded to rip out his tongue. Now with Roland screaming, it went back to setting up the camera, placing the tongue somewhere away from the ritual.

The rest of the procedure went smoothly; the Harbinger had grown quite accustomed to the rituals by now, so it had no trouble performing the designated actions, which weren’t too different from the usual. As expected, Roland didn’t come back to life either. It was only after the ritual ended that things became problematic.

As it was about to chop up Roland’s body to dispose of it, the Harbinger was suddenly hit with a dizzy spell.

“What… is this…?” it muttered wearily to itself. Its vision blurred and its senses began to numb as it struggled to stay standing. It was unsuccessful. The Harbinger groaned as its knees buckled and it fell to the ground. There it stayed for several minutes, grasping its head as it tried to get its mind in order. It had never experienced anything like this before. The Harbinger’s thoughts were jumbled and unfocused; it wasn’t sure what to make of anything. What was it doing? Where was it? Why was it here? All of this normally obvious information seemed to have slipped its mind somehow. All it knew was that it had just killed someone.

Answers began to come to the Harbinger as the fog in its mind cleared, allowing it to think normally again. Its eyesight refocused, and it regained its bearings. However, it was more confused than ever. What in the world had just happened? In all its centuries of living, it had never experienced such a lapse in concentration; such weakness. Though it still wondered about the cause, it absent-mindedly continued going about its duty, slicing through the dead flesh before it with reckless abandon, allowing blood to splatter all over.

Later that evening, after it had dropped the remains in some nearby lake, the Harbinger decided to take a walk. The sun had set, leaving only the streetlights to illuminate the dark sidewalk. As it walked, it pondered. Or, at least, it tried to. But it was tired; it couldn’t think properly. Creatures as powerful as it didn’t need to rest, so it didn’t understand why its mind was so blank all of a sudden. Perhaps, it reasoned, this would simply stop after a time.

The Harbinger’s thoughts were interrupted as a deafening scream pierced the air.

“Oh my god!”

“What is that thing?!”

“Fucking run!”

Looking ahead it noticed several teenagers… running in the opposite direction, screaming in terror. They had seen the Harbinger.

“Impossible…” it muttered, looking down at its hands in astonishment. It had not consciously chosen to show itself. Normally it should still be concealed under the veil of the higher plane. Why then had those kids been able to see it without it allowing them to? It highly doubted they were all Seers. There was simply no way, it thought.

The Harbinger lunged forward, its long strides allowing it to catch up to the group of three in mere seconds. A boy looked behind him and screamed out in horror as the Harbinger’s claws came down, piercing his skull and putting an end to his wailing. A girl shouted “Terry!” before tripping and falling. The Harbinger didn’t even look at her as it crushed her skull underfoot, and jumped onto the third boy.

Instead of immediately killing him, it simply observed him for a moment. He was absolutely hysterical, of course, and was struggling to get free from underneath the beast. But he didn’t appear to be looking directly at it. It seemed that it was finally concealed again, like it ought to be. Feeling at least somewhat relieved, the Harbinger simply sliced his neck and rose up.

The Harbinger tried to think of what to do with the bodies. But it found that it couldn’t. It didn’t really feel like thinking about such trivial things now. All that mattered was returning to Adrian and receiving his next assignment.

[GP] logged in

[GP:] Jesus christ! Roland’s little game with the Harbinger is all over the news!!!
[TR:] I really hope Harbinger takes care of him soon…
[GP:] Yeah, the sooner he Ascends the better
[GP:] Then again. What if it only gets worse when he does?!
[GP:] We have no idea what exactly happens after the ritual succeeds, right? What if he gets some weird explosion powers or something!
[TR:] That’d be a real pain in the ass…
[GP:] Hey Adrian, you there??
[AB:] I am.
[AB:] I can see that. Oh dear, I did not expect him to be so brazen.
[AB:] What a pyromaniac.
[GP:] Well, at least it’s not like it affects us, right?
[AB:] Indeed. The death toll of this hunt was high, but it isn’t like we’re implicated in any way.
[AB:] Which reminds me, he’s… dead.
[GP:] WHAT?!
[TR:] WTF
[GP:] Adrian what the FUCK are you talking about?!
[GP:] I thought you said the ritual was a success!!!
[AB:] It was. Or it should have been.
[AB:] It seems that idiotic monster got carried away and killed him during torture.
[AB:] In part, it was also Roland’s fault for doing such a good job at provoking it by resisting.
[GP:] Oh jesus!!
[GP:] Ooooh boy
[AB:] Calm down, Gale.
[TR:] Shit! What if it does the same with us? This isn’t how you said it would go, Adrian.
[AB:] Relax. The plan is still proceeding smoothly, it’s only a minor hiccup.
[TR:] Minor hiccup?!
[AB:] As long as neither of you repeat the mistake, it should be fine.
[AB:] You’re both different from him, anyway.
[GP:] Yeah… yeah you’re right…
[TR:] I still don’t know about this.
[TR:] I’m pulling back my claim to second place.
[GP:] Oh real fucking smooth Trey!!!
[GP:] Fine then, since you’re too much of a pussy, I’ll go next
[AB:] It seems the Harbinger has returned.
[AB:] I’ll be right back.

[AB] logged out

“Bishop!”

“Yes, dear?”

The Harbinger descended the stairs to the basement, its arms hanging limply at its sides. “Give me my next victim.”

Adrian looked up from his laptop monitor with a frown. “What, already? I thought we could have a little chat—“

“Enough with your chattering, human!” the monster bellowed. “My next meal. Now!”

“Alright, alright,” Adrian said. He rolled over to a table and picked up a piece of paper. “Gale Palmer, lives in San Antonio, Texas. Here’s her address and the instructions for the ritual.”

The Harbinger snatched the paper up, but as it was about to leave, it heard a loud clang come from one of the cages. It turned to see a young girl, about ten years old, trapped in one of the cages. She didn’t make a sound, but her mouth was open as if she was trying to scream, and her eyes were locked on the Harbinger.

Adrian looked from the girl to the monster and then back to the girl. “You like her? She’s my new pet. I already damaged her vocal cords so she can’t scream,” he explained. “But why is it she can see you? Last I checked she was no Seer.”

The Harbinger growled, both at the little girl and the man, causing the former to curl up into a ball. It then looked at Adrian. “Mind your own business.”

With that, it stormed out of the room. Adrian watched it go with a sly smile on his face.

“Well, looks like the plan is coming along better than I expected,” he said, spinning around in his swivel chair. “Won’t be long now before the Harbinger is just a big scary old fish out of inter-dimensional water. Hehe, I can’t wait to see how people react.” He stopped himself, facing the girl. “Don’t you think so, Adriana?”

When the girl didn’t reply, he looked back down to his laptop. “Hmm. Looks like I won’t have any need for Trey anymore though. After Gale’s finished that ought to do it.”

[AB] logged in

[AB:] Here I am.
[GP:] How’d it go?
[AB:] Quite well. The Harbinger will be coming after you shortly.
[GP:] Phew, great! Time to get ready!!!
[TR:] Remind me again what your strategy is?
[GP:] Well I’m not gonna blow up buildings if that’s what you mean! :P
[GP:] My strategy is short and sweet. Should take a few days max, if Harbinger reacts the way I want it to.
[GP:] If it doesn’t it’ll probably take even less than that. A day, maybe?
[AB:] That’s a relief to hear. Roland took so long I thought I would die of boredom!
[TR:] Same
[GP:] Anyway guys, I gotta head out. Need to clean up around here before my guest arrives~
[GP:] See ya on the other side!
[TR:] Bye
[AB:] Until next time.

[GP] logged out

[TR:] So
[TR:] You’re SURE it will work this time?
[AB:] Positive. I forgave the Harbinger for its previous transgression, and it is still none the wiser to our plan, so everything should go smoothly.
[TR:] That’s what you always say.
[AB:] Don’t be such a worry wart. Anyway, I have to go. Need to tend to Adriana.
[TR:] Who?
[AB:] Bye!

[AB] logged out

The Harbinger let out a sigh. It was beginning to feel a bit more at ease. For some reason, being in Adrian’s basement had set it more on edge than usual. Although it still felt weary, the monster at least had a new hunt to focus on. In the end, that was all that mattered.

Soon enough, it located the apartment number of Gale Palmer. The Harbinger was about to phase through the door when, all of a sudden, it opened up.

“Hey there!” the woman on the other side cheerfully chirped. She was tall and quite beautiful, with short black hair and red highlights. She wore a black dress and some make-up, as if she were ready to go out for a special occasion.

“Come in! I’ve been expecting you,” she said, as she motioned for the beast to enter. Needless to say, this was quite a surprise, though the Harbinger had come to expect no less from the people Adrian supplied it with. She was probably setting some sort of trap, so the Harbinger decided it would be best to go along with her little game and see what she had planned.

Gale closed the door behind it. “Make yourself at home, Harbinger,” she said, motioning toward one of two couches stationed on either side of a small table in the center of the room. Her apartment was surprisingly decorative and homely for one so small; had the Harbinger been a human he most certainly would have taken her up on her offer.

“What game are you playing, human?” the Harbinger asked, growling in an attempt to intimidate her. Of course, she was completely unfazed.

“Why, I’m just being nice to a guest,” she cooed. “Now, what’s your poison: tea, or coffee? Sorry but I don’t do alcohol.”

The Harbinger was silent for a moment. It decided perhaps it would play along for now, and wait for the right moment to strike fear into her. So, begrudgingly, it answered, “…Coffee.”

“Coffee it is!” chimed the woman as she moved into the kitchen nearby. “Good choice; I’m more of a coffee gal myself.”

It felt strange for the Harbinger to sit down on a couch. It had never sat down on a couch before. In fact, it rarely ever sat down to begin with. But for the sake of playing along with this charade, it did so. A minute later, Gale returned with two cups of steaming hot coffee.

“Careful, it’s hot,” she said. Sitting down on the couch opposite to the creature, she looked him directly in the eye. “So then. Tell me something about yourself, Harbinger! I’d love to know.”

The Harbinger paused, glaring back at her. “I am here to kill you.”

Gale stifled a laugh. “Oh, Harbinger, I know that already. What I’m asking is to tell me something about yourself – your personality. Do you have any hobbies? Interests?”

The Harbinger, still confused at the strange nature of this conversation, did not respond. Instead it asked, “How do you know of my existence? Did your computer compatriots inform you?”

“Hey now. I understand you’re not human, but it’s a bit rude to leave a question unanswered,” Gale chided, waving her finger as if scolding a child.

Both the human and the monster sat in silence for a few moments longer. It seemed neither were intent on answering the other’s question. In the end, the Harbinger was the one to give in.

“I… enjoy killing,” it said. It felt disgusted that it was playing human, as well as being bossed around by one. But as degrading as this was, it reminded itself that this would all be worth it in the end.

“Wow, what a coincidence, so do I!” Gale proclaimed, taking a sip from her coffee. “I don’t like killing myself, though. That’s a bit messy, I find. I just get my friends to do it for me.”

“You speak of your computer compatriots?” the Harbinger inquired.

“Oh heavens, no! I’m talking about my… other friends. In fact, they’re here right now. Come out and say hi, everyone!”

At that moment, the door to the bedroom opened up, and several small creatures came running out. The little monsters came in different shapes and sizes, though all were clearly animalistic; some looked like deformed canines, while others looked like strange humanoid squids. There must have been at least a dozen of them. As soon as they began running out, the Harbinger sprang into action, preparing to attack them.

“No, stop! They don’t mean you any harm, Harbinger,” Gale exclaimed, as one of the strange canines jumped onto her lap. They were behaving more like simple household pets than monsters, running around and sniffing things, never even damaging anything.

The Harbinger noted that Gale’s bedroom was filled to the brim with Black Arts symbols, and the pieces clicked in its mind.

“So… you have tamed these beasts,” it said. “I must admit, for a human that is impressive.”

Gale seemed to beam with pride. “Why thank you!”

The Harbinger scoffed, brushing a small troll-like creature away with its leg. “So then, you wish to tame me as well, is that your goal?”

Gale frowned. “What? Well of course not. You’re my guest!”

The Harbinger sighed, sitting down. It knew it would not be able to endure this ludicrous act much longer.

“In all honesty, I just wanted to have a talk with you. I thought perhaps, if we got to know each other, we could avoid this whole, well, ‘killing me’ thing,” Gale went on. “Does that sound fair to you?”

The Harbinger simply nodded, glad that a chance to create dread finally presented itself. It would use this conversation to lead Gale into thinking that it would let her be free, and then, when it was about to leave, it would dash all her hopes.

And so, the two continued to talk until the sun set. The Harbinger did its best to act somewhat friendly and human, despite the sick feeling that resulted from doing so. Gale was quite the talker, however; she just wouldn’t stop. In a way, that was best for the Harbinger, as listening was far easier than talking. It pretended to be as sympathetic as it could and take everything in, only responding when he was asked a question.

Ultimately, it was a pathetic excuse for a hunt. However, the Harbinger still enjoyed itself; in a way, the whole ordeal was relaxing because not much effort was required on its part.

And it was hardly a waste of time; when the time came to leave, the Harbinger allowed Gale to say her goodbyes before haphazardly knocking her out with a whack to the head. Now, it would have its fun. It took her away, transporting the two of them to a deserted, barren stretch of land to begin the torture. Listening to the voice that had babbled incessantly for hours scream at the top of its lungs was almost euphoric for the Harbinger. As unorthodox as the whole thing was, it was still amusing.

By the time the woman was ready for the ritual, the Harbinger was getting tired again. It wasn’t in the mood to think of a place to perform the ritual anymore, so it opted to just use the woman’s apartment. But as it had almost finished drawing the necessary symbols on every available surface, it noticed Gale stir.

“Harbinger… are you there…?”

The Harbinger turned around, surprised she was still conscious. Unlike the previous victim, it decided to only burn her rather than pierce and cut, since this was a shorter hunt anyway. Most of her hair was gone and her eyes were struggling to stay open as she groaned from her second and third degree burns.

“Harbinger… could you switch those symbols around… they’re wrong…”

The Harbinger followed her line of sight to a few of the symbols. They were not the ones that the Harbinger knew were wrong.

“Oh, and those ones there…”

Her head slowly turned, and she looked at some more of the symbols. She kept doing this for almost all of the symbols that had been drawn as the Harbinger continued to follow the instructions he’d been given.

Soon, the ritual was ready, leaving only the procedure. The Harbinger did what it had been told, dragging her by what little hair she had left around the room five times. During that time, she wouldn’t stop mumbling something.

“Should’ve known… should’ve known…”

The Harbinger put her back down in front of Adrian’s strange symbol, and stood in it. Her crusty eyelids lifted, and she noticed the symbol for the first time. Her eyes widened.

“Adrian… I should’ve known…”

This immediately caught the Harbinger’s attention, but it couldn’t stop to ask now lest the ritual be ruined. It simply began repeating the incantation that it always did. Meanwhile, Gale let out a hoarse chuckle.

“God… you have no idea what you’re saying… do you…?” she said. “You’re basically… giving him… your pow—“

Her sentence was cut short as the Harbinger sliced her throat, letting her body fall to the floor. After the blood began to pool into the carved symbol, it waited. As usual, nothing happened.

The Harbinger was about to call it a day when suddenly, a jolt of pain ran throughout its body. It roared out in agony as it fell to the floor, clutching its head. It felt weak. Weaker than it had ever felt before. It struggled to get up, but quickly lost its balance and fell again, this time actually impacting the floor and making a loud thump. This just made it more confused – normally, those on the higher plane should not be able to impact the physical world without revealing themselves. But the more it tried to figure out what was going on, the more exhausted it felt and the more its head hurt.

Then, there was a knock on the door.

“Gale, are you alright in there?” came a voice. Instinctively, the Harbinger crawled across the floor and over to the door. It was a human. Though its first thought should have been to flee, it found that it didn’t care to. Its instincts screamed at it: humans need to be killed. That was all it could think about.

Realizing it could no longer phase through the door for some reason, the Harbinger clumsily clutched the door knob and flung it open. The man on the other side was about to scream, but he never got the chance as a claw reached out and went into his open mouth, then through the back of his head. The Harbinger retracted its claw, and set about ripping the human apart. For some reason, it no longer cared about hunts, or amusement. It was as if all of that had been stolen away, leaving only its bare and most monstrous instincts. It just wanted to kill.

That’s when it remembered: Adrian. Adrian Bishop, the one who had begun all of this. Who better to kill than him?

[TR] logged in

[TR:] Hehe.
[TR:] Hehehehehe.
[TR:] Hahahahahahaha!
[TR:] I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we all fell for your little trap!
[TR:] We should’ve known! I should have known!
[TR:] Gale is dead. The Harbinger is on a motherfucking rampage for fuck’s sake, it’s killed fifteen people and it’s on the news!
[TR:] I’m dead.
[TR:] Oh god fuck I’m so dead.
[TR:] And it was all a waste too.
[TR:] What a fucking life.
[TR:] It was all a lie, wasn’t it? I bet it was.
[TR:] Should’ve known not to trust a fellow goddamn psycho!
[TR:] Ascension was a load of bullshit, wasn’t it?
[TR:] Getting into the higher plane was impossible all along!
[TR:] You just wanted to kill us for your own sick amusement!
[TR:] Or maybe you just wanted to be the only one to Ascend!
[TR:] Is that it?!
[AB:] …
[TR:] Got nothing to say for yourself?!
[TR:] Fucking figured!
[AB:] You’re wrong.
[TR:] Oh don’t give me that. You think it isn’t obvious now?
[TR:] We spent months working on that ritual! It was theoretically perfect! It shouldn’t have failed! The only reason it did is because you fucked it up on purpose!
[AB:] Theoretically.
[AB:] Listen to me.
[AB:] It never would have worked. Not without a great amount of energy. An amount far greater than anything we could extract from any of ourselves.
[AB:] Why did you think I needed the Harbinger to be the one to do it, instead of one of you, or someone else?
[AB:] I was never performing the Ascension ritual in the first place.
[AB:] The ritual that I DID perform on Gale and Roland, however, did indeed require a monster to be the caster.
[AB:] Because the target was never Gale or Roland to begin with. Their psychic energy was only to be used as a conduit.
[TR:] …
[TR:] I see.
[TR:] So then… I suppose I’m next.
[TR:] Whatever. There isn’t anything I can do to stop it.
[AB:] Actually, I’m next. It seems I was a little too cautious in my calculations. I only needed two powerful Seers to complete the process alongside those bottom feeders I used.
[AB:] The type 7 glowing behind me is proof enough of that.
[TR:] You fucking piece of shit…
[AB:] Oh, it sounds like the final sacrifice has arrived.
[AB:] Don’t worry though, after I’m finished here, I’ll be sure to pay you a visit.

[AB] logged out

The door to the basement was ripped right off its hinges as the Adrian’s guest of honor made its way down the steps. The light switch didn’t need to be flicked, for the room was filled with the bright light of the spell circle. In the middle, sitting comfortably on his swivel chair, sat the man himself.

“Welcome back, Harbinger. Had a nice night out?”

The Harbinger charged, teeth and claws bared like a wild animal as it ran to claim its prize. But it never made it past the circle. The bright light blinded the beast, and a feeling many times stronger than the uneasiness it had felt here before overcame it. It was a feeling that it was unfamiliar with. Yet, it recognized the feeling of the power radiating from the circle all too well.

“I’m glad to see you’re excited. As am I. I’ve been waiting for this day for many years, you know.”

Growling, the Harbinger tried to overcome the feeling, but to no avail. It could not bring itself to enter the circle, no matter how strong its bloodlust.

“Anyway, I suppose it’s time for my monologue now. I suppose you, in all your simple-minded rage, couldn’t understand, but I feel obligated to explain, even if it’s to the empty shell of your former self.”

Adrian cleared his throat and smiled as he continued. “All of that ‘you’ that has suddenly disappeared is actually here, if you didn’t know.” He extended his arms, motioning to the circle around him. “The rituals I was having you perform were sapping away your power – the very essence of your being, rather – and sealing it away, using the residual psychic energy of your victims as a way to channel it. The stronger a Seer the victim was, the bigger of a chunk would be sucked away. And as if to make the irony sweeter, the incantations you spoke were literally just you giving the ritual the instruction to take your energy, and redirect it back here.”

“But I didn’t seal all of you away. Not only because that was impossible, but because I didn’t need all of you. You see, you monsters are hilariously simple creatures. No matter how advanced your intellect, you are only driven by the instinct and desire to kill and induce fear in people. It’s all rather… trite.” Adrian chuckled a bit. “Yes, since I was small, I’ve watched your kind kill, and break people’s minds. I even followed in your footsteps – mostly out of pure boredom, mind you. It was fun for a while, but I think I’m ready to move onto bigger things now. Evolve a little, you know?”

The Harbinger knew now. It had never felt it before, but it knew now what this feeling must have been. It was not rage, or amusement, or bloodlust. It was fear. Fear of Adrian Bishop.

“I find that power such as this is quite wasted on the likes of you. For centuries — centuries mind you, you’ve been using it to simply go about killing people in the most dreadful ways possible. Your psychology won’t permit you to have higher ambitions. But mine does.”

Adrian stepped out of his chair, moving to the edge of the circle. From his pocket he pulled out a pistol, aiming it at the Harbinger with that smug, knowing grin on his face.

“Believe me, your power is in better hands now. Superior hands. When I ascend to the higher plane, no one will be safe.”

He cocked the pistol.

“I don’t care about who’s interesting or unique. I don’t just look at things on an individualistic level like you do. No, my goal is the entire world. I don’t just want one person begging for mercy – I want the entire human race to be wishing it had never existed!”

His smile grew from ear to ear, bordering on deranged. “And so, thanks to you, I can take the first step toward that goal. But alas, as much as I may brag, I do see the value in sticking to one’s roots.”

By now the Harbinger was sitting in a ball on the ground, as if it would make the monster go away. Adrian extended his leg and put his foot on the creature’s head triumphantly.

“I think I will always have a particular fondness for the freaks. Like you, Harbinger.”

He shot the pistol.

Credit: Mark Lannin

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Something was in my kitchen last night

January 10, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Someone was in my kitchen last night.

I moved to this apartment about a year ago, and I swear that I haven’t gotten a single good night’s sleep since then. Every day, it’s been the same: get up, shove some cheap crap down my throat, go to school or work, come home, veg out in front of the computer, try to sleep. And I do mean “try” when I say “try to sleep,” because I have to try to block out the sound of scratching in the walls. Just this…scratching, faint, but just loud enough that I know I’m not imagining things. At least, I don’t think I am.

I’ll be lying in bed, bundled up in maybe two or three thick blankets if it’s winter, and just about to fall asleep when it starts. It’s always quiet at first, and I don’t think I consciously register it at first, but I definitely notice it after a minute or two. Scratching. Just this scratching in the walls, under the floor, sometimes in the ceiling. It always gets louder, or closer, every time I almost manage to shut it out. It used to keep me up for two, three days at time before I’d just pass out from sheer exhaustion. I’m taking sleep aids now, but…I’m not sure that’s a good idea anymore.

I used to think it was rats in the walls, and of course I reported it to the landlord. As run down as the rest of the apartment is, with its water stains, ancient plumbing, and unreliable furnace, my landlord takes any kind of infestation very seriously. No one wants to get a reputation for having bed bugs and rats in their buildings, after all. I think it took him maybe two, three days to get an exterminator in to take a look at the apartment. Not that it did any good; the exterminator spent maybe two or three hours scouring every nook and cranny, poking his nose into every dark space behind and beneath my furniture in search of even one scrap of evidence that some kind of pest was in there.
Nothing. He didn’t find so much as one whiff of a rat or a cockroach, not one stray hair or tell-tale dropping. He must have thought I was a crazy, because I pushed him to look just one more time, to stop just short of actually tearing open the walls, but he couldn’t find a thing. So when I heard the scratching in the walls again that night, I tried to tell myself that it was all in my mind, that I could just will it to stop.

It didn’t, of course. I wouldn’t be writing this if it had just been that easy. It just kept happening, keeping me up every night, and I’d lay there, exhausted but wide awake and hoping, praying, that it would just stop. I even started leaving traps and poison around the apartment, but nothing would ever be taken in the morning. I think that’s about when things…started getting worse, actually. I think I might have pissed it…them…off by trying to kill them.

It wasn’t just scratching in the walls anymore; I’d hear things moving around outside my bedroom, like animals walking around, or things being moved around on the table or counters. I’d hear the quiet bump of something being put down, or the shuffle of something being pushed or dragged, but nothing would be out of place. It’s like someone was re-arranging my stuff at night, then deciding that they liked the way I had it better. I bought a camera to try to catch whatever it was in the act; I wanted to buy more so that I could have one in every room, but I could only afford the one. Since most of the movement seemed to be coming from my kitchen, that’s where I set the camera.

I set it in the corner where it’d see most of the room, turned it on, went to bed…and woke up to find that the camera had gone missing. Just the camera. The tripod was still there, completely undisturbed, but the camera was gone. When I was looking for it, I found a small, neat brown envelope tucked in my couch cushions that I sure as hell hadn’t put there. My hands actually shook and I could feel my heart pounding against my chest as I picked it up and turned it over. No address. No signature. Not even a name. I don’t know why I was expecting these things; maybe I was just trying to find some strand of normalcy to cling to, some safety line to grab onto in the face of this…insanity. I opened it, nearly tearing it in two because my hands were shaking so badly, and I nearly pissed myself when I saw what was inside: the memory card.

I didn’t even bother packing my bags before I left. I just had to get the hell out of there, away from whoever had decided to pay me a “visit” in the night. All I grabbed was my wallet, my phone and my laptop; the wallet so I could at least get a motel room for the night, and my laptop so I could see what the fuck was on the card. The second I was settled in this crappy, cheap little motel room with a bed that probably housed STD’s still unknown to the scientific community, I popped in the card. There was a single file on it, spanning from midnight to 4 am.
That’s when they took the camera. Or at least that’s when they came in and turned it off. Most of the video was just dead air. Nothing was moving, nothing was being moved. I couldn’t see anything that could explain why I had heard things moving around all night, not a person or an animal or objects moving by themselves. I couldn’t believe it; not one thing was out of place the entire night. Nothing fell, nothing slid around. Nothing. I skipped to about 10 minutes before the end of the video, hoping to God that I’d get something to prove that I wasn’t going insane, but dreading the possibility of actually seeing whoever, or whatever, was responsible for tormenting me.
The kitchen was completely dark except for the night light I’d plugged in to keep myself from running into things on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Well, that was the idea, anyway; you can guess how often I willingly got up to use the washroom in the middle of the night once everything started happening. The light cast this kind of greenish glow on everything, more giving shapes to the shadows instead of really lighting up the room. I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but it was so close to the end of the video that I didn’t want to fast forward in case I missed something.

9 minutes. Still nothing, but I swear I saw the light dim ever so slightly.

8 minutes. Did a shadow just move? No, I decided; probably. It looked too similar to how it was before.

7 minutes. Was that a thump in the background, or just a digital artifact from the mediocre microphone?
6 minutes. Did the camera just shift a little?

5 minutes. The camera is trying to focus on something. There’s nothing there, but it’s trying to focus on something.

4 minutes. The ambient noise has just cut out. The video is completely silent, but checking the audio information shows that the camera was recording every sound in its range the entire time.

3 minutes. The ambient sounds are back, but I swear they’re louder.

2 minutes. I definitely heard something moving out of frame. It’s quiet, like it doesn’t want to be heard, and it sounds very close to the camera. I think it’s behind it.

1 minute. The night light goes off. It takes the camera a second to adjust to the complete darkness, and everything is still much darker in comparison to the rest of the video when it does.
30 seconds. The camera shifts just a little, like something bumped the tripod.

20 seconds. I think I can hear something…breathing.

10. The breathing is replaced by…static. I want to call it static, but it’s more like these distorted, animalistic noises mashed together and forced through some digital filter. Fuck.

5. Something moves out of the shadows. It looks like a person, but the way it moves it like it’s a part of the wall detaching itself and gliding toward the camera. It just…stands there, staring straight into the lens for a few seconds. I say “staring,” but only in the sense that it’s facing the camera. I can’t see any details. No clothes, no distinction between its limbs and its body, no face. It’s like it’s just this shadow existing where it shouldn’t be able to, standing there like it has some solid existence, like it’s not some violation of physics.

1 second. The entire frame just goes dark. I go back to examine it more closely, and I realize that this thing had actually covered the lens with its hand because I can see a couple of small slivers of the background between its fingers.

I can’t go back. This thing, this fucking thing, is still there, and it’s fast. I check the video, and it just…there was no transition between it standing and it covering the lens. One frame it’s standing and staring, and the next it’s right up in the camera. I looked through the rest of the video, and this goddam thing was standing in the shadows the whole time, just standing there perfectly still. I was still technically in the room for the first few seconds because I had to walk from the camera to my bedroom after turning it on. I was in the room with this thing, and I never saw it.

I’ve been watching the shadows in my motel room for a few hours now, and I don’t think it’s followed me, but how can I be sure? Can I even see this thing with my own eyes? I don’t know what to think anymore. I think I can hear someone pacing in front of the door, but that might just be a cleaning lady or another guest. I just wish they’d leave already. It’s been an hour, and they haven’t stopped pacing.

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Long Haul

January 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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You hear a lot of stories when you work in a truck shop. Sometimes it’s your fellow mechanics. They talk about that idiot driver who rolled in with half his brake chambers just dangling from their airlines, or the time they started a truck that had been sitting for a while and a whole family of possums flew out from under the hood, or maybe the old guy they used to work with who could turn a four hundred horse motor up to six with nothing but fifteen minutes and a screwdriver. You also hear from the drivers themselves, usually boasts or just silly stuff they’ve seen on the road. Occasionally they tell spook stories: Glowing eyes on the shoulder that didn’t look like they belonged to any animal, hitchhikers that disappeared from the passenger seat, weird lights in the sky. Silly stuff for the most part, tall tales told with a wink and a chuckle. With, of course, the one exception that I’m here writing about, and that exception was told to me by a trucker we’ll call Jim.

Jim brought his truck into the shop on a Tuesday morning in the middle of November. I’d never met him before, but he’d been coming to our shop for a while since before I was hired. Some other guys at work said he was a good man, though he always seemed to be down. They figured he’d lost a wife or child, and didn’t press him about it. His truck was a red and white International Eagle, CAT-powered, and he brought it in because it was starting hard and losing power. A couple new air and fuel filters later, and the rig was back in shape.

Jim’d shown up pretty early, and since it hadn’t taken me that long to get everything squared away, it was about time for my break. Jim didn’t seem to be leaving right that second, so I stayed out in the shop to make conversation. You don’t see too many of those 9300 Eagles, so I asked him if he liked his truck.

“Oh, it’s a nice rig,” he said. “’S’got a real nice cab, engine pulls hard, and it doesn’t spend an unreasonable amount of time in the shop. Not my favorite truck I’ve ever driven, but not the worst by a long shot.”

“Which one was your favorite?” I replied.

Jim thought a moment and said, “That was my old Superliner, the truck I had before I picked up this Eagle. Now that was a rig. I ordered it brand-new from the Mack dealer, with the 450-horse V8, the Maxitorque 12-speed, and Mack bogie rears. The old style, back when they still made them. Man, I loved that truck, from the first time I drove it, until…” A pained, almost haggard look clouded his face as he cut off. “…until I, ah, didn’t have it anymore.”

I assumed he’d been in a wreck bad enough to destroy the truck, and stayed quiet, not wanting to bring up any more bad memories than I already had. Jim, however, continued talking. He stared at the floor, talking so quietly I think he was only half speaking to me. “I always think about how I lost that truck this time of year. No matter what I do to forget, it’s always with me, you know, the knowledge that that thing is still out there. It’s too strong to die. I could tell that even only seeing it for a second.” His head snapped up, all of a sudden, and he looked at me. The look on his face was like nothing I’ve seen. It was almost the same expression a sick or hurt animal has, a look of painful bewilderment that says, “Why me?” He didn’t say anything, but there was a silent question on that face. Filled with anxious curiosity, I tentatively nodded for him to continue. At that, he began to tell his story, and I’ll relate it here, as clearly as I can.

None of it would have happened if it hadn’t been for my cousin wrecking his Harley. He drove truck too, and the job was supposed to have been his. I didn’t hear about it until he called me from his room at the hospital, where he was staying after skidding his Electra-Glide off the side of a mountain road and down a 200-foot rocky slope. He’d broke an arm, his foot, and a couple of ribs, and he called me from his bed. “Jim,” he said as soon as I picked up the phone, “have I ever got some news for you.” He told me he’d been contacted by a firm out of Yonkers, New York to haul a single load cross-country to the middle of nowhere in New Mexico. They’d only wanted owner-operators, and they hadn’t even bother to post ads, simply calling those whom they thought suited them. They called themselves Fordham-North Organized Research and Development, and my cousin’s questions about why he’d never heard of them were quickly silenced when they told him what they’d be paying him, and then sent a full third of that impressive sum to him up front. Fordham told him that they were providing everything but the truck and driver, and all he’d need to do was show up at their loading dock, hook up to their trailer, and drive it out to their “New Mexico office,” a location so remote its address was a mile marker on some barely-used state route.

My cousin’d managed to get this much out of the tight-lipped people at Fordham when he crashed his bike. It was only a week before he was scheduled to show up at their office, and (he said to me over the phone) he’d called them not only to report his inability to run their load, but also that he knew someone who could, that “someone” being me. And, to top it all off, he said that Fordham had agreed to hire me in his place, and that I’d be getting a call very soon.

Indeed, I only had to wait until the next day to get the call. “I am calling from Fordham-North Research and Development,” the voice on the other end of the phone said after I’d identified myself. “We have a trucking job to offer you.” The voice was deep and garbled such that I could barely understand it through the scratchy connection.

“Is this the same one you offered to my cousin”- Here I said his name- “a few weeks ago?”

“Yes,” the guy on the other end of the phone answered. “You’ll be carrying one load on a flatbed trailer, from our office in Yonkers to our facility in New Mexico. We will provide the trailer. You will be paid”-he named a number high enough I almost thought he was joking-“with one third to be sent up front as a check payable to you.”

This guy was talking like I’d already taken the job, and in my head I guess I had. I still had one question, though. “What is this load I’ll be carrying?”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “…Unfortunately, I’m unable to discuss that over the phone. For the purposes of corporate security, you understand.”

“Er…of course,” I said back. I supposed this unwillingness to talk about the cargo was why they were paying up front. “When and where should I show up?”

I hashed out the details with the voice on the line, and then hung up. Even with the promise of upfront payment, the whole thing felt a bit hinky, especially the refusal to discuss the cargo. However, a few days later a check for the promised amount appeared in the mail, and a few days after that, I made the trip to Yonkers to pick up my load.

Fordham’s office was on 2323 Atlantic Lane. Don’t bother trying to find it, I’ve already tried. According to all the sources I’ve checked, there never was such a building on such a street in Yonkers, but I assure you I was there that day. It was a low, nondescript building of cinderblock, with steel doors and few windows. It was set away from the surrounding properties, and was enclosed by a high fence topped with coiled razor wire. At the time I thought that this was because the place happened to be in a rough neighborhood, but I’ve become more and more convinced that this was just cover. I pulled my Mack into their driveway, and swung around back to what I assumed was the loading dock. What I found there was quite strange.

The first thing I noticed was the gleaming trailer parked in the middle of the gravel yard. The red paint was shiny and unblemished, and I was sure it had never seen any use beyond being delivered here. Sitting on it was my cargo, with a few guys just finishing up strapping a tarp down over it. Its silhouette was that of a cylinder cut in half lengthwise and resting on the flat part, similar to a Quonset hut. I managed to glimpse a dark steel surface with “AKASHA V” stenciled on it before it was obscured by the final corner of the tarp. Standing on the loading dock itself was a small man in a dark suit, and a couple of stocky guys wearing jeans, long shirts, and bulging jackets. I parked my truck off to the side and hopped out.

I was immediately greeted by the man in the suit. “I am Dr. Inire,” he said as he stuck out his hand, “and you must be Jim. A pleasure.” He sounded harried, and I noticed his hand shaking a little.

I shook it and replied, “That’s me.”

“Yes, thank you for taking this job,” Doctor Inire continued in the same rushed tone. “While I hate to be rude, time is really of the essence here. So, if you would, please, ah…” he waved a hand at the trailer.

“Of course, Doc,” I said soothingly. “I’ll get on the road in just a minute. But first, do you mind telling me what this thing is? Whoever I talked to on the phone didn’t say.”

At this, he looked even more nervous. Licking his lips, he told me “I-I’m afraid I cannot, sir. For the purposes of, ah, corporate security, yes. Our people have gotten it secured and covered for you already.”

Hearing this ticked me off. “I’m not going to haul it if I don’t know what it is. And while it looks like your guys did a good job with that tarp, I’m going to have to take it off to check the restraints on your-your whatever it is, anyway.” Silence followed this last part. The two bulky men up on the loading dock shifted and turned their heads to look at me.

Dr. Inire looked at me, and with a shock I realized that he was shaking. He quickly paced over to the trailer, and I turned and followed. “I assure you, sir that all precautions-every precaution-have been taken to make this cargo safe to transport. However, I must continue to insist that you get in your truck, hitch to this trailer, and go.”

“That-that’s completely unreasonable!” I spluttered. “No way am I hauling this thing when you won’t even let me check if it’s tied down right. I’ll hop back in my truck all right, but I’m heading straight home, not”- A heavy hand clapped down on my shoulder before I could turn around. It was one of the men that had been standing on the loading dock, and his grip was like a vise. The other one slid between Dr. Inire and I, saying nothing. This close I could see that the long shirt was concealing a kit belt, like one a policeman would wear. Judging by his bulky jacket, he had more accoutrements hidden under there as well.

“I implore you to reconsider, Jim,” said Dr. Inire from behind the goon. “I give you my word that the cargo is nothing illegal. Simply take it to its destination, receive your payment, and never think of us again. That will be easiest for all of us.”

I remained silent for a moment as I considered his words. This whole thing seemed too highbrow for a drug operation, it was true. Maybe I really had stumbled onto some kind of corporate crap, though that still didn’t seem like a good explanation. It was almost a moot point, though; I could tell that if I didn’t do as Dr. Inire said my visit to Yonkers would end badly. “Okay, Doc. I’ll take your cargo where it needs to go. No need for your friends here. Inire blinked and nodded to the goons, and they backed off. Without another word, I got into my Mack, hitched up to Fordham’s lowboy, and drove the hell out of there.

Until I hit Texas the trip was uneventful, if somber. A thousand times I thought about pulling over and looking at what the hell I was hauling, and a thousand times I thought about just dumping the thing somewhere and getting it out of my life. I never did either, though. The thought of the money waiting for me when I delivered the load was a factor, as well as the thought that Inire and his cronies might have something in place that would reveal any tampering I did. The whole thing was shady enough that I was also worried about watchers keeping tabs on me as I drove. And, finally, there was the thought that maybe I really didn’t want to know whatever it was I was carrying. The thought of Inire’s nervousness when I’d seen him made me nervous in turn.

So, I made my way into West Texas, the wide empty desert country where the road hardly turns, with my cargo still unknown and attached. It was late at night, almost two, and the stars were shining brightly when I heard something hit the back of the sleeper with a sound like a gunshot. I immediately slowed and pulled over. After turning on my flashers and grabbing a flashlight, I hopped out to see what was going on.

Sure enough, there was a sold dent in the back of my sleeper, about the size of a child’s fist. I looked for several minutes, but could find nothing that had let loose. I assumed a freak rock had been flung up from one of the tires, and got back in the cab. Maybe if the light had been better, I would have seen a small hole in the tarp, but it honestly wouldn’t have mattered.

It was about 45 minutes after I stopped that I noticed something was wrong. The radio lost signal and started hissing static, so I switched it off and tried to keep myself awake by looking for constellations. I’d known them ever since I was a little kid, but I was having no luck now. The stars were wrong, utterly wrong. Not even Venus, Jupiter, or the North Star showed. I stared at them as much as I could while I drove, but nothing changed. These were not the stars of earth I was looking at. It was about now that I realized the opposite lane of the interstate was gone, and no cars were visible in mine.

At first I thought I was just sleep-deprived, or forgetting how this area looked, but soon I knew there was no excuse for what I was seeing. There were no lines on the road anymore; it was just a strip of cracked asphalt. The terrain around me was flat and barren, with not even a scrub bush to be seen. The only landmarks were massive obelisks of basalt, roughly carved and standing upright in pairs along the road. Soon the stars were not stars anymore, but points of black surrounded by cruel coronas of dim light. The northern lights, or some form of them at least, appeared in front of me, colossal sheets of red and blue and green which hurt my eyes, as if they extended out of the spectrum I could see. There was a strong crosswind blowing, and it carried dust with it. The air coming in through my vent window smelled of alkali and electricity, and soon I closed it.

The road continued arrow-straight between the standing stones. I was terrified, locked in my seat. I didn’t want to keep driving, but I wanted to stop even less. The wind howled against the cab continuously, buffeting me this way and that, and its bitter chemical tang was in my nostrils. The basalt obelisks had grown taller and taller as I drove, and now I drove beneath a massive dolmen whose capstone hung over the road. It was at least a hundred feet high, and when I emerged from its shadow, I saw that the black stars were changing again. Their feeble coronas dimmed, but the black points at their center got darker and darker. I can’t describe how they looked. They were gone, yet I knew they were there, gleaming with un-light.

Still, I drove. I’ve no idea how long it was; when I tried to find out I saw that the clock was stopped. The aurora still shone ahead of me. I began to see shapes in it, and faces. Slowly, slowly, it dimmed as the stars had, until it disappeared completely. The only light in the world was coming out of the four headlights on my Superliner, but somehow I could still see the dust fields around me in that dark un-light from the stars. It confused the eye, but was hard not to look at, so hard that I almost lost control of the truck at one point.

Blinking rapidly, I looked in my mirrors and saw something that I still see when I try to fall asleep. The world itself was coming undone behind me. The landscape itself was changing, changing from regular matter to something else, something of the same nature as the painful darkness projected by the alien stars in the sky. This shocked of my mental lock, and I realized there was only one thing that could possibly help me; but first, I would have to stop.

Carefully coming to a stop, I put the truck in neutral, put on the parking brake, gulped, and stepped out of the cab. Immediately, the wind hit me in the face like a slap. It smelled like ozone and alkali chemicals, a smell that was the opposite of life as we think of it, and the ashy gray dust it carried was like sandpaper on my skin. Somehow, the lightless light from the stars was much more intense without the windshield to look through, and my head began to ache immediately. Head down, I ran towards the back of the truck, ready to get rid of whatever crime against existence I’d been paid to move. However, when I got back there, I stopped dead in my tracks. The front of the tarp had become unhooked.

Finally, I had a good look at my cargo. It was a heavy steel pressure vessel, with the flat semicircular end cap that faced me held on by bolts the size of my thumb. Or, at least, it had been. One of the bolts had stripped free completely, its empty hole lining up exactly with the dent in my sleeper. The ones that were left were all stretched or bent, and the seam in the vessel which resulted was seeping the same stuff as the world was rapidly becoming, the same undefinable, indescribable stuff (I sure won’t call it matter) which this place’s stars were made of. Even as I reached for the release lever that would decouple the trailer from my truck, I saw the end cap’s central feature: a viewport.

At first I couldn’t make out anything through it, but as the swirling darkness inside cleared I saw that the inside of the vessel was much smaller than it should have, or even could have been, only a few feet across. It was as if the space inside was compressed. Then, the un-light inside coalesced into a curled-up form, like a fetus colored darker than black.

It turned to me and opened its eyes.

I only saw it for a fraction of a second before I ripped my gaze away, but that instant was enough. It saw me, and saw through me, saw everything I was and had been and would me. I don’t think it perceives time as we do, is what I mean. Once, it had been human. I picked up that much. When I saw it though, it couldn’t have been farther from a person. It was something to whom the governing principles of our universe were of no consequence, and only the steel vessel its creators had built for it before it matured was keeping it in check. It told me all this, you know, shoved it straight into my brain like an ice pick. It told me it would end me if it was free, but I didn’t get a feeling of malice from it. I think that I was a fly to it, of perhaps more like a virus, barely alive compared to it. I see its face every night, and nothing will make it go away.

After I tore my eyes away from the god in the vessel, I yanked the trailer release, dashed back to the cab, and put the hammer down. As I drove farther and farther away from the thing, the un-light lessened in intensity and the standing stones grew smaller. Finally, I drove beneath a dolmen barely higher than my truck, and was nearly blinded by the dawn on the Texas prairie.

I frantically checked my mirrors, and when I saw nothing but regular old interstate flush with the pink light of sunrise, I pulled over, got out of my cab, and wept, sucking in the clean, cool air in gasps. After a few minutes I felt capable of driving, if nowhere near recovered, so I got back into my truck.

For some reason the final dolmen had spat me out facing east, though I’d entered that…place heading west and hadn’t turned around. I wasn’t about to find out what the criminals against reality at Fordham had waiting for me in in New Mexico. I was now sure that they were merely a front for the same type of government spooks that run Area 51 and Los Alamos, and I’d gotten caught up in their attempts to keep a low profile. I didn’t care if they were keeping tabs on me; I just wanted to be home, and so I bobtailed all the way back to Pennsylvania without resting, parked my truck, and slept for around two days straight.

When I got up, I was greeted by a sad sight. My truck, the truck that had carried me through and out of what I call in my head the Dark Place, was rusting into the ground, the fine steel of its construction flaking into rough gray powder and falling apart even as I watched. In the few hours after I woke, it had fallen almost completely apart. I think the radiation that the stars there put out did something to it, something that changed it so it couldn’t hold itself together. I worried for a while that I would fall apart too, and though I was quite sick for a few weeks after getting back I managed to recover.

I had some money saved, so I was able to buy a cheap old truck and keep doing my job. My cousin asked me about the Fordham job, and I told him to promise to never say anything about it again. He kept that promise until he died a few years ago.

I never heard anything from “Fordham,” whoever they really were, nor did any shadowy G-men show up at my door. I know, though, that the thing I carried across half the country still exists though, somewhere or when. I don’t think it’s capable of experiencing death, in fact. I’ve never seen it again, though, and for that I’m glad.

Jim finished his tale with that, and sighed. He stared at his shoes for a moment, muttered “I’m sorry,” then started his truck and left. I never saw him after that, and I heard a few weeks later that he’d died when a drunk driver swerved into his lane and hit him head-on. I’ve got no idea if his story is true or not, but it sure sounded like he believed it. I guess the lesson, if there is one, is that there are roads to dark places out there, and you never know where or whom they’ll lead to.

Credit: Turiya

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“You Left Your Lights On.”

January 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The moment I stepped out of my house, I knew I had made a mistake. I could hear my mother crying on the other side of my front door, and the frigid air that filled the cold, October night felt particularly painful on my exposed skin. I had just decided to go on a run. That’s what I usually do to destress or calm down when I get angry. My mother and I had just got into a pretty heated argument about my grades, and I said some things I definitely shouldn’t have. I thought it would be ok if I just left for a little while and allowed the both of us to calm down a bit.

I bent down to re-lace my shoes, and I took a deep breath. The cold air stung my throat as it filled my lungs, and I noticed just how thirsty I was. Despite this, I stood back up and started off into the inky, black darkness that filled the night. It was a particularly dark night. The moon seemed to be missing from the sky, and, living on a distant, gravel road, there were no street lights. I know it’s dangerous to run at night without any lights or reflective gear, but the alternative was to be yelled at, and I certainly wasn’t going to be having any more of that.

As I reached the end of my driveway, I turned left onto the familiar Parallel Road, and began to run. By now, my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and I could see pretty far in the distance. I gradually started to accelerate as I got into the swing of the run, and I settled into a comfortable but fast pace. As the cold breeze beat against my face, I shivered. I couldn’t help but feel as if something was wrong. I guess I had spooked myself, because I started to jump at every little thing that moved. At one point, the wind had picked up a little and caused a branch of a distant tree to sway. I convinced myself something was waiting for me down the road, but as I drew closer, I realised my monster sightings were nothing more than childish delusions.

As I continued to run down the road, I thought about the moments that had led up to my run, and I couldn’t help but feel bad about what I had said to my mom before I had stormed out of the house. You see, she was doing her best to raise my little brother and I. My dad left on deployment earlier that month, and needless to say, my mom lost a good part of her happiness when he left.

My thoughts started to wander from the subject when I saw a pair of lights ahead on the road. Strange, I thought. Parallel was a pretty barren road being at least fifteen miles from any sort of civilization in either direction. That coupled with the fact that it was 11:30 at night, it was pretty strange to see any sort of signs of life out. As I ran closer, the source of the light became more and more clear. About 100 feet from the light, I could clearly make out a small, white car that was parked in the middle of the road. It’s headlights were on, and it just sat, stationary with no signs of a driver. I stared at the car, trying to make sense of things, but eventually, I just ran past it.

I ran from the car for about a mile, and started to slow my pace. I was at least three miles out now, and the frigid air was taking its toll on my dry throat. I decided to turn around. I ran down the road for about a mile, when I noticed something a little strange. For one, the car was missing, but that didn’t concern me. Where the car use to be, there was a horrible, gut-wrenching stench. I honestly had never smelled anything quite as bad as this. I can remember dry-heaving a couple of times as I ran, desperate to get away from whatever was making that horrible smell.

Eventually, I escaped the area from where the smell permeated. Not long after, I noticed something else. Down the road, I saw the same two lights I had seen before, only this time, they were facing the other way, directly at me. The lights seemed to be stationary again, so I assumed the car was parked like it was before. As I drew closer to the car, I found that my assumptions were correct. The car was no different from the time I first saw it, though I could make out a faint, black figure in the driver’s seat of the car. The figure wasn’t moving, so I assumed they had fallen asleep somehow. I decided to wake them up and see if they needed help.

“Hey!” I shouted as I drew near to the car. I slowed my pace and stood next to the driver’s window. I noticed the window was rolled down. “You left your lights on. I just wanted to know if you needed any help.” What happened next I will never forget. The dark figure turned its head towards me, and opened its eyes. My heart started to pound as I stared at whatever was sitting in that car. The eyes that stared back at me were completely red and seemed to glow in contrast to the darkness that filled the car. It opened its mouth and let out a loud screech.

“EEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

At this moment, I turned away and ran. I ran faster than I had ever run before. My heart was pounding as if it was trying to escape from my chest and my breathing heightened in a desperate attempt to supply my body with enough oxygen. What I heard next filled me with dread. The rolling of tires. The car was turning to face me once again.

I didn’t know what to do. In a frightened panic, I threw my body into the foliage that lined the road, and found myself in a ditch. I looked up ever so slightly. I held my breath as I watched the lights of the car light up the road just in front of me. Whatever was driving that car was looking for me. The car slowly drove along, and luckily, passed my hiding place among the reeds and grass. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, then, very slowly, I raised my head to check my surrounding, and got up, brushing bits of grass from my shorts. I mustered up the courage to run home, making sure to check the distance for any cars.

I reached home about twelve minutes later. I sprinted up my driveway, opened my front door, and slammed it shut behind me, making sure to lock it. The house was dark apart from a couple of lights, so my mom and my brother were probably in bed. Still spooked, I slowly crept around my house, first to the back door, locking it, then to my room. I walked over to my bed and collapsed on it. I was shaking, and quite frankly, just wanted the night to end. Before I could fall asleep however, I was alerted by a light coming from my window. I sat on my bed and watched a small, white car pull up in my driveway. It parked right in front of my window and shut off, lights and everything. I started to sob. I could make out a pair of large, red eyes in the car, and they were staring directly at me. Paralyzed with fear, I stared back, but I must have fallen asleep at some point, because I awoke the next morning on my bed in front of my window.

The first thing I did was glance outside. There was no car in sight. I chuckled in relief.
“It must have been a dream,” I told myself outloud. I got out of bed, and changed into some sweatpants. I noticed that I was so tired the night before, that I had forgot to turn the lights off in my room before I got in bed. I flipped the light switch to OFF then I walked out of my room and made my way into the kitchen.

“Good morning!” I said to my mom who was sitting at the table with a mug of hot coffee in her hand. She looked troubled, but returned the phrase and invited me to sit with her.

“Bevin, I need to ask you something.”

“Sure,” I replied, rubbing my eyes.

“Did you notice anything strange on your run last night?” We stared at eachother for a moment in silence.

“Why,” I asked weakly.

“The police came by this morning,” She told me. “They found a body of a man who had apparently been murdered very violently. He was about two miles down, just strewn across the road. All they found at the scene of the crime was a message.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. Scrawled in red ink was a message.

-Hey! You left your lights on. I just wanted to know if you needed any help-

Credit: Bevin Coon

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I’m Not the Only Me

January 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I never really liked my sister. I mean, of course I love her, but we’ve never quite gotten along. It’s more than just that “sister rivalry” thing. Even as I stand here now on her front lawn, I guess I’m where I’ve always been with Madeline- torn, caught between two very different girls. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It all had to start somewhere, childhood, I suppose. Even then we were completely different people, our personalities clashing, hard sometimes. She was already eight when I was born, all of a sudden someone else to share your parents with, unwelcome and hogging all the spotlight. And to Madeline? Someone who was NOT about to tag along and get in the way of her… plans.

Everything was always plans with her, and I was never a part of them. Madeline was that overachieving kid at school you hated; before that, she was the catty 4th grader who gossiped behind your back. And growing up, I was one of those bookish types, quiet and small. And THEN I’d come home from school only to find Maddy, my own personal bully, waiting for me. That’s when I started to play that weird little game. She’d lock me in the closet, and as I sat there in the dark (I know it sounds dumb, but I was so young then) I would close my eyes and wish I had a twin.

Maybe it’d even the odds- two younger, quieter girls against one bossy older sister. Or maybe I just wanted somebody else to play with, someone I could share my things with. Whatever the reason, I had a little “mantra” I would say: “I wish I had my twin. I wish she was here.” But no matter how hard I tried to activate some imaginary power, the ‘twin’ never appeared. And so we grew up. Once college time came for Madeline, we mostly went our separate ways, and BOY, did she climb that social ladder like her life depended on it- graduated with honors, married the “boy next door,” had a baby and now she’s got her own office assisting in a law firm while, you guessed it, she’s studying for the bar exam.

And me? I’m not aiming nearly so high. Dad teaches in high school, and I guess I took after him, because I’m an English major and could see myself teaching one day, but maybe to younger kids. I love kids, especially my niece, the only thing that keeps Maddy and I less distant these days- I stay close to her daughter, Ella, because I worry she’s not getting enough of what she needs at home. She’s a shy kid, like me, only six, and her mom already pushes her around when she’s not ignoring her completely. I don’t want to see her go through what I did with Madeline, so I try to make it over there when I can, to give her someone she can play with or talk to. Maybe that’s why I’m in this whole mess now… my concern for little Ella.

It was only this morning I rolled out of bed, ready for another usual day in the life of a college junior when it’s turned out to be ANYTHING but that. Usually it was a morning chat and Starbucks with my roommate, a theatre girl and yin to my yang named Ashley. Then Lit class, lunch to finish any homework, then one of those crappy Chem courses I take just for the credits. When school’s done, I go back to our campus apartment to veg out for a couple of hours, then work nights at the Denny’s. Sure, it’s not as glamorous as what Madeline has, but I can’t help smiling to myself when I think about the cute busboy at work, while she’s stuck with some Home Depot manager named Eddie who can’t even grow a beard, so… I’m gonna chalk that up as a win for ol’ Becky.

I awoke looking a bit pale, hoping it wasn’t the flu, but was already late to meet Ashley for coffee and rushed down the path. But when I got there, my smile met with a confused look from Ash. “I was actually just about to leave,” she told me, latte in hand. “I didn’t think we were meeting today- I mean, I was coming over, but then I saw you.” This took me aback, but she continued, her eyes narrowed and probing. “Weren’t you JUST in the dining hall?” I felt a little queasy now… Ashley had known me for YEARS. She knows what I look like.

“Wait, wait… you saw someone you maybe THOUGHT was me?” I asked. “Ash, I wasn’t at the dining hall. I just came from our place, thought I’d be late ‘cause I’m just, a little sick today. But I wasn’t there. Maybe somebody really looks like me.”

Ashley’s eyes changed from questioning to wide. I knew she wouldn’t fake me out like this. “No, no. Becky, it WAS you. Is this like, a joke?”
Surely there’d been a mistake. “At the dining hall- what was ‘I’ doing there?”
“Just, um… just sitting and eating.” She looked down at her coffee. “Maybe you should go see for yourself.”

I’ve got long, dark hair, like a bunch of other girls, and I’m 20, like half the kids on campus. So I rationalized, and put on a goofy face, waving my fingers in mock horror. “Ooooh, a secret clone. Maybe I SHOULD go meet this mysterious Becky number two, huh?” But Ash was serious.

“You’re… probably right,” she nodded, touching my arm with a smile before she started to the door, off to class herself. “Don’t worry. Millions of people in the world, right? You know what they say- everybody’s got a twin.”

A chill ran through me, but I said a quick goodbye, then decided I needed to know. The next building over held the dining hall, and I rushed across the grass to see this ‘mystery girl,’ suddenly feeling like that nervous little kid again. I made my way through Bishop Hall but as I got to the cafeteria stairs, I found myself weak, and not just from running. I was all at once so tired, like I hadn’t slept in days, but my determination was strong, and I slowly pulled one leg up in front of the other. Sweating and gasping as I climbed, I wondered what the Hell was wrong with me. I’m not in this bad of shape by a LONG shot. I made it to the top barely in time to see her, and froze.

There was a girl that looked exactly like me, in a purple tank top and jeans, placing her tray by the kitchen and walking away towards the quad. The sweat on my skin went cold. She was IDENTICAL. The hair, the face, the everything. My mind raced but I simply couldn’t find any good explanation, and I went lightheaded. It was all too much. With the girl gone, whoever she was, I trudged all the way back to our apartment and ran to the bathroom to puke. When I was washing up, I caught my reflection in the mirror.

My face was grey and sallow, bags under my eyes, hair a dull mess. I groaned from exhaustion and climbed back into bed, figuring, fuck the class. I could afford to miss one Lit session, but not science, so I set my phone for an hour-long nap, and took an aspirin on the bedside stand for the gnawing pain settling behind my eyes. With that, I passed out in the soft embrace of my pillow. When the alarm jerked me awake, I looked even worse, head now throbbing. I changed into a long-sleeved shirt, shivering, thinking I’d need to see a doctor- but after class. My hands shook as I slung my bag over one shoulder and headed to the building.

I shuddered in the wind, even though it was just a light California breeze. That girl… I couldn’t stop picturing it, but tried to focus. With some difficulty, I made it up the few short steps and opened the class door only to find my professor, Mrs. Broche, with a look of befuddlement. “Becky, were you not just… wearing a different outfit?” My heart skipped a beat. No, no, this was all wrong.

“I, uh- think you have me mixed up with a different student-“ My hands searched through my bag for the paper due that day, mind boggled as dizzying spots danced before my eyes. “Here’s my essay, Mrs. Broche…”

The old woman gave me a concerned smile and rested her hand on my arm, the skin clammy. “Honey, you already handed your paper in. You JUST did. Do you… want to sit down?”
I slowly withdrew my hands from the bag, eyes darting around the room at the funny stares of my classmates. “I… did? Was I, um, just in here?”

My lab partner piped up with an uncertain tone. “Becky, I just saw you give her the paper. You alright?” I felt faint, dripping with sweat, but quietly choked out, “I’m fine.” No one looked like they bought it, and I tried to smile and glanced at the clock. Technically class didn’t start for another two minutes. “I’m just gonna go get some air, OK?”

The teacher nodded, finally taking her hand off me. “That sounds good, Becky. We won’t be getting underway just yet.” Panic gripped my head like a vice as I stumbled out into the hall, and I saw a guy I knew, another English major, Dean. My heart sank with the weight of his words.

“Weren’t you just here?” Dean gestured. “Going the… other way?”

I weakly assured him, “Musta been someone else, heh,” and he walked off as I slowly followed down the hall he’d indicated, feeling worse with every step. By the time I’d made it to the girl’s bathroom I could barely summon the strength to open the door, but in I went, and as it shut behind me there she was. The twin I always wanted. The girl from the dining hall. Just standing there, washing her hands, and as she turned she wasn’t even surprised to see me.

“Becky, what’s wrong?” she asked in a voice of genuine worry. She looked like she actually cared about how ill I was, as I slumped against the bathroom wall, the tile cool against my hot, moist skin. As my head spun I watched my bookbag slide down beside me, limp on the floor, and I turned to see her approaching.

“Who the Hell ARE you?” I said hoarsely. On her way over from the sink she faltered, leaving the water running as she gradually came toward me, and I scrabbled against the wall to get away.

“Don’t you know me? I’m your… sister…” She doubled over with a look of pain, clutching her stomach and wailing. My twin still tried haltingly to walk to me, and I was helpless to do anything but wave my hands in defense and push myself toward the stalls by shuffling my shoes. “We’re twins!”

“I’m not… your twin,” I told her between breaths. “I don’t have a twin, and I don’t… know who you are…” My head was splitting and my stomach felt ready for another round of vomit.

The girl was hurt, confused. “But I’m supposed to be here- this is our SCHOOL, Becky. Do you not- remember?” The sink was overflowing behind her, its water slowly pooling as she continued to grab at her belly, taking an uneasy step. “This is our- our life. I don’t understand.” She winced, her face going white. “Becky, what’s wrong?”

“YOU’RE what’s wrong!” I lay half-propped against the wall, the rest of me sprawled upon the tile, my whole body reeling.

My twin just gave a small, sad shake of her head. “I don’t know why we’re both so sick,” she told me, struggling on her feet. “I’ve been like this- ugh- all day.” I could tell she was really hurting.

“So have I,” I told her. This was crazy- I refused to believe I was in the girl’s bathroom, talking to a TWIN I never fucking had. No, this was something else, I reasoned to myself. I just had a fever… a really high one. Just a fever…

I reached trembling for the door to try and call for help, but it was so hard, and I was so very, very tired… my arm fell dead to the floor as I drifted in and out of consciousness on the tiles. All I could hear was the sound of my twin crying in pain, now down on her knees but still crawling to me, shaking violently. I tried to stay awake, tried to hold onto the feeling of the cool wetness that slowly spread under my legs. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her, skin now ashen and nose bleeding from both nostrils, croaking, “Sis… Becks, please…”

A monstrous agony taking hold of me, I used all the strength I had left to reach for her arm, but she twisted and pulled away, trying to get to her feet. She slipped in the puddle of still-running tap water and all at once I saw her fall back, bashing her head down on the sink corner and tumbling limp onto the ground, neck cocked at an odd angle. Oh God. Was she-? Just as quickly as she had dropped, the haze in my mind began to clear, and the harsh grip of pain suddenly released my body. My skin now flushing with new vigor, I sat up in the water and looked over.

Her brown eyes were locked, open and lifeless. A terrible sorrow flooded into me, and I locked the bathroom door from the inside and carefully made my way over to the body, shutting the damned sink off for good. With newfound energy I kneeled down and cradled my twin as her black, soaking hair fell loosely around me and the blood flowed freely from a gash in the back of her head. To my surprise, tears began streaming down my cheeks as I quietly said to her, “Maybe you were my twin. I asked for you, and you… you actually came…”

Maybe I was responsible for this. Maybe neither of us had to die, no matter how sick we’d become. Maybe this girl had her own life this entire time, living it out with no idea that I was living mine without her. Gently closing those staring dead eyes, I had no idea what to do, and considered calling for help. “I’m so sorry,” I told her. I grabbed a wad of paper towels and wiped away the bloody water. I couldn’t just leave her like this. My health rushing back to me, I finished with the tile, patting away the last traces of blood before I went to carefully clean off the wound on her head.

I gingerly propped her up between the back wall and the handicapped toilet railing of the last stall, biting my lip as my mind raced when I realized what the world would see- they’d think it was ME dead in there. I tucked my arm beneath her knees and tried to pull her legs up onto the rim of the toilet so no one would see her, shutting her inside and wondering who to call first. The police? My mom? God, as if anyone would ever BEGIN to believe me… As if to reply, the sound of my phone ringing made me jump, still in my bag across the room.

I hurried over to see it was Madeline, and answered. “Rebecca- oh, thank God you picked up!” Just as it did before, my heart began beating hard against my chest. I had never heard my sister speak in such a way. She sounded disturbed, frightened, practically UNHINGED. She kept going, a mile a minute. “I don’t know what to do, fuck, I don’t know what to do! You have to come, or… someone has to come here and get me, oh, Jesus.”

“Maddy, where are you?”
“I’m at the office.” Her voice was ragged and muffled, like she was hiding. “Something terrible- no, something IMPOSSIBLE is going on.” At this, I felt an uneasy tingle at the back of my throat, as she explained, “I, I was here, you know, working. Then on my lunch break I called my landline at home like I always do… to check my messages. Rebecca, I called the phone when no one was home. And someone picked up. I picked up.”

I scrambled to find my words. “What do you mean?”
“I mean it was ME! It was fucking me, myself, picking up the goddamned telephone! I am TERRIFIED, Becca. I’ve been retching over the sink for half an hour and I… I think I’m sick. Maybe even hospital sick.” That was it. I shook all over, holding the phone to my ear so hard I thought it might snap, and whispered back to her, “I think I know what’s going on, Maddy.”

“What? How could you have ANY idea what’s happening.” That was Madeline- dismissive even in the face of sheer, unadulterated madness. I grabbed up my bag and with one last, apologetic look back, unlocked the door and fled the building. “All I know is, there’s some stranger in my house right now, and I need your help, Becca. PLEASE!” I bounded across the grass toward my parking lot. “I need you to come and pick me up… I’m too dizzy to drive.”

“Alright, I told you, I think I know what’s up. I’m coming, okay?”
She practically shrieked at me. “Look, right now I need your CAR and your ASSISTANCE, not your… theories, Rebecca! Just, please hurry.” I felt a little indignant, but she WAS my sister, and if a twin had suddenly popped up in my life… I was already starting the car.

“I’m on the way,” I tried to reassure her. “Just stay where you are, right?”
Madeline laughed until it was broken by a chesty cough, telling me wryly, “I couldn’t go anywhere even if I wanted to. Just drive fast.” With her office in the next town over, I kept her on the line as I drove, and she only got sicker. “I’m not gonna be able to get my work done,” she told me faintly.

“Don’t worry about that, Maddy. Something… really terrible happened.” I pushed back the threat of more tears and took a sharp corner in her direction.

My sister sounded confused, like she was speaking through a fog. “…What?”

“I saw- I saw my own twin.” The light was yellow but I went right through it and kept my foot down hard on the gas. “Listen, I’m not joking with you. I had this stupid game as a kid and I like, I wanted my own twin, alright?” There was nothing but the sound of her breathing, and I feared for her, trying to evoke a response. “So today I see this other girl, this like, ‘twin’ of mine. And seeing her made me really sick, too.”

“You were sick?” Thank God, she was still conscious.

“Yeah, but the twin, she’s…” I fell silent for a minute. “She’s gone, now, and I feel like myself again.” Maybe she’d been there all along. Maybe if I’d just kept my distance… but I didn’t tell Maddy that. I didn’t know what else to tell her; only that I was coming.

As I closed in on her office she said, “Then maybe… maybe I really have a twin at my house. Oh, God.” She sighed. “She could be stealing my clothes, touching all my things, and God only knows what else…”

“I’m pulling in!” I shouted, frantically leaving the car running in a nearby spot. As I was about to hang up with her, jogging to the door, I told her, “I’m on my way in.” That’s when she suddenly interjected, “Oh my God, Rebecca- I think you’re actually right. Oh my God…” Then I heard a thud, as if she had dropped onto the floor, and I called “Maddy!” before finally hanging up, as I was already inside.

I rushed through the busy office, ignoring everyone that tried to greet me, telling them, “Sorry, I’ve got to go see my sister- she isn’t feeling well.” I found Madeline lying partly beneath her desk, the phone off the hook next to her pale, cold hands as she looked up at me in fear. “It’s OK, it’s OK,” I told her as I pulled her up to lean against me, and we started to make our way out as quickly as she could go. A woman poked her head out of a cubicle and said, “Not quite yourself, huh, Mads?” But we kept going, and once at the car I laid her down in the backseat, as my sister moaned with confusion.

Sweat poured from her in a fever, her freckled face suddenly so white and thin. “Thanks…” she told me, as I buckled myself in and set a course for her house, not far off.

“Madeline- stay awake. Tell me what you meant, when you said I was ‘right’.” I drove nervously, looking around for nothing in particular, as if this “other” sister was going to suddenly pop up.

From behind me Maddy laughed. “Ironic, really,” she said, disoriented. “When I was a girl, I wished too… I wished I could be in two places at once.” A few coughs escaped her. “You know, like, one ‘me’ could be at school and the other at home. One working and one with Ella. Like when she was a baby- GOD, she was so much work.” Now she was coughing profusely, bordering on delirious.

“Hang on,” I told her firmly. “We’ll be there in just a couple minutes, OK?”

Even as I sped through the suburban streets and she groaned, she continued to babble on. “Maybe I brought this… this ‘twin’ on too, huh?” Another laugh mixed with coughs. “Stretching myself so thin I needed another pair of hands to take care of it all.” It was the next street over now, and from behind me her voice said darkly, “ Ella will be getting home from school.”

“Look, Maddy! We’re here, we’re here…” My words faded as I pulled up to the curb of the house next door to hers, and opened the backseat door to find her coughing up bits of blood and phlegm, growing weaker by the minute. I took her hand and implored, “Hang on.” I tried to form a semblance of a plan, looking over the grass at her house. What would I do face-to-face with this… this Madeline-Twin? But my sister cut through my thoughts with her gravelly words.

“Your ‘twin’ person,” she said to me. “What happened? How did you- get better?”

Hesitantly, I started, “I regret it so much, Maddy… she DIED. It was an accident, I swear, and-“ Suddenly we both heard it: the lurching creak of a school bus coming to a stop just ahead of us. Ella was now getting off the steps and spotted me, waving. “Oh God- just hang on!”

I jumped over a bike laying in the neighbor’s yard and ran, the little girl starting up the concrete steps to my horror. I screamed to her, “That’s not your mother!” and waved my arms in panic, and Ella turned with a perplexed look as I stopped dead in my tracks at the startling sight of “Madeline-Twin.” The front door swung fully open. There she stood with a huge smile on her face, her brown hair pulled into a messy bun, wearing denim slacks caked in flour. A plate of chocolate chip cookies cooled on the table beside her as the woman bent down to embrace the still-confused Ella in a big, loving hug.

She leaned in tight and looked over the little girl’s shoulder at me with a warm, knowing smile. I was shocked into silence, watching motionless as she pulled back, kneeling at Ella’s level. “Why did Auntie Becca say that?” she asked her ‘mother,’ and Madeline-Twin simply shrugged it off. “Nahh, we’re just playing a silly game.” She crinkled her nose at the girl to put her at ease. “Isn’t that right, Aunt Becky?” She stood with a wave and said, “Why don’t you come on in? Maybe you should let your friend in the car have a rest… she IS very tired.”

I snapped my head back to see the real Madeline, her face half-sticking out from the backseat and wheezing, looking as taken aback as I was. She told me in a wobbly voice, “Get… the bitch. Now… get her!”

Madeline-Twin was kissing and doting on Ella, telling her to be careful, the cookies were still hot. “Is it your birthday? We don’t EVER make stuff together!” the girl giggled. This woman, this mom-who-wasn’t, just laughed, telling her with some fatigue, “Every day is a good day for baking with my special girl. And Mommy got off work early today.”

“Really?” Ella beamed.
“Yup, tummy ache, so no cookies for me. Closed up early.”

I struggled to find my voice and came up empty, turning to watch as my actual sister languished in my car, impatiently waving her hand at me. “Kill her, she’s with Ella! Jesus, Rebecca! DO SOMETHING!” Meanwhile her ‘twin’ took the girl gently by the hand. I glanced back and forth between them in uncertainty. One sister wasting away, still shouting orders at me. The other now moving into the hall, chatting with Ella behind an open door with a motherly hand on her shoulder. And so here I am. Stuck. It’s like I said- I never really liked my sister.

Credit: TheJinx

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