It was no later than 3 am when I heard Chris knocking at the door again. Stumbling out of my sheets, I fought the urge to lay back down and just let Chris figure it out. This was the fourth time he’d come to my house in the dead of night, and as my eyes searched for a light switch through my 2-ton eyelids, I remember deciding this was the last time I’d be so willing to help him.
If you make me waste one more second of my goddam break after this, I muttered beneath my breath. I want to go just one night without thinking about my entry exam or your creepy family. Failing to find the switch, I gave up on lighting my way and made for the door at a crawl; the blue haze of our living room tv coated my path, pouring in around the end of the stairway.
On turning the corner I passed last year’s christmas tree, which was never taken down, a testament to my parents’ home that they left in mild disarray. I found my dad dead asleep on the sofa. I didn’t bother trying not to wake him, an effort which would have been betrayed anyway by more knocking from the front door. In nights prior I’d taken more care to be quiet; after the same routine three (now four) nights in a row, I threw open the lock, tossed the glass door aside, and cut straight to the chase.
“Where is she?” It seemed like Chris wanted to respond, but he noticed my expression and turned silently, walking with me to his porch.
“She’s getting better, I think,” Chris noted carefully as we went up his front steps. “She’s started laying down sooner. It shouldn’t take too long this time, I swear.”
“I need to sleep, Chris,” I commented. “This better be quick.” Sitting upright on the porch in her pajamas, her eyes closed as usual, was Chris’ younger sister. She was sleepwalking again; at the very least, Chris managed to keep her propped up in a chair long enough to come get me. “Remind me why you can’t take care of her yourself?”
“I mean, I don’t need you here, I just–” Once again my deadpan eye cut him off, and he continued. “Look, it’s really weirding me out, okay? I told you, she’s never done this before. I don’t want to be alone with her like this.”
“She really just started that earlier this week?”
“Yeah! It’s freaking me out.”
“Just take her to a doctor or something.”
“My dad doesn’t want to go through the hassle of an appointment just for a sleepwalking spell.”
“Nothing, just…” the 17-year-old girl was still upright, seemingly unconscious, and her brother was waiting anxiously for my decision. “…Just bring her inside.”
“Bradley, you’re my hero. Thanks man.”
Without another word we helped sleeping beauty to her feet and corralled her towards my house. Barely a few dozen feet separated our two homes, a walking distance that made us ideal childhood friends. The walk felt less like a friendship gap and more like a favor line these days.
Within a minute or two we’d already gotten the girl through my front door; with practice, we were practically expert sleepwalker shepherds. As if the ominous, closed-eye shamble wasn’t unsettling enough, the static wash of the local news channel added an eerie glow to her shape. We sat her down on a kitchen stool with the weather forecast as provided ambience.
“Are you sure we should wake her up?” Chris asked. His eyes were still locked in a nervous gaze. “I don’t know if that’s healthy. I read something about that online, I think. Something about waking them up being bad.”
“WebMD isn’t going to help,” I pointed out. “it’s just going to give you random symptoms to worry about. We might as well try something other than sitting and watching her all night. Besides–she’s in my house, we try my solution.”
“Yeah, sorry about bringing her over here, by the way. I don’t want to wake my parents.” I glanced at my dad, still unconscious on the couch.
“Ah. Your parents. Right.”
“Okay, I’m gonna to try and get her up. I don’t think talking to her will work though. See if you can find something of use.”
“I don’t know, just something to try if I can’t get her awake.”
Abandoning Chris to his useless wake-up plan for the moment, I left him with his sister and went upstairs. I didn’t bother checking any bedrooms, and went straight to the bathroom. Water might work, I considered, feeling devious. I’d need a cup or something though. There was nothing in the bathroom, and the hall closet was equally fruitless, save a whistle which I thought might work. I collected the whistle and returned downstairs.
At first glance it seemed Chris and our patient were just as I left them; as I got closer, I found that Chris’ nervous watch had morphed into startled alarm.
“Bradley?” he called.
“Her eyes are open.”
I assumed he was trying to tell me his efforts had not been in vain, until I walked around to see her face. The girl was just sitting there. Staring. Unblinking. Not moving. Was she still asleep?
“Did…” I began, “…did you wake her up?”
“I don’t know,” Chris answered. “I looked away and…” Several minutes passed. Naturally confused and, for some unexplainable reason, afraid to act, we stood quietly and watched, waiting for something to happen. I don’t know what we were expecting, but it never came. Then, we tried clapping; we tried shaking her; we even tried the whistle–nothing worked. For what felt like a lifetime, she simply sat there, watching the window.
* * * * *
About two days had passed when Chris’ sister went missing. The police came, but they couldn’t find anything. No evidence, no story, no sign of the teenager. Chris didn’t leave his house for almost a week; he locked himself in his room and only left for food or anything he needed. I could see him at his window, thinking, probably hoping that somehow and someway his sister would be found. But she never was. She never was, until the night before the storm hit us.
“I don’t trust anyone in here, man,” Chris attempted through wavering cracks in his voice and the cell phone static. He was practically on the verge of a breakdown. “Something’s not right. Something’s going on–”
“Chris, you’re hysterical,” I interrupted. If it weren’t for what had happened with his sister, I’d have assumed he was simply overreacting. “Shouldn’t you be worried more about your sister? You know where the rest of your family is, they should be the least of your concerns.”
“Dude, I’m telling you, there is something wrong with them. No one in my family has ever been sleepwalking before!” An unseen weight seemed to sink in my stomach. I sat up in my bed, making out the shape of Chris’ house in the dark. His light was on, the only light in his home.
“Wasn’t your sister the one sleepwalking?” I dared to ask.
“She was. She isn’t anymore, now they’re all doing it.” I didn’t understand. I needed someone to say something, anything to explain away what was happening. Maybe you just never noticed it before, or, it could be normal, maybe we haven’t seen this ourselves. Once that word entered my mind it kept repeating, and repeating, and repeating, normal, normal, normal, normal–
“There’s someone at my door,” Chris’ voice shot through the line, throwing me from my daze.
“There’s someone at the door, I just heard knocking.” Peeking across the street, I could see Chris facing me through the window. His eyes were pleading for me to do something.
“When’s the last time you talked to someone in your family?”
“I don’t remember… three days… I think it’s been three days since–” This time I heard the knocking as Chris stopped in his tracks, and turned to face what I assumed was his doorway. Several minutes trudged by, and Chris remained fixed, silently, in an ominous stare; through the phone I could make out more knocking, ringing under his quickening gasps. His eyes were locked on something.
“Chris?” No response. “Chris?”
“What, what is it?”
“My door is open.” Before I could respond my mind was already replaying the sight of his sister upright in her chair, eyes open, yet unable to wake as though she were dead. “Someone’s just standing there, knocking on the door. It’s open, Bradley.” His words kept my sights glued to his window. “I can’t tell who it is.”
Then the light went out.
The call ended.
I waited a few minutes. Then an hour. Then a few hours. No matter how hard I looked at his house or how many times I tried to call him, I couldn’t make out Chris’ shape or get a hold of him. My phone history recorded my paranoia: nine outgoing calls, twelve unread text messages. What the hell happened? I don’t remember what I was feeling, or if I was even scared–I just needed to know what was going on.
Eventually, my exhaustion caught up to me. I tried to stay awake, to see what came next, but before I knew it I’d drifted off to sleep. How long I was out for is beyond me. All I know is that it was still dark out when my sister heard something shatter.
* * * * *
By the time I’d woken up, the police were already gone. Apparently I’d slept through most of the morning; when my sibling Carly got me out of bed, my phone read 2:38 pm.
“I don’t believe for a second you’ve been in this bed all day, what with all that’s happened,” she berated. “Where have you been, Bradley?” Clueless, I rubbed at my eyes to wear off the sleep, trying to make out the fuzzy shape of my older sister. I attempted a response.
“I… don’t know?” Apparently she didn’t like that answer.
“You need to go to the kitchen right now. Something happened last night, and there’s a detective who wants to speak to you. Dad does too.”
“A detective?” Before I got confirmation, Carly left the room. On entering the kitchen, however, I found my dad and an investigator waiting for me just as she’d said. Over the next hour or so I was made aware of what was, surprisingly, the strangest thing that had happened among recent events.
Carly had been awakened the night before by a series of startling events; a thunderous boom, a flash of light, and then a crash. on checking the commotion, she found that one of our downstairs windows had been smashed open. Not long after, someone else had called the police. It seemed that the body of a young girl had been found–I immediately understood who it was. What I didn’t understand though, was why Chris’ sister was found right by our house, next to the broken window.
According to the investigator, the incident was being identified as a shooting. I told the man everything I knew about the girl: her family, the sleepwalking, the disappearance–he didn’t seem interested in the sleepwalking part. I knew nothing about the body, but if it’s possible to know less than nothing, I sure did when he asked if I knew where it went. At some point before the police arrived the body had, from what this report the investigator read noted, ‘disappeared without a trace.’
My dad and sister left us alone while they went to examine the broken window. The man asked if I knew what happened to the window and, like Carly, didn’t really appreciate “I don’t know” as a response. At least, I think he didn’t, I couldn’t really tell; I was still trying to rub sleep out of my eyes. Eventually it became clear he couldn’t get anything out of me (I didn’t have anything to give, after all), but before the detective could make his exit I got in a question of my own.
“Have you asked Chris anything about this?” The man turned, a puzzled gleam in his gaze.
“Who’s Chris?” he questioned. “Is he related to the girl?”
“Yeah, he’s the girl’s brother.” The puzzle in his eye was clearly missing some pieces, and he seemed lost. “They all live at that house right across the street.”
“We knocked at the door, son. No one was home. If they’re out, we’ll check with them when they return.” With that, the private eye thanked my family for their time and went on his way. My dad left the house too, muttering something about not missing work. Though I felt alone, I could still sense Carly’s presence behind me, the two of us stuck in place by an awkward static. Finally, she broke the silence.
“Were you still asking your friends to come see you today?” It took me a moment to remember: I’d asked a few old friends to come by, friends I hadn’t seen since I started college. One of them, of course, had been Chris. Some part of me got a feeling he might not show up that afternoon.
“I’m still thinking about it, yes,” I answered.
“Well, tell them to be careful driving. A storm’s coming in, and they’re saying the roads might flood. If they do drop by, they might have to stay for a while.” She started to leave the room, but stopped to complete her thought. “I’m not going to be home tonight, I have to head to the airport. Dad should be home in the morning.”
* * * * *
It was around 7 pm when the guests arrived. They had called earlier, wondering if they should wait for calmer weather, but the drive isn’t far and I insisted against rescheduling. Through the maelstrom of sleet and pouring rain their car jumped onto the driveway. I watched from the door as they threw up an umbrella and made a dash for the house.
“Oh my god, Bradley!” Dan shouted, hardly letting me open the door. I called them in as cheerfully as I could.
“Dan, Maria! How are you guys?”
“What the hell, it’s been so long!” Maria added. “Come on, you have to tell us everything. What have you been doing all this time?”
“I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it,” I replied, narrowly surviving Dan’s bear hug. “Now get in here, before it starts hailing or something.”
While the night’s dinner baked in the oven, Dan, Maria and I went about sharing all the things we’d missed getting to be a part of in each other’s lives. A flood warning had been issued, and the guests were going to have to stay the night. The two of them got cozy nuzzling on the sofa, warming their hands in each other’s laps; I found a seat from where I could face them and the doorway.
At one point, Dan went to find the bathroom. Maria waited for him to leave, then leaned in to interrogate me.
“Alright,” she began. “When did you and Sylvia go out? You’re going to be trapped in this house with me and you’re not getting away until I know.”
“You know what,” I answered with a sigh, “fine. It happened over the summer, just after graduation.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I mean, I guess I hadn’t thought about it? I don’t know.” I scratched my eye while trying to remember. “It still doesn’t feel like it really happened.”
“How long were you together for?”
“Um… four months? Yeah, four I think.”
“We weren’t exactly a match made in heaven, I guess.”
It was almost 8 pm at this point, and Dan returned from the bathroom.
“Holy hell,” he started.
“What?” Maria asked. “What is it?”
“Okay–wow–Bradley, your sister really scared me in the hallway. I thought she wasn’t home!”
Maria smiled. Dan smiled too. I smiled as well, even though I didn’t understand; my sister had already left for the airport. I tried to form some sort of an explanation, but got interrupted when the first bang shook the walls.
“Woah,” Dan stammered. “What was that?” The room fell silent for a moment.
“It wasn’t a gunshot, was it?” I interjected.
“Was it?” Maria worried. “It sounded close–” She’d barely finished her thought when a second shot boomed out, then a third. Another two went off in quick, shocking succession, as if whoever fired them was in a panic. Then, silence, save for the substantial rain battering the walls and windows; as if on cue, the storm was starting to really hit.
“Guys?” Dan broke into the ambience. I started to get up, but Dan gestured for me to stay put. “Bradley! You should stay away from the window.”
“Why?” I asked.
“What if there’s something going on, like a shooting?”
“I think Dan’s right,” Maria noted, “it could be serious.”
We sat still, listening. After what felt like a lifetime, our senses on full alert, we weren’t able to hear anymore gunfire. I got on my feet to peer out the window; Dan didn’t stop me this time. It seemed as though time itself held still while I opened the blind, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever awaited us in the rain. I couldn’t see anything through the downpour, and I was about to close the blinds when I noticed a shape lying on the driveway.
We leapt out of our skin when a knock came at the door from across the house. it came suddenly, without warning. I looked at Dan, then Maria, who was watching towards the entrance.
“Is it your dad?” she wondered aloud. No one answered as I made my way around the couch. Taking hold of the wall, I would lean into the hall through one of the doorways to see who was knocking; I feared it was whoever had been shooting, but some part of me was more afraid of what might have caused it.
Before I identified our guest, I checked one more time on the group behind me. Maria hadn’t moved from the couch; Dan was standing next to me, where he was when the shots went off. Another deep breath, and I was ready to find out who was at the door. I wasn’t sure what I was so afraid of. What if we were just overreacting?
It was clear we weren’t overreacting when I discovered the front door was open. Whoever’d been knocking was now in the house.
“Who is it?” Dan whispered from beside me. I tried to formulate a reply.
“…I’m not sure…” became my response. As I watched the door, something caught my eye. “Dan, did you leave the light on upstairs?”
“The light?” he repeated, unraveling. Walking over to see what I meant, he noticed the open door as well. It became clear he was getting nervous. At last, I decided I’d had enough, and went off towards the stairs. Dan called to me from the doorway, hardly at a whisper.
“Bradley, where are you going?”
“I’m going to figure out what the hell is going on,” I answered brashly, not stopping to face him. Instead, I rounded the corner and took to the stairs. Dashing up, I was ready to get some answers–I halted at the landing, realizing I might be running into danger with reckless abandon. The hallway, including the doors to my dad’s room and my own room, was just visible around the corner.
The bathroom door was ajar, and an orange ray poured into the unlit hall. Ah, ominous, I contemplated. Why not? Taking the final step onto the second floor, the doorway was now in full sight. I’d been hoping this whole thing was a strange coincidence, but my hopes were suspended when a shape in the cracked opening caught my eye. After everything that’d happened that night, I was a little unsettled; it was when I opened the door that I really became concerned.
“…Chris?” The words escaped my mouth as though they weren’t mine. Leaning against the sink, staring at his reflection in the mirror, Chris had appeared for the first time in almost twenty-four hours. At my exclamation, he turned to face me–there was a look in his eye I couldn’t quite place. We stood in a long beat of silence, until I broke from my trance to start getting some answers.
“Were you knocking on the front door?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he responded. “I was hoping you were home, but no one answered, so I came in to make sure you were okay.” Something about Chris was different, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.
“Why are you in the bathroom?”
“I came upstairs to see if you were–”
“Why are you in the bathroom?”
“Alright, I know this seems weird Bradley, but I swear I have a reason–” I stopped him again with more questions, no longer able to contain my curiosity.
“What happened last night? Where did you go?”
“Bradley, if you’d give me a second to explain…”
I hadn’t interrupted him, but he trailed off anyway. It took me a moment to realize he wasn’t looking at me. You know that feeling you get when even though you can’t see it, you know something’s behind you? However you describe it, that’s what hit me just before the bathroom light went off.
The next few seconds were a blur. There was a scream–I assume Chris–and I saw him holding something in the dark. On impulse I ran, and before I knew it my feet had carried me to the stairs; I practically tumbled to the bottom as I scurried towards the living room. At some point during my flight a series of ear-splitting booms shook the house, and I hadn’t even noticed the flashing light before I got back to the others.
“Holy shit!” Dan called down the hall as I fell through the living room doorway.
“Oh my god,” Maria cried while helping me to my feet. “What the hell just happened?”
“Someone attacked us,” I gasped, hardly believing my own words.
“What?” Dan shouted. “What do you mean someone–”
“I don’t know, the lights went–”
“Was that a gun?” Maria cried.
“That was a gun, Bradley,” Dan started yelling. “Did you–?”
It was chaos. Dan was almost screaming, and Maria was panicking, and I couldn’t finish a sentence, and someone walked past the room, and the rain was getting heavier; there was no calm in sight when we heard footsteps charging down the stairs. Chris halted at the top of the staircase–he brandished a handgun, pointed right at us. The panic got worse.
“Everyone shut up!” Chris exploded. We froze, encased in fear. “Nobody move!”
“Chris?” I dared a question. He watched me, letting me speak, but he was definitely on edge. I got the feeling he wouldn’t hesitate to gun me down the moment I made a wrong move. “Chris, what the hell is happening?”
* * * * *
We managed to calm everyone down enough to come together in the living room. Chris was still eyeing us, his gun at the ready; we all eyed him back, and he began to speak.
“Alright,” he started, “I don’t know what’s going on, but no one is leaving this room until we’ve figured something out.”
“Chris,” I interjected, “you’re hysterical.”
“Quiet, Bradley!” He kept the barrel leveled right with my head.
“Chris,” Dan spoke up. “Were you the one firing those shots earlier?”
“Outside?” Chris elaborated. Dan nodded. “Yeah… Yes, that was me.”
“Why?” Maria asked. She looked shaken, but she was holding together.
“…It was trying to escape.”
There was an uncomfortable pause at the word. For a moment, looks of terror turned to looks of bewilderment; we all exchanged glances, and I asked for clarity.
“It?” I repeated.
“Yeah,” Dan added in, “what is-, what is ‘it?'”
“I don’t know what it is,” Chris began to answer, “but it–”
“This is ridiculous,” I interrupted. “Do you realize how–”
“Bradley, I swear to God!” His grip on the weapon tightened. “Look, I’m telling you. Whatever got to my family, it’s probably trying to–”
“Your family?” Maria stopped him. Suddenly, Chris’ nervous fury melted a bit, and he was lost in thought; his grip loosened on the pistol.
“Chris,” Dan questioned, “Who were you shooting at outside?”
“It was my brother,” Chris admitted after a moment. Dan looked utterly confused. “Wait, no, it wasn’t him, but it-, it looked like him… but it was walking towards your house–”
“Chris?” Maria stopped him again. “What’s going on?”
It took Chris a few moments before he’d adequately come out of his trance. He spoke slowly, as if choosing his words carefully.
“Over the past few weeks,” he began, “I noticed something… was wrong with my sister.” Dan and Maria looked at each other, then at me as though expecting some kind of explanation–I had no words. Chris continued. “Soon enough, my dad was acting weird too, and then my mom, and my brother as well. I locked myself in my room and avoided them, and it might be the only reason I’m okay.”
“How do we know you’re okay?” I asked, sitting up in my chair. Chris, it seemed, had no idea how to respond; the longer he waited, the more Dan and Maria began to shift around. Finally, he thought of a reply.
“Would I want to kill it, whatever it is, if I wasn’t?” This seemed to satisfy the three of us.
“What happened to your family?” Maria inquired, not handling the suspense very well. Chris took an uncomfortably long time to answer.
“I… I killed them.”
Maria fainted. Dan jumped to his feet, not happy at all about his current situation.
“What the fuck do you mean you killed them?” He bellowed. Chris snapped to attention, readying his weapon.
“Jesus,” I remarked. As quickly as she’d gone out, Maria started coming to; Dan calmed as he tended to his girlfriend.
“Listen to me!” Chris tried to reason. “They weren’t human anymore!”
Any sane person would have thought Chris had lost his mind; we must have been crazy ourselves, because we started to listen intently. “After I… killed them… I took the bodies outside to bury them. That’s when I grabbed the gun.” I wasn’t sure what Chris had used before the gun, but the thought bothered me and I kept listening. “As I was taking them around the house, my… my sister showed up.”
“Last night?” I asked.
“Yeah. She was the first to act out so I knew she wasn’t herself anymore. I couldn’t trust her–so I shot her. After that I buried her body with the others.”
Maria wasn’t taking the story very well, and she was shaking all over; Dan didn’t take his eyes off of her.
“So why don’t you trust us?” I remarked. “I mean, if it was just your family, why would we–”
“Because after I killed her–before I got the body–something… something came out of her corpse.” Chris looked as though he no longer believed himself, as though the uncanny nature of his testimony was just starting to hit him. “I… I didn’t see it, but I heard it break through your window.”
All at once, everything added up.
“Oh my god,” I stammered. I was trying to process this, but it wasn’t long before Chris explained it to all of us.
“Bradley, either it’s in your house, or… or it’s already inside one of you.” Maria sat up; so did Dan; so did I.
“Well…” Dan pondered aloud, “…Well then it can’t be me or Maria. I mean, we just got here tonight. I–” He noticed Maria, who was watching me cautiously. Chris saw this too, and suddenly four pairs of eyes were locked on me.
“Whatever it is,” I stuttered quickly, “you and I were just attacked by it upstairs. It’s still on the loose!”
“If it’s been here since last night,” Chris calculated, “it could have gotten to anyone in this house. Has anyone been away from the group tonight?” The eyes all shifted to Dan, who had been in the bathroom.
“What?” Dan protested. “I was just peeing, okay? I was gone for like, three minutes, tops! But–” he turned to Maria. “–you were alone with him!” He pointed to me with his exclamation. Maria, shocked, defended herself.
“Well, something attacked Chris and Bradley!” she retaliated. “What if whatever it was got you while you were in the bathroom?” The couple was farther apart, physically speaking, than I’d seen them in years. While the group threw accusations left and right, a shadow caught the corner of my eye; I looked behind me, but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
“I was gone for three! Minutes! What could have happened?” Dan railed on.
“That could have been enough time for it to copy you,” I noted.
“Copy?” Chris halted the witch trial to take notice of my comment.
“Yeah,” I explained. “You said it looked like your brother, right?”
“…Yes?” Chris confirmed.
“Did you bury your brother before you saw him near my house?”
“I think so, yeah.”
“Then I think whatever you shot wasn’t your brother.” I only saw Chris’ puzzled stare for a moment before the whole room went dark. Something turned the lights off.
Dan and Maria screamed as Chris fumbled for a source of light. He yanked out his phone and flipped the flashlight on, just in time to illuminate an unusual figure making its way out of the room.
“There it is!” He called, alerting the rest of us. “Don’t lose it!” The chase was on as Chris bolted into the dark. Dan and Maria went after him, and I followed. Chris flew up the stairs after the intruder, but our adrenaline ran out in the second floor hallway–as if by magic, the figure had disappeared.
“Shit,” Chris gasped. “Bradley, did you see where it went?”
“Huh?” I replied.
“Bradley, you were right behind me.”
“No, I didn’t see it.”
“Damnit.” Chris scratched his head, then began peeking into the rooms with his light. He checked my dads’ room: nothing. He checked my room: empty. He checked the bathroom: vacant. “Well… it looks like we lost it.”
* * * * *
“Here’s the plan,” Chris announced. We were in the living room again, and were devising a way to get out of our mess–preferably alive and unaltered. On a coffee table we’d laid out an assortment of tools to defend ourselves with. We had a kitchen knife, a hammer, a taser (from Maria’s purse), and the gun; Chris set it down to insist he could be trusted.
“Bradley, have you locked all the doors?”
“Yep,” I reported. “The key is outside. Someone will have to let us out once we’ve tracked down our intruder.”
“Locked the windows too?”
“Nailed shut. They can’t be opened without breaking them; I moved a cabinet in front of the one that broke last night.”
“Good, if we hear one shatter we’ll know where it’s at.” With that, Chris went about deciding how to divvy out armaments. We weren’t so worried about three of the weapons; the one we couldn’t decide on was Chris’ handgun. Eventually, we decided Dan was the least conspicuous and most capable of handling it, so the trust fell on him. With the firepower in his control, Dan was now in charge.
“Alright,” Dan began. “Like Chris said, whoever–or god forbid whatever–is in this house, it’s probably trying to get out by now. No one try the doors, no one sneak off, and no one check your phones. Got it?” We all nodded, and Dan seemed satisfied. “Okay, good. Now: let’s go find our guest.”
We searched the bottom floor thoroughly, before deciding to move on with no trace of it on the level. Upstairs, we split up–Dan with Maria, and Chris with me–and room by room we went; no matter where we looked, no nook, cranny, nor corner turned up a sign of the figure. By the time we convened at the stairs again, only my dad’s bedroom remained.
“Maria?” Dan addressed the girl, who was clutching her taser as though it were her child.
“Yeah?” She replied.
“I’m going to check the bedroom with Chris.” Chris looked just as confused as I was by this. “If the intruder is in there, I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Well what should I do then?”
“Wait downstairs with Bradley.” Maria didn’t seem convinced by the idea, and watched me with suspicion.
“What if something happens down there?”
“Then take this.” Letting go of his own security, Dan offered the gun to Maria. “It’s much safer than a taser.”
“Dan, are you sure–?”
“I’m sure, darling. You watch Bradley, and I’ll keep an eye on Chris.”
“How do you know she’s safe to trust with that?” I pointed out, noticing a potential folly in the plan.
“Bradley,” Dan replied without hesitation, “she’s my girlfriend. I’d know if she wasn’t herself.”
Having no counter for that, I reluctantly agreed to follow Maria downstairs while the other men checked the bedroom. Maria made me walk ahead of her as we descended the steps; I had no doubts that she wouldn’t take any chances with me. We set foot in the living room once again and, after double-checking that we were alone, took a seat on the sofas.
“Maria,” I spoke, to break the silence. “Why am I the one you’re targeting?” She didn’t waiver, but held the firearm weakly. Unlike Chris, I could tell she didn’t want to use it.
“You’ve been here for weeks,” she reminded me. “Why should I trust you? Whatever’s going on, you’ve been around it this whole time.”
“Chris is the one you should be watching, not me. He was living with those-, those things! There’s no way that isn’t at least a little off to you.”
“He wants to stop it, Bradley. He had a point when he told us that. Why would he help track it down if it was him he was hunting for?”
“To avert suspicion, maybe? And besides, what if he’s really just trying to trap us all in here with him?”
“Well hey, he’s your friend, Bradley. Shouldn’t you trust him?”
“I trusted him when he wasn’t pointing a gun at my head.”
We waited there in silence. I thought about making another remark, but decided against it. A new thought had just come to mind when Dan came running through the doorway.
“Bradley, Maria,” he called, grabbing our attention. As he entered the room, I noticed he was carrying two weapons; moments later, I could just make out the sounds of banging and shouting from upstairs.
“Is that Chris?” I demanded to know, looking towards the sound.
“I, uh… I locked him in a closet.”
“What?” Maria questioned him, getting to her feet. “Why?”
“Guys, look–I do not trust him. I mean, it’s like you said earlier, Bradley, his whole family was acting weird or whatever the case was. How do we know he’s clean?”
“See, Dan agrees with me,” I quipped at Maria.
As we debated Chris’ credibility, I noticed the shouting from upstairs was beginning to stop.
“Dan, I still don’t know,” Maria said, conflicted. “He could really be on our side.”
It seemed like our argument had nowhere else to go when our trust circle was suddenly shattered by a cry for help–Chris was in danger.
“Shit,” Dan remarked.
“Why would you leave him alone?” Maria shouted. “Hurry!”
Lightly armed and hardly prepared, we took off for the second floor. We sprinted up the stairs, turned into the hall, and burst into the bedroom; to our surprise, Chris was not in the closet, but was standing in the open, breathing frantically.
“Chris?” Dan spoke, a bit confused. “How did–”
“It tried to get me!” Chris panted, trying in vain to regain his composure.
“You saw it?” Dan exclaimed. “Where did it go?”
“I locked it in there.” Chris found his footing and pointed at the closet. It seemed he’d gotten over Dan trapping him, and was now more worried about the intruder.
“Move over, Chris!” Dan gestured for him to step aside. It didn’t take long to spot Dan’s finger on the trigger, and he quickly ducked away from the closet. On Dan’s cue, I crept beside the closet, placed a hand on the handle, and flung it open.
Startled by the gunshot that followed, Maria ducked on the floor. Dan looked after her as Chris and I closer examined the closet. lurking in the dark had been the figure, who I could now identify for the first and last time–the convincing replication of Chris’ sister was crumpled on the floor. After escaping its original host, the intruder had copied her image perfectly; the only thing out of place was the hole Dan put where her eye had been.
“You were right about it making copies,” Chris noted. He seemed oddly unfazed at the sight of the corpse. “It looks just like her… Like she did, I guess.”
Dan took Maria downstairs to help her relax. Chris and I kept an eye on the body until Dan was sure the scarred girl was alright, and after a few minutes he came back up to the bedroom.
“I hate to break it to you guys,” Chris stated firmly, to our dismay, “but we still don’t know that we’re safe. If it can be that convincing, how do we possibly know for sure that none of us are one as well?”
“Chris,” Dan addressed him curiously, realizing something that didn’t add up. “How did you get out of the closet?”
“Well,” Chris replied, “I used the knife to undo the lock.” I turned to Dan, who was looking at me, a glint of uneasiness in his eye.
“But, I have the knife,” Dan informed us, exposing the lie.
The room fell deathly silent. We waited for an answer, a defense; Chris just stood there. Staring. Unblinking. Not moving. ‘Chris’ had made a mistake.
“Dan?” I stammered. “Where’s the gun?”
“Guys, hang on,” Chris spoke up, startling Dan and I. “Let’s talk about this.”
“I gave it to Maria,” Dan realized.
“We can figure this out,” Chris continued, scratching his eyes.
“Chris, don’t move a muscle, or we’ll–”
I fell to the floor as the impersonation moved its hands away, revealing empty orbs where there were eyes moments ago. It stared straight at Dan, and its jaw nearly unhinged; an inhuman, primal wailing escaped from its mouth. It took a single step towards Dan before we were all shocked by a deafening bang, and the false-Chris was no more. Standing over the lifeless creature was Maria, holding the smoking gun firmly in her hands.
* * * * *
The next morning, none of us spoke to the police. My dad arrived home to find us still awake in the living room, before discovering two ‘bizarrely disfigured human remains,’ as I would later find the report referred to them as. It took days for us to find the words to speak, let alone explain what incomprehensible events had taken place that night; none of us tried to tell the truth, and instead we agreed on an alibi, which would be broadcast on the news within a week: “The late Chris Mensworth, a 19-year-old college student from South Florida, was convicted of committing a murder-suicide, massacring his family before killing himself and his sister in the home of his childhood friend, Bradley Stokes.” Even as the newscaster read it, I still couldn’t comprehend that Chris, and his whole family, were really dead.
The rest of my holiday break was hardly festive. Christmas was quiet, and cheerful hymns were replaced with silent respects at church. Eventually, the time came for me to return to campus; After all, I told my dad, I still have an entry exam for next semester. With quiet packing and solemn goodbyes, I got in my car and drove north.
When I walked into my apartment, I was truly alone. With one friend dead and two others traumatized for life, I didn’t sleep at all my first night back on campus. It was still dark outside the window when my roommate came in.
“Hey man,” he said, taking a knee beside me. “I heard about what happened. Are you doing alright?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. He smiled, trying to comfort me.
“You sure you’re good?”
“Yeah,” I affirmed, smiling back. “Everything’s fine.”
Credit: Evan Spry