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Crappypasta Roundup for 5/1/2016

May 1, 2016 at 10:47 AM

The following stories were uploaded to Crappypasta over the past week:

Comments on the roundups will be closed – if you have feedback on any of the stories linked here, please use their own individual comment sections.

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Is There Life After Death?

May 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I’ve told this story many times, and without exception it has provoked the same reaction – disbelief. No matter how difficult it is for people to process, and no matter how many conventional explanations have been offered, this did happen and it’s an experience I will never forget.

It started with a friend of mine, Stewart, who had always been interested in the supernatural. I, on the other hand, had no more interest in it than the next person. Of course I’m curious about whether there is life after death — and for selfish reasons — but I prefer to leave these things to themselves, as I find the entire subject morbid. I’m sure I’ll learn the truth in the end, but until that day I’d rather not ask the question for fear of the answer, either way.

Stewart was captivated by the paranormal, he lived and breathed it, but our friendship had developed through another of his passions – film – and although he often asked me to go on one of his ‘investigations’, I always replied that I preferred such things to remain on the cinema screen, and to stay there.

We’d go for a few beers regularly at Farlan’s bar on the main street or catch a film at the local cinema with some mutual friends. Then, suddenly, I didn’t see or hear from him for a couple of weeks, which was peculiar, but I assumed he was simply busy and so I left it at that.

It was 3:04AM when he called. I was angry at first that he’d woken me, but when I heard the sound of his voice, anger quickly bled into concern. Stewart was always such an upbeat guy, but that night his voice sounded distant, and there was a new uncertainty I had never sensed before which quivered underneath each word, unsettling me.

‘I need you to come and get me’ he said in a low whisper.

‘What’s wrong? Where are you?’, I asked.

‘I can’t talk for long, just come to the old botanical gardens at the edge of town’. His breath became increasingly laboured and agitated as he spoke.

‘Stewart, if you’re in trouble, call the police…’

‘No!’, he exclaimed in a unique mix of whisper and shout. I’m not meant to be here, they’ll arrest me. Just come to the botanical gardens and send me a text when you’re waiting outside. I have to go’.

And with that, he hung up.

Ten minutes later I was in my car and driving to the edge of Windarm town. It was an autumn night, and as I passed landmarks which were usually familiar to me during the day, each twisted tree branch and leaf covered garden took on a more threatening nature than I was used to; the night revealing an unapparent side to the town I loved.

It seemed strange to me that Stewart would be in the botanical gardens at night. He quite regularly went away on nocturnal investigations of abandoned hospitals and other supposedly haunted locations, but that place didn’t seem like an obvious choice for such things. In the past the gardens housed beautiful exotic trees, plants, and wildlife under a massive green house which must have been over 200 feet in length, but it had been shut down for a few decades. I guess the townsfolk didn’t frequent it often enough to keep it afloat. Even when I was a kid the place was just fodder for a rock or two, shattering many of its countless panes of glass, each held in place by a rusted frame — although admittedly my throw fell short more often than not. I know my dad talked about going there when he was a kid, amazed by the place, a self contained tropical landscape even during Windarm’s bleakest winters.

I pulled up in front of a large metal fence. It had been erected years previous, encircling what was left of the botanical gardens and its grounds; no doubt to dissuade new generations of rock throwers. On its gate hung a mud smeared sign displaying the words “No Trespassing” in no uncertain terms. Stewart obviously hadn’t bothered with the warning, no doubt more interested on catching a glimpse of something otherworldly inside. I left the engine running, as it was a little cold out, but just as I unlocked my phone I received a text message.

*Kill your lights!*

And so I did. Then another message quickly followed.

*Don’t call me, whatever you do.*

I began to develop the distinct impression that Stewart and I were not the only ones present out there in the night. A nervousness crept into my breath, and as I sat there looking into the darkness of the gardens, partially obscured by a web of fencing, I felt as though something was staring back.

For a moment I was unsure how to proceed, but was then startled by another text message, and, frightened by the thought that Stewart was in there somewhere and about to be grabbed by a burly security guard, a local gang, or worse, I adhered to his instructions:

*Follow my light and get me the hell out of here.*

And there it was, Stewart’s torch flickering for a brief moment before being engulfed by the darkness once more.

I opened the car door, the night uncomfortably cold as it washed over me. Just 30 minutes earlier I had been cosy, sleeping in my bed, and now this, climbing over a fence and walking into God knows what.

The fence rattled as I pulled myself up, and as I reached the top I looked across the pitch night and seriously reconsidered going any further. Then, Stewart’s torch light flashed again and I knew I couldn’t leave him, possibly injured or trapped, with the chilled October air threatening worse.

I jumped down from the fence as quietly as I could, my feet muffled by the whispering grass below. The ground was wet, and the unattended grass and bushes which surrounded the main building made progress difficult.

The light flashed again. Three times in fact before Stewart turned it off once more. I was sure now that he was growing more agitated, and so I continued in the direction of the once-glass building to reach my friend as quickly as possible. But my footsteps were uncertain, and my eyes struggled to pierce the dark. I took out my phone and used the LED light on its back to see where I was going.

As I walked towards the large shadowed outline of the garden building, I grew increasingly apprehensive. There were only three possible reasons why Stewart turned on his torch intermittently. One was that it had broken somehow, perhaps he could only get it to flicker into life every few minutes. Another explanation would be that the battery was low. Perhaps he was lost and switched it off to conserve what little juice it had left. The last explanation was a less appealing one. I switched off my light at thought of it.

Perhaps he didn’t want to draw too much attention to his location. Maybe he was frightened that someone else would find him first.

The darkness stood before me, a wall of black which blanketed all. It was hopeless, I was going to have to switch the light on to see where I was going. I remembered when I was 14 and had nearly fallen down an old drainage shaft when I was camping at night with friends. I always shuddered thinking about that, about how bad that fall could have been.

I needed to see where I was going. If a security guard came and found me, then that was a better outcome than falling into the darkness somewhere, unseen.

And yet, the thought of a night guard seemed far-fetched. The old building had been derelict for years, and it seemed unlikely that the town would waste money on wages for someone to patrol the area at night.

Finally, I reached the building, its base made of red brick which had held up surprisingly well for all its years of neglect. The same could not be said of the frame. Large metal struts reached up to the sky, forming a huge domed roof. I could see pieces of the frame lying on the floor, and in the dim light from my phone I thought I saw strands of it hanging from the roof, just waiting to break off and impale any unwelcome trespassers.

I cringed at the thought of my friend lying somewhere inside, perhaps impaled or trapped by falling metal and masonry.

Stewart’s light flickered again, and then disappeared. It was indeed coming from inside, and as I ducked under and then through one of the countless empty metal frames, I realised that he was somewhere in the middle of the building.

Despite having no solid walls, there was an echo of sorts to the place, subtle, my footsteps ricocheting gently off the concrete floor and then filtering out into the bleakness of the night.

That was when I first noticed it. The cold. Sure, it was always cold in October, but as I slowly proceeded, shards of broken glass cracking occasionally under my weight, a chill in the air grew more pronounced. It bit at my exposed face, and I was convinced that if I looked in a mirror my nose would have been bright red.

There.

Stewart’s light.

It was closer now, and for the first time I saw the light reflect upwards for a moment and illuminate Stewart’s outline. As I drew nearer the night closed in and the cold was now becoming almost unbearable. My hands ached from the bones outward, and the air froze my insides with each breath.

I was now only a few metres away from the centre of that old glassless dome and my friend. Then light flickered again, but it seemed obscured somehow, as if Stewart had turned his back on me, the light from his torch bathing him in illumination for only the briefest of seconds.

‘Stewart, it’s Mike. Are you okay?’ I said softly.

‘Yes, let’s get the hell out of here!’ he replied nervously.

Then a new noise joined us. Just as I opened my mouth to whisper across to Stewart and ask him if he was hurt, the sound of broken glass breaking under weight echoed from behind. It came from somewhere behind us and was subtle at first, but there was no doubt: I could hear movement. Yes, footsteps, more pronounced. They were moving towards us. Then, they stopped.

All I could hear was my heart thumping, the adrenaline of apprehension coursing through my veins. Quickly, I switched off the light from my phone hoping to obscure our location.

‘Someone else is here’, I said.

‘I know’, whispered Stewart. ‘They’ve been wandering around me for hours’.

Then the footsteps moved again, this time circling, prowling under cover of night. I knew then why Stewart had called me. Someone was taunting him, they had been in that broken glass dome all along, terrifying my friend and me in the process.

No doubt he had been terrified. But now there were two of us, and whoever was circling, they were surely but one. I decided we would act, pick a direction and stick to it. I moved close to my friend and whispered.

‘Follow me’.

‘Sure’.

That word still haunts me. The light from Stewart’s torch came on once more. But, you see, it wasn’t a torch. And whoever I was standing right in front of was not my friend Stewart. A strange light emanated from inside the throat of what I can only describe as the figure of a woman. The light bled out through translucent skin which seemed to take on the appearance of night, and the light forced its way up and out of her gaping mouth.

At that moment, Stewart appeared from the darkness, grabbed my arm, and before I knew it we were running. Our feet scrambled over broken glass, pummelling it further into smaller shards. I looked over my shoulder, and the horrid figure, light source and all, was chasing us. The light from her throat and mouth seemed to pulse with intermittent fury, and as we reached the metal frame of the building, she screamed words of hate and anguish, a rasping anger filled with nothing but contempt for the living.

Before I knew it, we had escaped the gardens, that screeching creature seemingly constrained to the boundaries of that derelict building. We reached the fence, then the car, and then home; where I fixed both Stewart and myself a large whiskey as we tried to calm our nerves.

As it turned out, Stewart had been on one of his investigations as I’d thought. He’d heard stories of strange lights coming from the old botanical gardens building at night, and thought he would check it out. He got more than he bargained for, that’s for sure. At first the old building seemed empty, but as the night drew in he felt as though he was being watched. Suddenly, the batteries from his torch drained. The spare batteries he always carried with him were equally unresponsive, and so he was left in darkness, alone.

It was then that he heard the footsteps, and a woman’s voice who simply kept saying ‘I know you’re hear. I know you’re watching me’. To Stewart it sounded like she was pacing up and down, occasionally standing over him as he hid on the floor. God knows what would have happened if she’d found him.

I’m sure you have realised by now that Stewart claims he never called me on his phone, or sent any text messages. Indeed, he dropped it in the darkness and still hasn’t found it to this day.

We talk about that night occasionally, and Stewart hasn’t been on an investigation since. He lost the stomach for it, and who can blame him. My unease with the memory of that night, however, doesn’t revolve around the fear of meeting some spectral creature in the night — I intend to stay as far away from any ‘haunted’ place as I can. It’s more a fear which grabs me occasionally when I really think about what that night meant. If that horrid apparition is in any way what happens to us all when we die, that we are filled with such hatred for the living, I’d prefer to believe that there is no life after death; for what we encountered that night was a twisted reflection of all that is good in each of us, and if no good can remain, I would rather not exist at all.

Credit: Michael Whitehouse

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May 2016 Discussion Post: Your Creepypasta/Paranormal Projects

May 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM

I get a lot of messages from people who are interested in starting their own Creepypasta-related YouTube channel, website, insta, whatever – they usually want to ask for advice about how to select stories, how to get started and find viewers, etc etc and so forth. Given that I don’t operate anything beyond my little two-site blog network, I often am left feeling somewhat useless when replying to some of these people. I’ve tried to go over how I select pastas in the FAQ, but I have absolutely no idea how YouTube monetization and popularity works, or how (beyond simply posting quality content and tagging things properly) certain tumblrs become so popular while others languish – those particular social networks simply aren’t my area of expertise.

Luckily for me, what I do have is free posting reign at a certain Creepypasta website with an auidence full of people who already have their own video channels and tumblrs and whatnot – so in an effort to help those community members who are looking to break into the world of Creepypasta/Paranormal videos (both story narrators and more advanced short productions), people who are looking to network their already established tumblrs/twitters/instagrams/blogs/facebook pages/etc, I thought I’d make May’s discussion post all about the extended Creepypasta family and give the community at large a chance to share their various creepypasta-related endeavours.

In this post, feel free to:

  • Promote your own creepypasta or paranormal-related project. Link your tumblr, your YT channel, your podcast, your Facebook page, your webcomic, your indie game, your blog – as long as it’s actually related to something that could be deemed creepy (and doesn’t qualify as shock/gore content), let’s see it – and tell us why/how you got started!
  • Discuss and share tips for newbies trying to break into your specific social network. How do you gain followers on Tumblr? How do you accumulate subscribers on YouTube? Any words of encouragement or warning are welcome!
  • Kickstarters/GoFundMe/IndieGoGo projects are also welcome, of course, as long as they’re relevant.
  • For anyone posting their links, please make sure to explain your project thoroughly, though, and tell us why you think this community should be interested. If you just drop a link with no other comment, it will likely get eaten by the spam filter or manually spammed by a moderator. You need to actually participate in the discussion in order to promote yourself, I don’t want this discussion post to be just a link farm.

As always, be respectful of each other. If you dislike someone’s website or project, don’t be needlessly rude. Remember that behind each comment and link is an actual person – if you can’t reign in nastiness, you just shouldn’t be here.

Have fun, and I look forward to seeing what everyone shares!

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Thump!

April 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I have no idea whether or not this story will be seen as “creepy” by anyone reading it, but I can honestly say these events will stay with me until I die.

Living in England, I grew up on a healthy diet of ghost stories, myths and legends. The county I live in has many of it’s own supernatural stories, ranging from witchcraft, faceless monks and grey ladies to the supposed ghost of Boris Karloff! My story involves none of these.

Before I start, I want to say that I won’t be using names of places or “people” as I don’t want to exploit and/or cause trouble for anyone, myself included. Any ages or dates will be swapped out for false ones.

It begins innocent enough, a drink with an old friend. It was early December 2012 and I wanted to celebrate my birthday with a friend I’ve had since childhood. She was going to be moving to Spain that week, which meant she would be gone by my actual birthday at the end of the month.

I had intended on leaving her place quite early so I could catch a bus home. I didn’t know the area too well and I didn’t want to be out in the dark. Up until that night, I had always relied on her giving me lifts back and forth, so I never took time to really take notice of the neighbourhood.

I ended up not leaving until around midnight but in my somewhat drunken haze, I had managed to convince myself, and my friend, that taking a bus back home was still a good idea. The problem was, I had missed the last bus hours ago. Never the less, I put my coat on, stumbled out the door with some general directions to the nearest bus stop and I promised to return should I run into any trouble.

Now, sober me has no problem admitting to being scared of the dark and sober me probably would have seen spending the night at my friend’s place as a viable and probably the better option. But I was drunk and while under the influence, I tend to display out of character bravery and an unusual level of stupidity. I had set my mind to do something, I was going to do it.

Finding my way to the bus stop was going to be easy as it was at the bottom of a street who’s name was the same as my last name. As I turned into the street, I felt safe enough as it was a well-lit residential road that was packed with blocks of flats and council houses down one side and a primary school on the other.

It was quite a short road and I could just about make out the bus stop at the end under a street lamp. I was singing something, I don’t remember what, but a short distance from the school gate, I was stopped in my tracks when I heard what I thought was a scream.

You know when you hear something and you remain silent for what seems like ages, straining your ears for the slightest sound to figure out where it’s coming from? That’s what I was doing right then. For a short time, I heard no sound other than the general ambiance and a few cars at the bottom of the street and I thought about carrying on.

Just as I had plucked up enough courage to start walking again, from the direction of the primary school, I heard crying and a series of strange thumping sounds. Thump! Over and over! It was like nothing I had ever heard before, or since. I mean, obviously I know what a thump sounds like but these were different. I can’t explain how!

When I thought what ever it was had finally finished, I heard another, more choked scream followed soon after by one last thump. My blood felt like it had turned to ice and my brain started to “whoosh” after straining my ears for so long.

I thought “fuck this!” and I turned back around, ran as fast as my legs would go to the top of the street and back to my friend’s house. What ever it was that had just happened, I was NOT waiting around to find out!

I got to her door and though every bone in my body was urging me to bang on the door and scream, I slowed my breath as much as I could and knocked calmly. “I knew you would come back!” my friend yelled as she yanked the door open. “I think I missed the last bus” I replied quietly. I went right to the sofa, took off my shoes, lay down, coat still on and I slept, heavily. To this day, I don’t know why I never said anything.

When I woke up, I wasn’t hungover like you’d expect. I felt fine and I had slept really well. I was still a little shaken from the scare but sober me piped up and put the whole incident down to drunken hallucinations and my fear of the dark.

I wanted to go home right away but my friend didn’t want to drive until she was sure the alcohol was out of her system and I did NOT want to catch a bloody bus! She dropped me off home around 6 that evening and for the next couple of weeks, life kinda just carried on. She left for Spain, Christmas and my birthday came and went and I hoped to celebrate the New Year with my family.

On the morning of New Years Eve, I got a call from my Mum, confirming our plans. “Dad says you can have a few drinks and he’ll be the designated driver” she almost sang over the phone. It was then, after trying to forget, the screams and scary thumps weedled their way back into my head. I told her I wasn’t going to touch a drop!

After the call ended, I started to think about everything that had happened that night. What if I had heard someone being attacked? What if I had just run off when I could have helped? I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get past it as I had hoped. That’s when I realised that I could look up any possible incidents on the internet, duh!

I typed the date, area and “attacks” into the search engine and to my horror, something came up. I clicked on the link and was taken to a news report about the murder of a young woman. I was kinda relieved when I saw that even though it was a story about a murder from that date, it was 6 years before.

I was about to quit the page when I saw a name. It was the name of the primary school I was about to pass that night. I read on and I started to feel sick.

“Police have re-opened the investigation into the death of _____ ____ who was murdered in __________ back in ____. _____ was 22 when she was sexually assaulted and murdered behind _____ Primary School, in the early hours of _____. She was found partially-clothed later that morning by a caretaker. The crime is thought to be linked to a series of rapes that happened in the area around the time of the murder and locals now fear the assailant may be someone close”

I carried on reading and found out that she had taken the same street, the street with my name, on her way to the same bus stop after visiting a friend from the same road mine lived in. She never made it past the school.

The post mortem determined her cause of death as asphyxiation. The back of her skull was crushed and so was her spine. She had been stamped on.

By now, I was in tears. I still half believed the whole affair to be a drunken dream but in the end, I couldn’t deny the dates, times and places lined up perfectly. Even those horrible screams and thumps started to make sense.

The part that scared me the most? The reason it was back in the news as recently as a few months before. The guy who had spent the last 6 years in prison had just been cleared of the crime. In the time he was locked up, a few sporadic rapes and the disappearance of another young woman have happened in the area. No arrests have been made in connection with any of them and the real killer of _____ ____ has never been caught.

I can’t help but think that the events from 6 years before were somehow playing out again that night. Like a recording. Maybe if had I attempted to carry on to the bus stop, I would never had made it past the school either.

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Knock-off

April 28, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I once knew a guy who looked almost exactly like me. He had the same curly brown hair, only slightly darker. He had the same crooked nose, only a bit smaller. Even our eyes were similar; both almond-shaped, but his irises were a slightly lighter shade of brown.

He didn’t just look like me either. We acted similarly; talked similarly; walked similarly; the list goes on. We only had slight variations in almost every aspect of our being. It was scary, at first. But soon, that fear developed into anger.

I absolutely hated that lousy, good-for-nothing faker.

Thomas Blake was his name. I met him in my junior year of high school; he transferred toward the beginning of the school year, since apparently his father was with the army and thus had to move around often. And yes – my mother was in the army as well, and this was the third high school I had attended thus far. It was his fourth. That was a recurring theme with the variations between Thomas and I: he always seemed one step further. Not ahead, just further.

When he was first introduced to the class, everybody made a huge deal about how similar we looked. Even the teacher was confused for a moment, thinking I was pulling some kind of prank. However, when they noticed me sitting in my seat at the back of the class as usual, eyes shifted between the two of us in astonishment as whispers were exchanged. In a similar state of surprise, my gaze was firmly fixed on Thomas, meeting his. Unlike me, however, he didn’t appear surprised at all. He just looked at me with a slight smile as he went to take the seat the teacher pointed out for him. Said teacher always had a bit of a sense of humor – so of course, since Thomas needed a ‘Study Buddy’ to get him caught up on the class’s lesson content, I was the man for the job.

During lunch break, people swarmed us.

“Are you two related?” one person asked.

“Are you like, long lost twins or something?” another hypothesized.

My school had a fair amount of silly people among its student body, so all sorts of theories were thrown around. Maybe we were clones who’d escaped from a secret laboratory and gotten separated. Maybe we were the twin product of a steamy military love affair between his father and my mother, who then decided to split the two of us before leaving each other. Maybe we were even the same person from two different timelines that had somehow intersected – the theories just kept getting more convoluted as the class had a field day with it.

Now, I didn’t hate Thomas from the very start. In fact, we were something akin to friends at first. Our various similarities made that easy for us, plus the fact that everyone else was already calling us ‘The twins’ a few hours after we’d met. Since I was his study buddy, the two of us spent a fair amount of time together, and I soon introduced him to my little clique of friends. That was when he began to creep me out a little.

My four friends and I were sitting at a lunch table eating as usual when he walked up.

“Hey, mind if I join you?” He pointed to one of us before shifting his finger to another. “And you?” Yet again, he shifted his finger, and repeated the question until he pointed to me. He paused for a moment, then went, “And me?”

Everybody except for me laughed at the odd little greeting. I just looked up at him with a half-assed grin like I was attempting to find it funny, but blatantly failing. What caught me off-guard was that, apart from that last bit, this was exactly how I’d first approached a group of kids in one of my last schools – word for word.

Of course, we invited him to sit with us, and I tried to shake off the feeling of unease that the event had left me with. I was able to forget about it for a while, but it wasn’t long before it returned.

Sure enough, as the days went on, he continued acting like me. He said things I would’ve said and did things I would’ve done. Not that he did this all the time; the variations between us made it so that it was relatively infrequent. However, it happened often enough for me to take notice and begin to get freaked out by it. Surely it wasn’t normal for someone this similar to me to suddenly appear in my life – the odds were astronomical. But no matter how I tried to rationalize the impossibility of the fact, it never made it any less true.

Although Thomas hung out with my group a lot those first few weeks, he soon began to hang out with other people as well. Our school was relatively small, so it was something all of us naturally did. Most people were at least acquainted with each other, whether in a good or bad way. However, people usually stuck to their particular groups of friends, having only one or two closer associates from other groups. There were a minority of people who had no particular clique, and instead had friends in many different cliques, or just fit in well with everyone – chameleons, we called them. I myself was somewhat of a chameleon, and had many friends from other groups, but I had a specific group that I liked to hang with the most, composed of my four closest friends. Thomas, however, was different.

When he began to hang out with other people and get along quite nicely with them, my friends and I determined he would probably end up becoming a chameleon too, if only partly. But we were surprised to find that he became something more. Something our school had rarely ever seen, and something that I personally hadn’t seen very often either: universally popular.

Now, being universally popular wasn’t some kind of superpower or anything, but it was quite an achievement nonetheless. I don’t know exactly how he did it, but Thomas was essentially a friend to everyone in the school. He had even befriended the loner and unpopular kids, who had initially hated him out of spite.

‘He just has this charisma,’ some said.

‘He’s a really nice guy, I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t like him,’ said others.

To them it seemed perfectly natural to like a guy like Thomas. But it didn’t make sense to me, because I had long since picked up on our similarities. If we were so similar, why was he so popular while I wasn’t?

Jealousy began to boil within me. What did he have that I didn’t? I just couldn’t understand it. But as I observed him and spent time with him, I realized I had been so focused on the similarities between us I had failed to notice the variations. They ended up making all the difference.

Thomas was more confident. He was slightly more handsome, had higher grades, and had a bit of an accent since he had lived in England for a time. Whatever we had in common, his variation was almost always better. That was when jealousy gave way to hatred. Not of Thomas, however; of myself. For a while, I hated myself for not being as good as Thomas. The feeling of insecurity ate away at me for over two months, causing my grades to drop and my health to go down as I spent most of my time isolated.

Friends tried to comfort me to no avail. My family tried to get me to see a psychiatrist or a therapist, but I refused. I looked to the internet for help with what I had come to believe was probably some form of depression, but despite all the good and bad advice, none of it seemed to change anything. Imagine my surprise, then, when all that it took to solve my problem was a trip to the dollar store.

I had gone there with my father to buy something or other. As my dad looked for it, I got bored and wandered off to the toy section, where I gazed absent-mindedly at the cheap crap that passed for toys here. If you’ve ever been to a dollar store, you know that the merchandise they sell isn’t exactly top-notch, and the kids’ items are no exception. Countless rip-offs of famous toys littered the section: Roboformers, Action Rangers, Barbara Girls, that kind of near-copyright infringement thing. As I looked at them, I began to realize the case wasn’t so different for my own situation. The Roboformers were almost exactly like Transformers, but there were a few minor differences to keep some small-time Chinese company from getting sued. And that’s exactly what Thomas was. He was just a cheap rip-off version of me.

It wasn’t evident at first. I mean, Thomas was better than me, wasn’t he? When I re-evaluated him with this in mind, however, I found him to be quite different. His confidence was obnoxious, bordering on outright overconfidence. His grades were only higher than mine because I and many others had helped him study. His English accent was only faint, and most likely somewhat forced. No matter how I looked at it, he was just nothing but a faker. And so, my hatred shifted from me onto him.

With the problem of my insecurity gone, I returned to school and gradually returned to normal. I felt much better knowing that I was the original, and he was just a bad imitation masquerading as something better. I could easily fake who I was and become like him as well, but I wasn’t that pathetic – I would stay true to who I was.

Still, the problem wasn’t entirely gone.

Thomas and I still talked fairly often, and the more I saw him around, the more annoyed I got. It got to the point where simply hearing him speak would immediately flip my mood, regardless of what it was before. I knew that I couldn’t keep being friendly for long, so I gradually tried to drift away from him, even if it meant staying away from a few of my other friends as well. It didn’t work. Even when I didn’t approach him, he approached me. Whenever I would try to leave him, he would flash that small smile that looked sickeningly similar to mine and try to convince me to stay.

I hated him. I hated him so much that words could not even describe it. Everything he did only served to fuel the fire within me. Whenever I got the chance, I began to daydream about calling him out on his fakery and beating him up as a suitable punishment. These daydreams soon evolved into hypothetical plans of increasing complexity, as I mulled over ways to get him expelled from school and out of my life forever.

Then, my mom made an unprecedented announcement: we were leaving. Her work required her to be stationed in New York, so I couldn’t stay in my school. At first, I rejoiced – finally, Thomas Blake would be out of my life forever! A couple of months passed and the week of the move came, so I said my goodbyes to all of my friends and acquaintances – and unfortunately, Thomas – before leaving my school. But I didn’t feel as good as I thought I would.

Initially I believed that getting away from Thomas was what I needed, but he just stayed on my mind. I was confused; why couldn’t I stop hating him, even after I’d never have to see him again? He was irrelevant now, after all. I could just leave him behind and start a new life somewhere else, where I was the only me.

But no. I soon realized that no matter where I was on this planet, I simply could not condone a cheap rip-off of myself still existing out there, acting like he was better than me. Even if I never had to see him again, I’d know he still existed, and that would eat away at me forever. There was only one way I could solve the problem. I had to stop him from existing.

But could I really go through with killing him? Coming up with a plan wasn’t too hard, since I knew where he lived as well as the layout of his house. As much as my hatred compelled me, however, fear of the potential consequences halted me.

In the end, I didn’t even need to take the initiative. About a week before the scheduled time for the move, I got a call from none other than my would-be doppelganger.

“Hey Travis, wanna hang out?” Thomas asked nonchalantly. “I know you’re leaving soon, so I was thinking we should go somewhere one last time. I asked James and Sarah, but neither of them are available, so I guess it’s just us.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the opportunity. Maybe if I could get him all alone and make sure nobody found his body for a while, it could work. I was moving away soon anyway. “Alright, where’d you wanna go?”

“How ‘bout we head to the mall?” Thomas suggested. “There’s some stuff I need to pick up there anyway.”

“Alright,” I replied, “how’s tomorrow?”

And with that, the deal was sealed.

That night, I went out to set things up for my grand plan.

The following day I met Thomas at the mall just like we arranged, my mom’s switchblade stuffed into my pocket for later use. All I needed to do was lead him to some secluded part of town on our way back home; I knew the town’s layout better than he did, so I could just tell him I knew a shortcut. I kept telling myself it’d be easy, but my heart raced the entire time we were at the mall. We acted all buddy-buddy as we usually did, despite the fact that I was just itching to jab my knife into his stomach every second of the day. There he was, right in front of me – that stinking copycat, talking and acting just like me even though he wasn’t. Yet I couldn’t do anything. Not until that evening.

The time eventually came, and the two of us decided to walk back to my house. I told him of the supposed shortcut, and I led him to a relatively small park by the river that ran through the town. I had been thorough in my preparations: the previous night, I’d buried a weight and a rope in a thicket of trees nearby, so that I could eventually tie him up and throw him into the river after killing him. There were some rowboats tied to the docks a little ways away from the park, so I could simply steal one of those, row a little further up the river, and dump the body. Lastly, actually killing him wouldn’t be a problem either – I’d received a little hand-to-hand combat training from my mom, so I knew the quickest and most effective ways to end a life.

As the cool autumn breeze stung our faces, we walked up into the park. I expected Thomas to be surprised and presume we had gotten lost or something, but he did nothing. He just stopped at the riverbank and stared into the river.

“Heh, I always did like rivers,” Thomas spoke out, as I stood behind him. Slowly, cautiously, I withdrew my switchblade.

“You never know what’s underneath that ever-flowing surface of theirs,” he continued. “What someone could have… hidden.”

I wasn’t going to wait any longer – I held the knife backhand and went for a stab, aiming for his jugular. I was surprised, however, when he ducked right on time, and it was only then that I noticed a shiny object in his hand: another knife.

Thomas immediately tried to slash me, but I jumped back in time to avoid him. He stood up straight, his face somewhat obscured by shadow as the sun set behind him. Yet, I was sure I could make out a slight smile on his expression.

“I’m really hoping you were smart enough to come prepared for this,” he said, taking a step forward as he got into an attacking position. “I mean, I know you’re not as intelligent as I am, but surely even a knock-off like you has watched enough movies to know how to plan a murder.”

In retrospect, I think I should have felt surprise, or at least fear that my plan had gone awry. However, the only emotion I could register was anger – my hatred flared as I listened to his words.

“You think I’m the knock-off here?!” I exclaimed, gripping my switchblade tighter and preparing for his attack. “Sorry to break it to you, but you’re the only faker. And I can’t let you prance around thinking you’re better than me any longer.”

Thomas scoffed. “Of course. That’s the only way you can justify your existence, isn’t it? Accusing me of being the rip-off, thinking you’re the improved, original version. But you’re wrong,” he boasted. “I am the original. I am me, and you are just a lowly, imperfect copy trying to be me. Maybe, if you were a complete clone, I could condone it – but the fact that a piece of trash like you, who is inferior in every way, is out there; that’s something I can’t allow.”

He stepped forward, taking a jab at me with his knife – I swiped it to the left with mine before taking the opening and sidestepping to the right, slashing once again at his throat. He tried to jump back, but my knife still managed to cut deep into his shoulder. Blood spat out onto my clothes, and Thomas roared as it continued to leak down his arm.

“Fuck!” he exclaimed as he gripped his shoulder with his free hand. His smile had deteriorated into a look of disgust and anger as he eyed me. Meanwhile, I had gained some confidence. With his right shoulder damaged, it would be more painful to swing his knife – I had gained the advantage.

“You fucking trash, how dare you?!” Thomas growled. I gave a slight smile.

“Isn’t it obvious? Because you’re nothing but a second-rate imitation. I’m the real one here,” I informed him. “It stands to reason that a piece of shit like you wouldn’t even be able to touch me.”

Yes. I could see it now. Why was I even angry in the first place? This pathetic copy with delusions of grandeur couldn’t touch me: his better counterpart.

“Yeah, keep talking, I’ve heard it all before,” Thomas spat. “But surely even you see it. You’re just worse than me in every way. Unlike you, I proved myself! I’ve gotten rid of trash like you before, and I’m not afraid to do it again.”

I scoffed; he was just talking nonsense now, probably trying in vain to convince himself that he was real. Deciding to go on the attack this time, I reached down and grabbed a handful of the rocks lying on the riverbank. I threw all of them at Thomas, and he instinctively used his arm to shield his eyes – that was when I lunged, aiming for his right arm in order to incapacitate him.

I wasn’t fast enough, and he was able to parry my slash before quickly grabbing my wrist with his free hand. Holding it in place, he lifted his knife up, but as it came down to strike my trapped arm, I grabbed his wrist just in time. With the two of us now locked this way, we began to push each other back and forth, struggling to hold our footing on the rocks beneath us.

“You’ll see,” Thomas grunted as he pushed. “I am… the original. I waited this long… so I could prove it again.”

He pushed against me, knocking me onto the ground. He was now on top of me, and pushing his knife ever closer to my chest. But still, for some reason, I felt no fear. I had nothing to worry about from him, I knew it. Thomas, however, looked far more agitated than when we had begun this little duel.

“Only the original… survives,” he said through bared teeth as he struggled against me. “I knew you’d delude yourself… into thinking you could win. I wanted… to see you fail. To see the look in your eyes… when I kill you… and you see that I’m—“

His final words were cut short as my blade pierced his chest, and his eyes widened in utter shock. I guessed this must be that look he was talking about. Indeed, it was quite an amusing sight – the look of a worthless imitator finally being put in his place. I liked it very much.

Luckily, the hand he had been holding my knife back with was still covered in blood from his shoulder injury, which had caused it to slip and my knife to be the first one in. I could feel the strength leaving his body as I pushed him off of me and sat up. I looked over to his convulsing form on the ground; that expression never leaving his face as he slowly struggled to look at the knife that had pierced his heart. Taking it out would only make more of a bloody mess, so I left it where it was.

I smirked triumphantly as I waited for the life to fade from his eyes. Blood sputtered from his mouth as he tried to speak, but failed. The last words he would ever hear were but the simple truth: “You never even stood a chance, you cheap knock-off.”

The rest of the procedure went smoothly. Under the cover of darkness, I brought the body over to the boat before retrieving my weight and rope from the thicket of trees. My jacket had been bloodied during the fight, so I removed it and buried it in the hole. My face and hair were a little bloody as well, but that was easily taken care of with a quick rinse in the river water. With the knife also thrown into the water with the body, all that was left was the bloodstain he’d left on the rocks, which was cleaned up quickly by the tide.

Seeing the blood get washed away, it occurred to me that Thomas had probably gone there intentionally to make sure that when he killed me, he wouldn’t have to bother cleaning up the blood himself. It seemed he had planned my murder by counting on me to plan his, which made me wonder how he knew. He said he’d proven himself before, but I had no idea what that meant at the time. I didn’t wonder about it for very long either, as I was too caught up in my victory to care much.

The last few days passed like the breeze. The police came to question me about the disappearance of Thomas a couple of days after he’d been reported missing, since I was the last person he’d been seen with. I just told them that the last time I saw him was when he and I went separate ways to get to our houses, and this answer seemed to satisfy them. They probably assumed he had run away or something, like most missing kids. It didn’t really matter, because two days later, I was out of there and off to New York. Only then did I feel truly successful; uncaught and untouched, I was now indisputably the one and only Travis Burke.

That summer was probably one of the best of my life. With my identity now to myself, I felt far better than I ever had before, and it showed. I began attending a youth group at my new local church and made friends with the people there. It was surprisingly easy; far less awkward than it had been before. Of particular interest was one girl, Leslie, who would later even become my girlfriend after I worked up the nerve to ask her out. The people from the youth group quickly introduced me to their other friends, and it wasn’t long before I was well acquainted with everyone in most of their social circles. Things were going better than they ever had before.

The entire time, though, a lot of the people kept saying something odd. “I swear I’ve seen your face somewhere before,” they would always tell me upon meeting me. It troubled me, because I thought news of Thomas Blake’s disappearance might have gotten widespread enough to reach the next state over. Of course, this wasn’t the case. In hindsight, I probably should’ve known what the real cause was.

And so, I stand here today. As I enter my new classroom today at the beginning of my senior year, my eyes scan the roomful of students. I take in the faces of those I don’t recognize, making a mental note to talk to them later. Then I look over the ones I do know from last summer, and my eyes rest on one particular young man, who’s looking back at me with a surprised expression.

I glossed over him earlier, having recognized him all too well despite never having met him. He has slightly lighter brown, curly hair; a slightly larger crooked nose; and even almond-shaped eyes, with a darker tint to the iris’s chocolate brown. It isn’t long before the rest of the class notices, and eyes begin to shift between the two of us as whispers are exchanged.

I’m less surprised about this than I think I should be, really. Realizing what Thomas must have been talking about the day I killed him, I can’t help but smile slightly. It doesn’t matter what he said, though. Unlike him, I am the original, and I know it. I couldn’t be killed by Thomas, and I certainly can’t be beaten by this guy either.

He’s just another knock-off that I’ll have to put in his place.

Credit: Mark Lannin

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“Maisie went missing last year”

April 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Last summer, I flew back to my hometown for a school reunion. It had been almost three years since I had graduated from school, and aside from close friends, I had heard nothing from the rest of my classfellows.
The reunion took place at the school itself, lasting till midnight. I arrived home early that day, giving me time to catch up with my family before I headed down.

At the reunion, almost everybody had turned up. There was food, drink and plenty of time to get up to date with what had been going on in everybody’s life. Boys I hadn’t seen in ages gave me aggressive hugs and said things like ‘long time no see.’ Girls I hadn’t seen in ages fussed over me in a motherly way, saying things like ‘Oh my goodness! You’re so grown up!’
Then everybody went round talking to nearly everybody else, asking and answering all manner of questions. For the first two hours or so, some of our former teachers who still taught at the school were there, which was nice. They left before sundown.

As the night drew to a close, and most people began to head home, I and a few others hung around outside the school hall. I leant against a railing and sipped lemonade while listening to the conversation. One of the girls asked about a certain boy who hadn’t turned up.
“He said he couldn’t be bothered,” explained another, “He says he’s going on holiday with his uni friends or something.”
“Typical.” Someone commented, and they all began to reminisce about how antisocial that particular classfellow of ours had been. As they talked, my mind drifted off elsewhere. I tried to think of who else hadn’t turned up. Among a few other absentees, one person stood out – Maisie, a tall quiet girl who had been in many of my classes.
“Hey did any of you see Maisie Heathen?” I posed the question out of the blue.

The others quietened down, registered the name, thought about it, and shook their heads.
“Nah,” said one boy, “but let’s be honest – she was probably the least likely to turn up. I mean, she hardly turned up at school, some weeks.”

“Yeah,” said one girl sarcastically, “says the guy who skipped school to play video games. At least she still got respectable grades.”

“Woah, no need to get personal,” the boy grinned, “Her attendance didn’t really make a difference, anyway – she was naturally smart.”

“Unlike you, right?” The girl teased him. The others continued bantering, while I thought about Maisie. It struck me that she hadn’t entered my thoughts for so long. Three years at university many miles away with another set of friends in another town had taken their toll. It felt like all the excitement of student life had made me move on from this small world which was my old school, and in moving on, I’d forgotten so much.

“Didn’t she go to Oxford or something?” I heard someone ask. I tuned back in to the conversation, as they were talking about Maisie.
“Wouldn’t be surprised.”
“I’m pretty sure she applied there.”
“Yeah, and she got in. I remember seeing Mr Thompson congratulating her on it.”

“She was odd,” remarked a boy named Joe, “nice, but sort of in her own world, you get me?”

“Hmm,” I nodded. I knew what Joe meant.

“So, anybody know what she’s up to now? Anybody in touch?” Asked Joe. We all shrugged.

“Maisie went missing last year.” Said a low voice from a few yards away. We looked to see a man’s outline standing in the darkness. He stepped into the light. It was a former classmate, David, who had been eavesdropping from the shadows.
“Huh?” I looked at him stupidly, feeling suddenly cold.
“She went missing last year,” he repeated, “they still haven’t found her.”
We all exchanged uncomfortable glances.
“Oh come off it, David,” I heard a girl say, “stop trying to frighten us.”
David came and leant against the railing beside me.

“I’m really not trying to be funny.” He said, “You know I’m not known for my sense of humour.”

It was true. David, a lanky fellow with glasses, had always been rather dry.

“Honestly. That’s what I heard, at least. My parents told me about it around when it happened, last autumn. People were talking about it in church. Her family was stressed. Everybody was trying to console them.”
Nobody said anything for a while. The party had become noticeably quiet, and people were leaving by the minute.

“That’s… weird.” A girl said. “Do you know what happened? How did it happen? Where?”

“I don’t know the little details, but I do know that she had gone on a trip alone. Apparently she had wanted to get away from everything for a while. So she had booked some cottage in the middle of nowhere in Scotland, gone to live there by herself, and after a few days, vanished.”

“That’s terrible,” someone remarked. I don’t remember who, as I was too caught up in my own thoughts.
‘Vanished?’ I wondered, ‘what on earth could have happened?’

Shortly, the gathering dispersed and we all went home. Joe offered me a lift, which I accepted. We hardly spoke, and when he dropped me off, we exchanged short, sincere goodbyes. Something was seriously wrong. Maisie had disappeared and not been found. That in itself was inherently a frightening thing. But I had a nagging feeling that there was something greater behind her disappearance – something that had been building up over the years. I felt like I knew something about what might have happened, but, for some strange reason, couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

I lay awake that night, trying to think back into the past. Slowly, it all came back to me, and when it did, I shivered.

Maisie had joined my secondary school in year thirteen – the final school year. From her first day onwards, she kept to herself.
She was a tall, delicately made girl with refined features. With her prominent grey eyes, dainty nose, and flaxen hair neatly bound in a single braid, most agreed that she was pretty. She usually sat alone in class and spent more time gazing out the window than paying attention to the teacher. In spite of this, she got high marks in most exams. And although she hardly took part in athletics, when she did turn up, she could outrun even most boys.

Over time, her reclusiveness earned her dislike from some members of the class. Her high achievement only made them resent her more. I, on the other hand, felt bad whenever I saw her, and more than a little curious to know what was up with her. She never seemed quite there – it was as if she were constantly engrossed in another, faraway dimension. At the time, I saw it as enigmatic. Now, having thought about it a bit more, I’ve come to realise that her behaviour was troubling. A sign that something was troubling her, and wouldn’t leave her alone. But as a simple seventeen year old boy, I didn’t understand these things.

I sometimes told my mother about Maisie’s behaviour, and she told me to ‘be nice’ to her and ‘be a gentleman.’ I remember one particular conversation we had – my father was at work, so it was just me and my mother in the kitchen.

“Mum?” I began, tentatively.

“Yes?”

“You know that girl Maisie?”
“Of course I know her, you’re always talking about her.”

“Well, she still hasn’t made any friends. She literally doesn’t talk.”
My mother smiled.

“And…?”

“Well… I don’t understand girls, and I just find it strange. Do you have any idea what could be the matter with her?”

“Really, Daniel, there’s no need to pry into people’s lives like that. It’s nosy.”

“But I’m sort of concerned, mum.” I said plaintively.

“That’s sweet of you, but I’m sure you don’t need to worry about her. Everyone has their own problems, and I think she’d prefer to keep them to herself.”
I thought about what my mother said, and wondered what kind of problems Maisie might have had.

“Do you mean, like, family problems? Are her parents getting divorced or something?”

“Could be, but I doubt it. I’ve met her parents, and they don’t look like they’re splitting anytime soon. And they seem to be really nice people.”

I realised that I had seen them once, too. They had seemed like nice people. They were the sort of gentle, charitable church-goers who cared a lot about community and never skipped mass.

Their daughter was different. I figured that whatever was on her mind was something very personal that she hid even from her family.

But whatever could that be?

My simple masculine brain couldn’t get over her mysterious sullenness.
“You know,” my mother suggested one day, “if you’re concerned, you could go talk to her. Perhaps she just feels isolated at this new school. You never know, it might make her feel welcome here.”

I considered it.

“I might do,” I said, “yeah, I might do, mum.”

I first spoke to Maisie Heathen on the way home from school. I wasn’t expecting to cross paths with her, as I had just had an afterschool detention. I was likely the only one at school apart from the caretaker. It was a chilly, blue-skied evening in October, and the sun had sunk enough to slightly darken one half of the sky.
The homeward path cut through farmland at the back of the school, where a path had been demarcated with low wire fences on either side to keep students out of the fields. I noticed, about two hundred yards ahead of me on the path, Maisie.

I realised this was my chance, and tried to walk faster to catch up with her, then ran. I noticed she looked downwards slightly when she walked. But she moved quickly, and I was a little out of breath when I caught up.

That’s when something weird happened. When I was about five yards behind her, panting like a hound, she heard me and turned round with such a look of fear upon her face as I won’t forget. It scared the heck out of me, seeing her face tightened into that silent, wide-eyed scream.
When she saw who I was, she looked with embarrassment at her feet.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No,” she shook her head, “I’m sorry. I thought –. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry. I should learn to make better first impressions. I was running to catch up with you.”

“Why?” she turned fully round.
“Because,” I tried to think of a reason. Eventually, I just said the truth, “Because I wanted to talk to you.”

We continued down the path through the fields, then exited onto a lane that led down to town, where I lived, and where she presumably lived.
Maisie was surprisingly easy to talk to. Her manners were a little funny, but she responded to questions and even asked some about school-related stuff.
I asked her how she was finding the new school. She shrugged and said ‘good.’

“You mean you don’t actually like it.” I remarked.

“No. I’m indifferent.” She said, and we walked on quietly for a while before she explained, “we move around a lot. I’ve been to so many schools that it makes no difference to me anymore.”

“So… why do you move around? Is it because of your parents’ work?”

She completely ignored that question, and said something to change the subject – I can’t remember what. I just remember it took me aback how hastily she changed the subject.

We eventually parted ways at a crossroads. I told her that if she should feel lonely at school, she should feel welcome to approach me. She responded with a quiet smile. It was a sweet, genuine gesture of gratitude, but something about it sent a chill through me. I could see through those eyes of hers that she knew something I didn’t, and that she had been through things I couldn’t fathom. It was a fragile smile, quietly haunting.
I walked home feeling glad that I had broken the ice between us. I felt like I had been a ‘gentleman,’ whatever that meant.

But somehow, something still didn’t feel right.

The first occurrence that struck me as genuinely odd took place later that year. I took a job cleaning the school on Friday after school. It was a warm day in early summer, and I had the task of cleaning the theatre hall. This hall had been built sometime in the fifties, and was rather grand. The seats would be full and lively whenever there were performances. On that day, I thought I was the only one there.

I was carrying the vacuum cleaner to a backstage room, when suddenly the door to that room opened and a girl, white as a sheet, came out. I almost screamed. It was Maisie Heathen. She had been in the room all along. She looked terrified. Like she’d seen a ghost.

“Woah, everything alright?” I said, laughing.

She looked ready to burst into tears, then ran out of the hall, leaving me utterly confused.

Suddenly, I felt afraid to enter the backstage room. What on earth was in there? What had scared her so badly? Against my instincts, I went in. There was nobody there. I checked all potential hiding spaces and turned on every light. Nothing. Perplexed, I got the vacuum on and started cleaning. All the while I was in there, I had this sinking feeling in my stomach – a feeling that something bad would happen any second. That I would see something any second, and then run out of there white as a sheet. But nothing happened. I vacuumed the place and got out of there quickly.

I never raised the topic with Maisie. The year wore on and nothing of that level of weirdness happened.

Many weeks later, something did happen. Not weird. Disturbing.

Believe it or not, Maisie was actually beginning to fit in. She made some friends.
Occasionally, she would engage verbally in lessons. This turned heads, as it was strange to see someone so silent suddenly so vocal. Not that she was particularly vocal – she was still quiet and understated, but it seemed as though some mysterious shadow had shifted away from her.

There was a summer concert in which she played a piano solo in front of the whole school. I applauded heartily.
I gradually came to the conclusion that she had simply had some form of anxiety earlier.

Then, on the last day of term, school finished early. It was a sunny day, and I had been planning on going to the cinema with some friends. It turned out they were all going to a nearby nightclub that evening. I, who hate alcohol and everything to do with it, had no intention of joining them, so I settled on having a quiet evening at home.

But as I set off along the homeward path through the fields, I noticed Maisie Heathen ahead of me – just as it had been the first time we had spoken. But it was high summer now – not autumn – and the day was cloudless, and she was at ease.

“Maisie,” I called as I caught up, “do you have a moment?”

She turned and nodded. We had not spoken in a while.
As we walked, the sound of crickets in the grass filled the air.

“So,” I said, after much anticipation, “do you like films?”

“What?”

“Do you like films?”

“I don’t mind them.”

“Would you like to see one? Tonight? At the cinema?”

She seemed to be considering my offer, because she smiled quietly to herself. Then said yes.
I expressed my gladness, and, when she asked why I was asking her, told her about my friends ditching me for a nightclub. That seemed to amuse her. Then I told her which films were on.

She settled on the horror – which surprised me. Horror? Really? She didn’t seem the type.

“It starts at eleven thirty, though,” I warned her, “are you going to be able to come that late?”

“Sure I can.”

“Then that’s sorted, I suppose. Shall I pick you up?” I offered.

“Please.”

“Where shall I pick you up from?”

“My house.”

“I don’t know where you live.”
On the way home, she told me where she lived. It was close to my own home. I went home and killed time till night fell.

At eleven, I drove my parents’ car to her house. She didn’t own a mobile phone, so I waited outside. All the while I waited, I felt, for no apparent reason whatsoever, a touch of dread. I had the radio on and was sitting comfortably in a car parked in a pleasant suburban neighbourhood. But something outside seemed to be stirring. I kept looking out of the windows, expecting to see – well – not knowing what to expect to see. But there was definitely something about the place that night which was making me uneasy.

I jumped when somebody opened the car door, and climbed in on the seat beside me. It was just Maisie. I hadn’t seen the front door of her house open.

“Where’d you come from?” I asked, “I could swear I never saw the front door open.”

“I came through the back door,” she explained, “It’s quieter, and I don’t want to let my parents know that I’m going out.”

“Oh… right.” I realised I was doing something against her parents’ will. I didn’t want them to worry if they found her gone, and I didn’t want to be the one responsible. But I guess I had no choice. Calling it off was out of the question.

The drive took twenty minutes or so, and aside from ours there were only about five cars in the carpark. This cinema was, bizarrely, a standalone building a few hundred yards off the side of a very long 50mph road. Usually cinemas are in town centres, or part of shopping complexes, but this one was just a large cinema theatre with its own carpark and no other buildings around for some distance. It was quite nice, really – away from everything else. The only noise usually came from the road – but at eleven thirty, long after dark, it lay silent. Beyond the cinema, woods stretched on seemingly endlessly.

We bought tickets and joined about ten other viewers in the theatre. The film itself was about some demonic possession – fairly cliché. But it gave me the cheap thrill I’d paid for, and the audience screamed at least thrice. I would occasionally glance at Maisie. Something about the way she watched the film was strange. Rather than looking excited or bored or afraid (how people usually look when watching horror), she seemed intense and… angry? Maybe not quite angry. It was more a look of hatred – not obvious, but subtle and cold.

I found it disconcerting, but shrugged it off. Then told her I was going for a toilet break. Her expression loosened into a pleasant smile as she nodded.

Alone in the men’s room, I relieved myself at leisure by a urinal. It was perfectly silent and relaxing, until I noticed footsteps moving about in the corridor outside. I assumed somebody was coming to take a leak, but whoever they were didn’t enter. Their footsteps sounded flappy, as if they were barefoot, and there was a lot of time between each step, suggesting that whoever it was had very long steps. Or legs.

I washed my hands and left the toilet. There was nobody out there, strangely enough. Again I shrugged it off and returned to the film.

When it ended, I and Maisie waited until the end of the credits, by which time everybody had left. Then we made our way out to the car.

“Wait, I left my pullover in the cinema,” she remembered just as we reached the car.

“Shall I get it for you? It’s empty in there now.”

“No, I’ll go.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah.”

So I slouched in the driver’s seat and watched her hurry back in search of her pullover. She was pretty brave, going in there alone. The place tended to get a bit spooky at this time. Creepily enough, mine was the only car left. I wondered if there was anyone else at all in the building with her.

Anyway, I flicked the radio on and waited. She was taking a while. I began to get nervous, and turned to open the door. Then I froze. I saw something alarming. In the woods behind the cinema, there was a man standing, facing me. He was far away, but I saw clearly that there was something wrong with him. First of all, he was stark naked. His pale body, wirily lean, was on full display. This began to sound alarm bells. The only rational explanation for his state of undress was that he might be an escaped mental patient. Or perhaps he was a pervert. He could be dangerous, I realised. I got out of the car, and the man disappeared into the trees at once. I was getting increasingly uneasy.

I decided to go find Maisie. A lone eighteen year old girl in an empty building at night just seemed like something bad waiting to happen.

But to my relief she came out right then, wearing the pullover.
We got into the car and shut the doors. I switched the radio on and, when the silence between us lasted too long, asked her what kind of music she liked.

“I don’t listen to music.” She said.
I half expected that answer, and shook my head with a laugh.

“But you play it quite well.”

She shook her head with a smile. I switched the radio off, remembering the man I had seen. I reckoned this would be more a more interesting topic.

I told her what I had seen and began to regret it. She became suddenly on edge, asking me where I had seen him. I pointed at the trees. He was no longer there.

“I need to get home now,” she looked me squarely in the face. “Please.”

“Okay,” I asked no questions.
I started up the car and we drove out of there in haste. We didn’t talk until we had left the cinema far behind.
I stole glances and saw that she was biting her nails. Something was bothering her – something about the man’s description? I had no idea. I just kept driving.

Several minutes later, I stopped midway along a country lane and got out.

“Why?” she asked.

“Just like that. I need some fresh air.”
“Here?” she looked round cautiously. But we were alone.

“It’s nice here,” I explained, “really, you should come out with me. I cycle along here with friends sometimes.”

Doubtfully, she joined me. We leant against the car while looking at the fields which lay as far as the eye could see on one side of the road. On the other side were thick woods. On that quiet warm night, it was nice to stand out and simply gaze at the fields.

In spite of her earlier unease, Maisie seemed to feel more and more comfortable where we were. Perhaps it was the pleasant view before us, or the fresh air, or perhaps it was the excitement of being out at night – whatever it was, something made her forget whatever had frightened her. I told her about how I had once been roughly at this same spot with some friends at sunrise, and how beautiful it had been. Then she opened up and tell me about how she was honestly finding living in this town and going to this school. We laughed a little about the antics of our French teacher, and even discussed poetry we were studying.

Occasionally we would say nothing and simply take in the night air.

During one such silence, I felt a sudden inexplicable pang of dread. Not sure why, I turned to look back at the road. What I saw flooded me first with confusion, then utter disbelief, then relentless creeping fear; the naked man from the cinema – he was there, standing less than a hundred yards away.
How? How was he there already? More chilling was the question of why. What did he want?

When I had first seen him, I hadn’t thought much of him besides that he might be a potentially dangerous pervert. But where he stood in the moonlight, other odd details became clear. He appeared to be very tall – perhaps somewhere between six and seven feet. His body was lean to the point of starvation, but his thighs and shoulders carried disproportionate muscular bulk. There was something disturbing about his face. It looked deformed and blotched – like a plastic clown mask melted to disfigurement. Perhaps it was a mask. I couldn’t tell.

“Uh, I think we should get in the car.” I said.
“Huh? Why?” she turned to me, then she must have seen him too, for she stiffened.
“Hey, come on, get in the car, quick.” I began to breathe heavily. She didn’t seem to hear. She looked as though she were in another dimension. I opened the door and tried to usher her inside – but she was alarmingly firm.

The stalker stood still. The more I watched him, the less I thought of him as a person and the more I thought of him as… something else. There was something disturbing and inhuman about his face. His presence stank of raw, otherworldly menace.

He moved. He began to sprint. Towards us.

Maisie took off. I knew she was fast, but I’d never seen her run like she ran then. It was as though she had been maddened by pure terror and lost control.

“Shoot!” I cried, fumbling with the car door. My hands were sweaty and felt weak, as if enfeebled by fear of the stalker. Looking back, I was shocked by waves of cold panic; he was quick. Demonically quick. There was no way she could escape him on foot, let alone I.

I overtook her in the car and called repeatedly from the window. Hearing me eventually, she got in. Then I put my foot on the gas and drove like there was no tomorrow. I expected to see the stalker in the rear-view mirror. But instead I saw nothing. Empty road. It was as if he had never been there in the first place.

I didn’t dare say a thing throughout the drive home. My thoughts ran wild and my arms shook on the wheel. We reached our hometown in silence, and it wasn’t until I stopped outside her house that she spoke.

“No,” she whispered, “Take me to your house. I don’t want to go home.”

“Sure, sure,” I was baffled, but didn’t want to fluster her by asking why, “not a problem.”

So we drove a few more streets to my house, entered through a back-door, climbed the stairs to my room and closed the door firmly. I drew the curtains and turned on a reading lamp.
“Feel free to take the bed. Don’t worry, I’ll sleep on the armchair.” I smiled, and felt so stupidly false for acting as though nothing had happened. She got under the covers without a word, and hid her face in her hair.
I settled down, still shaking, on my chair.
“Don’t leave.” she said. It was more of a plea, and it made something within me go soft.

“Trust me, I won’t.” I said. That’s the last thing she said before, somehow, falling asleep.

I sat there for hours trying to make sense of what had happened. Something about that strange man had really shaken Maisie up. So much so that she couldn’t sleep in her own home. Why not? Did she think he’d follow her there? I realised that my mother would be most dismayed if she found me with a girl in my room at night. But I was her friend, and hated to see her so afraid. I couldn’t have said no.

She slept a few feet before me, breathing calmly, apparently in peace. But I knew that something was troubling her. I got the terrible feeling that the weird distorted-clown-faced man was somehow connected with her strange behaviour.

‘No, surely not. This was a random, one off incident.’ I told myself.

‘But then why was she so afraid of him? Why did the mere description of a skinny naked man arouse her immediate fear?’

‘Could she know him? How?’

‘Who the heck is he, anyway?’

There were too many questions and my head was too tired to attempt to answer them.

Eventually, from the exhaustion of sitting upright, I began to doze off. I was lulled to sleep by the hum of the night breeze, the quiet whirr of the fridge downstairs, and the soothing sound of footsteps. Bare skin slapping against concrete outside. Slowly. As if whoever was out there, had long legs.

After the incident at the cinema, Maisie more or less stopped talking to me. I didn’t hold it against her. I assumed she just needed time. But weeks passed and she kept silent. During the last week of school, I passed her in a corridor and we made eye contact. She forced a wry, short-lived smile.

“Daniel,” she spoke at last, “I…”

She sighed and hurried away without finishing what she wanted to say.
We finished school without ever speaking again.
On the last day, I slipped my number into her locker, in case she ever wanted to get in touch.

She never did.

The summer holidays dragged by. University began. Years passed. Before I knew it, I didn’t remember much of what had happened. You’d think someone would remember things like that. But no. It was almost as if my brain was deliberately trying to erase the memories.

After what David said at the reunion, things came flooding back. I revisited the archives of my memory, and was frightened by what I found.
I spent the following days strolling round town, thinking nonstop about the whole frightening affair. Trying to understand.

About a week later, I was going for a run in my hometown and crossed paths with someone I hadn’t seen in years. Maisie’s father. He had thinned and lost hair – but I knew him at once. He didn’t notice me until I said hello, and seemed to only vaguely remember me, which was upsetting.
We stood talking about what I had been up to. Uni and stuff. Then there was a silence, and I dared to mention the topic of his daughter’s disappearance.

“Look, Mr Heathen, I heard very recently about… Maisie. I’m devastated.”
He looked up at me through his old-fashioned glasses with a tragic, defeated look in his eyes.

“Young man,” he said softly, “this world has things in store for some people that seem so unjust, so cruel, that they test our faith in the Almighty. But we must keep faith. It’s all I have now. That, and Mrs Heathen.”

I waited for him to carry on. Instead, he tenderly took one of my hands in his. It chilled me how old he seemed for his age.

“What’s troubling you, boy?” he asked, “you seem to have something on your mind.”

“I – I do,” I admitted.

“If you wish, you may tell me. Let us go to the house of God,” I didn’t know what he meant until he gestured to the church, “evil things won’t follow us there.”

Shortly, we were seated beside one another in the old town church. It was always open and always empty. Apart from Sundays when a few regulars would attend.
I described to Maisie’s father how I had often felt concerned about his daughter. I told him a lot. But I didn’t mention the night at the cinema.

He listened intently, sighed, and then spoke.

“Mrs Heathen can’t bring herself to accept it, but deep down, I know that Maisie was afraid of something. I think you will have noticed that she could be withdrawn, sometimes – perhaps a bit unresponsive, as if she were not quite there.”

I nodded.

“Well, she wasn’t always like that.” he reached into his breast pocket and handed me a photo. I knew at once that it was his daughter – only she was several years younger than when I had known her. It was a school photo, and she was smiling. It was a carefree, sincere expression, untouched by any underlying anxiety.

“I’m not sure what it was, but something in her changed when she was thirteen. I think I know when it happened. You see, we lived for a short time in another part of England. In a small rural town up north. There were woods near to the village that had a reputation for being… unwholesome, haunted even. The place had a dark history, according to townsfolk. We were new in town, and had come because of my work. Maisie didn’t fear the superstitions. One night at a sleepover, she and a few friends she had made at the local school thought it would be exciting to go walking through those woods.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Nothing happened.” Then he hesitated, “Not at first. But things began to happen soon after.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I fear that something followed her home that night. Something from those woods latched onto her, and never let go.”

“Something?”

“Something,” he explained, “an evil being. A demon, if you will go that far. Whatever it was, it haunted her, and when we left that town, it followed.”
He paused.

“It was nothing much at first – just nightmares. Then she complained about a presence in the corner of her bedroom. This was, naturally, unsettling. But nothing came of it. We put it down to too many horror films. Then she stopped eating. She struggled sleeping. She demanded that we take down the mirrors in our house. We didn’t know what to think. I got the first feelings that something… unnatural… was happening. But I wasn’t sure. I never once saw anything unusual with my own eyes. But sometimes, I admit I would go into her room at night and feel the hairs stand up on my neck, inexplicably. She would go through phases of being extremely paranoid, then she would have months of going back to normal completely. But whatever it was kept coming back.”

“Mr Heathen,” I said, my voice shaking, to my surprise, “did she ever describe what this thing looked like?”

“Never. Maisie avoided talking about it. I don’t know if it even had a visible form.”
I couldn’t help but think of the man at the cinema – his elongated body, his hideous deformity, his strange aura of threat. I tried to remove the image from my mind.

Her father carried on.

“Before she vanished, Maisie rented a cottage in Scotland, by the sea. She told nobody about this apart from a university professor whom she trusted. It was a strange thing for her to do. Our family has no affiliation with Scotland, nor had she been there before. The cottage was far from any human settlements. It was as if she wanted to escape everything. It didn’t make sense.”

“Then she didn’t return. Police searched the area thoroughly, but there was no trace or clue to be found. No sign of foul play. But they found something.”

“What?”

“Her clothes. They were left in the cottage. The odd thing is that they were not strewn all over the place as you might expect. They had been neatly folded and laid on the bed.”

I had hoped the conversation would help better understand the mystery. But the more Maisie’s father told me, the more mystified I grew.

“What do you make of it all?” I asked.
He replied in a hushed voice.

“I think, young man, that this was something from beyond our world. Grief has toughened me, but it pains me when I say this. I think that something evil lured her to that cottage, cut her off from society, and left her there, vulnerable. Then one day, as she was stranded in that obscure part of the world, it came for her.”

I saw the old man’s eyes watering. He wept at my side for a while. I couldn’t do anything. No word of consolation could have helped.

He dried his eyes and then smiled weakly.

“I’m afraid I can’t talk any longer,” he said, “My wife will be waiting. She’s not well.”
I thanked him and apologised many times. As he turned to leave, I called out to him; I still had his photograph.

“Keep it,” he said.

“What? No. I couldn’t take this.”

“You seem like a good lad.” He said, coming back and putting a hand on my shoulder. “You were kind to my daughter, and behaved like a gentleman. It would make me glad for you to have that photograph.”

“Mr Heathen –”

“Please. It’s nothing. Take care, young man. Never abandon faith in the Lord.” And with that, he turned and was gone.

I was left standing in the church alone. Evening was coming on, and shafts of moody golden sunlight fell through the stained-glass windows onto the pews and carpets. I looked at the photograph in my hand.
“What happened to you, Maisie?” I said aloud, “where did you go?”

For an unnerving moment, I half expected the photograph to answer me. I hurried out of there and ran home.

I don’t think I’ll ever know what happened to Maisie Heathen. As uncomfortable as it makes me, I sometimes believe it really was a demon that was making her life a misery. I can only hope for a more rational, logical explanation.

Until recently, I had a habit of keeping my dorm room door unlocked, believing (ridiculously) that someday she might come looking for me.
I used to sleep with her photograph in a silver frame on the bedside table. It made me feel strangely at ease.

Then one morning I woke up to find that somebody had entered my room overnight and stolen the photo.

What unnerved me is that they took nothing else. Not even the frame.

Credit: Spuk

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