A Cold Love Story by Liam Vickers
I sent the text to my friend max, reading, “Dude, are you at school?” The bus was already a good 20 minutes late.
It was late November, and it was cold.
So damn cold.
My eyes burned against the outside air, and each intake of breath was like swallowing razor blades. Everything was dim, tinted a dull blue, and all was eerily still, seemingly frozen in time. Mercury in the thermometers had settled to the bottom, refusing to budge.
I could see my breath as it shimmered against the thin air, warping and climbing upwards in despair before vanishing. Even the trees, long dead, with crooked, empty limbs, appeared to be shaking against the cold. Frost and ice glinted sharply in the faded sunlight, clinging on and threatening to overtake the trees. The occasional glimmer of sunlight was nothing short of an ironic and cruel sight as its warmth could not be felt. It seemed so distant, its hazy blue glow so utterly small and insignificant against the frozen vastness. The crunch of snow could be heard as I walked – a crisp, sharp sound cutting through what was otherwise dead silence before disappearing into the oblivion with nothing to return an echo.
I stopped for a minute.
It seemed as if I was the only one in this world; a world of cold, of stillness, of nothingness. Neither the heat of a friend, nor the joy of their company existed here.
I was taking a note of all this with my eyes closed, so as the keep them from freezing, when I began to hear the crunching of snow. It was Sarah. I always met her at the bus stop, or had been anyway, for the past two weeks. I was glad of it too. I used to hang out with my good friend Jenna, but she hadn’t been showing up for the past week or so and now it was just Sarah to keep me company.
I opened my eyes slowly, wincing at the frosty wind. I could see Sarah walking towards me, pace slow and steady. Her balance wasn’t affected in the slightest by the now increasing gusts of frigid air whipping snowflakes around like small needles. She wore a fuzzy wool purple hat that sat lazily atop of her head. It didn’t obscure her face at all however, and I could still see her eyes of the purest blue you could imagine. They were only highlighted by her flushed red cheeks, no doubt due to the cold. She was absolutely beautiful . . . sweet and funny too, but for some reason, I never really saw her with any friends. I suppose this was because she had just moved in. That and because all the guys I knew were too afraid to even talk to her.
I guess that’s why she was stuck with me all the time. In fact, she actually seemed incredibly lonely when I wasn’t with her.
I suddenly snapped out of my thoughts to realize that I was staring at her. She saw me looking and gave a slight giggle with an exaggerated wave. I quickly blushed and only managed to choke out an awkward “hey” before turning away.
I quickly whirled back around however as I realized that something was wrong. She was wearing nothing but a t-shirt, a pair of short shorts and her backpack. I practically tripped over myself as I ran to her.
“Sarah, what are you doing?!” I cried. She stood in front of me, shivering and taking short staggered breaths. Her attire was certainly strange, but there was something else wrong too. Something was different about her.
“Did you walk all the way here like this?!” I asked, dumbfounded.
She had said earlier that her house was a good 20 minute walk from the bus stop.
“John is worrying about me!” She cried, her face lighting up as her eyes widened and stared straight into mine. She paused for a minute before sheepishly continuing, “I thought . . . maybe I could use your coat.” Her voice trailed off as she looked down at the ground.
I couldn’t believe it! I had on several layers of jackets and I was still freezing! I couldn’t even imagine how cold she must have been!
“Oh my God! Sarah! Of course!” I cried, taking off layer after layer and wrapping her in them. “Did you not have enough time to grab a jacket!?” I asked incredulously, now down to just a t-shirt myself. “You must be freezing, and the bus is already really late, you had plenty of time!”
She shook her head. “I wanted to use yours!” She giggled, wrapping her arms around herself and the jackets she was now wearing, smiling with eyes closed. I was taken completely aback. This wasn’t like her at all.
“You-” I stammered, “you did this on purpose?”
“I’ve never felt so close to you.” She smiled, leaning her head on her shoulder. My mind was racing. I had NO idea what to say to that.
“Sarah, why are you acting so strange all of a sudden?” I asked. She didn’t respond at first, and didn’t seem to have heard my question.
“Awww! Won’t you be cold now!?” She suddenly cried, forcefully grabbing my hands in hers. My mouth moved but words were nowhere to be found.
“It’s . . . It’s ok, haha, I’ll just freeze to death.” I finally joked as I often do when I’m uncomfortable. Her face erupted in horror, her eyes going wider than I’d ever seen.
“No!” She screamed in anguish, beginning to unzip my jackets, meaning to give them back.
“No! Haha, I was joking!” I cried, grabbing her arms to stop her. The instant my hands closed around her, her face flushed bright red and she stopped in her tracks.
“John.” She stammered.
“You need them more than I do.” I laughed awkwardly, sickening concern encroaching on my heart.
Her face changed then . . . Distorting . . . Twisting, and giving the widest smile I had ever seen. I found myself backing up and letting go of her arms. Her smile was misplaced somehow, erroneous and deranged. It crawled across her face like a disease and just kept spreading. Her eyes didn’t blink and stared straight towards me but weren’t really focused on anything.
The areas in which they normally seemed to sparkle now seemed dull and flat. It was incredibly disturbing, so much so that I began to sweat despite the cold.
“So, are you ready for school?” I asked nervously, trying desperately to change the subject or do anything to get rid of that smile.
“School?” She questioned, straight faced, her eyes slowly coming back to focus, “We don’t have school today, silly. It’s a snow day because of the storm that’s coming.” She giggled.
“What?!” I cried, “Gosh dangit! I didn’t get an email or anything!”
She said nothing, but looked at the ground guiltily. Then I saw it. A smile began to slowly carve out her cheeks.
I was dumbfounded.
“Did . . . Did you . . .” I started.
“I wouldn’t have been able to see you if you knew there was no school.” She said, matter-of-factly, as that twisted grin continued to stretch her face further and further, eating away at her pale skin. The wind howled and crystalline needles bit at my exposed skin.
Suddenly, she laughed, grabbing onto my waist.
“You better stay close,” she giggled, “otherwise you’ll catch a cold!” My mind was in full retreat mode now as I began backing up.
I tried to wiggle free of her grasp saying, “Haha, yeah, I guess. I think I’ll go home now and maybe get some more coats, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then if the weather improves. Ok?”
Seemingly not hearing me, she snuggled in closer and closed her eyes. My hands were in the air, my body rigid and taut as my heart convulsed with unease. I drew several shaky breaths and looked down at her. Her smile now appeared . . . rather peaceful?
“Is this really all that bad?” I thought to myself. “A lot of guys I know would do anything to be in this position. She just wanted to see me was all . . . Yeah! It’s actually really sweet, albeit a little drastic.”
I relaxed a little, almost hugging her back, when I suddenly saw the dark crimson stains on her arms. My muscles tensed.
I choked, my voice faltering as I stammered, “Is that blood?”
Ignoring the question, she pressed herself even closer and looked up at me.
“Let’s go to your house!” She squealed, her face like a child’s on Christmas. “Don’t you need your coats? I’ll take them for you!” She grabbed my hand, looking at me to lead the way. Her big blue eyes glimmered with hope. I felt sick, torn between concern and fear.
But surely she was just having an off day, or messing with me in a cruel drawn out joke. It didn’t really matter though. We can’t stay out here forever, I thought to myself.
Taking a deep breath, I slowly nodded my head and began walking towards my house. She clung to me tightly as we walked and I tried desperately not to shiver and send her on another episode. We were nearly to my driveway when I got the text back from Max. I awkwardly wiggled my phone out of my pocket with my left hand as my right was still in Sarah’s vice grip.
I was still walking as I brought the phone up when I was suddenly jerked back, almost losing my balance on the slick ice.
I turned around to see that Sarah had stopped cold, her hands gripped so tight around my own that I could almost hear the bones breaking. I let out a gasp of pain and tried to pull my hand free, but she wouldn’t allow it. Her expression had gone dark, hair draping over her face.
“Who’s that?” She said, the usual cheer all but gone from her voice.
“It’s- . . . It’s Max! My friend?” I gasped still cringing in pain as I opened the message from him, “He was just telling me about-”
My blood froze. I stared at the screen as my chest tightened.
“Telling you what?” Her voice cut through the crisp air.
“Just about . . . How much he likes snow.” I lied.
Slowly, her cute face reappeared and her grip lightened as she smiled at me. We began walking again.
“You know, I like snow too.” She said coyly.
I didn’t even hear her; I was too busy staring at what was on the screen.
It read, “Yeah, of course I’m at school! Where the hell are you?”
I turned to look at Sarah, my hands beginning to shake, having nothing to do with the cold. I’m sure my face showed my horror and confusion but if she saw, she didn’t let on as she met my gaze with a cutesy smile. Her murky black hair was partially obscuring her left eye, making the right seem all the more piercing as its frozen blue hue searched my face. I could feel its chilling gaze stabbing at my numb skin.
“Who would you rather hang out with?” She said, still a hint of malice in her quiet voice.
“What? I stammered.
“Max. Is he a good friend of yours?” She said, looking away.
“Yeah, I guess?” I replied nervously, “I mean, I’ve known him for a while.”
Her hands slowly balled into tight fists, nearly crushing my own hand as she muttered something under her breath. Then she turned into my driveway and started walking down.
How did she know when to turn? How did she know this was my driveway?!
I yanked my hand from hers with all of my might and took a few steps back.
“Sarah,” I said trying to keep my voice strong, “Where is the bus?”
She looked devastated, staring at her empty hand, not saying a word. Her irises shook slightly, her face becoming hollow, whatever color she had disintegrating into a grey slag.
“Where the hell is the bus Sarah!?” I yelled. “Why didn’t it ever come?!”
She looked up at me. “No . . . school . . . today.” She muttered to herself, eyes once again distant and dim as she fumbled around and tried to reach for my hands blindly.
“Yes we do Sarah! We do have school!” I cried, further backing up, “The bus should’ve been at the stop, but it never came!”
“It wanted . . . just the two of us.” She mumbled, face blank and emotionless.
“And why do you have your backpack if you weren’t planning on going to school? How do you know where I live?!” I was becoming hysterical now.
She chose to ignore all if this and instead found my hands again, gripping them tightly and smiling crookedly. In the most unnatural way, she didn’t seem to be feeling emotions, and yet carved them into her own face all the same. It was as if she was trying to imitate expressions she had seen others express.
“I’m cold,” She said, “we should go inside.”
I took a few long breaths and tried to calm myself down. It must have just been a misunderstanding. Max was probably just messing with me! It wouldn’t be unlike him to joke around like that and get me all worked up about missing a school day that didn’t exist. He was the one lying, and I had lashed out at Sarah who was just trying to be nice! Right? I’m not even sure if I believed it myself, but it was better than thinking of the alternatives.
“I’m sorry,” I sighed, then, fumbling for words to make her feel better, I choked out, “Thanks . . . Thanks for being with me.”
My heart warmed as I saw her face shift ever so slightly. As if waking from a dream, her eyes glanced around, taking in her surroundings for the first time. Her sunken lifeless features slowly ebbed away as, for the first time today, a believable smile flickered into view. One that didn’t appear forced or fueled by delusions.
When her eyes cleared, focused on me, and realized that I was smiling back, she blushed profusely and turned away. I laughed at that and she started to giggle too.
Her eyes suddenly flicked down to her hands which were still gripping mine. She let out a little squeal and dropped them, burying her face in her palms, apologizing over and over. Her black hair meandered around aimlessly in the wind, doing little to hide her embarrassed face.
This was the Sarah I knew: the girl who had trouble talking to other people, the girl who always had a bewildered look about her as if the world was shifting under her feet, the girl who hadn’t been able to look me in the eye for several days when we first met. She never talked about herself; she didn’t seem to want to. She would always listen though. And when she did, her eyes always seemed less piercing, less haunted, and I was certain that she could sit silently for hours while I spoke. Before the events of today, I had still known something was off about her, about the way she listened so devotedly. I could always see a faint emotion shift her features, but it was now finally clear what I had been looking at: relief. When she listened, she appeared relieved, so incredibly comforted to be free of her own thoughts. It was absolutely heart wrenching, but it also served to make her previous demeanor of a few minutes ago all the more out of place. She hadn’t listened at all; she appeared to be trapped in her own mind.
As we began walking down the driveway to my house, I looked at her and took a heavy breath, calming my nerves. I only hoped that her strange behavior had subsided for good. We trudged through the slowly accumulating snow. I had been too lazy to shovel it with my parents having left for Hawaii a week ago. Ironically, as much as it pissed me off to imagine them on a beach while I was stuck here, I was actually glad that neither of them would be home for a few days so I wouldn’t have to explain Sarah to them. I would just be all too like them to try and make things weird if I brought a girl over.
We reached the door and I fumbled for my key, eventually unlocking the door and jumping inside before too much warm air escaped into the bitter cold. I immediately started up a fire, not really realizing how cold I had been until that moment. I looked over at Sarah taking off the jackets and folding them neatly before placing them down gingerly by the entrance. Her movements were strained, her spindly limbs tired and weak. She appeared to have a normal mental state now, but as she finished up and her eyes glanced at me, I couldn’t help but tense a little.
“Hey . . . Sarah?” I asked slowly, my heart going dark and beginning to pound, distrust and fear suddenly reclaiming me. I had to know.
I nervously continued, “Could you maybe go to my room and get me a hoodie?” My pulse was racing and my breath quickened. If she could . . .
“Anything for John!” She cried with a big smile, turning to go. She took several steps further into the house. Her pale form walked deliberately at first, but her pace gradually devolved into a strained staggering motion before she eventually came to a complete halt. Still facing away from me, her icy voice quietly seeped out, “But, I don’t know where your room is.”
I felt a huge wave of relief. Thank God! I felt bad for ever doubting her, for giving her such a dumb test.
I laughed, “Haha, sorry, that’s right, it’s up the st-“. I suddenly stopped myself. “You know what?” I chuckled, “I’ll just go get it. I need to stop being so lazy anyway.”
What was wrong with me? I apparently still felt like I couldn’t trust her! Stupid. Stupid! But I just couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t believe her. I wanted to know if there was really no school, I wanted to know why she had been acting so strange. The only thing holding me back was the fear of such a question bringing back that other smile. That deranged face.
So I just kept quiet, instead asking if she wanted some hot chocolate.
Her eyes lit up, “is that even a question?” She laughed. Her ghoulish posture slackened slightly as she turned to face me.
I smiled and moved into the kitchen starting a pot of water to boil. “Would you mind watching this for a second?” I asked.
“Don’t you worry,” She joked, “no one watches water better than me!”
I laughed and ran up the stairs to my room. I grabbed my doorknob only to recoil in shock. It was freezing! I could feel a draft of frozen air seeping out from under my door. I gingerly grabbed the handle with my fingertips and slowly opened it, letting lose a blast of frigid air. It felt like a window had been left open, but as I checked, they were all closed. Now that I thought about it, I remembered my room being freezing that morning as well and really quite drafty for the past week or so. I was only really noticing it now that today was so particularly cold. I would probably have to sleep downstairs by the fire until I could figure out the problem. I quickly grabbed my hoodie and closed the door to my room so I wouldn’t let all of the heat out of the house. I walked back down the stairs and into the kitchen, but Sarah was gone. The pot was boiling over, spilling water onto the floor. I quickly ran and shut off the heat, cursing under my breath as some of the scalding liquid splashed onto me. I grabbed some towels and began soaking up the mess. I finally got it all cleaned up when I thought I could hear shuffling on the kitchen floor.
“Oh no! John!” Sarah suddenly cried from directly behind me, making me jump out of my skin. I whirled around to face her. She was holding her backpack, seemingly empty now as she slung it back over her shoulder.
“What were you doing?” I asked, my eyes narrowing.
As soon as I said it, I immediately regretted doing so. I began to see her eyes frost over as she searched for an answer; her face becoming sunken, lifeless, her personality flipping.
“No! It’s alright!” I cried desperately, handing a mug to her, “uh . . . do you want marshmallows? Look! I have cute little bunny shaped ones!”
This snapped her out of it, and she squealed in delight as I showed her the bag. “Look at the little sugary mammals!” She giggled.
I laughed as I started to make the hot chocolate. I was so torn and confused, I really liked her like this . . . but where had that other side of her come from? It scared the shit out of me. I had to watch everything I said and did to keep her as the Sarah I knew. Or, thought I knew anyway.
It was about 12:00 now.
“The school would’ve called by now to report me absent if there had been a school day.” I thought to myself. I let myself relax a little more, looking over at Sarah as she sipped delicately on her hot chocolate. Her hat was still goofily perched on her head. I smiled and reached over the table to her, adjusting it so that it was at least sitting straight.
“There,” I said, sitting back down and grinning, “That’s better.”
She stared wide eyed back at me, her cheeks going red, trying in vain to keep from smiling.
Suddenly, from within her backpack, her phone rang. I couldn’t help but face palm as I heard the ringtone.
“Bruno Mars?!” I laughed as her face broke out in horror. “You’re just as bad as my mom!” I continued, “I can’t believe you two have the same ringtone! Hahaha!” She practically squealed in embarrassment and fished around in her backpack, quickly tearing out the battery.
She sheepishly put the battery in her pocket and looked down at her feet. “Do you want to . . .” She asked nervously, “maybe walk to the bus stop with me tomorrow?”
“Trying to change the subject eh?” I playfully jeered. Her face just grew even redder as her hands fumbled hastily with her shirt. I couldn’t help myself, it was impossible to say no to her like this. Any fears from before were buried deep in the back of my mind.
My giggles slowly died out and I gave a slight nod, saying, “Yeah, sure.”
“Great!” She cried, suddenly bolting out of her chair and running to the door. “I’ve uh- got to do something now!”
“I’ll be here tomorrow at 6:00!” She called back as she disappeared into the frozen wasteland, shutting the door behind her. I sat stunned for a good minute. Where the hell did that come from? She hadn’t even taken a coat with her! Imagining her in just a t-shirt in that brutal cold made me want to run after her, but I knew she was long gone by that point.
I lazed around for a few hours, did some chemistry homework, and even shot Max another text saying, “I’m serious man, we didn’t have school today right?” But he never got back to me. He rarely checked his phone anyway though, so I brushed it off, opting to sit and watch TV rather than simply wait for his lazy ass to reply. I was absent mindedly watching some sort of documentary when my phone finally buzzed. Picking it up, I realized that it had just run out of batteries. Max still hadn’t responded. Groaning, I stood up and picked up my house phone. I would just have to call him at home. I punched in his number and brought the phone to my ear.
I tried again.
Frustrated, I looked at the monitor.
“No service.” It read.
What? It was a landline! “How is that even possible?” I grumbled to myself. “Must have something to do with the storm.”
I sighed and tossed the phone, plopping back down onto the couch. I realized that I should have been checking the news to see if they had any insight into the possibility of school tomorrow.
I flipped to the channel, and my heart practically stopped.
I only heard the tail end,
“. . . Not releasing images or further details on the bus incident.”
Then the camera switched and they began talking about the highway conditions. I felt an absolutely horrible sickness gripping me. “It couldn’t be. Could it? Surely that little dialog I heard couldn’t have been talking about that. Not about the bus on my route.”
“That would be ridiculous! I’m not even sure what I heard!” I tried in vain to calm myself down, but I quickly realized that I HAD to know for sure. A strong wind suddenly gusted outside and the house shook, tremors being sent down every dark hallway. I stood up from my couch slowly, glancing at the snow beginning to plaster against the windows. Although grey and dull, the flakes seemed to glow against the oppressive darkness as nighttime fell. The frozen slag piled up as distortive structures slowly spread across the once perfectly clear glass.
I secured every layer I could find and suited up, grabbing my flashlight and taking several deep breaths. The frigid night air seemed to ripple with heat distortion as the door swung open, falling stagnant again as I stepped outside. I locked the door behind me and fumbled the keys into my pocket with shaking hands. I began walking the route the bus would’ve taken, my pace slow, the sickness growing worse with every crunch of snow under my feet.
“The school didn’t report you absent.” That’s because the phone is dead! “Max was just playing a joke.” Then why didn’t he ever text back?! Nothing I said to myself made me feel any better.
The dim light from my house was becoming more and more distant now, disappearing altogether as I turned a corner, now just me and the flurry of snow. The skeletal trees surrounding me groaned against the wind, their twisted black shapes silhouetted against the deep blue hue of the night. I hadn’t seen another house for some time now. The families in my neighborhood were exceedingly spread apart and the empty stretches of road seemed to snake on forever at points. More often than not, the snowplows didn’t even find the time to drive as deep into the community as I was going.
It was snowing quite heavily, but I was still certain I would be able to faintly see the tracks of the bus if it had driven anywhere. Despite this, I hadn’t seen its tracks for over a mile. Ordinary cars never usually drove up the way I was walking, and yet I noticed that the roadway was layered with the tracks of smaller vehicles. They looked fresh. That’s when I saw something up ahead, barely visible in the haze.
Lights. Flashing red and blue just ahead around the next bend. Whatever sanity I had left was quickly draining. I approached the lights and peaked around the corner. I didn’t want to believe it, but the sight that greeted me was something I had known I would find all along.
There, surrounded by ambulances and police cars, a mangled mess of metal and shattered glass, sat the bus I had been taking for nearly four years, jutting sideways out of a ditch. The windows were caked with blood which was still a dark crimson red, preserved perfectly in the cold. The once hot, steaming liquid had frozen solid to the splintered glass, encircling small bullet sized holes. The ambulances were stuffed with body bags as the surrounding street was scattered with a few severed limbs. I swore I could see steam softly rising from the dead white appendages as they were ever so slowly covered in drifting snow. I tried to listen to what the officers were saying, but, not daring to get to close, I could only make out a few words and jumbled phrases:
And one that made my stomach churn, “A few pieces missing.”
Realizing how downright suspicious I looked, I began sprinting back to my house, trying to keep my stomach down as my heart lurched rapidly. I reached my front door and frantically fumbled for the key with my numb fingers, looking behind me into the inky darkness. I finally got the key in the lock and turned it, but then I heard a sound, a knock on glass. It was coming from above me.
I looked up slowly, heart pounding. There, in the window above me, the window to my room, I couldn’t see much of anything. The light was off.
Which was a problem because I knew I had left it on.
But then I could make out some sort of shadowy smudge on the window. I was straining to see what it was when it suddenly moved, backing away into the darkness and it was only when this happened that I knew what I had been looking at.
Sarah’s pale, ghastly form had been pressed up against the glass, smiling down at me with a grin that splintered her face in half.
The realization made me stumble back, fear negating my ability to breathe for a second. How the hell did she get in?! I creaked the door open slowly, ready to run back to the police at any moment.
“S . . . S-Sarah?” I called into the house, hearing it echo down the dark empty hallways, “What . . . what are you doing in here?” My voice trailed off. What the hell was I doing?! I needed to run! Run now! My mind screamed at me. As a wind gust shrieked outside and blasted me with cold air, I watched the dim moonlight dance through the empty rooms of the house. If Sarah was still inside, she didn’t say anything and her silence continued as the wind howled and the house groaned.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Something was beginning to roll down the stairs from the top. Something heavy. From my position, I could only see the base of the stairs, so I could only listen as the sound grew closer and louder.
Then it happened. A pale, mangled form came tumbling down the last few steps and smashed onto the ground, its limbs horribly twisted and broken. Crimson globs speckled the soiled ground where it now lay. Its arms and legs seemed to radiate a ghastly white, splayed out like a spider on the shadowy ground. Heavy blood oozed from it silently in the darkness. It had no head.
Then I could make out footsteps. My body was frozen, my heart spasming erratically. I couldn’t take my eyes off the corpse.
I eventually heard Sarah’s voice quietly echoing down the staircase, “You didn’t give me time to prepare this one like the others.”
I tried to say something but nothing came out. Not even a squeak.
“After all, you said he was special to you.” She continued, coming into view; hacksaw in one hand, a ghoulish head in the other. Its expression was so distorted in terror that I didn’t immediately recognize it as Max’s. His mouth was stretched horribly agape, almost as if unhinged, a horrific scream forever imprinted on his face as his eyes stared straight ahead, wide and unblinking.
I couldn’t take the sight of it. I fell to the ground in utter shock. I tried to scream in anguish, but as before, I couldn’t make a sound and simply dry heaved into my hands.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“There there,” Sarah cooed, “Are you feeling sick? Catch a cold? Sarah will make John all better! And John will love Sarah for it.”
She gently lifted me to my feet, dropping Max’s head and the hacksaw and in turn grabbing my hands. I was in shock no doubt. My limbs felt numb and distant; I couldn’t think or move. I was just standing there, shaking violently. She gave me a big hug, wrapping herself around me and smiling crookedly. Her movements were all wrong, disturbingly inhuman, as if she was a puppet controlling her own strings. Her blue eyes should have been highlighted by the dark crimson blood splattered on her, and yet they appeared just as grey as her skin, sinking into her face, enclosed by darkness.
Her frigid hands slowly grabbed mine again, and she began leading me up the stairs, making sweet noises and whispering, “Sssshhh it’s ok. All you need is me.” I followed in a trance-like state, not really processing anything, stuck on the horrors I had just seen. Max’s disfigured head, his broken body, tumbling down the stairs like a rag doll. The bus, the bodies everywhere.
Next thing I knew, I was on my bed with Sarah sitting close next to me, holding my hands in her lap, her face a contorted grinning mess. “It’s cold in here you know.” She said, blushing as her eyes remained dull and lifeless. “Maybe if you just held me.”
I managed to choke out two words, “My . . . Friends.” My eyes began watering.
“Sshhhh,” She swooned, maneuvering to sit on top of me, “John’s friends are all here.”
I shook my head.
“Mrs. Bus driver lady is over there!” She assured me, pointing to a mangled bloody mess in the dark corner of my room. Through my bleary vision, I could make out a ghastly set of eyes staring lifelessly ahead from within the mound of flesh. The sight was horrendous and I turned my head away, gagging some more.
“You don’t need anyone but me,” she continued, “but I didn’t want John getting lonely either. So I kept your friends here.” She began stroking my hair. “Most of Jenna is in your closet.”
“I cut a hole in your roof so she could stay there for longer.” Sarah giggled, “Room temperature is no good for friends; it must be cold like outside. I’ve let her be with you all week, it’s my turn now.”
I began thrashing around, trying to scream but only letting out strangled squeaks. I couldn’t take any more of this! She giggled and interlaced her fingers with mine, pinning my arms down and bringing her face inches away, grinning from ear to ear. Her head was tilted to one side, her dull grey eyes swirling with darkness.
“Only me to love now.” She whispered, “John loves me now.”
I shook my head violently.
“No.” I croaked out.
“You’re so funny!” She laughed, “John loves me, and I love John! So much!” She leaned her forehead against mine. “Much more than his parents. His parents wanted to leave him, but I made them stay with John. Made them stay . . .”
Her hand moved and gestured to under my bed.
Then she kissed me.
Credit To: Liam Vickers
This story is a Crappypasta Success Story – it was generally well-liked over at Crappypasta, and I feel that the author used the feedback that he received there to successfully rewrite the pasta. You may read the original Crappypasta post and comments here. Congratulations to the author!
I was alone. I was always alone. Though I could feel eyes watching my every move, I was more alone than I had ever been. The walls were cold cement. I had a pretty good feeling that I was in a basement because there were no windows. It was just me, the mirrors, and the TV. That television had no buttons, no way for me to control it. It came on and shut off against whatever will I had. It showed me horrors: torture, illness, death beyond my wildest imaginings. It showed me peace with nature and happy people. It showed me mundane things like moths, porch lights, and windowsills. Sometimes it just went to that awful fuzz that one gets when the TV loses signal.
The mirrors were worse. In them, for days, maybe a week though it felt like much, much longer, I could see myself wasting away. I was dying from thirst, hunger, and unsanitary conditions. I had to relieve myself in the corner. The white bed sheets were stained with my grime. I could always see myself, but what I couldn’t see was a door. I didn’t know how I got in there. I didn’t know why. It was driving me crazy. I screamed. I broke the bedframe of the bed. I tried to break a mirror but only bloodied my hand.
One day, when I could barely move as I stared at myself in the bed, the TV came on. A man in a Giraffe Halloween mask said, “You’re free”. It was like the clip was stuck on repeat though. He chanted it over and over, but there was no way out. There wasn’t anything I could do to make him stop or to escape. When I broke down in tears, one of the mirrors pulled away, like a sliding glass door, and there was the man. I tried to get up, but I was too weak.
He grabbed me under the arms and hauled me up. He was strong. I asked him why he was doing this but he didn’t answer. I begged him to answer. I begged him to let me go. I begged him to stop. Instead he took me to a bathroom just outside the room. He washed me. He fed me. He gave me water. After closing up the room I was in, he set me in a chair, facing the doorway. I could see in the room. It was a two-way mirror after all. He flipped a switch somewhere behind me, and all suddenly the mirrors in the room weren’t mirrors at all. They were windows.
Across from me, there was an empty room. It had a bathroom and a chair, just like the one I was in. As the man grabbed my arms, I looked into the room to my right. There was a man there with his head bowed. His hair was long and hung in his face. He was so thin, I could count his ribs. Across from him, in the room to my left, there was a younger guy. He was less thin, but still ghastly. He was looking right back at me with hopeless blue eyes. He was tied to his chair too. We all were, in identical rooms.
“What is this?” I asked in absolute horror. “Why are you doing this?”
At least, he answered me. He said, “I’m raising a demon. That room, the one you left, that is the one you’ll die in. Not tonight, but soon. When I get the last man, when he has weakened and thought of death in that room of his own accord, when he has been free of it a week, when I bring you all together, taking your freedom away in that room, I will summon him with your demise. Enjoy your brief freedom, Danny.”
With that, he left. I yelled and screamed for him to come back. I demanded to know how he knew my name, but he never answered. He just left me there. The next time I saw him, he came in through the empty room, and cleaned the room he planned to kill us in. He cleaned every mess I made and even repaired the bedframe. I saw him a few times after that. He would come in, take me into the bathroom, still bound. He would wash me without a word. He would feed me. He would let me drink water. After which, I was right back where I started. I saw him do the same with the other men in the other rooms. The man with the long hair barely even lifted his head anymore. The other man barely ever looked at me.
One day, when I was sitting there, thinking about my fate, the man walked into the empty room across from mine. He turned around and dragged a body in after him. It wasn’t long until he took a new man into the room with the bed. He laid him on the sheets and left. The mirrors returned as he flipped a switch on the wall of the empty room, and dread truly set in. I had to watch as some other man wasted away. I couldn’t hear him, as he screamed, cried, and watched whatever was on the TV. The Giraffe man came in every now and then to go through the routine of bathing, feeding, and watering me. I’m sure he did the same with the others. Eventually, the other man was trapped in bed as I had been. He seemed to be in a daze as the TV flickered on.
He was collected as I had been. He was taken out of the room and with the door wide open, I could see the Giraffe man caring for him as he cared for the three of us already in his basement. When he was in the chair, the Giraffe man flipped the switch. This time, the long haired man was looking at the man in the chair. The other man had his head hanging low. I felt as frantic as the look on the guy’s face when he saw us all.
Eventually, the Giraffe man closed the door and left. When he came back, he cleaned the room again. He continued to silently keep me alive, along with the others, for who knows how long. It must’ve been a week at least. That’s how long he said he would keep us anyway. He walked into the room where he kept the man with the long hair. He opened the door and left. He went to the room with the man that was there before me, and opened the door. He came into my room, and opened the door. Lastly, he went to the new guy’s room, and opened the door.
He walked to the center of the room, and told us cheerfully, “It’s finally time.”
He dragged us by our chairs into the room, one by one. Three of us pleaded with him, the man with the long hair was silent. The Giraffe Man ignored us. Instead he hummed a merry tune, until we were all gathered around the middle. After which, he loudly called out, “I release you!”
I don’t think he was talking to any of us. The lights in the room flickered wildly. He started chanting something I didn’t understand. The long-haired man moaned in horror. The new guy and I were pleading and yelling. The other man was anxiously looking around the room. The Giraffe man slid a silver dagger out from under his shirt. The blade was so polished that it glinted and flashed in the lights as they jolted on and off.
He went to the long haired man and the lights flashed. In an instant, the man was gurgling up blood from a slice across his neck. Giraffe man went to the guy that was there before me, and did the same to him. I knew it was my turn. I screamed and screamed, but no one was there to save me. I was dead before I really knew it. In fact, I don’t even remember dying. I remember the blood-soaked blade at my neck, and darkness.
When I ‘woke up’, I was here. In that same room, with those three men for company. We’re good friends now, but we’re still trapped. Our entire existence is trapped. We’re stuck here, waiting, until someone destroys the house or rids it from the demon within. We rarely see the demon though. He likes to roam the rest of the house. He looks a lot like the Giraffe man. Part of me wonders if he died with us. Another part of me wonders if he’s just upstairs. The basement hasn’t changed, but the only time I’ve seen him is when the demon comes howling through our room in his guise.
Credit To – Nixie B. Vilda
He ran towards the subway, desperately hoping it won’t leave before he gets there. The next one won’t be around for another 10 minutes; such is the case with these late night trains. It has been a long day for him, and there was nothing more Michael want than release by sleep right now.
He made it in just before the doors closed and he managed a smile: a small victory amongst a lost day. He dumped his backpack on the chair beside him and took another seat himself. There were very few people in the train: some late night businessmen and workers rushing to get back to the welcoming comfort of their own respective beds. Michael’s eyelids did not agree with his brain to sleep when he gets home as he nodded off as soon as the train began to move, with the steady nod and hum of the train cradling Michael to dreamland.
He woke up to an empty train. Michael was puzzled: even this late in the night, there are people getting on and off at each station in this busy city. As he scanned around, however, he realized that there was indeed no one left on the subway in this carriage or the others. He glanced at the map of stations that showed which station they were approaching with a light. To his surprise, none of the lights were on. The train was speeding along even faster now. The world outside was a complete darkness. Only the occasional jerk told Michael the train was still moving forward. Michael tried his cell, but got no signals. He remembered that it was underground and felt slightly foolish. The train was just in a really dark tunnel that had one or two unfortunate bulbs blown out. There was nothing to fret over. Already, the forward jerk that signaled the train stopping began and Michael stood up to wait for the doors to open.
Yet they never did.
He waited, but the doors simply remained closed. There was no one on this abnormally small station platform. Some time ago the train must’ve re-surfaced, for he could see the city light in the distance, yet Michael knew the last station was underground. ‘Perhaps the train pulled away into a maintenance area’ he thought, until he saw the name ‘Vale’ station imprinted in bold letters on the far wall, like they have at every other station. But ‘Vale’ was not on the map. Before Michael could get a better look around, the train jerked again and it began to move forward once more.
A girl sat down in the next carriage.
Michael didn’t notice her at first, for he was embroiled in trying to find out where he was. Even though they were outside now, the location system did not seem to work; his phone still had no signal and it was already 11 p.m. Fatigue was about to overtake him when he noticed her. She was dressed in a shabby grey dress, her straight obsidian hair obscuring her face. She faced downwards, as if the cure of cancer was growing between her toenails. He could have sworn there was no one in the carriages around him when he looked through the glass doors on either side of his carriage, but maybe the tiredness clouded his vision. Then the girl tilted her head, paused, and then turned completely upright to stare right at him. Michael worked as a camp director on a really remote place before and felt crept out before, but this stare truly chilled him to the bones. The stare was vacant, not at all helped by her abnormally large, grey eyes and her large pale face. Her mouth was either so small that Michael couldn’t see it or it didn’t exist at all. Even though she was at the far end of the other carriage and the train was moving at breakneck speed, Michael felt an imminent sense of danger. He shrugged it off as paranoia at night.
He shouldn’t have.
The train was pulling into another stop after what seemed to be an eternity. Michael made the mistake of looking outside and there she was. Standing on the platform, beneath the big words ‘Vale’ station, was the girl with the shabby dress. He tried to avoid eye contact, but noticed through his peripheral vision she was still staring right at him. He quickly turned around as the train moved again, and there she was sitting there staring, now just a few feet away in his carriage.The train began to speed up again. There was simply no way. She couldn’t have moved so fast. The doors never opened. She looked up and stared at him blankly.
“What the fuck do you want?” Michael’s voice was smaller than he’d anticipated.
Then she stood up, and Michael almost fell: where her mouth should be, there was nothing. It was just smooth, pale skin. Her face twisted into what would be a smile if she had a mouth, and Michael watched in fear as she strode towards him. ‘She must have been in some sort of accident; maybe she just wants help’. Michael thought, trying to comfort himself as he back away ever so slightly. ‘It’s just a dream.’ He thought, ‘She doesn’t want to hurt me; we don’t even know each other. She must-‘
The train rode silently on.
Michael woke with a start. He looked around, puzzled as to why there was no one else left on the train. He felt the train began to slow down and he stood up to wait for the doors to open.
They never did.
Credit To – Bill Yang
Back in college, I had a small one-bedroom apartment all to myself on the ground floor of a multi-building complex. The location was great. The complex stood at the end of a rural street seldom visited by cars, nestled in the woods near a large pond. Tributary streams snaked around the complex, and the soothing sound of flowing water could be heard from every building. It somehow cost a lot less than living in a dorm, so it wasn’t hard to persuade my parents to co-sign my lease. (State law said my landlord needed their signature, although I would be paying for the place with my own money.) The apartment’s main benefit was that I could stay in town after classes ended for the summer, and enjoy the freedom from my parents’ gazes that I’d been craving all throughout high school — a benefit well worth the part-time jobs I had to take during weekends and holidays to pay for my living arrangements.
Even so, the apartment had its fair share of drawbacks. Nobody had told me how lonely a one-person apartment can feel, especially once the semester ends and all your friends move away for the season. It’s right in the name, if you think about it: apart-ment; a state of being separate from everybody else. But I hadn’t put much thought into it before, not until all the early mornings and late nights I would spend by myself after I’d finished with work or homework, finding nothing to distract me from my own isolation. For a perpetually single person like me, those hit pretty hard. Also, I had no idea how much heat an apartment can build up, particularly during the summer months. I bought a thermometer to test it, and even at night, with all of my windows open as wide as they could go, and a fan running to help the ventilation, the temperature hovered around or above a scorching 85 degrees.
I didn’t mind the heat per se, but it kept me from falling asleep at night. Now, insomnia itself isn’t so bad if you like spending time wandering through your own thoughts. But I didn’t. Not at all. I could only think of how alone I felt. Of how tired I was, and how little sleep I’d manage before the morning. Of how tomorrow would bring more of the same — the loneliness, the fatigue, the promise of more in the nights to come. And those kinds of thoughts kept me awake even later. It made for a pretty vicious feedback loop, and I couldn’t come up with a way to break it.
I had thought that would be the worst part of the summer I spent out there.
I wish it had been.
* * *
One night, quite by accident, I found a way to alleviate the misery of those hot, solitary hours. Around midnight, desperate for some way to cool the stifling air, I decided I’d try leaving the front door open to see if it helped at all. A flimsy screen door without a lock was on the other side, and I thought it would probably increase the apartment’s air flow. I’d been reluctant to try that earlier because my building faces another one in the complex, and I didn’t want the people there to think I was watching them through the screen. Nor did I want them staring through it at me. Nor barging through it and robbing me blind — or worse — if I fell asleep before bolting the front door. But my complex was a quiet one, and I hadn’t heard of any crimes around my part of town. Nearly delirious from the heat, I opted to take a chance. I figured I’d be more likely to die from heatstroke than from a break-in, anyway.
The deadbolt unhitched with a sound like a cracking knuckle, and the front door squeaked on its hinges. The air outside didn’t feel much colder than what was in my apartment. I took a breath of night air, and, except for its clean, watery scent, it didn’t seem any different than what I’d been inhaling all night. The disappointment sank heavily into my stomach, as if I’d drunk mercury. Regardless, I told myself I should give it a minute. Maybe I could feel a change in a little while.
Since all the lamps in my apartment were off, my eyes had adapted to the darkness, and I could see the world outside in its minutest detail. The dim lamps above every apartment door, including my own, cast dirty yellow light onto the grass and trees and bushes, which in turn cast anemic shadows. The heat’s making everything sick, I thought to myself. Even the plants. Even the lights. Poor things.
Then something white as a ghost banged against the screen near my face. I stifled a shout, and backed away from the door. Another bang followed, and a large white thing fluttered away.
I laughed at my earlier panic. Moths! Who knew they could be so big and clumsy? The large moth approached the screen again, but this time landed gently on it, apparently recognizing the obstacle at last. The light that attracted it shone above our heads. The moth’s broad, thin wings shimmered in its rays.
I had never thought of moths as beautiful before, but I could only describe this one as gorgeous. I had to take a closer look. I drew nearer the screen, but the moth remained. I could see every aspect of it — its large, dark eyes; its feathery antennae; its fluffy body; the layered fabric of its dusty wings, halfway between mica and silk. The moth carried a mesmerizing little world. No, scratch that. It was a mesmerizing little world unto itself.
Eventually I noticed that there were other insects on the screen, too. Some less pretty than my moth, but all fascinating in their own right. By the time I had finished observing them all, it didn’t feel any cooler in my apartment. But when I checked the clock, I discovered that I had passed hours without my noticing. Morning was not far off, and I hadn’t even realized! I wasn’t going to rack up much sleep again, alas, but no less than a usual night.
Unlike a usual night, though, I hadn’t even once thought about feeling lonely.
It seemed I had found a way to pass those sleepless hours after all.
* * *
It came to be that, during nights when I felt I’d be wide awake until the morning — which is to say every night — I would shut off all the lights in my apartment and throw open my front door, waiting for bugs to collect on the screen so that I could while away the hours watching them. I couldn’t tell you what kinds of insects they were, exactly, but that didn’t matter to me. I found them more magical precisely because I couldn’t name them. When I looked at my bugs, I couldn’t see them as dry Latin names, already discovered and classified and rendered as dull and dead as the language that categorized them. They lived, they breathed, they thrived. I could recognize certain species after a while, but I couldn’t name them. And so, with each bugwatching session, it felt as if I were discovering each of my bugs for the first time.
I’d see dozens of different moths, their mouthless bodies waiting for starvation, their huge empty eyes unafraid or uncomprehending. Fly-like insects with long tails and gossamer wings would perch as close to the lamp as they could, their fine features swaying in the weak breeze. Huge black beetles with hydraulic-looking jaws shimmered in the light like rare gems on a brooch. Confronted with such quiet majesty, I could fathom why the ancient Egyptians revered certain beetles.
If my bugs could think, they would have understood that reverence can run two ways. They would have revered me, too — not as some fascinating sight to be regarded in the night’s latest hours, but as a sort of god. If I had wanted to, I could have flicked the screen and banished them back into the darkness they fled. I could go even further and crush them outright if I felt so inclined. I was a benevolent god, however. All I wanted to do was look. Then again, looking can be another aspect of godliness. Seeing all, down to the last detail. Allowing nothing to remain hidden from your roving eye. The power to determine what is private and what is not, and to redefine those boundaries on a whim. There’s good reason why all the world’s religions ascribe the power of omniscience to their highest gods.
I was not truly omniscient, but to my bugs, I might as well have been. As long as they remained on my screen, nothing they did could remain hidden from me. I watched them breathe. I watched them eat. Sometimes I even watched them mate — prolonged yet mechanical and passionless affairs. Their tiny world and all its goings-on were my playthings. Every time I brought my face near the screen, spying on my bugs with only the thin metal mesh between their eyes and mine, I felt wonderful.
So wonderful, in fact, that I began to feel as if the night and sleeplessness were old friends of mine for introducing me to such a pleasure.
That was my first mistake.
* * *
My second mistake was to let my good feelings devolve into complacency and boredom. To fail to remain content with what I had. To grow greedy for more.
You see, there came a night when the several bugs that were drawn to my screen were not enough for me any longer. They still fascinated me, but their numbers were too few, their interactions too rare and limited. I imagined that I could solve this problem by adding more bugs to the equation. More creatures on my screen meant a higher chance of them crossing paths — and who knew what would result? The possibilities enthralled me. So, with the insatiable acquisitive impulse of the born collector, I decided that I would attract more insects to my door. Then I would have more to see. Perhaps then I would be content.
One night, I didn’t turn off my lamps before I opened the door. The lone bulb outside had been sufficient to bait my nightly visitors; I figured that more light, surely, would attract even greater numbers. Keeping the lamps on meant that I couldn’t see more than an inch beyond the screen, for the light reflected off the mesh and back at me, making it seem as if a curtain of blackness had been draped right outside the door-frame. Furthermore, it meant I could be seen from the outside — perhaps without even knowing it. But I had been awake many late nights before, and never once noticed an open blind or door in my neighbors’ apartments across the way, so I didn’t think anybody would be likely to peep in at me. All the same, I made sure that, despite the heat, I was fully dressed.
At first, it didn’t seem like my plan was going to work. The only bugs on my screen were the ones that would have been there anyway. However, I told myself to be patient, and so I stood there and waited. Within fifteen minutes, more insects than I had ever seen in one place had arrived. Practically every species of nighttime bug had gathered to my call, and all of them vied for space on my screen. The door wasn’t completely covered, but it certainly seemed like it. I brought my face to the screen for a closer look. The startling complexity of the bugs thrilled me anew. They parted at the push of my breath, leaving a deep black hole in the blanket of still wings. I peered through it, waiting for another bug to fill the gap.
That was when I saw the face.
It surfaced out of the blackness with tremendous speed, its mouth shut in an inscrutable, emotionless way. Its eyes offered no hint as to what it was thinking, for it had no pupils, its sockets filled with two dull white masses. Even so, I felt it watching me. Pale and hairless, it didn’t appear to have any features except for a face. I’d describe it as marmoreal or statuesque, but it didn’t have the stiffness of a sculpture — it had something fluid about it, although its expression never changed, and it didn’t move except to enter my field of vision.
All the same, it scared the living hell out of me.
I staggered backward and fell flat on my ass, flailing about for the door. I grabbed hold of it, and slammed it shut, hurling my whole weight against it as I reached for the bolt. Even after it slid into place with a heavy clunk, I remained by the door, hoping that my body would be enough of an impediment to keep the intruder from bursting in.
I sat there the entire sleepless night, wishing I didn’t have a reason to stay awake.
* * *
I want to tell you my story ends there, but it doesn’t.
The next morning, I was shaken and exhausted, and in no condition to go into work. I called in sick, and spent the afternoon trying to nap and catch up on the sleep I’d lost. I remembered reading somewhere on the Internet months before about how prolonged sleep deprivation can cause all kinds of hallucinations, and so the sudden appearance of the face had left me wondering whether it was a product of my own fatigue. Either way, a bit of shut-eye was certainly in order, and I thought I could manage some now that the sun had risen. In the daylight, I wasn’t too scared to sleep. But I pulled down all my blinds regardless, and closed and locked the windows for good measure. It was hot and stuffy in my apartment as a result, but it felt safer.
By nightfall, I was fairly certain that I had slept at least a few hours. Per usual, I opened my door, and let the night’s bugs collect on the screen — although this time, I had no intention of leaving the lights on. If the face was going to return, I would see it coming.
The night wore on, and my bugs didn’t bring me the pleasure they typically did. I was too distracted to focus on them, too afraid that if I didn’t pay attention to the world beyond them, the face would sneak up on me again. After several hours of halfhearted bugwatching, I decided to call it quits. It was proving too stressful. And I only ever wanted my bugs to make me happy. I tried to find an optimistic way to look at the matter, telling myself that the face’s failure to arrive proved it was a trick of my mind. Although I remained somewhat unconvinced, I shut and bolted the door, and debated what to do instead. Streaming a movie on my laptop seemed like a good option. Not long after I booted it up, though, it practically melted the flesh from my thighs. It was far too hot in the apartment already. It would have been insane to do anything that added to the heat.
Then I remembered that I’d forgotten to open the windows since the afternoon. I didn’t suppose it would make a whole lot of difference if I left them shut, but I figured that any ventilation beat no ventilation. I lifted one of my blinds, unlocked the window, and raised it to let in the air. Several moths peppered the swathe of screen I’d exposed. I bent down to inspect them more closely.
They scattered in a cloud of dust, and the face rose up to greet me.
I screamed, slamming the window shut. I didn’t even think to secure it. I had only the presence of mind to bolt into the bathroom and lock the door behind me. If whoever was out there made it into my apartment, I’d at least have placed a sizable slab of wood between us. It seemed like an improvement over flimsy steel mesh and brittle glass.
Who was that person outside my window? For some reason, the face struck me as a male’s, even though there weren’t any defining features. He didn’t look at all familiar. In fact, he didn’t look like anyone — or anything — I’d ever seen. What did he want with me? Whoever he was, I wanted him out of my sight.
Willing myself into some semblance of calm, I plucked my cell phone from my pocket and dialed the police. The dispatcher promised I wouldn’t have long to wait. I couldn’t tell whether she lied to me. I wouldn’t look at my phone after placing the call, thinking that watching the clock would drive me insane. Even so, I felt as if I waited for hours in that bathroom, the walls seeming to encroach on me, the door looking less secure by the minute.
Then something knocked.
I cried out, but a deep male voice told me to remain calm. He slid a police badge under the door, and said everything was safe out there. Neither he nor his partner had found anybody when they arrived. He added that he would take me to the police station for the night if I didn’t feel comfortable where I was. We could work on a profile sketch of whomever I saw, he said, and distribute it to every law enforcement official in the area. It would be fine, he said; I should come out of there.
Part of me expected this to be a ruse. I imagined I’d open the door and find the face waiting there for me. But the badge seemed too detailed to be a fake. I cracked the door tentatively, and a uniformed officer waved at me through the space. I went out to him.
I looked over his shoulder to the window behind him. A moth clung to it. The face, however, was nowhere to be seen.
It might have been my own uneasiness, but I still felt as if the face were monitoring me.
* * *
They were all really kind to me at the police station. Not that I expected the cops from a small college town to be jaded and mean, mind you. It’s more that I was impressed by how friendly they were, considering how absurdly late it was. I can’t envision most people being anything but cranky at such an hour. The police were surprisingly hospitable, treating me like I was a friend they had invited over. The officer who brought me in provided me a mug of coffee, and deposited me at the desk of a detective while he went to find the sketch artist on duty. He returned with a tallish woman who carried an artist’s pad under one arm, and a case of pencils in the other. The detective helped her set up a collapsible easel stand they kept around the office. Then the four of us set to work creating a likeness of the face I’d seen.
They regarded me strangely when I described the onlooker has having no features. Perhaps because it wasn’t a terribly helpful starting point. Or else because it was practically unthinkable. If somebody told me to picture something without features, I doubt that I’d be able to imagine it. That, however, had not occurred to me until after I’d opened my mouth, and after I’d furnished such an impossible visual. I tried to devise a better way to help the sketch artist render what I’d seen, and settled on pointing out what the face had, instead of what it lacked. Following my instructions, the artist penciled a bald scalp, a smooth forehead, faint to invisible eyebrows, virtually nonexistent lips, and blank eyes. By force of habit, she added pupils to them. I didn’t bother to correct her. By the time she’d finished her drawing, the face looked fairly masculine, although it could easily have belonged to a woman if you imagined a feminine hairstyle on it.
“He looks familiar,” said the detective.
“I thought so, too,” the officer said.
“It does feel as if I’ve drawn him before,” said the artist. “Or someone similar.”
Despite their conviction, I began to suspect that a face as generic as the one we sketched could resemble nearly anybody you wanted it to look like.
“Hey, could you try drawing some matted hair on him?” the officer asked. “Longish, kind of plastered on his forehead.”
The detective nodded as the artist added some hair to the drawing. I certainly didn’t recall any hair, but I figured they knew what they were doing. Adding hair seemed reasonable — it wouldn’t have taken much effort for someone to shave his head for a disguise. After the artist had finished, the three of them made noises of recognition.
“Man,” said the detective. “That is uncanny.”
“Yeah,” said the officer. “I remember that guy. He was a sad case.”
I had to interrupt them. Was? Why the past tense?
They explained to me that the picture matched a photograph of someone they had encountered before. The detective walked off to retrieve the relevant file as the officer related the story. The guy in question was a young man, a late teen or early twenty-something, who had been arrested on charges of voyeurism. He had a thing for looking into people’s rooms, although he never admitted to observing people in vulnerable positions. The people who reported him noted that he’d never spied on them while they were nude or anything — they spotted him as they were doing some quotidian thing, like reading a magazine or playing a video game.
The detective returned, dropping a manila folder on the desk. He flipped it open, revealing a mug shot that did look an awful lot like our drawing. I glanced at the name. Norman C—. I’d never heard of him.
The thing about C—‘s case, the detective remarked, was that voyeurism in our state was considered a low-level sex offense. This didn’t bode well for C—. He was studying education and some other subject at the university; he planned to be a teacher. But, the detective added, you can’t be a teacher if you’re a sex offender. It’s against the law, plain and simple. That left C— in a bad place. It wouldn’t have gone well for him, the detective said.
C— was a sad case. Things wouldn’t have been good for him. Why did they talk about him that way?
My eyes had strayed back to the file. I scanned the vital information. Place of residence. Height. Weight. Eye color. Date of birth.
There was another field they had filled out: Date of death.
“Such a waste,” said the officer. “There’s plenty of time to begin again when you’re that young. Kids never seem to understand that.”
I was afraid to learn what became of C—, but I asked all the same.
Shaking his head, the officer replied, “The poor bastard hanged himself before he could go to trial.”
* * *
After hearing something like that, there was no way I was going back to my apartment that night. Who — or what — had been watching me? I was in no condition to deal with it. As such, the police allowed me to stay at the station until morning. The only bed they had to offer me was in their currently-unoccupied holding cell, but it became surprisingly comfortable after they made it up for me. Plus, since they left the cell door open, and since the cell itself had a small slat of a window near the ceiling that admitted some scant moonlight, it kind of felt like I had a low-end hotel room all to myself. The detective said he would keep me company if I wanted it, but I declined. It seemed safe enough to sleep in a location as secure as the police station, with plenty of other people close by if I needed them.
Sympathetic as the police were, I could tell they didn’t quite believe me. Not that they thought I was lying. They took me at my word that I saw what I saw, but my story seemed so implausible that they likely dismissed it as a stress- or insomnia-induced hallucination. I couldn’t blame them for thinking that. I half-thought it myself. With no evidence to the contrary, what could I say? They never saw the face lingering outside my apartment. And who would honestly think that a dead man could be the one looking through my window? They probably assumed I had seen his photo in a newspaper somewhere along the line, and that I imagined him, or saw him in a particularly lucid nightmare.
I reclined on the bed. Although the cell was far cooler than my apartment, I could tell that I would have difficulty sleeping there, as well. Too many thoughts surged through my brain, preventing me from shutting down mentally. I tried to piece together what I had learned, but it produced more questions than answers. What did C— want with me? I had noted his place of residence in his file, and it wasn’t my room. It wasn’t even my complex, for that matter — he lived somewhere across town. A haunting didn’t seem like a reasonable conclusion — that is, if haunting ever could be considered a reasonable conclusion. I never knew the guy, either. We had nothing in common whatever. So why would he come after me?
All those unanswered or unanswerable questions planted a nagging doubt in my mind: Did the face even belong to C—? When it came down to it, C— was the police’s hypothesis, not mine. The face I saw could have belonged to anyone. You could have called it a Face in the Platonic sense. It seemed like the thing that all faces have in common; the purest instantiation of the category “face.” You could glimpse whomever you wanted to see in it, and you’d be neither wrong nor right, much as you are neither wrong nor right when ascribing a shape to a cloud, since it contains figures that are both there and not there.
My lines of thought led nowhere. If the face were C—, then why him? If not C—, then who else? I had no answers. I could only find dead ends or circular paths, and I felt I would remain awake the entire night tracing and retracing them, irrespective of how fruitless I knew them to be.
Peering up at the slim window from the bed, I could see pinhole stars poking through the moonlight sky. I realized in that moment that stargazing would never suit me as a hobby. The light of possibly dead stars seemed too static to me, too distant to lose myself in. I’d rather have a small thing loom large than witness a huge thing in miniature. Give me realms too small to be seen, rather than shrinking worlds to unseen proportions. Put away the things you’ve reduced to generalities, and hand over the particulars — the unique, the unprecedented, the inimitable. They’re the only things that merit one’s attention. They’re all that can keep you attached to our world of eventual dust and decay…
A fat moth thudded against the tiny cell window, jarring me out of my reverie. I climbed out of the bed to take a closer look. I wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the windowsill, and had to stand on tiptoe to grab hold of it and raise myself up. Peering over the bottom of the sturdy pane, I glimpsed a bug unlike any I had seen. The moth — a bloated, shuddering creature — was colored as dark as the night sky, save for a white patch on its abdomen. Upon closer scrutiny, I found that it closely resembled a human skull. As the moth shuffled around on the window, the skull seemed to grin and gnash its teeth.
The moth began to twitch and vibrate as if having an epileptic fit. Was some kind of parasite tormenting it? My arms straining, I heaved myself up for a closer look. As I did, the moth’s bulbous stomach began to tear at its seams, the skull mark splitting down the center. A dense blackness opened out of the split, as though the moth had ink coursing in its veins.
Then the face emerged.
It started small like a butterfly’s egg, but quickly expanded, forcing its way out of the moth. Soon the insect burst entirely, and the face enlarged itself to its regular size. I gasped and lost my grip on the windowpane, crashing down on the cell’s hard floor. My tailbone smarted, but my fear negated the pain. I had to escape. I scuttled into the corner below the window, where I couldn’t be seen. Curling into myself, I looked up at the windowsill, too frightened to do much else.
I saw the face.
How had it passed through the glass? I heard nothing break. And those kinds of windows were designed to be unbreakable! But there it was, staring down at me with its blank yet greedy eyes, slowly advancing toward me.
I scrambled to my feet and dashed for the door, refusing to lose sight of my tormentor. Then my shoulder crashed into stiff metal bars, knocking me to the floor. The door had been shut! But I hadn’t heard it! Surely it should have made some noise — wasn’t jail once nicknamed “the slammer” for a reason?
Dazed, I turned to look back at the window. The face was not there. My lungs could not seem to draw in enough air. I made for the blocked door.
The face waited beyond the bars.
I screamed as it drifted through them, its expressionless visage unchanging.
Then I awoke in the bed where the officers had left me.
My sheets were damp. I didn’t bother to check whether it was sweat or something more embarrassing. My eyes darted toward the door. The cell remained open, precisely as it had when the officers gave me my lodgings. I rolled onto my back with a sigh. Wondering whether I would ever sleep soundly again, I let my eyes wander to window.
A pair of blank eyes in an equally blank face regarded me through it.
That nearly ended me. I screamed all the air out of my lungs, and when that ran out, my throat muscles kept pushing on soundlessly. I tumbled from the bed and dashed out of the cell. Tears streamed down my face as I fought for air. The detective, having heard me scream, met me partway down the hallway. I collapsed into him. He asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t answer. My voice refused to form words, and loosed only cries.
The detective tried guiding me back to the cell so I could show him what was the matter, but I planted my heels. Nothing could persuade me to go back there. He realized that soon enough, and went off on his own. He returned in a span of seconds.
“There’s nothing out there,” he said, sympathetic but uncomprehending. “Nothing at all.”
Impossible! He must have seen it. I couldn’t have been the only one! Driven solely by incredulity, I staggered back to the cell and glanced at the tiny window. All I found was the dark night sky, and a couple of pinprick stars.
* * *
I left the police station the following morning. I worried that, if I had any more sightings that they couldn’t substantiate, or if I had any more outbursts they couldn’t account for, they would have me committed. What would happen then? I’d be stuck in a small room for who knew how long, where nobody would take my sightings seriously, and where all the face’s apparitions would only serve to keep me there longer. Obviously, that wouldn’t do. So I thanked the police for letting me stay the night, and resolved to set out on my own.
It became apparent that if I were to stop this thing from pursuing me, I would have to do it alone.
The first thing I had to do was determine whether the face truly had anything to do with C—. Know thy enemy, right? I didn’t have any clue as to what I would do afterward, but it seemed like a worthwhile first step.
I had gleaned C—‘s last place of residence from his file, and figured I would check it out for any clues. The address didn’t list an apartment number, so I imagined he had rented a house, or a room in one. I made my way across town to the address I remembered. The roads led me to a wooded residential area. Houses nice enough to suit any of my professors fit snugly between dense copses of trees, sunlight dappling their rooftops. It looked like the kind of place where I’d want to live. But then again, that slasher movie Halloween took a comparable neighborhood for its setting. Come to think of it, so did Nightmare on Elm Street. And Blue Velvet…
Lost in thought, I almost wandered past the house on C—‘s file. It was a comparatively simple one-story affair with a small backyard that ran up to the treeline. It had no garage, but the empty driveway looked wide enough to park a car or two. A bold red “FOR SALE” sign poked from the ground near the mailbox like some weird flower. From the street, I could see bare walls and floors through the house’s windows.
What poor timing, I thought to myself. What could possibly be left there if its owner had cleared it out already? I swore under my breath.
Then I thought: There’s nobody home; nobody coming home.
And then: Well, the one certain way not to find any clues is not to look.
I looked around to ensure there was nobody coming up or down the street. Then I headed for the backyard, where the trees would help conceal me. I tested the back door. It was locked. Several of the windows had also been secured. I tried the bathroom window last, as it was much higher off the ground than the others. Also, it appeared to be one that opened outward rather than upward, and thus would be a pain to try and enter. With some effort, I wedged my apartment key under it. I jimmied it around, hoping to pry the window open, when I heard something snap. I cursed, thinking my key had snapped, but it turned out that something on the window had given way. The window protruded at an angle like that of a can lid improperly opened. It didn’t make for a terribly wide entrance, but it would have to suffice.
I wriggled my way through, nearly finding myself stuck when my shoulders — and then when my rear — reached the frame. After a few minutes of undignified writhing, I tumbled through the window, landing hard on the linoleum of the bathroom floor. My body ached from the impact, but otherwise I felt fine.
Since the house had a single story, it didn’t take long to explore. One bathroom. One mudroom with laundry machines. A kitchen. Something approximating a den. Two small rooms, one with an empty closet. I began to think that breaking was a pointless exercise.
Until I found the basement door.
With no windows near the house’s foundation visible from the outside, I hadn’t counted on there being a basement. But there it was. I had come too far not to explore it. The door opened unto a steep wooden stairwell, conspicuously lacking a banister. I flicked the lightswitch to my right, but nothing happened. The electric company must have cut the power to the house, I thought, since nobody lived there at the moment. It hadn’t occurred to me to bring a flashlight, and I cursed my lack of foresight. Leaving the door open, however, admitted a bit of sunlight from upstairs. I estimated that it would help me see fairly well down there once I gave my eyes time to adjust. Granted, it was not the soundest of plans, but it was the only one at hand. Treading carefully, I followed the shaft of light down the stairs.
The soles of my shoes sounded against the basement’s concrete floor, but they didn’t echo. At first, I found that odd. As I traveled further, however, it turned out that half of the basement had been finished, the floor covered in wall-to-wall carpeting, the insulated walls boarded over and painted. If I squinted, I could see the slats where the boards didn’t quite line up. I imagined that someone lived down here at some point. Renting rooms or finished basements is common practice in college towns, after all. There was no furniture that I could see, but I could feel divots in the carpet that might have corresponded to a desk and a bed-frame from some time ago.
I dragged the heels of my shoes through the aging plush beneath my feet, hoping to locate something worth investigating. I caught myself on another indentation, but it was so deep and compacted that it put up some serious resistance and tripped me. I toppled over, crashing elbow-first into the painted wall. Something snapped. I feared it was my arm, but I only felt a vague smarting where my elbow collided with the wood. Climbing to my feet, I turned around, and discovered I’d punctured a deep hole in the boards. Shouldn’t those have been insulated or reinforced?
If they were a standard wall, I realized — but not if they covered a hiding place.
I stuck my arm down the hole, half-expecting to grab a handful of rat or scrape myself on a rusting nail. Instead, I touched something flat and solid. I clawed around until I could feel out its contours, then took hold of it and eased it through the hole. It looked like some kind of book. I thumbed through its pages, but it was too dark to read it where I stood. So I went back to the stairs, and sat myself on the bottom step where the light from above made the pages legible.
It turned out to be a notebook. Each leaf in it had been filled, but I noticed a dramatic shift in penmanship. The first pages, while nothing calligraphic, were comparatively neat. As they progressed, however, the handwriting devolved into messy, frantic scrawl. Occasional punctures dotted the later pages, where the writer must have pressed his or her pen too forcefully. The entries seemed shorter toward the end, as well, as if the writer had less and less time to record things. Or else was growing bored with writing.
I started at the beginning. It opened with a date and salutation. So I had found a journal! Like most private journals, though, it didn’t provide any context. I had no idea who this person was, or why I should care about him or her. Even so, it seemed likely that this journal had belonged to C—. The first entry mentioned the excitement of leaving home to go to college, and wondering what his professors would be like. It also expressed some curiosity — or skepticism — about how one teaches how to teach. It looked to me like something C— could have written.
The entries detailed insipid, mundane happenings for longer than I cared to read. Like me, it seemed C— didn’t sleep well. Many entries spoke of long walks at night, and things he thought about while awake in bed. He didn’t think anything profound, either. Poor C—! He seemed to have a terribly boring life. No wonder he took to voyeurism. I couldn’t be bothered to read all of the things he’d recorded, so I skimmed through the pages until I landed on one where his tone shifted from semi-interested recollection to something far different.
* * *
May –, —-
I saw somebody outside for the first time when I was out walking tonight. At least, I think I did. It was hard to tell. I didn’t talk to them or anything. At first I saw a white flicker from the corner of my eye, and thought it was some kind of animal. It was gone when I turned to look. Later on, the same flicker came back. That’s when I thought I spotted someone wearing all white approaching one of the nearby houses.
Probably a neighbor returning from a late-night jog or something. Why bother wearing reflective colors like white if you’re about to rob a house?
Maybe I’ll run into them sometime. It would be nice to talk to somebody on my walks.
May –, —-
Out walking tonight, I passed the person in white again. This time he was by a different house. It looked like he had paused there for a breather during his run. I thought really hard about saying hello. I know I should be more outgoing than I am, but it’s hard to do, especially when you’ve been an introvert for so long…
Anyway, I blew my chance. The person had moved on by the time I decided to introduce myself. Dang!
But it’s no big deal. It seems like nighttime adventures are part of his routine. I’ll catch up with him eventually. Maybe we can be friends.
May –, —-
I’m not sure I want to meet the guy in white anymore.
When I set out tonight, I promised myself I’d extend a greeting. And I swore I’d follow through…. Until I ran into him.
I spotted him standing in someone’s front yard. I thought he was stargazing at first, but when I came closer, I realized he was staring directly at the house. Not even at anything in particular. All the blinds were drawn, so there was nothing to look at. He was simply staring.
It seemed like a better idea not to call attention to myself.
What a strange person. I guess he wasn’t hurting anybody, though, so maybe I shouldn’t judge. But still…
June –, —-
I don’t think he’s a guy.
I’m not even sure what he is.
Tonight, I told myself I’d call the police if I found him staring at a different house. Well, I did. Thank goodness their blinds were down!
But I blew my cover. The guy hadn’t seen me coming, so I had that going for me. When I reached into my pocket for my cell phone, however, my elbow cracked really loudly.
He heard it. And turned around. And I’m sure he saw me.
The thing is… Man, how do I say this?
“Turned” doesn’t seem like the right word. He kind of glided, like he wasn’t touching the ground, and rotated on a single axis.
And when he looked at me… He didn’t look much like a guy. He didn’t look like much of anything. I can’t describe his face, because there was hardly anything to describe. Only the basics — mouth, nose, eyes. Nothing else.
Maybe it was a mask? I don’t know how else to explain his appearance. Although that certainly doesn’t explain how he moved.
I ran home before I even thought of calling the police. I don’t think I was followed. I left a report with the police over the phone. They’ll catch him if he’s up to no good.
I hope they nab him soon. I’m too scared to go outside while he’s still out there.
June –, —-
No word about the masked man on the news. Looks like a night in for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a good movie on TV.
June –, —-
He found me.
I was watching TV late at night with the landlord, since I guess he’s had trouble sleeping, too. We had the windows open to let in the air, so we didn’t have the blinds closed. You could probably see us from the street. Damn it! I can’t believe I overlooked that!
During a commercial, I glanced at the window. I saw his face looking in at me. No features. All white. Even the eyes.
I screamed as soon as I saw him, but when the landlord checked, he was gone.
My landlord is calling the police this time. I didn’t mention what the guy looked like. I only said that someone was peering in at us. Good thing I didn’t go further. He might doubt my sanity!
June –, —-
I’ve been reading the police logs in the local paper. Nothing like the guy in them. Not good.
Pretty uneventful day. Remedial summer math classes as usual. My mind has been elsewhere, but I’ve been bringing home pretty good grades.
Bought a steak for dinner tonight. Figured I could use something nice in my life for a change. Even if it’s little more than a decent cut of meat.
POSTSCRIPT: 2:45 AM
Blinds don’t work anymore. Oh, god. Oh, god!
Went to the bathroom a couple of minutes ago. Left the light off, because it would have blinded me. I pulled aside the blinds while I was waiting to finish, thinking maybe I’d see some fireflies.
He was there instead. Face against the screen. Staring right at me.
Scared shitless right now. Partly from the shock. But mostly because I can’t figure it out… How did he know I’d be there, in that room, at that moment?
June –, —-
Spending the night at my parents’ place upstate. Will keep the blinds down at all hours.
POSTSCRIPT: 1:15 AM
WHY DID I OPEN THEM?
I know why. Because I figured he couldn’t be there. Because I kept the lights off as an extra security measure. Because the peace of mind would have done wonders for me.
I was wrong.
My bedroom here is on the second floor. Nothing to stand on or hold on to outside the windows. Thought that would be to my advantage.
He was on the lawn when I first peeked outside. At the far edge by the street.
I dropped the blinds right away. Then I thought I might be seeing things, or mistaking someone else out there for him.
Second viewing: He was all the way across the lawn. Standing at the base of the house. Staring up at me.
He must have made it there in the span of two seconds. And we have a BIG lawn.
Lowered the blinds again. Steadied my breath. Parted a slat in the blinds with a finger, making space enough for only my eye, thinking I could spy on him from above and have a better look.
And there he was. Right there. An inch away from me, with only thin glass between us.
My screams woke my parents. They didn’t see anything when they checked outside. I’m sleeping on their floor tonight in a sleeping bag. Like a pathetic eight-year-old who had a nightmare. But I admit I feel a little safer here.
Not that I’ll sleep. Too much to think about. How did he — it — find me? Who — or what — am I dealing with?
June –, —-
Parents are no help. They think I’m overworked. Suggested I stay longer. Not happening.
June –, —-
Fell asleep in the university library. Near a window. Couldn’t help it; too tired.
Had this horrible dream where a huge moth landed beside me on the glass, then the face burst out of it.
The worst part: The face was there when I woke up. Watching me. Enjoying my fright, I think.
Locked myself in a stall in the men’s room. I’ll leave in the morning.
June –, —-
Afraid to sleep. Afraid to go outside. Afraid to be near windows. Afraid to tell anyone about it, because they’ll think I’m out of my mind.
Hell. Maybe I am.
POSTSCRIPT: 3:30 AM
Can’t even piss in this house without thinking it’s on the other side of the blinds…
Once it catches sight of you, it won’t ever leave you alone. Of this I’m certain.
I hope nobody else ever has to see it.
July –, —-
I’ve been spending evenings at the coffee shop downtown, loading up on caffeine so I can stay up all night and sleep during the day. Never a big crowd — usually only me and the barista — but she lets me stay until closing all the same. And she closes late.
Better to be up all night. The face has never been there in the daytime. That I know of.
Fell asleep in the shop tonight. Had the exact same nightmare with the moth. No less terrifying.
I woke up to another moth. It looked an awful lot like the one from my dreams. Soon it fattened and split, and the face emerged from its ruined body. I think I wet myself.
And then I woke up again, finding myself in the coffee shop.
With the face staring in at me through the window.
Took a taxi home; wasn’t chancing walking. No windows in my basement room, thank god. But what do I do? How do I make this stop?
POSTSCRIPT: 4:00 AM
Been thinking about how the face-entity works. Seems to enjoy tormenting me. That much is obvious.
But I think it’s more complicated than that. It likes to watch me. But I think it enjoys watching me the most when I’m suffering. Similar to how cruel little kids like playing with flies after they’ve plucked the wings off them.
I feel like a bug in a jar that keeps being shaken. I don’t know how long I can take this.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: 4:30 AM
Regarding the suffering part: I have another idea. There’s a specific kind of suffering it wants from you. It wants to trap you in your nightmares. If I’m right, it explains the nested dreams. And the identical nightmares. Maybe it only has the ability to induce a single type of nightmare.
I don’t know how it does this. Or why.
Or why me.
July –, —-
I don’t deserve this. Aren’t I good person? Or at least a good enough person?
July –, —-
It’s predatory, in a way. Must be. But it’s a random predator. Prowling with no rhyme or reason. Pursuing someone only if they catch its attention…
July –, —-
This will end me.
Nobody deserves this.
August –, —-
I’ve been pretty good about hiding from it, I think. I don’t leave the basement after dark if I can help it. I’ve taken to relieving myself in bottles at night, and emptying them in the bathroom during the day.
The landlord has been kind. He brings me groceries when I need them. I bet he imagines I’m slaving away at a term paper.
No sightings to report since late July.
August –, —-
It can come out of any dark place, even in the daytime.
I thought I saw it in the pantry, when I left the door open while cooking dinner. It wasn’t there when I double-checked. Later, I spotted it at the top of the stairs when I was about to go to bed. Hovering there, motionless. But it vanished once I turned on the lights.
Maybe I imagined it. Whatever. Lights on all the time from here out.
August –, —-
Lights seem to be working. No sightings in a week.
August –, —-
Nothing this week, either. The moth dream on occasion. Perhaps a residual nightmare, since I’ve been through a lot.
September –, —-
Starting to worry. What if it loses interest in me, and goes after someone else?
I have to warn the neighbors.
I’ll start with the ones who don’t close their blinds at night. How to contact them? By phone? They’ll probably hang up on me…
Well, I’ll think of something.
I have to.
* * *
The journal stopped after the September entry. A handful of blank pages near the end told me that C— hadn’t simply run out of space. The entries must have ceased following his arrest. Reading C—‘s words left a leaden sensation in my stomach, and an ashen taste in my mouth. I felt badly for him, imagining a broken loner, helpless and afraid, in this sad little basement.
As his writings sunk in, though, I felt even worse for myself.
I kept re-reading the part about how the face could materialize in any dark setting, and how C— vanquished it with lights. I wondered whether the light actually drove it away, or whether it simply rendered the thing invisible. Light hadn’t done much for me, after all. If anything, that’s what attracted the face’s attention in the first place.
Not that the dark felt any safer. The unlit basement felt less secure by the second. Where would I go next? If that thing had marked me already, it would go wherever I went…
That was when I noticed the slant of light thinning on the open journal. It slimmed down to a tiny line, and then disappeared completely. The door atop the stairs squealed as it closed. I hoped a breeze from the open bathroom window was to blame, but it didn’t matter. Blackness surrounded me.
A blackness the face could emerge from any moment.
In a panic, I started crawling up the steps, groping my way forward in the dark. I could see the silhouette of the door outlined in faint yellow light. I pulled myself closer to it. Nothing could persuade me to look over my shoulder.
One of the rough steps drove a splinter into my outstretched palm. I yelped, and before I could stop my own reflexes, I withdrew. I steadied myself before I could tumble down the stairs, but I ended up facing the other direction.
I saw nothing.
I tried to remain calm. If it were coming for me here, I told myself, it would have shown itself already. All I had to do was turn around and climb.
Something soft and delicate fluttered from the darkness and landed on the back of my hand. I brushed it away. Then it perched on my shoulder. This time I swatted at it. It stuck fast to my fingers, batting its dusty wings wildly. I tried to rub it off against the stairs, resigning myself to another splinter. It wouldn’t come off. I beat it against the wood, my panic rising. Its wings flapped more frantically with each futile blow.
This is a diversion, I thought. It’s hoping to distract me. I can’t give in.
I resumed my climb, attempting to smother the thing attached to my hand on each step. It didn’t seem to work, but I neared the door nonetheless. At the top, I carefully raised myself to a stand, feeling about for the doorknob. Eventually I caught hold of it. I twisted the knob, and threw open the door.
In near-complete darkness, a pale figure waited on the other side, staring at me with wide white eyes.
I cried out and lost my balance. I toppled backward. I could imagine the pain of those stairs against my spine, of the concrete floor against my skull…
I awakened to find myself at the base of the stairs with C—‘s open journal draped over my chest. Light streamed down on my from the doorway above, precisely as I had left it. My pulse raced, but my body felt uninjured.
For a split-second, I felt the need to look around, to see whether the thing was out there watching me. But I quashed the impulse. Clenching the journal in one hand, I bolted up the stairs. I wouldn’t waste time scrambling through the window again. I unlocked the front door, and let myself out.
I didn’t look back at the house. I couldn’t. I simply ran. Out of C—‘s neighborhood. Through the town center. Past the point where my stamina faded. Ran until I found a bus stop, where I could ride to the end of a line that would take me somewhere, anywhere, far away from the places I had been.
* * *
I’ve been on the road for quite a while now.
I’ve traveled from New England to the Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the American deserts. I’ll do temporary work to earn some food or clothing money or bus fare. I’ll hitch rides to wherever people are willing to take me.
It would be a romantic life, in a way…
Except that it finds a way to be wherever I am.
Motel rooms. Campgrounds. Train cars. Trucks. Anywhere there’s a bit of shadow, it can come for me.
It always does.
I hope you never see it. Or rather, I hope it never sees you. But I think you’ll be fine, because it hasn’t finished with me yet. Far from it. If anything, it has only become more insistent, more ferocious. I’m beginning to think it will tail me until my last days. I won’t be free until I’m dead…
Then again… Who says that needs to be a long way off?
Credit To – Lex Joy
I am from a small northern town in England. A place with a non-relenting gloom that surrounds the insignificance of the poor souls that live here. It always rains. The sodden clothes we wear only serve to weigh us down into an inescapable darkness, anchor us all into a depression so deep we are the only creatures living there. Life is heavy, life is unfair, life is grim.
I am no exception. Given life by a prostitute mother and created in a heroin infused womb I was born into this god forsaken world without a fair chance of good life. Since my back street birth and subsequent abandonment I have been fighting an uphill battle just to exist.
Somehow though I have made it through 29 birthdays (my 30th is in 2 weeks’ time, Happy Birthday me). I would try and take the credit if I wanted to pretend that I was a better man, however without my Auntie Joan I would have succumbed to my own irrelevant existence. I would have probably slit my wrists or overdosed on the brown powder long ago. But she dragged me up, kept me in line and kept me away from my thirst.
Most heroin addicts remember a time before the itch. A time when they weren’t consumed by the unconquerable desire to inject liquid paradise into their feeble bodies. Not me, I was born with it. I don’t know any different so I can’t complain about how it has ruined my life, my family or anything else that addicts think used to matter. Most users find a moment of clarity where they promise to rectify all the wrongs they have made. All of it is just self-righteous stuff they tell themselves must make tying a belt round their arm a little bit easier. I bet my mother gently rubbed her belly whilst I assumed the fetal position inside her warmth and whispered to me that ‘this is the last time’. It never was.
She exited this mortal coil when I was 6. She died as she had lived, on her back. She was found with a needle in her arm and vomit lodged in her throat. They told me at the time that it would have been painless, that she wouldn’t have felt anything. I know I was supposed to have felt some sadness at her demise, I think I pretended that I did, but to be honest, I didn’t care. As I have got older I kind of hoped she did feel anguish and that her last thoughts were of me, of what she had done to me.
When it happened my mother wasn’t taking care of me, my Auntie was. She wasn’t actually related to me, but she insisted that I called her Auntie probably in an attempt to help her love me more. Her son was my mother’s ex-husband. A time before my mother became an addict she had a husband. He died in the Falklands and my mother’s life fell apart. I was born to some random guy that had paid for the pleasure but my Auntie took on the responsibility of raising me. I think sometimes she liked to pretend I was a product of the boy she had born, had loved and had lost, and not an accident created by fate on the back of sleaze.
I was raised well enough. We didn’t have much but I never wanted for anything. She kept me on the straight and narrow and her heavy hand was what kept me in check. I had nothing but resentment for a lot of my childhood but as I grew into a man I appreciated why. She hit me with the belt so I wouldn’t use it on myself.
My life so far has been somewhat unremarkable. Like a pattern on lifeless wallpaper I have blended into the normality of the world that envelops me. I work in a factory, have struggled to hold down a steady relationship and until 2 months ago lived with my Auntie. 2 months already, wow doesn’t time fly?
She had taken ill in early December. It wasn’t her first time battling cancer, she had beaten the disease that had eaten away at her bowels 8 years previous, but this time I knew the fight had gone out of her. Every time I looked into her eyes I could see resignation, like she had taken on God and knew she had been defeated. She had never looked so old. She was 87 but always carried a bit of youth about her. Always an active lady, but now bed ridden.
The silver of her hair had started to die and disperse and give way to patches of nakedness surrounded by hair as mundane and grey as a rain cloud. Her false teeth had been removed and her faced had sagged considerably, the wrinkles of her face conveying her age like the inner circles of a wilting tree. Her once electric blue eyes swelled like the dark ocean in a storm.
She kept talking about how tired she was. That she was ‘ready’. Ready for what I didn’t know. I couldn’t help thinking she meant ‘ready’ for the great beyond. She wasn’t religious in the slightest. I never heard her pray, she had no pictures of Christ and she didn’t keep a bible. We didn’t even talk about whether there was a God out there in the heavens above. When you have to face the stark realities of life I suppose God doesn’t exist for you. But something in the acceptance of her fate seemed to have opened a door inside and in through it had walked a belief. A belief that this wasn’t the end.
I visited everyday, partly out of duty and partly out a selfish desire to not be alone. I would sit by her bedside whilst the morphine dripped into her system to help ease her pain. The world I was harshly born into was the same one that would gently take her out it would seem. Most of the time she would lie there semi-conscious, muttering to herself and I would sit in silence watching the life fade away from her like a sunset. Every once in a while I would turn up to the hospital and she would be sat upright in her bed, fresher than a daisy and ready to explode with conversation. She would talk about her life, how she had hoped she had done a good job of raising her son, how she would see him and her husband again. As the weeks passed these waking moments saw her become increasingly happy. She had convinced herself that her ‘2 boys’ were waiting to take her ‘home’.
That takes me to the week before her death. A dark and dank Thursday afternoon, the wind serving only to throw the heavy rain into my face. A cold hard slap from the hand of God. I didn’t have any money that day (I didn’t have money most days) so I walked to the hospital and every step felt forced, like I was walking towards death itself. That’s what I assumed, that my Auntie had died during the morning and that only her memory would greet me when I arrived, but what I found there was much worse.
The ward she was in gave me an uneasy feel. Hospitals in general always have the feel of death hanging over them, like an umbrella blocking out the sun on a glorious summers day. People are fighting the inevitable in hospitals, their struggles give the feel of a constant war between the living and the cold touch of the grim reaper. That’s why I believe cemeteries are more peaceful than they are frightening. The dead can’t struggle anymore.
The lights in the hospital ward felt dimmer, their brightness turned down, and there was an unsettling quiet that choked the atmosphere, unseen but obvious in its blanketing presence. I arrived expecting to see an empty bed among the 5 others that filled the small room, but she was there. Sat up, alert, but different. Something so different that my heart lodged itself in my throat and fear took a hold of me like a stranger grabbing the arm of a child before dragging them away from their mother.
She turned her head, slowly, so slowly. Her eyes locked forward the entire time, as if hands held her head in its place and were forcing her to look at some horrific sight. Her eyes locked onto mine and I felt the acid in my stomach try to rip my soul apart. Their bloodshot appearance made me think she had been crying rivers of crimson. They peered through me, reaching my very core and tearing it to pieces with their solemnness. I wanted to turn away, to run away and never go back. The skeletal face of this woman had replaced the one that I had grown to love. The woman that once cared for me now seemed like she wanted tear my flesh from its bones.
A small recognition lit in her eyes, there but for a brief moment, but enough for me to take one step forward instead of the many steps back my animal nature told me to take. ‘Hello’ is all I could muster.
She mumbled something back, I thought it might have been ‘help’ but I couldn’t be sure. It could’ve been a simple ’hello’ that had become lost on its way. She started to cough, viciously, the air trying to escape the black abyss of her poisoned lungs. Instinctively I darted forward to help her. I poured a glass of water and this feeble old lady that had just scared me so was now quivering in my arms as she sipped from the glass like it was her first drink after days in the desert.
There was nothing but silence for a few year like seconds, until she gripped my hand. Such strength escaping from the brittle bones in her limb, a vice locking onto me. She tilted her body back, pulling herself away from the comfort I had given in my embrace and looked at me.
‘He is coming for you’ she said. The words were as clear as a piano played in an empty hall, each letter danced cold upon my spine, sending shivers rippling across my body as a brick sends shivers in a lake. ‘He is coming for you’ she managed again, before leaning in to take on more water.
I tried to speak with clarity, showing no fear, but every letter, in every word shook and trembled. ‘Who is coming for me?’ I struggled.
She suddenly sat upright, lifting her head toward mine again. I flinched expecting a new horror, but her iron grip on my hand loosened, and I saw nothing but love in her eyes. She said my name so gently it could have taken flight. She started to sob.
‘What’s wrong’ I almost begged to find out but was terrified of an answer.
‘Nothing, I’m a silly old fool. I’m on my last legs and this morphine is making me…unstable. That’s all.’ She replied.
I couldn’t find the courage, it lumped in my throat stifling my words. I found something eventually. ‘Who is coming for me?’
‘Ignore me’ she almost whispered back ‘Ignore me’.
But I couldn’t.
She was asleep minutes later, the morphine a lullaby, the hospital bed a cradle. She looked at peace.
I must have drifted away myself because the scream brought me back into a reality. She was flailing, contorting and her body writhed in agony. Blood poured from her nose and the screams shattered the dreams of the dying. I matched her cries of agny with one of my own as I called as loud as I could for a nurse.
Suddenly my Auntie stopped. She laid motionless upon her bed. As still as a moment lost in time. I thought she was dead. I turned and called for a nurse again, and returned my gaze to the lifeless figure. I moved my face in close to see if I could see any signs of breathing. I could smell something that plagued my nostrils making them sting as my innards wretched. It was rotting meat, dried urine, raw sewage, all mixed together.
No rise in the chest, no parting of the lips, it looked as if my Auntie had left me here alone. I tilted my head and put my ear close to her mouth to see if I could hear any breathing, hoping to catch her last one.
‘He is coming for you’ she whispered.
I staggered back, hitting the chair I was sitting in, and fell onto the floor. She sat upright, looking straight at me, her eyes a spiders web, my eyes the fly trapped in its doom.
She was smiling, oh how she smiled at me. A wicked, joyous smile. She seemed to enjoy my submissive fear.
Sternly the words came pouring out ‘He is coming for you’. The voice grew in volume ‘He is coming for you’.She started coughing, phlegm and blood and puss came up with every hack. She spat at me. ‘He is coming for you’ she howled once more.
I trembled in her gaze, and could only yelp a defeated ‘Who?’
She snarled. ‘He is. At first He will make you feel like you are going crazy. You will feel his burning eyes in the back of your head when you are alone. He will make you feel nothing but dread as you turn around to see if everything is okay. He is the shadow in the corner of your eye, the noise that makes you jump, the shiver that you feel when you know someone is following you. He is coming for you and He will not make it quick. He will take you in every way you fear and you can do nothing to stop it. He is coming for you.’
As I sat there, frozen on the floor, a nurse darted past me pinning my Auntie to the bed by her shoulders. My Auntie resisted but soon was overwhelmed by a second and a third nurse. They gave her a shot of something and her resistance was over.
This moment is etched into me like a carving in stone, yet the moments shortly after are a void of nothing. All I remember next is receiving a call a few days later to tell me that my Auntie had not awoken from the coma and that she died peacefully. I hoped she was with her boys.
From then on I became reclusive. Fearful that something was coming for me. I slept with the light on, what kind of adult sleeps with the light on, and what kind of man wets the bed still?
The doctor I went to see told me exactly what I thought I would hear. That she was on medication, she was dying, that hallucinations and vivid dreams were not uncommon and this could be attributed to what happened. But I couldn’t accept this. There was something in her eyes that made it true.
I started to fear my own shadow, I felt that every day would be my last, that every moment something, someone would fulfill this prophetic statement given by the one person who ever truly cared for me.
The nightmares were the worst part, the horror that unfolded night after night is unspeakable. ‘He’ came to me every night. ‘He’ was everything and everyone.
A drowned little boy with a slit throat so deep his tongue fell though the gaping hole, he smiled as he castrated me with the kitchen knife. Stuffing my mutilated genitals into my mouth.
A limbless, fat, bald man. He was sweating, naked and clambering on the floor toward me, his stumps slowing his crawl. Licking his lips as he inched closer to my paralysed body, his erection displaying his purpose.
An old man with skin that looked like it had been shrink wrapped around his bones, he whistled as he stroked my body with is liver spotted hands. His dirty, long finger nails caressing my stomach. I was tied down to the bed and he reached his pocket and found a scalpel. He forced open my eyes when I closed them, the metal moved closer to the pupil until all I could see was the point of the blade.
I had my first shot of the purest form of happiness and escapism I had ever tasted a day after the funeral. It exploded in my veins and took away all my fears, it was the closet to finding God that I had ever been. The fine point of a needle my vessel to the heavens.
The nightmares didn’t cease but soon they became irrelevant as my desire gave in to the warmness coursing through my body. I wanted more and more and filled myself up time and time again.
Apparently they found me lying unconscious on a backstreet. How funny that I was born on one and tried to die on one.
I was taken to hospital, the same one where my Auntie died, and the nightmares returned as my thirst consumed me. ‘He’ invaded my mind and the visions were more vivid than they had ever been before. But it wasn’t the actions in the nightmares that destroyed me. You see He tortures me when he talks to me, his words are the razors that flay my skin. I begged the nurses to kill me and end my misery.
But I will.
Today I have checked myself out of the hospital and have refused the urge to take another hit. I sit at my laptop writing these words with a warm bath and a razor blade waiting for me.
I guess you could call this my suicide note, I’d prefer to call it my excuse. I cannot escape him. I know what he is and if I don’t end it now I fear what dreams may come. Before my Auntie died she had faith that she would be greeted by her boys in the afterlife. I believe that there is nothing, nothing but darkness and emptiness and silence. Even that seems to be better than what could be coming.
I have found solace here in my last day and have smiled reading through the stories on this website, even though I suppose I am supposed to gasp in fear. It’s funny how people can create such horror out of nothing. Funny to those have really felt it, seen it, tasted it.
That is not the reason for my final smile though. The reason is because I know you are reading this. There is one thing that reassures me, one thing I have found out thanks to my nightmares, one thing He told me, one thing that makes the end seem easier. My Auntie wasn’t speaking to me when she said what she said.
‘He is coming for you’.