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The Street

January 30, 2017 at 12:00 AM

It’s Saturday night and you’re dressed up in your favourite smart-casual outfit. Excitement fills your heart as you check yourself one last time in the mirror, make a final adjustment to your hair which is now perfect, and head out of the room. You glance at your coat as you walk past it, smiling to yourself as you open your front door and allow the warm, summer sun to splash your exposed skin, a gentle breeze tickles your face as it creeps into your house. It’s going to be an exciting night! Your friend will probably be waiting for you at the local bar, ready to celebrate her birthday. Most of your other friends will also be there. It’s not that often you all get together like this but it’s always sure to be immense fun when you do. After locking your door, keeping your house secure, you head down the street you’re most familiar with, not really paying attention to where you’re walking, but with your face to the sky basking in the warm evening air surrounding you. You’ve walked this route a thousand times, and you know it so well that your body goes into autopilot as you allow your mind to wonder about what the night has in store for you, drinking and laughing with your favourite people in the entire world.

Shortly after setting off, you arrive at the pub you’ve been in countless times before – your pub. The sound of singing birds and a gentle breeze erupt into the merry ruckus of debate and laughter as you step through the doorway. The smell of alcohol and and hot food dances around your nostrils bringing with it a warm nostalgic feeling that simmers in your stomach. You spot several of your friends gathered around a table in the far corner all waving frantically at you and you cannot help but to beam with delight at seeing them. Almost jogging over, you give them all a warm hug and wish the special guest a happy birthday. A drink already awaits you, a glass full stood among a variety of other beverages, all of differing volumes. You take your seat and take a sip, feeling the cool liquid swish around your mouth, the flavours of your drink of choice exploding on contact with your tongue and the warmth of the alcohol sliding down your throat to rest in your stomach. The feeling of that first sip was incredibly satisfying. Sliding into the conversation is easy with these people, and no more than a minute goes by before you’re already in full swing bringing more laughter to the group. Sip after sip, your drink diminishes steadily. Your mood is high, your body is relaxed. As time passes, more friends join the group and more alcohol is consumed. The empty glasses pile up and are removed by bar staff as you take turns heading to the bar to top up. The bar buzzes around you, the sun sets outside and the dark shroud of night covers your oblivious world.

Another few hours pass and some of your friends decide to start heading home after another brilliant night, an opinion shared by all. You may have drunk a little too much, however, and your vision is blurred. It becomes difficult to maintain focus and balance as you hug your friends goodnight and slur words of love and friendship to them. The words are returned and followed by more hugs and hand shakes as the bar staff politely urge what is left of your group to make your way outside. Without causing a fuss, you oblige and stagger to the front doors and outside into the warm night time air. The familiar breeze strokes your face as you say your final goodbyes for the night, ready to amble home on your own allowing your legs to direct you. The chatter of the streets fades to the ambient sounds of rustling leaves and solitary footsteps. The night is quiet, warm, and lonely. Now far away from the pub you came from, you mumble and giggle to yourself, following the comforting glow of the street lights illuminating the path back to your comfortable home. The streets twist and turn, you’re aware of the familiar route you should be taking, and as you shuffle along steadily you make the same right-turn you’ve made countless times before. You’re almost home, and it’s a good thing too as the temperature seems to have taken a sudden downward turn.

The night seems darker now, and much colder than it was barely a few minutes ago. You clutch your shoulders hoping to bring yourself some warmth and pick up your pace to get home quicker. Following the street lights seemed easy earlier, but now they blink and fade with every step. The large circles of light once so bright now seem difficult to see. Your heart begins to beat faster, and your stomach turns. The alcohol is making a comeback, and stretching your arm out to rest on the nearest lamppost proves to be a bad decision as your hand touches nothing. With your weight behind you and no lamppost to hold you steady, you fall to the ground scraping your hands on the cold, hard concrete beneath you. Your stomach can no longer hold the quantity of liquid you consumed earlier and with a mighty heave, the contents of your stomach is ejected all over the ground in front of you. Another heave and more vomit to add to the puddle. Dragging your wrist across your mouth to wipe away the remnants of saliva from your lips, you slump back against a wall and take some deep breaths. You look up to the lamppost that was supposed to break your fall and see nothing. Looking left, and then looking right, nothing. No lampposts, no light source. Confused and disoriented, you help yourself to your feet and scan the area around you. This street is familiar, but at the same time you know you’ve never seen it before. Despite the lack of light, you can somehow still see through the darkness, barely.

Tall, foreboding houses tower above you each side of the street and run parallel to the road. The trees here are bare, no more than a construct of sticks and branches mocking you, teasing you, confusing you. A sharp wind gusts down the street dragging a bitterly cold air behind it. You shiver and your skin goosebumps. Scared and confused, you start down the street again, hurrying yourself along. Your vision begins to return to normal as the adrenaline pumping through your system starts to sober you up. As you glance at the houses each side of the street, blank faces stare down at you. You can see them, you can feel their uninviting stare burn through your skin. Icy claws drag pointed fingernails down your spine and you break into a hurried jog. Your eyes widen and your heart pounds faster and heavier with every step. Your heavy breath mists as it leaves your body with every exhalation. The figures watching you from blackened windows, motionless, expressionless, are silently screaming at you, casting you out and threatening your soul. Tears of fear well up in your eyes as you think of home and your warm bed. You stop running and shut your eyes tight whispering to yourself; “This is just a dream. This is just a dream.” You concentrate hard on waking up, and open your eyes.

You feel your blood drain from your body and pure dread grips your lungs, removing all breath from your body as you hear a slow, ominous creak from behind you. The darkness is still very much surrounding you, and the icy air scratching at your face confirms the horror that you are not dreaming. Turning slowly, you see the door to the house behind you is ajar. Shadows seep out from the crack and creep towards you. In a moment of horrified panic, your legs freeze up but as the shadows only visible in your mind sneak ever closer, you convince yourself to run. You don’t know where you’re heading any more, but as you run you see more open doors, you feel more creatures, more things follow on. Glancing back you see them. Tall figures, almost humanoid, are stood still yet somehow also following. You try your hardest to speed up but your legs cannot move any quicker. Tears are cascading down your cheeks and your heart feels ready to burst through your chest. The smell of stale air suffocates you and suddenly you hear them. You hear the whispers and groans that complete the unadulterated fear squeezing your heart. Incomprehensible, vile whispers spit at you, enveloping your ears. Vicious claws reach out for you, fully intent on causing harm and destruction. You can sense the pure feeling of evil reaching out for you, wanting you, hoping to deliver you to death.

With every backwards glance, the figures draw progressively closer. The night falls deeper into blackness. Your vision becomes restricted, your breathing is tight. You gasp for air as your exhausted legs tumble beneath you, carrying you forward with all the pace they can muster. As you begin to glance backwards again, you stop short when you see razor-sharp teeth beside you, grinning psychotically and dripping with hunger. They lash out to bite you and just scratch your arm as you recoil and lose your balance. Falling to the ground again you cower, hiding behind your arms and sobbing. For a long while, nothing happens. You raise your head and peek out from behind your arm to pitch blackness. Your vision is gone, you see nothing, you hear nothing. Terrified and perplexed, you feel consciousness slowly slipping through your fingers. Mentally grasping at a metaphorical rope, you try your best to stay awake but your fight is in vain. Slumping gently down, reality itself runs away from you, the complete dead of the night lulling you gently to sleep.

The warmth of the sun hits your face and you bolt upright in bed, sweating profusely and straining to catch your breath. Resting your hand on your bare chest, you feel your heart beating rapidly and cold flushes run up and down your spine. Looking around your room, you realise everything is normal and a tidal wave of relief washes over your entire mind, body, and spirit. Now convinced it was just a bad dream, you let out a small, nervous laugh and throw the duvet to one side. Following your normal morning routine, you swing your legs out and scratch an irritating itch on your arm, only to recoil in pain as your run your fingernail over some unexplained gouges resembling a bite. The wave of relief retreats back into the ocean of anxiety as your heart refuels itself with panic. You hop out of bed and rush to the blinded window, throwing aside the curtains and staring blankly at the street outside. Only the blackness of the night and unfamiliar houses greet you. There is no sun. The trees are bare. An aimless soul is clutching their shoulders on the street below.

Credit: Thomas Anthony

“Sasaeng”

January 29, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Have you ever heard about the music industry in Korea? South Korea, to be more accurate. More likely, I’m sure you’ve heard of the increasingly popular music genre KPOP, or Korean Pop, and the subsequent insane fandom that comes with it. I’ve been in a popular KPOP group for a few years. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call myself Jin. No relation to the Jin from BTS, another popular KPOP group. I’m writing this as a warning to not only to others in our industry, but also as a warning to the fans and to those who dream of becoming a KPOP idol. Idol is another word for celebrity here. Thinking about it now, I don’t think “idol” is a healthy title for us. We aren’t. This is encouraging worship in the worst way possible. Trust me, I would know. And that’s where I’ll begin my story.

When I was growing up, I watched many people come up in the KPOP world. They had amazing lives and I wanted it. I never thought that I’d ever get the chance, but when I got the opportunity to audition for a huge company in Seoul, I took it. I begged my mother and father for a whole year to take me from my small province to the big city and tryout for my dream. It would take 5 auditions and 2 years before I was accepted at the age of 13. I had heard many stories about the hard lives of KPOP trainees. There’s a running joke calling the contracts you sign slave contracts. But, it didn’t deter my grind. I was ready for anything. I had no idea what horrors awaited me in the next 7 years.

To better understand my story, you need to understand how the KPOP industry is designed and how our culture directly affects it.

In SK, if you have talent, you’re a dime a dozen as literally thousands of people attempt to snag a place at one of the prestigious KPOP companies every year from all across the globe. Even the USA and Canada. Barring extraordinary circumstances, if you get accepted by a company after auditions, you become a “trainee.” It’s basically KPOP Boot Camp to get you in shape to form a whole group and start making money. Yes, boy and girl bands are still alive and well here. Trainees can be molded anywhere from 6 months to 5 or 6 years.

Now, my trainee life was simple and difficult. Every day, all day, I would train to be a pop star with 10 other kids my age. Some a little older, some even younger. It was hard. From sun up to sun down, we trained in all things you could think of. Singing, dancing, rapping, language, etc. But this life was the life I chose and wanted. I could write a whole horror story on just my trainee life, but this story’s subject is about the life after I debuted in a group. The life that I always thought would be a dream come true. The life full of traveling the world, singing, dancing, money, and the fans. The love of the fans. That was what I was most excited about. I wanted it so bad. The unconditional love of millions of people; wearing my face on their shirts, phone cases… screaming my name and crying when they got to meet me. Who wouldn’t want that? Being worshiped.

2 years after my other members and I became a legitimate group, I was bathing in the things I always wanted. It was amazing, but it came with a cost. In South Korea, and the KPOP world, we have different levels of fans. We have the normal fans who always support us, come to our concerts, buy our music, vote in our music shows, get our views up on YouTube, spend all of their money on us, etc. We love them and they love us. The second type are what we call “netizens.” These people are “internet citizens” and you may recognize this category as netizens are mostly in every fandom. That being said, they can be wonderful if they are happy with our choices, but when they believe we do something wrong, even if it’s as minor as looking at someone the wrong way, they can be vicious. We’re always terrified of our actions as we fear the repercussions of these fans, but we live with it. It comes with the territory.

Now, the 3rd level of fan… Here, we call them sasaengs. The Korean word “sasaeng” is a shorter form of the Korean word “sasaenghwal” (사생활), which literally means “privacy” or “private life.” I can honestly say, I do not understand this level of obsession. I heard rumors that they existed, but I never thought I’d ever have an encounter. I was wrong. These fans stalk us and invade our privacy. Us bigger groups or singers have at least 100 of full time sasaeng fans around us at all times. They try to rip off our clothes, kiss, molest, and rape us. They steal our private property and they have even broken into our dorms and hotels and planted cameras to watch us. They sometimes steal our boxers and sell them online. I even had a seemingly normal fan at a meet and greet place a camera in a stuffed animal she gave me. Thank God our security thoroughly checked our gifts before allowing us to have them.

I remember a few years ago hearing about a set of girls who had hit a few female idols with a bag full of rocks outside a venue when they were signing autographs. They were in the hospital for days after. I’ve even heard of these fans slipping drugs and poisonous substances into food and drink of the idols, making them sick. One even died after unwittingly consuming cyanide placed into a room service meal in Japan. That was a few years ago. Security has been upped since then and many times after, but they still get smarter about their dealings every year and it’s caused us to be wary of every fan we meet. The fans suffer the most for these egregious crimes against us in the name of love. I’m not saying these types of fans are exclusive to Korea and our industry, but when you mix these unstable personalities, the way our company markets us, and our cultural practices… you get a volatile cocktail that somehow seems to eclipse all other extremists out there.

They will do anything to make us remember them. Anything to get our attention. Anything to get to us. It’s been said that they hire full time taxi services to follow us around 24/7. This can get expensive, as you may know. Disgusting as the thought is, to fund their obsession, they have even sold their bodies for sex when they can’t get the money to do this anywhere else. It’s a sick life I don’t understand. We’ve also heard rumors that they have even killed just to the get the chance to touch us. But this has never been confirmed. We’ve all had the fear of God put into us by these rumblings and experiences of these “fans.” Honestly, I don’t think they have the right to be called fans. But the fear and the precautions were not enough to prevent the events that were to come.

Not only do we suffer at the hands of these people, we also have immense tribulation that’s sourced from our own company. Even though many of us have had horrible experiences regarding the dark side of our fandom, and have ample evidence of these crimes, our companies will do nothing to punish them. No legal action whatsoever. Why? Because they refuse to injure any source of income, even from these psychopaths. The people we entrust our lives to, the ones that are supposed to protect us… they value money over our safety and well being. They are just as much to blame. They can be cruel in every sense of the word. For example, in our world, we are not allowed to date anyone. Not publicly. Not in private either as forbidden by our companies, but we find ways around it, even though it’s in our contracts. We have little to no social life. Some companies will stipulate in said contracts that we can date 5 years after we debut, but unfortunately, that’s rare. Regardless, like I said, we find ways around it. We have to be stealthy about it, but sometimes that doesn’t always work as you’ll find out. The companies forbid it because they want the fans to have a false sense of hope. They want them to have the illusion of access. They want them to think we are available and that they actually have any chance of being with us. Sick, right? But the companies think it helps them make more money. It’s even been proven as true by the money they’ve lost by dating scandals. If we’re ousted as being with someone, the fans get angry. They almost feel like we cheated on them. They shame us, but the one who suffers the most is person we’re in the relationship with.

2 years ago, I had met a girl who worked at my company. She was the assistant to our debut stylist. I’ll call her Ji. She was quiet and she didn’t seem like she belonged in this hectic life we live. I barely even noticed her at first… until a few months after we debuted when she graduated to becoming one of our full time stylists. For months, she seemed to just blend into the colorful chaos that was our life, but one day I saw her. Really saw her. Ji was beautiful. Honestly, the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. And that’s saying something considering I had been around the likes of gorgeous female idols for years. Ji was different. She didn’t have to wear expensive clothes or pounds of makeup to sparkle among every other girl in the room.

I began talking to her and it took a year, but I finally got a date with her. She was opposed to it for the longest time because of our contracts, but the connection was undeniable. A piece of paper couldn’t hold us back. Months of stealthy, shadowed dates, clandestine meetings, and stolen glances later… we were in love. The cover of her job helped ease the pain of having to be hidden from the public and corporate eye. My other members knew, but they had their own undercover lovers to deal with and encouraged me when we fought about stresses over our secret. My fans thought I was single and that’s the way it had to be. We adapted and were together as much as we could be. Every second was precious. Seconds that normal couples would take for granted.

I loved her. I truly did. I wanted no one else. She saw me. Really saw me through the idol exterior I had to wear constantly. We traveled the world together on tour and she followed me to the ends of the Earth. I thought one day, once we got older and when the contracts were renegotiated, we could go public. We could get married. Have children. Oh, how I wanted children with Ji. She would have made a wonderful mother. In the Spring of last year, Ji and I had become comfortable with our routine. Maybe a bit overly confident that we would never be found out. Cocky even. It happens when you get away with a lie for so long. You feel invincible and infallible in your life of secrecy. We never thought that cool morning in March would be the end of our carefully constructed house of lies.

Ji and I awoke in the small, private music studio I had rented as a cover for our rendezvous to a loud and eager pounding on the door. We both jumped up in a panic not sure what was happening. I got dressed quickly as she hid under the bed. It was second nature to hide her at this point. I staggered to the door, ready with at least 10 different excuses for any situation I would be met with to protect her, to protect us. We weren’t amateurs. I opened the door blearily and I was met by two men from upper management in our company. I sighed deeply as I saw the anger protruding from their expressions. I knew we had been found out.

The next few weeks were a blur of public relation meetings and threats from our company. Someone had seen us and taken pictures. It took just ONE person to make this all crash down. It went viral by morning and soon after, the whole community knew. The fans knew. They felt betrayed and angry. Soon, our entire relationship was under the microscope and even though we were so careful to hide our love, the details of our private life were leaked. The fans, industry, our company… they all knew how long we’d been together and what we’d been doing. They knew everything no matter how much we denied and fought it. It was over. I was threatened with lawsuits and breach of contract. She was unceremoniously fired and she was forbidden to see me ever again. We were both heartbroken for weeks. She was everything to me and I would have given up ALL of this to be with her. Even my career I had spent years working on to achieve, but my company rules with an iron fist.

You may be asking, why didn’t you just walk away? Leave? I had worked my ass off for 7 long years to be where I was at the time, but even then, I still considered giving it all up for her. She was worth it, even though I cherished my career despite the Hell I had to endure. However, in most situations you hear about, things are sometimes easier said than done. Like when you scream at a person to stop being stupid by running up the stairs in a horror movie instead of just running outside. You think you’d know better and make better, life saving decisions. But, do you really think you would? No one knows exactly how they would react or what would motivate your choices. Our culture is different than most. A culture that puts more emphasis on morality and respect. I respected my company and was raised to follow through with my promises. Be a man. Especially if these promises took legal form in a contract.

A few weeks after the scandal broke, my brothers in my group and my family had rallied around me and prevented any further legal action from being brought against me and Ji. They even helped us to see each other a few times. I thought, I mean… I really and truly thought we could weather this and come out of it together; more in love than ever. I never thought that my life would turn into what it is today. It was the end of September when I stopped receiving texts and phone calls from Ji. We had bought burner phones to speak when we could. I tried feverishly to contact her, but her phone was off. I thought maybe she had changed her mind. Maybe this became too much. Maybe she needed some space. Maybe my company had found out how we communicated and was able to break that life line again. She had been forced to move back 5 hours away from Seoul after she was fired to live with her family. She didn’t want to leave, but she had no choice. Not only had the company black-balled her at every company in Korea, but they also accompanied said threats with legal repercussions. They threatened her enough that she was scared to stay and with no income, she couldn’t afford to continue to live in the city. The fans were not making it easy for her either. She was being berated by horrendous insults every street she walked on. They stalked her and made her life a living hell. My poor Ji. She never asked for this. I was able to hide behind my company and be protected, but she was thrown to the wolves. I blame myself for not walking away with her… for being too scared to do so.

After a week of silence, and no way to contact her family, I thought she had left me. That it was over. I thought my company had finally gotten rid of her for good. I was a mess and I had no idea how to go about getting her back. I thought maybe it was for the best at times. She could live a normal life now and have a regular relationship where she didn’t have to hide and she didn’t have to share him with millions of other girls on a daily basis. I didn’t leave my room for days. I could barely eat or even will myself to take a shower. I consistently asked my company if they could reach her. Just make sure she was okay. I even pleaded with them to let me see her one more time and say goodbye, but it fell on deaf ears.

Eventually, I scoured the internet to find anyone related to her. I only had a few surnames and locations to go on. Luckily, I didn’t have to search social networking sites for long. I found one of her younger cousins that she grew up with. I used a fake name and account to contact him, of course. I didn’t want to risk this becoming another scandal. I told him I was one of her friends and co worker from Seoul and I was wondering how she was after everything that occurred, but that I had no way to reach her. I threw in a few personal details only someone whom was close with her would know… just to assure him that I was indeed a legitimate friend and not a netizen trying to find Ji.

After a bit of back and forth, he seemed to believe me. I asked him where she was and if I could have a way to contact her. He responded telling me that she had been staying at his aunt and uncle’s house for a few weeks, but a few days prior to my message, she had unexpectedly left. She had been speaking of moving to America to study abroad for two years and even booked a flight to tour schools on the East coast. They didn’t know it would happen so quickly though. They figured that she had decided to leave early to escape the ridicule and spotlight she was unfairly shoved into by our relationship. He said she didn’t even say goodbye or leave a note. She told no one she was leaving, but this didn’t shake me or her family because Ji always hated goodbyes. We never said by when we departed from one another. We always said, “see you soon.” He concluded by saying that they had faith she would contact them once she made her arrangements in the States if she decided to stay and that he would ask her to contact me when she emerged.
I wanted to protest and ask more questions as I felt my heart breaking all over again. Was she really and truly out of the country? Did she leave everything, everyone behind to start a new life? Did she leave me behind?

I politely thanked him for speaking with me and extending my invitation to speak with Ji when she became available. I thought on this information for a few days. I somehow came to the conclusion that my company had something to do with this. They always did. Ji did not come from a wealthy family by any means. She was the sole breadwinner for her family in her home province. She made just enough to support her simple lifestyle and take care of her family. I knew that flights and a trip to America would be out of her financial reach at this point in her life. So, naturally… I began to suspect that they had paid her to leave the country and cut off all communication with me. Probably another tactic to keep me in a cage and prevent more scandals that would cause the company more monetary decline. You have no idea the lengths they will go to secure their investments. We are a lucrative commodity and they refuse to put that in jeopardy over a girl.

I confronted them in a rage demanding answers countless times, but I never did get a denial or confirmation of my suspicions and accusations. Either way, they benefited from her supposed sudden exodus from South Korea. Eventually, I threw in the towel and tried to accept that I may never see her again and I had my company to blame every inch of the way. But I had no other choice but to move on. October came and went with no news of Ji. I kept my sanity by imagining she was living the life she always wanted in the States. Or even Paris. We talked a lot about what we would do once I was let out of my contract. That’s what kept me together those nights where all I had were my worst nightmares of betrayal to keep me company.

Life went on around me in slow motion. Soon, I was so caught up in recording our new album and performing our tour that I almost never got the opportunity to dwell or be angry. 2 weeks before my birthday, the end of November, I started to receive my yearly birthday gifts from fans. I always looked forward to this. Our fans were wonderful. They would get the most unique gifts for us for our birthdays. Expensive, homemade, creative. Of course, with the ever growing concern of the sasaengs, our presents were monitored and checked before they were given to us. Every day that I would come back home to the dorm, I would have a new pile of packages set up on my bed. Placed there by our staff. The other members always loved to come in while I opened them and call dibs on candy I didn’t want. We did this every night for 2 weeks. The night before my birthday, I was excited. I knew I’d get the biggest and best presents the next day. Even so, I thought of Ji from time to time. Like I said, Ji was never rich by any means, but the presents she snuck to me every year were always my favorites. I remember running my fingers over the bracelet she had gotten me our first year together over and over until I fell asleep, hoping maybe I would still get a present from her this year. I thought that maybe it would come in the form of an email or text message. Even a phone call. Just to know where she was and make sure she was happy. I wanted to apologize for what my company did and tell her that I don’t blame her for taking the money. Anyone in their right mind would… even with love on the table. I thought that I may just have the chance to tell her these things I’d rehearsed in my mind for months following her departure.

I woke up to my members and staff bringing me a huge breakfast in bed. The day consisted of a few appearances and a filmed adventure to water park that we would upload to YouTube later on. We had a live broadcast of my cake ceremony and got into an icing fight. We returned back to the dorm and I ran into my room expecting to see all of the best packages of presents to open. I was not disappointed when I turned the lights on and saw stacks and stacks of boxes to open everywhere. Like always, as soon as I sat down to begin, a few of my brothers came piling in to claim the unwanted candies and things I knew I’d never eat. We gathered around talking about the day and laughing as we were on a sugar high. By the 10th present, I was already exhausted. I had quite a few left to open and was moaning that I wanted to finish in the morning. They were disappointed, but I had finally convinced them to leave me be to rest. As we were picking up the tattered remnants of wrapping paper and boxes, one of my members came to the door with a box. It wasn’t very big and it was just a plain brown shipping box that most all of the fan’s presents were delivered in.

I ask him what it was and he chuckled tossing it to me saying he didn’t go around opening other people’s birthday presents like some kind of monster. He told me that he had gone into the kitchen for a glass of water and found it sitting on the dining room table. We thought maybe the staff had forgotten to place it with the others. We examined it and it was, of course, shipped to me. It read… “To: Jin Love: Your biggest fans. Happiest of Birthdays and we love you more than life itself. You love us too, right?” in Korean, of course. I took the box and shook it. It was a bit heavy, but I had a weird feeling that this box was unusual. Why? Because it didn’t look like it had been opened yet. The staff always opened the boxes first before giving it to us for safety reasons. Some of the newer staff would sometimes re-tape the boxes, just so it would feel like I was the first to open it on my birthday. It was nice of them to give the illusion of a surprise. So, I thought nothing of it. None of us did. I decided to put it with the others and I kicked the rest of my mates out for the night.

After eating the candy I wanted and taking a few pictures with my gifts to put on social media as a thank you to my fans, I got into bed. I lay there in the dark thinking about the day with contentment. Slowly, as always, Ji crept into my mind. I must have laid there for hours debating on whether or not I wanted to get up and finish opening my presents… reasoning that perhaps there was a present from her in the pile of unopened presents. I couldn’t wait until morning. So, I got up, turned on my lamp, and sat on the floor. I began opening the rest of my boxes. One by one, my smile excitement waned as I realized each present was not from her. I was happy with gifts from fans, but of course, I was disappointed. An hour later, I only had one box left. The box that was found on our kitchen table. I sighed as I pulled it towards me, sitting in a ring of shredded boxes and hopes. I took the box opener and slowly cut the thick layers of masking tape that covered the entire box. My heart pounded in my chest as I thought… “it’s the last one. One more chance for Ji to wish my happy birthday. To know she okay and still loved me.”

As soon as I cut through the last layer and began to open the lips of the box, I was hit by a stench I will never forget. I coughed and gagged at the putrid smell emanating from the contents of the package. I gasped for air and fell backwards on my elbows. My loud calamity had woken up my member in the room across from me and he sleepily opened my door asking if I was okay. I looked at him for a moment, trying to hold in a belly laugh, before his nose was assaulted by the smell of rotting meat. He covered his nose and coughed as he waved he hands frantically in front of his face. I enjoyed a right good laugh watching him struggle with his senses that betrayed him.

After a few minutes of debate, we reasoned that maybe it was some food that a fan made and perhaps it had spoiled on it’s journey to us. It wouldn’t be the first time. Just last year, one of friends got a box full of his favorite potted meat from fans. The staff left it as a joke and our dorm smelled for weeks. He thought it was strange that the staff would give it to me if it was rotten, but I didn’t want to disappoint my fans. If they had gone through all of that trouble, the least I could do was retrieve the card and place it with the others. I prided myself on sending thank you notes to all of the senders every year. That was just the kind of guy I was. With our noses being pinched by our fingers, we sat back down around the package and braced for a plate full of rotting food. I only needed to get the card and then we could take it to the trash. We were being very dramatic about it, to be honest. We counted to 3 and quickly opened the box the rest of the way.

We peered into the box. For a few moments, we both stared at the contents, not knowing exactly what we were looking at. The odor was burning my eyes so badly that they were tearing. I wiped away the blur from my vision as I looked closer. All I could see was a mass of what looked like purple and black mush. Swirls of white and yellow mixed into the slush of liquid surrounding 3 masses laying in a container at the bottom of the box. All at once, I heard my mate scream bloody murder as he jumped back and began to heave in the corner of the room. My brain misfired and all I could do was stare into the darkness. I began to shake violently as I finally came to the disgusting realization at what I was looking at. A human, rotting hand. A foot. And what looked like a pound of human flesh piled in the corner. I only learned later that it was a severed scalp that had been crudely shaved short prior to it’s detachment from the head.

All I could do was keep my eyes fixated on it. My body was frozen. My lips were dry. My lungs wouldn’t inhale or exhale. Tears ran down my face. My heartbeat was erratic and fast. My convulsions were becoming more and more extreme by the second as I kept my eyes on the only thing that was recognizable: a small, silver ring on the finger surrounded by bloating flesh and exposed bone. All of the candy I had consumed immediately turned to bile and worked it’s way up my throat. I don’t know how long I was sitting there in a statue state accompanying my silent meltdown. I couldn’t move until I felt hands all over my body pulling me back away from the box. After a moment of looking up at my group surrounding me, I let out a bloodcurdling, guttural scream and blacked out. At least, that’s how the story goes according to those who witnessed this as I don’t remember much; save for the sight of human body parts that are forever burned into my memory.

I woke up in the living room with police, my members, and staff scattered around the room. My manager was sitting next to me looking at me when tears in her eyes. She held my hand gently and spoke to me in a soft voice. I have no idea what she said to me. All I could do was be silent and look at my surroundings. The voices that mumbled around me went quiet as everyone acknowledged that I came to. They all looked at me with concerned faces. The next few hours are sketchy in my memory. All I remember is being questioned by police on what was in the box and who sent it. I didn’t know. Or rather, my mind didn’t let me know… for it was too traumatic to recover at the time. We were placed in a hotel down the street for a few days as the investigation was on going. Even so, our schedules were not altered to allow for time to digest the events. I wasn’t surprised. Our company doesn’t even allow us leave when we’re injured, much less a traumatic event. Eventually, I was told that the body parts found in the box belonged to Ji. They didn’t have to tell me this as I already knew this to be true. I recognized the ring on the rotting hand. Every day after the first package arrived, more were delivered. These contained the rest of her. Her head being the last. All from different locations and provinces. All sent to ME from “my biggest fans.”

They never did find out who sent it or how the first box wound up in our dorm with no one noticing. All they could tell me and her family was that the body looked to have been severely abused for months before she was murdered and dismembered. It was said that she was probably taken the day her family thought she left for America and was in captivity, being tortured endlessly, until they decided to kill her and ship her remains to me. They don’t know if she was still alive when they began to saw her up. Honestly, I think they were trying to spare us the details. I like to think she was already deceased. I have to believe that. My poor Ji. The love of my life. Theories go that it was sasaengs who kidnapped her and tortured her. Then killed her and sent me her body as a birthday present. They came to this conclusion by the note on the box. From your biggest fans. But this was never fully confirmed. Maybe they used my fame as a cover for the murder. No one knows. But I believe it. I can’t even get my mind around the other theories, like that my company arranged this to make sure she would cause no more problems with their cash cow. That is beyond my mental capacity to accept, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Love makes people do crazy things. Love of a celebrity and the insanity that comes with it can cause people to go mad. Love of money can cause people to make decisions they would normally never consider. I don’t think I cried once. Not after the first night. I couldn’t. I was numb. I still am. That may have something to do with the medications I was given by our staff physicians to “help with the anxiety.” I’ve been forced to continue taking them to this day. I think about her every day. Her smile. Her voice. The last text message from her: “We’ll be together. They will accept us eventually. I love you, Jin. See you soon.” After the case went cold, they returned Ji’s belongings that were found on her body to her family. They gave me the ring that was still on her left hand. The couple’s ring I had given to her a month before we were exposed. The one thing I recognized in the mass of flesh and bone wading at the bottom of the box. I keep it in my nightstand with mine, but I never look at it. I can’t. Not without my mind recalling that sight on that night rather than the happiness that should be connected with it.

They never did run any news stories about her. I have a suspicion that my company paid off enough people to keep it quiet. I threatened many times to quit and disappear. I wanted no part of this life anymore. It stole and brutally destroyed the one person that I ever loved. I couldn’t look at any of my fans anymore… not without thinking in the back of my mind: “Were you the one that killed her? Was it you? Did you hack her body up and send it to me?” It became a big enough issue that my company sent me away to psychiatric facility for a month under the guise of working on my solo career. They refused to let me out of my contract, but as you have probably come to understand, this is no surprise. They threatened me with everything from my family and friends to my finances and legal recourse. They threatened my group members to the point where I agreed to do what they wanted. My actions would NEVER hurt anyone ever again. I make sure of this by no longer rocking the proverbial boat.

Which brings us to now. I’m sitting here in a small custodial closet in our company’s building typing this with only the glow from the screen lighting my surroundings. Hiding from them; my wardens… my tormentors. I’m just a shell of who I used to be. I record my music, I dance, I smile, I do meet and greets. I do my job. My company makes sure of that. So, if you see an idol or celebrity on stage or wherever and they’re smiling and appear happy as can be… make sure to pause a moment. Really LOOK at them and think about the journey they had to go on to get there. What secrets their company has hidden to make it so. The lives that have been ruined in the name of money and greed. The time and money you’ve spent on them, not realizing you only continue to feed the machine; therefore, only making the industry tighten their choke hold on us. The ever-present monsters that lurk beyond your view waiting for them and those they will eliminate to reach their goal. The suffering. Ask yourself… do they really want to be here? Or are they trapped? What have they given up? Lost? What’s be taken from them? What secrets have been carefully woven to give you a false sense of access, entertainment, pleasure, and sovereignty over every aspect of their life?

Then shake it off and forget about it… because you don’t really care, do you?

Credit: Ren Baek

They Came From Below

January 28, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Roderick stared out of the church window, looking at the rays of sun projected through the few trees surrounding the humble one story structure. “It’s too beautiful to stay inside today,” he thought. He turned to his mother and the other survivors and grinned. “Lets go out while there’s still a couple hours of sun.” He was unsurprised to see the children grow excited while the adults fidgeted nervously, trying to think of a reason not to. “Don’t worry, we chose this place for a reason. We have a clear view of the road and there aren’t enough structures to hide anything, remember?” With that, they agreed and stepped outside.

How long had it been? Over two years, but the exact day was undeterminable since no one kept a calendar. A few scouts were chosen from the adults to watch the roads and surrounding houses that sparsely littered the surroundings while the children played on the playground, having momentarily forgotten their fears. Still, they stuck together in a small, safe clump. Roderick leaned back on the nearest tree and tried to recall exactly what day the gate to Hell had opened.

All at once it came flooding back to him: April 16, 2019. A sinkhole had opened up in Guatemala and a team of four amateur spelunkers decided to take a tour of the insides. What they found sparked international amazement: artifacts and cave art. Not just that, but bones and what appeared to be sacrificial alters. All the signs of life had been there, but underground in a cave that had been concealed until a random part of the surrounding area had fallen through. Linguists, journalists, professional spelunkers, archeologists, and local anthropologists specializing in Aztec and Mayan culture showed up to finish exploring the caves and decipher the art and artifacts left behind. As is with most scientific discoveries, the fervor died down until every one of the five spelunkers who had attempted to reach the last corners of the vast cave disappeared. More spelunkers were sent in, as it was assumed they were simply lost. They weren’t found after a week and all had assumed they perished in the never ending darkness. After that no one was allowed in the unexplored portions, but after the second week three of the missing spelunkers appeared at the mouth of the sinkhole, squinting and silent. They were taken to the hospital and interrogated on the whereabouts of the others, but none of them would ever speak. No signs of malnourishment or physical harm, their psyches seemed fine besides the silence and the fact that they always turned their room lights off when the nurses and doctors left: it was chalked up to trauma. After that, more people would go missing in the sinkhole, but portions of them would return again after two weeks; silent and squinting. Some of them seemed to hate the light altogether, but others handled it better. After release from the hospital, their behavior became quite strange and the sinkhole was closed off entirely after survivors were found to be taking anyone they knew into the caves at night and disappearing for two weeks. It was how they spread, how they left the cave. They didn’t close the cave fast enough and the creatures had successfully infiltrated our world with their populations and began breeding and spreading worldwide. What little humans were left were forced into hiding, especially nighttime when even the sensitive ones could roam free. It was a tricky situation, for some humans-mostly children and the elderly-were eaten while others-mostly the young, able bodied- were used for their skin. A perfect disguise. Some people even speculated that they must have established a breeding farm of humans, otherwise how else could they sustain their growing numbers and need for food and the skin that protected them from the sun? Other questions never got answered. How were they able to seal the skin so well? How were they able to perform tasks that humans did, such as driving and dressing themselves? Roderick personally assumed that they were able to take their hosts memories and motor skills, which was why they young and elderly never showed up as skin suits. No one actually knew, though; it was an unprecedented evil that no one could have expected.

As Roderick remembered all of the horrors, a new horror appeared: an SUV, approaching from behind the church. The scouts saw it too. They started grabbing the kids. They were lucky, since it was approaching from the rear they had time to hide. Now only dozens of meters away, only Roderick was left outside, running to the door. Sally had other plans, however, and struggled to go in. “My doll! She was crying and screaming, all the other children knew better, but she was only two and didn’t understand the creatures. No one had told her that their sensitive cave-dweller eyes also yielded them sensitive ears. Having no other choice, Roderick turned and grabbed the doll and threw it into the doorway. “Still have that throwing arm from football” he mused, but it was too late for him and the others knew it. They shut themselves in the church as he watched the SUV close the last few kilometers until it was stopped next to him. Inside, a sheriff was staring at him, and lifted a walkie-talkie. Roderick thought, “maybe he isn’t one of them,” but as soon as it began speaking he knew. Clicks and gurgles. Despite gaining everything from their hosts, the creatures never caught on to the nuances of the human dialect; their lack of ability to speak other than clicks and a few throat noises was the only thing that made them identifiable. Roderick knew what he had to do, so he ran. Parallel to the church and perpendicular to the road, he hoped the creature would follow him and therefore wouldn’t search the church, assuming he hadn’t heard Sally’s cries. There were only a few trees around the church, but it was enough that the creature would have to pursue him on foot. He ran for blocks, but being cooped up had left Roderick out of shape and the creature was gaining. He knew he would have no choice but to hide and hope that the house he chose didn’t contain sleeping creatures. With his legs and lungs burning, he made a sharp right and hopped a fence, sneaking into the house through the unlocked back door and praying the thing would hope he kept running.

He opened a bedroom door without a click and there they were- sleeping creatures, clinging to the walls with their stubby fingers and toes. They were grey and papery looking, with ear holes instead of ears. Only slightly smaller than the typical human woman, and there were a lot of them. He quietly walked away and luckily for him the second room was empty, but it was already dark and they would wake soon. They couldn’t smell for shit, so as long as he remained hidden and silent he would be okay. The empty room wasn’t truly empty, instead it contained dozens of items of clothing piled up, which he buried himself under to wait out the night. Roderick heard footsteps and thought “fuck, how did he find me here?” He weighed his options: stay and hope the thing was there to socialize with other creatures, or run for his life. Again. He opted for the former, knowing he was out of energy and outnumbered. He had a nervous stomach, and the churning of its contents gave him away. He knew their ears were good, but he didn’t know they could hear gasses forming in a person from rooms away. The last thing he remembered was the sheriff approaching him from small gap in between shirts, then he was jerked out, fighting and clawing, and attracting the now awake horde into the room with him. In the fight the sheriff scratched him too, and one of the grey monsters spit on his wound and it began to suture itself without even a scar remaining. “So that’s how they seal them back up.”

Two weeks later, Roderick stood squinting in front of the church that he had left the other survivors in.

Credit: Jason Ackle

Admissions

January 27, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Oil portraits of dignitaries and ancient politicians had been hung in a boastful collection on the encircling walls, a burgundy dark enough to impart arrogance to the unsure and confidence to those of likened wills, the marble pillars and brass railings emitting an astounding gleam from all sides, and Stewart felt assured to be in the proper place.

It had only taken him a few minutes to find it…

Two others were waiting, another man and a woman, sitting on oaken chairs with cushioned seats. The woman’s blonde hair reminded him of wheat, her face evoking the sun rising over the fields. She didn’t say anything to him, but seemed to be gauging his ability, his deftness, grinning slightly with her piercing green eyes.

The man, however, arose from the chair and held out his hand—a large fellow, with a full beard, of apparent Latin American heritage, perhaps Iberian. “Welcome, Mr. Unitas,” he said vestedly. “We’ll be with you in just a moment. Sarah here has had her appointment postponed for over an hour.”

“Oh?” Stewart replied. The man nodded, adjusting his charcoal-grey knit sweater vest, and gazed regretfully upon the woman, evidently another recruit seeking entry into the prestigious club.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to stand until it’s time for her to go in.” At the same moment a black woman in a black dress opened the large metal doors at the back of the hall, exchanging a brief communicative look with the man in the vest. He turned to smile at Stewart, his face showing not a hint of blush, and soon the engagement ensued—Stewart found himself awkwardly sitting in the second chair, still warm from the hour’s delay.

“Must be busy this time of year, eh?” Stewart asked the man, who had yet to retake the seat. The presumptive member of the Bay Area Betterment & Health Society again confirmed, and turned to select one of the pamphlets piled upon an end table of miniscule height.

He handed one to Stewart. It was a single folded page on thick glossy paper, showing a picture of Golden Gate Park and what seemed to be the large group photograph of a club gathering.

Stewart thanked him for the informative material, though he had already been well-versed regarding the scientific organization, from its four-hundred year history to speculation upon its upcoming plans and charity work.

“Oh, that sounds swell,” he mimicked eagerly, affecting himself to be naively unaware rather than firmly convinced of his own indubitable qualifications.

He had heard online, and more helpfully from a friend he knew on a forum, the club only spoke in official terms behind closed doors to facilitate for its members more liberated discussion. Great intellectuals had been initiated, and great intellectuals had been made.

It said so in the pamphlet.

Laughter came from the closed door, and Stewart tried not to think how it would be very nice if Sarah, the girl before him, would also be admitted, so he could get to know her more. As if getting accepted would need more benefits to persuade, to pique!

This was the place to be, said them all, what one must do in order to become a full-fledged leader of progressive society. And Stewart had always wanted to be a vampire.

He scanned over the paper, and even the alluring language came off to him as exclusive. Stewart could not hold back his smile any longer, and the other man noticed.

“I’ve actually read your file, my good man,” he said, stroking his thick hairy chin. Stewart awaited the completed placation and once they had met eyes the club member continued by whispering, bending his head closer to him, “I think we would be fools not to let you in!”

His heart kicked and his fist clenched in excitement. Stewart’s smile grew, showing brightened teeth, and he could only mutter, “Thank you. I am a big admirer of what you do here.”

“Is that so?” asked the man, finding a kindred spirit.

“Yes,” Stewart answered. “I think this is exactly where I want to take my skills. I’m looking forward to seeing how I can help and contribute to the club’s furthering success.”

The older man nodded, smiling also. “We’ll see what we can do with you.”

Thoughts of the future flowed through Stewart’s field of vision, unable to be contained. The high class society, a company of gentlemen and the finest edge of female colleagues, using advanced techniques to extract untarnished hemoglobin and innumerable additional nutrients which had been enabling their superior race to thrive without the brutal need for harvesting, enslaving, or killing anyone, or anything, not even pigs!

Stewart knew all this. And he knew he belonged here, in this association of immortals moving the world forward. Especially if people like Sarah would be among them, and he withheld the rushing desire to envision her transformed, unleashed, beyond the standards of commonplace beauty.

It would be truly empowering to finally live and work as he wanted, and here was the goal, at last!

The door opened and the secretary kindly said his name. “Mister Unitas? They’ll see you now.”

His heart quickened, perhaps for the last time as a feeble primate, and the man in the vest wished him good luck while Stewart walked to the door, buttoning the top button of his coat.

“We’re sorry to make you wait,” she noted effectively. The secretary, upon closer vicinity, was also an ostensible initiate. The women showed signs almost instantaneously, and more dramatically than the men, according to his research. Stewart worried his new appearance would be overshadowed by those of fellow neonates. It could take decades before the distinction of his vampiric training could be portrayed by looks alone. But he marched on, nonetheless.

“Right this way,” she said, smirking, and Stewart followed her to a set of double doors, which he hardly saw open before he realized he was inside the room.

Against the opposite wall sat four elders in shining judicial robes behind a normal white plastic table. Stewart made sure to catch each of their gazes once the doors had been closed behind him.

But there was a fifth individual standing next to the door, and a sixth. Stewart’s pulse fluttered once he recognized the golden-grain hair, now bolstering the pale mystique of her form and face alike. The green eyes sank into him, as if they were aimed and fired.

The other member stood well higher than the average man, meaning he must have been a guard or security worker of some kind, but Stewart didn’t know why Sarah remained in the room when her interview had hardly preceded his.

“Welcome, Mr. Unitas,” said one of the elders, one of three balding men with stonework cheeks and cropped hair of glistening pearly silver. He smiled magnanimously, but Stewart felt his voice carried with it no trace of impression.

“We’re sorry,” the speaker continued, “but we are afraid we can cannot offer you a position with our organization at this time.”

When Stewart had just begun reeling he noticed the guard and Sarah both approaching from behind, from opposite sides, and before he could make his case the larger man’s grip had smothered his mouth, quelling all protest, and the youngest member of the Bay Area Betterment & Health Society revealed freshly protruded canine teeth before jabbing them into Stewart’s neck, playfully pausing while their eyes were partially locked, decisive jowls vicing quivering flesh. She pulled back sharply and his liveliness gushed away for her to drink, to serve as an irrefutable pledge of loyalty.

As she sucked from the struggling neck the others in the room cheered and clapped, remembering the blissful intensity of their own first kills. The lone matron of the panel reached for the appropriate ink stamp and markedly punched it upon the girl’s papers, printing sternly in bold crimson letters.

ADMISSION GRANTED

Credit: Edmund Gray-Graham

The Fairdale Kids Stay Inside

January 26, 2017 at 12:00 AM

We called them fallen angels. They were strung up by their ankles and suspended from trees. There was always barbed wire. Wrapped all around the body. Sliced the skin and ripped the tissue, and it was worse if they struggled. Ideally, they would die of dehydration. But this mercy was extended to only a very fortunate few. Most of the time, they would dangle from the branches for hours as the barbs tore their flesh and the pressure built in their heads. When upright, the heart doesn’t have to pump blood that hard to circulate through the brain. Gravity does most of the work to get it back down. Consequently, the blood vessels up there are smaller and thinner than in the rest of the body.

I’d rather be hung, personally. I would much prefer the struggling for breath and kicking the air and the white hot agony of my vertebrae coming apart than waiting for the blood to pool in my head, clot, and eventually burst the veins and feel the warm, sticky liquid drip out of my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. A noose would be kinder, and suffocation gentler.

“There’s somethin’ in there,” my brother would tell me from the porch, pointing his cigarette toward the trees. “It watches people. Then strings up the ones it doesn’t like.”

As paranoid as he was, I agreed with him. He spent a lot of time on that porch. I don’t let him smoke in the house. He sat out there, cigarette in one hand, gun in the other, just watching the woods and waiting for something to come out. One night, I heard him yelling, frantically trying to get my attention. Gunshot after gunshot exploded through the air and intermingled with his crazed screaming.

I ran out onto the porch to find my brother in a panic that was slowly turning to rage. “Guns don’t do shit.”

“I saw them. Their eyes were just peering out from the trees, fuckin’ watching me. They almost glowed,” he emphatically pointed to the woods behind our house, trying to show me the eyes that weren’t there.

“That’s no reason to wake up the whole neighborhood.” My brother had this habit of keeping his cigarette between his teeth when he talked. It didn’t matter how important what he said was. I could only see the glowing end of the cigarette bobbing up and down as the words fell out. It was fucking infuriating, and it was one of those trivial things that finds its way under your skin and stays there, tapping at the inside of your skull. I had expressed my displeasure several times, but he didn’t seem to care much. I must have been giving him a look this time, because he yanked the cigarette out of his mouth and let it limply dangle in his fingers.

“I will not be strung up in those woods,” he spit his final words at me before stomping out his remaining half cigarette and storming inside.

I wasn’t worried that the neighbors would call the police. They knew my brother, and they knew the woods. It was amazing, the things you could get away with in this town. Everybody here was afraid, but more than that, they were constantly on edge, as if their whole body seethed with anticipation. The paranoia that was so ingrained into these people could only be borne out of desperation. It seemed that they had tried everything, guns, knives, brute force –shit, one time somebody tried to light the whole forest on fire.

The kids played in the street or, preferably, if they had friends from the next subdivision, in the backyards the next neighborhood over. When they grabbed their flashlights in the middle of the night, they would tell stories about the woods. They never talked about Bloody Mary or Slenderman because in Fairdale, the real horror lived ten feet behind their homes.

I don’t think anyone in that town had seen the creatures in the woods, but we all knew what they looked like. The descriptions were spread in passing whispers and hushed voices, out of fear that they were listening. All the children spoke softly but emphatically about their gray skin, six inch fingers, and hollow, infinite sockets carved deep into their skull. They seemed almost human, and maybe they once were.

Once, that I can remember, a kid went into the forest. A bunch of others dared him to. They waited in the shadows between houses, hearts pounding even though they weren’t the ones going in. In silence, they watched him glance back, hoping they would call the whole thing off, and reluctantly submerge himself into the trees. There was the snapping of twigs and then, abruptly, stillness. The group did not take their eyes of the woods, yet they could see the fear among their friends. They waited for a minute surprisingly before cautiously taking a few steps backward, then turning and sprinting away.

The boy was gone. The very next day, a group of police officers, most of whom resigned that same day, were sent in after him. Let me tell you, he struggled. The wire tore through the skin of his abdomen, leaving his internal organs to spill out and hang from his body. After that day, no children went into the woods. They didn’t even have to be told not to.

After the paper ran that story, Fairdale lost its mind. Sure, bodies turned up every other week, but it was never a child. That kind of death was somehow more than murder. It was a disaster, a tragedy.

I lived right on the edge of the woods, and that incident stuck with me. It somehow made the whole thing real. These things were here, right behind my house.

My last night in Fairdale was hopefully the worst of my life. My brother was outside smoking, and I was on the couch, mostly asleep. I’m not a heavy sleeper, so I was glad when the small noises around me seemed to quiet down, but just as I was about to drift off, my brother fired that goddamn gun about three thousand times, ran inside, and slammed the door behind him, his fucking cigarette, still lit, clamped fiercely between his teeth.

I shot up, dazed and unsure of what was happening. Hands trembling, my brother ran to all the doors and windows, making sure they were locked.

“What the fuck, man?” I rubbed my eyes, wishing that I was sleeping.

He sat on the coffee table inches away from me, voice raspy and frightened, “I saw them. They came out.” His eyes were crazed. As his mouth was running faster than his head, he inadvertently blew smoke from his lips with every rushed word and forced breath. “I didn’t even know you could see them.”

My mouth opened, but before I could speak, I heard something tapping on the sliding glass door. My jaw hung ajar, and my brother and I froze instinctively. It was too soft to be a knock, but too hard to be the wind. A moment later, it came again.

“They’re comin’ to get me,” my brother whispered. His eyes were wild, darting across the room as if he was afraid to leave them in one place for too long. “They don’t like me.”

“You sure you saw them?” my voice was barely audible. Somehow, I knew that they could hear me anyway.

“I first noticed them in the corner of my eye, just one at first, but more came.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Tall, my god they were tall. Until they started moving, I thought they were trees. They’re arms hang at their sides and are as gangly as branches. What gave them away was the skin. Looked just like ash.”

Tap. Tap. Tap. While the sounds did not increase in volume, they came to new places. I heard them still from the door, but now they were also at the windows, sides of the house, and most disturbingly, the roof.

“They don’t have faces. I mean, they’ve got eyes, but not really. They’ve just got these holes,” my brother made circles with his pointer finger and thumb and held them up over his own eyes. “And the holes have this black shit comin’ out of them, just dripping down their heads.”

“I think they could have been human, if they wanted to be.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

My palms were clammy, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I could picture their long, bony fingers rapping on the house, their not-eyes inches from the window, waiting for us to draw back the curtain and meet their gaze. Until that moment, I don’t think I have ever been truly afraid.

Tap. Tap. Tap. It echoed all around us.

We knew we couldn’t leave, and even if we called someone, what good would it do? I didn’t think that anything could save us. Our only option was to wait and hope that we had not received a death sentence.

Tap. Tap. Tap. I now could hear it coming from beneath the house. These things were everywhere. It scared me that they didn’t just burst in, that they were waiting for something, and it scared me more that I didn’t know what. I couldn’t do anything but wait. This isn’t how I wanted to die. My brother and I sat on the floor between the couch and coffee table and hoped it would end.

“What do you think they are?” I asked. We had all heard the stories, but these creatures had no name. They simply existed. They were always here, and we did everything we could to leave them alone, to live without them, and for the most part, they let us. They took some people, I supposed, to make an example. It was a constant reminder of the fear, and maybe it kept this town in line.

My brother’s head was bowed, and his eyes would not meet mine. He lit his fourth cigarette of the night, taking a long drag and holding it deep in his lungs before releasing it. With his eyes still fixed at the floor, he said the only words that have ever struck real fear into my core. “Jimmy, I think they’re God.”

I could only hear the tapping and feel them staring into me from all directions. Despite the emptiness of the house, we knew that they were, in some way, both inside and outside. I forced my eyes shut, and in the darkness, I was only able to picture their elongated limbs hanging at their sides, their shoulders hunched to fit under our low ceilings. God, I could feel the inky ooze dripping onto my hair. I refused to open my eyes because if I did, they might have been there. If they remained closed, it was easier to pretend.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

My brother promised me that he would stay awake all night. He swore. Grabbing a pillow from the couch, he handed it to me and insisted that I slept. I argued, but I was so tired. Eventually, I did fall asleep, albeit against my will.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

It had to be noon when I awoke. I was alone. I checked the whole house, and even mustered up the nerve to step onto the porch, but I was alone.

Dead or alive, I had to find my brother. I went into the woods. I think that was the biggest fuck up of my entire life. After a deep breath, I stepped into the tree line. The sun was high in the afternoon sky, but it was impossibly dark inside that forest and even more unbelievably silent. I was the only thing that disturbed the stillness.

I’ll be honest here and say that I didn’t have a plan. I had no idea where to look for my brother, and I didn’t know how I would react if I found him in the branches. When I stopped in a small clearing to look around, the blurs at the corners of my vision began to move. I knew what it was. I froze, and I think that even my heart stopped beating. Maybe they wouldn’t see me. Maybe they’d leave. Maybe I was losing my mind.

They got closer to me, close enough to see. If they didn’t move, they could be the trees, but if they did, they were something that shouldn’t have been allowed to exist. I shut my eyes and ran blindly through the forest, running into trees and scraping my arms on low-hanging branches. Miraculously, I made it out. I didn’t stop running until I threw myself in my car. I sped down the highway and checked into a motel.
Though it took me an extra hour to fall asleep that night, I kept the TV turned up, just in case they came tapping.

I never saw my brother or Fairdale again. I am no genius, but I knew when to get the fuck out of that town. I moved to a new state, this time making sure I lived in the city, away from the woods.

Even though years and miles have passed since that night, every so often I hear the tapping again. With the knowledge that I can never escape my hometown, I am left with nothing else to do but wait until it’s my turn and hope I dehydrate.

Credit: K. Brown

Creepypasta

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