Yo, dude, do you own a dog?

April 1, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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“Yo, dude,” Brewster said, looking out the glass doors at the back of my kitchen. He pushed back his baseball cap and scratched his head. “…Do you own a dog?”
I looked up from my Pokémon game, frowning. It was about 2am and the neighborhood was as quiet as death, but leave it to Brewster to find my empty backyard more interesting than Pokémon. He was a textbook jock; an impressively tan lax bro with muscles the size of Texas and a brain the size of a tube of chapstick. I was a black nerd. Somehow, we were best friends. I paused the game to grab a fistful of popcorn. “Hell no, my mom’s allergic. It’s probably a stray.”
“It looks really sick, dude. It’s creeping me out.”
“Just close the blinds.”
“I don’t want to,” he whined.
“Jesus, Brew, we see strays every day!”
“I don’t know, now it’s like foaming at the mouth…” He cringed. “Ughh.”
I rolled up from the couch, grumbling as I dropped the Pokémon game and walked up behind Brewster. “Look, you moron, the—” I stopped as I looked out the door and into the darkness of my backyard, lit by a few garden lamps.
That was definitely not a dog.
That was definitely a naked gray bald man crouched in my backyard, drooling and staring at us.
My face screwed up in confusion. Leave it to Brewster to think that some poor homeless man was a dog. “Aw, crap. I’m calling the cops. That’s not a dog, that’s a homeless guy. And he’s probably mentally ill, it’s not his fault.”
“But he growled at me!”
I was already dialing the Baltimore City Police Department, ready to explain that there was some naked guy in my backyard at 2am. Typical stuff for “The City That Bleeds”. The dispatcher clicked on the line.
“Baltimore City Police Department, state your emergency,” a calm female voice answered.
“Good evening, uh, I live at 126 Woodbird Drive.” I looked back to the glass doors; the homeless man was still firmly rooted on my property. “Um, there appears to be a naked man in my backyard.”
Static suddenly crackled to life in the background. “Could you give me your address, please?”
Frowning, I gave her my address again and waited for her to respond. Silence; except for static and an occasional pop. I thought that I had lost the call but there was still no dial tone.
“Hello? M’am? HELLO, M’AM?” I shouted into the phone. “THERE IS A NAKED PERSON IN MY YARD.”
“Where are you going?”
“What?”
A loud pop echoed on the phone before the same tone repeated itself:
“Where are you going?”
“M’am, are you on drugs?” I asked, that being the only plausible explanation at the time.
“Come back.”
“…excuse me?”
“Come back.”
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the thick smell of rotting meat clogged the air. Both Brewster and I gagged; he stuffed his sleeve over his nose and looked back at me fearfully. “Why does it smell like hamburgers?”
“Hell if I know!”
His voice turned fearful. “It’s the dog!”
“Brewster, shut up!”
I turned my attention back to the phone, but the woman continued to repeat the same phrase over and over again.
“Come back.”
“Come back.”
“Come back.”
“Can you connect me to the Baltimore county office?” I asked.
The women was about to respond when Brewster let loose a high-pitched shriek; I whipped around to see the homeless man’s face pressed against the glass door, snarling. I gaped at the visage and my eyes bugged. My mind struggled to process the face. That was definitely not a naked homeless man.
The thing had hollow, black eyes and a canine snout; its curled lips revealed dozens of stained fangs. A few gossamer hairs grew on its emaciated head; the rest of the body gray and taut. Its spine stuck out on its back. At this point Brewster crumpled up on the ground, sobbing and repeatedly screaming “Mom”, as the thing brought a huge, bloodied claw up to the door.
I dropped the phone, the woman’s voice now only reduced to something that sounded like Latin, or Japanese, I’m not really sure. The phone clattered on the counter as the Naked Gray Thing and I stared at one another, I shocked and horrified, it evidently enjoying scaring the crap out of two pathetic high schoolers. After what seemed like hours, the thing’s face crept into a huge grin and it paused to rasp two single words. Although the glass door muffled the sound, I heard the two words as clearly as if they were whispered in my ear:
“Frederick Ellison.”
Brewster stopped screaming and jerked back to look at me in horror as the thing shot off back into the darkness. I swallowed.
Oh, shit.
That was my name.
Brewster and I both looked at each other and screamed. We hit high octaves of horror.
“WHAT DO WE DO?” he shrieked.
“I don’t know. Calm down.” I grabbed his shoulders. “My mom keeps a shotgun in her closet. Grab that and come back downstairs.”
He bit his lip, resembling a massive infant for a split second before running upstairs. I heard his footsteps banging above my head before they stopped abruptly. It didn’t sound like he stopped to open the closet— it was as if he was startled by something and froze in fear.
“Brewster?” I called hesitantly.
“Uh…dude?” His voice was high with fear. “Do you have an adopted Asian sister?”
I frowned in confusion before busting it up the stairs, bursting into my mom’s room to see Brewster frozen in the middle of the room, staring out the window. My mom’s room has a small balcony, and on the balcony stood a small, thin Asian girl. She was about our age with straight black hair and a face that could’ve killed someone. Her downy brows sharpened low over her dark eyes in a mask of rage.
I stared at her for a moment. How could she have accessed the balcony?
“Are you lost?” I shouted at her. “This isn’t your house!”
She continued to stare.
And then she took a step forward.
I’m not sure if it was her furious expression, the fact that a strange girl just appeared on my mom’s balcony, or the fact that a weird naked gray thing had just attacked us, but Brewster and I both rushed into the closet and jammed ourselves inside. I grabbed the shotgun wedged in the back and cocked it, aiming it at the closed doors of the closet.
“I’m scared,” Brewster whimpered.
“Shut up,” I muttered. “It’s just a random girl.”
I cracked the closet an inch to look outside.
Looking into the space was the girl.
My heart stopped and I fired the gun wildly, the base slamming into my shoulder as bullets riddled the room and smoke filled the air. Brewster screamed and jumped on me in fear, knocking the gun away. As the smoke cleared, the girl still stood before us, unharmed. We silenced immediately as her furious expression changed into a deep frown.
“All right, you idiots,” she said. “You’re in trouble, and I’m here to help. The name is Mildred.”
__
Mildred and I sat opposite one another in armchairs, Brewster cowering next to me. Mildred wasn’t as terrifying as before, now seeing her in the light— although she still had chronic bitch face. The clock ticked on the wall.
“Uh,” I said. “We’d really appreciate you telling us why you followed us, broke into my house and then told us that we were in trouble.”
She nodded, disinterested. “Yeah. Right. Okay. So.” She paused. “I hate to tell you this, but…you’re being hunted down by a monster who won’t stop chasing you until he basically rips you up and eats your dead body.” She paused again. “I’m sorry.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Excuse me?”
She sighed. “Let me phrase this another way.” She paused. “You’re screwed.”
Brewster and I exchanged glances. “Uh…what?” Brewster managed.
She steepled her fingers a la Doctor Evil, turning to me. “If Garden Tool says your name…” Mildred made a chopping motion with her hand. “You’re good as dead.” She paused. “Except for me. I attribute my survival to my intelligence and charm.”
“Garden Tool?”
“That gray thing that came up to your door.” She rolled her eyes. “The grand council of internet virgins uses the name ‘the Rake’ and writes fanfiction about him. I don’t know, it’s stupid.”
I blinked at her. I was never exactly a horror aficionado, but the fanfiction I read never involved Naked Gray Dog Men. That was a subject I did not want to touch.
Her eyes snapped to mine. “I live a few doors down from you. I heard the screaming and went to investigate.” She paused. “It was after me last week, but I suppose it has a new plaything.” She shrugged. “Now both of us are screwed.”
I threw my hands out. “You say that so casually!”
“It’s pretty easy to talk about death once you’ve accepted the inevitability of it,” she said cheerfully.
There was silence for a moment.
“I can try to help you guys out,” Brewster mumbled guiltily.
I turned to him. “Goddamn, Bre—”
The powerful stench of rotting meat hit me and I stopped; Brewster and I both registered it at once and turned to Mildred, our eyes tearing and sleeves over our noses.
“Yo, dude,” Brewster whimpered. “It’s that smell!”
Mildred wrinkled up her nose. “That isn’t good.”
“What the hell do we do?” I asked desperately.
The doorbell rang.
All three of us looked to the front door, still overpowered by the rotting smell. It was about 3 AM. My mom was on a business trip. Who the hell would be at the door at 3 AM?
Brewster jumped up from his seat. “I’ll get it—”
“Brewster, you idiot!” I grabbed his arm and pulled him back, picking up the shotgun from the side of my chair.
I inched to the door, looking through the peephole.
Darkness. Not the darkness of night, but pure black with a glass sheen. My mind worked to figure out what I was looking at, when I suddenly realized in horror what it was.
An eye.
“Oh, shit!” I scrambled back just as the door began crashing on its hinges, battered by something huge. Cracks raced across the wood and I cocked the shotgun, aiming it at the door.
“I have no experience shooting a gun,” I said, cowering behind my armchair. Meanwhile, I think Brewster wet himself.
Mildred sat up in her chair. “We need to leave. Now. Get a car; it’ll catch us on foot.”
The door was almost down. “I don’t have a car.”
Mildred looked at Brewster and he shook his head, trembling. “Mine’s in the front.”
“Shit.” She tried to knock the gun out of my hands. “Don’t even bother, that won’t work anyway.”
My eyes bugged at her. “What?”
“We need, like, holy water or some religious shit.”
“You tell me that now?” I shrieked.
The door fell down with the splintering of wood and a huge crash.
The three of us shot behind one armchair to hide, which was both stupid and ineffective. I heard claws scratch against the wood floor as whatever broke down my door walked into my house. There was silence for a few moments, coupled with wheezing, before I heard a familiar, rasping voice. I knew instantly what had just broken down my door.
“Meeeaatt…come outtt.”
Garden Tool.
When you’re about to die, you notice the little things in life. Like the fact that the kitchen faucet was dripping, carelessly left on by Brewster, or the sudden knowledge that you forgot to pick up beef jerky from the store. The little things.
Death was approaching, and I knew that in that moment, we weren’t infinite.
We were fucked.
I eyed Mildred, muttering to her. “Are you absolutely positive a gun won’t work against it?”
“Well, it won’t kill it.”
“Stun?”
“I guess…”
“Commeee out, meattt…”
I shot up from behind the armchair and pumped lead into the monster, tumbling back from the shotgun’s recoil. I attempted to say something suave, like “This time, it’s personal,” but all I said was, “AUGGGG”.
As I fell back, Garden Tool did too, lurching back with the shots and splattering the room with black blood— but just as he rolled on he floor he rose again, bullet wounds filling up with flesh. The blood faded. That was definitely not normal.
I stood, paralyzed, as he stalked forward. The thing cracked a grin, revealing stained sharp teeth, black eyes narrowed. He knew that I was terrified.
“Guns don’t workkk.”
Suddenly, I heard a shout behind me:
“BAD DOG!”
Brewster came through for me just this once, hefting an armchair over his head with mighty roar and heaving it at Garden Tool. The monster tried to duck away but the chair was too large and it smashed into his body, trapping him back in a corner. Black blood began to pool around the chair and his twitching limbs.
The three of us stared at the bloodied armchair.
“Is he dead?” I asked.
The armchair moved and in a split second the three of us tore up the stairs while Garden Tool was incapacitated, stuffing ourselves back into my mom’s bedroom closet.
“Why the hell didn’t we run outside?” Mildred asked angrily at us.
“We can’t worry about that now,” I whispered. I turned to Brewster. “Bro talk. What do we do?”
“I don’t know, man,” Brewster sniffed. Tears appeared in his eyes. “I’m scared, bro. Guns don’t work. Chairs don’t even work.”
“Brewster, we’ll get through this.” I grabbed his hand. “Remember the power of friendship. I love you, brother.”
“I love you too, dude.”
“Okay. What do we do?”
“I got the keys to my car, we just need to get to the front of your house.”
“How?” Mildred whispered angrily, cutting into our heartfelt friendship fest.
“A distraction,” Brewster whispered. “How about I jump out, start flapping my arms and meowing—”
Garden Tool threw the closet door open, screeching in fury. I screamed and for once in my life, had a good aim— I shot him directly in the mouth; he jerked back from the force, screaming in pain and frothing blood.
“EVERYONE MOVE!” Mildred howled, pushing us into a run. We barreled to the front of the house, Garden Tool springing up and tearing after us.
I leapt through the busted front door and shot out into the winter night, stuffing myself into the passenger seat of Brewster’s car. Brewster and Mildred followed suite, Brewster taking the driver’s seat and Mildred tumbling into the back of the car. I cocked the shotgun as Brewster struggled to take his keys and stick it in the ignition, much like R. Kelly.
“Brewster, MOVE!” I yelled.
He blinked back tears. “I’m scared!”
I pulled him into the passenger’s seat, jamming the shotgun into his hands and shoving myself into the driver’s seat. I heard scrabbling outside the car.
Garden Tool leapt onto the front of the car and then smashed it’s head on the windshield. I gunned the engine and floored the car forward; Brewster blasted a bullet into the windshield, missing Garden Tool completely and blowing a massive hole in the car. Glass exploded everywhere; I threw my arms up to shield my face as Garden Tool forced his torso through the broken glass, screeching in my face.
HIs breath smelled like, guess what, surprise, that rotting meat smell that followed him everywhere. He was about to lunge at me when Mildred shot up from the back seat and threw something around his neck, pulling back.
Garden Tool shrieked, choking, scrabbling to untangle itself from whatever was choking it. I caught a glimpse of the rope for a split second, a crucifix charm dangling off of it. A rosary.
Mildred let go of the rosary and Garden Tool fell back from the front of the car. I rammed the gas and the car roared before shooting forward, running over the creature with a satisfied thump and roll of wheels.
We burned rubber onto the street, shooting into Baltimore city. Mildred looked back and saw Garden Tool for a split second, slowly rising from the ground. She flipped him off.
“MILDRED, DON’T TAUNT HIM,” I screamed back at her.
“Whatever, mom!”
I drove blindly, flashing past side streets and continuing deep into the city. The more people, the safer. “Okay, Mildred, where the hell do we go?”
“I’m kind of hungry,” she mumbled. “McDonalds?”
“You said that religious items hurt him? All religious items? Where’d you get that rosary?”
“My grandpa’s church. The Korean one out in the county.”
“Can you tell me how to get there?”
“Sure, but we’ll have to bust in.”
“I don’t care. If you think it’s safe, we’re going there.”
Mildred gave me a look that wasn’t the most confident thing I wanted to see, but I steeled myself and turned onto the highway, burning rubber the rest of the way.
Soon enough, we rolled up to a darkened church on one of Baltimore County’s smaller streets. A sign with Korean lettering stood in front of the church. The road was deserted.
“My grandpa’s church,” Mildred muttered. “I forgot how deserted it was.”
“Well, let’s get inside before that thing hunts us down…” I got out and slammed the car door behind me, tossing the keys to Brewster. I pulled on the church’s front door, armed with my shotgun. Locked, obviously. I had no clue how to pick a lock, let alone bust a door down, but I wasn’t going to look like an idiot in front of Mildred and Brewster. I had already shot a monster in the face; might as well continue my descent into badassery.
Brewster stood next to me at the door, frowning. “I don’t like this, bro…”
“I know, dude. But this is all we can do right now.”
He paused, eyes downcast. “This is all my fault. I’m sorry, Fred. I’m the worst bro ever.”
I punched his shoulder. “Hey, don’t be like that. You’re the best bro ever.”
“But you still condemned your friend to death,” Mildred chimed in, worming her way into the conversation. Brewster went back to looking depressed.
I turned back to the locked door and began using the shotgun as a kind of battering ram before Mildred shoved me aside. “Idiot. Let me do it. You’re not fooling anyone.”
I quailed away as she got busy picking the lock, finishing with a smug smirk and the click of an unlocked door. She cracked open the door, smile turning into a frown. “Jesus. I forgot what a dump this place was.”
The three of us piled into the church, locking the door behind us. Mildred flipped on some lights and the space illuminated in a disappointing array of empty chairs and a fake wooden podium. It looked nothing like the predominantly white-Catholic churches of Baltimore; it might have well been a multipurpose room. Bowls of what I assumed were holy water stood at random places in the church. A massive Jesus crucifix was poised behind the altar, weeping blood tears.
Mildred flopped down in a seat. “Well, here we are. Feel free to start praying. I don’t know.”
I paced the back of the church. “Okay, so, I propose that we create a gun filled with holy water and wine, call it the Baptizer 2000, and then—”
“Uhhh,” Mildred said.
I turned to her. “Uh, what?”
She paused before muttering, “I kind of lied about the power of Jesus thing.”
I frowned at her. “Excuse me?”
“The religion thing?” She avoided eye contact. “Actually, that was just a guess.”
“WHAT,” I screamed.
She thrust up the rosary she had used to choke Garden Tool. “My grandpa gave me this from this church, and that seemed to work. I threw a dollar-store crucifix at Garden Tool once and he laughed. I don’t know, okay?”
Brewster finally seemed to comprehend what was going on. “So…you drove us out here for nothing?”
“No! I know there’s something about this place that must work, it’s just…” she gave a little shrug. I saw her face sadden. “I was actually hoping you two could help me. You didn’t think I broke into your house just because I wanted to help you out, did you?”
“You don’t seem like the most charitable person.” I glared at her.
She matched my glare. “I’ll have you know, I donate—”
She silenced at a far off noise— the sharp, muffled ring of a telephone.
I scanned the room and saw the telephone perched on the far side of the room. I started towards the phone as Brewster yelped, “Wait, bro!”, but I caught the call on the last ring, answering with a hard, “hello”. I was getting tired of these games.
Static on the other end.
“This isn’t scary,” I said. “I live in Baltimore city, for God sake!”
There was a pop of sound, before:
“Where are you going?”
I shrieked like a small child and hung up the phone. Suddenly, there was a bang and the church lights cut to black. I froze, my voice taken away.
“Fred, bro?” Brewster’s far away voice called.
“What the FUCK,” I responded.
Something slammed into my temple and white-hot pain split through my head. I fell back, my mind going dizzy for a minute, the darkness and sudden sounds of shouting mixing together in my head. I figured that this was what a hangover felt like. I tried to get up but I struggled; after a minute I managed to stumble to my feet again. Something was strange.
The church was completely silent.
I steadied myself on the wall, pinching the bridge of my nose. My head pounded.
“Brewster?” I called. “Mildred?”
Silence; the pain in my head made it hard to think straight and I ended up stumbling backwards. I thought I was going to hit the wall but instead I fell back into a seat behind a heavy curtain. I panicking for a moment, feeling walls around me, but then I thought back to my church days— a confession box.
I rested my head in my hands, rubbing my head. “Jesus Christ…”
“Yesss…?”
I looked up, eyes wide. That was definitely not the voice of Jesus.
That was the voice of Garden Tool.
“You are not Jesus!” I yelled in a random direction, blind in the darkness.
Garden Tool rasped a laugh; I realized he was on the other side of the confession box. The stench of rotting meat filled the air. “I have something that is everything to youuu…”
“What, the Pokémon game? I don’t care what you steal from me!”
“Return to this church at dawn and I will let him go.”
My heart dropped. “What?”
The lights suddenly flashed back on. I hissed and squinted before stumbling out of the confession box and throwing the curtain aside. Garden Tool was gone.
I cursed and suddenly remembered Brewster and Mildred before running to the front of the church. Mildred was just raising herself up off the ground, a hand at her bloodied head.
Brewster was gone.
“I feel like I just got hit by a truck…” Mildred mumbled, still groggy.
“BREWSTER!” I rushed past her, screaming Brewster’s name. At some point I tripped on a chair and tumbled onto the floor, but instead of getting up I just stayed there for a while. I knew my search was fruitless— Brewster was gone.
Return to this church at dawn and I will let him go.
I eventually got up, Mildred standing over me. “What the hell just happened?”
I swallowed. “Garden Tool took Brewster.”
Her eyes widened. “What?”
I whipped around to her. “The religion shit didn’t work, Mildred!” I yelled, kicking a chair. “All of this is bullshit! He took Brewster! You took us here for nothing! NOTHING!”
“I didn’t promise anything.” Her voice was hard. “I could’ve just left you two to die. Instead, I try to help. You should be thanking me for even trying.”
She threw her arms up in huge movements to show all that she did for us, which added up to breaking into my house, forcing Brewster to cut up a pineapple, asking to go to McDonalds when we were being hunted down, and then taking us to a random Korean church.
I stormed away from her, and, having nowhere else to go, walked up to the altar. I sat down at the front of it and attempted to pray, but no matter how desperate I was, I was still an Atheist. I attempted to be proud of my mental fortitude.
I put my head in my hands and struggled to be calm. All I had to do was face Garden Tool at dawn and Brewster would be fine. Brewster would be fine. Brewster would be fine.
There was still a massive hole in my heart as I attempted to comprehend my own death at the claws of a monster. The fear was there, but no hesitation— Brewster was my main bro, my heterosexual life partner. I would take a bullet for him, let alone sacrifice myself to a monster. He would do the same. I looked up at Jesus hanging over the altar. I supposed that’s why people coveted religion so much— the feeling that someone had your back, no matter what.
A thought suddenly shot through my mind.
My eyes widened and I got up from my seat, effectively standing in awe of my own brilliant idea.
I knew exactly what to do.
Mildred puttered up behind me, giving me a skeptical look. “Are…are you okay?”
“…I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine.” I turned to look back at her. “Hey, Mildred?”
“What?”
“Where’s the closest place we can buy dynamite?”
__
Dawn.
The sun peeked through the windows as I stood at the altar of the church, smoking a cigarette. The cigarette tasted disgusting, but I looked like an absolute badass so I was struggling through it.
The monster was due to appear any minute now, and I had my shotgun at the ready. If my plan worked, it would be the most epic day of my life. I could write all of my college essays about it. The birth of my first-born child would be welcomed with an apathetic nod, because nothing would be as beautiful as this moment. If my plan didn’t work, Brewster and I would both be dead.
You win some, you lose some.
There was the loud bang of a slammed door somewhere from within the church, and I whipped around to see Garden Tool slinking from the front of the church, black eyes shining. He wore a massive grin of needles. That hunched, gray form was nothing human or animal— and he dragged something along behind him in one of his claws.
He was dragging an unconscious Brewster behind him, my best friend completely out but otherwise unharmed. For a minute I thought he was dead, but then I saw the copious amounts of drool dribbling from his mouth.
As Garden Tool neared me, his eyes flickered and he noticed the shotgun in my hand. He hesitated for a moment before leaving Brewster behind on the floor and slinking closer.
“You never said no weapons,” I said nervously, as if using logic would appeal to a gray dog-human monster.
He hissed a laugh. “I fear no weaponnn. Prepare for deathhh.”
Garden Tool tensed, looking ready to pounce, and I released an incredibly pathetic whimper of fear. I caught myself, attempting to remain stoic.
“This isn’t a regular gun,” I managed, relatively close to peeing myself in fear. Garden Tool suddenly seemed to notice that I had modified my gun with something. Don’t ask how I modified it; I’m in AP Engineering. “I call this baby the Baptizer 2000. Not only does it shoot bullets, but holy water too.”
“Your pathetic religion won’t kill meee…” Garden Tool hissed with laughter once more, squinting in delight. He moved from his crouched position, and my fear dampened. He was amused.
“You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.” I paused to exhale smoke from the cigarette, attempting not to choke and start tearing up. “I’ve been contemplating life.”
“Sucideee?” he asked, hopefully.
“No. I’ve been thinking about all of the joys of life, and what makes all of our struggles meaningful.” You could’ve heard a pin drop; Garden Tool’s expression became slightly confused. “I know that religion might not hurt you…but you know what will?” I paused, letting it soak in.
“Love. Love will kill you.”
Although he tried to hide it, I saw his expression flicker into one of absolute fear, and then switch immediately back to an expression of amusement. “Love? Love? Emotion is nothingggg.”
“You keep on saying that things are nothing. You’re wrong. Love is everything. Back in my house? The shotgun and armchair hurt you because Brewster and I were protecting one another. Mildred’s rosary worked because her grandfather gave it to her.”
As I ended my speech, Garden Tool’s eyes widened. Damn, I should’ve written my thesis paper on that shit. It was pure gold.
“Garden Tool, you’re right. Religion won’t hurt you. But you know what will?” I cocked the gun. “This, and 100 pounds of explosives. Filled with love. Bro love.”
Garden Tool didn’t react; I knew that he didn’t want me to see his confusion. I cocked my head at the Jesus statue behind me. He glanced at the statue, its arms held out in a welcoming gesture— arms now full of dynamite, dynamite that I bought using my mother’s credit card at a shady downtown Baltimore weapons shop that Ray Lewis probably frequented. The dynamite gathered in a string that lead down to directly in front of me. Garden Tool couldn’t contain his shock; he whipped his head at me with an expression of pure fury. His nostrils flared.
He lunged at me, claws out and jaws agape, and I shot him square in the mouth with a combination of holy water and bullets. Garden Tool seemed to freeze and drop in mid-air like lead; crumpling on the ground and frothing from the mouth. An inhuman gargle ran from his jaws. He attempted to rise; I shot his back and he crumpled up, howling.
I stepped up to him, tossing my gun aside. I daintily held my cigarette in my fingertips. I was glad to stop smoking it, smoking tasted like shit.
“You’re reign of terror is over, Garden Tool,” I said. “Never again will you prey on random high schoolers.”
Through his gurgling and writhing, I saw something slip from one of his eyes, as clear as day. A tear.
My heart fell. I wasn’t as badass as I would’ve liked to think I was, despite the despicable nature of the creature. I blotted out the cigarette out on one of the chairs and aimed the gun at Garden Tool’s head.
“Au revoir, asshole,” I said. It was the best I could do.
I ended up pulling Brewster’s dead weight by his foot. I had to bump the church door open with my back and drag him through, but as I was doing so the door accidentally closed on his head and he woke his a start.
He held the door open, sitting up and blinking groggily at me. “Dude…?” He suddenly snapped back into consciousness and jumped up, crushing me in a massive hug. “BRO! YOU’RE ALIVE!”
We pulled back. “I’ve never been more alive!”
Tears sprung up in his eyes. “And you saved me, bro.”
We fist bumped. “Hey, Brewster. That’s what I do best.”
We walked out from the church and to where Mildred was waiting outside, leaning against Brewster’s car. After taking a tour through more of the unsavory parts of Baltimore, trolling for explosives, she wasn’t exactly happy with me.
She sighed and cocked an eyebrow. “So, did you kill him? I thought there was supposed to be an explosion and you walk out of the church triumphantly.”
“He’s dead, but no explosion.” I paused, shrugging. “I really didn’t want to blow up a church. Also, I guess I’m not one for theatrics and death in the same situation.”
Suddenly, the church exploded behind me, filling the air with a massive boom and an upward rush of smoke and fire. The three of us jumped behind the car, watching the church’s frame burn and crackle.
My eyes widened. “That wasn’t supposed to happen!”
Brewster patted me on the back. “Yo, dude, don’t worry about it. The Korean people can fix it.” Mildred glared at him.
We sat back against the car and all took deep breaths. I nodded at Brewster. “Well, buddy, everything turned out okay. Want to go back to my house and play some more Pokémon?”
“Most definitely, brother.”
So the three of us drove Brewster’s completely destroyed car back to my house, stepped through the busted-in front door, and sat down to play Pokémon. Even though our adventure amounted to several million dollars in damage and probably months of therapy for Brewster and I both, I had my friend by my side. And when it comes right down to it, religion or no religion, afterlife or no afterlife, good life or bad life, the people you love are all that matter.
At that moment, life was good.
I looked up from the Pokémon game for a moment to see Brewster on the other side of the room and looking out my busted up front door.
“Yo, dude,” he said, scratching his head. “Why is your neighbor wearing a suit?”

THE END

Credit To – Ellen Meny

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Skinwalker

December 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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My father told me a story once. I’ll never forget it, for a few reasons. I think it’s the first story he ever told me, as a child. Its also the story of how my grandfather died. But honestly, that isn’t the reason.

You hear stories, on TV, or sometimes you over hear something in a public place. People talk about ghosts and aliens, and you think to yourself “that ain’t real. They’re making it up, or they’re mistaken, or they’re crazy.” or something like that. You just can’t believe it.

Until something happens. Something that brings it all together, connects the dots in a way you didn’t think of before. Maybe it happens to you, maybe you hear the same story again and again, happening to different people. It doesn’t take long for the world to become a lot bigger than you thought it was.

As I said, this is a story my father told me, but I never believed it, even though he swore up and down it was true. It wasn’t until I started clicking around the internet I started to believe. I started to hear other stories just like the one my father told me. It didn’t take me long to believe in The Rake.

That’s not what my father called it, of course. He’s never used the internet in his life, he wouldn’t know what the consensus has taken to naming it. When he chose to call it something other than “it” or “that thing” He called it “Skinwalker” after an old Cherokee tale his grandfather told him.

But I’ll tell you the story, the way he told it to me.

“We were out hunting one night.” he’d tell me. “Coyotes. We’d kill ‘em for fifty bucks a skin.” they lived on a dairy farm, in Ohio. “They’d kill calves sometimes. We’d do it every night, because we needed the money. Sometimes, while we were out, we’d come on a Deer, and kill it. Our landlord didn’t mind, and it could a feed our family for a few nights and save us some money.”

“Anyway, we were done making our rounds and heading home, walking, ’cause we didn’t have a car or some four-wheeler back then. We’d cut through the woods. That’s when we came up on it.”

“Blood, everywhere. Splattered on the trees, in the grass, in the creek, everywhere. At first, we figured it was a pack of Coyotes. We’d seen it sometimes, they can’t scavenge and start hunting Deer or cattle. The worst was when they breed with feral dogs. But this wasn’t like that.

See, when a pack of dogs, or wolves, or coyotes attack something, they do it right. They’ll pick off one that’s weak, or sick, or old, or just small. They’ll hunt it, draw it into a corner, some place it can’t get out off, and they’ll run it right to the biggest one, the Alpha. And that deer will never see that Alpha. It might hear it, but it won’t see it. It’ll just notice that it’s throat is gone, and then it’ll drop dead. Its quick, its clean. That wasn’t what happened here.”

“Something had run up on a den of deer. Coyotes won’t attack a den, wolves neither, because they’d get too much of a fight. There were three, I think, three bodies. Just torn apart. You’d see a head here, a leg here, a torso there. Predators don’t do that. They don’t leave behind scraps. What had done this hadn’t done it for food. It had done it for fun.”

“But we didn’t know that. We saw a bunch of carcasses and we think its something we gotta take care of. I remember my dad telling me to go home; he thought it was a pack of feral dogs.

But I wasn’t leaving him, and I damn sure wasn’t walking through two miles of woods alone, with nothing but a twenty two and a pocket knife.” he was only thirteen at the time, so a .22 rifle was about the only gun he could reliably use. “dad had the shotgun, and I wasn’t going anywhere without it.”

“It took me a while, to convince him, but finally we began tracking whatever did that. It wasn’t hard, either, we just followed the blood. Either that thing bleed a deer before it got away, or it dragged one for a mile. I don’t know. I know that I’d never seen my dad scared before that night.”

“We started hearing noises. I’ve been in a lot of woods, in my life, I’ve been all over the world, and ain’t never heard noises like I heard that night. I heard things screaming.”

“Heard deer, and fox, and rabbits and raccoons and birds, just scared. Keep in mind, this is maybe twelve, or one o’ clock. ‘cept the fox, and some birds, nothing was supposed to even be awake. But they weren’t just awake They were moving. I saw flocks of birds that night fly straight into trees just trying to get out of there. We came up on a pack of coyotes, nearly shot a couple thinking it was what we were looking for us, but then we saw they were running towards us. They ran right passed us, didn’t even notice.”

“Then some deer did the same. Then some rabbits, squirrels, foxes, even a couple wild hogs. These things were supposed to be eating each other and the only thing they cared about was getting out of there.”

“We should have put it together. That maybe whatever we were tracking, it wasn’t something we were supposed to see, and it wasn’t something we could kill. I don’t know why we didn’t just go home. I guess we were curious. I think that was my dads nature, to go toward trouble, to fight. And knowing what I knew about what my father did during the war, my nature was to stay close to him.”

“We finally get into an open valley. It was normally a soy field, but it wasn’t in season, so it was just flat dirt. We saw the tracks, then. A lot of the animals fleeing the forest had paved over the land. But where that deer blood was, nothing had taken a single step. Like they were leaving it for us to find.”

“The tracks were shallow. Whatever it was couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred pounds, but that didn’t mean much. A bobcat weighing forty pounds wet nearly tore out my damn throat, once. All that means is that its quick and hard to hit.”

“So we follow the tracks, and it doesn’t take us long to find where it is. There’s this old school house that sits on the top of a hill. Half of it had been ripped out by a tornado, but nobody lived there, not for a long time. We caught homeless people in there, sometimes, or druggies looking for a safe place to shoot up. We figured maybe that was it. Maybe it was some sick kid riding a high. But we didn’t think that for long.”

“We get within fifty yards, and we hear this noise. A screeching kinda sound. It was sort of made up of two different sounds. One was a high pitched screech, another was a low pitched growl. It was making both, at the same time.”

“We get within twenty yards, and we hear this sound. I can remember thinking that it sounded like paper being torn apart, while someone was swinging water in a bucket, back and forth.”

“Dad looks at me, kneels down, and whispers. I gotta stay behind him, ’cause we’re about to corner him. Any animal will fight when its cornered, specially when its a predator. But we can tell by the tracks that its just one. He tells me its probably a single, feral dog, probably rabid.”

“The plan is to sneak up on it while its eating, shoot it, and then keep shooting it ’till it don’t move anymore, then slit it’s throat. And if it gets to dad, It’s my job to shoot it or stab it to get it off him. So he walks up, and I’m right behind him, just a tad to his side, so I can see what it is. I wish to this day I hadn’t.”

“It was leaning over a carcass, tears off its flesh, and throws what it doesn’t nibble at aside. There’s blood all over the brick, glistening in the moonlight. It’s pale white. Human looking, but not quite human. It had arms and legs like a human, but it sat like a monkey, hunched over. And its hands weren’t normal; it had long fingers with claws at the end.”

“So we see that, and my dad hesitates. He wasn’t about to fire on a person. So he clears his throat, to try get it to turn around.”

“I swear to god, all the noise just ceased. I ain’t ever heard true silence before that, and not after it. But for two seconds, nothing, nothing, made any noise. Which made it all the louder when it turned around, made this shrill cry, and jumped on dad.”

“He got a shot off. I think he missed. If he hit the thing, it didn’t mind. But it was on him, tears parts of him off. I start shooting it with the twenty two, point blank, but it barely bled the thing. I got off five rounds, and then I started hitting it with the gun butt. But it wasn’t budging.”

“It didn’t even register that I was there.”

“It’s clawing at my dad, taking off bits of his flesh. It starts on his torso, ripping off the skin, his tit, then it moves up. It tore off his throat, it tore off his nose, his eyes, it scalped him. Then it started digging in, ripped off the bottom half of his jaw, the little bones and that tube in your neck, then his ribs.”

“I don’t exactly remember what happened, but somehow, my dads knife ends up in this things shoulder, and my dad ends up on my back. I’m running, and by god I’m running faster than I’d ever run before or after. And its following me. I end up back in the woods, opposite the ones we been in. I’m headin’ towards my landlords house, cause it’s half a mile away.”

“I can hear this thing, screeching and moaning. I hear these tree branches crack and get thrown around. It sounds like someone’s taking an ax to every single tree I pass, its cracking so loud and often, but I just ain’t looking back.”

“Finally, I trip into gravel. I look up and there’s my landlord and bunch of his buddies, drinking around a campfire. I scream and I cry, and they come over. I’m telling them to call an ambulance, and he looks at me, and I’ll never forget what he said.”

“‘What is that on your back?’ he asked me. Just as he said it, he saw. One of those godawful flannel shirts my dad wore everywhere. It was what was left of my dad. Most of his head, his torso, but nothing after the waist.”

“Suddenly we hear it. Screeching. He grabs me, my dad gets thrown on the ground. I’m fighting him, crying, cause I think we can still save him, somehow, but my dad had been gone ‘for I ever picked him up. He has to pick me up and throw me inside before I come with him.”

“He and his buddies, we’re all inside, and their locking doors, and getting guns. The landlord’s asking me ‘what happened?’ ‘what happened?’ but I just don’t know what to tell him. He pieced enough of it all together to understand that there was something dangerous there. All the lights in the house are on, and someone calls the cops. They’ll be there, but in fifteen minutes.”

“We look outside, and see it walk in front of the fire they’d made. Don’t know what it is, one of ‘em says it looks like an Ape. Suddenly, something goes through the window. We shoot at it, but ain’t the thing. Its my Landlord’s dog. Just the body, though. Not his head or legs.”

“We start pushing things in front of doors and windows, when we hear something the garage. I remember one of his friends sayin’ that the doors were open. We hear metal and glass just get ripped apart. We put a couch and a TV in front of the door to the garage.”

“It banged around some more, but then it got quiet. Not silent, like it was before. We could hear it move around some, and the guys were talking, making sure the guns were ready. Someone hands me a pistol. No sooner did I cock the hammer back did we hear something shatter upstairs. Then we heard it screech again. ‘cept now it was louder, and it didn’t echo and fade out. Because it was inside.”

“We all rushed to the one door leading upstairs, and we got to it just as that thing did. It opened it just a bit, and four or five men just slammed into it. It got its hand through. Someone with a shotgun took care of that. Put the barrel right up to its wrist and pulled the trigger. Cut its hand off, clean.”

“That only pissed it off, though. It started pushing on that door, clawing. We were on one side, pushing as best we could, and it was on the other, doing the same. That wood just wasn’t going to hold, so someone tells us to keep our heads down. Suddenly the top half of the door is just gone, my ears are ringing, and there are splinters everywhere. Two or three of them just unloaded on the top of that door.”

“I don’t really know where it went after that. The police got there. I was still glued to that door, what was left of it. The sun was up before they got me off it. They put me in a hospital for a while. A lot of people talked to me, but I didn’t talk back, not for a long, long time.”

“When I got back home, I got a job for the landlord, working on the farm. We didn’t talk much, not about the thing. But, I signed up for the army when I was nineteen, and he sat me down to drink some scotch as a send off. I asked him, right away, what the police told him. The story they went with was a wild animal, probably a wolf, or maybe a bear that had migrated north. I asked him how they could say that when they had the hand. He looks at me, stunned.”

“He tells me that hand never made it back to the station. The cop who had it in his car wrecked, drove into a tree, died on impact. The hand was never found, probably taken away by an animal. The cops, when they would acknowledge the hand existed at all, said it was simply the paw of a bear that looked like a human hand.”

“I never talked to the Landlord again. He went missing when I was in basic. Never found him. They said he owed some people some money and just ran away, but I don’t think its that simple. I never went back to those woods. I wouldn’t even if I had the whole goddamn US Army at my back.”

But that was a lie. When my mother died, I don’t think my father felt he had anything left, and that he might as well settle old scores. He went to those woods. He never came back. FBI was called, they did a show for everyone involved, but I knew they weren’t really looking. I had to get one drunk and slip him a few fifties before he finally told me that they get a few calls about those woods every year, about someone up and vanishing. But that was all he wanted to tell me. Before he got up and left with the rest of his team, he wrote “The Rake” onto a napkin. I didn’t know what I meant until I searched for it on the internet. Honestly, I would have rather not known.

Credit To – Max Minton

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The Sandman

June 17, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”
-Edgar Allen Poe, “Eleanora”

***

“Go to bed and wait for the Sandman.”

Even as it came out of James’ mouth it seemed to him a strange thing to say, and he was not sure why he had, but for some reason it worked: Daniel went to bed.

The next morning, though, he asked: “What does the Sandman look like?”

James was making breakfast. Daniel sat at the table, short legs swinging under his chair. “Nothing, really,” James said. “It’s just an expression.”

“What does it mean?”

“Just something people say.” He put a plate of eggs in front of Daniel and kissed him on the top of his head. He thought that would be the end of it.

Until he saw the Sandman for himself.

He was getting ready for bed and stopped by Daniel’s room to check on him while he slept, as he often did. It was such a routine precaution that when he saw a pale, naked man sitting on the edge of Daniel’s bed, rocking back and forth, it took a moment for him to process what he was seeing.

He reacted the way any father would, of course: He ran into the room screaming, and for a moment he thought about attacking the intruder, but then the man on the bed turned, and that’s when James saw that it wasn’t really a man: It was a pale, slithery thing, hairless and warped, its joints turned the wrong way and its body out of shape with itself. When it moved it was like an insane marionette dancing on a stage.

James froze. The skittering thing watched him. He felt spreading warmth, and he realized he’d pissed his pants. Only when he remembered that Daniel was still there in bed, staring at the broken-shaped thing sitting a foot away, did he regain the courage to move. He grabbed Daniel and ran. In the hall he turned to see if the thing would follow them, but it didn’t. For a moment it watched and then, moving like a stop-motion nightmare, it crawled to the window and jumped out, leaving only the billowing curtains to mark its passing.

James had trouble talking to the police. He reported a break-in, but when asked to describe the intruder he didn’t know what to say. How could he make the ordinary man in the blue uniform sitting at his kitchen table while two of his colleagues searched the house understand a thing like he’d seen? He couldn’t even understand it himself.

To make it worse, Daniel’s memory did not correspond to James': He described an ordinary looking burglar. “A man in a mask,” he said. James thought about it: Had it been a mask? No, it would had to have been a full costume, and an elaborate one, something like they would use for a movie. And that would not explain the way it moved…

But in the end he simply echoed his son’s testimony: “A man in a mask,” he said. “A burglar.” The lie unsettled him almost as much as what had happened.

The doctors said Daniel wasn’t hurt and showed no signs of molestation. James was relieved. They stayed at a motel for a couple nights until they felt ready to come home, and then James had a new security system installed, along with bars on the windows. He didn’t like the sight of them in Daniel’s room, but it seemed like the only thing to do.

James was frightened that first night back in the house, but Daniel, strangely, was not. When asked if he felt okay sleeping alone, he just said yes. In the end it was James who found himself wishing he were not sleeping alone. He was up all night listening for the sound of anything moving in the house. Although he had convinced himself that his memory was faulty and that it had been a normal (albeit probably deeply disturbed) man in his son’s room, when he closed his eyes even for a moment he pictured bloodless skin and a twisted, inhuman face. He found himself wondering, why my house? Why my family? He knew, of course, that there didn’t have to be a reason. But still, he wondered.

Two weeks later Daniel stopped talking. James didn’t notice at first; kids went through quiet phases sometimes. But eventually he tried to get Daniel to talk, and he wouldn’t. Eventually, it became clear that he couldn’t.

Back to the doctor they went. Nothing wrong with him that we can see, was the diagnosis. Was it the trauma, James asked? Could be, they said. Sometimes these things come on late. Children can be a mystery even to those who know them best. They recommended a child psychologist, whom James couldn’t afford. He could not, for that matter, even afford the bill they were giving him now.

Nothing seemed to help. Daniel would write out answers to questions sometimes, but never more than a yes or no. When James would ask him what was wrong, or if he’d seen or heard anything that frightened him, Daniel would only stare. He seemed furtive and bemused. James found himself missing the sound of his son’s voice. Sometimes he wanted to hear it so bad that he ached. But it seemed that Daniel would not talk again until he was ready.

James had other things to worry about, too. He was convinced, beyond reason, that the intruder was not really gone. Though the alarm never went off and the locks and bars remained undisturbed, he was sure that he heard movement in the night. Not normal movement: It was a sound like a huge snake slithering through the house. When he heard it, he imagined horrible things. Nothing was ever there when he went to investigate, though he often thought he glimpsed something just out the corner of his eye, a pale foot or a misshapen shadow that would slink away as soon as he turned.

He rarely slept, and when he did he had haunted dreams.

Soon he realized he had not left the house in weeks except to go to the bank and buy groceries. He felt hemmed in. With Daniel acting mute he hadn’t had an actual conversation with anyone in weeks, so he called his mother. The connection was bad and her voice sounded faint, on the verge of being not there at all. “I guess I’m okay, Ma,” he said, pausing to wipe the sweat from his palms and then make sure he could hear Daniel playing in the next room. “But things have been a little rough. We had a break-in.”

“Oh how awful!” Mom said. “Did they take anything?”

“Nah. Just ran off. It was weird though. I haven’t really felt comfortable since then.”

“Are you still working at that hospital?”

“No Ma, I left last year, you know that.”

“Oh. Well, have you been getting out? What about that nice woman you were seeing last year, the one who played the piano?”

James scowled. She was always asking that kind of thing. Didn’t she know how hard it was being a single father? That he didn’t have the time? He was about to say so when something made him pause.

“Ma, is there anyone else on the line?”

“I don’t think so?”

James was sure he heard it, though: the short, gasping sound of someone trying to hold their breath and failing. A cold feeling crept across the back of his neck. “You’re sure nobody is listening on your other phone?”

“Dear, there is no other phone, I’m on the cell, that’s why the service is so bad.”

“Then what is—” James stopped. If the sound wasn’t coming from her end, then…

He dropped the phone and raced to the hall. The extension hung on its hook, undisturbed. Heart pounding, he hurdled into the garage; the spare phone sat on the workbench. No one was in sight. But could they have been? Could someone have been here all along, listening to his phone call, and then slithered away? Might they be here even now?

The next day he took out the extra phone extensions. He even filled in the jacks with rubber cement. Daniel watched him work, eyes curious, but James offered no explanation.

He began giving Daniel a light physical exam every week. His CNA training was a little rusty after a year on disability, but you never really forget. It was an absurd thing to do, of course; even if there was a physical cause for Daniel’s behavior, it would be nothing he could discover this way. And he was aware on some level that it was compulsive behavior. Nevertheless, it made him feel better.

One morning James set the diaphragm of the stethoscope against Daniel’s chest, but he could not locate a heartbeat. He moved his hand in search of the right spot, to no avail. Then, to test it, he listened to his own heartbeat; it came through steady and clear. But when he checked Daniel again he didn’t hear anything. A thought came unbidden to him of the Tin Man in “The Wizards of Oz,” whose chest was empty as a kettle.

A sick feeling roiled his stomach. He threw the stethoscope down and grabbed Daniel by the shoulders, looking into his face. Daniel stared back with bright eyes. He even smiled a little, with the corners of his mouth. James felt the tingle of tears. He swept his son up in his arms and hugged him, and Daniel hugged back. Then James put his shirt back on him and sent him to play. The stethoscope, he decided, was broken. He threw it in the trash.

Things got worse. James’ terrors were no longer relegated to the long hours of the night. Now it seemed that some creeping, some skittering and scuttling, some unknowable noise in some dark corner or another, filled every second of his day. The thought of how big the house really was started to weigh on him: There were so many rooms he wasn’t in at any given time, so many places someone—or something—else could be. He imagined strange figures occupying the rest of his home when he wasn’t around, melting into the walls or merging with the shadows whenever he turned on a light or opened a door. How would he know if they were there? How would he ever know?

Soon he didn’t even have to be outside of a room to imagine it. When he walked up the stairs he pictured pale figures lurking beneath them. When he went down the hall he pictured a crawling thing slithering behind the walls, shadowing his every step. If he sat too long in the same chair he imagined that it was right behind him. And he was never comforted when he turned around and found nothing there, as he could only guess that meant it had moved, swiftly and silently, behind him once again. Wherever he was not looking right now, that was where he imagined it to be.

He was losing his mind, he knew. The only thing that helped him cling to sanity was that Daniel seemed undisturbed. Other than his muteness, his behavior was perfectly normal. And whenever he seemed to sense that his father was troubled he would hug him, or squeeze his hand, or even smile. Sometimes, when he left the room, James cried.

One night he found himself creeping around the house with no lights on at two o’clock in the morning. If the intruding thing had taken to violating his daytime activities then he would get revenge by confronting it on its own terms: the night. And really, night was no more frightening to him now than day. They were almost interchangeable.

He padded barefoot down the halls, up the stairs, in and out of disused rooms. Sometimes he stopped to listen, hoping to locate it by sound; it was a stealthy, creeping thing, he knew, but it was awkward at times, and it couldn’t always keep its strangely shaped limbs from making their distinct, irregular footsteps. The smallest noise would give it away…

There was one room he suspected it spent most of its time in: the spare bedroom. Not a bedroom at all, really, more like a closet just large enough to accommodate a bed if one were so inclined. It was unpainted and uncarpeted and drafty; he’d always meant to fix it up. He didn’t come in here very often because he disliked the bare, unused look of it. It made him think of a partially dissected corpse.

He came in now, though. If the thing made its nest any one place in the house, this would be it. Of course, there was nothing there now…but that didn’t mean there was nothing there.

He cursed, running a hand through his sweat-damp hair. What was he missing? How did it hide from him? What was its secret? He peered into the room’s empty corners one by one, getting his face a few inches from the plaster and floorboards so that he could be certain—certain!—that there was no space for it to conceal itself.

The light bulb flickered. He froze. My God, he thought….it’s on the ceiling! He pictured it crawling above him like a huge, pale lizard. That’s how it gets around, he thought, that’s how it escapes anytime I should have it cornered, it just scuttles up the wall and hides right over my head! He imagined it dangling down behind him like a spider. If I turn around, he thought, it will be there, hanging with its face right next to mine. He held his breath. He did not want to turn around, but he had no choice; it was between him and the door.

With a quiet sob, he rounded on his heels.

Of course, he was alone. There was no man on the ceiling; he checked twice. Maybe it crawled out and was waiting for him in the hall…but when he checked there the coast was once again clear. It should have been a relief, but it was not. After all, it had to be in here somewhere. If the ceiling was not its trick that just meant it was something else, something even more strange, even more clever…

He went to Daniel’s room. He had had not stopped checking on him at night, like he always had. This time, though, rather than open the door he listened at it first, pressing his ear against the grain of the cheap wood and holding his breath, terrified that he would hear a skittering sound on the other side of the barrier. What he heard instead shocked him more:

Daniel was talking to someone.

James recoiled for a second and then, when he’d caught his breath, he all but kicked the door in. Daniel was already awake, indeed, sitting up in bed, but he was not saying anything now. The light flashed on and James stalked halfway into the room before stopping, suddenly torn: What did he want more, to confirm that his son could speak again or to find whomever he was speaking to?

The creak of a door hinge settled the matter for him. He ran to the closet and threw it open: There was nothing inside, or at least, nothing that shouldn’t be there. He swept aside clothes on their hangars, but nothing was hiding between them. Then he dragged the toy box out and emptied it into the floor: Nothing. He combed along the bare walls and floor and, yes, the ceiling, pushing aside every last bit of rubbish and stray knick-knack so that he could be sure, absolutely sure, that nothing was hiding.

All the while Daniel watched him.

After a few minutes James was panting and covered in sweat and the closet was bare, and there were neither intruders nor answers inside. It struck him as funny, somehow, and he started to laugh, very quietly. He kicked his son’s toys out of the way as he went to sit down on the bed, dazed. He became aware, all at once, of several things, first being that he had not slept in days and was nowhere near his right mind. The second was how close he’d come to really losing it, for good.

Tomorrow, he decided, they would both sleep until the afternoon, and when they did wake up he and Daniel would get out of this creaky old house. No more staying cooped up like prisoners, and no more checkups, and no more dreams about monsters. He would even take the bars off the windows. It was time to get back to living like real people again. It was time to—

James saw it when he brushed a hand through Daniel’s hair. He pulled Daniel (a little too roughly) closer. His son acquiesced to the examination without fidgeting or complaint as James pawed the side of his head, hoping that what he was seeing would somehow stop being apparent. He stared and stared until he ached from not blinking, but there was no denying what was right in front of his eyes:

Daniel was missing an ear.

No, he realized with mounting nausea: both ears. There was no injury, no incision, no mark where they should have been, simply smooth, blank flesh. As blank as Daniel’s quiet, unperturbed demeanor.

James swept him up in his arms and ran into the hall. He was not sure where he was going or what he meant to do when he got there, he just knew that there was now nothing more important than getting his son out of that house. But their path was cut off: A naked man sat in the hallway with his back to them. No, not a man: James recognized its stretched limbs and stooped shoulders. The pale thing squatted on its haunches, rocking back and forth like it was palsied. It almost seemed to be in pain. James hugged his son closer and backed away. Then he heard Daniel’s voice: “dad-ee.”

James turned to Daniel, and he heard the voice again:

“dad-ee.”

But Daniel’s lips hadn’t moved.

James looked back at the hunched figure. Its head jerked when it talked, like a tic:

“hello. dad-ee.”

James’ mouth went dry. It took several tries before he could speak. “Don’t call me that.”

“it is. this voice’s name. for you.”

“Go away. Leave my family alone.”

“but i am. your family.”

The longer it talked the more the voice became distorted and blurred. An icy feeling nestled in James’ stomach. “Who are you?”

“someone. who came to visit.”

“Why here?”

“you. invited me.”

James’ heart thudded against the inside of his chest. “Why?”

“i had. something you wanted.”

James licked his dry lips. “You’re lying. You don’t have anything I want. I want you to leave. Leave, and never come back.”

“who. is. daniel’s. mother?”

James blinked. “What?”

“who. is. daniel’s. mother?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?”

“how. old. is. daniel?”

James blinked again. The thing’s voice caused a pinching pain in the center of his forehead. “Stop asking me these things.”

“when. is. daniel’s. birthday?”

“…I don’t know.”

“what. is. his. middle. name?”

“Shut up.”

“what. was. his. first word?”

“I said shut up!” James wanted to tear the thing apart with his bare hands. Only the heaviness of Daniel in his arms kept him where he was.

“you were. alone. you wanted. a son. so i. made one. for you.”

James’ hands began to shake. “That doesn’t make sense. Made out of what?”

“out of. myself.”

James’ stomach turned over.

“but now. i need those parts. back.”

Daniel picked at James’ shoulder to get his attention. Something was strange about Daniel’s face. “Danny? Open your eyes.”

Daniel scrunched his eyes shut tighter.

“Open your eyes. Danny? Danny. Open your eyes. Open your eyes!”

Daniel shook his head, trying to refuse, but he couldn’t hold it forever. Eventually his eyelids flicked up and James saw the truth.

Daniel’s eyes were gone.

James almost dropped him. For a second he wanted to throw his son down so that he could stop looking into those empty holes in his face. Daniel opened his mouth, as if to speak, but of course, he had no voice.

“he is coming back. to be part of me. again.”

“No. No, no, no, give him back, give him back!”

“i. cannot. it has been. too long. i warned you. this. would happen.”

“You’re lying! You’re lying, you’re a fucking liar, give me my son back, give him back!”

“i. do not lie. i. warned you. he could not exist forever. but you. do not remember. you. can only remember. what i want you to. you forget. all the times. we have talked.”

Daniel felt like a doll, or an empty bag. His hair was falling out, disappearing before it touched the ground. His hands vanished into his sleeves and his feet rolled up inside his pants cuffs. James cradled the tiny, shapeless thing. Tears streamed down his face. Soon he held a pile of empty clothes, and then those too were gone.

He looked around the house; toys disappeared, photos vanished from their frames, Daniel’s little shoes were no longer by the door. James turned toward Daniel’s room and confronted a wall where the door should be. He groped the blank surface, fingertips scrambling. He hit his head against the wall. The pain didn’t feel real. “Why did you do this?”

“it was. what you wanted. and i learned. so much.”

“This is impossible. People will ask, people will wonder: the police, the hospitals, the people in the neighborhood!”

“they. have already. forgotten him. they only. remembered. what i wanted them to. like you.”

James pressed his hands to his aching skull. “Will I at least remember him after this?”

“you. can try. but your mind. will fail you. now that everything. he was. is part of me. again.”

James sat on the floor, looking at the blank wall. Out the corner of his eye he saw the thing creep toward him and even felt its wet hand on his shoulder, but he did not look at it.

“If I won’t remember any of this,” he said, “then why tell me?”

“because. a father. should know.”

And then James was alone.

***

Abigail worried about James sometimes.

When they met a year ago, he said that he’d never been married and he’d never had kids, but there was a certain pained expression he assumed when he said the last part. Abigail knew that look: She’d met parents who lost children before. You learned to recognize it.

And there were other things about him that worried her too. Sometimes she would find him staring at a particular spot on the wall, brow furrowed in concentration. He did not seem to realize he was doing it. And of course there was the insomnia, and the sleepwalking to consider too. Yes, there was lots to worry about. But she loved him all the same.

James still said he’d never had kids, and neither had she. She’d long wanted one, but it was impossible, and she worried that James wouldn’t stay with a woman who couldn’t be a mother (though he constantly assured her that it was not so). There were times—and more and more often of late they were the nights when James took to sleepwalking, and even Abigail imagined that she heard strange, scuttling noises in the house and saw impossible shapes in dark corners—when she thought she would do anything, absolutely anything, if it meant having a little daughter for she and James to raise.

And at those moments, she became truly afraid. But she never knew why.

Credit To – Tam Lin

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The Vigil

June 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“What is sleep but the image of death?”
-Ovid, “Amorum”

***

Mayet sat in the big chair and looked out the window. The curtains were drawn, so there was nothing to see, but she looked anyway. She could hear them talking in the next room. They’d left the door open, so they must have wanted her to hear. “She doesn’t sleep,” Mayet’s mother was saying. “Not more than a few hours at a time, and even then only if I’m in the room with her.

“Last week I left for a minute to make tea and when she woke up and found me gone she started screaming. I’ve never heard anyone scream like that.”

The doctor cleared her throat. “How long has this been going on?”

“Weeks.”

“Has your family physician seen her?”

“Yes. He even prescribed something, but she won’t take it. That’s why he told us to call you. Can you help?”

“We won’t know until I talk to her. I’ll go introduce myself.”

“Should I come with you?”

“It’s better if you don’t. But you can listen.”

“If you’re sure…”

“This is what I do, Ms. Bautista. Let me work.”

Mayet heard footsteps on the carpet. She sensed, without turning around, the doctor’s presence just behind her, and her mother hovering in the doorway. She said nothing. The doctor sat on the floor next to her chair. “Hello Mayet,” she said.

Mayet raised a hand in a half-salutatory gesture.

“It’s nice to meet you. I’ve been talking to your mother and some of your friends; a lot of people are worried about you. They think I can help. If we talk a little we can see if they’re right.”

Mayet fidgeted with her fingers; they were feeling sluggish and tingly. It was something that happened whenever she was going on the third day with no sleep. She licked her lips before speaking: “Are you a psychiatrist?”

“No. There’s not really a job title for what I do. You could call me a kind of counselor. I work with teens who are refusing conventional treatment for their problems.”

“You’re here to make me take the pills.”

“I’m here to find out what’s bothering you, and hopefully find a way to fix it. I’m not here to make you do anything you don’t want to. So can we talk a little?”

Mayet shrugged.

“Why don’t you tell me why you’re afraid to sleep?”

“I’m not afraid to sleep. I’d love to sleep. It’s all I can think about.”

“That’s good.”

“I’m afraid to wake up.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Because of the man who watches me.”

“…what man?”

Mayet shook her head. The light coming through the curtains was hurting her eyes, though there wasn’t much of it. “He’s not a man, really. He doesn’t even look like a man. He looks like some kind of…dead animal. And he comes into my room and watches me sleep, unless someone else is here.”

“I see. And what makes you think this?”

Mayet turned to look at the doctor for the first time, to give her a disgusted look. “Because I wake up and find him here. And because I’m not the only one. My friends…he got them all.”

The doctor frowned. “Tell me about it?” she said.

Mayet shrugged and turned away again. “I’ve already told everyone. I guess I can tell you too; it won’t make any difference.” She sighed. “It started with Brianne.”

“Your mother mentioned her. She was your best friend.”

“Not really. Not for a while. But we still talked. She was the first person to tell me about it. It was a kind of ghost story, you know? She read it on the Internet. About a…thing, that comes into people’s homes.”

“And does what?”

“Nothing, really. Just watches you. People will wake up and see it there.”

“Then what?”

“The stories don’t say. Sometimes it hurts someone, but other times it just watches. But they say that’s actually the worst part. That when you wake up and find it there, and you know that it’s been watching you, you’re never the same.”

“Sounds scary. But people have always told stories like that.”

“That’s what I said. Brianne was freaked about it though; it’s almost all she would talk about for weeks until we told her to shut up about it already. That story really scared her, you know?”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“Me and Jan.”

“Jan. Your mother mentioned him, too.”

“I’ll bet she did. Anyway, Brianne was all worked up about this story for a while, and then she dropped it. Or we thought she did. Then she missed a few days of school, and when we saw her again she looked like shit. We thought she was sick, but she said no, that she just hadn’t been sleeping. Because she said she saw it.”

“It? You mean the creature from the stories?”

“Yeah. She said she woke up and found it sitting on her bed, just like people said. She said she screamed and it crawled away, and her parents woke up and the police came, and nothing was there.

“But then the next night, when she woke up…”

“It was there again.”

Mayet nodded.

“Did you believe Brianne?”

“No. It’s a stupid story, and the fact that she’d been talking about it for so long before it supposedly happened? We thought she just wanted attention.”

“Hmm. Your mother says she thinks Brianne was into drugs. Is that why you two weren’t such good friends anymore?”

Mayet bit her lip.

“I see. Did you tell anyone about this?”

“We didn’t have to. Brianne told everyone. She said she needed someone to help her, but she didn’t know who, or how. The entire school thought she’d lost her mind. She was missing class, fighting with her parents, staying up four, five days at a time. Not because she was scared to sleep, but because she was scared to wake up.”

“How did you feel about this?”

“Fucking embarrassed. How else was there to feel?”

“And how long did this go on?”

“A month? Maybe a little longer, I don’t really remember. By the end Brianne wasn’t talking to much of anyone. She’d given up.”

“Do you remember the last time you spoke with her?”

“Her parents asked me to talk to her. To help them make her come around. I didn’t want to, but they were so upset I couldn’t say no, so I went to her room. She was sitting by the window, staring at nothing. She was all skinny and pale, like a ragdoll. I sat next to her and I told her to get help. I begged her.”

“What did she say?”

“She told me…” Mayet stopped, flinched, then started again. “She said it was too late. She kept saying something like…’It’s because of his eyes. When I wake up and look into those eyes, I know things.’ And I asked her, ‘What things?’ And she said, ‘Terrible things.’ And then she just lost it. She was crying all over me. I hugged her and we cried for a long time.”

“You two must have been very close before all this.”

Mayet said nothing. The doctor paused for a respectful moment before going on.

“So what happened after that?”

“Things got a little better. Her parents thought I’d actually helped her. I was relieved.”

“And then?”

Mayet looked away. “She snuck into one of the locker rooms after school. They found her…hanging from a showerhead.”

The doctor squeezed Mayet’s hand, once.

“We thought that was the end of it, you know? But then Jan started.”

“Jan was your boyfriend?”

Mayet shook her head.

“Your mother says he was. She said he was another thing that came between you and Brianne. That you’d fought over him.”

“My mom says a lot of things.”

“All right. What happened with Jan?”

“He was pretty out of it after Brianne died. Everyone was, but he took it the worst. I spent a lot of time at his place; his parents are never around, and I didn’t want him to be alone.”

“Was he drinking?”

“Mom just never shuts up, does she?” Mayet sneered. “Yeah, he was drinking. So what? Who wouldn’t? That wasn’t the part that worried me.”

“…he started seeing it too, didn’t he?”

Mayet nodded. Then she began to cry. She smothered her face in the back of the chair, so that her voice was barely audible. “He came to me after the first morning. He was a wreck. He told me, ‘It’s all true. We should have believed her.’ He felt guilty, you know? Like we made it happen by not believing her.”

“Is that why he thought the creature came to him? As a kind of punishment?”

Mayet looked at her hands for a while. “He didn’t say so. But it makes sense.”

“Did you tell anyone that Jan was troubled?”

“A teacher. I wouldn’t, normally, but I was scared he’d do the same thing as Brianne.”

“Did he?”

“No. I don’t think so. He just disappeared.”

“Disappeared?”

“He ran away. After a week he couldn’t take it anymore, and he sent me an email telling me he was going. He said he didn’t think he could get away from whatever it was, but he had to try. And he said…” Mayet stopped talking. In the corner, the old clock ticked a minute off. Mayet’s mother quietly sobbed in the doorway. Eventually, without prompting, she went on. “He told me he was scared for me. Scared…that it would come for me next.”

The doctor’s expression gave nothing away. She drummed her fingers against the carpet, in time with the clock. “And did it?”

Mayet shifted in her chair. “For a while, I would get emails from Jan. Never very long, just telling me he was all right, that he was keeping moving. Then one day they stopped. I haven’t gotten one in over a month now.”

“What do you think that means?”

“I don’t know. But I do think that it was following him. And that whatever was happening to him, it’s not anymore. Because the same time he stopped writing…” her voice cracked, “was the first time I saw it.”

She turned and looked the doctor fully in the face for the first time. Her eyes were red; from crying, and from never sleeping.

“It was three o’clock in the morning, and I don’t know what woke me up, but he was sitting right there, right next to where you are now.”

“Here? Not on the bed?”

“Not that time. Not yet. He was naked, and rocking back and forth. He looked like he was hurt or something. He’s all pale, like one of those blind fish that live in caves. And there’s something wrong about the way his arms and legs and neck move.”

“Did you see his face?”

“Not the first night. The first night he just crawled away. And I sat there in bed, hugging my sheets, and I cried and cried. I cried because I’d never believed it, and now I’d seen it, and I couldn’t stand what that meant.”

“Did you tell anybody?”

“No. I knew what they’d think. Because it was exactly what I’d thought, you know? At first I just hoped that it would go away.”

“But it didn’t.”

“No. I woke up the second night and he was standing right next to my bed. His back was still turned, but he was standing over me. And the night after that I finally saw him face to face. And Brianne was right: The eyes are the worst thing. Once you’ve seen those eyes…oh God, the things I saw…”

Mayet’s mother sobbed louder, and then she walked away, crying. Neither Mayet nor the doctor watched her go.

“After that I knew there was no getting away. Brianne tried to get help and Jan tried to run, and neither worked. So the only thing I could think to do was just not sleep.”

“Because he only comes when you sleep.”

“Yeah. So if I never sleep, I’ll never see him again.”

“But you can’t stay awake forever.”

“I know. It’s not a very good plan, but the way I figure, it’s just like dying: You know it’ll happen someday, but you just try to go as long as you can. Someday I’ll fall asleep again and there’ll be nobody around and then I’ll wake up and he’ll be there. Even if I went to the hospital or something, I think he’d still find me, and he’d find a moment when nobody else was there. You have to be alone sometime, right? I can’t stop it. But I can put it off for as long as I can. I can do that much, right?”

The doctor didn’t say anything.

“So that’s why I won’t take the pills. And I won’t go to sleep on my own. That would be giving up. And I’m not going to give up.”

“Because you owe it to Jan and Brianne not to give up.”

Mayet shrugged. The doctor was quiet for some time. Then she stood, brushed off her slacks, and took something out of her purse: a bottle of pills, and a small bottle of water.

“Mayet, you’ve been through a lot. More than anyone your age should have to deal with. You need more help than I can give you. Even your mother can’t help you through this all on her own. But we both want to help you. Do you believe that?”

At first it didn’t seem like Mayet was going to reply, but then she nodded.

“The first step, I think, is up to you. These pills are over-the-counter. Your mother has a prescription from your doctor for something stronger, if you need it. You don’t have to take them, but I want you to think about something: The sooner you fall asleep, and the sooner you wake up again, the sooner you’ll see that there’s nothing to be afraid of. That this man in the night doesn’t exist.”

“Then why do I see him?”

“There are a lot of reasons why we see things that aren’t there. Especially when we expect to. Fear can do that; so can grief, and guilt. But I think, deep down, you know that he’s not real, and now that we’ve had this talk a part of you has acknowledged that. I think that the next time you wake up, you’ll see that for yourself. And that’ll be the first step toward taking your life back.”

The doctor stepped away. She left the pills on the arm of the chair.

“It’s up to you. I think that, with your mother and your doctor’s help, you’ll make it through this no matter what. But I also think the sooner you start, the easier it’ll be for you. Think about the morning after, Mayet. Think about how good it’ll be. I want you to do that for me. And for you.”

Then she left. Mayet was alone. There was no more light coming through the curtain. Her room was growing dark. She turned on her side, looking at the little orange bottle and the water. The back of her throat hurt.

And she listened very, very carefully, for what she knew was there: the skittering sound of pale, hairless flesh sliding along the ground, and the gentle, almost imperceptible thump of misshapen limbs scrambling over each other. Was he here, even now? Had he been in the room, hidden, all this time, even while she was awake? Sometimes she thought he was. He could even be right behind her chair, standing over her, watching her, ready to glide away or melt through the wall the moment anyone else came in but always, always there.

Mayet felt cold. She curled up into a ball, trembling, clutching at her hair. The doctor was wrong. Deep down inside, she knew that the Rake was real. And that the next time she saw him, it would be worse than dying.

She laid out on her bed, watching the shadows crawl over the ceiling. She squeezed the pills in one hand, the water bottle in the other. She shook two into her mouth, grimacing as she swallowed; she’d always hated taking pills. Then she took two more. And two more. She kept taking them until there were no more, washing them down with the tasteless water from the plastic bottle. She wanted out, but she didn’t want to do it like Brianne; she just wanted to go to sleep. To go to sleep and never wake up seemed the only way of winning; the only way to cheat him, somehow.

She was already feeling drowsy. She thought of her mother and a pang of guilt went through her, but it was too late now. The shadows on the ceiling swallowed the room, and her vision blurred at the edges. For a moment she thought she saw something, a malformed silhouette stooped over her, with a cold, wet hand reaching for her face…

But then there was nothing, and she slept.

***

The doctor sat at the kitchen table, a cooling mug of tea in her hand. Mayet’s mother sat across from her, drinking hers. Her eyes had dried. “Thank you,” she said.

“I’m glad to help,” the doctor said. “I think she’ll take them. We can’t say for sure, of course, but I think she will. The important thing is that it’s her decision.”

“I suppose,” said Mayet’s mother. She turned her head at the sound of something moving in the hall, but nothing was there. She shivered without knowing why. “I really don’t feel right about it, though. I hate trying to just knock her out with pills. I never liked those things.”

“Well, there’s no need to feel guilty about these ones,” the doctor said, downing her tea in one gulp.

“Why is that?” Mayet’s mother said. There was that sound again, like something fumbling with a door, but there was still nothing there.

The doctor grinned. “Ms. Bautista, there’s nothing in those pills. They’re just a placebo.

“Mayet will wake up in the morning, right as rain.”

Credit To – Tam Lin

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The Rake

April 27, 2009 at 6:30 AM
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During the summer of 2003, events in the northeastern United States involving a strange, humanlike creature sparked brief local media interest before an apparent blackout was enacted. Little or no information was left intact, as most online and written accounts of the creature were mysteriously destroyed.

Primarily focused in rural New York state, self proclaimed witnesses told stories of thier enounters with a creature of unkown origin. Emotions ranged from extremely traumatic levels of fright and discomfort, to an almost childlike sense of playfulness and curiosity. While their published versions are no longer on record, the memories remained powerful. Several of the involved parties began looking for answers that year.

In early 2006, the collaboration had accumulated nearly two dozen documents dating between the 12th century and present day, spanning 4 continents. In almost all cases, the stories were identical. I’ve been in contact with a member of this group and was able to get some exceprts from their upcoming book.

The Rake

A Suicide Note: 1964

As I prepare to take my life, I feel it necessary to assuage any guilt or pain I have introduced through this act. It is not the fault of anyone other than him. For once I awoke and felt his presence. And once I awoke and saw his form. Once again I awoke and heard his voice, and looked into his eyes. I cannot sleep without fear of what I might next awake to experience. I cannot ever wake. Goodbye.

Found in the same wooden box were two empty envelopes addressed to William and Rose, and one loose personal letter with no envelope.

‘Dearest Linnie,
I have prayed for you. He spoke your name.’

A Journal Entry (translated from Spanish): 1880

I have experience the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I see his eyes when I close mine. They are hollow. Black. They saw me and pierced me. His wet hand. I will not sleep. His voice (unintelligible text).

A Mariner’s Log: 1691

He came to me in my sleep. From the foot of my bed I felt a sensation. He took everything. We must return to England. We shall not return here again at the request of the Rake.

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