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It started when I was nine. I had always had an active imagination, making up stories to get attention. One time when I was five I had been playing outside and I ran in and told my dad that a man had pulled up and asked me to get in his car. This quickly unraveled when my dad pointed out that I had been playing in the fenced in back yard. Another time when I was eight, I said I had seen a wolf in the woods behind my house. Yeah, I was literally the boy who cried wolf. No, no, even better… I was the boy who lived in Orlando, FL, where no wolves were anywhere to be found, who cried wolf. So it was no surprise my parents didn’t believe me when I started telling them ghost stories. The only thing was, this time, I wasn’t lying. I remember going to the bathroom once, and this figurine my mom had on the back of the toilet slid off the tank and literally hovered off the ground just in my peripheral vision, and then right as I fully looked at it, it dropped. I came running out of the bathroom, pants still around my ankles, screaming the whole way. My mom said I was bored and trying to “create excitement”. My dad said I was trying to find someone to blame for breaking the figurine.
Maybe two months later my mom came flying into my room, anger visible on her face. The picture frame on the counter had been knocked over and the head of the little decorative mouse had broken off, and was now gone. She demanded to know when I broke it, and for me to give her back the head. I denied having anything to do with it, so she grounded me indefinitely, saying I would be out of trouble once I gave her back the mouse’s head. I was grounded for two weeks before she gave up. She was angry, but said she had to hand it to me. I was very stubborn. I laughed, but it was not stubbornness. It was the fact that I really hadn’t done it, and was just as confused as my parents were. Years later, looking back at this event, I know what broke the frame. It was the same thing that knocked over that figurine.
Things like this continued for several years. Stuff would randomly go missing, or move from where it had been. It wasn’t always small things, either. I used to sleep with my bed pushed up against the wall. I liked sleeping right in the corner made by my bed and the wall. I remember one morning I woke up and my bed was pulled two inches away from the wall. By the time I was twelve, I was used to things disappearing. I knew not to stress it, because ultimately they would come back. But then the voice came. I would lie in bed at night and I could hear a voice talking. It sounded like it was coming from behind a window; in fact at first I thought it was my neighbor sitting on his back porch. Often he sat outside smoking a cigarette, relaxing in the cool night breeze. But when I had heard it every night for a few nights in a row, I finally looked outside and realized there was no one there. I couldn’t locate the source of the voice, and I couldn’t fully make out what it was saying. It was like a low murmur. All I knew was it was only audible from my room. I knew it was crazy, but it sounded like it was coming from within my wall. I would also get the feeling that I was being watched. I could actually feel someone right in my face. It wasn’t like I could feel them breathing, or anything, I could just, you know, feel them. I knew they were there. But I couldn’t see them. This went on for years. Another thing was I started craving chocolate. Like, a lot. If I wasn’t a boy, you could chalk it up to having my period or something. But I was a boy. And the cravings also lasted for more than a few days. In fact, couldn’t shake the cravings.
One night I was listening to the murmuring. It had gotten louder over time, but that night it was also noticeably clearer, as if the sound was somehow closer. Then all at once, it went silent. Then I heard a thump. Then another. And then one more. It seemed to be coming from under the bed. I know, right? How cliché. A monster under the bed, oh no… right? This is why I was slightly smiling as I leaned over and slowly pulled the bed skirt up. The hand grabbed me so fast that I was under the bed before I had even stopped smiling. My scream was muffled by another hand clasping my mouth, and I felt myself being pulled down and through the carpet into darkness. I became extremely nauseous and then passed out. I came to in complete darkness, not even able to see my hand in front of my face. The only thing I could see was the flames of a fire in the distance. Somehow, as big as the fire appeared to be, I noticed it wasn’t casting any light. But it was emitting heat. Even though the flames were still a good distance away, I could feel it on my face, like when you’re sitting too close to a bonfire. I walked towards the flames, almost instinctively, like a moth drawn to a bug zapper. Once I got closer, I was able to see that there wasn’t just one fire, but dozens of them. No, hundreds. I suddenly came to the realization that I wasn’t afraid, and that in itself unnerved me.
“John,” a voice called out. “Welcome.” I looked around and suddenly could see. It wasn’t any less dark than before, but yet I could see clear as day. And I also abruptly became aware of my own being. I felt, different. Malevolent. Looking around, I could now see that each fire was being stoked by someone. I was surrounded by hundreds of people, each one shoveling what looked like ash into their fire. The ashy material seemed to be endless. Each shovelful of ash lifted up was immediately replaced before the shovel was barely even off the ground. “I see you’ve noticed our fire chamber,” the voice continued. I turned and saw a huge man sitting on a throne. That hadn’t been there a second ago.
“Who are you?” I asked. “Where am I?”
“The In-between,” a new voice answered. I turned and saw another being. This one was smaller. “And he is our king, the King of the In-between.”
“In-between? In between what? What is this place?” I continued pressing for answers. I didn’t want to know the name of the place; I wanted to know what it was.
“Have you ever had a bad dream? Or felt afraid for no reason? Have you ever felt watched?” This one got me. “Well those feelings come from here. We are the embodiment of all things evil. We are not dead, and we are not alive.”
“So what do you want from me? Why am I here,” I asked.
“You’re to be my replacement.” I didn’t like where this was heading. “I once walked above like you. I was young when I first noticed something was weird. I would see shadows with no one there to cast them. I would hear voices with no people around to talk. Things would happen around my house, things I would get blamed for, but didn’t do. By my teens, I could virtually feel the presence of someone around me. And I started craving chocolate. Really badly. To this day we still don’t know why that happens. One night, my closet slid open, as it had been doing for months. I got up to close it, and was pulled inside, through my clothes, through the wall, to this place. I’d been here for 27 years, 27 long, hard years. But after you’ve been here long enough, after you’ve done your time, you can begin looking for a replacement. I looked for years, but couldn’t find any openings. I even went back to my old room, but that opening was long since sealed. You see, openings aren’t attached to locations. They’re attached to people. They start as a weak point between the Above and the In-between. Then, with careful attention and constant prodding, the weak spot becomes an opening. After years of looking for a weak spot, I stumbled onto you. I immediately went to work. And now, after I show you the ropes, you’ll replace me and I’ll finally be free to return to the Above.”
Down here, the concept of time is lost. I spent the next few days, or maybe weeks, or months, learning how things work. The first few years you’re here, you do nothing but keep the flames going. You’re assigned a fire and you have to keep it burning. These fires are the lifeblood of the In-between. After a while you’re promoted, for lack of a better word, to Dream Dweller. You are responsible for nightmares. You inhabit the dreams of young and old, and fill them with horrors. The Dream Dwellers work in a room with a big screen in front of us that looks like a giant galaxy. Within this galaxy is the mind of every sleeping person in the world. We choose at random some poor soul, and then fill his slumber with fears. A few more years and you get to be a Dark Monger. Your job is to cast fear onto people, causing anxiety. You make people nervous, and give them that feeling of unease. That job was almost fun. You know when you have to check your alarm 10 times before finally going to sleep because you’re positive it’s somehow set to the wrong time? That’s a Dark Monger at work. Or when you are in the shower and feel like you’re being watched even though you know you aren’t? Thank a Dark Monger for that one, too.
Finally, you’re at the highest job. You’re a Luna. You now have free roam of the Above. Well, you’re still tied to the In-between, so when you’re in the Above, obviously it’s as a Luna. You’re still not alive, you still can’t be seen, or clearly heard. But you can roam freely in the Above, moving from place to place, free of the confines of the worldly body you had when you once resided there, all those years ago. All chaos, disorder, or otherwise negative things in the Above are caused by people with this job. That man that went crazy and shot everyone he lived with? One of us was whispering in his ear, “Do it. Pick up the gun.” The lady who jumps in front of a train? We might as well have pushed her. All insanity is caused by us. All irrational anger, our doing. And we also do small things. You ever forget a word you know that you know? Just can’t think of it, even though it’s on the tip of your tongue? That’s us. Ever know you heard one thing, then have it turn out to be false, like you know you’re supposed to meet up at noon, but then you get there to find out it was really 1:00? And you know they said noon, you just know it, but everyone else says it was always 1:00. Yep, that was us, too. As a Luna, each time you return to the In-between, you almost crave your next time wreaking havoc in the Above.
Finally, after an eternity down here, they told me I could begin looking for my replacement. It took 4 years before I found a weak spot. It was so faint I hardly noticed it. I began to work it over, using all the tricks I knew. With every deed I do to the opening’s host, the opening itself grows stronger, the barricade between our worlds, weaker. I made things disappear all around the house. I caused trouble to no end. Fear weakens the gap between our worlds, loosens the locks keeping the weak spot closed. Sleepless nights when there was no chance of getting even an hour’s rest. Homework randomly going missing. Strange voices. The fear slowly taking its toll. It’s been 7 years, but I’m close. Tonight, I should be fully broken through. Tonight, all of my work will have paid off. So why am I writing this? Well, a part of me has grown accustomed to my new life. I’ve grown to almost savor the chaos I can cause with just a snap of my fingers. But part of me, the part still left over from when I walked the Above as one of you, the part of me that still longs to once again return to the Above and be fully alive once more; part of me knows what I do is wrong. Yes, this is my job- no, more! This is my life! But I still have an awareness of guilt. So I guess you could say this is my attempt to clear my conscience. But this is also more than that. You see, to most of you reading this, this will just be another scary story. But to one of you, this is my warning. So here we go: You are my replacement. The culmination of all my efforts will be coming together tonight. The weak spot is almost broken through, and I can practically smell the fresh air of the Above. Tonight, Dear Replacement, will be your final night in the Above for a very long time. I didn’t feel right pulling you under without at least giving you a chance. But now as I sit here watching you come to the end of this story, my story, I feel I have done my duty to adequately warn you. As I watch you reading my words, I know that the time has finally drawn imminent. So, how do you know if you’re that one unlucky person to whom this is more than just a story? How do you know if this warning is meant for you? Well, you just have to ask yourself one question. Do you ever crave chocolate?