Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
It was the Christmas season. It had just gotten dark, as I was finally able to leave the office that night after working overtime. The streets were damp from the heavy rain; it had been an unusually warm winter. I stopped downtown for some Christmas shopping for the kids, just some last-minute shopping before everything closed. When I first arrived, it was impossible to find a parking spot on the square, so I had to park a good three or four blocks away. I finished my shopping after an hour, got a few toys for the kids from some of the local stores, and I began to walk back to my car. My feet squeaked and splashed against the dampened sidewalk with each passing step. The air was chilled that evening; fortunately, I remembered to wear my trench-coat that night. It was still cold as hell, but I pressed onward nonetheless to my car down the wreath covered light poles, blinking colored lights and dancing Santas in the store windows.
The shopping bags in hand, I soon came upon a darkened alley. I didn’t think much of it; it was like any other alley, why bother thinking about it? Besides, I’ve seen plenty of movies to know that going down a darkened alley at night was a terrible idea. It wasn’t so much the ambiance which frightened me, but what I heard. I tried to ignore it at first, as I got to my car just further down the street away from the alley, and then put the bags away in the backseat, but the sounds coming from the alley were so loud I could still hear them. It sounded like two men arguing with each other, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. One voice was clearly more dominant one than the other, as it was louder and angrier while the other was meeker, falling practically silent against the sounds of Christmas music blasting from the radios and the roars of car engines far in the distance. I couldn’t explain it, all I can say was that curiosity got the better of me, and I walked up back the street and down the alleyway.
I pulled my iPhone from out of my coat pocket to use as a flashlight since the lights in the alley didn’t work for some weird reason. They were there, all intact and in a row, but none of the lights were on. Then I was then taken by complete surprise as the phone lit up a gruesome face. I immediately slapped my free hand over my mouth to silence the sudden gasp, but then, once I calmed down, I realized it wasn’t real. It was just graffiti, plastered onto the damped, red brick wall to my left was a face. I sighed in relief after realizing what it was, but even that didn’t ease me. Artistically, it was good, really good, but it was so damn grotesque. The picture was of a man, as he was being dragged down to Hell by the skin of his face. The skin was being pulled down and off by a beastly, clawed hand reaching out from a crack in the ground, peeling their skin halfway down their face and revealing the bloodied skull underneath, covered in red muscle tissue. The claws on the long, fur-covered fingers dug into the scalp, blood squirting and shooting out from everywhere. I can still remember the eyes bulging out from their sockets, the intricate lines which made up the blood vessels in the eyeballs, every muscle fiber painted and stretched so… accurately. The man’s right hand shot out from beneath the ground, still struggling for freedom. It was truly of great detail, very grotesque detail. It was too realistic. It nearly made me gag, the longer I looked at it.
When I panned the light of my phone back down the alley, I discovered there was more graffiti, each as gruesome was the next. There was one of a woman being skinned alive by a shadowy figure with a meat clever; there was another of a man being stabbed with dozens of knives, as blood sprayed out of the wounds in graphic detail. There was even one of a woman in an old purple dress, hung upside-down, as a large saw came down between her legs, slicing her in two, as blood poured out from the cut. I was beginning to feel sick, as I gagged at the sight of each “masterpiece,” but I pressed onward, and the voices grew louder. Thinking back on it, however, it was weird how each of those disgusting pieces of ‘art’ was under a non-working light down the alley.
I turned a corner in the back of the alley, peeked over the edge of a dumpster, and spotted two darkened figures in the shadows, standing in a space behind two or three buildings. One man was taller and skinnier. The tattered white shirt he was wearing was old and ragged and had holes in it. He was not dressed for the weather, as he shook and shivered to the cold, but he was constantly scratching his left arm furiously and nervously. That made me think this guy was an addict of some kind. He had all the telltale signs of withdrawal. If his clothes didn’t give that away, his sunken, bloodshot eyes and blackened crow’s feet did. This man I saw clearly because of the one working light in the alley, which was right above the two men. I never saw the other man’s face. His back was to me, but his silhouette was clear to see. He wore a heavy winter coat with a thick-cut beanie. He was shorter than the addict; if I were to guess, maybe five-foot-five, maybe five-foot-six. The taller man was pleading to him, practically begging for something, probably a fix, but the shorter, shadowy man was having none of it, as he just stood there silently. I clearly remember what they said.
“Come on, Joe, you know I’m good for it,” the taller man pleaded in a hushed, whiney tone.
The shorter man, this Joe guy, finally looked up at him, but then shook his head, a puff of warm air escaping his lips, “I’m sorry, Jake, you know the rules. I gave you a month to pay back the 500 bucks I lend you. That month ran out yesterday. Now, where’s my money?”
I remember Jake running his fingers through ear-length black hair before he said, “Look, Joe, you gotta believe me. It’s been a slow month…”
But Joe wasn’t having any of it. He cut Jake off before he could spew another excuse, “Don’t give me that shit, Jake! Everybody knows you’ve been keeping some of the product for yourself. Just look at you, you piece of shit! You look terrible.”
“Please, Joe, you gotta believe me. Just give me another chance.”
I heard Joe inhale loudly, and saw his hand go up to his face, as if to rub his eyes in annoyance. The memory is so clear in my mind. I saw this “Joe” put both hands on his hips and shake his head again.
“I’m sorry, Jake, but you knew what happens to people who disappoint me, but you pulled this shit anyway, like the moron you are. For that, I’m afraid you won’t be making it to Christmas this year,” Joe replied, as he raised a hand, removed a glove, and slowly, ever so slowly, reached for Jake.
Jake backed up against the wall, pleading, shouting and begging for Joe to stop. Oh, god, I still have nightmares about this part. In my dreams, I can still see the look of fear on Jake’s face as Joe backed him against the wall. He was pleading for his life, and Joe just gave him… a gentle shove on the chest? I was confused at first by what I saw. Jake was afraid of a slight push? A gentle shove? I mean, that doesn’t exactly sound like the most threatening of punishments, right? That was what I thought before I saw Jake slide up a good five feet or so, as if picked up by some invisible force. I stared as Jake screamed and shrilled, pinned against the wall. Only his head squirmed about.
I then saw Jake dissolve right before my eyes, the single working light in the alley illuminating the whole ordeal. Jake was turning into paint on the wall, bubbling and boiling as he screamed in pain and anguish. My heart sank into my stomach, and I thought my eyes were going to fall out, they felt so wide. The edges of Jake’s silhouette boiled with what looked like multi-colored bubbles, as he sunk into the wall with a loud hiss of steam, like a hiss of a boiling teapot. I couldn’t breathe; I just couldn’t breathe, as I saw Jake, a man I never knew, become a painting on the wall, a literal damn painting on the wall.
Within moments, Jake was just a picture on the wall, the fear on his face immortalized for anyone to see. Joe was quiet, but large exhales of warm air burst out, as he raised his right arm to point at the wall with his index finger. Joe then began to move his hand counterclockwise in, if I remember correctly, circular motions. I was so confused at first as to what the hell was he doing, but to my shock, Jake’s body then began to move with Joe’s hand. His body began to twist and spiral around and around. Jake’s still screaming face, petrified with fear, elongated, as his body stretched more and more like chewed bubblegum. His body had become a stretched spiral; it was as if he was being sucked into a black hole, like you would see in cartoons or science-fiction movies. Finally, Joe seemed satisfied with his work, as Jake was nothing but a perfectly circular spiral of a screaming man. I just stared on in horror and shock, as I watched the whole thing.
In my frightened state, I slowly backed away, not thinking clearly, and that was when I made the mistake of bumping over a trashcan. The crashing sound of metal against the ground snapped me out of my daze, as I looked down, startled, at the fallen trashcan before looking back up at Joe, who was looking right at me. I still couldn’t see his face. The single light in the alley obscured it from view. I could tell from the way he stared me down with ill intent, however, that he did not want any witnesses.
I stood there in stunned silence for several moments, as the two of us just stared at one another, waiting for the other to make the first move. It was then I decided to make a run for it, sprinting down the alley in what felt like a blur. I could hear the rapid footsteps of Joe right behind me, slamming against the wet asphalt, splashing in puddles and gaining on me with each step. Once I made it to the entrance of the alley, I turned to my left, not wanting to lead Joe to my car, which was in the opposite direction. I managed to turn the street corner and duck behind a car before Joe could spot me again. Staying close to the ground, I saw Joe dart past me and down the street in a blind pursuit. I sighed in relief, and once I was sure he was gone, I got up from my hiding place, and hustled another two blocks down the sidewalk to my car. Finally, I was safe… or so I thought. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s a cliché that applies to what happened next.
In a frantic and hurried frenzy, I struggled to grab the car key and unlock my driver-side car. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking as I tried to slide the key into the lock. When I finally managed, I hurried my way into the seat, fastening my seatbelt and slamming the door. I was still in shock, as all the fear – along with the realization of what had just happened, and what I’d witnessed – finally hit me all at once. Oh, god, I wanted to throw up so badly, but I somehow managed to avoid that. I sat back in my seat and tried to catch my breath. Some stupid song my kids liked came onto the radio; I just grunted and shut the damn thing off before I put the car in reverse.
Once I had backed fully out of the parking space, I noticed a man standing in the middle of the street through my back window.
It was Joe.
He found me.
Somehow, he fucking found me.
I panicked. I put the car in drive as fast as I could and slammed the gas petal to the floor. I watched in my rearview mirror as Joe got further and further from sight, but he didn’t try to give chase again. No, instead, he just waved me off. He just slowly waved as I drove away down the street. I thought it odd, but I didn’t really care. I was just relieved that the experience was over.
I raced all the way home. I didn’t care about the speed limits; I just wanted to go home where it was safe. By the time I arrived, it was 9 PM. My kids were already asleep, and my wife was probably beginning her nightly ritual of reading some random book before bed. Once parked in the driveway, I grabbed the bags from the backseat and marched to the front door, unlocking it and throwing the bags onto the living room couch before hurrying to lock the door. I then hung my jacket on the coat rack and trudged up the stairs to my bedroom. My wife, sure enough, was already in bed with her book, as I silently entered the room, took my clothes off, and headed to the bathroom to take a shower. I never heard my wife say anything like “Hey, honey, what’s wrong?” or anything like that, and even if she had, I was too scared and worn-out to manage a reply.
I carelessly discarded my clothes, trench coat and all, and immediately jumped into the shower. I didn’t bother to do much scrubbing or washing; I just needed to contemplate what had just happened and figure things out. I thought about calling the police, but would they even believe me? I had no evidence of a murder, and I knew people weren’t going to believe me. Regardless, after what felt like the longest shower in my life, I dried myself off, put on some pajamas and slid into my bed next to my wife who by then had already fallen asleep. I made sure to cuddle next to her as tightly as I could, letting the warmth of her body engulf me, making me feel safe for the first time that night. It didn’t take long before my eyelids got heavy, and I felt myself drift off to sleep, feeling myself at peace for the first time in what felt like ages.
The next morning, I woke up in bed alone. It was Saturday, so my wife and the kids were probably already up and about. My wife was probably downstairs making breakfast while the kids were roughhousing, and sure enough, they were. I heard them clearly from the kitchen. I sat up, looking over at the clock. It was 8:30 in the morning, and being a Saturday, it was my day to check the mail since it usually came around 7:45. Ah, weekend routines, some semblance of normalcy.
I got out of bed, put on my slippers and robe, and made my way downstairs. It was then that the memories of the previous night came flooding back to me. I paused halfway down the stairs, my heart skipping a beat, as I stood there in shock, staring at the discarded bags of my childrens’ Christmas presents, carelessly strewn upon the living room couch. For a moment I believed something terrible had happened, before the sounds coming from the kitchen caught my attention again, pulling me back to peace and reality. I walked down the stairs and looked over the railing to see my family, smiling and laughing around the table. I remember feeling a smile coming to my face, and I decided that, for their safety, I was just going to forget about the night before.
I walked out of the front door, and the cold air hit me hard, as I’d forgotten to tie my robe. I rolled my eyes in frustration and tied it before crossing the porch on my way to the front steps.
All those sappy feelings, along with any hope of forgetting the events from the night before, were dashed immediately when I reached the top of the steps. On the walkway leading to my mailbox, I noticed a message scrawled across it in red spray paint. The shock and fear returned, as I felt my heart sink into my stomach. What the message said continues to haunt me to this very day. Just five simple, everyday words have turned my life completely on its head. It read:
I REALLY LIKE YOUR HOUSE.
I looked down in horror. A glimmer of light hit my eyes, as it was then I noticed something else, taped to the gatepost. I walked over and examined it. It was a Polaroid picture of a family sitting down to breakfast.
I turned to look through the window, and there they were, sitting and smiling as they had been in the photo, without a care in the world.
But so was Joe.
His shadowy form loomed in the window, waving to me like he did the night before. Oh, god… he’s in my house. I led him to my house!
Credit: The Mystery Writer
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