If you really want to hear about it, here’s what happened. It was a long time ago and I was working at a local pizza joint called Peter Pizza. I remember clockwatching, waiting for midnight to strike so I could get the hell out of there. I didn’t have any plans. I just wanted to go home and watch a movie and maybe smoke a joint before going to sleep. I hadn’t been able to fall asleep last night and I was tired and pissy.
I remember hoping that the phone wouldn’t ring because that was exactly how it went in the food service industry: people called five minutes before closing time, expecting to get good service. Yeah…right.
Peter Pizza. What the hell kind of name was that? The better question was: why had I applied there for a job in the first place? I was twenty-five years old, for starters. Most people my age have “I’m paying my way through school!” to fall back on as an excuse but me…shit, all I could say was “It’s all I’m qualified for because I couldn’t decide on a major when I was younger and now that I’m older and wiser I realized that everything else is a fucking waste of time.”
Whatever. Apathy and I, we pretty much go hand in hand
Fourteen minutes until I could get out.
I hated the customers, or guests as the management wanted us to call them. “Guests” my ass. Being a guest required just a little bit of dignity so the assholes that waddled into Peter Pizza would be referred to as customers.
I didn’t work the front counter too much. I’m not entirely sure which end of the stick I was getting, because I usually clocked in as a delivery driver. Paul, the owner of Peter Pizza, gave me fifty extra bucks a week to pay for gas, which was more than enough.
Paul was okay, definitely not my favorite person. He had his moments of pleasantness, though.
Tonight wasn’t one of those nights. He had a stick up his ass for some reason or another, and it had been there since he’d walked in the front door–I could see it on his face, in his eyes behind his glasses. I didn’t know. I had arrived at work pleasantly stoned and had stayed that way until now. I didn’t really care why ol’ Paulie was mad, nor did I care if he was going to feel better.
Not with twelve minutes left on the clock.
You can’t just close the goddamn doors a few minutes early, can you? I thought, rolling my eyes as I watched the second hand tick-tick-tick its way around the clock. Paul was one of those bosses, the kind that would leave his front doors open for another ten or twenty minutes past close. And he wondered why the turnover rate was so high. When you pander to the customers and not the employees, things are bound to go wrong.
I sighed and reached into my back pocket to retrieve my cell phone. That was when the phone on the counter behind me rang for the first time in two and a half hours.
“Ah, fuck!” I groaned, rolling my head back.
Subtlety and I, we kind of clash. I was pissed. It was ten minutes until close.
“Asshole,” I muttered as I picked up the phone and put the receiver to my ear.
“Thanks for calling Peter Pizza. This is Ben speaking,” I said turning my head slightly to look towards the office, where Paul was busy with paperwork. “How may I assist you this evening?”
“Hey, I’m really sorry to be calling so late,” the guy on the other end said quickly. I immediately felt a little bad–he sounded polite albeit a little anxious, a little uptight. “Are you still delivering?”
“You bet,” I said.
“Oh, good, good,” the guy said. “Thanks. Would it be possible to put in an order for six large cheese pizzas, extra cheese?”
“You bet. What else can I getcha?”
“That’s it, thanks.”
“1388 Alpine Drive, the big place,” the guy said. ”
There was a hesitation, the absolute smallest one that probably wouldn’t have been noticeable…but I was in a flaw-picking mood. It didn’t bother me. Not then.
“Robert. My name is Robert.”
“Be about twenty-five, thirty minutes,” I told him. He thanked me again and hung up as I punched the order into my terminal. I heard Paul exclaim in the back.
“Goddamnit!” he cried. “Six goddamn pizzas? It’s almost midnight!”
“You coulda closed early,” I muttered under my breath. Then, with a sigh to Paul: “Right there with you, boss.”
The pizzas took fifteen minutes to make. Paul told me to head home after the delivery—he didn’t feel like waiting around for me. I was just fine with that. I didn’t even know where Alpine Drive was until I punched it into Google Maps at quarter after twelve. I sat down in my Mazda3 and started the engine, waiting for the app to load.
“You should reach your destination by twelve-forty,” Google told me. I tilted my head back against the seat and let out a groan. Should reach my destination by twelve-forty. That was just great.
“Thanks, Google,” I said. I kind of wish it would say “You’re welcome, Ben!” or something cool like that, but I don’t know how comfortable I am with being on a first name basis with a Samsung.
The order total was over seventy dollars, though, including the delivery charge. That meant an extra ten or twenty bucks in my wallet, which was fine by me. Hopefully they weren’t assholes who didn’t tip.
I shifted into gear and started heading for Alpine Drive. I wished we had a delivery zone that was smaller than thirty miles. Whatever.
It could have been worse.
I don’t know how stoned I was by the time Google announced that I would reach my destination in three minutes. I had taken Highway 54 all the way south and the drive had been quick and uneventful. I played Alkaline Trio and Blink 182 on the way because some things never get old, no matter how old you are.
I wasn’t really familiar with the area, and I was glad as hell to have GPS. After awhile the endless fields on either side of the highway had slowly turned into black looming forests. The trees were black shapes against the eternally dark sky, lit only by cast of my headlights. I’m pretty sure that was the first (and last) time I was that far south on 54.
I’m all alone out here.
That was true and false at the same time. I had passed three or four houses on the way. I saw them because of the lights, glowing faintly in the dark. I remember thinking it was a ten or fifteen minute gap between seeing each house, making me wonder just how many miles the residents were from each other. It was an eerie thought, the nearest neighbor being five or six miles away. My ever-wild imagination conjured up an image: I was dead in a bathtub, the showerhead running over my naked and bloody corpse. I had fallen down, hit my head, and died because there was no one around to report me missing
I shook my head and continued driving until I was directed to take a right on Carpenter-Hooper Road. I ended up turning onto gravel road. I sighed, passing a bullet-riddled speed limit sign saying it was fifty-five through here. Were they serious? Who the hell went fifty-five miles per hour on an unpaved road? I coasted at a steady forty, keeping my eyes peeled for wildlife and random farm machinery. I wasn’t worried about other cars because it had been fifteen minutes since I’d seen one. It might have been longer.
It was only five or so minutes until I reached the end of what looked like a driveway. The nav told me that I would reach my destination after I turned right. I obliged and continued up the driveway.
I was searching for the house and couldn’t find it. The map said that the house was on the left side of the road, but it wasn’t.
“You have arrived at your destination.”
“No, I haven’t,” I said impatiently. There was nothing but trees on my left, so thickly knotted together that it looked impossible to walk through, let alone inhabit a home with modern conveniences here.
I slowed down a little bit, and the bright beam of what could only be a porch light flared up in my rearview mirror…on the right side of the road.
“Google, you asshole…”
It took me a minute to do a successful one-eighty but I eventually started up the driveway. The driveway was paved and a few moments after I pulled into it, I was aware that my tires were no longer crunching gravel. It had gotten very quiet and this, for whatever reason, was really unnerving.
I rounded a bend and beyond the pine trees surrounding me was the house. Whatever light I’d seen was off now and the place was totally dark. The driveway looped around in front of the house. I slowed to a stop and parked, leaving the engine running out of habit. People keep telling me that my car is going to get stolen. Please…steal my Mazda.
Did everyone leave?
Maybe I’d gotten the wrong address, or typed in the wrong one or something. The GPS had already been wrong once.
No. The address next to the door was the same as what I’d typed in. I shrugged it off because it wasn’t that big of a deal. It wasn’t a big deal then anyway because that’s how things go. The characters in the horror movies make those stupid decisions because going upstairs to investigate that strange noise is what most people would likely do. It’s part logic because floorboards like to creak randomly and things fall over all the time. It’s a security thing, though—we, as human beings, have to be certain that we’re safe. The idea of an intruder was a slimy thought. The word ‘intruder’ even had a sinister feel to it.
Hey, Plato, your philosophies and anecdotes are adorable but your pizzas are going to get cold and you’re going to be Munson’d here in Bumfuck.
I was tired. My mind tends to wander when I’m tired. Slap-happy, I think it’s called.
I got out of the car and stood up straight, stretching and listening for a moment to hear my joints crackle. I let out a long breath and walked to the trunk to retrieve the pizzas because that’s just how much I care about my job and its valued customers that call just before close.
I took another glance at the dark house and rolled my eyes. This was probably a prank call. I was willing to bet a testicle that a bunch of assholes had picked a random address and sent me to it. They were probably all having a laugh. I’m not trying to be overly emotional but that honestly hurt my feelings. What a fucking waste of time…
I need a new job.
The pizzas were all in an insulated bag and I carried it lightly on my fingertips. I waited tables for God knows how long before this, and I’d developed a great set of forearms and really strong fingers because of how often I’d hold heavy trays and plates. I balanced the bag without thought as I made my way around the car and up the driveway, towards the front porch. The sound of my shoes crunching over loose gravel and dead leaves was loud and I felt isolated, a thousand miles from nowhere. There was no wind. The woods around me were quiet and the only light other than the moonlight was the glow of my headlights.
I don’t know why I looked up at the second floor as I walked across the yard. I was lost in thought, noting that the grass was long and in need of a trim. It was a quick glance up that led to an attempt at looking forward again. I looked up again in a flash. I thought I had seen the silhouette of a man in one of the upstairs windows but I marked it off to being a trick of the light.
I don’t know if I want to meet the owners of a place this far out in the boonies.
The thought gave me goosebumps that I tried to ignore.
I mounted the porch steps and walked across it, thudding and creaking across the floorboards. I noticed there was no doorbell and that the curtains were drawn. I didn’t give either a second thought as I knocked on the door in the tune of the theme from Star Wars. My routes at work had taken me to some really shitty places. This house looked fine, a little unkempt but far from gentrified. I stepped back from the door a little bit and waited for someone to answer but thirty seconds went by and then a minute. I knocked again, this time just three booming knuckle-raps that were loud and clear.
“Ah, fuck,” I muttered as I realized that no one was really home after all. “What a fucking waste of time…”
I turned around to get back to the car and gave the house a fleeting glance as I bounced down the steps. I stopped when I saw one of the curtains on the first floor fall back into place, as if someone had been standing there.
“Hey!” I called. “Hey! Dude! I’ve got a bunch of pizzas for you!”
I walked up the steps again. I was miffed, surprised, and confused all at once because I was sure the house had been empty. Why the hell were all the lights off? That was the big one, the question I really wanted to know. I wondered if it was a surprise party but shook it off. If Robert or Stan whatever his name was didn’t answer the door this time, I was going to drive my ass home and throw each of those damn pizzas out the window along the way.
I knocked on the front door again.
“Come on, man,” I said under my breath. I then said loudly: “Pizza guy!” Then, quietly: “Fuckin’ waiting for you…”
I gave it a full minute and turned around to leave but as I did, the sound of footsteps inside the house made me stop. I turned around again and was about to knock when I heard someone say: “Hey. Sorry.” It was a man’s voice, low and pleasant like a radio talk show host…but it scared the hell out of me anyway. I wondered why he was talking to me through the door instead of just opening it.
“That’s…totally fine,” I replied uncertainly. “You Richie?”
There was the slightest pause before he said, “It’s Robert.” The tone in his voice as he emphasized his name was a little weird, like he forgot it. I didn’t think too much of it mostly because he had scared the hell out of me but because the customers I served were strange and sometimes liked to use fake names when ordering pizza like Dale Gribble on King of the Hill. I don’t know why and I don’t question why people are the way they are.
“You ordered the…six…large cheeses?” I felt ridiculous, talking to this guy through the door, and a little uncertain. I was ready to run at any moment, in case things went south with the guy behind the door. Sirens weren’t going off inside; the guy instantly struck a weird chord with me but not a threatening one.
“Yes, I did. Look, I know this is a weird question but could you come around to the back door and meet me on the patio?”
I didn’t answer right away and maybe that’s why he added, “This door is all fucked up. I was waiting for you in the kitchen. I thought I mentioned that on the phone.”
All I could really say was, “Oh…yeah, okay.” Had he told me that? I didn’t think so but I couldn’t remember. I had been pissed about how late it was and everything but the order itself had vacated my mind. I was a little unsettled by how quickly he’d added that the door was busted. This is usually where most people say, “I’d get the fuck out of there!” and I probably would have until I realized that Paul would probably charge me the full fare for the lost pizzas. I didn’t feel like paying for them.
So I walked down the steps again and started heading for the backyard. Once again I heard the loud crunching of gravel beneath my feet as I balanced the pizzas on my fingers. The crescent moon above was my only source of light and it was no surprise that I nearly tripped over a rock the size of a softball that was hidden in the dark. I stumbled and almost fell, carefully righting the pizzas in my left hand.
I heard something crunch behind me. I whirled around and as I did, I caught a glimpse of somebody peering at me from around the corner of the house. He must have seen me notice him because he quickly withdrew and disappeared from sight. I started backing up, keeping my eyes on that spot. I had an unsettling thought: there had been someone behind me, walking in step with me to avoid detection until I’d tripped and threw him off.
I was still walking backwards but I was on the verge of walking forward and getting the hell out of Dodge when I realized just how scared I was. I didn’t want to go back the way I came, back towards where I’d seen the figure. I couldn’t help but think that he was waiting right around the corner and ready to grab me as I passed by.
But heading to the back door seemed like an equally bad idea.
I wished I’d never gotten out of the car.
I hadn’t stopped moving and waltzed right into the backyard. As I passed through the gate, a set of motion-activated lights mounted above the back door turned on. I dropped the pizzas in shock when the bright halogen lights washed over me and illuminated most of the backyard. I turned around wildly, expecting to see somebody standing behind me. To my surprise, though, I didn’t see anything but a fenced-in backyard that was flush against the woods. The grass was ankle-high and laced with various weeds but I didn’t pay much attention to it: the yard was huge and the guy probably hadn’t had time to mow it.
I was collecting the pizzas from the ground when I heard somebody say: “Hey, buddy.”
I turned around quickly and faced a middle-aged man. He was standing on the back porch with both of his hands held open at waist-level in an unintimidating gesture. He looked around a little wildly and gave me a nervous smile as I jumped to my feet.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, smiling sheepishly.
“It’s just a heart attack,” I told him, shifting the pizzas around so they were evenly stacked.
“I’m really sorry if it’s super creepy here right now,” he said in a tone that made me feel totally embarrassed. “I literally just lost power a few minutes ago. I don’t know if we blew a fuse or if the generator blew or…I don’t even know.” He ran his hands through his hair, shaking his head. “And to top it off, some asshole tried to rob my place the other night and fucking busted the front door…” He shook his head again and lowered his hands back to his sides. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s been a really shitty night, you know?”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding. I felt really stupid. The man in front of me looked normal. He talked clearly and, again, pleasantly. He was even wearing a light blue shirt, khakis, and some kind of sweater tied around his neck. He looked like a rich snob the way he was dressed, to be honest. Hell, his hair was even combed over douche-bag style and he struck me as the kind of guy who had never worked anywhere near fast food. Usually this meant a lack of courtesy towards people like me, calling at such a late hour and such.
I wasn’t quite at ease, but I never am on deliveries. People are capable of dark, dark things. A lot of the time, we do those things for money. I had maybe sixty bucks on me but people have been slashed to ribbons for much less.
They’ve been killed for no reason at all.
“I know the feeling,” I said as I squatted down to pick up the pizzas. “I’m sorry but-“
He cut me off with a wave of his hand then gestured his thumb at the motion light. “This light would get me on an episode of Fear Thy Neighbor…if I had neighbors. It scares the shit out of me every time a deer walks through the yard. I got the fence but they don’t care.”
I slowly approached the man, who slowly approached me. It was like we were afraid of each other, or maybe just embarrassed of ourselves. He was actually holding the cash in his hand when I unzipped the bag and handed him the pizzas. He handed me two bills, both hundreds.
“Oh, man, I don’t have that much change on me-“
“No, no,” Robert said, shaking his head and taking the pizzas. “That’s your tip for coming way the hell out here so late. I know you guys were about to close.”
For a hundred and something dollar tip I said: “It’s fine, man, really. All I was going to do was go home and watch TV until I fell asleep.” It was the truth but I tried my best to make it sound like it was something I didn’t want to do. The tip threw me way the hell off. I had been expecting anywhere between one and twenty dollars. This guy was loaded.
“Well, I appreciate it anyway,” the guy said. “Thanks a…” He had been maintaining eye contact with me the whole time in a nonthreatening way, more like a salesman than anything. He suddenly broke it and stared past me, into the woods beyond the backyard. There was a man standing on our side of the fence, barely visible in the darkness.
I don’t know why I whispered, “Oh, shit,” but Robert looked at me, concerned, and then back at the woods.
“Did he talk to you?” he demanded angrily. “Son of a bitch has been scaring the shit out of us…”
The man in the woods nimbly hopped over the fence and proceeded our way in a slow and steady gait.
Robert shouted, “Hey!” in an angry tone and leapt off the porch. He shoulder-checked me as he ran past, towards the fence. “I told you to get the hell off my property!”
I stuffed the money in my pocket and started to follow him for whatever reason. He was walking fast, intent on getting to the man judging by the pace. He was halfway across the yard when the gunshot rang out. He stopped in his tracks and did a one-eighty, sprinting back towards the house with his hands over his head.
“Get inside, get inside!” he shouted, waving wildly at me.
Everything happened fast. I was still wondering who the hell the guy in the backyard was when the gun fired. Robert grabbed me by the collar as he ran up the stairs, dragging me up and into the house with him. He slammed the door behind us and fiercely whispered, “Get down!” before locking it.
He forced me to a squatting position and we crab-crawled our way across a dark kitchen. He led me to a door and opened it. It was a black rectangle, absolutely dark. I was thinking that it led to a basement or something when Robert ushered me over the threshold and onto the top step. I stumbled over my own feet and nearly lost my balance, seizing a hold on the banister to stop from falling down the stairs. I looked back and saw that Robert was now standing up straight. We locked eyes for a brief moment. His face was expressionless as he brought his leg back and kicked me in the abdomen, hard enough to send me flying back into the blackness behind me.
I didn’t even have time to react, let alone time to scream.
There was a moment where I sailed weightlessly in mid-air before I crashed against the angles of the wooden steps, on my back. I heard wood splinter and in an awful flare-up of pain, I felt something in my upper back crunch wetly beneath my skin. I bumped down the last eight or nine steps in a violent series of somersaults, coming to an abrupt stop as I crashed shoulder-first against the stone wall at the bottom of the stairs, landing on my chest.
I opened my eyes and took a shuddering breath in. I had landed on a dirt floor and a plume of dust had shot up when I’d crash-landed. It flooded my nostrils and my throat and I immediately started coughing, which hurt my entire body. When I stopped coughing, I cautiously wiggled my toes and made sure I wasn’t paralyzed from the violent fall.
The first thing I saw was a stone-carved table that could have only been an altar. There were dozens of unlit red candles on it and around it. The table was spotted with blood. I was still trying to process everything that had just happened to me. It had been less than a minute since I’d walked into the backyard. I understood that I’d been tricked and ambushed. I was trying to piece together what the table was for, and why there was blood on it. I thought I knew but wouldn’t let the thought fully form in my head.
I heard some footsteps shuffling around upstairs as I slowly got to my feet. I was numb as I stood up straight, wondering why the coughing had hurt so badly. I heard joints crack and pop but barely felt them as I began to look around the dirt room, drawn in and held rapt by the altar in the middle. I wouldn’t allow myself to think about what the altar was for. I tore my gaze away and looked at the floor for a few moments before I felt the muscles in my jaw give away before it dropped open at the sight of hundreds and hundreds of footprints on the floor. Almost all of them were very small, children’s footprints. I let out a shuddering gasp and that was when I saw that Robert had made his way down the stairs and was standing in the spot where I’d landed.
“It doesn’t hurt,” he said, grimacing apologetically as he revealed the carving knife in his hand. “I really wish there was another way, one that wasn’t so messy, but…what can you do, right?”
I couldn’t say anything.
I wish I could say I was forming some genius plan but I was drawing a blank. I had broken something when I fell because breathing hurt pretty bad and standing up straight was worse. Seeing the knife scared me to a point that I not only began a series of high-pitched moans, I also pissed myself. A stream of hot piss ran down my thighs and puddled around my Chucks. I held out both hands, my eyes darting right and left as they desperately searched for an escape route.
I was fucked. Robert was maybe six feet away and slowly closing in. There was the chance of me running to the right or left and trying to get around him but I didn’t think I would be fast enough. I smoked too much for starters, and the fall down the stairs took care of the rest.
I didn’t want to die. I didn’t have much to live for, not really, but that didn’t mean my life was worthless. I thought I was a pretty nice guy. I got pissed every so often, but who didn’t? I wasn’t really “hero” material but I wasn’t at the “villian” end of the spectrum, either. I helped people when I could. I didn’t bother returning clothes I’d just bought and decided they weren’t for me; I donated them to Goodwill because someone less fortunate could enjoy them. I held the door open for people and said “May I please have” and “Thank you”.
Robert stopped three or four feet away. He smiled at me and it was genuine because I saw it touch his eyes. A smile had never made my blood run that cold.
“It doesn’t hurt, Ben,” he said in a reassuring tone, even going so far as to raise his free hand in another nonthreatening gesture. “Trust me, this…this whole thing is beyond your understanding and mine. The magnitude, it’s… You’ll never understand, and neither will I.
“All I can say is that you’re donating your life to a beautiful thing, Ben, so just lay still and close those baby blue eyes of yours.”
I don’t know why I started to get pissed then. The fear was still there but it was different somehow in a way I can’t really describe. I hadn’t done a fucking thing. I had gone to work.
“Go to hell,” I hissed and spat at him as hard as my lungs would allow. Bloody saliva hit his face and ran down his cheeks. It ran over his lips and he slowly licked it away. For no reason the altar caught my eye again, mostly the sharp corners.
He started walking again and I shifted left along the wall until I was near the corner. Robert’s body tensed and he lashed out with his free hand to grab me. He seized the collar of my shirt and pulled me closer as he brought the knife down, aiming for my chest. I grabbed his arm by the forearm and shoulder-charged him at the same time. We stumbled backwards together until Robert’s lower back roughly bumped into the corner of the stone altar.
“Fuck!” he screamed, craning his head back. I heard the knife clatter on the altar and Robert grabbed the sides of my head, his thumbs searching for my eyes and tearing the skin just above my eyebrows. I went back with his momentum and then decided to go forward again, shoving him into the corner of the altar again. He let out a pained scream as the stone corner dug into his tailbone this time. He lurched forward, reaching behind him to feel his back-
I charged him then. I don’t know where the strength came from, but I don’t really want to know.
Never question a good thing. I sure as hell don’t anymore.
His back collided with the altar and again he let out another pained shout before he unexpectedly stepped forward and brought his knee into my chest. I don’t think I’ll ever feel pain like that again. I saw stars and screamed so loudly I saw red and black spots glittering in front of the stars.
I was holding my chest and abdomen with both hands, barely able to breathe, when I saw Robert closing in on me, taking long and purposeful strides. I didn’t think as I lowered my head and charged him with a headbutt, with the last bit of strength I had. The top of my head slammed into his abdomen. I heard the wind rush out of his lungs and he flew back from the impact. There was a low series of scrapes as his shoes lost their grip on the dirt floor. He lost his balance and fell back, shooting both arms out to steady himself but failing. His head met the corner of the stone altar with a wet crack and a large spray of blood that hit me in the face a few feet away. I cried out and frantically started wiping my eyes with my forearm. My vision cleared and I saw Robert, leaning up against the side of the altar. A hairy smear of blood led from the sharp corner to where his head was now. His eyes were bugging out and his mouth was hanging open. There was a growing pool of blood around him.
Was he dead? He had to be. His head had just gotten split open like an egg. I quickly stepped past him, making my way for the stairs-
“You’re gonna fuckin’ diiiiiiie down here,” Robert crooned wetly in a sing-song voice, unseen from the other side of the altar. I heard more scraping and knew that he was starting to get to his feet. I saw one of his bloody hands reach up and grip the edge of the altar-
I didn’t stick around to see anything else. I gripped the railing with both hands and hauled myself up the stairs as best as I could, trying to look in every direction at once. I could hear Robert shuffling around behind me, chuckling and panting wetly. I reached the top of the stairs and looked around at a moonlit kitchen before hauling ass for the back door. The kitchen was empty, save a half-full bottle of 337 Cabernet on the counter with five empty wine glasses around it. A brief glimpse into the living room told me that nobody lived here but it was the countless amounts of spiderwebs in the corners of the ceiling that told me that nobody had lived here for a long, long time.
I heard Robert clunk on one of the stairs, calling my name. I reached for the knob on the back door and-
The window on the door shattered into a hundred pieces as a bullet tore through them. I whirled around and saw a man standing in the hallway between the kitchen and the living room, holding a hunting rifle in his hands. I was almost sure that it was the same man from the backyard. He jacked another round in and leveled it at my chest. I held both hands out, screaming, “Wait-wait-no-wait-please-God-NO-”
The man’s eyes locked with mine before he abruptly dropped his rifle and gasped inward one time before he exploded. I stared at the spot where he’d been standing two seconds ago, and at the rifle on the ground. I was half-thinking that he’d been wearing some type of bomb but there had been no sound except the briefest sound of pulverizing bone and ripping flesh. There was blood everywhere now, covering the walls and my body. I was still standing, frozen in place, with one hand on the doorknob when Robert appeared in the basement doorway. One of his eyes was crooked, looking in every directions, while one was locked on me and full of anger.
He stayed silent as he started towards me and I don’t think he would have known anything was wrong if he hadn’t tripped over the dropped rifle. He stumbled briefly and looked down, revealing the gaping hole in the back of his head; I could see his brain in the glimmer of the moonlight, silver-grey and pulsating. He righted himself and looked down at the rifle for a moment.
“What…where did he…” Robert sputtered and then looked back at me. “You…”
He trailed off and stared at me intently…or at least I thought he was looking at me. He was looking past me, almost the same he had looked past me a few minutes ago. I jerkily turned my head and saw what he was looking at. There were three yellow jackets on the door behind me, lazily crawling on the wood. I was prepared to move away when they flickered their wings and took off into the air. They flew into the darkness and were gone.
“Oh, no…” Robert whispered, covering his face with both hands. “Oh, no…”
“What…is that?” I asked quietly as the floor began to vibrate slightly. I was no longer afraid of Robert or whoever else was with him. The look of terror on his face told me that I should probably be afraid of whatever he was afraid of too.
“Why couldn’t you just go to sleep?” Robert whimpered and then both of his eyes exploded. Blood splattered on my chest and I turned the knob, pulling the door open as all hell broke loose in 1388 Alpine Drive. Hornets flew out of Robert’s bloody eye sockets and he screamed shrilly, reaching up to cap them off. The drain in the kitchen sink made a loud growl before sending out an endless surge of shit, I’m sure it was shit, that splattered against the ceiling hard enough to make a hole. The oven exploded in a fireball and I saw four figures, all the size of children and all burning like wildfire, emerge. I heard the sound of children crying but also the sound of them laughing, too. Robert turned in their direction, still screaming and trying to cover his eyes. He held out one hand in the children’s direction. One of them reached out and took it, burning his fingers off of his hand with an audible sizzle.
I was still gripping the doorknob tightly but I looked down when I crushed it in my hand. I was now holding an eye the size of a tennis ball in my right hand; it oozed blood and yellow fluid between my fingers. I cried out and threw it into the kitchen as the walls began to split. Peopleshapes wrapped in newspaper and bedsheets emerged from the walls, most of them missing arms or heads. They briefly paused to look at me, or at least turned in my direction; I stared right back. They all moaned in unison before turning around and advancing on Robert as well. I heard a series of cracks and looked in the hallway towards the living room and saw something bulging beneath the floor, tearing it up as it made its way into the kitchen, sending shards of wood into the air. It was growling.
He was screaming my name as it approached him. The floorboards swelled, splintered, and an unearthly black mass began to emerge. I couldn’t take anymore and the fear broke. I threw myself onto the back porch, pulling the door closed behind me with a loud slam. I stumbled into the railing and Robert’s screams stopped but the growling continued.
“Lights out, Bobby,” I whispered as I felt my way along the railing and vaulted down the stairs. I could hear whines and moans now, amidst growls and snarls. I ran along the side of the house as fast as I could. There was no pain; my only thought now was my own fucking survival.
The car was ten yards away when the windows I ran past began to shatter outward like small bombs were going off inside. I cried out with each one and covered my head, never taking my eyes off of the car. The growling grew louder and louder, overlapped with weeps, moans, and shrieks of damnation.
“Ben, stay with me.”
“Don’t be afraid, Ben.”
“Your father’s with us, Ben.”
“It doesn’t hurt, Bennn…”
I slammed into the side of the Honda with a cry of pain and patted my pockets for my keys. They weren’t there. I madly felt myself up and down to find them, trying to keep my eyes on the house. The windowpanes began to light up a deep red and a low frequency humming seemed ever-present in my ears. That was when I realized I’d never killed the engine, that I’d left the damn car running the whole time because I thought I’d only be a minute or two.
“Fucking shit!” I cried incoherently (albeit joyously) as I pulled the door open and dove inside, smacking the lock button down hard enough to crack the plastic. I didn’t bother with the seatbelt; I mashed the brake and reached for the gearshift.
A man’s body landed on the hood of the car, his face cracking the windshield with a spray of blood. He gripped the hood, trying to pull himself forward. The top of his head was gone, and there was no brain inside: just blackness. He looked up at me and I saw that his teeth were missing, ripped out of his bleeding gums.
“Help me, please…” he groaned and something pulled him off of the hood with such force that he lost four fingers. I know because I found them later on, just beneath my windshield wipers. My passenger side window shattered. I covered my face with my arms, peering through the crack between them to see that the house was burning yellow and white. I could hear screaming and laughing, the sound of children crying. A growing roar was coming from somewhere. I didn’t care. I punched the accelerator and the tires spun wildly against the gravel for a moment before getting traction. The car launched forward and I fought like hell to keep driving in a straight line.
I only glanced back but once, to make sure I wasn’t being followed, and saw that the house was gone. There were a few floating embers, like fireflies, over the spot where the house had been that disappeared as soon as I noticed them. I didn’t slow down. I don’t think I even checked the rearview after that because I didn’t want to see anymore. I couldn’t take it.
I drove myself to the hospital and parked in a No Parking Zone just outside of the entrance. Through the plate glass doors I could see people, doctors and nurses and patients and janitors, and was never so happy to see them in my life. I killed the engine and stepped out of the car, only to have my legs give out underneath me. I collapsed to the ground painfully but I couldn’t make a sound. I didn’t have the strength anymore. I opened my mouth to call for help but nothing was happening.
I was at a hospital, mind you, and I knew that somebody would eventually come out to help me. Key word there was ‘eventually’. It could have been minutes or hours. I didn’t know how much more my body was going to take, how much more blood I could lose. All these thoughts raced through my mind as I lay on the ground, trying to scream and trying to get back up.
I stopped moving entirely when I heard the click of my car’s lock disengaging. The back door on the driver’s side slowly opened up and a leg, clad in black dress pants and a shiny black dress shoe, carefully stepped onto the pavement. Another followed. A man stepped out of the Honda. He was dressed in black but there was something about him that was almost comforting. His presence was welcomed. I never saw his face.
He closed my back door and stood over me for a few seconds.
“Thanks for the lift, kid,” he said pleasantly and stepped around me, out of sight. I dimly heard him say: “I think this gentleman needs some help.” He walked back towards me and then past me in the opposite direction. From this angle I could see him. I watched him walk away, into the shadows and the streetlights up the street. I could hear him humming faintly, melodically. I’d never heard that melody before and I haven’t heard it since. I heard the sounds of footsteps approaching and the way the accompanying voices sounded, they belonged to medical staff.
The man stopped halfway down the block, pausing beneath a broken streetlight and looking up at the sky. A white-clad leg stepped in front of me for a split second and the man was gone when I next looked: his empty clothes hovered in the air for a moment as if somebody was still inside of them before collapsing silently to the sidewalk.
A black mist floated up towards the sky, engulfing the dead streetlight for a moment before dissipating entirely. The light flickered a few times and then began to burn brightly. That was the last thing I saw before I passed out.
Five broken ribs, a punctured lung, a cerebral and a cardiac contusion, and a fractured skull. Somehow I survived. People have made it out of situations with much worse, though. I’ve since quit Peter Pizza. I haven’t exactly gotten my life together as of yet but I can say that I’ve been a whole lot happier since the night I was almost killed.
The police checked out the house on Alpine Drive, which was nothing more than a foundation that had been abandoned for three decades. One of the K9 dogs started pawing at the dirt and uncovered part of a child’s skull. An excavation of the site uncovered four children that had been missing for years, in addition to nine other missing people. They had all disappeared under extremely bizarre circumstances. Some had been beaten to death, others stabbed, others unknown. The children had been burned alive, and the rest had been crudely mummified with newspaper and Elmer’s glue. I’ve had a lot of phone calls from family members of the deceased, thanking me for finally giving them closure. I don’t know where they got the idea that I was the one they should be thanking, but I was glad they could find the answers they were looking for…even though they only really got half an answer.
I doubt I’ll ever find the answers I’m looking for, and really one question weighs on my mind day in and day out. What the hell were those guys messing around with…and why did it hitch a ride in my backseat?
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