Estimated reading time — 18 minutes
The glare of the computer screen was the only light shining throughout the dimly lit room. Besides the sounds of quick, mechanical, keyboard clicking and an occasional finger tapping on a hardwood desk, the room was silent. A boy sat alone in the center of the room, running his hand through his dark, blonde, neatly styled hair. His sunken green eyes were glazed over, staring intently at a computer monitor in an intense focus; as if he were in a furious debate with the screen. The young teen was tangled up in a trivial argument, on some forgotten website. As usual, he couldn’t resist the urge to point out the slightest flaws of his fellow users. The boy was well-known amongst the members of the forum for his haughty, and arrogant remarks. He glanced at the clock, 5 a.m. on a school night, he ignored this, as the heated argument was his only focus. As the dispute went on, more and more members began to sign off in petty anger. Disappointingly, it seemed he was the only user online who had the patience for the argument anymore, and he stumbled over to his neat bed and collapsed like a corpse. Not a hair too long afterward, he dozed off into unconsciousness.
His trusty 6 o’clock alarm blared in its signature, almost nagging, high-pitched beeping noise and practically startled him to life; briefly shocked and awakened by the sound of his alarm, he soon returned to his sleepy, muddled state for minute or so, then crawled out of bed and lifelessly wobbled down the stairs and into the kitchen. The exhausted boy took a few sips of coffee from his mug and nibbled on a piece of toast which his mother had prepared for him before returning to her home office upstairs. After a few more nibbles, as well as a strong chug of coffee, he strolled up the stairs to the small bathroom where he kept his neat array of toiletry supplies.
His toothbrushes, combs, creams, and prescription medicines were lined up nicely in small rows along the terraced sink head. He picked up his toothbrush and paste, scrubbed each section of his whitened teeth—perfected by years of orthodontry—vigorously, timing for 90 seconds in his head exactly. He put back his toothbrush and toothpaste in their section of the sink, then moved on to his favorite step of his routine, styling his hair. His hair was lengthy, reaching about halfway down his neck. If it weren’t for his constant hair brushing, his bangs would drop and cover his left eye, so he always made sure to thoroughly sweep his hair over his eyes towards the left side of his head. Finally, he cleansed his face by gently applying moisturizer and washing it off with warm water. He returned to his room to get dressed for the day. He searched the organized rows of his closet full of well-folded clothes. He picked out a pair of gray jeans suitable in length for his lanky, almost-stereotypical teenage frame, then got on a solid color, v-neck t-shirt. As he left his room, he pulled a black parka off the door knob and headed downstairs to leave for school. Down the hall and out the garage door, he left for the bus stop with a heavy stride.
“Hey Alex!” a young teenage girl yelled out, as she sprinted towards her boyfriend and squeezed him from behind.
“G-good morning, Alice,” the startled boy replied as he turned around, showing off an awkward smile. Alice was an unusual girl. She had an appearance which most would consider none other than ‘adorable’, but on the inside, she was weird, quirky, and even a little creepy, though that was part of what Alexander loved about her. He couldn’t possibly imagine himself being romantically involved with what considered to be a ‘typical girl’. It didn’t seem right to him. Alexander had always somewhat disturbed by the ordinary.
In short time, the bus pulled up in front of the two. The couple walked hand in hand towards the vehicle. Alice’s long, brunette hair swayed in the cool, December wind as they stepped onto the bus, and the pair walked to the back to sit together away from the other students.
“Alice, are you doing anything after school?” Alexander promptly asked.
“Lily invited me to her house to help me study for that quiz on Monday. Is that okay?” Alice replied, staring at the boy.
“No… I don’t think that’s a good idea. You can just come back with me. I can help you study, after all. It’d be easier for you.”
“Okay! I’ll just tell her I had to go somewhere with my parents,” Alice said with an innocent smile as she lightly kissed Alexander’s cheek.
When the bus slowly drove up to the school’s parking lot and opened its creaky door, all the kids swarmed out of the bus like locusts. Alexander and Alice sifted through the thick crowd, entered the building, and began to make their way to their first-period classroom.
The class plan for the day was to work on their group projects. Much to his displeasing, Alexander and his girlfriend were paired up in separate groups. Even more disappointing, a bulky-looking kid named Brady was in his group. Brady was one of those people whose demeanor made Alexander furious. Seeing that smirk of his made Alexander want to stomp his teeth down his throat.
It occurred to Alexander as they were working that he was one of the only people in the group really contributing. The others were doing a mediocre job, but Brady was the worst. He seemed completely ignorant of what the others were doing; clicking pens, checking social media, and sometimes just sitting around. This really began to anger Alexander.
“You know, Brady, you should really be helping us right now. We only have two days to finish this project,” he quipped.
“Y’know, maybe if you leave me the hell alone, I’d get my work done faster,” responded Brady, mockingly.
“Ah, yes… the important work of checking your status on your cell phone. It’s funny… that device is probably worth more than you are,” Alexander retorted, as he lightly tip-tapped the desk.
“What the fuck’s your problem, duderino papachino? We got time.”
“My problem is that I already know that I’m going to end up doing all your work… ugh… and even if you did do it, I would most likely have to fix your countless mistakes anyways,” Alexander said in a bothered tone. The noise of his fingers got a little louder.
“God, I can’t believe Alice is going out with such a whiny little pussy like you,” Brady noticed Alice watching them from afar and looked down in obvious embarrassment.
“Don’t you dare say her name. I don’t even want to think about scum like you associating with her,” Alexander grilled through his teeth. There was a tense pause, permeated only by the increasing volume of nails hitting plastic faux-wood.
“Who do you think you’re talking to, you wanna go, bitch?” Brady’s voice sounded a bit startled. He thrust his arm towards Alexander to grab him by the shirt, but Alexander quickly grabbed his wrist and twisted it tightly.
“Don’t you fucking touch me…” Alexander growled.
“Hey! You two, quit messing around!” bellowed the teacher from the far end of the classroom. Alexander and Brady did let go of each other, but they spent the rest of the class clearly annoyed, shooting quick, nasty glares at one another. Once the bell finally rang, Alexander made his way to his next class, and so the school day went on in its normal, soul-crushingly boring manner.
At last, the final bell of the day rang. Alexander grabbed his bag and put on his parka, then hurried out of the classroom with the other students. Everyone rushed down the main stairway as fast as they possibly could without falling onto the person in front of them, feeling relieved by the day’s end.
Alexander found Alice amongst the crowd, gathered by her small group of friends. He motioned for her to come over, and as she ran towards him he noticed that most of her friends were shooting faces of hatred at him. Alexander thought this was suspicious, but brushed it off and put his arm around Alice as they entered their bus.
The bus ride home was unusually dull; Alice was noticeably quieter than she was in the morning. This concerned Alexander. He wondered if it had something to with why her friends were staring at him with such contempt.
They left the bus and started walking towards Alexander’s house. Alice’s silence persisted, though everything else seemed to be normal, as it always was. The contrast slightly unnerved Alexander, but he chose not to make note of the unease and thought about what he and Alice had to work on for school instead.
Upon entering the house, they took off their shoes and coat, dragged their backpacks over to the living room table, pulled out their school books, and Alexander initiated his lecture on the subject matter of the upcoming quiz.
The clock began to tick into the late hours of the evening as the young couple studied. The thin light of stars shone through the high window above the bookshelves near the table where they were working. The silence of the room and the lethargic state of memorization let Alexander’s mind wander, and he thought about Alice’s behavior. He finally brought himself to ask about it.
“You have been acting a little peculiar today, anything you want to tell me?”
“W-what do you mean by that?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well… you’ve been acting a lot quieter today. Did something happen?”
“I guess I’m pretty upset about something that happened at lunch today…:”
“Well, will you tell me what that was?”
“You see… my friends… were talking about you. Saying things that made me want to cry! L-like, Lily was talking about how she thinks you’re a-abusive. To me. Maddie and Emma agreed with her. They were all telling me that you ‘control’ me and ‘treat me like garbage’. I felt terrible! It honestly made me want to vomit! I-I’m so sorry for having to tell you all this.”
“Idiots. You can just forget about them; nothing gets between us, after all.” Alexander showed no signs of distress upon hearing this news, or really any emotion for that matter. He simply sat blankly, staring at the luminous moon through the window.
“O-okay… y-you’re totally right.” Alice scooched herself over to Alexander, then lightly laid her head down on his lap. He slowly brushed her long straight hair with his hand as she fell into a deep slumber.
Alice’s eyes shot open to find herself laying alone on a sofa in the moonlit living room. Her heart almost stopped when she picked up on the eerie sound of mumbling and tapping. Her restless mind jumped to a scary conclusion, a murderer? Curiosity overtook her fight or flight instincts, and she snuck off the sofa and crawled towards the wall on the far side of the room. It was then that she saw Alexander, standing by the window. She exhaled hard, relieved that it was only him; but what was he doing? She clambered further along the wall to get a better view and noticed that he was intently watching a small figure on the other side of the glass. Squinting her eyes, she realized the little creature she was staring at was a scraggly-looking crow, with thin charcoal-black feathers dark as the night sky. It tapped the window pane twice in quick succession; Alexander appeared to mutter in response. This exchange repeated, with Alexander’s voice getting noticeably louder and his tone more manic. He giggled like a child.
Abruptly, the crow cocked its head towards Alice. Its small gray eyes seemed to stare into her, putting her into a trance-like state. This trance was suddenly broken when the bird let out a deafening, ear-splitting cry. She fell to the ground, her legs weak. The sound of her body hitting the hard floorboards produced an alarming ‘thud’, Alexander quickly spun his head around, his glare piercing her, and took ominous, marching steps toward her. Alice scurried away from him, the purest sensation of dread surging through her body.
“Are you alright?” Alexander said in a calm, caring, tone.
“Oh! S-sorry… that bird kinda spooked me is all.” Alice said, with her heartbeat steadying.
Alexander displayed a comforting smile while he put his arms underneath her and hoisted her up into the air. He could feel that she was shaking in his arms, so he made sure to be tender as he carried her like a child to his bedroom upstairs. He carefully laid her down on the bed, pulled a loose blanket over her chilled body, and laid next to her under the covers.
The pale yellow light of the early morning sun burned through the window shades, and the two teens sat in the messy bed, chatting and watching television.
“It’s a Saturday morning! We should be out doing something!” exclaimed Alice with a hint of excitement in her voice.
“Yeah… I guess you’re right. Anywhere you’re thinking you’d want to go to?” Alexander responded.
“I want to go to the mall, of course!”
“Sure, we can get breakfast there too. I’m kinda hungry anyways…”
After one cheap train ride, the two arrived within walking distance to the nearest mall. They entered the bustling building and browsed past the bookstore, the clothing boutiques, and the outlet shops. While strolling down the vast hallways, the young couple came face to face with an unexpected sight, Alice’s smile faded, her friends, who she had ditched the day before, stood just ahead.
“A-alice! I have been texting you all day! Your mother called me, she thought that you were spending the night at my place! Where were you?!” Lily shouted.
“I-I stayed the night with Alex… I’m fine, don’t worry about me…” Alice muttered.
“We need to talk. Come with me.”
Alexander glared menacingly at Lily but gave Alice the reluctant look of ‘go ahead, go’, and she wandered off with Lily towards the women’s bathroom down the hall.
The pair entered the empty bathroom through the rickety metal door, followed by Lily’s companions. Lily confronted Alice, speaking to her in a panicked inflection.
“What were you thinking! You were staying at his house?! He’s so sketchy. Everyone knows that!”
Lily’s tone distressed Alice. Nervous, her cheeks were flushed, and a single droplet teared up under her eye. She couldn’t respond.
“Don’t act like you don’t remember the kind of things he has done! Remember… remember the incident?”
“N-nobody understands him like I do!” she cried weepingly, rushing out the door of the restroom.
Lily hollered out at Alice “It’s obvious he’s manipulating you! That’s why you were the only person who could stop him from doing all those things… If you hadn’t stepped in, he probably would’ve have kille-!”
“Come on Alice, we are leaving.” Alexander interrupted opportunely. He grabbed her hand and abruptly pulled her away, practically dragging her from her friends and back to the bookstore.
Abruptly, Alice’s phone began to ring. Alexander watched as Alice entered a cycle of apologizing calmly and answering yes-or-no questions.
“T-that was my mother… She told me that I need to get home now because she has something ‘important’ to talk to me about. She’ll be here to pick me up in ten minutes, do you need a ride home too?” Alice said, putting her cell phone into her back pocket.
“Yes, I would appreciate that… I don’t want to pay for the train a second time.” Alexander responded in a calm, collected tone, seemingly forgetting the recent events by the bathroom.
The rest of the day went on like any other weekend would have for Alexander, the only abnormality being the lack of Alice’s text messages. It didn’t bother him too much, as he simply assumed that her strict parents had punished her for staying the night at her ‘friend’s’ house without so much as asking them beforehand.
Time ran its course, and Alexander stood outside his front door on a cool Sunday morning. He wore his usual attire along with a blue, cashmere hat, and a black, woolen scarf. Today he had decided to go on a walk through the forest that lapped at the edges of his hometown to pay his friends a visit as his girlfriend seemed to be unavailable today. It was his favorite kind of day, the kind of day where the fog was thick enough to block the sun, blotting the trees dark like silhouettes.
The tufts of Alexander’s hair that hung out from underneath his headwear fluttered in the breeze as he began to stroll down the hill behind his house, which led to the forest. A thin smile came across his face when he spotted a small fort dug out in a bush that he had made as a child all those years ago. There was once a time when he used this place as his own little escape from reality, and just as they did when he was a child, his friends, the crows, soared down from the tall branches and surrounded Alexander, greeting him as their comrade.
“Why, hello!” Alexander exclaimed with a giggle.
“You are… troubled? We can see it in you. Your eyes. Your tone. Your movements,” proclaimed the flock, in a monotone, macabre voice.
“Yes, I think I so. Everyone is pestering my love, the girl named Alice Reese; I’m sure you remember her?”
A heavy gust of wind hit Alexander, nearly blowing his hat away, and sending the many leaves on the ground into flight.
“We can help you with your ‘problem’, but you must do your part first,”
The words ‘kill them’ bounced around Alexander’s mind rapidly, but he quickly regained his sanity with a shout.
“No! I won’t hurt them! S-she would hate me! I would lose her… No! No! No!,” Alexander covered his ears and continued screaming. The idea of losing Alice scared him half to death.
“Now, Now, Alexander. Stay calm. You’re going to have to control yourself for a while if you want to keep that girl around, as well as for your… predicament,” echoed the choir of crows.
“Okay… But I won’t give in to you anymore. You are all my friends… not my boss. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I can’t live out the simple life with her that I have come accustomed to.”
“Silence. She may not be a part of your ‘simple life’ forever. We have seen those… associates of hers trying to put an end to her support for you. She may not last much longer, we’re afraid. If you keep up those silly outbursts, like the infamous ‘Incident’ all those years ago, you will be stranded with nothing. You almost killed that child, after all… little Tommy, with that inattentive teacher’s scissors up to his gullet. You’re lucky that she remained by your side even then. You must follow our command if you want to regain control of your petty peers. We fear you will lose yourself to your insanity. Let us maintain you.”
“I’m sorry, but I know everything will be fine as long as I have Alice. I know she won’t leave me… and I won’t lose myself. I mean, she was the only reason I didn’t slit Tom’s throat back then. I don’t need your help.”
“As you wish, Alexander. We bid you farewell… for now.” The crows quickly launched off the ground and disappeared into the mass of trees, leaving behind a few dark feathers.
“Au Revoir…” Alexander whispered under his breath.
He strolled away from his childhood dug-out under the shade of wintry clouds, the frigid brush and soil cracking underneath his boots as he went, disturbing the otherwise silent air with each step. He spotted a familiar hilltop, one he once climbed as a boy on the way home, and chose to jaunt up it on his way back to town.
It was not as steep as he once thought it, but it was pleasing to view the familiar sights of arching branches and wiggling roots as he hiked. Once he came upon its pinnacle, he scanned for the crumbling path to his house and sighted it northwards. As he strode along the pathway, he noticed that it seemed oddly devoid of animal life, save for the occasional cry of a crow in the distant skies. It was strange, eerie almost, to see the woodland’s many creatures parted from him as if something menacing were just up ahead. He pressed on regardless, as he would need to return at some point after all.
The flora dwindled the further he went, a tell-tale sign that he would be at his doorstep rather soon. He felt a certain sensation of contentedness from this morning’s saunter come upon him, joy almost; he wasn’t sure he had felt this for quite some time. He walked with a satisfied, bouncing gait, frozen breathes radiating softly from his faint smile. All seemed calm anew.
Drawing near his home, he came upon a pleasant, unexpected surprise. It was Alice, approaching his front door, not noticing him in the background. He ran up behind her while she awaited a response at the door, and put his hand on the back of her shoulder.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” Alexander said with an oddly large smile.
She flinched in response, but then began to stare down at the ground. Alex noticed something emerging from her eyes and running down her flushed cheek: tears.
“I n-need to talk to you,” Alice eventually muttered.
“Oh?” Alexander interjected.
“C-can we go inside?”
The couple sat on a small two-seater couch in the drafty sitting room near the doorway. Their eyes gazed at the fireplace vacantly, heavy with silent contemplation.
Alexander straightened his posture and asked “So… what is it?”
“Please… don’t take this too hardly.”
“Yeah, It’s okay. You can tell me.”
“You know the night I fell asleep at your house?”
“Ya, what about it?”
“My mom got a call from the police that night. I think it was around one in the morning. They arrested my dad. I don’t know what for yet, but she said we have to leave, especially since he was the breadwinner.” Alexander noticed her scratching at her shoulders. He tried to keep eye contact.
“Where are you moving?” he asked.
“In with my aunt, who lives in South Carolina. Some town called Myrtle Beach, or something,” she grumbled. “I hate that it’s so far.”
Alexander’s callous heart grew three sizes, it was painful. Each pounding in his chest stung acutely. Alice may as well have shot his head off with a gun instead of words, he thought.
“When do you leave?” was the only question he could word out.
“I’ll be gone in a month. L-let’s make the most of the time we have together.”
They did exactly as Alice stated. Almost every day, the young couple tried to form their last new memories, until it was finally time for goodbyes. It was mournful, yet sweet. There were no words exchanged, just one final, woeful kiss before Alexander watched her mother’s car vanish into the horizon. Not a minute passed until Alexander was struck by a headache, and the voices followed soon after. The next day would be the school’s winter dance, and something deep within the boy motivated him to attend.
This year’s dance was masquerade-themed. Alexander, being a crafty person, had no problem with this. He constructed a black mask by cutting its shape into a piece of balsa wood, then wrapped it with leather and cut out the eye-holes. He then attached two black feathers, left behind by the crows, to the top right of his mask. He wore his finest dark dress pants, shoes, and jacket along with a white undershirt and red tie. To top it off, he wore a long, black, peacoat over his suit jacket to ward off the winter cold.
He climbed the stairs up from his basement, where he found his clothing and supplies, and into the main hallway. He forcefully opened the door, trod over the patio into the yard,
and walked to his high school, about a twenty-minute walk away.
As he stood in the middle of the dance floor he thought about how he didn’t really have a reason for being there. Alice was gone. He had no friends. What was the point? All he could do was fantasize about Alice in a beautiful dress, dancing alongside him. His vision blurred with tears, all the neon lights seemed to merge as he squinted his watery eyes. He began to feel fatigued, so he made his way to the corner of the gym and leaned up against the wall, right by a door left open to cool the overdressed, dancing students.
Just as Alexander began to catch a grip of himself, he noticed a gray, blurry mob of silhouetted figures approach him. It was Brady, two of his friends, and the small group that Alice originally considered “friends”.
“God, I am not in the mood for this shit right now,” Alexander asked himself under his breath.
“Well look who it is! Just the psycho we were looking for,” announced Brady once he was in arm’s reach distance away from Alexander.
“We need to talk, privately,” chipped in Lily.
Alexander didn’t need to hear any more to know where this was going, so he promptly walked out the exit and the others followed, closing the door behind them. The group formed a barricade around the entrance, as to show Alexander that he was not getting back in until they were done with him.
“What could a gathering of idiots have to inform me of? Well… enlighten me. I insist!” Alexander spat out.
Brady rushed up to him and sent him a jab in the gut. “Now that you’re not Alice’s little bitch anymore, we can finally show you just what we really think about you.” Alexander buckled. A single crow landed on a nearby tree branch.
Brady’s friends joined him on the beat down. After a few punches and another crow flying by, Alexander caught a glimpse of Alice’s old friends cackling by the door.
“M-m-morons,” Alexander muttered gutturally. A streak of black flew above them. The boy to his right grabbed him by the collar, and shoved him down onto the mud. The others stomped and kicked his face viciously into the thick, gritty earth. More crows arrived on the tree.
“You fucking monster! This is what you deser-” Brady was cut off by the sudden sound of gasping. The group of boys slowly backed away from Alexander, staring up at the surrounding tree branches.
“Where’d those things come from!?” shouted Lily from the background.
Each of the teens’ jaws dropped as they looked around in every direction, only to see a large army of dark-feathered crows in every which way.
“Let’s go back inside. Leave the freak out here with them,” Brady said with a chuckle.
Lily went to push open the door when she came to a startling realization. The door was locked. Brady’s eyes immediately widened.
“Don’t fucking tell me you guys didn’t use something to hold the door open. It’s a school door! It locks itself, dumbasses!”
Silence fell upon the kids, only to be broken by the sound of footsteps. Hidden from the group’s attention, Alexander had made his way to the school shed, which just so happened to be in the back of the school, right by where the group was located. In his hands, he held a brand new shiny crowbar. Its metallic surface reflected the moonlight. The crows began screaming.
“Wha-” was the only noise Brady could muster before it was cut off by the sound of his skull smashing.
The others began to panic. It was obvious that they were all crying as loud as the could, but their mouths were muted under the squawking of the crows and the music playing within the building.
Alexander grabbed one of the girls by the hair and mercilessly threw her to the ground. He raised his bar high up into the air and swiftly brought it down with great speed, but only before one of the boys could launch in front of him, taking the hit instead of the girl, and dying nearly instantly from a crushed brain, which oozed out the large crack in his head like an oil leak. He stabbed his side and dragged him away from the girl, amid her screams.
“How nice, a hero came for you,” Alexander muttered as he smashed the blood covered girl’s jaw in and tore her tongue.
The others could only watch, in shock and frozen from terror, as their friends were butchered like lambs before them. Alexander cackled when one of them vomited on the puddle that used to be her friend.
It didn’t take long before one of them made a run for it. The others were filled with hope that he would get help, but help did not come. Only a swarm of crows to tear him apart and pluck his eyes out like acorns. He pitifully fell to the ground before even making it 15 feet away.
Alexander didn’t break a sweat killing the mob. He was particularly impressed that he was able to beat one hard enough that her decapitated head rolled down before his feet. He kicked it off into the bushes with another laugh. One last terrified girl sat pressed up against the cold, brick wall. It was Lily.
“Now that I’m not Alice’s little bitch anymore, I can finally show you just what I really think about you,” Alexander mimicked in a mocking tone.
“She’ll hate you for this…”
Alice sat alone in her room, resting on the bed with her laptop. It was getting dark outside, and her parents had gone out to dinner. It had been only two weeks since they moved, but it felt like years. She thought about home, and Alexander, whenever she had the time. As part of her daily ritual, she opened up a browser and searched for her home-town. The first result was a news headline. She clicked immediately, and it began playing a video clip:
“Tragedy strikes at local school, Scot’s Hill High School, involving the murder of seven,” Says a female reporter.
Alice quickly places her hand over her mouth upon hearing that first sentence, as the reporter in the video switches to a man.
“Students Brady Daren-Scott, Lily Thompson, Emma Reed, Maddie D’Amico, Dominic Cruz, Julien Boyer, Marie-Anne Henderson were found dead last night on the school’s grounds while the students were celebrating their winter dance. Pole reports tell us that their bodies were found being devoured by a large murder of crows, and are now in almost unrecognizable conditions.” The male reporter recited, then passing attention over to the female.
“Truly heart breaking. The only known suspect so far is fellow student Alexander Charbonnier, as his body was not found among the other students, yet he disappeared on the very night after the dance. Police state that they are not sure whether Alexander was the culprit or just another victim, but either way his search is currently a priority.”
After hearing the last report from the female speaker, Alice began to cry uncontrollably.
“W-why… you idiot! Why!” she screamed into her pillow.
A sudden noise caught her attention. She turned to look at her door. Tap, tap, tap. Sweat fell from her brow. Tap, tap, tap—louder this time. Alice kept crying.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Credit: Memory Mask