Intense, sticky, long and uncommon are just a few words you could use to describe the summer I’ve been having. I don’t believe it to be an entirely unique experience, though.
I had decided to return to my hometown in the big city to reset and reflect after being laid off from my job and, consequently, losing my apartment.
There had been a string of unexplained disappearances, and the whole city was on edge. My father stayed holed up in his apartment, barely breaking away from the news even to eat. The gossip that poured out of bars, bistros, and coffee shops all pointed to not one but multiple serial killers working in unison: sneaking into windows and out from behind dumpsters like thieves in the night. They were taking people from their beds and their cars without so much as even a trace of evidence as to who they might be.
From this mystery, even more speculation arose.
“Do you remember Troy from high school? He always gave me killer vibes.” I overheard a woman at a nearby table say to a friend one morning while I was eating an omelet. Or, “This could have something to do with all those unchecked foreigners. We never had this happen before,” you might hear the most ignorant among them claim. On and on conversations like these were happening between friends and family in the streets and even more so on social media.
As for me personally, I was feeling very hot, lost, and hopeless as I walked around my neighborhood looking for entertainment. Looking for anything, really. I was so immersed in my own problems that I had been largely out of touch with what was happening in the world around me. Although I grew up here, I haven’t returned back to this place since I left college. Just two years ago, I was doing well enough to fly my father out to visit me for Christmas. That life seems so far away now. It’s almost as if I’ve been mistakenly put on a different timeline: one in which I never accomplished anything at all. I’ve never experienced a summer as hot and as full of fear as I have now – not here or anywhere.
There’s nothing I can compare this time in my life to, except a bad movie, perhaps.
Two days ago it seemed as if the energy had shifted in the collective’s favor. For the first time in two months, we experienced a day under 100 degrees. The humidity had let up and it was almost cool. At least, in comparison to the heat we had been experiencing. Even my father ventured to the balcony for his morning coffee. In addition to more favorable weather, I had finally heard back from an old friend of mine. Jon was one of those friends that you spent nearly every night with in your early 20s and that at the time you could hardly fathom them not always being a part of your daily life. However, life separated us after college when I got a job that moved me away. I liked Jon because he was bolder than me. I pursued a practical business degree while he blissfully defied his parents and took courses in art and philosophy. He never found much success, but he did have a blog and quite the cult following on various platforms. He sought to expand his knowledge and understanding on any subject ranging from, “Where do we come from?” to, “Does Bigfoot really exist?” Despite our difference in lifestyles, we more or less shared the same cosmic interest, and I was ecstatic to catch up after six long years. I was interested to hear his take on current events, and more specifically, the happenings in the city. Somewhere along the way, his parents must have forgiven him for his educational delinquency because he resided with them in a very swanky and trendy part of town, and I was to meet him there in the evening where we would depart to area bars and attractions.
I had awakened from what was a longer than intended afternoon nap to find that the sun was getting fairly low in the sky. “Shit,” I thought as I felt around the bed for my phone to text Jon. Thankfully, he had already texted me a time to arrive at his place. I had forty-five minutes to put something on and head out. Both my hair and face alike needed a trim and my clothes were wrinkled from being wadded up on the floor, but it wasn’t anything that Febreze and some water on a comb couldn’t fix in five minutes.
My father was sitting in his usual spot, watching the same newsreels when he turned and noticed me putting on my shoes to leave. “We’re up to 52 missing now, you know?” He said very matter-of-factly. Knowing my father, it was a plea to get me to stay in for the night.
“I didn’t know that.” I replied flatly.
“I love you, son.” He waved me on as I shut the door.
The city was thriving in a way I hadn’t seen since my arrival here: Groups of friends on every corner who were laughing together and couples dressed up in their best while holding hands. Cars were honking and lines were forming at all the restaurants. Fear had been replaced by a cool breeze, and I could hear chimes on porches and wind coming around the corners of buildings carrying with it nonsensical conversations.
I ascended some steps and found myself knocking in an affable way to announce my expected arrival. Jon’s mother, who had no doubt put on some weight since we last met, greeted me with a smile. “We didn’t think you were ever coming back!” She chortled.
“He doesn’t like us!” His dad added from the living room couch.
“You know how life can be.” I laughed.
Jon roared down the stairs and leapt down into the foyer where we exchanged the kind of hugs and handshakes that lifelong friends who have neglected to visit each other do.
“I’m certainly glad that you two are going out together. Make sure to keep an eye on each other. We can’t have you vanishing on us.” Jon’s father said sarcastically.
“You can make all the jokes you want…” said Jon. “but murders like these keep me in business.”
“Business?!” His dad uttered, laughing.
“You boys have a good time and be careful. Nice to see you again, Robert.” His mom said as she hugged us both tightly. With that, we walked off into the night.
Our first stop was a smoky but familiar hole in the wall that we used to close down playing pool together a few nights a week. It was kind of fun to go back, but I no longer knew anyone there and neither did he. Next, he took me to a place that he frequented. A much nicer place with a strict no smoking policy and an outdoor patio that was much too classy for how I was dressed but no one seemed to care. We started with a beer and he took me around and introduced me to a few of his friends before we grabbed a whiskey and settled into a far corner table.
Looking seriously from my glass and then to him, I asked what he thought might be happening to all these people that have gone missing. I could tell by his distant look that he was choosing his words carefully.
After a long 30 seconds of not answering, he replied. “It’s pretty scary stuff, Rob. A young woman two blocks down from me is one of the missing. I only knew her in passing, but her roommate agreed to speak with me. Her bed frame had been broken in half and there was a fair amount of blood on her pillow and they sure as hell didn’t report any of this on the news. They just said that the intruder had entered through the window and all the roommate had heard was a short struggle.” He could tell by the searching look on my face that I was hungry for more information. So he collected his thoughts after a few moments and continued. “It’s hard to separate fact from fiction because of the way that information travels now, but because of the work I do I get all kinds of messages, emails, et cetera. Some people have reported hearing strange music. Some have even sent me pictures of strange, ancient glyphs allegedly drawn on the vehicles or walls of some of the victims. It’s very hard to say what’s fabricated and what’s not. Like everyone else, I can only speculate. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation with the victims. Very random, as far as I can tell.” For the first time all summer, I began to try and put together all of the headlines, the newsreels, and the gossip I had unconsciously gathered.
It grew later and later and we grew more and more drunk. We stayed at the same table carrying on about the past and laughing about people we both once knew until it looked as though the bar staff was growing tired of us. We tabbed out and started walking back.
“You know that you’re more than welcome to bunk at the apartment tonight.” Jon offered.
“I think that I’ll take you up on that.” I said as I stumbled but caught myself.
When we arrived at his apartment we took note of his mother sleeping on the couch and assumed that his father had earlier gone up stairs to bed. It was all that she could do to open one eye and acknowledge our presence, then go right back to snoring soundly. Both Jon and I agreed that we were in need of a couple more beers to chat over and we made our way up to this wondrous rooftop patio with no shortage of couches, plants, and BBQ grills. Anything that you could think of to make the outdoors enjoyable was on that patio. The view was unmatched. I’m not sure that I had ever quite seen the city from this angle. We were up just high enough to give the people and cars below an ant like quality and low enough to still stare at the skyscrapers in all of their gargantuan glory.
“What do your parents do again?” I joked.
Jon just scoffed at me and we built on our earlier conversations from the bar. At some point we didn’t want to admit that the night had ended, so conversation began to lull and we sat in silence just taking in the views. I had been lost in my thoughts for some time, simply sitting there twirling around an open beer bottle on my leg and listening to the wind chimes on a distant neighbor’s patio. I looked over and noticed that my friend had dozed off in his chair, bottle still in hand. I laid back and looked up at the sky. And although I could see no stars, it was the most serenity I had felt in months.
At some point my eyes must have closed and I must have dozed off, because when I opened them, I was mostly sober. I noted that a hush had fallen over the city. There was no wind, no chimes, no car horns, and there was a lack of people. It was only the kind of silence and darkness that came just before dawn. The soft glow of a strand of mock Edison bulbs that hung overhead steadied me.
I sat up a little bit and noticed briefly that Jon was still sleeping. As I was reaching for the bottle of water I remembered placing at my feet, out of the silence came a sound. A peaceful and melodic flute played a soft aria that I had never heard before but felt familiar with. It relaxed me and I forgot about needing water. I turned to Jon only to see a look of absolute terror and awe on his face. His jaw had dropped and he looked altogether clammy. Confused, I slowly turned to what he was looking at and began to feel the exact same way that he must have. What I gazed upon as my eyes began to focus was unbelievable, and remains unbelievable to this day. On the rooftop adjacent to ours sat a creature that I cannot begin to describe as anything that I’ve ever seen on this planet, but I will try: a thin, but tall bear-like creature with short and shiny brown fur was perched atop someone’s patio table. The being played a small wooden flute. In spite of its elongated snout and curled black claws, the music in which it produced was flawless.
I finally snapped out of the entrancement and looked back at my friend who now looked frantic and frightened. An unexplained misery began to fill the air and in an almost inaudible whisper I heard my friend say, “The Kokopelli of the Black Mesa.” I didn’t know if that was true, but I sensed that we needed to act urgently. This mythical beast paid no homage to Kokopelli motifs I had been introduced to as a kid growing up in the nineties. While keeping eyes on the creature, Jon put his pointer finger over his lips, signaling me to be quiet as he began to get up very slowly. I followed his lead. The creature continued to play his song. Not giving us even the slightest indication that he was aware of our being. As Jon and I crept closer to each other and to the patio door, he got down next to my ear and explained, “It is said that the slightest of noises will gain its attention.”
Not knowing what its attention entailed and not being eager to find out, I continued quietly. Jon attempted to gently and slowly slide the patio door open but failed a quarter of the way through when it began to loudly screech and moan. Then all at once, the music of the Kokopelli’s flute came to a deafening halt. Jon panicked and pulled me in, shutting the door behind me, but he couldn’t get the lock to latch and we began to run. As we tumbled over each other to the bottom of the stairs we heard the screen door for the patio up above open, hard and deliberate. Jon’s mother who was in the kitchen holding a coffee mug began to ask what was wrong but Jon grabbed her and began dragging her out of the front door before she could get the words out. We were outside, but we didn’t have a plan to speak of.
In a split-second decision, Jon retrieved his car keys from his pocket and we carried his now confused and sobbing mother by each arm and placed her in the backseat of the car.
“QUIET!” Jon hissed as his mother tried to silence her wailing.
We locked the doors and ducked down on the floorboards. In a moment of paralyzing terror, we both came to the realization that Jon’s father had been forgotten in the mayhem. We simultaneously put our hands to our faces and pulled on our cheeks in regret. We took a moment to gather ourselves and get our courage up before we cautiously pulled our eyes up to the window of his Jeep to scope out the situation on the other side. What stood before us caused my body to involuntarily convulse in terror. In the middle of the road, no more than fifteen feet away from us, was the monster who had been playing the enchanting instrumental. His presence turns from mystical to intimidating when you’re up close and personal. As he looked us dead in the eyes, I began to feel a more human-like presence, a consciousness with an acute awareness of its surroundings that I’d never encountered in any living being. He walked upright and with purpose. Smiling and showing his jagged fanged teeth, he tightly held onto the limp body of my friend’s father. His mother is fortunate that she didn’t have the courage to look, because what she would have seen is likely to live in my nightmares for the remainder of my days. As the hairy arm of the creature gripped this man’s broken body, his thick black claws appeared to slowly grow in length. Nearly wrapping themselves half way around his torso. A small stream of blood that began dripping from the deceased’s mouth highlighted what can only be described as a frozen expression of shock and disbelief. I think now that it wanted us to see. I now understand that it was showing off its sickening work.
Like a godsend, a nearby neighbor flipped on their porch light and all three of us turned our attention in its direction. The thing snarled, showing its fangs dripping with black ichor. It made a grunting noise and looked at us one last time before tearing off down the road and into a dark alleyway where we quickly lost sight of it and its unfortunate prey.
And that is the story of victim number 53.
Credit: Taurus Moon
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