Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
“Have you ever heard of The Sallow Man?”, That’s what Timmy Morrison asked me in seventh grade. Timmy was my best friend. We did nearly everything together. It was Friday, and we were sitting in lunch period discussing what we were going to do when he came over to stay the night after school.
“No, what the hell is that?” I asked him, rolling my eyes because I figured this was going to be another one of Timmy’s story’s that his sister told him. Timmy’s face put on that he’d always put on when he was talking about something that someone hadn’t heard of before.
“My sister told me about him, she said he comes to you if you say some words in front of a mirror, I don’t remember it all but I wrote down what she told me. I figured we could try it out at your house.” I rolled my eyes to make it seem like I thought it was childish, but in truth I was interested. Creepy stuff like that always interested me, even though I knew it wasn’t real, I just liked hearing the stories. I didn’t want Timmy to know that I wanted to hear about it though, because then he’d just have something to be smug about.
“Is this just more of that ‘Bloody Mary’ crap where she just comes out of the mirror to kill you?” I asked him, pretending to pay attention more to my mashed potatoes than the conversation.
“NO! The Sallow Man comes out of the mirror after you recite his poem, then he kills anyone you ask him to, that’s what my sister said anyway.”, Timmy said as he turned to eat at his own tray. ‘There was a poem involved?’ I thought. Now, I really did have to know more.
“What do you mean, what poem?” I asked him. Timmy lazily reached into one of his many folders that he carried around for school and pulled out a piece of paper that was a bit crinkled. He slid it over to me on the cafeteria table, and I examined it without picking it up. This is what it read.
In dark halls within the after,
From those halls you hear my laughter.
Dark thoughts entreat your mind,
To for now break down my bind.
I will take what ails you in this land,
And I will leave no trace, for I am Sallow Man.
I nearly laughed as I read the last lines. I was up for anything spooky sure, but this was really corny.
“Timmy, you don’t really believe this crap do you? Your sister was probably just messing with you.” Timmy didn’t say anything at first, he just concentrated on his tray for a moment, then he said,
“Brandon, do you remember last year when my parents were fighting a lot? My Dad was drinking all the time and I stayed over at your house nearly every night for a while?” Of course I remembered that, Timmy WAS over at my house every night. My parents allowed it because they knew what was going on. It was a small town, everyone did.
“Yeah Tim, I remember.” I said, the mood now solemn. “My Dad hit my Mom a lot, and whenever me or my sister was home he would call me a bastard and he would call my sister a whore. It was a nightmare.” I could sense Timmy’s gaze turn towards me so I looked up from my tray as well. He stared at me for a moment, waiting for me to say something, so I did.
“I thought your Dad stopped drinking though, and everything was okay?” I asked, trying to lighten the mood a bit. Timmy responded then, with anger starting to edge into his voice.
“Yeah, he stopped drinking, but nothing got better. Sure he stopped hitting Mom, but she barely speaks to him or anyone else in the house anymore. I know it’s because of him, I know she’s still afraid of him.” I was a bit shocked, Timmy had never mentioned anything about that before. I just figured once Timmy started staying at his house again everything was fine.
“So what, are you going to sic the Sallow Man on your Dad? Timmy that’s nuts. It’s just some story that your sister probably heard from one of the other seniors.” I told him.
“But what if there’s a chance it would work? I need to try Brandon, but I want you to be with me.” Timmy looked dead serious.
“I don’t know Tim; it just seems silly” I told him.
“Please Brandon, I need you there, please.” Timmy gave me a look of pure desperation, and I felt sorry for him. I decided that I’d be there to support him. He lived in a broken home, and he was grasping at straws. I knew it couldn’t be good for him, but he was my best friend, what choice did I have?
“Okay Tim, I got your back. Let’s summon a ghost.”
The next thing I knew, it was after school, and Timmy and I had locked ourselves in my small downstairs bathroom at home.
“Do the lights need to be off or anything?” I asked.
“No, at least I don’t think so. I think all I have to do is recite the poem in front of the mirror, and then he appears.” Timmy pulled out the piece of paper with the poem on it that he had in his back pocket, then cleared his throat. I stood back and leaned against the wall with my arms crossed. Usually when people did this sort of thing it was in the dark, maybe with a lit candle or two. But the lights were on, and the floral wall paper that was all around my bathroom didn’t exactly inspire fear, so I felt pretty stupid in that bathroom with Timmy. I was just thankful Mom and Dad were still at work so they didn’t catch us and wonder what was wrong with their son. Timmy finally began to speak after what seemed like minutes.
“In dark halls within the after,
From those halls you hear my laughter.
Dark thoughts entreat your mind,
To for now break down my bind.
I will take what ails you in this land,
And I will leave no trace, for I am Sallow Man.” Timmy spoke loudly and clearly. When he finished, he held his breath, waiting for something to happen. At that point I was absolutely convinced Timmy was wasting his time, I sighed and closed my eyes waiting for him to realize the same thing. I heard him gasp, which I took to be a sound of defeat. I opened my eyes and was about to console Timmy, but then I saw the real reason he had made a sound.
When I opened up my eyes, I saw the mirror no longer showed our reflections, but a long dark hallway. The hallway’s floor, walls, and even its ceiling seemed to be moving, Undulating back and forth like the insides of some giant worm. The hallway was poorly lit by some unseen source, and at the very end of it I could see the shape of what looked like a man moving toward the mirror. For a moment, I was stuck in disbelief. I couldn’t move, I could only watch as the figure in the mirror came closer and slowly, its features became clearer and clearer. It was a man, or what seemed to be a man, bald and completely naked. His skin was a pale, sickly yellow. He was skinny, so emaciated that his jaundiced skin was taut against his skeleton, and every one of his ribs were visible. With thin and lanky legs, he walked ever closer to the mirror with a shambling gait. His long, ghoulish arms dragged his knuckles along the hall as he walked, parting the undulating floor for fleeting moment before the floor came back together. When I noticed this I squinted my eyes to try and sharpen my vision in an attempt to see what it was that was making the floor and walls quiver like they were. The cause of the moving floor became clear as they started to move from within the mirror, and out into the bathroom. Cockroaches.
The insects began to spill out of the mirror and onto the sink and floor below. That was enough for me, Timmy and I had to get out of that bathroom. I reached out for Timmy’s arm and tried to pull him away, but he would not budge. He stood transfixed, his eyes glued to the mirror and the nightmare that was approaching. I tried a few more times to pull him away, shouting at him to snap out of it, but he wouldn’t move. It was if something unnatural was holding him in place, and wouldn’t let him go. I gave up, and I turned tail, hauling ass for the door. As soon as I reached the door handle, thousands of cockroaches moving impossibly fast covered the handle and immediately after the door, leaving the door obscured completely by writhing and hissing insects. I yelled, cursing and screaming as I turned around to go for the window on the other side of the bathroom. I was silenced when I was met with the sight of a room, no longer recognizable as my bathroom, but was now more reminiscent of that hallway in the mirror. The walls and ceiling was covered in insects. When I looked down, I saw that the roaches covered the floor below, making only two small spaces where my feet stood. I dared not move then, I didn’t know what would happen if I were to step on one of those bugs. I had the awful thought that if I were to move at all, the insects would strip my bones completely of flesh.
I lifted my head slowly to the now dimly lit room, flashes of light would strobe here and there as the roaches crawled along the light shade on the ceiling. I could now that two yellow and gnarled hands had appeared on either side of the mirror, and I knew the Sallow Man had come. Timmy stood there, his eyes still wide, his stature still unmoved. I distinctly remember a smell then, a sickly smell that called to mind dirty bed pans, and I had to cover my mouth and nose not to gag. Still, this didn’t seem to bother Timmy what-so-ever. When the awful smell came, so did then did the Sallow Man’s head emerge from the mirror. His bald head was faced downward, and his neck stretched far into the room until his head was inches in front of Timmy’s face. A voice came then, a hissing voice that seemed to come from the insects, and echo all around the room.
“Who is the one to be taken to the after?” The voice said. Timmy moved then, for the first time since he recited the poem, by smiling a wide and unnerving grin.
“My Father!” Timmy said, loud and clear, as if delivering the death sentence himself. In retrospect, I suppose he was. There was a murmuring sound then, as all of the insects began to vibrate loudly. Then after a moment, the insects parted and swarmed around the wall to the left of the mirror, and a man; who I recognized to be Timmy’s father, rose from within the wall of swarming bugs. His face was pale and his eyes were wide with fear. The insects were swarming him, presumably pinning him to the wall. I’m sure he would be screaming if the cockroaches weren’t covering his mouth.
“This is the one to be brought into the after?” That awful hissing echo came again, entreating an answer from Timmy, and without breaking his grin Timmy said.
As if heeding the call of Timmy’s word, the insects then began swarming into Timmy’s father’s mouth. His eyes showed his desperate fear as thousands of cockroaches began eating him from the inside out. I would say it was gruesome, but the insects were quick with their work. They devoured every bit of Timmy’s father within seconds, leaving nothing left. Had my eyes not been glued to what was happening I might have blinked, and I would have missed it. I looked back to Timmy, who had a satisfied and almost, relieved looks on his face. But his look soon became one of terror as the Sallow Man spoke once more.
“Now, you will join me in the after, boy. Such is the price to be paid.”
Timmy didn’t move at all, save for the horrified shock that crawled over his face. I don’t know if it was terror that kept him in place, or if it was the Sallow Man. But Jesus Christ, I wish I didn’t see what happened next.
The Sallow Man lifted his head slowly, revealing a face that had no features. No eyes, no nose, and no discernable marks what so ever as far as I could tell. The only thing there was a mouth. The Sallow Mans lips, like the rest of him, were stretched tight, making his human-like and yellow teeth seem bigger than they were. Stunned into helplessness by my own fear, I could do nothing but watch as the Sallow Man’s jaw unhinged and stretched to an impossible size. He then reached for Timmy and grabbed him, picking him up just as easy as if he weighed nothing at all. The Sallow Man then shoved Timmy into his mouth whole. Just like that, gone. Impossibly, my best friend was thrown into that awful ghoul’s throat. I didn’t even hear Timmy scream as the thing swallowed him. Tears were falling from my eyes freely as the Sallow Man closed his maw and turned his attention toward me as the insects began to retreat into the mirror behind him. Just before the Sallow Man disappeared behind the mirror, he smiled at me. I could feel his eyes, eyes that he did not have, burn into me. A buzzing sound filled my ears then, and I began to faint. Just before I hit the ground, I saw the Sallow Man duck his head back into the mirror and disappear.
My Mother arrived home from work at around four o’ clock, and she found me on the bathroom floor passed out with the door closed. When Mom woke me up, my head was hazy, and it took me a moment to recall what had happened, and it was hard to think with Mom asking over and over if I was okay. But when I remembered I became frantic, telling her something had happened to Timmy, and he disappeared, but I left out the part about the Sallow Man. My Mother looked at me like I was crazy.
“Who’s Timmy, dear?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Mom you know Timmy, he’s my best friend!” I yelled.
“Oh you made a new friend, what do you mean he disappeared?”
I started to tell her that Timmy had been my best friend all my life, I was going to tell her that he had stayed over almost all of last year. But a sinking feeling in my stomach stopped me, and I pushed passed my Mother to the house phone. I was going to make a call to confirm my suspicion, but I hoped on hope I was wrong. I dialed Timmy’s number, and his Mother answered.
“Hello?” I took in a deep breath and asked.
“Hello, is Timmy there?” I asked.
“I don’t know any Timmy, maybe you have the wrong number sweetie?” Timmy’s Mother sounded much happier than I ever had heard her before, it wasn’t enough to stop the tears from forming in my eyes, but it did prompt the next question I asked. “Are you married?” I asked, knowing how silly it sounded, but I had to know.
“No, but I don’t see how that’s any of your business, does your Mother know you’re using the phone?” I didn’t reply, I just hung up. I turned and went up into my room, I dodged all my Mom’s questions and I went straight to bed. As I lie there, I thought hard about everything that had happened. I wondered if Timmy would want things this way. It was clear from the look of terror on his face, that he had no idea he would have to pay such a heavy cost. I wondered if his Timmy’s sister knew about that part of the deal, if she left it out on purpose, or if she just didn’t think it mattered, because after all it was just a stupid poem. But the biggest question that I kept asking myself, was Timmy still alive? I saw that thing swallow him whole, but was it possible in whatever world he was in, that he was still there with the Sallow Man? I hoped not, but hopes or not, I got my answer when Monday morning came.
In class, all I could do was stare at Timmy’s empty seat, and it was making me sick thinking about it. I asked my teacher if I could use the restroom, and was excused. I went straight to the sink once I made my way to the bathroom and turned on the tap. I turned the hot water on all the way, and began to splash water into my face. When I was done, dried myself with paper towel, and my eyes met the now fogged-up bathroom mirror. There, in the condensation, were three words.
‘HELP ME BRANDON’
Credit: J.J. Cheesman