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The Thing That Will Kill Me

Estimated reading time — 8 minutes

I grew up in a tiny town in Vermont. Tiny in terms of population, not size—there were huge sprawling farms and wooded areas, but almost no people. More cows than people, which is standard for a lot of small towns in Vermont. So, clearly, not the most fun in the world for a kid who was sick of freezing winters and awful, balmy summers surrounded by boring Vermonters that didn’t have many kids my age.

My only close friend was Tina, who was a year older than me. We spent almost all our time with each other, constantly dreaming about life outside of Vermont. The people in our town were strange folk. Different. Different than in other places. One thing I didn’t realize about small towns until I moved to the city is how incredibly superstitious people in towns like mine could be. They believed in the strange, the paranormal. They believed in Luvia.

Luvia was an older French-Canadian woman who had moved to Vermont when she met her husband. And everyone in town thought she was a clairvoyant. Psychic. Even my own parents did. One day, my mother lost her wedding ring. She had looked around everywhere for it. They called Luvia, and she immediately told them it was “under old, rotting wood”. They looked in the backyard, where my father had been tearing apart a decaying piano he’d found. My mother had helped him one day. The ring was there. Under old, rotting wood.

After hearing a lot about Luvia from older townsfolk who seemed to think she was 100% credible, Tina and I decided to go see her one evening to try to find out whatever she could tell us about “the future”. I was skeptical. But it seemed like a fun thing to do as a joke.

So, we dropped by her house in the early evening, and she opened the door as we walked up the pathway to her house, before we even had a chance to knock. Tina elbowed me hard in the ribs and whispered that Luvia was clearly a psychic—she sensed us coming to the door! I whispered back that it probably had more to do with her house being full of windows, and the fact that she probably saw us coming from a long way away. Either way, I started to feel strange the minute we got close to her. She was very, very old—very tiny and kind of… sunken. Sunken eye sockets and sharp cheekbones and a sort of concave chest cavity. It was more than a little unnerving. But she smiled, and was sweet to us, and I started to warm up to her. Nothing about her or her house screamed “creepy psychic” to me—just a well-dressed older woman in a cabin-style house. It looked like you’d imagine any typical grandmother’s home—doilies, knitting, family magazines, etc.

We told her that we were interested in a “clairvoyant reading”, and handed her about twenty dollars that we had scrounged together between the two of us. She led us to her kitchen table, and asked which of us wanted to go first.

“What can you tell me about my love life?” Tina asked.

Luvia had no crystal ball, tarot cards, or tea leaves. She just closed her eyes and sat silently for about two minutes. Then, she took a deep breath and said, “Michael Carten.”

Tina stared at her for a few seconds, until Luvia repeated: “Michael Carten. The man you’re going to marry. Michael Carten.”

Tina thanked her, and repeated the name to herself a few times. Michael Carten. Michael Carten. Michael Carten. Luvia then turned to me.

“Whatever you can tell me, I’d like to hear,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be about my love life or anything.”

Luvia closed her eyes for a few seconds, but information about me seemed to reach her much quicker than her visions of Tina’s husband. She looked straight into my eyes, grabbed my hands and said:

“The thing that will kill you is shedding its skin.”

“The thing that will kill you is sharpening its teeth.”

“The thing that will kill you is washing the blood off of its claws.”

“The thing that will kill you is gathering skins.”

“The thing that will kill you… you won’t see it coming.”

The three of us sat there in silence for quite a while. I felt sick. Shaken up. Luvia looked as if she wished she didn’t have to tell me that. “Is… is there anything I can do to stop it?” I asked. Luvia slid our money back across the table to us.

“No charge for the reading.”

Tina and I slunk out of Luvia’s house quietly. We didn’t say a word on the way back to our houses. Tina just found out the name of the love of her life. I got to listen to a horrifying cryptic message about my death. I was twelve years old. I was fucking terrified.

When Tina left me at my doorstep she tried to make light of the readings. “How does she know who I’m going to marry?” she asked. “And it’s not like some monster’s going to get you. Some skin-shedding, bloody, sharp—it’s not like some monster’s going to get you. It’s not like… some monster isn’t going to get you.”

For years I looked for it. The thing that will kill me. I could almost feel it. Sensed it just behind each car, swaying behind the trees at night. Underneath the fresh snow. Waiting outside my window. With every step I hesitated. Every time I tried to sleep, I could almost see it. What had she said about its teeth? I looked out for sloughed skin. For blood. For skins, for hides.

But I never found it.

When I was eighteen, I left for college in California, to get far away from the snow and the cold and the thing that will kill me. I stopped sensing it everywhere. My heart stopped pounding whenever I walked alone at night. Maybe, whatever it was, it stayed in Vermont. Maybe it wasn’t a thing at all. People in California laughed when I told them the story and it stopped seeming real. Just the ramblings of a tiny, ancient French-Canadian woman. It wasn’t real.

When I was 27, a wedding invitation came in the mail. Tina was getting married! This was the first I had heard of it. I was still in California, and barely kept in contact with anyone from back east. It seemed like a past life.

“You are cordially invited to the wedding of Michael Carten and Tina—”

Wait. No. She had… clearly, she had the name in her mind. Michael Carten. And she sought him out. It had nothing to do with Luvia. Her predictions weren’t real. They couldn’t be. Clairvoyants don’t exist. It’s ridiculous to think that kind of thing happens in the real world.

I went to the wedding. Tina, Michael, and I laughed about the whole thing—the psychic “knew”! She “predicted” it! Of course she didn’t. Tina and Michael decided it was nothing more than a funny story to tell their future children.

“Just tell us if you run into some beast with razor-sharp teeth that’s ‘gathering skins’, okay? Then we’ll think it’s more than just a funny coincidence.”

I left the wedding as sure as I ever was that “the thing that will kill me” wasn’t real. Didn’t exist. I’d look behind the trees. Behind the cars. Nothing was waiting for me. Nothing was ready to skin me. I didn’t know why I had been scared so long.

The best thing about Tina’s wedding was that we got back in touch for the first time in a very long time. We were very different people than we had been as children, but we still shared more of a bond than we realized. She was happy, living in Vermont with Michael. She told me everything that was going on in our town. The population slowly increasing. The new schools they were building. The babies that were born.

Luvia dying.

As the years went on, her calls and emails got less and less frequent. She always seemed to be busy. Soon they tapered off completely. I missed her, of course, but I had my own life. And I could check in on my childhood home whenever I wanted. One winter, I came into town to visit my parents for the holidays, and decided I’d swing by Tina’s house. I’d normally never just drop by, but she was pretty bad about answering her phone, and I really wanted to see her.


I pulled up to her and Michael’s house. Two cars were in the driveway, so I figured they were both home. I walked up and rang the doorbell. Michael opened it, dressed in several layers and a large coat, as if he had just come in from the snow. He invited me inside. He looked very surprised to see me, and asked if I had talked to Tina recently.

“I haven’t, actually. Not in several months. Sorry for the invasion, I don’t usually just drop by like this, but I was wondering if I could see her?”

“I uh, I figured you’d know. That you’d have heard. She left me. A few months ago. Just up and left. Hasn’t spoken to me since.”

“Oh god,” I said. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

He took off his coat and hung it on a coat rack by the door. “Can I take your coat?” he asked. I told him it was alright; that I wouldn’t be staying long. I was just so shocked she’d do something like that. He was a really good guy.

“I’m sorry—I was about to get ready for bed. I’ve got an early workday tomorrow. Do you mind?”

He kicked off his shoes, pulled his sweater off, and headed toward his bathroom. I settled in. Looked around their home.

“Of course I don’t mind. Do you know where she went?”

“I don’t,” he yelled from the bathroom, mouth full of toothpaste. “She didn’t call until after she was gone.”

“That’s awful. I’m sorry.”

He started flossing, and when he saw me looking toward him, closed the door for privacy. When I heard the shower water start running, I pulled out my phone, figuring I’d take this time to look through Tina’s last messages to me, to see if she gave any hint to where she went. Any clue. My phone fell out of my hand as I grabbed if out of my bag, and I saw it drop beneath the couch. As I felt around under the couch for my phone, my hand hit something else. A massive clump of long hair.

I pulled it out from beneath the couch. It seemed so strange, such a large mass of hair.

Brown hair, Tina’s shade.

Hair with a piece of scalp still attached.

“The thing that will kill you is gathering skins.”


I turned toward the bathroom door. Michael was still showering.

“The thing that will kill you is washing the blood off of its claws.”

Flossing, brushing.

“The thing that will kill you is sharpening its teeth.”

Sloughing off his outer clothes, his shoes.

“The thing that will kill you is shedding its skin.”

Oh god. The thing that will kill me.

I heard the water in the shower stop. Movements from inside the bathroom.

I ran. Out the door. Slammed the door. Sprinted to my car. Shaking. Watching the door. My hands fumbled with keys. Shaking. Shaking. The door to the house opened. My car started. I drove. I didn’t look back. I drove. All through the night. Through most of the next day. Only stopping when I absolutely had to. I had no idea if he was following me. I had no idea what I had just seen. My heart didn’t start beating normally again until I was two states away. I went home.

This was months ago. I called the police. They investigated. Nothing turned up. They’re sure she just left him. Moved away.

Maybe she did. Maybe she’s far away. Safe. Maybe nothing’s coming for me. Maybe Michael’s just a poor guy whose wife left him. Maybe it’s nothing behind the trees, in the snow drifts, underneath the cars. Outside my door at night. And the windows. Maybe it’s nothing. Probably it’s nothing.

Luvia’s been wrong before.

Hasn’t she?

“The thing that will kill you… you won’t see it coming.”

Credit: Ashley Rose Wellman (FacebookReddit)

Featured art by the incredible Rayluaza. You can find more of their amazing work or get in touch with them via the following links:

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