Correct but I just wasn’t very good

Correct classroom behaviour
Growing up, I always had plenty of books to read. Now, my family and I lived in a modified schoolhouse from a long time ago, so my house always had a creaky, creepy feel to it. It used to be two classrooms. One upstairs and one downstairs. The lower floor became the primary classroom, after leaks had ruined the upper floor. But, renovations made it a house today. Probably why a lot of kids never wanted to come over. Being an only child was, as you can guess, quite boring. Most of you who were only children will know what I mean. I could always go out and get friends, but I just wasn’t very good at talking. So, my parents thought that books would be a good way for me to kill my time. I was only about six when they brought me a whole bunch of books from my childhood. They were those cheap, paperback kind that you see at the bottom shelf of most bookstores, with bright illustrations of kids riding bikes, or dragons, and having adventures with their friends while finding lost treasures. There were so many, I wasn’t able to finish all of them. In our basement, we had a row of wooden cabinets below a counter top against the wall. In one of these cabinets is where I kept my vast collection of books at. I was able to read them after school every day, and still, they took my six-year-old mind a while to go through. Nevertheless, I loved it with a passion anyway. Eventually, I just lost interest. My parents had gotten me one of those new video game consoles, and of course, a bright screen outweighed boring paper any day. That cabinet just slipped my mind from then on. I never opened it again. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years. After finishing high school, it was time for college. Summer went by quick, and I leave for the university tomorrow. I had finished packing all my bags, and my parents had just gone to bed. My car was ready for the eight-hour drive tomorrow morning, and so I would have to go to bed early tonight. I walked down the stairs to my room, after getting a sobbing hug from my mother, and an awkward one from my father. I carried my backpack down with me, keeping it open as I trotted downward. As I shuffled contents about, a bottle of water fell from the side of my bag and rolled down the steps. Going down after it, I heard it hit the bottom. I flicked on the lights and saw it against the wall. Walking over, I picked it up. But then I paused for a moment. It had rolled into a wooden cabinet. Curiosity poked my mind as I simply swung it open. And inside, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Dust. Everywhere. Coughing, I waved my hand around to get rid of the thick clouds from the door’s motion. After settling, I saw the outlines of what it had gathered on. Naturally, a ran my index finger on the dusty surface, leaving a long line of colour. Raising an eyebrow, I picked the object up, blowing on it. A small, child’s book. It had a picture of a very young girl making cookies, and above her head the words read, “Cindy’s Big Bake!” On the corner, black marker had the name “Jason Klein” written. My name. Flipping through the pages, memories gushed back. These were my books I had so long ago. I read through them quickly, seeing as how most were only just twenty pages. After a while, I began to read more and more books that I didn’t even remember. Of course, there were a lot. There was no way I could read them all. Within half an hour, they were almost all gone. Then, there was one book left on the shelf. Pulling it off, I read the title. “Correct Classroom Behaviour”. My name wasn’t on this one. And judging by its yellowing pages, this must have been in this cabinet before my family even moved in here. Opening it slowly, I began to read the book. “Correct Classroom Behaviour”, it said behind the cover. No author’s name was given. I turned the page again, and saw a bunch of students running about a classroom. Paper airplanes flew about, and spitballs were stuck on the walls. Above the picture, the text read, “Children can be very naughty, very naughty indeed. Especially to their teacher, sweet old Mrs. Sneed.” On the other page, it showed a very old woman. She wore thick-rimmed glasses, and her hair was a dark grey, cut short and curling atop her head. She had a yellow dress with pink daisies on it. But her expression is what caught me. She seemed… Scared. Her eyes had immense detail, and she looked at me as though she desperately wanted to tell me something, something horrible. But she was just a picture. Turning the page, I continued on. The next scene showed Mrs. Sneed sitting at her desk as the children ran about. “Come now, Mrs. Sneed, don’t be shy. Don’t make these kids think you’ll turn the other eye.” Mrs. Sneed looked at the ground sadly, her bony hands resting on her desk as her face showed regret, and an extreme sense of self-hate as the kid stood on the other side of her desk, sticking out his tongue and making faces at her. I turned the page slowly, wondering what she was so afraid of. This time, I read the text first. I’m glad I did. “Now, now, Mrs. Sneed, take those safety scissors. These kids will learn from cuts and blisters.” The picture showed Mrs. Sneed with an outraged look, scissors in one hand and latching onto the kid’s hand with the other. The child screamed and cried as Mrs. Sneed cut the webbing of his fingers, her teeth bared in anger as she did so. My mouth opened slightly and blinked, taking in the page before me. It was a disturbing read, yes, but it was still just a book. I turned the page again. “Great job, Mrs. Sneed! You’re a teaching prodigy! Now isn’t it time you teach them biology?” The picture showed Mrs. Sneed with her scissors at the ready, the child laying on her desk. She had snipped away all the tendons on his knees, elbows, and on the sides of his mouth. She was now snipping his stomach open, showing his intestines to the class. Children in the seats were crying, some covering their mouths while others just tried to avoid looking. They all looked pale, genuinely scared for their lives now. I gagged slightly at the sight of that child’s intestines spilling on the table as that teacher had cut him open, and I hurriedly turned the page. “What a great class! A great class indeed! That class was your last, right, Mrs. Sneed?” It read, as the kids walked out of the schoolhouse. Some had blood on the bottom of their legs, and they all still looked extremely pale. Some were hugging each other as they walked, sobbing and trying to breathe by using each other’s support. In the doorway, Mrs. Sneed stood, her face void of emotion as she watched the children leave. Her dress, splattered with blood. I turned the page again, feeling it was the last one. It wasn’t a page. The last part of the book was a photograph, one of a classroom. Chairs and tables were flipped over, the walls had rot on them. Paper decorations were torn and peeling all over the walls. But that isn’t what caught me. In the centre, a woman, with leathery brown skin, dry and cracking on her body. Her hair hung in very few and loose patches on her peeling head. Her lips had dried up, and her blotchy yellow teeth were bared directly at me. Her empty eye sockets carried a never ending stare, as her eyes had rotted and fallen out long ago. She wore a beat up yellow dress, dried red blood all over it. A few pink daisies here and there. And around her neck was a rope, which suspended her from the ceiling. In marker at the bottom, a few words were written. “Thanks, Mrs. Sneed! Your work is done! We learned a lot, and sure had fun!” I closed the book and stood up, turning around slowly, I recognized my basement. I mean, I always knew what it was, of course it was my basement. But now, I knew what it really was. It was the classroom from the book. Walking slowly, I took it all in. All the school things were gone, and just a bunch of junk was stored here. But, a woman didn’t really hang herself down here, right? Lost in thought, I didn’t see where I was going, and I tripped. My glasses fell off, and I mumbled, feeling around for them. My hand touched something that felt like glasses, and I stood up, adjusting them. I brought out my phone and looked at the black screen. These weren’t my glasses. What the reflection showed was a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, cracks in the lens. And along the rim was the name, “Mrs. Sneed.”

I was doing what I normally did at the ungodly hour of 2 AM, messing around on YouTube or Facebook, or some other website I could use to entertain myself. I always had difficulties sleeping, so I’d go on the internet until my eyelids got heavy and I dozed off at the keyboard, forcing myself to climb into bed. Well, I was finally getting tired, tempting myself to give in to the warm calling of my soft bed and cosy blanket, when I remembered to check my e-mail that’s been neglected for over a week. I’d gone over to my account and cleaned expired coupons, junk mail, and spam files, until I came upon an actual e-mail. The peculiar thing about this e-mail, however, is that the account that linked the attached file was illegible. The text had run over itself, creating a scrambled and rather disturbing looking collection of dark chicken-scratch. Well, my computer was quite hot, seeing as I’d been on it for god knows how long. That probably messed with the text or something. The e-mail had no description, no comment, nothing. There was merely a video file attached- nothing more. The file was labelled “morbus.avi”. Morbus… Weird. I’d heard that word before somewhere, but I couldn’t recollect where. I had conflictions deciding whether or not to download it and watch, but I was curious- I blame it on the night high and the desperate need to un-bored myself. Curiosity has shaken the sleep from me. I caved and downloaded the video, finding no virus or threat to my computer, according to the file-scan I’d installed. When the video finished its twenty minute download, I observed the thumbnail of the video. A dark room with a metal table, a single light bulb dangling from a mere string over it. The soft glow from the bulb barely penetrated the dark. It just barely illuminated the table. I hit play, and the video began as static that lasted for 45 seconds and cut to the dark room with a metal doctor’s table in the centre, a large metal cabinet backed against the wall behind it. The large table was lit up in the middle of the room. There was no sound, oddly enough. The video was completely mute. The quality of the video was awful and very grainy. It blinked to static a moment every few minutes. The camera that recorded this must have been very cheap. It was a bit frustrating to watch. Finally, after about five minutes, a human figure walked in front of the camera, dressed in a dark coat and gloves. They wore a pale white Plague Doctor’s mask with a hood, keeping every inch of their body concealed. Red goggles bulged from the pale mask, hiding its eyes. The disturbing thing about it was its towering height. It was so… so tall… It’d have to be at least seven, maybe eight feet at least. Its arms were chillingly long, their fingers like notched, bony sticks. The person motioned for something behind the camera, crooking their scraggly finger at something I couldn’t see. Two other doctors, much smaller than the other doctor, dressed in similar garb came into view, carrying something on a stretcher. There was a large white sheet draped over what looked to be a body. This was getting weird- what the hell was this? I furrowed my eyebrows and continued to watch, my skin prickling ever so slightly. The figures placed the sheet-covered figure on the table and whipped it off, revealing a man strapped to the gurney. He looked terrified, his eyes wild and filled with fear. A leather scrap was belted across his mouth, keeping him from screaming out. His forehead glistened with sweat and his chest heaved. I felt my stomach lurch. I hoped to god this was some sick bit of a horror movie, and that none of this was real. I had enough, pausing the video and shutting the laptop. I didn’t like horror movies, and I didn’t like scary things. I climbed into bed and let my heart slow down, trying to calm my rattled nerves. “It’s a fake video.” I told myself out loud “This is ridiculous to get so freaked out over- it’s definitely fake, a video some people made. It’s supposed to scare people. Probably a teaser for a new movie” I let out a breath and turned over; relieved I’d talked myself out of being so scared. I was such a baby. The next day I felt kind of lousy. My head ached, and my stomach felt like it was full of rocks. I got out of bed, dressed, and went to work. I trudged through the day, irritable and sick. I went home still feeling like crap, but couldn’t make myself go to sleep, even after taking a few sleeping pills. Since I obviously wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon, I sat my chair and switched on my computer. I messed around online, playing some videogames and listening to music. It took my mind off my aching stomach. Taking a sip of water I’d gotten from the kitchen for another pill, I remembered the video from the other night. It did look kind of interesting, if that didn’t sound too creepy. And it was fake anyways, so there was no harm to watching it again. I opened the file and it was back where I’d left off. The man was strapped to the table, the figure in the mask hovering over him. I hit PLAY again and started to watch the rest of the video. The man was lying on the table, struggling against his bonds. There was no sound at all, so I couldn’t hear a thing, but I imagined he was making quite the racket. The tall, gangly figure pulled a blade from the small cart beside the table and lifted it to the light, making the knife shimmer. The man on the table began to cry, shaking his head wildly, and his face red. The figure pulled a small box from a pocket in their coat. Small white text popped onto the screen. “Subject has been confirmed with the infection- immediate surgery has been directed.” They slipped the recorder back into their pocket and lowered the knife to the man’s exposed stomach, slicing down. I cringed. No anaesthesia… The man shook his head and thrashing wildly, trying to escape the binds that held him down, obviously failing. The figure merely continued the incision, placed the blood-stained knife back onto the cart. He pulled his gloves on tightly, securing them, then reached into the man’s stomach and- I’d had enough. I didn’t want to watch it anymore. Fake or not, this was disgusting. My stomach felt awful now, worse than before. No wonder. I was probably just being a baby, but I hated gore. Made me sick. I sat up from my chair and shut off the computer, crawled into bed, sick to my stomach, and flopped onto my mattress. The world was full of sick things. My dreams were plagued by nightmares on the second night. I saw them, standing in a dark concrete room in a circle with the tallest doctor in the middle. My dream was in the same crummy definition as the video. Each time the video blinked into a brief second of static, the masked man in the middle moved just a bit. It wasn’t really a movement. More like a twitch. About the third or fourth time the static spiked my dream, there was a symbol etched into the concrete wall behind them, written in white chalk. It looked like a cross. The static blinked again and the doctors were suddenly lined against the wall, the tallest in the middle of them. The chalk symbol was now littered with bloody handprints. I woke up screaming into my pillow, my entire body so hot I felt on fire. I screamed and screamed, even though my throat felt like someone had shoved a heat rod down it. My roommate burst into the room and grabbed me by my shoulders, calling my name. Sweat beaded from my wet hair, pouring down my forehead. My stomach cramped up, and I doubled over in agony and was instantly sick. I couldn’t stop screaming, screaming I couldn’t see, that my brain was exploding in my head. I instantly blacked from the pain. When I came to, my roommate was on my computer, watching the video. I blinked, ignoring the throbbing agony in my head and stomach and limped over to him. “Wh-Why are…you watching that?” I asked, trying to keep from getting sick again. “I don’t know. It was on your screen when I came in after you… you know.” “After I what?” “Dude, you were screaming like a dying cat and emptied your stomach out everywhere. There’s vomit all over the floor…” I looked behind us, wincing at the cramps in my stomach and muscles, and looked to the floor. It didn’t look like vomit, but more like the oil from a car. “This… this came from me?” I asked, my stomach flopping and retching in my body. Don’t puke. “Uh… yeah. I didn’t want to move you until you were awake. I think we’d better get you to a hospital…” I shook my head quickly. “No- no, no. It’s fine. I’m fine.” I hated hospitals. I hated doctors. No way. “Dude, I know you’re scared of doctor’s offices and shit, but you vomited black crap. That’s not natural.” I just shook my head again and again, insisting I was fine. He just rolled his eyes and muttered. “Your funeral.” I limped back to my bed and watched Brian, the aforementioned roommate, look at the video. He shook his head from time to time, sometimes even going “oh god”. When the video ended he turned to me, a funny look plastered on his face. “Dude, this is disgusting. Why the hell would you watch this?” I shrugged. “Someone sent it to me- I didn’t watch the whole thing.” Brian rolled his eyes and shook his head. He got up from the chair and walked from the room, returning with a mop and cleaned up my vomit. “You owe me, you asshat,” he growled. He dumped the mop into the bucket and walked out the door, not leaving completely before popping his head back in. “By the way, would you please not scream your freaking head off when you decide to have a panic attack? You scared the shit out of me. I thought you were dying.” When he left and the cramps ceased, I went over to my computer and sat down. The video was still up, but I was hesitant to finish it. The video was so vile, but his curiosity made him reach for his mouse and hit play again. The video started again with static, and the figure stepped before the camera again. But, this time, the several others went immediately to the table carrying a sheet covered gurney, carrying the man. The sheet was removed, but this time it wasn’t the same person…. Wait… that wasn’t right. Was this a different a video? No, this was the same one, the same awful video definition, dark and grainy. But, this wasn’t the same person, no. His hair was longer, he was slightly shorter than the other guy. I continued watching, confused and a bit unnerved, and the beginning started as normal. The beaked figure slipped a recording device from his coat in a familiar situation and muttered into the box. White text popped onto the screen. “Subject has been confirmed with the infection- immediate surgery has been directed.” The first “doctor” cut into the stomach, but then reached into his stomach and… began removing his small intestine. Thick black goo dripped from the organs instead of blood. There was no sound to the video, but I liked to believe the man would have been screaming loudly, as he looked in excruciating agony. This wasn’t right. What happened to the other man? Why was this different? I looked at the time bar at the bottom. Thirty seconds in, no other footage behind this clip. The doctor removed a few more organs, sawing and picking at his body cavity, then took a small jar from the cart and filled it with the black goo that filled his body cavity. The man stopped thrashing, finally, and lay still on the table, his chest heaving and blood trickling from his mouth. He said something, what exactly, I didn’t know. No text came to the screen. The doctor set the jar on the cart and motioned behind the camera. The several other “doctors” ran over and rested beside the gurney. The man shook his head, eyes lit up with terror. The doctor’s ignored him, then brought a cloth from one of their pockets and wrapped it over his eyes. They took the strap from his mouth and jammed something in it and rebound his jaws. He must have been screaming too loud… They exited and the main doctor brought a jagged-edged blade from the cart. The last five minutes was of the doctor tearing out the rest of man’s entrails, stomach, liver, heart, and prying his teeth from his mouth and placing them in a dish jar, then leaving the man on the table to bleed out and die. I shuddered, my spine shivering. What the hell was this?! That’s disgusting- even for a horror movie. My throat tightened, and I shut my computer. God, I didn’t understand. What made my head hurt about this video? Surely I’d seen something worse than this in theatres? I couldn’t remember, but something about the video made my stomach churn. I went downstairs to get a glass of water, my head throbbing again. As I filled a cup in the sink, my arm tightened. My stomach flipped. It felt as though someone had socked me in the gut, and I doubled over, grabbing the sink to keep from collapsing. I choked and gasped, feeling a pain rip into my stomach and chest. My ribs tightened and I felt my jaw clench. I was instantly sick, vomit burning my throat as it forced its way up and out of my mouth, blurting from my lips. I hacked loudly, dark goo spurting from my mouth. I stood hunched over the sink, trembling like a leaf for at least ten minutes, crying and dry heaving. When I opened my eyes, my chest heaving and my lungs gasping for sweet air, I looked into the mess. A horrible taste flooded my mouth, like rotted food and spoilt milk. My heart leapt in my chest, a shudder ran up my spine. Thick black goo stuck to the metal sides of the sink and clogged the drain. What was that? That… that wasn’t… natural… “What…what’s happening to me?” I gasped, placing a hand to my soaked forehead. I tried to catch my breath, my chest still heaving, my mind over-flowing with painful thoughts. Was I dying? God, please no. There’s so much I hadn’t done yet. So much to do… The agony was unbearable. I tried calling for Brian until I remembered he had work today and wouldn’t be back until late tonight. I was alone in our house, shaking and vomiting black fluid and possibly rotting from the inside. I was too exhausted to look for my phone and call a doctor. Everything hurt, almost like someone had shoved my muscles into a meat grinder. I was in so much pain… blinding, white pain. I refilled another glass after I’d dropped and shattered the other in the goo-filled sink, then crawled into bed. I needed rest. I needed to get some sleep. I wasn’t thinking right, wasn’t processing things right. I pulled the sheets over my head, flopping down on my side. My stomach rattled in my body, twisting and flopping about. Part of me wouldn’t mind dying. At least I wouldn’t be forced to suffer through this… Despite the throbbing in my head, I settled into an extremely uneasy sleep. Once again, the doctors invaded my sleep. They stood around me, binding my wrists to the cold steel table, the light that dropped from the ceiling gleaming in my eyes. They dripped with dark oil-like liquid, like they were constructed of it. It leaked from beneath their masks, dribbling onto the floor, onto me as they towered over me. Whispers and hisses filled my ears, like a room full of hushed arguments. I couldn’t scream out, couldn’t call for help. The beaked figures surrounded me, scalpels and blades clutched in their dripping, gloved fingers. I could feel them cutting into my flesh, the cold metal of their instruments biting into my skin. They ripped and tore into me with different saws and blades, black goop dripping from my wounds instead of blood. The pain was unbearable, blinding. As they cut into me like a science class dissecting a frog, I felt a sensation of being watched- eyes boring into me as I watched myself being opened up and shredded from the inside. I slowly turned my head. There were so many. So many people lining the walls, their chests and stomachs gouged open, their intestines coated in black grime and uncoiled onto the floor, their eyes glazed over and blank. Some hung from the walls, others lay limp on the floor. They watched the doctors crowd me, tools in their hands. My mind was reeling in terror. I screamed at me to do something, say something, but I couldn’t… I couldn’t… The man from the second video sat against the wall, blood dripping from his mouth. He lifted his pale face to look at me and he merely smiled, blood caked in his toothless gums. He grinned and stared up at me with his milky eyes, then merely uttered one thing- “Don’t…let…the doctor…find you…” I woke up sobbing, my heart slamming against my chest like a steam hammer. I felt like my skin was on fire, and I couldn’t cease my shaking. What was happening to me? What… what was wrong with me? My stomach felt as though someone had repeatedly smashed their fist into it. I could barely move, could barely even groan. I checked the time- 10:57 PM. Thursday. I’d slept for five days. Five. Fucking. Days. I cringed as I tried to get up, my entire body throbbing and pulsating. I’d never in my life felt so much pain, never felt so sick. “Brian?” I groaned, not moving from my bed. No answer. “Brian?” Silence. I slowly rolled from my bed, clinging to the sheets as I stood. I needed my phone- I needed to call him and get to a hospital. My entire body was being washed over with agony. As my feet touched the carpet, my stomach lurched- I threw up all over my floor, black fluid spurting from my throat. Oh god. I was dying. I’m dying. I was going to be in the newspaper, found on my floor, rotted from the inside out. The thoughts just mad everything worse, and they forced me into a dry-heaving panic attack. I pulled my phone from my nightstand and dialled 911, then listened to it ring. Once. Twice. Three times. Suddenly, a loud burst of static erupted from the speakers in my phone. I cried out and dropped it, holding my hand to my now throbbing ear. The static still screamed out from it, even though I’d practically thrown it across the room. What the fuck was going on? I left my room and hobbled to Brian’s room. His bed was empty. I ran my hand over the mattress. Cold. He hadn’t slept in it. The sheets were messy and thrown back, unusual for Brian, seeing as the guy was a total neat-freak. Black liquid ran from my lips and down my chin. I choked on it, heaving and shaking until I vomited all over Brian’s clean carpet. I felt so weak. Where was he? I needed to sit down. I sat on Brian’s bed, my head in my hands. I couldn’t drive to the hospital myself. I could barely walk, let alone operate a car and drive forty miles to the nearest hospital. As I drowned myself in guilty, frightened thoughts, I heard a ringing break the silence from Brian’s bed stand. His phone was going off, and the caller ID showed as “Angela”. I grabbed the phone and answered it, frantic. “Angela?! Angela, its Michael!” “Michael?! Michael, there you are! Where the hell is Brian?!” she demanded, frantic and sounding afraid. “Wait, what?” “Nobody has seen him five days. We went your house, saw you sleeping, but he wasn’t there. He hasn’t been to work or gone to school, and he hasn’t answered his phone.” The phone trembled as my hands started to shake. Five days? “He… he’s missing?” I whimpered. “You haven’t seen him?” “N-No, I haven’t. L-Listen, Angie, I need help! I need an ambulance, I need you to-“The line went dead. I stared at the phone screen, shaking. No service… I dropped the phone, then limped to my room, my stomach tying itself in tight knots. I’d use my computer to get help. Facebook, Skype, somehow. My house was the only one out here for a good half an hour. It was the only in a construction site currently on hiatus from being completed. Going for help outside was useless. As I hobbled into the room, my computer monitor flashed. I turned my head to look at my laptop- the video, morbus.avi was on the screen. No. my mind hissed. No- I don’t need that, not now. I charged over to my laptop and sat down, trying desperately to exit out of the video. It refused to close out, despite how many times I clicked the X. I almost jumped when the video broke into static and began to play. “Come on, you useless piece of shit!” I snarled. The video continued to play, and I felt my legs suddenly go numb. I couldn’t move them. I began to panic, my heart thumping in my chest. What? Why- why can’t I move?! I thrashed in my chair until the numbness spread into my torso and arms. I shuddered as I fell limp in my chair. The video broke from static- the doctors were standing around the table, surrounding a human on the table. In the horrible quality of the video I could see he was limp, not moving. The coated figures strapped the man down then exited from view, leaving only the largest doctor and the man on the table. But, when they cleared…when they cleared… I heaved. It felt like someone had socked me in my stomach. My heart jumped into my throat and my chest tightened. “NO.” I said aloud, my voice rising “NO- DEAR GOD, NO!” Brian was strapped to the table, his eyes distant and glazed over. He looked so out of it, so confused. I choked back my sobs, watching the screen in horror. The beaked figure raised a recording device to his face as he’d done twice before. My spine tingled as the same text appeared onto the screen. “Subject has been confirmed with the infection- immediate surgery has been directed.” “NO!” I wailed, screaming at the laptop. “NO, NO, NO, NO! NOOOOOO!” “Brian’s been missing for five days,” Angie’s voice rang out in my head. This had to be some sick joke. Some sick, disgusting cruel joke. Please, please… Please let them have just reset my clock, have everyone involved trick me into thinking my best friend was missing for nearly week. Let it be a joke… But my hopes were crushed as I realized Brian’s legs had been snapped at impossible angles, the bone jutting from his knee, blood caked on the splintered joint. There was no way that could be special affects… For over fifteen minutes I watched the figure carve into my roommate as it did with the others, tearing his stomach to shreds with the many bladed tools on his small cart. Brian didn’t thrash, didn’t cry out- he just observed in sheer horror as his body was opened up and pulled apart before him. Tears ran down his face, the dark circles beneath his eyes such a contrast to his pale skin. He was staring into the camera, like he knew I was watching, anguish in his lightless eyes. The masked creature placed his bloodied tools on the cart beside him, the jar of black goo and organs next to the red-stained utensils. Brian, still clinging to life, tilted his head weakly towards the figure. He looked so tired, so weak- such a contrast from the last time I’d just seen him… “Why?” The text appeared again. I’d suspected it was Brian who spoke. The figure rapped his gloved fingers on the table, then more text. “Because you have been infected. We are ending all the suffering the world might bring you. The suffering you might bring the world.” I saw Brian give a shudder, then fell limp. The figure crooked a claw-like finger to behind the screen, and the rest of the masked people unbound him and carried him away. I expected the video to end there, but instead, the doctor stepped up close to the camera, facing me. His pale white beak looked so close to the screen it could have protruded from my monitor. The scarlet goggles that hid his eyes glimmered on his mask, his true eyes concealed from view. He was still for a few moments, just staring at the camera. Suddenly, slanted white text filled the bottom of the screen. “Do you see what you’ve done?” The screen blinked into static, and my laptop went black. I buried my head in my arms, agony racking my body. I felt tears sting my eyes and stream down my cheeks. I sobbed loudly; begging to a god I was no longer sure existed. No. No, no, no. Why- why us? Why us? We’d never done anything wrong. Never been bad people. Why did this happen to us? My questions were never answered. My body was enveloped in searing pain, so bad I screamed out, clutching my head. Black goo flowed from my jaws, dribbling down my chin, my throat. I was choking, heaving, unable to get air. My mouth was filled with the taste of rotting meat and trash. My throat burned. It felt as though someone had jammed a hot iron down it and pressed the molten metal against the walls of my stomach. I’m dying. I thought bitterly. I’m going to die. I coughed and choked, the black vomit splattering on my front, my lap, my desk. Everywhere. I gagged, trying to catch my breath. My vision blurred. I felt so distant and light-headed. My body began to shut down. I gave a massive shudder, the drum in my head not ceasing its beat against my skull. I felt myself slip away into unconsciousness and soon, darkness had me in its grip. When I awoke, I was met with the bitter, salty taste of leather in my mouth. I was bound to a cold, steel table, my sight blinded by a bright light above me. The rest of the room was pitch black, so dark that I couldn’t see past two feet ahead or to the side of me. Ignoring the agony that rolled through my body in waves, I tried to understand my situation. Reality slapped me in the face, and I was engulfed in cold truth as I stared at the blinking red light of a very old looking camera not too far from the table I was held to. I screamed, screamed despite the binds clenched between my teeth. Tears trickled from my eyes which I instantly jammed shut so I couldn’t see the horrific scene before me. I shook my head and thrashed in my bonds, trying to escape, to try to get away. I was held fast to the cold metal table. My struggles were rendered useless. When I opened my eyes, still clouded by dizziness and sickness, I saw them- five of them. Their pale beaks pointed down at my face. I sobbed, my muffled voice bouncing through the nearly empty room. My throat burned as I pleaded through the leather scrap, dark fluid dribbling past my muzzle. The tallest one waved the others away, then returned to my side, lifting a metal scalpel in a gloved hand. I felt death threaten to wrap its icy hands around my throat as I ran through my situation. This wasn’t a dream, an awful nightmare. I wouldn’t wake up in a hot sweat, my heart slamming against my chest in relief. No, it was real. I stared up at the hooded doctor, staring daggers at him through my tears. It was as he turned his beak down towards me that I understood. Finally… Finally I understood now. Morbus, the name of the file, a word I’d learned in a foreign language class, the Latin name for Disease. The beaks had been familiar to me, and now I remembered, taken back to History class in high school. The masks Plague Doctors wore during the Black Death disease that hit Europe. From what I remembered about Plague Doctors were that they were second-rate medical doctors that weren’t qualified for a true medical profession. They were used in 1348 during the Black Death epidemic. Most of them would die from the exposure… The cross. The cross in my dreams. The same exact cross that would be painted on the door of the house that held the contaminated. The dying. The words the doctor spoke came back to me, the slanted white text littering the bottom of the screen. “Subject has been confirmed with the infection- immediate surgery has been directed.” I realized it, I understood it perfectly now. I’d been so ill, so gut-wrenchingly sick that I couldn’t think clearly. But I got it now. We were infected. We were infected by the disease that rotted us from the inside. The video infected me, and now the doctors had to… take care of me. They were ending the suffering the world may cause me. The suffering I would cause the world. That’s why I felt so bad about the video, the awful feelings it gave me- because it was real. The Plague Doctor that stood before me snapped at his gloves, still clutching the scalpel. Then, he pulled a recording device from his pocket. The dead, hollow voice rattled through my head. It was such a disgusting voice, a voice broken with disease and age. “Subject has been confirmed with the infection- immediate surgery has been directed.”

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I am Halloween
Halloween is my saving grace – the one night a year I can go outside without a mask. I don’t want it to sound like I spend all year waiting for this day, just wiling away the hours with bated breath and anticipation; I would like to say that I have other interests, that I am able to find myself so engrossed in some human activity that I actually forget about the one day I can truly be myself. But this would be a lie. It’s an uncommon hour that I go without thinking about the thirty-first of October, that glorious night when I can step out into the cool air and almost – just almost – feel human. The last Halloween was perhaps my favourite. My favourite day hasn’t been the same since this area became occupied, since the human beings with their warm skin and their innocent minds began constructing ramshackle dwellings within the imaginary borders of what was once mine. When I say it wasn’t the same, I’m speaking quite literally: my favourite day was a different day before the humans came. Back then, what I referred to as simply My Day took place once every year, on what the humans know as October twenty-third. A day of great power, when the walls between the physical and the supernatural grow thin and malleable. Evil was released into the world on the twenty-third of October, although such designations as months were many centuries from their creation. An insane, power-hungry beast managed to doom her entire species on that day: an October twenty-third many hundreds of years ago. I often wonder what the world might have been like if she hadn’t committed the ultimate mistake. It’s irrelevant, I always end up telling myself. Because I wouldn’t exist. Unlike the naïve human beings who roam the streets in their speeding cars and make screaming love to one another in their shoddy homes, I have been blessed with a natural intuition allowing me to always understand how far in time we’ve drifted since our last cycle began; it is this sense that allows me to know the current year as Six Thousand and Twenty. In human years, I believe, that would be Two Thousand and Sixteen. Anno Domini, are the words they use. Words from an ancient language. Ancient by their standards. But I digress. It was the Halloween of Six Thousand and nineteen – or Two Thousand and fifteen – that was my favourite. My Day had always been the twenty-third of October. When I was alone here, I would slip out to the surface and enjoy the rush of power as I was joined by my fellow creatures of the night. I would walk, aimlessly and without direction, as the others whipped around me. Some were burdened with deformed, hellish shapes, cursed to roam in the shadows of the earth, safe from humanity’s leering eyes. Others were no more physical than the wind itself, and only visible to my eyes because of the power that courses through every living creature on the night of the twenty-third. Still others were beyond form, beyond comprehension – no more than forgotten memories, drifting from mind to soul, despairing in their acceptance of eternal suffering. Some have believed that I may end up like them. I have no intention of proving them right. When the humans came and settled down, they scared away my friends. Any human child would find the notion ridiculous: an army of the supernatural, the nightmare of the most disturbed, frightened away by innocent human beings. But it happened this way. The humans didn’t come alone – they brought their single most disturbing, most wicked power of all: the power of denial. Human children spend their time wondering what it would be like to share the powers of their fellow creatures – wings like a bird, perhaps, or the sharp teeth of a dog. They don’t understand that they already possess the most powerful gift of all. Through their human denial, they are able to stare us directly in the eyes and inform us that we don’t exist. My friends were terrified of the humans’ gift. They believed that we, as agents of the supernatural, would not be allowed to exist on this mortal plane without the consent of the human beings. Without their belief, we would vanish, become nothing. So they fled. They left my home and went to find a new world, one where humans were scarce or non-existent, where they could expose themselves once a year on October twenty-third, revealing in their annual powers without interference from those who may destroy them. They thought I was a fool for staying, for claiming this land as my own. I’m not a fool – I know that the humans rule my world now. I know that I’ve been reduced to a shadow, no, to less than a shadow – but I did not abandon my home. For that I will not apologize. It was many years ago that the first humans came to settle in my home. They built their home uncomfortably close to mine; I watched them as they worked, staying hidden beneath the ground, marvelling at how their species had progressed since the last time I saw them. My Day came a month after the first humans were settled in. I had spent some time worrying over what might happen; I was not paranoid enough to abandon my home, but I wasn’t immune to my friends’ terror of humanity. When the time came, I waited. I watched the human dwelling until all the windows were dark, and when they were I waited longer still. Finally I left my home and began walking, my destination unknown but far away from the house. I was meant to feel exhilaration, the sheer ecstasy of being closer than ever to the joining of two worlds…but what I felt was nothing. There was nothing in the air, nothing moving just beyond the spectrum of the physical world. I felt the cold night prickle against my skin, and the corpse’s hand of darkness caress the back of my neck. There was no one riding through the air to greet me, no one crawling up from beneath the ground to wish me a happy My Day. I returned to my home that night, disheartened and full of regret. My Day was over, and I had failed to squeeze any semblance of pleasure from its dark hours. I felt as though I had failed, as if something I had done prevented me from enjoying this once-glorious day. And perhaps I had made a mistake. Perhaps I should have followed my friends, away from this now-tainted land, to an untouched world where humans were nothing but a harmless legend. With nothing but regret and disappointment inside me, I slept. I was awoken by a sound I knew, but was not used to hearing: children’s laughter. Eight days had come and gone as I slept. I had vaguely wondered on the possibility of sleeping through the entire year, giving myself a chance of reliving My Day as quickly as possible; but this idea was thwarted by the children who played above my home. I watched them, careful to remain invisible to their innocent eyes. What I saw confused me. There were two children, one male and one female. I had seen them before, of course: they lived in the human house, with the two adults I presumed to be their parents. The girl and the boy had played outside before, often very close to my home – but never had I seen them dressed in such an eccentric way. The little girl wore a dress of all black, with sleeves that hung down past her small hands. A black hat rested on her head, its brim round and its top pointed like the beak of a crane. For the boy, it was a fancy suit of shiny black material, complete with a red waistcoat and a flowing cape. I recognized his attire as similar to that of humans I had known many centuries earlier, but why he would be reliving the wardrobe of his dead ancestors was beyond my grasp. Their clothes were unusual, yes – but it was their faces that confused me the most. The girl’s face had been painted a bright green colour, closer to an emerald than to grass. Dark lines had been added, making her smooth face appear wrinkled and far older than it was. The boy’s face had been painted white, with two lines of red running down his chin. When he opened his mouth to laugh, I saw that two of his teeth seemed to have grown larger and more pointed. I watched them for many minutes as they played in my grass. Their behaviour was odd, unlike that of any humans I had known before. Unlike themselves, in fact. At one moment, the boy appeared to bite into the girl’s neck; rather than scream, she let out a giggle and ran away. When the shadows grew long, the children were called inside. Still confused, I tried to watch through their lit-up windows, hoping for some semblance of an explanation. But it wasn’t to come, and when the sun rose the next day, the children had returned to normal. I continued to watch the human family over the next year, and was alarmed when I saw more houses being constructed. For quite some time I considered abandoning my home, as all my friends had done; but I knew that wasn’t the way. Instead I watched the houses grow like weeds, watched as my grass was paved over and horseless carriages replaced feet as the primary mode of transportation. The construction of the neighbourhood went on for several years and I watched the humans, intrigued, ignoring any threats to my own way of life. Every October twenty-third, I would leave my home after nightfall and wander around what remained of my grassy field. No one returned to me, none of my friends came back to admit their mistake. I never again felt the same electric rush that had once defined My Day. I was understandably devastated as I came to accept that this thrill, this all-encompassing euphoria, was now beyond my reach. And yet, as the years passed, I found myself with new interests: watching the humans, overhearing their conversations, following their advancement as my once-grassy home became a neighbourhood. I found great pleasure in watching the humans; but there was another interest of mine, another ongoing question that kept me enraptured for nearly all my waking moments. This was the mystery of October thirty-first. Somewhere in my life before this home, I learned that humans celebrated the twenty-third of October just as we did. They held gatherings, celebrating the paranormal forces they didn’t know existed. Sometimes, I had heard, they would even dress up, disguise themselves in costumes meant to terrify their friends. It seemed to me that the human celebrations of My Day had somehow been shifted, so they no longer took place on the powerful day itself, but eight days later. This was good, I believed: for the naïve humans to be mocking the supernatural on such an important day was not prudent. My Day came and gone many times over, until one year I didn’t leave my home. I was so intent on watching the humans from within my home that I actually failed to remember the significance of that day. When I finally realized my mistake, I was shocked to discover that I didn’t care. Watching the humans was my priority now. It was on that day – October of the year Six Thousand and Seven, I believe – that I first began to wonder if there wasn’t a way to resurrect the glory of My Day. I had learned over many decades that October twenty-third had been forgotten in this part of the world, that its power wasn’t enough to get me high; but perhaps, I thought, perhaps October thirty-first would function just as well. I eventually came to know this day as Halloween. The humans believed it was an ancient holiday connected to their religions; they didn’t seem to even remember that the twenty-third was the real day of power. But this was fine. Every year on the thirtieth, I would try to convince myself that this was my moment: that I would sneak out from beneath my home and enjoy the utter bliss of My Day for the first time in decades. I was never convinced by my own thoughts, and was always left alone in my underground lair. But finally, just three short years ago, I did it. It was the night of the thirty-first. I knew that less than an hour would pass before the day would end and November would begin; it would be another year of disappointment, another oath to myself that I would never let it happen again. I was not thinking when I crawled from my lair; nothing was in my consciousness but the instinct, the all-powerful impulse, which commanded my thoughts and forced me to finally act. Before I understood what I had done, I stood on the grass above my home, the lights from the neighbourhood illuminating all the human homes. I was shocked. Since the first human settlement was built in my field, I hadn’t once been out in the open air except on the twenty-third. Yet here I was, standing in the darkness, my feet wet in the grass, almost as if I were a human being myself. I cannot say what possessed me to move further; every instinct in my body told me to flee, to run and hide in some distant place with no humans to deny my existence. But I kept moving, somehow, my feet propelling me across the ground until the wet grass became pavement. The neighbourhood was devoid of humans. Lights were on in many of the homes, but if anyone saw me walking slowly down the street, they did not seem to care. As I moved, I wondered when I would begin to feel that old rush, that old thrill – or if I ever would. I knew that leaving my home was a mistake, but if Halloween proved to be no more powerful than any other day, I would be at a loss. When I was nearly halfway down the main road, I noticed something creeping along one of the houses: a movement, though without solid form. I wondered for a single delirious moment if perhaps one of my friends had returned to discover the hidden powers of the thirty-first with me. But no, alas, I soon realized that the movement was nothing but a shadow. In my disappointment, I failed to recognize what this apparition signalled. When the little boy came around the corner, I froze in terror. I was standing in the middle of the street, the gaudy electric lights blaring down onto my skin; there was no conceivable way the tiny human wouldn’t see me. It wasn’t the same boy I had seen dressed as a vampire all those years ago. This one had darker skin, and wore a costume similar to my own clothing. When he saw me, his face drew together in a squint. He didn’t seem afraid; in fact, he seemed to be pondering me as a whole, as if wondering whether or not his concept of the world would allow me to exist. I remained in the middle of the street, unmoving, as the boy stepped closer. He glanced both ways before stepping off the sidewalk, finally coming to a stop directly in front of me. In his hand was a plastic imitation of a pumpkin. “Hello,” he said. “Hello,” I replied. “What are you supposed to be?” he asked, craning his neck uncomfortably far just to take in my countenance. How was he not afraid, I wondered. How could he, an innocent human and a child no less, stare at me, a creature from beyond his insignificant idea of creation, and not feel the slightest tremble of worry? “Well I’m your neighbour,” I heard myself saying. “I mean who’s your costume,” the boy corrected, frowning up at me. “My costume?” I repeated. I was at a total loss as to what the boy may be talking about. “Yeah,” he said. “Who’re you supposed to be for Halloween?” Yes, I thought, finally coming to understand: I was facing the human’s power of denial firsthand. Then terror struck. What if I was going to die? After all these many centuries, what if I was going to disappear from existence just because one little boy could not understand me? Was there some way to prevent against being thought out of creation? Was I to encourage him, to make him think I was some sort of pathetic human, seeking candy instead of an ethereal high so powerful it could bring the dead back to life? “Here,” the boy said, reaching into his pumpkin. “Looks like you didn’t get much candy.” I took the morsel in my hand, staring down at the plastic label. Snickers, it said. I didn’t know what Snickers was. “Do you want it?” the boy asked. “Cause if you don’t, I’ll take it back.” “I do want it,” I insisted, hastily slipping the candy between my lips. My teeth made short work of the sugary food. “You’re not supposed to eat the wrapper!” the boy cried, as if I had done something unspeakable. He was so pathetic, I thought. His view of creation was reduced to this one neighbourhood and what he wasn’t allowed to eat. “Don’t tell me what I’m not supposed to do,” I hissed. The boy took a step back, and for the first time I registered fear in his expression. “You never told me what you were supposed to be,” I growled. “Oh,” the boy murmured, still craning his neck. “I’m…I’m a zombie.” “A zombie,” I repeated, feeling the word around on my tongue. The candy had stuck to my teeth and continued to fill my mouth with its sweet taste. I didn’t like the way it refused to leave. “What is a…zombie?” I purred. The boy took another step back, his expression growing another degree of fear. Some part of him, I sensed, some tiny iota of his being, understood that I wasn’t his kind. “It’s like a dead person who comes back to life,” the boy explained, his voice wavering very slightly. “I must admit I am not familiar with any such creature,” I mused. My tongue continued to dig at the solidified candy that dulled the needle-sharp point of my tooth. “They’re not real,” the boy said. Covering his fear with exasperation, I noted. That was so human of him. “They’re just made-up for comic books and movies.” “Not real, you say?” I stared down at him, arms at my sides. The claws on my left hand drummed absently across my leg. “And what is real?” I asked. “What sort of monsters do you believe in?” “I don’t believe in monsters,” the boy said. “I’m not a little kid anymore.” He took another step back. The fake pumpkin slapped against his knee. “Of course you’re not,” I replied, beginning to lean forward. My legs remained stationary as I bent at the waist. “But are you sure there are no monsters?” I asked. “Y – Yeah,” the boy stammered. This time, he didn’t move: he watched as I leaned forward, my upper half bridging the space between us. If he thought, in some absent recess of his mind, that I seemed to be growing bigger, then he was absolutely right. “But there are always monsters,” I continued. “You may think there are none. You may shut off your bedroom light and tell yourself there’s nothing hiding in your closet. But my child – you are wrong.” The boy said nothing. He stared at me, fear and defiance on his young face. He stood his ground as my black eyes stared into him, past his flesh and bones, to where his innocent soul lay trapped in a mortal body, begging to be let out and to join me in my eternal feasting. I knew that “Yeah” would make for a poor final speech, so I allowed the boy space to make a few remarks before I tore his head from his shoulders. They will not forget me, I thought as I carried the boy down into my home. They will not forget me – not now, not ever. And they wouldn’t. I finally understood. My friends had been wrong after all: human denial wasn’t to be feared, but to be combatted. It was my job, and the job of all others like me, to push the bounds of the human mind, forcing them to think up new and more ridiculous explanations until there was nothing left but to admit the truth: monsters exist. The human mind is a twisted, disturbing place. I realized this as I crouched in the darkness of my home, tearing the little boy’s flesh apart with my bare teeth. The humans would lie to themselves, all to pretend we don’t exist; yet at the same time, they would dedicate an entire holiday to acting out their pathetic depictions of us, pretending to be us for nothing more than cheap amusement. Deep down, they believed. Every last one of them believed. And on that Halloween night, I felt the first whispers of the old ecstasy that had once defined My Day. It was then, as I sucked the marrow from the little boy’s bones, that I knew Halloween and My Day had become one. The next year, I was prepared. After the little boy’s disappearance, several families left town; they were replaced by others of their kind, who in turn brought more, and eventually my impulsive killing had the effect of bringing more houses to my once-grassy field. To my great annoyance, one of these houses was built directly on top of mine. I had the forethought to evacuate myself and whatever remained of the little boy before construction began. I hid out far away, careful not to be seen by human eyes. This was another of their many hypocritical stances: a scary mask was to be praised on Halloween, but demonized every other day of the year. When the house was finished, I returned to my lair. The human bastards had replaced my walls, my floor, my ceiling with hard, cold substances that I knew I would never find appealing. My home had been ruined, and I briefly considered building myself a new one, in the earth farther away from town; but my friends had been unable to drag me from my home all those years ago, and if they could not convince me to leave then no human could either. I have stayed in the basement ever since. The humans who live in my house never come down the shoddy wooden stairs, except occasionally to check the furnace; on the rare day that one of them makes an appearance, I keep myself well-hidden in the shadows. It was only on the last Halloween – a year since my impromptu feast – that I was seen by any number of humans. Yes, I had known some in my lives before this home; but ever since coming to my once-grassy field, I had been seen by no human eyes, barring those of the little boy. When the sun went down on the night of the thirty-first, the children left their homes to wander the streets. Some of them were dressed in the brightly-coloured uniforms of popular culture heroes; others had retained the traditions, dressing as monsters of folklore that would bring fear to their impressionable younger siblings. Before making my move, I spent some time watching the children through my basement window. They all seemed so happy, I thought – so ready to deny the existence of my people, yet so quick to wear our faces. It was a two-edged sword, I realized only in that moment. Human denial prevents us from being what we once were; yet it is their fascination with the supernatural, their obsession with a world they don’t believe exists, that allows us to remain as we are. Denial is our enemy; fear is our ally. As long as human beings are afraid of the dark, as long as they create vivid monsters out of terror-soaked imaginations, I will have power. When I was sure all the children in town were out and about, I slipped silently through the basement window and unfolded myself on the lawn. As I made my way out into the street, children turned to stare. Some cried out in surprise – some cowered in fear. But every pair of youthful eyes was trained on the tall, thin stranger in their midst. When I came to the centre of the street, my feet planted where their friend had died one year earlier, I raised my arms to the heavens. “Happy Halloween, everybody!” I cried. My voice echoed through the street. The children all seemed relieved and they resumed their normal conversations. A pair of Satans rushed by me, clutching their pumpkins. A werewolf scooted to the other side of the street, passing by with both eyes fixed warily on my form. I wanted it. I wanted Halloween. This, not October twenty-third, was the true day of power: not some foolish anniversary of evil long past, but a holiday based entirely on fear, celebrated all across the globe. For the first time in many, many years, I felt the thrill building in my soul. I felt that high, that euphoria that had once been accompanied by ghostly figures riding through the night; I stared at the scene before me, all around me, and I knew that Halloween was My Day now. Slowly, I stepped forward. A crowd of children surrounded me, all babbling and laughing in excitement. I paid no attention to their words. Instead, I spread out my arms, allowing the tips of my fingers to brush against every child I passed. I could feel them. Beyond a physical touch, I could feel their excitement, their pleasure – but most importantly, buried deep in the parts of their minds that forced maturity to blossom, their fear. They were all afraid, on some level. What else are human beings good for, but to fear and deny that they are afraid? Perhaps some of the adult residents of my town wondered where the tall man in the hideous mask had come from. Perhaps some of them, in the farthest reaches of their conscious thoughts, wondered if I had anything to do with the child who had gone missing a year before. I hope they did. I hope they stood at their windows, watching me brush my hands against the children as I towered three times as high as the tallest one, and agonized over the question of whether or not they are becoming paranoid, delusional, and perhaps insane with the unanswered questions that had followed the boy to his grave. And I hope wherever my old friends are, whatever part of the world they have decided is suitably human-free, I hope they are never happy again. I hope they never feel the brilliant fireworks of pleasure we used to share every October twenty-third; I hope they never find out that true immortal bliss is only eight days away. Above all, I hope the human race continues to grow. I hope they flourish, each one of them enjoying long, terrifying lives. I hope they all have children, and their children have children; I hope they teach every new generation the true meaning of fear. I am the true meaning of fear. My friends believed they were incapable of being afraid. But they were afraid of humans, and the power they hold. They were afraid that any flesh-and-blood mortal could simply wish them out of existence. And perhaps they could. But not with me there. Not with me, hiding in the shadows. Not with me lurking behind every corner, waiting until their fear reaches its climax and I strike. Manipulation is my game, and terror is my drug. I am Halloween.

My father told me a story once. I’ll never forget it, for a few reasons. I think it’s the first story he ever told me, as a child. It’s also the story of how my grandfather died. But honestly, that isn’t the reason. You hear stories, on TV, or sometimes you over hear something in a public place. People talk about ghosts and aliens, and you think to yourself, “That isn’t real. They’re making it up, or they’re mistaken, or they’re crazy,” or something like that. You just can’t believe it. Until something happens. Something that brings it all together, connects the dots in a way you didn’t think of before. Maybe it happens to you, maybe you hear the same story again and again, happening to different people. It doesn’t take long for the world to become a lot bigger than you thought it was. As I said, this is a story my father told me, but I never believed it, even though he swore up and down it was true. It wasn’t until I started clicking around the internet I started to believe. I started to hear other stories just like the one my father told me. It didn’t take me long to believe in The Rake. That’s not what my father called it, of course. He’s never used the internet in his life, he wouldn’t know what the consensus has taken to naming it. When he chose to call it something other than “it” or “that thing”. He called it “Skinwalker” after an old Navajo tale his grandfather told him. But I’ll tell you the story, the way he told it to me. “We were out hunting one night,” he’d tell me. “Coyotes. We’d kill ’em for fifty bucks a skin.” They lived on a dairy farm, in Ohio. “They’d kill calves sometimes. We’d do it every night, because we needed the money. Sometimes, while we were out, we’d come on a deer, and kill it. Our landlord didn’t mind, and it could a feed our family for a few nights and save us some money. “Anyway, we were done making our rounds and heading home, walking, ’cause we didn’t have a car or some four-wheeler back then. We’d cut through the woods. That’s when we came up on it. “Blood, everywhere. Splattered on the trees, in the grass, in the creek, everywhere. At first, we figured it was a pack of coyotes. We’d seen it sometimes, they can’t scavenge and start hunting deer or cattle. The worst was when they bred with feral dogs. But this wasn’t like that. “See, when a pack of dogs, or wolves, or coyotes attack something, they do it right. They’ll pick off one that’s weak, or sick, or old, or just small. They’ll hunt it, draw it into a corner, some place it can’t get out off, and they’ll run it right to the biggest one, the alpha. And that deer will never see that alpha. It might hear it, but it won’t see it. It’ll just notice that its throat is gone, and then it’ll drop dead. It’s quick, it’s clean. That wasn’t what happened here. “Something had run up on a den of deer. Coyotes won’t attack a den, wolves neither, because they’d get too much of a fight. There were three, I think, three bodies. Just torn apart. You’d see a head here, a leg here, a torso there. Predators don’t do that. They don’t leave behind scraps. What had done this hadn’t done it for food. It had done it for fun. “But we didn’t know that. We saw a bunch of carcasses and we think it’s something we gotta take care of. I remember my dad telling me to go home; he thought it was a pack of feral dogs.” “But I wasn’t leaving him, and I damn sure wasn’t walking through two miles of woods alone, with nothing but a twenty two and a pocket knife.” He was only thirteen at the time, so a .22 rifle was about the only gun he could reliably use. “Dad had the shotgun, and I wasn’t going anywhere without it. “It took me a while, to convince him, but finally we began tracking whatever did that. It wasn’t hard, either, we just followed the blood. Either that thing bled a deer before it got away, or it dragged one for a mile. I don’t know. I know that I’d never seen my dad scared before that night. “We started hearing noises. I’ve been in a lot of woods, in my life, I’ve been all over the world, and ain’t never heard noises like I heard that night. I heard things screaming. “Heard deer, and fox, and rabbits and raccoons and birds, just scared. Keep in mind, this is maybe twelve, or one o’ clock. ‘Cept the fox, and some birds, nothing was supposed to even be awake. But they weren’t just awake they were moving. I saw flocks of birds that night fly straight into trees just trying to get out of there. We came up on a pack of coyotes, nearly shot a couple thinking it was what we were looking for us, but then we saw they were running towards us. They ran right passed us, didn’t even notice. “Then some deer did the same. Then some rabbits, squirrels, foxes, even a couple wild hogs. These things were supposed to be eating each other and the only thing they cared about was getting out of there. “We should have put it together. That maybe whatever we were tracking, it wasn’t something we were supposed to see, and it wasn’t something we could kill. I don’t know why we didn’t just go home. I guess we were curious. I think that was my dad’s nature, to go toward trouble, to fight. And knowing what I knew about what my father did during the war, my nature was to stay close to him. “We finally get into an open valley. It was normally a soy field, but it wasn’t in season, so it was just flat dirt. We saw the tracks, then. A lot of the animals fleeing the forest had paved over the land. But where that deer blood was, nothing had taken a single step. Like they were leaving it for us to find. “The tracks were shallow. Whatever it was couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred pounds, but that didn’t mean much. A bobcat weighing forty pounds wet nearly tore out my damn throat, once. All that means is that it’s quick and hard to hit. “So we follow the tracks, and it doesn’t take us long to find where it is. There’s this old school house that sits on the top of a hill. Half of it had been ripped out by a tornado, but nobody lived there, not for a long time. We caught homeless people in there, sometimes, or druggies looking for a safe place to shoot up. We figured maybe that was it. Maybe it was some sick kid riding a high. But we didn’t think that for long. “We get within fifty yards, and we hear this noise. A screeching kinda sound. It was sort of made up of two different sounds. One was a high pitched screech, another was a low pitched growl. It was making both, at the same time. “We get within twenty yards, and we hear this sound. I can remember thinking that it sounded like paper being torn apart, while someone was swinging water in a bucket, back and forth. “Dad looks at me, kneels down, and whispers.’I gotta stay behind him, ’cause we’re about to corner him. Any animal will fight when it’s cornered, ‘specially when it’s a predator. But we can tell by the tracks that it’s just one’. He tells me it’s probably a single, feral dog, probably rabid. “The plan is to sneak up on it while it’s eating, shoot it, and then keep shooting it ’till it don’t move anymore, then slit its throat. If it gets to dad, it’s my job to shoot it or stab it to get it off him. So he walks up, and I’m right behind him, just a tad to his side, so I can see what it is. I wish to this day I hadn’t. “It was leaning over a carcass, tears off its flesh, and throws what it doesn’t nibble at aside. There’s blood all over the brick, glistening in the moonlight. It’s pale white, human looking; but not quite human. It had arms and legs like a human, but it sat like a monkey, hunched over. Its hands weren’t normal; it had long fingers with claws at the end. “So we see that, and my dad hesitates. He wasn’t about to fire on a person. So he clears his throat, to try get it to turn around. “I swear to god, all the noise just ceased. I ain’t ever heard true silence before that, and not after it. But for two seconds, nothing, nothing, made any noise. Which made it all the louder when it turned around, made this shrill cry, and jumped on dad. “He got a shot off. I think he missed. If he hit the thing, it didn’t mind. But it was on him, tears parts of him off. I start shooting it with the twenty two, point blank, but it barely bled the thing. I got off five rounds, and then I started hitting it with the gun butt. But it wasn’t budging. “It didn’t even register that I was there. “It clawed at my dad, taking off bits of his flesh. It started on his torso, ripping off the skin, his tit, then it moved up. It tore off his throat, it tore off his nose, his eyes. It scalped him. Then it started digging in and ripped off the bottom half of his jaw, the little bones and that tube in your neck, then his ribs. “I don’t exactly remember what happened, but somehow, my dad’s knife ends up in this things shoulder, and my dad ends up on my back. I’m running, and by god I’m running faster than I’d ever run before or after. And it’s following me. I end up back in the woods, opposite the ones we been in. I’m headin’ towards my landlord’s house, ’cause it’s half a mile away. “I can hear this thing, screeching and moaning. I hear the tree branches crack and get thrown around. It sounds like someone’s taking an axe to every single tree I pass, it’s cracking so loud and often, but I just ain’t looking back. “Finally, I trip into gravel. I look up and there’s my landlord and bunch of his buddies, drinking around a campfire. I scream and I cry, and they come over. I’m telling them to call an ambulance, and he looks at me, and I’ll never forget what he said. “‘What is that on your back?’ he asked me. Just as he said it, he saw. One of those godawful flannel shirts my dad wore everywhere. It was what was left of my dad. Most of his head, his torso, but nothing after the waist. “Suddenly we hear it; screeching. He grabs me, my dad gets thrown on the ground. I’m fighting him, crying, cause I think we can still save him, somehow, but my dad had been gone ‘fore I ever picked him up. He has to pick me up and throw me inside before I come with him. “He and his buddies, we’re all inside, and their locking doors, and getting guns. The landlord’s asking me ‘What happened? What happened?’ but I just don’t know what to tell him. He pieced enough of it all together to understand that there was something dangerous there. All the lights in the house are on, and someone calls the cops. They’ll be there, but in fifteen minutes. “We look outside, and see it walk in front of the fire they’d made. Don’t know what it is, one of ’em says it looks like an Ape. Suddenly, something goes through the window. We shoot at it, but ain’t the thing. It’s my landlord’s dog. Just the body, though. Not his head or legs. “We start pushing things in front of doors and windows, when we hear something the garage. I remember one of his friends sayin’ that the doors were open. We hear metal and glass just get ripped apart. We put a couch and a TV in front of the door to the garage. “It banged around some more, but then it got quiet. Not silent, like it was before. We could hear it move around some, and the guys were talking, making sure the guns were ready. Someone hands me a pistol. No sooner did I cock the hammer back did we hear something shatter upstairs. Then we heard it screech again. ‘cept now it was louder, and it didn’t echo and fade out. Because it was inside. “We all rushed to the one door leading upstairs, and we got to it just as that thing did. It opened it just a bit, and four or five men just slammed into it. It got its hand through. Someone with a shotgun took care of that. Put the barrel right up to its wrist and pulled the trigger. Cut its hand off, clean. “That only pissed it off, though. It started pushing on that door, clawing. We were on one side, pushing as best we could, and it was on the other, doing the same. That wood just wasn’t going to hold, so someone tells us to keep our heads down. Suddenly the top half of the door is just gone, my ears are ringing, and there are splinters everywhere. Two or three of them just unloaded on the top of that door. “I don’t really know where it went after that. The police got there. I was still glued to that door, what was left of it. The sun was up before they got me off it. They put me in a hospital for a while. A lot of people talked to me, but I didn’t talk back, not for a long, long time. “When I got back home, I got a job from the landlord, working on the farm. We didn’t talk much, not about the thing. But, I signed up for the army when I was nineteen, and he sat me down to drink some scotch as a send-off. I asked him, right away, what the police told him. The story they went with was a wild animal, probably a wolf, or maybe a bear that had migrated north. I asked him how they could say that when they had the hand. He looks at me, stunned. “He tells me that hand never made it back to the station. The cop who had it in his car wrecked, drove into a tree, died on impact. The hand was never found, probably taken away by an animal. The cops, when they would acknowledge the hand existed at all, said it was simply the paw of a bear that looked like a human hand. “I never talked to the landlord again. He went missing when I was in basic. The cops never found him. They said he owed some people some money and just ran away, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I never went back to those woods. I wouldn’t even if I had the whole goddamn US Army at my back.” But that was a lie. When my mother died, I don’t think my father felt he had anything left, and that he might as well settle old scores. He went to those woods. He never came back. The FBI was called, they did a show for everyone involved, but I knew they weren’t really looking. I had to get one drunk and slip him a few fifties before he finally told me that they get a few calls about those woods every year, about someone up and vanishing. But that was all he wanted to tell me. Before he got up and left with the rest of his team, he wrote “The Rake” onto a napkin. I didn’t know what it meant until I searched for it on the internet. Honestly, I would have rather not known.

The Sandman
“Go to bed and wait for the Sandman.” Even as it came out of James’ mouth it seemed to him a strange thing to say, and he was not sure why he had, but for some reason it worked: Daniel went to bed. The next morning, though, he asked: “What does the Sandman look like?” James was making breakfast. Daniel sat at the table, short legs swinging under his chair. “Nothing, really,” James said. “It’s just an expression.” “What does it mean?” “Just something people say.” He put a plate of eggs in front of Daniel and kissed him on the top of his head. He thought that would be the end of it. Until he saw the Sandman for himself. He was getting ready for bed and stopped by Daniel’s room to check on him while he slept, as he often did. It was such a routine precaution that when he saw a pale, naked man sitting on the edge of Daniel’s bed, rocking back and forth, it took a moment for him to process what he was seeing. He reacted the way any father would, of course: He ran into the room screaming, and for a moment he thought about attacking the intruder, but then the man on the bed turned, and that’s when James saw that it wasn’t really a man: It was a pale, slithery thing, hairless and warped, its joints turned the wrong way and its body out of shape with itself. When it moved it was like an insane marionette dancing on a stage. James froze. The skittering thing watched him. He felt spreading warmth, and he realized he’d pissed his pants. Only when he remembered that Daniel was still there in bed, staring at the broken-shaped thing sitting a foot away, did he regain the courage to move. He grabbed Daniel and ran. In the hall he turned to see if the thing would follow them, but it didn’t. For a moment it watched and then, moving like a stop-motion nightmare, it crawled to the window and jumped out, leaving only the billowing curtains to mark its passing. James had trouble talking to the police. He reported a break-in, but when asked to describe the intruder he didn’t know what to say. How could he make the ordinary man in the blue uniform sitting at his kitchen table while two of his colleagues searched the house understand a thing like he’d seen? He couldn’t even understand it himself. To make it worse, Daniel’s memory did not correspond to James’: He described an ordinary looking burglar. “A man in a mask,” he said. James thought about it: Had it been a mask? No, it would had to have been a full costume, and an elaborate one, something like they would use for a movie. And that would not explain the way it moved… But in the end he simply echoed his son’s testimony: “A man in a mask,” he said. “A burglar.” The lie unsettled him almost as much as what had happened. The doctors said Daniel wasn’t hurt and showed no signs of molestation. James was relieved. They stayed at a motel for a couple nights until they felt ready to come home, and then James had a new security system installed, along with bars on the windows. He didn’t like the sight of them in Daniel’s room, but it seemed like the only thing to do. James was frightened that first night back in the house, but Daniel, strangely, was not. When asked if he felt okay sleeping alone, he just said yes. In the end it was James who found himself wishing he were not sleeping alone. He was up all night listening for the sound of anything moving in the house. Although he had convinced himself that his memory was faulty and that it had been a normal (albeit probably deeply disturbed) man in his son’s room, when he closed his eyes even for a moment he pictured bloodless skin and a twisted, inhuman face. He found himself wondering, why my house? Why my family? He knew, of course, that there didn’t have to be a reason. But still, he wondered. Two weeks later Daniel stopped talking. James didn’t notice at first; kids went through quiet phases sometimes. But eventually he tried to get Daniel to talk, and he wouldn’t. Eventually, it became clear that he couldn’t. Back to the doctor they went. Nothing wrong with him that we can see, was the diagnosis. Was it the trauma, James asked? Could be, they said. Sometimes these things come on late. Children can be a mystery even to those who know them best. They recommended a child psychologist, whom James couldn’t afford. He could not, for that matter, even afford the bill they were giving him now. Nothing seemed to help. Daniel would write out answers to questions sometimes, but never more than a yes or no. When James would ask him what was wrong, or if he’d seen or heard anything that frightened him, Daniel would only stare. He seemed furtive and bemused. James found himself missing the sound of his son’s voice. Sometimes he wanted to hear it so bad that he ached. But it seemed that Daniel would not talk again until he was ready. James had other things to worry about, too. He was convinced, beyond reason, that the intruder was not really gone. Though the alarm never went off and the locks and bars remained undisturbed, he was sure that he heard movement in the night. Not normal movement: It was a sound like a huge snake slithering through the house. When he heard it, he imagined horrible things. Nothing was ever there when he went to investigate, though he often thought he glimpsed something just out the corner of his eye, a pale foot or a misshapen shadow that would slink away as soon as he turned. He rarely slept, and when he did he had haunted dreams. Soon he realized he had not left the house in weeks except to go to the bank and buy groceries. He felt hemmed in. With Daniel acting mute he hadn’t had an actual conversation with anyone in weeks, so he called his mother. The connection was bad and her voice sounded faint, on the verge of being not there at all. “I guess I’m okay, Ma,” he said, pausing to wipe the sweat from his palms and then make sure he could hear Daniel playing in the next room. “But things have been a little rough. We had a break-in.” “Oh how awful!” Mom said. “Did they take anything?” “Nah. Just ran off. It was weird though. I haven’t really felt comfortable since then.” “Are you still working at that hospital?” “No Ma, I left last year, you know that.” “Oh. Well, have you been getting out? What about that nice woman you were seeing last year, the one who played the piano?” James scowled. She was always asking that kind of thing. Didn’t she know how hard it was being a single father? That he didn’t have the time? He was about to say so when something made him pause. “Ma, is there anyone else on the line?” “I don’t think so?” James was sure he heard it, though: the short, gasping sound of someone trying to hold their breath and failing. A cold feeling crept across the back of his neck. “You’re sure nobody is listening on your other phone?” “Dear, there is no other phone, I’m on the cell, that’s why the service is so bad.” “Then what is—” James stopped. If the sound wasn’t coming from her end, then… He dropped the phone and raced to the hall. The extension hung on its hook, undisturbed. Heart pounding, he hurdled into the garage; the spare phone sat on the workbench. No one was in sight. But could they have been? Could someone have been here all along, listening to his phone call, and then slithered away? Might they be here even now? The next day he took out the extra phone extensions. He even filled in the jacks with rubber cement. Daniel watched him work, eyes curious, but James offered no explanation. He began giving Daniel a light physical exam every week. His CNA training was a little rusty after a year on disability, but you never really forget. It was an absurd thing to do, of course; even if there was a physical cause for Daniel’s behaviour, it would be nothing he could discover this way. And he was aware on some level that it was compulsive behaviour. Nevertheless, it made him feel better. One morning James set the diaphragm of the stethoscope against Daniel’s chest, but he could not locate a heartbeat. He moved his hand in search of the right spot, to no avail. Then, to test it, he listened to his own heartbeat; it came through steady and clear. But when he checked Daniel again he didn’t hear anything. A thought came unbidden to him of the Tin Man in “The Wizards of Oz”, whose chest was empty as a kettle. A sick feeling roiled his stomach. He threw the stethoscope down and grabbed Daniel by the shoulders, looking into his face. Daniel stared back with bright eyes. He even smiled a little, with the corners of his mouth. James felt the tingle of tears. He swept his son up in his arms and hugged him, and Daniel hugged back. Then James put his shirt back on him and sent him to play. The stethoscope, he decided, was broken. He threw it in the trash. Things got worse. James’ terrors were no longer relegated to the long hours of the night. Now it seemed that some creeping, some skittering and scuttling, some unknowable noise in some dark corner or another, filled every second of his day. The thought of how big the house really was started to weigh on him: There were so many rooms he wasn’t in at any given time, so many places someone—or something—else could be. He imagined strange figures occupying the rest of his home when he wasn’t around, melting into the walls or merging with the shadows whenever he turned on a light or opened a door. How would he know if they were there? How would he ever know? Soon he didn’t even have to be outside of a room to imagine it. When he walked up the stairs he pictured pale figures lurking beneath them. When he went down the hall he pictured a crawling thing slithering behind the walls, shadowing his every step. If he sat too long in the same chair he imagined that it was right behind him. And he was never comforted when he turned around and found nothing there, as he could only guess that meant it had moved, swiftly and silently, behind him once again. Wherever he was not looking right now, that was where he imagined it to be. He was losing his mind, he knew. The only thing that helped him cling to sanity was that Daniel seemed undisturbed. Other than his muteness, his behaviour was perfectly normal. And whenever he seemed to sense that his father was troubled he would hug him, or squeeze his hand, or even smile. Sometimes, when he left the room, James cried. One night he found himself creeping around the house with no lights on at two o’clock in the morning. If the intruding thing had taken to violating his daytime activities then he would get revenge by confronting it on its own terms: the night. And really, night was no more frightening to him now than day. They were almost interchangeable. He padded barefoot down the halls, up the stairs, in and out of disused rooms. Sometimes he stopped to listen, hoping to locate it by sound; it was a stealthy, creeping thing, he knew, but it was awkward at times, and it couldn’t always keep its strangely shaped limbs from making their distinct, irregular footsteps. The smallest noise would give it away… There was one room he suspected it spent most of its time in: the spare bedroom. Not a bedroom at all, really, more like a closet just large enough to accommodate a bed if one were so inclined. It was unpainted and uncarpeted and draftee; he’d always meant to fix it up. He didn’t come in here very often because he disliked the bare, unused look of it. It made him think of a partially dissected corpse. He came in now, though. If the thing made its nest any one place in the house, this would be it. Of course, there was nothing there now…but that didn’t mean there was nothing there. He cursed, running a hand through his sweat-damp hair. What was he missing? How did it hide from him? What was its secret? He peered into the room’s empty corners one by one, getting his face a few inches from the plaster and floorboards so that he could be certain—certain!—that there was no space for it to conceal itself. The light bulb flickered. He froze. My God, he thought…it’s on the ceiling! He pictured it crawling above him like a huge, pale lizard. That’s how it gets around, he thought, that’s how it escapes anytime I should have it cornered, it just scuttles up the wall and hides right over my head! He imagined it dangling down behind him like a spider. If I turn around, he thought, it will be there, hanging with its face right next to mine. He held his breath. He did not want to turn around, but he had no choice; it was between him and the door. With a quiet sob, he rounded on his heels. Of course, he was alone. There was no man on the ceiling; he checked twice. Maybe it crawled out and was waiting for him in the hall…but when he checked there the coast was once again clear. It should have been a relief, but it was not. After all, it had to be in here somewhere. If the ceiling was not its trick that just meant it was something else, something even more strange, even more clever… He went to Daniel’s room. He had not stopped checking on him at night, like he always had. This time, though, rather than open the door he listened at it first, pressing his ear against the grain of the cheap wood and holding his breath, terrified that he would hear a skittering sound on the other side of the barrier. What he heard instead shocked him more: Daniel was talking to someone. James recoiled for a second and then, when he’d caught his breath, he all but kicked the door in. Daniel was already awake, indeed, sitting up in bed, but he was not saying anything now. The light flashed on and James stalked halfway into the room before stopping, suddenly torn: What did he want more, to confirm that his son could speak again or to find whomever he was speaking to? The creak of a door hinge settled the matter for him. He ran to the closet and threw it open: There was nothing inside, or at least, nothing that shouldn’t be there. He swept aside clothes on their hangers, but nothing was hiding between them. Then he dragged the toy box out and emptied it into the floor: Nothing. He combed along the bare walls and floor and, yes, the ceiling, pushing aside every last bit of rubbish and stray knick-knack so that he could be sure, absolutely sure, that nothing was hiding. All the while Daniel watched him. After a few minutes James was panting and covered in sweat and the closet was bare, and there were neither intruders nor answers inside. It struck him as funny, somehow, and he started to laugh, very quietly. He kicked his son’s toys out of the way as he went to sit down on the bed, dazed. He became aware, all at once, of several things, first being that he had not slept in days and was nowhere near his right mind. The second was how close he’d come to really losing it, for good. Tomorrow, he decided, they would both sleep until the afternoon, and when they did wake up he and Daniel would get out of this creaky old house. No more staying cooped up like prisoners, and no more check-ups, and no more dreams about monsters. He would even take the bars off the windows. It was time to get back to living like real people again. It was time to— James saw it when he brushed a hand through Daniel’s hair. He pulled Daniel (a little too roughly) closer. His son acquiesced to the examination without fidgeting or complaint as James pawed the side of his head, hoping that what he was seeing would somehow stop being apparent. He stared and stared until he ached from not blinking, but there was no denying what was right in front of his eyes: Daniel was missing an ear. No, he realized with mounting nausea: both ears. There was no injury, no incision, and no mark where they should have been, simply smooth, blank flesh. As blank as Daniel’s quiet, unperturbed demeanour. James swept him up in his arms and ran into the hall. He was not sure where he was going or what he meant to do when he got there, he just knew that there was now nothing more important than getting his son out of that house. But their path was cut off: A naked man sat in the hallway with his back to them. No, not a man: James recognized its stretched limbs and stooped shoulders. The pale thing squatted on its haunches, rocking back and forth like it was palsied. It almost seemed to be in pain. James hugged his son closer and backed away. Then he heard Daniel’s voice: “dad-ee.” James turned to Daniel, and he heard the voice again: “dad-ee.” But Daniel’s lips hadn’t moved. James looked back at the hunched figure. Its head jerked when it talked, like a tic: “hello. dad-ee.” James’ mouth went dry. It took several tries before he could speak. “Don’t call me that.” “it is. this voice’s name. for you.” “Go away. Leave my family alone.” “but i am. your family.” The longer it talked the more the voice became distorted and blurred. An icy feeling nestled in James’ stomach. “Who are you?” “someone. who came to visit.” “Why here?” “you. invited me.” James’ heart thudded against the inside of his chest. “Why?” “i had. something you wanted.” James licked his dry lips. “You’re lying. You don’t have anything I want. I want you to leave. Leave, and never come back.” “who. is. daniel’s. mother?” James blinked. “What?” “who. is. daniel’s. mother?” “What the hell kind of question is that?” “how. old. is. daniel?” James blinked again. The thing’s voice caused a pinching pain in the center of his forehead. “Stop asking me these things.” “when. is. daniel’s. birthday?” “…I don’t know.” “what. is. his. middle. name?” “Shut up.” “what. was. his. first word?” “I said shut up!” James wanted to tear the thing apart with his bare hands. Only the heaviness of Daniel in his arms kept him where he was. “you were. alone. you wanted. a son. so i. made one. for you.” James’ hands began to shake. “That doesn’t make sense. Made out of what?” “out of. myself.” James’ stomach turned over. “but now. i need those parts. back.” Daniel picked at James’ shoulder to get his attention. Something was strange about Daniel’s face. “Danny? Open your eyes.” Daniel scrunched his eyes shut tighter. “Open your eyes. Danny? Danny. Open your eyes. Open your eyes!” Daniel shook his head, trying to refuse, but he couldn’t hold it forever. Eventually his eyelids flicked up and James saw the truth. Daniel’s eyes were gone. James almost dropped him. For a second he wanted to throw his son down so that he could stop looking into those empty holes in his face. Daniel opened his mouth, as if to speak, but of course, he had no voice. “he is coming back. to be part of me. again.” “No. No, no, no, give him back, give him back!” “i. cannot. it has been. too long. i warned you. this. would happen.” “You’re lying! You’re lying, you’re a fucking liar, give me my son back, give him back!” “i. do not lie. i. warned you. he could not exist forever. but you. do not remember. you. can only remember. what i want you to. you forget. all the times. we have talked.” Daniel felt like a doll, or an empty bag. His hair was falling out, disappearing before it touched the ground. His hands vanished into his sleeves and his feet rolled up inside his pants cuffs. James cradled the tiny, shapeless thing. Tears streamed down his face. Soon he held a pile of empty clothes, and then those too were gone. He looked around the house; toys disappeared, photos vanished from their frames, Daniel’s little shoes were no longer by the door. James turned toward Daniel’s room and confronted a wall where the door should be. He groped the blank surface, fingertips scrambling. He hit his head against the wall. The pain didn’t feel real. “Why did you do this?” “it was. what you wanted. and i learned. so much.” “This is impossible. People will ask, people will wonder: the police, the hospitals, the people in the neighbourhood!” “they. have already. forgotten him. they only. remembered. what i wanted them to. like you.” James pressed his hands to his aching skull. “Will I at least remember him after this?” “you. can try. but your mind. will fail you. now that everything. he was. is part of me. again.” James sat on the floor, looking at the blank wall. Out the corner of his eye he saw the thing creep toward him and even felt its wet hand on his shoulder, but he did not look at it. “If I won’t remember any of this,” he said, “then why tell me?” “because. a father. should know.” And then James was alone. *** Abigail worried about James sometimes. When they met a year ago, he said that he’d never been married and he’d never had kids, but there was a certain pained expression he assumed when he said the last part. Abigail knew that look: She’d met parents who lost children before. You learned to recognize it. And there were other things about him that worried her too. Sometimes she would find him staring at a particular spot on the wall, brow furrowed in concentration. He did not seem to realize he was doing it. And of course there was the insomnia, and the sleepwalking to consider too. Yes, there was lots to worry about. But she loved him all the same. James still said he’d never had kids, and neither had she. She’d long wanted one, but it was impossible, and she worried that James wouldn’t stay with a woman who couldn’t be a mother (though he constantly assured her that it was not so). There were times—and more and more often of late they were the nights when James took to sleepwalking, and even Abigail imagined that she heard strange, scuttling noises in the house and saw impossible shapes in dark corners—when she thought she would do anything, absolutely anything, if it meant having a little daughter for she and James to raise. And at those moments, she became truly afraid. But she never knew why.

Glow-in-the-dark Cardboard Skeleton
I’ve just awoke to see a cheap, Halloween-leftover, glow-in-the-dark cardboard skeleton pinned to my closet door. And no, this isn’t yet another creepy story where someone or something has been hiding inside to emerge in the night. I hope. All I can see in the darkness of my room is the faint, pale green glow of those old yellowing bones. But I am afraid that if I reach over to switch on my bedside lamp, I will also see my old friend David. Or whatever is left of him. David was the strangest kid at my old school; in fact, he was the strangest person I ever knew. Nobody else ever really liked him; even my mom, who is usually the nicest of people, never seemed to call him by his name, always referring to him as “that boy”. When I’d arrive home late for a meal, or covered in mud with my shoes scuffed and clothes torn, she would say “have you been hanging out with that boy again?” or “Haven’t I always warned you to steer clear of that funny boy?” He seemed to have a stink which followed him around, and although I never once saw him throw a punch or break anyone’s stuff, people who crossed him would often end up hurt or in some kind of trouble. The other kids taunted him pretty badly, mainly as he was always very scrawny, all skin and bone; but he never once got beaten up, as they were all a little afraid of him. He lived a minute’s walk from me, and we became friends despite his strange ways. I guess he must have latched onto me because I was always a patient and easy-going kid, and more prepared than most to humour his many outrageous claims. He had thwarted armed robbers in the local bank and tackled deadly invaders in his home. He was the world body-popping champion and lethal in most forms of martial arts. His lies were always way over the top, and even as a young kid I found this to be fascinating; I mean, why not try to impress me by telling me things that were at least vaguely plausible? His own mom barely spoke to him, and never took him out to do anything fun. He told me that his dad had died in a brutal motorcycle crash; this was one of his two favourite topics of conversation, more like an obsession. The details of the incident changed every time he described it, but always involved a very specific way his dad had lost his life. Some criminals, drug dealers or a rival gang or something, were chasing him down the highway one night, and they forced him into a trap where they had stretched steel wire across the road to snare his bike. He had been travelling at such high speed that the friction formed when he was flung over his handlebars and scraped along the road caused him to be “de-gloved.” I remember having to ask David exactly what this meant, which I quickly regretted. It is when the body’s skin is torn clean off leaving bare bone exposed. David told me that at the funeral there was just a skeleton lying inside the coffin, only recognizable by his dad’s distinctive leather biker jacket and Ray-Ban sunglasses. Obviously, that was another lie; there is no way there could have been an open coffin. But boy, I believed him at the time. Now THERE is an image which can stick in a kid’s mind… In David’s garage there was a pretty ancient motorcycle, maybe dating from the 1950’s, so I always assumed the tale was true to some degree. David was forever trying to “fix up” the bike, which mainly involved him covering every inch of it in ridiculous stickers showing glittery bald eagles wearing aviator shades, and skeleton soldiers in army jackets, with slogans like “Death before Dishonour.” He sometimes said when applying these decals that one day he was going to hunt down the guys who killed his father and make them all die in the same way his dad did. David rarely told the truth about anything, but his lies reached new peaks when it came to his father, with outrageous tales of his life and death growing wilder every time I heard them, evolving into an elaborate tale of his role as a secret agent working for both British intelligence AND the CIA, going undercover on a mission to save the world from neo-Nazi gangsters who’d stolen a death-ray, or some similar crap. I guess I felt some sort of kinship on this topic though, since I barely remembered my own dad, and could never get my mum to talk about him. David would say we were like brothers, and though he seemed needier than me, I suppose I enjoyed feeling so wanted and appreciated. At least at first. David’s other obsession was with skeletons. These things were everywhere in his bedroom. Plastic model kits, tiny Dungeons & Dragons figurines, even one of those life-size anatomy statues that you see in doctor’s offices in old black and white movies; he had quite a collection. He loved old woodcut images from the middle ages showing skeletons representing famine or death or mortality. Those pictures always gave me the creeps, but David’s room was covered in these, usually stolen from library books about medieval times. He would endlessly try to copy these images, and pin them all over his bedroom walls, but he wasn’t much of an artist, and they always ended up somehow looking even creepier than before. His favourite skeleton was the cardboard one I can see in front of me, though it’s no more than a tacky piece of tat, maybe three feet tall with a cheeky smirk on its face, and limbs you could twist into position to kind of make it do a little dance. This always used to be pinned onto his wardrobe, surrounded by his many strange sketches. He told me that the guys who had killed his dad had given it to him on the night he’d died. He awoke to find it pinned there, grinning down at him, and this had seemingly fuelled his fantasies that his father’s death had been no accident. It was a message, David told me. A warning, perhaps. I asked him why he kept it around and he said it was so he would never ever forget that everyone alive had a cruel fate that was coming to them. He would often glowingly describe a recurring dream, in which he awoke in the middle of the night, in a room with only one door, blocked by a grinning, living skeleton who left him with only one option for survival. David had to take the razor-sharp scalpel from atop the dresser next to his bed, a gift from the madman; and make drastic use of it in order to squeeze through the only other exit, which was a tiny window, barely a foot across, to emerge on the other side born again completely free of fear. I tried to see a positive in his obsession with human bones, and sometimes suggested that he should study to become a surgeon when he grew up, but his response was usually something along the lines of “I want to help those in need, not hurt them! Surgeons waste their time sewing up skin and wrapping wounds in bandages. Why would I leave people to suffer inside their skin?” This was a recurring theme with David. He had this insane idea that living things would be somehow better-off if we shed our own skin, and he would complain about how hot he felt, trapped inside a stifling cage of flesh. Like I said, he was a weird kid. He boasted of secret experiments; I will spare you the details but basically he claimed to be loosening his own face so it could be peeled away to show his true self underneath. You are probably wondering why I didn’t run a mile from this creep; eventually I did begin to distance myself. I am a nice guy, but I like to think I’m not stupid. I started to make excuses whenever he invited me over to his house, and I made a point of not sitting near him in classes, though I couldn’t avoid him completely. He always found me in the cafeteria and did a great job of putting me off my lunch with his gross ideas. My mom and I moved away from that town when I was ten years old, without much notice, and in all honesty I felt a huge sense of relief to be leaving David behind. There had been two incidents, not long before we left, which really cemented the belief in my mind that this guy was maybe more than just a little odd; that maybe he was potentially dangerous. He invited me to a sleepover at his house, telling me this would be a great opportunity to take some measurements and start me on my first steps to shedding my “hot, heavy flesh”, as he put it. He said this in a completely cheerful, friendly way, as if he was proposing a perfectly normal sleepover activity. Of course, I made up some excuse about my mom not allowing me to sleep at his place, which was probably actually true. Although I was started to become a little disturbed by David’s ideas, I still wrote it all off as B.S., figuring he was just a little upset and desperate by my efforts to avoid his company; maybe in some messed-up way he was trying to intrigue me into remaining his friend. But the second incident forced me to accept that this guy wasn’t just playing around. Late one night a few days before we moved away, I awoke from a terrible nightmare about David, and screamed the house down when I saw that distinctive glow-in-the-dark skeleton smiling up at me from just a few feet away, taped to my bedroom cupboard. We lived in a bungalow, and I always used to leave my bedroom window open at night, figuring it was too small for anyone to enter, but I guess David must have managed it. He was still a very skinny kid by then, though even for him it must have been a very tight fit. My mom rushed in, but I didn’t tell her why I was so frightened, figuring I might get into trouble for allowing David to sneak into our home while we slept. I stopped leaving my window open at night after that. In fact it became my number one rule in life. I returned the skeleton the next morning, more than a little angry, but by that point I was so afraid of the guy that instead of telling him what a cruel trick he had played on me, I just pretended that I enjoyed the joke, and asked him why he did it. He acted all surprised, swearing that he had never entered my room that night, but I didn’t argue. I just made my excuses and left. As I walked off down the street, intending never to return, I noticed David watching me from his bedroom window, with a strange look on his face that I didn’t like. He looked drained, and listless. And maybe a little… scared? So we left for a new house in the next town over, and I attended a different high school to David; in fact I never even laid eyes on him again. I don’t even know what he looks like nowadays. A couple of years later I found out from someone who had known some of David’s relatives that his dad didn’t die in a motorbike crash; in fact, he didn’t die at all, but had left home, simply because he didn’t like David’s mother, or David. Which made me wonder where the hell this kid picked up his obsession with people losing their skin? We didn’t move all that far away though, just a few miles, and even though I never bumped into him myself, my mom would sometimes tell me that she’d see him lurking around the streets, and he would always ask her how I was doing. Again, she would always refer to him as “that boy”, and she would say that she wished we had left him behind when we left our old home. It always struck me as very strange how uneasy he seemed to make her feel; after all, he was just a skinny little kid who would stand no chance in any sort of fight. I started to suspect that maybe my mom knew things about David which she kept under her hat. I did hear stories from friends who still lived back in the old neighbourhood that a few pets had gone missing and then been found in a very grisly state, but nobody would ever tell me all the details, just that David had was suspected of being involved. And there was an incident where David had been accused of pulling a knife of some kind on a school bully, and threatening to cut him down to size, but there was no real evidence, though David was pressured into finding a new school anyway. Eventually he began to fade from my mind, as I rationalized him as just another weird kid who told people stupid stories to get attention or have some sort of impact on their lives. I used to sometimes have troubling dreams about skeletons marching down the streets and sort of recruiting people for their flesh-less army, but everyone has nightmares sometimes, don’t they? I honestly thought that David would grow up to surprise everyone and become some world-famous doctor, or maybe a plastic surgeon working in Beverly Hills. But then when I was about fourteen, I found a certain Halloween decoration taped to my locker at school and I had a nervous breakdown. I spent about eight weeks in the psychiatric ward of my local hospital, where I was happier than I had been in a long time. I guess this was down to the dependable daily routines in there; the stability. And the safety. My mom visited nearly every day, and though I was never a very popular kid, I was lucky enough to have made three or four good friends who also often came to see me, usually on weekends. They made jokes about me being in the funny farm and receiving shock treatment, which sounds mean but I knew that they were nice guys, and we all had a pretty stupid and tasteless sense of humour; if our roles had been reversed I would have been making the same snide wisecracks. We used to explore the ward, even though visitors weren’t supposed to, and my mates would try to fool the other patients into thinking that they were not visitors but consultant psychiatrists, which obviously never worked. There was a girl in my ward named Susan who was a couple of years older than me, with a real anger management problem. She was everything I was not: smart, witty, tough and rebellious. I guess she was my first real crush, and she was always nice to me even though I was a total geek. One day, about a week before I left for home, she told me that during a cigarette break outside the building, she had met a strange, skinny kid with very pale skin and all of his facial hair shaved clean off, who had been asking odd questions about me. He wouldn’t tell her his name, and she told him to get lost pretty quickly, but though she acted cool as ever when she told me about this, I could tell that he had gotten under her skin and totally freaked her out. He was asking if I was expected to make a recovery or if I had totally lost my mind forever. Susan told me that he sounded deadly serious when he asked this, and seemed desperate for an answer. She threatened him with violence if he ever hassled her again, and threw her cigarette away and headed back inside, but he followed her and kept asking weird things about whether I was cutting myself, or if I was morbidly obsessed with my mortality. The last thing he shouted after her as she hurried away down the corridor back to the ward was an offer to smuggle inside a razor sharp scalpel for me, if I needed it. I played down the incident to Susan and evaded her questions, which soured things pretty badly between us, but my philosophy regarding David was that he was my problem and nobody else’s. I alone had befriended him, and I guess I had humoured him when I should have shown him some tough love. And then I had run away and left him all alone. I guess I carried around a little guilt about the way I had handled our friendship. I had made my own bed and had to lie in it. I couldn’t live with the idea that my mistakes could taint anyone else. Any innocent parties. Now, of course, I view the situation very differently. I was his victim. He was playing me like a violin. Or like a skeleton playing the Spanish guitar in one of those Mexican Day of the Dead cartoons. I was dancing to his tune. But back then I couldn’t see the woods for the trees. I never told my mom exactly what had happened with the skeleton on my locker and the friendly hospital visit, but she wasn’t stupid and knew that David was circling me like a shark. So even though it hit her bank balance pretty hard and we never had it easy afterwards, as soon as I was discharged from the hospital she quit her job and we moved again, halfway across the country this time, and we made damn sure we told as few people as possible where we were headed. I literally never saw any of my old friends again. I heard Susan disappeared about a year later. There was a police search but no trace of her was ever found. That is all I know. She had a real rebellious streak, and I told myself that she must have gotten bored with her life and run off to start a new one. Whatever gets you through the night, right? The fresh start in a new town did me the world of good, and against all odds I managed to catch up at high school, attend the local college and eventually land myself a pretty decent office job with the city council, providing social services for local disabled people. I was based in a huge 1960’s building with maybe three hundred staff. One of whom was David. No-one else who worked for the council ever seemed to meet him. He worked in human resources, in a tiny, cramped basement office. But he was never around. His whole department never seemed to have anyone around; there had been some pretty severe budget cuts after the financial crash in 2008, and I guess that had left just a skeleton staff. I don’t know how he tracked me down. He must have been very determined, as my mom had changed both of our names. I didn’t realize he worked there at first. I heard references to some new guy downstairs named David, but let’s face it, it’s a very common name. And like I said, nobody ever seemed to see him around the premises. But after a few weeks, I saw his full name on a round-robin internal e-mail, and I felt like I had been gutted like a fish. The e-mail was discussing an upcoming office Halloween party. It seemed that David had volunteered to bring in his own decorations and make the place “exquisitely creepy”. I walked right out of that building, went back to my little flat and started packing my belongings. I never even told them that I’d quit. I remembered someone from the office describing a very thin and odd-looking man in an elevator a couple of days earlier, who wore so many clothes you could barely see an inch of his skin, even wearing a hat and gloves though the weather was warm for October. A woollen scarf obscured his mouth and nose, and tinted glasses hid his eyes, but she said that she was sure his skin was the colour of porcelain. I doubt it’s a coincidence that he found work in human resources. There, he could quickly learn everything about me. Everything he needed. I left town that same afternoon, withdrew my savings and closed my bank account. Threw away my phone. Bought a bus ticket to a city I’ve never visited before and rented a cheap room. This room. And laid low. Luckily my mom had taught me to always have enough cash so that I could go on the run. I could always live very frugally anyway. I never ate much, and avoided social situations. I had developed a terror of telling people about myself. About my old life. I’ve barely left this room in months. Today I read a story in the newspaper about a truly horrific motorcycle crash, which took place not far from where I grew up. The man involved had been middle-aged. I recognized his surname. The details were sketchy, just something about him being rushed to hospital after riding straight into a steel wire placed across the quiet country road which he drove down each day. He was speeding when he hit the wire. I guess he must have been flung head first along the asphalt. In that situation, there isn’t much a leather jacket and pants can do to save your skin. I stared at the small photograph of his face for a very long time. He seemed vaguely familiar from somewhere. The police are appealing for information on the incident. I could contact them, I thought. But maybe tomorrow morning. First I needed to lie down and close my eyes. I didn’t want to think about anything at all. Thinking is bad. I wanted to drain my head of everything. And I felt warm. Very warm. Constricted in my skin. I wanted to take off my heavy overcoat of flesh and let my bones cool off. I slept more deeply than I had in months, perhaps years, as if there was a huge weight stripped off my shoulders. Now I lie here wide awake in my bed and stare at that skeleton. Its glow has faded from age. The time is 3AM; soon the dim light of a new day will aid my eyesight, forcing me to confront the presence in my room. The presence in my head, in my life. I have learnt now, learnt at last that this thing has always been there. If I run it will follow me, and I have nowhere left to hide. There is a cool breeze from my open bedroom window. I guess I have let my old rule about never leaving windows open lapse. I figured that I should have been safe, as that window is tiny, maybe eight inches by six. Nobody could have fit through in one piece. But my bedroom door is bolted from the inside, and there is no other way in. David must have squeezed through. Or what is left of him. I bet if I reach up for my bedside lamp, I’ll find a scalpel there, too.

It just stood there
I lay there on my bed, letting my mind fall victim to a plague of sickening thoughts of the past month. Why did this have to happen to me? No, why did it have to happen to Jordan? He never did anything to deserve being pulled into such a mess. I’ve got nothing going for me; so why not me? Why Jordan? My mom would probably be gone for the rest of the day, so I had the house to myself as I let these thoughts occupy my mind. I’ve never really been the kind of person to hang out with a lot of people, but then again, I haven’t really had many friends to begin with. Out of the small list of friends I did have, Jordan was the only one I trusted and was closest to. We didn’t have much in common. I came from a dysfunctional family, whereas he came from a well-doing and caring family. My parents were divorced, and rather neglectful towards me. My dad hated me, despite hardly being around to see me. My parents were always fighting with each other, while Jordan’s parents were loving and almost the polar opposite of mine. Jordan even had better luck in his social life than I did; he was well known at school and always showed kindness towards others. He was a 4.0 student and at the top of our class. I was the kid who got left at the back of the crowd, remaining unnoticed by the others. As different as we were, Jordan and I were always there for each other; we were practically as close as brothers. My story starts on a regular afternoon: hanging out with Jordan around town and walking to the park. We liked to talk about girls, video games, sports, and we often threw out an odd joke or two. Time flew by pretty fast, and Jordan realized it was getting late. I checked my watch to see that it was nearly nine in the evening. Jordan was worried that his parents would be concerned about the time. My mom wouldn’t even notice I was gone, that is, if she was even home. We started back to Jordan’s house, and he told me I could spend the night since it was pretty late already. He said his parents probably wouldn’t mind. We could feel the cold wind hitting us in the face, so we zipped up our jackets and jammed our hands into our pockets and walked on. Jordan’s street was nearly a block or two away by now. He suddenly stopped walking and turned to face the dark alleyway to our left. He stood there frozen, staring blankly into the darkness in front of him. I glanced down the alley but saw nothing. He had once tried to scare me by doing something similar, but this time there was something strange about him. “Yeah, nice try Jordan. It ain’t gonna work this time, ya dick.” He didn’t budge. I started to feel worried, and looked around to see if anyone was following us. “Jordan, you alright…?” I asked. Still no response. He stood there in a paralyzed position. His view was fixated on something, as if some entity in the darkness was staring back at him. I took another look down the alley. I could see the road on the other side lit by the moonlight, but the center was filled with an eerie darkness. I thought there might have been a wild animal of some sort, and Jordan caught a glance of the glow in its eyes. I still saw nothing, and I didn’t want to get any closer. “Jordan… Stop it man, this isn’t funny anymore,” I said. No reply. I gave him a solid smack to the face and he came around, which gave me the biggest sigh of relief. “I thought there was something wrong. Don’t scare me like that again.”, I said. He looked at me with confusion. “Scare you like what?” he questioned. “You stood there staring blankly into space like you had gone mental,” I said. “I must have zoned out, but whatever. Let’s get moving, or we’ll be even later,” he replied, then remained silent for the rest of the walk. I couldn’t help but look behind me every few minutes, seeing if we were being watched or followed by whatever he might have seen in the alleyway. We moved onwards until reaching his house. His mother and his dog, Axle, greeted us at the door. When got inside, both of his parents questioned him on his lateness. “We lost track of time, but we’re all right”, Jordan explained. I headed up to his bedroom while he asked his parents if I could stay the night. As I waited alone, my mind started to flood with questions about what happened earlier. Jordan came up the stairs a few moments later carrying an inflatable mattress and some blankets for me to sleep on. It was about 10pm and we both got into our beds and fell fast asleep. We woke up the next morning at 7:30, half an hour before school started. We rushed to get ready, skipping showers and breakfast, and ran out the door. On our way to school, I noticed something different about Jordan just by looking at him. He seemed quieter than usual, and slightly bewildered. “What’s up, Jordan? You look like you’re about to burst out and cry like a little girl!”, I jokingly prodded. Normally he would laugh at something like this, but there wasn’t the slightest change in his expression. He solemnly said, “Nothing’s the matter. I would like to walk in peace for once without having to listen to you.” His gaze remained in front of him; he made no effort to make eye contact with me. He had never snapped at me like that before – not to me; not to anyone. I tried not to dwell on it too much, but I knew something had changed in him and something definitely was wrong. Once we had gotten to school it was 9:12am so we went to the reception area to get a late pass. We would usually make something up if we were ever late… Alarm clock broke, or maybe we missed or caught the wrong bus, but this time we just took our late slips without giving an excuse. We got to class, turned our late slips over to the teacher, and took our seats. Everything was going fine so far. I turned and noticed Jordan staring blankly into space again, just like last night. He turned towards me with that damned blank expression on his face again. I tried to break his stare by waving my hand in front of him, but he didn’t move an inch. I moved back and forth; he moved with me, not letting his eyes break contact with mine. Then it happened. His cold, indifferent expression turned into a menacing, sadistic grin. He was staring directly into my mind, filling me with an extreme feeling of fear and panic. The room faded away; the students, teacher, desks, windows, that goddamn flickering fluorescent light at the front of the class. They faded into darkness and all that was left was Jordan, his eyes boring straight into my very being. I felt numb all over, and began to sweat. It was a cold, nervous sweat, and I began to shake as adrenaline rushed through my body. Then I realized what was wrong. This wasn’t Jordan I was looking at. This thing, whatever it was, was wearing Jordan as clothing. I was waiting for the flesh of his face to tear open along the seams, for his body to burst open under the sheer pressure of what was living inside. A dull hum began to drone in my ear, becoming louder and sharper until it became a well defined, repetitive ring. Something moved in the darkness, and walls began to emerge from a dense fog and close in on us. The movement in the distance became our classmates – rustling through their backpacks and beginning to stand up. I recognized the ringing as the sound of the school bell. Jordan, or whatever this thing was, snapped back to the center of his seat and faced the front of the class, wearing a calm expression on his face. I tried to look around, but my body was still tense and paralyzed by fear. Didn’t anyone else notice what just happened? Jordan stood up and walked out of my vision, leaving me staring at the window behind where he was sitting. “Hey man, what’s the matter? Class is over, let’s go eat lunch,” he said from behind me. I don’t know how long I sat there staring at the window, watching blurred objects move outside. The shock slowly dissipated and I looked down at my hands. They were shaking, and my palms were cold and sweaty. I stood up slowly, still feeling light headed. I took a moment to look around the classroom; it was empty. The teacher had already wiped the board and left. I walked out of the room and looked both ways down the hallway. Jordan was nowhere in sight. I began to grow anxious as I walked along the corridor. Who or what was this being that possessed my best friend? I refused to accept that Jordan was consciously choosing to act like this. One moment he’s the person I have known for years, and the next, I find myself fixed on the cold, uncaring eyes of another being. It made me sick just thinking about it. I walked out of the main building and felt the warm sun on my face. A cool, refreshing breeze passed by, and I took a moment before continuing to the lunch area. I sat down at a bench, trying to forget about earlier, and wondered where Jordan was. He came out of the office building carrying a lunch box. He sat down opposite me. “My mom came by to drop off a lunch box. Let’s see what we got here,” he said, as he opened the box. He pulled out two subway sandwiches and two cans of sprite. “Here’s yours, man,” he handed me my sandwich and soda, “Everything alright? You look a bit pale.” I opened the pop can and took a long drink, which alleviated the uneasiness in my stomach. I opened the paper wrapping around the sandwich and took a bite. A mass of lettuce, grated carrots, and a meatball held together by a blob of melted Swiss cheese fell out of the side of the sandwich. It landed on the paper wrapping on the table and thankfully not in my lap. Jordan burst into laughter, pointing at my face. I had smeared a good amount of mayonnaise across my upper lip and chin, attempting to save the contents of the sandwich. I took a napkin from in the lunch box and wiped my face. Seeing him laugh made me feel that the worst had passed and things were taking a turn for the better. We finished our lunch and tossed the paper wrappers and tin cans in the rubbish bin. As we turned to walk out of the lunch area, Christian, one of our classmates, stood up from a bench near us and lost his balance. One foot remained in contact with the ground as he spun around, arms outstretched, attempting to grab on to whatever he could use to stabilize himself. He latched onto the sleeve of Jordan’s jacket, pulling them both down to the ground. While Christian struggled to gain his bearings, I reached down to give Jordan a hand. He stood up on his own and brushed off his pants, leaving me with an empty outstretched hand. He started walking away from where we stood, not saying a word. I felt unnerved by his silence. “Oh god, it’s happening again”, I thought. “I’ll be just a moment dude,” he said as he turned around to look towards me before entering the restroom. I sat back down at the bench and waited for him. Looking over to my right, I saw that Christian had managed to make it back on his feet. He headed off towards the seniors’ common room. I snickered to myself at the thought of getting in there. What a joke, me, the unpopular kid being let into the common room. A few minutes passed by and Jordan still hadn’t returned. I stood up and headed towards the restroom to check on him. I thought of calling out his name, but figured it would be awkward with others standing around. No one was at the urinals, so I checked the stalls. They were all empty. Jordan must have slipped out when I wasn’t looking, but why hadn’t he come back to the tables? I walked back outside and looked around, finding only a group of preppy students chatting with each other, but no Jordan. I felt nervous as I wondered where he might have gone and what he could be doing. I heard a scream from the hallway to the right, and Jordan’s girlfriend came running out crying with two of her friends following her. I ran down the hallway and saw the doors to the common room closing shut. This wasn’t good. I opened the doors and was stunned by what I saw. Christian was lying on the floor, knocked unconscious, with a small pool of blood forming under his head. Jordan knelt above him, relentlessly driving his fist into the side of his classmate’s head. I looked up from the unconscious body being senselessly beaten, and every muscle in my body froze. Instead of seeing a furious look on his face, I instead witnessed the familiar malevolent grin accompanied by a gleeful laugh. I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. I turned around and reached for the door, wanting no more of this. My hand missed and I fell to the ground, my vision blurring around me. “Why won’t this just all go away?” That was my last conscious thought before I blacked out completely. I woke up on a bed in the infirmary. The nurse must have heard me moving and came over to check on me. After making sure that I was alright, she said I was better off than the other boy. “The other boy…?” I thought, “Oh, that’s right… it was Christian.” What happened slowly came back to me. I asked what happened to him. The nurse said that the fight was broken up by a teacher and an ambulance was called to take Christian to the hospital. After the nurse checked me out of the office, I looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it had been an hour since school was released. I walked home, this time by myself. It had been three weeks since that incident. Jordan returned from his suspension a week ago, and things seemed to have return back to normal, apart from the occasional rumor about the fight. I went over to Jordan’s house on Sunday. I mentioned that Christian was due back from recuperation the next day, but we didn’t talk about the fight between the two of them. When I arrived at school that Monday, I saw Christian getting dropped off by his dad. He still had a lot of bruising and was wearing a neck brace and a few small bandages. Jorden didn’t show up though, most likely wanting to avoid Christian on his first day back. The bell rang and sounded the start of the first period. Students started to head towards their respective classrooms. I was on my way to English when I noticed a group of people forming around a section of lockers. There were a few faculty members trying to keep students at a distance from what ever happened. “Another fight?” I thought. I hadn’t heard anything going on before, though. I got closer to the crowd, but couldn’t make out what was going on. I turned around in the opposite direction and saw Christian sitting on a bench with a teacher kneeling in front of him holding him reassuringly by his shoulders. He had a catatonic look on his face, and I heard the teacher speaking softly in a calm voice to him. I turned back and tried bending down to see if I could get a glimpse of what happened, but the area was still too cluttered with people. I got a classmate’s attention from in the crowd and asked him what happened. “Someone broke into Christian’s locker and did some real fucked up shit”, he responded. I pulled him out of the crowd and looked him in the face, “Tell me exactly what happened.” “I don’t know man, I only saw it for a moment, alright? Someone shoved a bunch of bloody animal parts and shit in his locker. Shit… man, it’s fucked up,” he said as he frantically stumbled out of the crowd and away to a classroom. Think of how this all sounds: Your best friend begins acting possessed, then has a psychotic breakdown and bludgeons a classmates face to a bloody mess. He ends up absent on the day that they find a pile of bloody, dissected animal bits in the locker of said classmate. I took off out of the school gates without hesitation, going straight for Jordan’s house. I ignored the burning in my legs as I ran, thinking only of what had happened. I had no clear idea as to why I was going to Jordan’s, but something clicked in my mind and I immediately felt that he had something to do with the gory mess in the locker. I was getting close. I ran up the dirt path from the road towards his house. The front door was left wide open. Anxiety struck me like a brick wall as I walked closer, becoming increasingly distressed. I took a step through the doorway and heard a splash under my foot as it landed on the wood floor. I looked down to see that I had plunged my foot into a puddle of blood. My tongue caught in the back of my throat and my heart pounded faster. The puddle lead across the floor into the kitchen. Part of me wanted to run away that very instant, but I continued to walk slowly towards the kitchen, following the dark red path. The cutlery drawer was pulled out and the handle and knives were streaked with blood. I grabbed a knife, fearing what monster may be lurking in the house. The path of blood lead out of the kitchen through another door into the hallway. As I followed it to the base of the staircase, a nauseating stench in the house became more apparent. I held the knife out in front of me with both hands, turning around to see if anyone was there. The house was silent and I stood there for about a minute. As I turned back to face the staircase, there was a loud thud at my feet, and something warm splattered against my face. There at my feet was a decapitated, skinned animal carcass, about the size of a dog; it was still wet with blood. I heaved, but nothing came out. I saw movement at the top of the stairs and quickly looked up. A figure stood there, silhouetted by the glare from the window behind it. It was like nothing I’ve seen before. It at pointy ears sticking out of the top of its head, and its long arms extended down to its feet. It just stood there, watching me. I couldn’t manage to take my gaze off of it, nor could I move. I was paralyzed, and began to lose sense of time. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it. Eventually, my eyes adjusted to the brightness from the window. I could start to make out distinct features of this thing that stood before me. Its arms had more joints than a regular human’s, and appeared to limply dangle there as if the creature made no effort to use them. It had the muzzle of a dog, and its upper part was covered in animal fur. I was still clueless as to what it was. My eyes soon became completely adjusted to the lighting, and I gradually became filled with horror. This wasn’t some sort of otherworldly beast. No, it was assembled in this world. I could see the seams of torn flesh where one arm met with another – the clear difference in skin tone. I had no interest in wondering where the additional limbs came from. The furry hide of a canine was draped over the front of this thing’s bare human chest. Blood dripped down from it until it reached a pair of dark-red stained jeans. I recognized the face of what was once the dog named Axle, now positioned over this thing’s face as some sort of a mask. I knew who it was, but there was no way I would ever accept it; I couldn’t. I began to panic, and this must have also been noticed by the beast. It started to make a growling sound at me, and arched its back, preparing to pounce on its prey. I was that prey. I broke eye contact with it and realized I was still gripping the knife that I took from the kitchen. The beast leaped from the top of the stairs, and I raised my arms. There was gashing sound and I was knocked back on the ground; the weight of this monster was bearing down on me. The mask made out of Axle’s head became detached from the wearer’s face, and I could see clearly now that it was Jordan. I felt a warm liquid run over my hands. His body slowly became relaxed and he made no effort to fight back. I looked down to see the knife penetrating Jordan’s gut. I looked back at his face. It was Jordan looking at me this time, not the monster that had possessed him before. He smiled at me – not a sadistic grin, but a calm smile of relief. His eyes slowly closed and he lay his head on my chest, becoming completely motionless. The blood was still rushing over my hands. I didn’t know what was going on anymore, but I couldn’t stand the pressure. I pushed the body off of me, leaving the knife where it had entered his abdomen. I walked out of the house in a state of pure shock. It was as if all that happened suddenly vanished from my mind, and my only initiative was to begin walking to my house. I got home and took off my blood soaked clothes, then hopped in the shower. I watched Jordan’s blood wash off of my body and flow down into the drain. After I got out of the shower, I put on a clean pair of clothes and threw my bloody ones into the trash can. I walked out of the bathroom and down the hallway towards the room, turning the message machine on by habit as I passed by it. I froze in the doorway of my room when Jordan’s voice began to play on the machine: “Hey, I know you just left, but I’m glad you came over to visit. I’ll be by your place tomorrow, maybe around 5 in the afternoon.” The machine beeped, and the automated voice announced that the message was sent around 8pm last night. I must have been on my way back home from Jordan’s house when he called. I glanced over at the clock. It was 4:58pm; two minutes away from when he said he’d be by. I sat back on my bed, blocking the violent memories of what had happened, retaining only the thought that Jordan wouldn’t be coming back. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t have the energy to. I stared at the clock on the wall, watching the second hand tick closer to the next minute. I began to immerse myself in thoughts of hanging out with Jordan. We were at the park, laughing at something; maybe a stupid joke that one of us told. As the minute hand reached closer to the hour, the dream world where Jordan was still alive faded away as I drifted back to this sad and lonely reality. Here I am now, at the end of my story. I lay here alone in my house, my best friend wiped from my life. What now? Who will I hang out with over the weekends? I have no one that I can trust to tell my secrets to anymore; no one to care enough to listen to what I have to say. I close my eyes and roll over, hoping that when I wake, this will all have just been a nightmare. There’s suddenly a loud, powerful slam from the front door. The sound resonates down the hallway and through the walls of the house. This is followed by a slow scratching sound along the wall, getting closer and closer to my bedroom door…