Reading Time: 4 minutesA few years back, I worked as a nurse in the geriatric unit of the hospital in my hometown. There was one old woman there with pale blue eyes whose mind was still fantastically sharp, and her desire to socialize and make new friends set her apart from most others living in that wing of the facility. That woman and I soon became close for this reason. Her name was Yana, and I still miss her every day since she passed.
The strangest thing about Yana was not her accent (which I could only place vaguely as Eastern European), nor her disinclination to talk about her past (which means I never learned exactly where she had grown up.) No, what fascinated me the most was that a strange young man, badly mutilated and plainly blind and mute, would visit her every single day. His hands appeared deformed, seemingly eroded at each digit down to the first knuckle. But each evening, a little after dinnertime, he would visit and they would sit together. She would read to him, or sometimes sing in her frail, old voice. Sometimes they would just hold hands in silence. Finally, I gathered the courage to ask her about this man, and in a strange moment of openness, she agreed to tell me the story:
“My sister and I were the only surviving members of our family after our father passed away in 1964. These were very hard times for my old country, and Father had grown so sick that we were eventually forced to allow him to starve, rather than waste food to comfort him as he inevitably died. Sister had been losing her mind little-by-little before all this happened, but I could see in her eyes, as we buried Father, that she had finally gone somewhere far away inside herself. I remember the crows, perched in thick groups like clots of preening black movement, watching us in the cemetery from all of the rooftops. We moved to bury Father quickly, because the crows were as hungry as we were…
Sister took to begging in the streets, sometimes trading sex for rides into the city nearby in the hopes that her begging would be more profitable there. It was during these terrible times that she conceived a son – a bastard whose father was not known to her but who was certainly some manner of predatory monster. This was the only kind of man my sister knew in those days of her life. The child was delivered healthy, happy, and with a glowing spirit that broke my heart, because I knew that soon the young boy’s eyes would look like mine, and like my sister’s. Even on the day he was born, I knew his beautiful, joyous innocence could not last.
Sister did not care for her son as she should have – as God and goodness alike demand that a mother should care for her child. She would not change the boy’s soiled diapers, leaving this to me instead, and would ‘forget’ to feed him even when his hungry wailing was ringing shrill and miserable through the whole house. Eventually she began to take him out begging, using the child as a prop with which to elicit the sympathy of strangers. She was most pleased when he looked his worst, and even complained to me once or twice that she could raise no money at all on days that he looked ‘too healthy.’
I can never forget her final act of cruelty against Vasily (I named him myself after Sister could not be bothered). It was morning, and I had walked outside into our yard to smell the air. The child was lying motionless on the ground there, and seemed quite dead – smeared as he was with his own blood. His little fingers and toes were black with frostbite; Sister had not even bundled him in anything when she laid him down hours ago in the dark of night. The crows, which were as hungry as we were, had plucked his beautiful eyes and tongue from his still-living body. I grabbed him up with tears already pouring down my cheeks, thinking that I had claimed a corpse. It was only when he stirred against my breast that I realized he might be saved.
I swaddled him as warmly as I could, and fed him something before rushing him down to the home of the town’s only doctor. I nearly beat down the front door with my fist, and he answered with sleep still in his eyes because it was so early. I paid him with all of the heirloom jewelry from Mother that I had been able to hide from Sister over the years. An hour or so later, the doctor told me Vasily would live, but asked that he be allowed to monitor the child for the rest of the day. I told him that this would be fine, as today would be a busy day for me. And indeed it was. By evening I had smashed Sister’s head to a flattened pulp with the cast-iron skillet from our stove, obtained a train ticket for passage out of our home country, and made plans to give Vasily the best life that he could still yet have.
Vasily – my son now – knows nothing about any of this, of course. I told him only that he was adopted away from a situation which he was likely not to survive. The mirthful optimism I saw on his face when he was born survives to this day inside his heart. Sister, in all her malice, had only managed to suppress it for a while. And now, almost 50 years later, he still visits his elderly mother every single day.”
She beamed with pride as she finished her story, and would say no more. And she was right, Vasily loved her so much, and wore no resentment on his face for his injuries. He always seemed to be smiling pleasantly, even though (in his blindness) he often didn’t know anyone was looking. He visited her every day until she died, and he was holding her hand when she passed. I knew from his interactions with hospital staff that he understood spoken English, and so at Yana’s funeral I told him that I had been a friend of his mother’s. I told him that she was the most amazing, wonderful woman I had ever met. His sad, grateful smile grew deeper, and he nodded his head. His response came in sign language.
Reading Time: 6 minutesI’d been depressed for a long time, mostly since my dad died. All his friends called him a hero; he was a cop and he sacrificed himself to save the lives of 23 people being held by an active shooter. I was 9 when that happened, I remember it like it was yesterday. But yesterday was my 17th birthday, and now my life is a nightmare.
My mom eventually remarried, but I can’t blame her for that. She was lonely and needed help raising a troubled kid. I just wish she’d been more aware of whom she was bringing into our lives. He’s not why I’m in trouble, but he’s an asshole who treats my mom like shit – she’s too in love with him to see it. No, he’s not the reason I ended up here, but he’s a precipitating factor.
It started when I heard that my friend Cassie had run away. I didn’t get it. Cassie lived in a suburban wonderland. Her parents were still married, they doted on her, her siblings weren’t douche bags, and she got really good grades – I mean, not straight A’s, but good enough that she was on the Honor Roll and her folks were proud of her. Idyllic is the word I’d use.
I spoke to her parents a time or two; they wanted to know the first time if Cassie had said anything to me – she hadn’t, and I’d said as much. The second time, I went over to be, I don’t know, supportive in their tough time. I knocked on their door and Mrs. Beaman answered. “Oh, Julie… Hi. Is everything okay?” I said it was, “Hey Mrs. Beaman, I just thought I’d come over to say ‘Hi’ and see if you guys had heard anything regarding Cassie, I’m sorry if it seems insensitive…”
Cassie’s mom opened the door wide and smiled a little, “Oh, no… Honey, please come in, I know you probably miss her as much as we do.” I did. Cassie had been one of my best friends, maybe five years ago. We’d grown apart a little after my dad died. I guess that’s my fault; I withdrew from everyone. I said as much to Mrs. Beaman and her eyes welled up with tears. “Julie, we don’t know where Cassie is, but we got a letter shortly after she went missing.”
It shocked me a little, “Missing? I thought she was just a runaway. I don’t understand.” Mrs. Beaman opened a binder that sat on her coffee table and pushed it toward me where I sat next to her on the couch. I read it aloud.
I’m with Greg, I’m not in danger. I just needed to get out of this dead-end town and see the rest of the world. I’m sorry if this disappoints you, but I need this. – Love Cassie.”
Cassie’s mom closed the binder, sniffed back tears, and said, “We got this maybe a week after she disappeared, it’s what convinced the Police that she was a runaway.” I looked at her face and I could tell that she was less than convinced of her own words. I couldn’t help myself, “Who the fuck is Greg?” Mrs. Beaman flinched at my language and I apologized. “Sorry, I just don’t understand any of this, I never knew any Greg. I mean, I know Cassie and I aren’t the best of friends anymore, but I never heard of her seeing anyone.” A small smile touched her lips, “It’s alright dear, Richard… Mr. Beaman said the same thing when he read the letter.”
I’d never heard Mr. Beaman swear in the ten years that Cassie and I had been best friends.
“Was Cassie depressed at all?” Mrs. Beaman frowned a bit and started to shake her head, then stopped. “I won’t lie to you Julie, I feel like I don’t know who my own daughter was. If she was depressed, I didn’t know it.” I spoke with her a little while longer and thanked her for her time and the memories. I should have gone home, but I didn’t want to deal with Todd by myself.
I called my mom at work and told her I was going to go to the library and do my homework before I went home. She said she’d see me when she got off work. I hate lying to my mom, but I wasn’t about to tell her that I was going to find a nice quiet spot in the woods and smoke some weed.
I did just that. After the emotional drain of the Beaman house, I just needed to not give a shit for a little while. I found my spot in the woods and pulled my stash out from under the stump. I hit it there ever since Todd busted me smoking in my old playhouse in the backyard… dick. I wasn’t too far from home, and I wasn’t exactly lying, because if my mom or Todd ever pinged my location on my cell, it’d put me within 100 meters of the library.
I took a few hits and leaned back against the stump, closed my eyes, and just listened to the trees. It was dead quiet, but it shouldn’t have been. No birds, no critters, or even insect noises. Nothing. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up from the wrongness of it. I was about to open my eyes when I heard a snapping noise, like someone or… something had stepped on a branch. I should have gotten the hell out of there, but it was like my brain reverted to childhood – you know, “If I can’t see it, it can’t see me”?
I heard more muffled noises until they stopped just behind me and to the left. The shifting of fabric as if someone were sitting or squatting near me. A deep, almost melodic voice came to me. I’d say I heard it, but that’s not quite right. I mean, I did hear it, but it was inside my head. “Keeping your eyes closed is probably a good idea, kid.” I felt a hand take the pipe from me. I heard a lighter spark and the sound of someone inhaling as the voice spoke again. “Mmm, not bad. Before you dismiss this, no, I’m not a hallucination.”
I opened my mouth to speak and the voice shushed me. My mouth clamped shut, but not of my own accord. “This is just a warning to you, Julie. Please stop asking questions about Cassie. Let the Beaman’s be. They’re in enough pain as it is, don’t you think?” I nodded, trying to think for myself. I felt a sharp poke somewhere behind my eye and the voice said “Yes, I am who the letter referred to as Greg. Cassie is with me and it’s going to stay that was for as long as I like.”
I felt tears squeeze themselves out from under my eyelids. I felt the pipe placed back into my hand and the barest of a breeze blown from the direction of my tormentor, no… not a breeze. It was his breath. It was fetid, rotten, with just a touch of musk from the weed. “I would hate to have to talk with you again, Julie. You’re not exactly my type, but I’ll make an exception if I need to.”
Unbidden, images flashed through my mind; tall, pretty, willowy girls, like Cassie, their faces bordered in the black and white of missing posters… so many of them. I shuddered and shook my head emphatically. He spoke again “Good, I see we understand each other perfectly. I hope there’s not a ‘next time,’ Julie.” I stayed there, shaking, eyes squeezed shut for how long, I don’t know.
I started to hear the sounds of nature again, birdsong, the buzzing of insects… I screamed when my phone rang, my eyes flew open, and at first, I was surprised to see it was dark. I saw my mom’s number on the screen and answered. “Julie Marie Townsend, I’ve been texting you for an hour. I’m in the library parking lot. Get your ass out here and let’s go home. Dinner is getting cold.” I took in a shuddering breath and told her I would be out in a minute. I stashed my pipe and made my way to her car. She chewed my ass the whole way home about not answering her and all I could do was apologize. I’m writing this down, so I remember it. I hope he can’t dig into my head and see that I am. If he does, I may be the next runaway.
The man walked quickly to his destination, boots crunching on the old snow. It was covered in dirt and dog piss. No one had bothered to shovel for a few days so the heaps of ice and snow were getting hard to handle. But he walked confidently, slamming his feet down over each solitary snowflake.
A few feet away sat the local bodega. It was rather large for a corner store, with groceries as well as home-goods. It was the only thing resembling a grocery store in the neighborhood. It stood out against the rundown apartments and sketchy shops. It was family-owned and a popular spot for lazing around.
The man stopped at the door of the bodega and looked inside. Usually it was full of patrons, but today is was empty. This worked to his advantage. He opened the door and the large bell rang harshly. There was a little girl behind the register. She has shiny black hair that was pulled back into braids. Her blouse was embroidered by hand but had food stains from years of hand-me-downs. She was doing her homework but looked up idly at the man. He walked deliberately down the aisles, grabbing items and shoving them under his arm. The girl turned back to her homework. She was accustomed to watching the shop while her father was busy with other things. After a few minutes the man dumped his items by the register. The girl eyed him suspiciously. He wore a black hoodie, black jeans, and large black boots. His eyes were heavy and purple. He looked as though he hadn’t slept in days.
The girl entered in the prices for items. She typed each number with care, making sure to charge the exact amount. Her little fingers punching the buttons made a louder sound than the man expected. He waited as patiently as he could.
She finished ringing him up and stuffed his items in a bag. He paid with dollar bills stained just a bit with age. He grabbed the bag almost violently and moved towards the door. A small piece of paper fell out of his pocket.
He left the bodega and the little girl came around to pick up the paper. It was a shopping list. It said:
She held the list in her hand for a second before opening the door. She saw the man a few feet away waiting at the streetlamp.
“Hey,” she called after him.
He turned around and stared at the girl. She held the piece of paper up. “You forgot the zip ties.”
The man slowly grudged back to the bodega. The little girl went behind the register and pointed out which aisle for him to look through. He found the zip ties and brought them up to the front. The girl rang them up and he paid.
For the first time in their encounter the man smiled. “Thank you for reminding me. I am having some good friends over for drinks.”
It was the first day back to school and I was absolutely tense about it. Wracked with anxiety, and plagued by nightmares, I’d barely gotten any sleep for the past week.
The night before the big day, I lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, watching as the light played terrible tricks, painting patterns in the shadows resembling fog or smoke, just above the fan where it hung. The floor slowly sank around me, pulling my bed into a bog of muck that began to swallow me. Instead of water it was a pool of dread made tangible, a roiling pit of lava, and as it bathed me I began to breathe it in and drown as I burned.
I woke with a start and restarted my prayers where sleep had cut them off before:
Two more years. Two more years. Please just ignore me tomorrow. Please just forget I am there. Make me invisible. Two more years. Two more years.
When morning came, there was a knot of loathing in my stomach. I didn’t know if I could endure two more years of bullying–being shoved down in halls, checked down to the floor by a shoulder or tripped by a foot in the path. “Oops,” the owner would say disingenuously moving onward and directing a grin at me. Turning over in bed, the knot of loathing tightened. It was nearly 8:30. I was running late. I would have missed the bus by now. I’d have to ride my bike.
I entered my first period chemistry class very late. Mrs. Smithfield didn’t look up as I slunk into my desk. I was 35 minutes late and for some reason she was still in the middle of marking attendance. That was odd.
I raised my hand, “here Mrs. Smithfield!”
“Nobody’s seen Scott this morning?”
“I’m right here!”
“Ok then, Caleb Thompson?”
“Mrs. Smithfield, I’m here,” I demanded. “I’m sitting right here!” She didn’t look up. Nobody did.
As class went on, everyone continued to ignore me. My usual bullies sat near the back, not paying me any mind. Nothing was thrown at me, I wasn’t called to answer a question. This was great. Had my prayers been answered? Two more years and nobody would notice me. The only drawback was Mrs. Smithfield couldn’t see me either. At one point, I got out of my seat and waved my hands in front of her face. She didn’t even bat an eye. Was I invisible? Or worse: was I dead? Was I a ghost? Being invisible was what I had always wanted but not quite like this. I didn’t actually want that. I just wanted to be ignored. Now it was actually happening. How was I going to get credit for attending my classes? Could I graduate if I couldn’t be seen?
The class was nearing its end when things began to grow strange. The floor began rippling and a strange dark snow began to fall from above. The walls of the room appeared to be growing darker as well, and a horrible smell hung in the air. Some of my classmates faded from view, returning in flickers, like lightbulbs struggling to shine before dying out once more. and I couldn’t be sure, but Mrs. Smithfield seemed to be moving to and fro at the front of the classroom, yet her feet never seemed to touch the ground. I tried to tap the kid in front of me. He was new, I think his name was Shane Longo? My hand seemed to go right through him. That didn’t seem right. It must have been the lack of sleep. My mind was playing tricks on me. Nightfall came over the classroom and I closed my eyes. When I woke, a thick black fog shrouded the room, clouding my vision. The classroom was empty. I tried to gingerly step around them, but I lost my footing on one of the bodies that were dead on the undulating floor, but I caught myself on the steel door frame at the last moment. My palms came away black and the metal was searing hot.
A man burst through the doorway just as I was reaching into my locker to stash my books.
“Hey kid! What are you doing in here?”
He wore a mask and some kind of heavy raincoat. I looked into his eyes confused, “Are you talking to me?” I asked.
“Yes!” He shouted, glaring at me like I was stupid.
“You can see me?” I asked.
He grabbed me by the backpack strap, “yes I can see you, you fuckin idiot.”
“But-but I’m invisible.” I stammered.
“What the–are you trying to die kid?” he asked as he pulled me outside. There were waves of intense heat and dozens of people looking at us exit the building. Shock was painted across each of their faces.
As I gulped in deep breaths of fresh air, the world stopped spinning.
“He was in there?” A woman asked.
“Yea seems delirious,” the fireman, explained “probably breathed in some of the gas before the explosion.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” the woman demanded, “if he was in there during the explosion he wouldn’t be alive.”
“Does it really matter why he’s alive? He’s alive. Thinks he’s invisible. Maybe something knocked him in the head.”
The woman turned to me then and asked: “Can you hear me?”
She smiled kindly, “My name is Bethany, can you tell me your name?”
She took me by the hand and began leading me to the ambulance, “It’s Scott. Am I in trouble?”
She snickered despite the situation, “No. Why would you be in trouble?”
“Because I was late.”
Her eyes were kind, “That might be the only reason you’re alive, so you’re definitely not in trouble. I just want to check to make sure you’re okay and then we’re going to go to the hospital.” she fit a mask over my face. It was full of air that felt sterile and weird. She began moving a bright light between my eyes and checked my pulse.
“Why?” I mumbled.
“Well, Scott, you’re very badly burned,” she said.
“You don’t feel it?”
“No. Are you sure?” I ran my hands through my hair. The singed remains of it crumbled away.
She gestured to something over her shoulder and I began to come around. I began to understand. My breathing quickened and my eyes grew wide with shock.
“Relax,” Bethany smiled, “you are going to be fine.”
The entire wing of the school that I’d just been dragged out was a wreckage behind her. Pieces of the roof were caving in and the window of the classroom that I had just left exploded outward with a change in pressure as the fire devoured the air in the room. Fire hoses were spraying in futility trying to extinguish the raging flames that were engulfing the building.
It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of the profession of Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva, for that profession was nothing less dignified than robbery.
The inhabitants of Kingsport say and think many things about the Terrible Old Man which generally keep him safe from the attention of gentlemen like Mr. Ricci and his colleagues, despite the almost certain fact that he hides a fortune of indefinite magnitude somewhere about his musty and venerable abode. He is, in truth, a very strange person, believed to have been a captain of East India clipper ships in his day; so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn that few know his real name. Among the gnarled trees in the front yard of his aged and neglected place he maintains a strange collection of large stones, oddly grouped and painted so that they resemble the idols in some obscure Eastern temple. This collection frightens away most of the small boys who love to taunt the Terrible Old Man about his long white hair and beard, or to break the small-paned windows of his dwelling with wicked missiles; but there are other things which frighten the older and more curious folk who sometimes steal up to the house to peer in through the dusty panes. These folk say that on a table in a bare room on the ground floor are many peculiar bottles, in each a small piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from a string. And they say that the Terrible Old Man talks to these bottles, addressing them by such names as Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate Ellis, and that whenever he speaks to a bottle, the little lead pendulum within makes certain definite vibrations as if in answer. Those who have watched the tall, lean, Terrible Old Man in these peculiar conversations, do not watch him again. But Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva were not of Kingsport blood; they were of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions, and they saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a tottering, almost helpless greybeard, who could not walk without the aid of his knotted cane, and whose thin, weak hands shook pitifully. They were really quite sorry in their way for the lonely, unpopular old fellow, whom everybody shunned, and at whom all the dogs barked singularly. But business is business, and to a robber whose soul is in his profession, there is a lure and a challenge about a very old and very feeble man who has no account at the bank, and who pays for his few necessities at the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago.
Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva selected the night of April 11th for their call. Mr. Ricci and Mr. Silva were to interview the poor old gentleman, whilst Mr. Czanek waited for them and their presumable metallic burden with a covered motor-car in Ship Street, by the gate in the tall rear wall of their host’s grounds. Desire to avoid needless explanations in case of unexpected police intrusions prompted these plans for a quiet and unostentatious departure.
As prearranged, the three adventurers started out separately in order to prevent any evil-minded suspicions afterward. Messrs. Ricci, and Silva met in Water Street by the old man’s front gate, and although they did not like the way the moon shone down upon the painted stones through the budding branches of the gnarled trees, they had more important things to think about than mere idle superstition. They feared it might be unpleasant work making the Terrible Old Man loquacious concerning his hoarded gold and silver, for aged sea-captains are notably stubborn and perverse. Still, he was very old and very feeble, and there were two visitors. Messrs. Ricci, and Silva were experienced in the art of making unwilling persons voluble, and the screams of a weak and exceptionally venerable man can be easily muffled. So they moved up to the one lighted window and heard the Terrible Old Man talking childishly to his bottles with pendulums. Then they donned masks and knocked politely at the weather-stained oaken door.
Waiting seemed very long to Mr. Czanek as he fidgeted restlessly in the covered motor-car by the Terrible Old Man’s back gate in Ship Street. He was more than ordinarily tender-hearted, and he did not like the hideous screams he had heard in the ancient house just after the hour appointed for the deed. Had he not told his colleagues to be as gentle as possible with the pathetic old sea-captain? Very nervously he watched that narrow oaken gate in the high and ivy-clad stone wall. Frequently he consulted his watch, and wondered at the delay. Had the old man died before revealing where his treasure was hidden, and had a thorough search become necessary? Mr. Czanek did not like to wait so long in the dark in such a place. Then he sensed a soft tread or tapping on the walk inside the gate, heard a gentle fumbling at the rusty latch, and saw the narrow, heavy door swing inward. And in the pallid glow of the single dim street-lamp he strained his eyes to see what his colleagues had brought out of that sinister house which loomed so close behind. But when he looked, he did not see what he had expected; for his colleagues were not there at all, but only the Terrible Old Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane and smiling hideously. Mr. Czanek had never before noticed the colour of that man’s eyes; now he saw that they were yellow.
Little things make considerable excitement in little towns, which is the reason that Kingsport people talked all that spring and summer about the three unidentifiable bodies, horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels, which the tide washed in. And some people even spoke of things as trivial as the deserted motor-car found in Ship Street, or certain especially inhuman cries, probably of a stray animal or migratory bird, heard in the night by wakeful citizens. But in this idle village gossip the Terrible Old Man took no interest at all. He was by nature reserved, and when one is aged and feeble, one’s reserve is doubly strong. Besides, so ancient a sea-captain must have witnessed scores of things much more stirring in the far-off days of his unremembered youth.
CREDIT: H.P. Lovecraft
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Author’s note: Credit for the characters of Jeff, Liu, Keith, Troy and Randy go to the original author of Jeff the Killer. This is my remake of Jeff the Killer, voted for through a community challenge in 2015, to become the new Jeff the Killer story to be featured on the Creepypasta Wiki. This is not the original story, but rather a retelling. I hope you enjoy it.
The day Jeffrey Woods and his family arrived at their new home, the sky was overcast and the weather was muggy. The gray skies seemed to punctuate his mood. Jeff was not thrilled to be here. Their new home was beautiful though, a true example of his father’s new found success, but still, it wasn’t the home he’d known.
A week after they’d settled in, Jeff and Liu woke up early. The sky was a crisp and gorgeous blue, and although the Louisiana heat was playing its usual cruel tricks, the brothers decided that a morning bike ride to explore the area would be just the right ticket to combat the slight pangs of homesickness that they’d both been experiencing over the last week.
“I miss home,” Liu blurted out, as Jeff was smearing salsa on the microwaved burrito that would serve as his breakfast.
“Me too Liu, but I guess this is home now, so we just sort of have to make the most of it.”
“I know, but all of our friends and stuff are back in New Orleans. Remember that building we’d always sneak up on top of and watch the city lights come on, I miss that,” Liu responded, sounding down.
“Yeah, and ZM Video, the owner knew us and would always let us rent R-Rated movies without our parents, and he’d always hook us up with a free video game rental if we got a few movies… yeah, I miss that too, but Liu, we have to…”
Liu interrupted, “I know, we have to make the most out of this, but still, this place just seems so fake, and mom and dad still treat us like we aren’t even here.”
“Yep, they do. I was sort of hoping the new house would improve their mood, but what can we do?”
Liu had no answer.
Jeff finished his breakfast and the two boys left the house to mount their bikes and explore around a bit more. As it turned out, the subdivision they moved into was rather close to a cluster of stores in a small shopping center.
Village Shopping Center was the name of the short row of businesses. Within these were a Pizza Hut, a Chinese restaurant, a tobacco store, a Sprint store, and, what Jeff and Liu were most excited about, a video store.
“We’ll have to get mom or dad to come down here and open up an account so we can rent movies,” Liu mentioned as Jeff flipped a box over to read the description of a horror movie.
“Shit, you’re right,” Jeff snapped, feeling a bit of frustration at this thought. He knew getting his parents to actually come down here and set up a membership would take forever, since their usual after work routine was to go off into separate rooms until they got hungry enough to come out and speak.
Jeff glanced over at the girl working behind the counter, “Maybe I can go over there and sweet talk her into giving us accounts,” he joked.
“Yeah right Jeff, one look at you and she’ll probably ban us,” Liu remarked back, a smile broad on his face.
“You doubt me little man?”
“Doubt you? The guy who’s kissed two girls and almost touched a boob, never, please go on over and lay on all the charm.”
“Whatever, I totally could have banged that girl, but her parents came home and….”
“Last time you told me that story, you said her parents were out of town and her sister came home…”
Jeff became flustered and while in the process of trying to make yet another come back, the girl behind the register removed all doubt by speaking to the boys herself.
“Hey, aren’t those your bikes?” the young woman asked, pointing towards the glass window.
Jeff and Liu looked over and saw three boys outside, two of which were riding around in circles on the Woods brother’s bikes. They would spin them around and then jump off, letting the bikes crash onto the pavement, just to stand them up and ride them again. The two boys riding the bikes were both slim in build, while a heavier boy stood on the sidewalk, drinking a Red Bull and watching.
Jeff and his brother made their way towards the doors of the video store, when the fat kid saw them coming. Jeff couldn’t hear what he said to his two friends, but he made some sort of gesture while shouting, and the other two boys dumped the bikes where they lay, and walked towards the sidewalk, directly towards the two brothers.
“Those your bikes?” one of the boys asked as Jeff and Liu entered the summer heat.
“Yeah, why are you riding them?” Liu asked sharply.
“We just saw them there man, relax, figured someone just left them out for us,” the same boy responded, as his two friends joined him on either side.
Jeff, determined to make a good start here, tried to change the course of this confrontation.
“Well, they’re ours. We just moved here about a week ago, we live over on Fairmont Avenue, a few blocks from here. We were just checking out the neighborhood.” Jeff hoped that a civil tone could turn things around, but he could tell by the insolent look on the kid’s face that this was a difficult gamble.
“Good for you, you moved somewhere,” the fat kid remarked.
“Oh yeah Troy,” the first boy spoke, “they moved into that piece of shit house with the gravel driveway. I was wondering who would move into that place.”
“Well Randy, now we know,” the big kid, apparently named Troy, replied.
Jeff, still trying to salvage the conversation, tried peaceful banter one more time. “Okay, so you’re Troy and you’re Randy, well I’m Jeff and this is my brother Liu, we just moved here from New Orleans.”
“You ain’t in New Orleans now,” the third boy, who’d just now decided to speak, remarked.
“Yeah, and who the fuck said you could call us by our names?” Randy asked, that insolent, privileged smile never leaving his face.
Jeff smiled and responded to Randy, “Well, I guess I could have called you a fucking asshole but I figured I would give you the benefit of the doubt.”
In that moment, a flare of rage replaced the smirk that had rested on Randy’s face throughout this entire exchange. The other two boys, Troy and the still unknown third member of his band, seemed to be momentarily struck silent. Perhaps they weren’t used to being stood up to.
“Oh I’m sorry, was that language too adult for you?” Jeff asked. “And you, quiet boy, we know this isn’t New Orleans,” Jeff stated to the slim kid that had reminded him of his geographical locations, “because if this was New Orleans you three would already have gotten your asses kicked for touching someone else’s shit.”
The slim kid looked back and forth at his two friends, however, Randy, clearly the leader, seemed to know what to say. “Keith, you gonna let this little bitch talk to you like that?”
Jeff knew this part. And while he wanted quite badly to sock Randy and his pals around, a real concern suddenly invaded his mind. If he and Liu got into a fight on their first week in this new neighborhood, their parents would freak. He could practically hear it now. And while things had been far from perfect in their home, even after the move, there was a peace that had fallen over the family, and Jeff, fighting his urges, decided to do his best to keep it.
Jeff looked over the three, very well dressed, very privileged looking suburban kids before them, and dismissed them. “You guys are boring, come on Liu, let them continue their play dates without us.”
Liu laughed at that and followed behind his brother towards the bikes. However, Randy and his little gang of would-be toughs would have none of that. They moved to block Jeff and his brother once again.
“Where you going pussy?” Randy asked, shoving Jeff. Jeff could tell that shove had no real conviction. Randy was trying to figure him out, seeing where his buttons were. He’d push harder eventually, but Jeff swallowed the slowly building anger within him once more.
Liu took a bit more exception to the shove.
“We’re going to your mom’s house, me and my brother saved up a couple dollars from doing chores and we hear she doesn’t charge much.”
As the words left Liu’s mouth, Randy appeared to only register a small portion of it all. Randy Hayden had grown up in Mandeville. His father was a partner at a local firm that made a lot of money, something else that Jeff would soon come to learn. Randy and his friends, while the same age as Jeff, had grown up in very different circumstances. They were used to being listened to; they were used to being feared.
In fact, Randy, the target of the insult, just stood there. It was actually Troy, the fat kid who stepped forward, fist balled, eyes squinted in anger.
“Who you talking to?” Troy shouted, and took a wild swing at Liu.
Liu, who was both in better shape and had sparred with Jeff a time or two during his time spent boxing, was able to avoid the punch, but just barely. Had that been all, it may have once again ended there. Troy was clearly taken by surprise at Liu’s speed, and actually didn’t attempt another punch. However, these were bullies, kids that ran in a pack for a reason. The skinny one, Keith, stepped around and threw a punch that connected with the left side of Liu’s face.
Jeff had seen enough. He’d been shocked at how quickly this evolved into blows, even though he’d expected it from almost the start. When he’d first met Randy and his friends, he’d been curious. From there he’d developed an annoyance with them, and slowly that annoyance had evolved into anger. However, upon seeing Liu punched, seeing the small trickle of blood form on his brother’s lower lip, upon seeing the smug look of satisfaction on Keith’s face, that anger that Jeff felt, suddenly exploded into a rage that he’d never felt before in his life.
Jeff Woods did not hesitate. He stepped forward, his feet automatically falling into the correct stance that he’d learned from the boxing classes his father once enrolled him into, and delivered a powerful right hand to Keith’s face. The skinny boy had no time to register shock or pain. The punch caught him by surprise, and his knees buckled. Keith went down to the ground in a heap of confusion and dawning fear.
Randy, the so called leader here, was almost too shocked to move. He’d had quite a lot of experience starting fights, but no real time logged in losing them. He’d never felt control of a situation slip. He was used to being in charge. So now, seeing one of his friends go down so quickly and easily, left him in a state of shock that he had no idea how to address.
Troy on the other hand seemed to have a plan, throw another punch. He moved towards Jeff deceptively faster than his weight would seem to allow, and threw two equally fast punches. Jeff however had no problem side stepping both attempts. Troy, seeming lost for actions, actually dropped his arms, as if to say, ‘gee, what do I do now?’
Jeff had the answer. He moved in, throwing three hooks to Troy’s stomach. The hefty kid’s eyes went as wide as pie pans, a fitting analogy, Jeff thought. He staggered back, clutching his throbbing stomach. Jeff wasted no time, and stepped in once more, fetching a sharp punch to the big kid’s jaw, causing Troy to promptly fall on his ass. Jeff was reminded of King Hippo from the Punch Out game he used to play. He couldn’t help but smile.
Jeff now turned his focus on Randy. He advanced on the boy, feeling something new forming inside of him. He still felt the anger, the rage actually, at the antics of these three assholes. They had the nerve to mess with their bikes; the nerve to insult two kids they’d never met before, and of course, the ultimate offense, touching his brother. However, mixed in with this rage was also a sweet, enjoyable pleasure. Not only was he kicking their asses, but he was loving every second of it. It was as though the joy of showing them up was perfectly blending with the rage he felt towards them. Together, it formed into a sadistic, controlled sense of power.
That was, until Liu stepped in front of him. “Jeff, stop, that’s enough!”
“Why stop now Liu, they wanted this,” Jeff replied in a flat voice that Liu had never heard come from his brother’s mouth.
“She’s calling the cops, look!” Liu shouted again, and this time, Jeff came back to reality long enough to listen. He glanced over at the video store clerk, and saw her on the phone, talking frantically and pointing towards the parking lot. Suddenly, Jeff’s strange sadistic haze collapsed, and he regained his former self.
“Fuck, let’s go!” he stated quickly, and he and Liu mounted their bikes and rode towards the parking lot exit.
“Yeah, you better fucking run!” Randy called behind them. Jeff and Liu paid no mind and peddled away.
A few blocks down the street they dismounted their bikes and began to walk them together. At first, neither brother spoke, then Liu broke the silence.
“Jeff, thank you for standing up for me back there, thank you.”
“Yeah, those guys were pieces of shit, they had it coming,” Jeff replied, looking down at the street as they walked.
“What… what happened? I’ve never seen you like that before?”
“Just defending myself Liu, what was I supposed to do, let them beat you up?”
“I bet they go to our school, I bet we’ll see them there, and they won’t forget this.”
“Who cares? We didn’t ask to move here, we didn’t ask for any of this. Mom and dad just wanted a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, and we were along for the ride whether we liked it or not. Think I give a shit what these rich asshole kids think of us?” Jeff stated, and went back to looking at his feet.
“Think we’ll get in trouble?” Liu asked.
“For what, defending ourselves?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, they did start it,” Liu answered, and to the brother’s, the matter was closed.
However, things were far from over.
They found that the trouble they believed they’d escaped was in fact waiting for them at their front door. Jeff and Liu saw the police cars well before they arrived at their driveway. Two cop cars, both parked in front of their house. Both of them felt their stomachs drop, as they well knew why the police were there.
The brothers entered the living room, to see their parents sitting on the couch, the two cops standing up, leaning on the wall, writing in their notebooks.
“What did you two do?” Shelia practically screeched as the two boys entered the house.
Liu, younger and less centered than Jeff, began to fall on the defensive, “Some kids tried to jump us down by that video store, they were messing with our bikes, and when we went outside, they got in our faces!”
“That’s not the way we heard it!” Matt Woods interjected, his voice firm and ripe with anger and dissatisfaction.
“No dad, that’s what happened,” Jeff began to explain. “We were down at Friendly Video, looking around the store, when these three kids started riding around on our bikes. All we did was walk outside, and the kids started talking trash to us, trying to provoke a fight. When we tried to leave, one of them punched Liu.”
Finally, one of the two cops spoke. His name tag read Williamson. “Boys, we have some serious complaints about the two of you. From what eye witnesses at the shopping center say, you two started the confrontation with Randy and his friends.”
Jeff took notice at how familiar the cop’s tone was when he said Randy’s name. This was a small town after all, and there was a good chance that this cop coached Randy in little league, or drank beers with his dad. Hell, it was even possible that this cop could be an uncle to one of the bullies.
“No sir,” Jeff replied, “we didn’t start it, they did. We just wanted our bikes, we just wanted to leave. They blocked us.”
Williamson continued, as though he’d heard nothing Jeff said, “Several witnesses, including the video store clerk, say that you swung first. They say that the boys were riding your bikes, but let me ask you this, did you chain your bikes to anything, or did you just leave them outside the store?”
“What’s that matter?” Liu demanded.
“Well son, if you just left your bikes lying around in the street, you can’t exactly blame Randy and his friends for riding them, now can you? It’d be different had you secured them somehow, but you just left them there.”
“Mom, dad, you’re not buying this crap are you? You know me and Liu don’t start fights, when have we ever? These three punks messed with us, and if you can’t tell that these cops are taking their sides, then you need to open your eyes!” Jeff knew he was skating on thin ice, but that rage, it demanded some sort of satisfaction.
“Jeffrey, do not speak about these officers in that tone of voice, and do not speak to us that way either. Now, it’s pretty obvious that you two aren’t happy here, that you miss your old home, but starting fights in the street isn’t going to change anything!” Jeff’s mother snapped back.
“Listen boys, you’re lucky. None of the parents want to press charges. This will be reported as a simple scuffle between teenagers. But be advised, you’re both on notice. This is a quiet town, not like New Orleans. We don’t tolerate this sort of behavior over here. If you see Randy, Keith or Troy, I highly suggest you tell them you’re sorry. We’ll be keeping an eye on both of you, so don’t let this happen again. You don’t want to have an arrest record, do you?”
Jeff felt his anger bubble over, and he could not hold his tongue. “Who is he to you Officer Williamson? Is Randy your nephew? Is he a friend’s son? Or maybe you go over and screw his mom while you’re on duty? Which one is it Officer?”
“That’s it, both of you go to your rooms!” Matt Woods apparently found that he wasn’t a mute after all, as he ordered his sons out of the room. Jeff and Liu walked up the stairs, however, they refused to hang their heads in shame or feel any regret.
Neither of their parents spoke to them for the rest of that day. Jeff and Liu stayed upstairs, venting their shared frustration to each other. They’d been screwed over, even at their young ages, they knew that. They took some solace in the fact that they at least hadn’t been arrested or cited, but still, they saw what was really going on here.
“That cop, he was protecting Randy,” Jeff whispered to his younger brother.
“No shit,” his brother replied.
“We have to watch ourselves; we have to take care of each other. You saw it down there, even our parents didn’t stand up for us.”
“Yeah, what the hell was up with that?” Liu asked.
“Imagine, their fucking image, that’s what’s up with it. All they care about is fitting in here. They want to make sure they blend in with the rest of the Stepford families. No more fighting, if we see Randy or his two fuckhead friends again, we just walk away, okay?”
“But Jeff, you can kick the shit of them, why would we walk away?” Liu asked.
“Because I can’t kick the shit out of the cops Liu, I can’t kick the shit out of mom and dad, and that’s what would get us. Fucking Randy and his pals are protected here, you and me, we’re not. So, if we see them, just avoid them, okay, please?”
Liu nodded, “I feel like a little bitch though, I owe Keith for hitting me.”
“No you don’t, I paid him back for that, and paid his fat friend too. I hope they just leave us alone now,” Jeff sighed.
Jeff and Liu didn’t hear from their parents for the rest of that day. They remained in their rooms late into the night, and finally came down to eat after they were sure their folks had gone to bed. Liu said that he felt relieved about that, but Jeff had a sinking feeling that the worst was yet to come. Jeff was correct,the next morning, when the two brothers came down stairs together to eat breakfast; their parents were already sitting at the dining room table, staring at the boys, approving of nothing they saw.
“Sit down,” Matt stated flatly.
“What’s going on?” Liu asked.
“Sit….down!” Matt stated again, anger dancing on the words.
The boys complied without further question.
Matt Woods began his diatribe, “Whatever that was yesterday, beating up some kids for touching your bikes, mouthing off at the police, disrespecting both me and your mother, that stops today!”
“We didn’t beat anyone up for touching our bikes!” Jeff blurted.
“Shut up Jeff, this is a one way conversation!” his father barked. “That kid, Randy Hayden, his father is a partner at my firm, did you know that? Did you even think about that when you were assaulting him over your godforsaken bike?”
“You just didn’t think, did you Jeff?” Shelia added.
“How could I have known that?”
Matt continued, “Well, I’ve spent the entire morning talking to his father on the phone. His dad is willing to let it all go, but shit son, I have to deal with that at work now. Do you have any idea how much damage this could have done to me, to our family?”
Jeff felt that rage coming back, and fought with all his might to keep it stifled.
Instead, he once more tried to appeal to the two adults’ parental side, “Mom, look at Liu’s face, they split his lip, can’t you see, it’s still swollen!”
Liu turned his head to better showcase the injury.
“My god Jeff, so some kid played a little rough with your brother, is that any reason to fight them? I wanted to make friends with some of the other families in this neighborhood but thanks to you… I just don’t know…”
No sooner could Jeff or his brother construct a proper defense, than their father began speaking again. “So, your mother and I have talked this through. Since there are only a couple weeks of summer vacation left, we’ve decided that Liu should spend the rest of the season at Aunt Marcy’s place. We’ve already spoken to her, and she is willing to let him come out there and stay.”
Both Jeff and Liu were floored by this decision. Both boys began to protest at the same time, but they saw the look on their parents’ faces. The decision was made.
“Why can’t we both just go then?” Jeff asked, a last ditch effort to at least get away from his parents.
“Marcy doesn’t want both of you there, she says you two are too rambunctious, and frankly we agree,” Shelia answered.
And so it was, Liu was shuttled off to his Aunt’s place in Abita Springs, Louisiana, a place even smaller and duller than Mandeville, if one can believe that. Jeff watched his brother leave, and then walked back to his bedroom. He felt that rage; however, it began to feel almost… pleasant to him. He couldn’t explain it. He was furious at this turn of events, his parents had turned their backs on their own children. However, through it all, these new feelings he was experiencing weren’t all terrible. This anger for example, he could almost taste it. It felt like thick, sweet syrup, stirring around in him. Of course, he knew the extra ingredient that would complete the flavor. That satisfying joy he’d felt when he had Randy and his friends on the ropes the day prior, that mixed perfectly with the anger, to create some intoxicating product that Jeff almost craved now. He fell asleep lying on his bed thinking about that syrup, that thick, viscous that seemed to work its way into the very fabric of his soul. He wanted it, yet he knew that it was destructive, and that nothing good could come from sampling it again.
Several days passed, and tensions were high between Jeff and his parents. Without Liu around, there was nothing for him to do except sit in his room and play video games. He went outside but didn’t venture far from home. He knew if Randy and his goons showed up again, it would likely result in another fight.
For a few days, that worked well, and Jeff believed he could get through this. However, his mother changed all of that on an early Saturday morning. Jeff was awoken suddenly by sharp sunlight striking his face. He heard his mother humming, something that she rarely did. Even in his half sleeping state, he knew that humming was forced. She was doing it to wake him up, and figured the added sunlight would get things there even faster. When she noticed Jeff’s eyes cracking open, she sauntered over to his bed, and began speaking in a tone that simply oozed false joviality.
At first Jeff had refused. Could his mother be serious, did she really expect him to go over and make friends with Randy? He was still in bed when his mother stopped her incessant humming long enough to tell him to get up and get dressed. Once he learned why, he’d told her no, no way in hell. However, his mother was a shrewd manipulator, and she’d know exactly what would get the job done. She promised Jeff that if he did this for her, went over and made it work with Randy, that Liu could come home the next day. She’d sandbagged Jeff right into the corner with that one. He’d no choice but to agree.
A short time later, Jeff and his mother were pulling into Randy’s driveway. Randy’s mother answered the door.
“Hi, you must be Jeff,” she greeted.
Jeff smiled wanly and confirmed that was in fact who he was.
“Hello, I’m Shelia Woods, nice to finally meet you in person!” Jeff’s mother announced, barging past her son and extending a hand to Randy’s mother.
“Shelia, so pleased to meet you, I’m Bridgette Hayden. Sorry to hear that our boys had a little mishap the other day. You know how it is though with teenagers, hormones going crazy and all. Randy never gets into fights, but he explained to me that Jeff and his brother are still new to the area, and haven’t quite learned how we do things in Mandeville yet, isn’t that right Jeff?”
Jeff couldn’t resist a small jab, “Yeah, sorry about that Miss Hayden. Me and Liu had no idea that it was okay for your son and his friends and mess with our bikes without asking.”
“Bridgette, he gets that mouth from his father, never knows when to shut up. How about you and I go in and have some coffee and you can tell me all the great gossip around Mandeville while our boys get to know each other the right way.”
“Randy is in his room Jeff, upstairs, second door to your left. I’m sure you’ll hear the sound of his video games or something,” Bridgette stated with very little humor to her voice.
“Thank you ma’am,” Jeff answered, and entered the house.
Jeff knocked and heard Randy answer with, “Come in.”
“Hey, so, I guess you heard, our parents want us to hang out, get to know each other,” Jeff stated with little conviction.
“Yeah, that’s my mom alright, she doesn’t like drama. Honestly I think she worries too much, I mean, I’m cool if you’re cool.”
Jeff sat down on the floor next to Randy and struck up a conversation. “So, turns out your dad is my dad’s boss, he freaked out about the fight in the parking lot. He was actually worried that he’d get fired or something.”
“My dad is like, everyone’s boss. I fucking hate it. I think half the kids at my school talk to me because their parents are somehow connected to my dad’s firm.”
“Why do you hate it?” Jeff asked.
“Because it’s fake, this whole damned town is fake. You’ll figure it out as you go, but trust me; everyone who lives here is just trying to pretend they’re something else. My parents make me do all this shit, all the trophies and stuff, just so they can brag, that’s it.”
Jeff smiled, “I know how you feel. My dad had me in boxing class a year ago, because some co-worker of his had a brother that worked at the place or something. As soon as that guy quit though, I was out of that gym the next week.”
“I wish it was that easy,” Randy responded, “I hate playing baseball, but my dad will sure have me out there again next summer, and the summer afterwards. It’s like, he knows I hate it, but wants to make sure I’m out there with his stupid company name on the back of my jersey.”
“Randy, why did you and your friends fuck with our bikes the other day?”
“I told you, this town is fake, and boring as shit. There is nothing to do here. We have to find stuff to do. I mean, there are only so many times you can go hang out at the video store, or ride the dirt paths in the woods. All the girls here are stuck up, all the stores close early, there’s no mall and the movie theatre is across town. We were just bored man, so, sorry for that I guess.”
“It’s cool,” Jeff replied, “I guess I’m sorry for too. Things went too far.”
“You mean the fight?” Randy asked, “That shit was actually cool. Those guys, Keith and Troy, they just leech on because of my dad. It’s like I told you, I’m pretty sure their parents make them hang out with me.”
The afternoon went on, and Jeff soon forgot that this was a mandatory arrangement. He actually started to find himself liking Randy, sure, their first encounter was a little sketchy, but he was coming around to the guy, finding that he wasn’t so bad once his idiot friends were removed from the equation.
About an hour later, things took a new turn. Jeff heard the twin pops of two car doors shutting in near unison, and then heard the engine start up. He dropped the game controller and peered out of Randy’s bedroom window, just in time to see his mother and Randy’s mother backing out of the driveway.
“Our parents are leaving,” Jeff said.
“About time, I figured my mom would eventually talk your mom into going shopping, or going to get coffee, or something like that.”
Jeff heard Randy pause the game.
“Hey Jeff, come down stairs, I want to show you some cool stuff,” Randy invited, and Jeff followed.
Randy led Jeff out to the garage. It was hot in there, with the main door shut. The garage was well kept though, and Jeff observed stacks of magazines underneath a work bench, as well as tools and various other utility items stacked about.
Standing in the small, closed in garage, with the late summer heat lingering about, Jeff began to feel a bit uneasy. Despite the fact that he and Randy had seemed to bond over the last few hours, Jeff couldn’t ignore a sense that things were different now that the adults were gone.
“What did you want to show me?” Jeff asked.
“Hold on, let me get it,” Randy replied, moving the magazines out to reveal a small, red box.
Jeff watched as Randy removed the box and opened it.
“Check it out, my dad’s flare gun,” Randy announced, and waved the red, tubular gun about.
“Woah, be careful with that!” Jeff shouted, more out of shock than real concern.
“It’s fine dude, don’t be a pussy, it’s not even loaded,” Randy said. However, Jeff watched as he fished one of the flares out of a back compartment. Randy then continued to fiddle with the flare gun, popping it open and loading a flare. “Now it’s loaded,” he announced. “My dad showed me how to use this last year when we went out boating. Sometimes I take it out back and shoot flares at the trees. But, maybe this time I don’t need a tree.”
The change in Randy’s voice and demeanor was impossible to ignore.
“Okay, well cool gun. Let’s get back in the house though, it’s hot out here, plus, I’m getting hungry, what do you have to eat?”
However, as Jeff turned to walk through the small door leading back into the house, his path was suddenly blocked by two more familiar faces.
“Where you going Jeffey?” the fat kid, Troy, blurted out, as he and Keith stepped forward into the garage.
“Took you two assholes long enough to get here, I’ve had to babysit this faggot all day,” Randy shouted, a wicked joy was present in his words.
“Sorry Randy, but Keith here had to mow his front yard before his parents would let him come out,” Troy said, a sheepish tone to his voice.
“It’s cool, we’re here now,” Keith said.
“What the fuck is going on?” Jeff asked, staring at Randy. He noticed that Randy still had the flare gun in his hands.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on Jeff; you owe Keith and Troy an apology for what you did. You sucker punched them, and then ran away. You didn’t even have the balls to fight them fair, so now, you’re going to pay them what you owe!”
“I’m not going to fight you, okay, I’m done with that shit,” Jeff replied as he glanced about the room for an exit.
“You’re right about that, you’re not going to fight. You’re going to stand there and let my boys get their licks in. Then I get mine, and when that’s done, you get the fuck out of my house. I’ll tell my mom that you got sick and walked home, and after that, if you see us again, you better walk the other way.”
“I’m not going to stand here and get hit by you or your friends, so just let me go home, how about that. I’ll tell my mom that we’re cool and everyone wins, okay?” Jeff asked.
Randy then raised the flare gun towards Jeff. “No, you stay pussy; you stay and take your licks.”
Jeff felt that sensation once more, that sick, rich dark matter that swirled about inside of him. He could taste it now, it was heaven. In his mind, he imagined himself diving into it, swimming in it, letting it swallow him whole. He looked around and the sensation only grew. He saw Randy, standing there holding the flare gun. It was limp in his hands though, and the hammer was not cocked back. Jeff knew that Randy had no intention of firing it. He looked over at Keith, skinny and pathetic, a kid born to follow. Troy, fat and sweaty, breathing a bit heavy from his walk over, and of course, in the middle of it all, Jeff himself. He felt that pleasure begin to mix with the rage, forming the perfect product. He tried to avoid sampling it; he knew that only regret could come from indulging in it. However, when it was placed so close, when the aroma and the promise of that sweet savory flavor was only inches away, Jeff found that he could no more to stand against it than a ship in the ocean could stand against a typhoon.
Jeff began to smile.
“Why are you smiling at me, you queer for me or something?” Randy asked, a slight nervous tinge in his voice.
“Am I smiling Randy? I guess it’s because I’m just having so much fun,” Jeff announced, and suddenly lunged towards the unprepared kid holding the flare gun.
Jeff struck Randy once in the nose. Randy’s arms dropped, yet he kept hold of the flare gun. Jeff, without even needing to look, realized that Troy and Keith had actually taken a step back, instead of advancing as they should have. Jeff delivered another strong blow to Randy’s jaw, causing the boy to drop to the floor.
Jeff now turned his attention to Troy and Keith, the two tough kids that had yet to actually make so much as a move in his direction. Troy actually backed up a step and stumbled over the stack of magazines that Randy had moved earlier. Jeff took this opportunity and stepped forward, once again introducing Troy’s round belly to his fist. Troy tried to stay on his feet, but Jeff’s punches, combined with the stumble over the magazines, caused Troy to fall back, landing hard and striking his head on the concrete slab that was the garage’s floor.
Keith was actually trying to back away. However, Jeff was currently standing between him and the only exit to the garage, since the carport door was closed. Jeff took two quick steps towards the skinny kid, and felt the most intense joy at seeing Keith stagger backwards, knocking his back into the wall. That perfect blend of pleasure, control and rage had come together. Jeff felt as though he was floating above the world. Somewhere in his mind, he knew there would be hell to pay for this, but at that exact moment in time, he couldn’t care less. He didn’t care about Liu, he didn’t care about being arrested, and he didn’t care if his dad got fired. All he cared about, in that fraction of time, was hurting Keith.
Keith tried to make a run for it, hoping to squeeze through the small gap between Jeff and the door. However, Jeff clipped him a hard right hand to his face, causing Keith to stagger back again. Jeff could see that his knees were buckling, and took full advantage. He moved in, pinning Keith to the wall, and began to deliver blow after blow to the skinny kid’s stomach. Keith’s eyes became as large as saucers. Once satisfied, Jeff stepped back, and watched in demonic glee as Keith slowly slid down the wall, gasping for air.
Randy got back to his feet, but seemed to have no idea what to do.
“We done now Randy? We good, or do you and your friends need more?” Jeff mocked.
“No more, we’re cool…”
“How about you assholes?” Jeff asked.
“It was Randy’s idea…” Keith said weakly.
“Yeah man, we didn’t even want to,” Troy agreed.
The debate may have continued, but the sound of a returning car broke the tension.
“Oh shit, my mom is back!” Randy shouted, his voice cracking in a humorous way. It seemed that the previous tough guy had all but shrunk back to a scared child.
“So, we’ll just say that we were all hanging out,” Keith replied.
“No, the fucking flare gun, if she finds out that I messed with it, I’m screwed!”
“So put it back,” Jeff suggested. That sensation of rage was fading again, and he felt control returning.
“Yeah, grab the magazines, please,” Randy begged. Jeff found that he rather liked that tone, that begging, whipped dog mentality.
Jeff was paying no attention to Randy; he was down on the floor calmly gathering the magazines. He didn’t really care if Randy got in trouble or not, however, if his mother returned and found trouble, he feared that Liu may not be able to return home as promised.
Everything else happened in a flash, both literally and figuratively.
Randy, now in a panic over the trouble he’d be in if he was caught playing with the flare gun, had begun to sweat. As his hands frantically clawed over the gun, his thumbs pushed the hammer back, unintentionally. He didn’t even notice that the gun was cocked. He was turning it over in his hands, trying to quickly disarm it. He then heard the sound of keys in the front door. He knew that he had only seconds now to hide it.
Everything else happened in slow motion. The gun slipped from Randy’s sweaty hands as he’d attempted to rotate it once more. He saw it fall to the floor, seeming to float to the ground, rather than fall. Jeff, busy stacking the magazines, had only enough time to register Randy’s shocked gasp. He turned to look in the boy’s direction, just in time to see the bright red flare gun hit the floor. The gun discharged, launching a speeding ball of fire directly into Jeff’s face. Jeff felt the hot flash of heat and pain tear across the left side of his face. After the initial registry of agony, there was no more thinking. Jeff began to scream, clutching the left side of his face and rolling around on the floor. For a while he forgot everything, as he was plunged into that dark, rich syrup once more, the rage almost serving to dull the pain.
When he finally did come to a stable level of alertness, he realized he was in a hospital room. Half of his face was bandaged, he knew that much. He wanted to open his eyes and speak, let his family know he was awake, but the drugs still had a firm hold. He was awake, but not quite yet functioning. He could hear several familiar voices though.
“Is he going to be okay doctor?” Jeff’s mother asked.
“Oh yes ma’am, your son will be fine, however, he will have a lengthy road to recovery, and will need your support. The flare struck his face and caused 3rd degree burns on his left side.”
“How bad is the eye?” Jeff’s father asked.
“Hard to say at this point, he’ll need to see an optometrist for further review, but the damage appears quite severe.”
“And his face? What about his face?” Jeff’s mother asked, sounding deeply concerned.
“Well, we were able to clean and treat the injury in time, so you’ve no concern for infection or anything of that matter. We’ll want him on antibiotics for a while, and he’ll need to have the wound cleaned and dressed on a regular basis, but all in all, your son got very lucky. The damage could have been more severe.”
“Doctor,” his mother began again, “What if there is permanent damage? What do we do about that?”
“As I said, an optometrist will have to examine the eye…”
Shelia Woods interrupted the doctor, sounding more agitated then before, “You’re not listening, not the eye, his face! What do we do to correct his face?” she demanded.
“Well ma’am, we have treated his face, like I said, there shouldn’t be a risk of infection so long as you….”
She cut him off again, “Not the infection, his…. his appearance? What can we do for that?”
“Miss Woods, that’s hardly a concern at this point. Once he is healed and back on his feet, you can possibly explore plastic surgery to repair some of the damage, but honestly, right now, we can’t waste concern on how he looks. What is important is that your son is healthy. He can expect to be back home in a few days, maybe sooner.”
Jeff’s dad spoke again, “Okay, thank you doctor. Can we have some time alone please; my wife and I need to speak.”
“Certainly,” the doctor replied.
“Liu, why don’t you go down to the hospital cafeteria and get yourself a snack?” Matt Woods suggested.
“But I want to be here in case Jeff wakes up,” Liu replied.
“Liu, they told us that Jeff is heavily medicated. They don’t expect him to wake up anytime tonight. So, just go, and if he does come around, we’ll have you paged,” Matt replied.
Jeff heard the door open and close as Liu exited.
His parents both let out a long shaky sigh, but Jeff was starting to believe it was not a sigh of relief, but rather one of stress.
“We’re going to have to home school him now Matt, that’s just what it’s going to be, we’re going to have to keep him home!” he heard his mother rant, her voice sounding frantic.
“What? I mean, he probably won’t be able to start school right on time, but I doubt he’ll miss a whole year!” his father responded, trying to maintain a calmer voice.
“I’m not talking about that Matt, I’m not worried about him missing a week or two of school. I mean his face Matt, you heard what the doctor said, his face is going to be…. disfigured!” Shelia argued back.
“We don’t even know the full extent of the damage yet Shelia, it could be minor, it could possibly heal, and you heard what he said, plastic surgery could be an option in time.”
“In time? What kind of time? A year, two years, and what about in the meantime? People are going to see him and they’re going to talk, is that what you want? He’s going to be a…. a pariah! You think anyone is going to want to have him around their kids?”
Jeff was hearing all of this, just letting it soak in, slowly. As his mind absorbed the words, he felt that rage return. Sick, rich, dark, that syrup of raw, primal emotion. He wanted to scream at his mother, to tell her to shut up, that he was the one lying here, half his face burned, blind in one eye, all thanks to her forcing him to go over to Randy’s house. He wanted to ask her why she left, why she went off to go shopping or have her nails done or whatever it was that she did. He wanted to know why she’d leave him alone with a kid who just days before tried to jump him and his brother. He wanted to know how she could care more about his appearance than the fact that he was lying in the hospital.
However, there was still so much more that he wanted to know as well. He wanted to know how much more his mother hated him, how much more she saw him now as a, how did she put it, a pariah. He wanted to continue to swim in the thick pool of dark hatred that was starting to form from the rage and anger. That was a new one now. Before it was anger, then it was anger mixed with pleasure. But now, now it was anger mixed with hatred. And while he certainly longed to be free of it, while he most certainly preferred the false sense of love and concern he believed he’d heard from her before, he also wanted to test it out a bit more. He also began to wonder, how well would this new recipe blend with pleasure, how would it feel?
Matt Woods began to speak again, “I just can’t believe he shot himself in the face with a flare gun. I always thought Jeff was more responsible than that.”
“Don’t even get me started on that,” Shelia replied, “I couldn’t believe it when Randy and his friends explained to the medics and police how it all happened. Randy was just trying to show Jeff around his house, and wanted to show him the collection of magazines his dad kept in the garage. You know boys; he was probably hoping that a couple of Playboys would be in there or something. Then he said Jeff found the box containing the flare gun, and just wouldn’t stop playing around with it. You should have heard those other boys Matt, they told me that they practically begged Jeff to just put it down before he got hurt, but he just had to show off. I just don’t know where we went wrong Matt. I thought us moving out here to a nice quiet neighborhood would make everyone happy. Jeff though, he just, he just wants to fight us on everything.”
And while all that came together in Jeff’s mind, he continued to swim in that black ichor of hatred and rage. The morphine drip added a nice touch of euphoria, Jeff could almost see himself, plunging into the syrupy waters of hatred, and emerging changed. Each dip brought him so much twisted pleasure. And that was when he finally understood. He could sample the pleasure now. Not because he was enjoying what was happening, but because he knew he could enjoy what was to come.
Just as the doctor had predicted, Jeff was scheduled to go home a few days later. During his time at the hospital, he never asked to see his face. It wasn’t until the last day that he finally asked for a mirror. The nurse had come in to change his bandages, as was the routine. She was a pleasant woman, she spoke to him, asked him how he was doing. He enjoyed her visits. So, on the final day, when she arrived to clean and dress his face, he asked to see himself.
“Are you sure sweetheart? Would you like me to call in your parents first?” she asked.
“No thank you,” Jeff replied, “I think I want to see it for myself first, without them standing over me.”
“I understand,” she replied honestly, without a hint of pretension.
Once the bandages were off, she handed him a small hand mirror.
“Would you like me to step out of the room?” she asked.
Jeff ignored her and looked at himself, taking stock of the damage. Sure enough, his face was a mess. The entire left side at least. The flare struck him traveling upwards, and burned a scar into his left cheek that extended to his eye. At first glance, it almost looked like he was smiling on that side. The scar was still bright red, and burn tissue spread out on either side. Once it arrived at his eye, the news did not get any better. His eye was white, just a lifeless bulb plugged into his face. He closed his right eye, and found that he could see nothing from his left eye at all. The scar continued up the left side of his forehead. The damage was less severe there however. The hair on the left side of his head was burned off, leaving a few strands to stick up here and there.
“Sorry sweetie, but I have to put clean bandages on,” she told him.
Jeff smiled, “It’s okay, there will be plenty to time for me to admire myself later.”
There was no joy from his parents on the ride home, or upon arrival. They spoke very little, and there was a tension in the car that simply wouldn’t fade out. As for Liu, he was thrilled that his brother was okay, but he didn’t know what to say concerning the damage to his face. So, after asking a few questions about the accident and the recovery, he fell silent as well.
They walked into their home at dusk and Liu asked about dinner. He suggested they let Jeff pick a place, to celebrate his return home.
“Just go to sleep, both of you boys, go to sleep,” Shelia remarked. She and her husband both retreated to their bedrooms as well, to argue or feel sorry for themselves, who knew?
Jeff and Liu didn’t speak much that night. Jeff spent most of the evening staring at himself in the mirror. He kept pulling back the bandages and looking at the scars. Liu wanted to see them too, but felt that it might be imprudent to ask.
“I’m glad you’re home Jeff, I really missed you and I’m glad you’re okay,” Liu said to Jeff as he stared at himself.
“I’m not okay Liu, and neither are you. None of us are really. There is a sickness here. The only difference is, now my sickness shows on the outside as well,” Jeff replied, his voice as flat as that on an answering machine.
“What are you talking about?” Liu asked.
“One day, you’ll see it too. This is what happens though, this is what happens when it all falls down,” Jeff said, still peeking behind his bandages.
“Jeff, I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Liu responded.
Jeff didn’t reply though, and after several moments, Liu left him alone. Liu went down to his parent’s bedroom and knocked on the door.
“What is it?” the voice of his mother asked.
“Mom, I think Jeff is acting weird, you may want to come talk to him.”
“Go away Liu, leave your mother alone,” his father’s voice answered. Liu, being young, had no other ideas, so he returned to his own bedroom. He didn’t know that those would be the last words he’d ever hear his parents speak to him.
That night, Shelia and Matt Woods awoke together, both being light sleepers, it took little to bring them out of slumber. The sudden removal of their blanket, as it was snatched from the bed, did the trick just fine. They awoke to see a small light coming from the half-bath that was situated in their master bedroom. The door was cracked only slightly, and the light source was weak. They could make out a human shape, standing over their bed though.
“What, what is going on?” Shelia grumbled.
As their vision came into focus, they realized their son was standing before them. Matt reached over and flipped on the lamp next to their bed. Jeff was standing there, his bandages off, his disfigured face beaming down on them, with a long kitchen knife clutched in his right hand.
“What are you doing son?” Matt asked, his mind still trying to shake out the cobwebs of sleep.
“He’s got a knife!” Shelia screamed, grabbing at her husband’s arm. Matt kept his composure though.
“Shelia, it’s probably the painkillers, he likely got up and got disoriented, relax for Christsake.”
Jeff tilted his head to one side, still not speaking. He stared hard at his father, slowly bringing the knife up, ensuring that he saw it well.
“Son, what are you doing?” Matt asked.
“Scaring you,” Jeff replied, with no emotion in his voice.
“Matt… do something!” Shelia pleaded.
“Okay son, I realize you’ve been through a lot, but you need to go back to bed. I’m going to call the doctor in the morning and….”
Jeff moved quickly across to his father’s side of the bed, his head moving about, alternating between a normal looking young man and the deformed ghoul that had been lurking in the shadows.
“Okay son, you’ve scared me, is that what you wanted?” Matt asked, adjusting to the middle of the bed to put distance between himself and his son.
“Good, now I can start hurting you,” Jeff spoke again, with no emotion.
His father had time to utter a single syllable, most likely to ask another question, to try and reason with his son. Jeff however, gave him time to do no more than that. He lunged onto the bed, driving the knife into his father’s stomach. Matt attempted to fend Jeff off, but the wound to his midsection rendered him into shock, and his arms fell to the side. Jeff could hear his mother screaming, but paid no mind. He wanted to finish with his father first.
Removing the knife, Jeff stabbed down into his stomach three more times, quickly. His father gasped and coughed up blood, his body jerked and twitched each time the knife found its mark. After the third time, Matt Woods lay still.
Shelia had backed up against the headboard of the bed. She wanted to climb down, make a run for it, but she’d balled herself up between the headboard and the end table. In her frantic state of terror and confusion, she couldn’t figure out how to do something as simple as dismount a bed.
“Jeff…. Why, why are you doing this to us?” she asked feebly.
“Randy started it, you must have known that, but you ignored it. Liu had a busted lip, you must have seen that, but you ignored it. I was shot in the face with a flare gun, but you believed Randy, why? So you could fit in?” Jeff asked in a low, almost growling voice.
“No baby, I believed you, it was, just, your father’s job…. And we’re new here, and…. Oh God Jeff please….” his mother begged.
“Tell me about home school mom? Tell me all about how you don’t want to send me out in public because of my face. Tell me how none of the other kids will want to be my friend, and how none of their parents will want to be yours. Tell me about that mom, tell me how nice it’s going to be, you home schooling me…..”
“Jeff please, I was just stressed, I was worried about you that’s all… please I…. I love you…”
“Mom, I think you should take your own advice, you know, what you told Liu when we got home tonight. He wanted to do something nice to welcome me home, and do you remember what you told us to do instead?” Jeff asked, as he now crawled over, cornering his mother on the bed.
“What did I say?” she asked, the question coming out barely a whisper.
“Go to sleep!” Jeff snarled, and drove the knife into his mother’s chest. He stabbed her over and over again, and as he did, he finally found that perfect recipe, that heavenly blend. That rage, hate and pleasure all mixed into one perfect formula, and for a while, Jeff became lost in it all.
Jeff opened his brother’s bedroom door, not surprised to find his brother asleep. He had dozed off with headphones in, so he slept through all the shouting. That was fine with Jeff. It was easier that Liu not have to hear all of that.
Jeff sat down on his brother’s bed and nudged him slightly. It took a moment, but Liu finally opened his eyes and looked up. Jeff removed his earphones for him.
“You’re free now Liu,” he spoke softly.
“Jeff, what… what are you talking about?” Liu mumbled, still half asleep.
“You’ll see in the morning. I just wanted to let you know I love you. You’ve been my best friend, remember that, okay?”
“Thanks, I… I love you too. Now, let me go back to sleep,” Liu replied, already dozing off again.
Jeff smiled and stood up. As he left the room, he looked back at his sleeping brother one last time, before he vanished into the night.
There I was, scratching my ninth scratch-off ticket in a row at my local convenience store. My eyes widened with hope, but also sank in with the anticipation of disappointment. The other eight representations of my gambling fuel rested in pieces inside the store’s waste bin. Revealing each number using my “lucky” penny, I scratched away, while simultaneously grinding my teeth.
In a moment of displeasure, I tore the ticket to shreds and tossed it aside with the rest. It was another loser. At this point, I was about fifty dollars deep and knew I had to shake my bad habit. However, betting my smidgen of wealth was an angel in comparison to the demons I’d annexed throughout my short-lived life. I had just turned eighteen a couple months prior; an achievement of sorts for a boy with such a shaky childhood.
My parents didn’t always gravitate to each other in the way that happy couples do; like flowers reaching for sunlight. No; their values were pitted against one another, through verbal quarrels and even physical exchanges. With these background altercations and the scent of booze that bled through the air and walls, getting sleep at night was like pulling teeth.
Even days I was left home alone, I could swear on my life that I heard my mother and father screaming and yelling, as if they were still in the house. I’d witness the walls shake, knocking down lamps and picture frames in chain reaction to the vibrations. On top of that, I recall seeing my dad pacing in the upstairs hallway, countless times. Every time this happened, even with certainty that no one else was there, I’d search around the residence anyway. I never found a reason for the disruptions.
Taking the homelife a lot worse was my younger brother Gregory, as his young mind solely paired confusion as a counterpart to the madness. At the age of nine, my brother had picked up a handful of the traits dispersed throughout the paper-thin walls. The anger, the sensitivity, even gradual changes in appetite all became a part of him as a being. Getting through school is tough enough for him, let alone the miracle that was me receiving my bright white graduation cap and gown earlier in the year. However, I’ve made a tremendous effort in aiding his educational progress, despite resistance on various occasions.
But enough about that; back to my gambling woes.
I cut myself off, hoping to replace my vice with a more pleasant distraction; one that would come in the form of gray fur and paws. My older sister Jennifer, who took my brother and I under her wing in recent years to help us resuscitate, adopted me a three-year old gray cat. This was compensation for leaving me during the bad times. I decided to head home and meet the little furball, whom I predetermined would be named Smokey.
Opening the front door, I was met with a brush of softness, both from a touch of fur upon my leg and within the audible “meow” that had dispensed from the adorable pet. The short-haired gray cat had seemed to already have a comfortable sensibility to my presence. In return, I knelt down to pet him, but only to be welcomed by a strained screech. The high-pitched scream didn’t come from my new purring family member, but from my sister.
“GREGORY!!!” She yelled out. “Get over here, right now!”
I made my way over to the hallway, in which she voiced her concern, to see what was going on. With my dismay, black marker ink was plastered across the tan-hued wall. The ink was shaped into something that made my eyes widen in shock. I was petrified. Terrifying depictions of cats with their teeth ripped out, along with a young boy tearing his own teeth out, were drawn. My little brother had crawled out of his room on all fours with a wide grin on his face and smudges of black ink spread across the palms and backs of his hands.
“Gregory! Why did you do this? You made such a mess!” My sister Jennifer had yelled in exasperation. “Clean it up right now!”
My little brother just stared with that creepy little grin on his face, not a single word spoken. All that was received, was a lingering silence. Up until the quietness was suddenly cut off by something frightening. An ear-splitting shriek emerged from my brother’s mouth. Both my sister and I clamped our own ears tightly to protect our suffering eardrums from the noise. After a minute or two, silence returned, and little Gregory scurried back into his room, the door shutting and locking behind him. Jennifer and I, still horrified and shaken, ended up cleaning the wall ourselves.
Later that night, I was woken up by the sound of deep and slow scratching, like sharp claws were being embedded into wood. My first thought was that Smokey was trying to leave the room, but he remained curled up at the edge of my bed. As I rose up from my slumber and began to step towards my door, the scratching increased in both speed and volume, the noise only ceasing when I turned the knob and opened the door.
I crept my way down the stairs, as cautiously and quietly as possible, as to not alert my sleeping siblings. However, my tactic was deemed a waste, with the clamor of what sounded like pots and pans being tossed around in the kitchen. Stepping into the vicinity of the noise, I came across the culprit. It was my cat, Smokey, perched up on the kitchen counter, knocking down the pans that hung from the backsplash behind the stove. My brain was boggled by the fact Smokey managed to sneak past me unnoticed, especially with me walking incognito.
Looking down, a canvas of red caught my eye. Streaks and drips of what appeared to be blood trailed across the hardwood floor, leading to marks dug into the wall. I assumed this was the source of the scratching sounds, but Smokey was blood-free and the engravings were far too large for such a small cat to make – besides, he was in my bed when the commotion began. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but I was too tired to investigate. Hoping it was just a chimney-lurking raccoon, I cleaned up the mess and headed back to bed.
The next morning was an aroma-filled paradise. I could almost taste the greasy maple bacon, as the scent gathered in the air. The poached eggs and golden-brown wheat toast danced around my imagination before I rushed down to the dining room. My sister was already at the bottom of the stairs, about to call my name, as I interrupted her with a close collision. I hopped into a vacant seat and dived right into the gloriously prepared plate of food. Glancing over at Gregory, I acknowledged him with,
“Good morning! Get a good night’s rest?”
However, I was met with complete silence and a defined grin once again. I expected another outcry, but instead my eyes made contact with Gregory’s hands. His fingertips showed signs of stress, but the severity of it was beyond the likeness of fingernail biting. His nails were receded down to the flesh, and the skin freshly broken with signs of blood loss.
My brother began to open his mouth and motioned with a foreshadowing of vomit, then let out a mass of black liquid and gunk. The regurgitation left me disgusted and frankly, quite baffled. I immediately turned to my sister to see if she witnessed what unfolded, but it was already too late. My brother vanished from the dining room table, along with the obscure grime that spewed past the crevice in which his lips were shaped.
Almost instantly after the disappearance, I woke up. The events that appeared so real, were conceived as a nightmare. That familiar smell of breakfast again lingered around the house. I figured these scents had just temporarily carried over from the bad dream. Upon strolling on down to the kitchen, my theory was proven right. My sister had already left for work and it seemed the kitchen remained untouched. Except for one part…
A subtle pulsating breath greeted my ears. The wetness of a single drop of saliva was felt along the peak of my shoulder. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea to look up at this point in time, but my curiosity collided with my impulse reflexes. I swear my eyes almost slivered out of their sockets, because when I stared, I was looking at something that made me question my sanity. My little brother Gregory was up above me, defying gravity, his hands flat against the ceiling as if it was the floor. He was foaming at the mouth, bug-eyed, his face pale and gray but with a reddish tint.
I remained frozen in place from fright when Gregory leapt down from his perch. He immediately dashed upstairs on all fours, quicker than I could ever run. After this, a resounding animal-like whine, the kind you’d expect to hear when a cat’s tail is accidentally stepped on, roared throughout the home.
“Smokey!” I yelled out as I ran up to my room. What happened from there disturbed me, to say the least. Tears hit my cheeks. My face expressed disgust in both movement and color. I was upset in more ways than I knew a person could feel. The combined emotions of terror, revulsion, wretchedness, and perplexity overcame me in this very moment. My cat Smokey laid rested with his teeth torn out, but surprisingly still conscious. I watched as my brother, with radiating yellow eyes, rip out his own teeth as well. Oddly enough, quick and easy like tearing off a bandage. Gregory then placed his own teeth into Smokey’s mouth and did the same to himself with the cat’s fangs.
The scene before me was remarkable, but in the worst sense. A young male, about four and a half feet tall, with a mouth resembling a feline’s. A once cute-looking feline, altered into a humanoid appearance via its jawline. My brother picked up Smokey’s new form into his arms, walked away, and vanished right through the wall, neither of them to be seen again.
Many of us are raised up in a not-so-perfect home life, but how people handle this is varied. One might grow up scratching lottery tickets, while another scratches up the walls of the home they live in. A more vulnerable host attracts negative energy at higher rates, qualifying for a manifestation of their own demons. In this case, my brother was a target. Also, a fair warning for you. His body is still out there somewhere, possessed by something sinister, along with Smokey; the cat with human teeth.
*TRIGGER WARNING* This story is NSFW. It contains strong violence, among other graphic depictions. If you are under the age of 18, or sensitive to such topics, refrain from proceeding any further.
DISCLAIMER: None of this information has been released to the public. What I’m about to share with you is highly confidential. My superiors at the bureau are trying their best to keep these killings a secret to avoid panic, but I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer. You all deserve to know the danger that lurks out there. You deserve to know that no one is safe from this family. They are deranged, twisted, psychopathic killers. The following is my recounting of an interview with one of the Noir family sons and the events that transpired thereafter.
He was sitting there, staring down at the table. His hands were cuffed, and a bit of blood dripped from a cut on his temple. His name; Lucas Noir. The oldest son of the family. Aggressive, schizophrenic, delusional, and very deadly. He was picked up outside of a friend’s house the night before, covered in blood. Thankfully, he surrendered peacefully.
I made my way into the interrogation room, stood there a minute to look him over, then took a seat in the chair opposite him. He didn’t look up. Instead, he gently placed his hands down on the table and began fidgeting with his thumbs. I dropped his file down on the table. It landed with a loud thump.
“Lucas Noir. Born April 17th, 1991. I’ve been reading about you all night.”
He raised his head a little, but not enough to meet my gaze.
“Age eight; you were admitted to a mental care facility after killing your cat. You claimed she was screaming at you, threatening to hurt you. You were released three months later.”
He remained motionless.
“Age sixteen; you were arrested for killing a high-class drug dealer, Markus Haze. You were found not guilty, claiming it was self-defense.”
He didn’t say a word.
“Lucas, why don’t you tell me what happened last night. Tell me what you did to the Walker family.”
After a moment, he took a slow, deep breath, exhaled, and finally spoke to me.
“I got to Shaun’s house last night at about eight. Him and I had been fighting over the last few days over a girl. I went over there with the intention of roughing him up a bit, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. Earlier in the day, before my father joined my mother at The Farm, he told me that I was a man, and that I should take care of the problem as men do.”
“What does that mean, Lucas?”
“My father always says, ‘If someone stands in the way of something you want, you simply slip a knife between their ribs, step over them, and continue onward.’ So that’s what I did, more or less. When Shaun’s parents left to do some shopping, I smashed a vase over his head, dragged him into the downstairs garage, and killed him.”
“Tell me how-”
“You know how!” Lucas shouted back, slamming his fists on the cold, metal table.
“I need to hear you say it.”
Lucas took another deep breath, then continued.
“There was an old snowmobile in his basement. After dragging him downstairs, I laid him on the floor, grabbed a nearby jack, raised it up, slid him under, and lowered it onto his head. The weight of the vehicle crushed his skull, but I was still filled with rage. The key was in the ignition, so I hopped on, started it, and cranked the throttle. As the treads spewed his blood across the wall behind me, I finally felt good. I felt that my father would be proud of me…”
I took a moment before saying anything to him. I had seen the crime scene, but the way his eyes lit up while talking about it was gut wrenching. He seemed so proud of this horrible thing he had done. It was as if he had hit a homerun at a baseball game and was proudly telling everyone of his achievement.
“What happened next, Lucas?”
“His parents came home.”
Lucas looked to the one-way mirror behind me, then back to me. A smile stretched across his face.
“I knew that they would find Reed dead in the basement, call the police, and that I’d never see my family again. So I killed them too.”
“How did you do it?”
“I walked up to the top of the stairs, holding onto the door handle tight. I heard Shaun’s father call for him. Then, the sound of him running upstairs. I heard his mother move to the base of the staircase and call to him. ‘Jim, maybe he’s downstairs. Want me to check?’ Shaun’s father came back down and said, ‘No, I’ll grab him. You can start dinner.’ I heard his mother walk into the kitchen. Shaun’s father came towards the basement door. When he tried to open it, I held on tight, trying to make him believe it was locked.”
He stopped talking. His gaze drifted down to the table, a smile still on his face. I think he was savoring the memory of the kill.
“Go on, Lucas.”
“I swung the door open,” he continued. “Smacking him in the face with it. I ran past him and into the kitchen, shoved Shaun’s mother to the ground, grabbed a large knife from one of the drawers, and went back to Mr. Walker. He was leaning against the wall next to the door, his nose bleeding. He looked up to me, horrified. ‘Lucas? What are you doing? Where’s Shaun?’ I didn’t answer him. Instead, I started stabbing him in the chest. Mrs. Walker ran in, grabbed me, desperately trying pull me away from her husband. I turned and slashed at her, catching her on the arm. She fell back and I continued to drive the knife into Mr. Walker, repeatedly. I didn’t much care for how he was looking at me at this point, so I dug the knife into his eyes as well.”
“What did you do to Mrs. Walker?”
“I stood up and turned to her. She backed up towards the wall behind her. She was screaming. It was so loud. I wanted her to stop, but not before making her suffer for trying to interrupt my kill. I drove the blade down through her leg. She screamed again. I began beating her, then stabbing her. Like Mr. Walker, I gouged out her eyes too, a matching set-”
I slammed my fists onto the table, stood up, and yelled.
“Tell me what you did next, Lucas! I want you to say it! To remind yourself of what you then decided to do to that poor woman!”
He was silent for a moment. He looked up to me, still smiling. Still so proud of what he had done to the Walkers. Happy that his sick, twisted father would be proud of what he accomplished.
“What did you do to her?” I asked in a calmer voice, looking into his eyes as intensely as I could.
“I defiled her.”
“Why?” I demanded.
“Mother said to always leave the women happy in the end.”
“You did all of this over some girl? A girl you will now never see again. You are going to spend the rest of your life locked up, underground, and alone. Your family won’t be able to get you out. Your lawyers won’t be able to get you out. What you did was too severe. You know that, right?”
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t care? You’re a dead man walking.”
“So? At least I had fun.”
He laughed. I turned away, no longer able to look at the sick and twisted, barely adult man that sat across from me. I heard a knock on the glass, looked up and nodded that I understood. Taking my seat again, Lucas looked me in the eye and gave me an insulting wink.
“Where is The Farm, Lucas?”
“Upstate in the forest. I’ll lead you to them if you want. Not because I want them caught, but because I know they won’t be. They’ll kill you and every agent you bring. My father is going to enjoy hanging your delimbed bodies from the trees. And don’t worry, my mother will treat you all very well.”
“You’re sick, you know that? We’re going to lock your whole family up, just you wait and see!”
“Even if you do manage to lock us all up, agent Monroe, you’ll never find your wife’s body. All your effort to catch us will be in vain. I’ll let you in on a secret, though. My whole family took turns on her and my father took a little souvenir.”
He let out another laugh, then looked at me with that twisted smile of his.
I stood up abruptly, looking down at Lucas. I felt tears begin to form and roll down my cheeks. I turned to the one-way mirror, back to Lucas, and exited the room. Waiting for me in the hallway was my partner, agent Lasko. I pulled out my phone and called my wife. It went right to voicemail. I called again; still no answer. I wiped my face with my sleeve and Lasko placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“We’re sending a team to your house now, just to be sure. If something’s happened, we’ll find her.”
“Thank you, Lasko.”
Lasko removed his hand from my shoulder. I followed him down the hall into one of the many open offices. I sat down at a table in the center of the room. Lasko went over to the coffee machine and filled a cup. He came over and placed it in front of me and then sat down in the chair on the other side of the table.
“The most important thing you can do right now is keep your head clear. I’ll follow your lead no matter how you want to do this, but don’t let your emotions drive your actions. What’s the play here, Monroe?”
I sat quietly for a moment, my hands wrapped around the mug, thoughts racing through my mind. Did they take her? Did they hurt her? Is it possible he just made it up? I closed my eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Lasko’s right. I gotta play it smart. If she’s in danger, I have to be careful.
“What do we have so far?”
“Well,” Lasko began. “We have the oldest son. He knows the location of The Farm. According to him, the whole family’s there. If your wife is missing, Director Vice is going to have you removed from the investigation. Whatever your plan is, we have to act now.”
I took another moment to think. There wasn’t enough time to plan a fleshed-out attack or even a backup plan if something were to go wrong. All there was time for was orders. Quick and concise. I looked up at Lasko.
“We’re gonna take Lucas into our custody. Gather a team of agents. Two cars worth. We’ll keep our coms on a closed circuit. By the time we hit the road, the team sent to my house will know whether or not she was taken. If she’s fine, we’ll let Director Vice know what we’re doing. We’ll be in some shit, but it should go relatively okay. If she’s gone, however, Vice will call and pull me off the case. He’ll have no choice but to send backup. He’s not gonna be able to pull me in the middle of an active pursuit.”
Lasko looked down at the table, let out a loud sigh, and looked back up at me.
“We’re going pretty far off the reservation with this one, Manroe.”
“Whatever we have to do to stop these psychopaths.”
Lasko went off to gather agents for our assault on The Farm. I retrieved Lucas from the investigation room and brought him down to the parking garage, placing him, cuffed, into the back seat. Lasko hopped into the passenger’s side a few minutes later. Once the other cars pulled up, we rolled out onto the street and headed for The Farm.
A little over an hour into the drive, I got the well expected call from Director Vice. My wife had been taken. I was ordered back to H.Q. As he said this, another agent’s voice could be heard in the background.
“He’s taken Lucas Noir and almost a dozen of our agents, sir. They’re heading to The Farm.”
Vice began screaming at me to turn around, but I hung up on him. Lasko looked at me, worryingly.
“You know Monroe, this better work. I got a pension I’d very much like to see one day.”
Another hour passed by.
“Pull in here. The dirt road on your left,” instructed Lucas from the back seat.
Slowly, we pulled off the main road and onto a dirt path in the woods. Another few minutes of driving, and we arrived at a large, black metal gate.
“We walk from here.” Lucas said. I turned around to see him smiling.
“I hope father put up the decorations.”
Next to the large gate blocking the road was a smaller gate that was ajar. One by one we went through. As we walked down the dirt road, a loud bang sounded off in the distance ahead of us. The agents drew their sidearms, and Lasko gripped the chains of the cuffs behind Lucas’ back. We had no idea what to expect. This family had committed unspeakable atrocities. Even knowing this, we were not ready.
Off in the distance, I saw another gate, wide open across the road. Hanging from the trees on either side were delimbed corpses. All of us but Lucas let out disgusted groans. One still had blood spilling from its wounds. They were stripped nude, heads shaved, and eyes gouged out. Strange symbols were etched into their stomachs. One was of a crescent moon. Another one depicted a ram’s head.
As we made our way through the second gate, the other agents carefully looking over the hanging corpses, Lucas let out a twisted laugh.
“I love when father decorates. His art is so beautiful!” Lucas spoke softly, mesmerized by the sight of the dangling bodies.
A little further up the road, a young girl sat in the dirt, crying with her back to us. She wore a dark red dress that was ripped up and muddy. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen years old. I noticed that she had only one shoe. I motioned to the agents behind me to ready themselves in case anything was to happen. Slowly, I approached her.
“Are you okay?” I asked in as gentle a tone as possible.
She continued to cry. When I was close enough, I knelt beside her.
“What happened? How did a little girl like you end up all the way out here?”
She stopped crying. She turned her head, her eyes locking with mine. A smile, similar to Lucas’ stretched across her face. I stood up and backed away, cautiously drawing my firearm from its holster, readying myself. Once I saw her face, I recognized her immediately. Her name was Jessica Noir; the middle child of the family.
As she stood, revealing large knives in each hand, I motioned to the agents behind me to stand their ground. She began making her way towards me. I continued to back up. One of the agents came up beside me, asking what our next course of action should be. I wanted to take her alive. Avoid harming her as best we could.
Without warning, she rushed forward. Not at me, but at the agent to my left. He raised his gun to shoot, but her blades quickly found a home in either side of his neck. As he fell, his gun went off. The bullet dug into the ground, kicking up a mist of dirt. I tried to grab her, but she slashed at me, tearing open my shirt. Thankfully, I was wearing a Kevlar vest underneath my clothing, so the blade missed my skin. One of the other agents took a shot, grazing her leg. She winced in pain and quickly scuttled backwards across the road. A member of our group ran up and dragged the downed agent behind the others. We waited to see what she would do next.
She stood there, putting her weight almost entirely on her good leg, staring at us. She dropped her blades, fell to her knees, and let out an ear-splitting scream. Further up the road, we could hear what sounded like a large vehicle starting up. The small girl pulled out a device the size of her hand from a pocket in her dress. She clicked a button. Metal pikes, closely placed next to one another, shot up out of the dirt along the sides of the road. Any plan to escape into the woods was now gone. We turned to run for the gate behind us, but it had closed. One of the men ran to it, desperately trying to pull it open, but it was locked tight. We turned back to see something barreling down the road towards us, kicking up dust as it raced. It was a small school bus, painted black and red. Mounted on the front was a snow plow and protruding from its sides were long poles placed at varying heights, nearly touching the pikes on either side of the road. Each pole was wrapped in barbed wire.
As it flew towards us, we tried to shoot out the tires. All of our shots hit the dirt or the plow. Jessica smiled at us, stood up, walked into the middle of the road, closed her eyes, and lifted her head up to the sky. Still smiling, she reached her arms out, and spoke. The noise of the bus made it too difficult to hear, but I was able to make out what she said by reading her lips.
“I am today’s sacrifice. May the foes of my family meet a fate worse than mine.”
When the plow on the bus collided with Jessica Noir, she didn’t even let out a scream. The top of the plow dug into the back of her head, and her body fell under the speeding, modified bus. The blood-soaked vehicle was then headed our way. Lasko grabbed Lucas and together we ran to one side of the road and dropped to the ground. The barbed wire just barely scraped our backs. I looked back to see only two other agents follow our lead. The others were either hit by the bus directly, or mutilated and beaten down by the bus’s weaponized shafts.
The bus then collided with the gate, bringing it to an immediate halt. I looked back up the path to see Jessica’s flattened corpse, resting in a pool of blood. Cautiously, Lasko, Lucas, and I stood up. I made my way for the bus. I threw open the doors, gun pointed at the driver, ready to unload my clip. The driver, who was the youngest sibling of the family, John, was dead, his head laying on the steering wheel.
“Fuck, Monroe. Just like that, almost all our men are gone!” Lasko yelled at me, once again holding onto the chains of Lucas’ cuffs.
“I know. But there’s no stopping now. It’s just Mr. and Mrs. Noir left. We have to push forward.”
“Monroe. Even if we do come out on top of all this shit, we’re fucked! We got eight of our fellow agents killed!”
“I know that!” I screamed in Lasko’s face.
I lowered my gun, placed it back in its holster, and continued further up the road.
“You coming or not, Lasko?”
“I’m coming. C’mon kid. No way in hell we’re leaving you behind.”
“Good. I wanna watch my father rip your hearts out and eat them!” Lucas laughed, sinisterly.
As Lasko, Lucas, the two remaining agents, and I made our way further up the path, a large wood cabin became visible through the trees. Getting closer, we noticed someone standing out front. It was a woman. Mrs. Noir, by the looks of it. She wore a bright yellow dress with white flowers, a blossom-patterned red scarf tossed around her neck. In one hand she held a pocket watch. In the other, she held a scythe.
She started making her way towards us, her dress swaying side to side as she stepped closer. Lasko stopped walking, still holding on to Lucas. He pulled out his pistol and put it to Lucas’ temple. The two agents behind me unholstered there weapons and aimed them at Mrs. Noir. She stopped, looked at the weapon in her hand, running her fingers over the curved top of the blade.
“We’ve been expecting you, agent Monroe. Lucas; thank you for bringing our guests to us. I’ve been working alone in the yard all day. The company is a pleasing sight!”
“Fuck you, you psychopath! Where’s my wife?!” I yelled at her, keeping my gun steady, pointed at her head.
“Tell us now, or I’ll blow your son’s head off!” Lasko shouted, clearly frazzled by everything that had happened. He dug the muzzle of the gun deeper into Lucas’ temple. He scrunched his face up, clearly pained by the barrel.
Mrs. Noir smiled, looked each one of us in the eyes, then ducked down. Behind her, closer to the front door of the cabin, stood Mr. Noir. His hands wrapped around two large handles that were connected to a minigun set up on a tripod.
“What the fu-” One of the agents behind me shouted as bullets began flying through the air.
I dropped onto my stomach. Lasko shoved Lucas into the line of fire. He twirled around as bullets soared through his flesh. As he fell to the ground, a mist of blood spewed from his wounds. Lasko dropped to the ground just as the stream of bullets passed over him. I turned my head in the dirt to see the last two agents of our group motionless on the ground, laying in their own blood. Lucas landed nearby, droplets of red dripping from his twisted smile.
When the bullets ceased, Mr. and Mrs. Noir laughed. I looked up to the two of them hugging one another on the top step of the porch. Lasko and I remained still on the ground as Mr. and Mrs. Noir walked over to Lucas’ body. Mrs. Noir, holding the scythe in one hand, bent down and dug her index finger into one of the many bullet wounds in her son. She stood up, smiled at Mr. Noir, and smeared the blood across her face, laughing all the while.
I jumped to my feet and broke the silence.
“What the fuck is wrong with the two of you? Do you even realize what you’re doing? All your kids are dead! And now you’re painting your face with his blood? None of this fits the profile!”
“We don’t expect you to understand, little man.” Mrs. Noir said with a condescending tone.
Mr. Noir held his wife’s chin and turned her face towards his. He then offered us an explanation of sorts.
“We have seen the universe.” He began. “Many years ago, we were given a chance. A chance to see everything that has been, is, and will be. As a family, we took the universe’s outstretched hand and experienced infinity together. To you, it’s insanity. To us, it’s pure bliss. When you’ve looked into the eyes of oblivion and felt its cold stare on you, you come to realize that your existence is meaningless. So why not have fun with it?”
I tightened my grip on my gun, then pointed it at Mrs. Noir as the two stood there, looking deeply into one another’s eyes. Without hesitation, I squeezed the trigger. The bullet tore through the side of her head. As she fell to the ground, Mr. Noir didn’t move an inch. He remained motionless, staring happily in front of him where his wife once stood.
A moment passed, then he turned to me.
“Agent Monroe. Do you think you’ve hurt me? Like I said, life is entirely meaningless. Well, for us it was, I suppose. But you…”
In the blink of an eye, Mr. Noir pulled out a pistol from a holster hidden in his coat and then shot Lasko in the knee. He fell to the ground screaming, clutching the wound in agony. I moved over to him but was stopped by a second shot in the dirt by my feet.
“Normal people are so predictable. If someone you care about is hurt or in trouble, you jump into danger without a second thought on the matter. What does it matter if your fellow agent here gets shot, bleeds out, and dies? What does it matter if your wife was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in a way you deem gruesome and inhumane?”
“What did you do to my wife?!”
“I’ll show you. Come with me. Your friend will be fine. Don’t worry about him.”
He turned and headed for the front door of the cabin. I looked to Lasko. He nodded at me, reassuring me he’d be fine. I then reluctantly followed Mr. Noir past the minigun and into the house.
The inside of the building was entirely empty. No furniture, pictures on the wall, wallpaper, or anything of the sort. Nothing but some wooden planks and a black marker laying in the center of the room.
I followed Mr. Noir down a set of stairs near the back of the house. Candles illuminated the staircase, leading us to a big open room at the bottom. Against the wall opposite the base of the stairs was a woman; strung up by chains, a bag over her head, and cuts traveling down the length of her body.
Mr. Noir made his way over to her and ripped the bag from her head.
It Is Danielle!
“Danielle!” I shouted, rushing towards her. Mr. Noir quickly raised his gun to my head.
“You don’t get to touch her. That’s the deal.”
“Fine. whatever you say, just please don’t hurt her anymore.”
“Hurt her? Ha! It’s not me who hurts her.”
“Keith? Is that you?”
“Yes. Yes honey, it’s me!”
“How could you, Keith? How could you let them take me? I’m in so much pain. You were supposed to protect me.”
“I know, sweetie.” Tears made their way down my face. “I know.”
“Kneel.” Mr. Noir ordered in a firm voice.
I did as he demanded. My wife looked at me, beginning to cry. I looked at her. Then, Mr. Noir shot twice. One bullet dug through my left knee, the other grazing the side of my face. I fell backwards onto the cold concrete floor. My vision became hazy for a moment. Mr. Noir stood over me, leaning down into my face.
“This is how it ends, agent Monroe. You will lose everything. Your job, your freedom, and your wife.”
He turned and shot at Daniel. Her body went limp as blood began seeping out of her wounds. I screamed. Mr. Noir pinned my head to the floor using the barrel of his gun.
“This is the punishment I give to you, Monroe. Your wife is dead. You got all those other agents killed. You got your partner shot. Now, you must live with the burden. The guilt will boil inside of you for the rest of your life until you inevitably blow your own fucking brains out. The worst part? I’ll still be free. I’ll make my way out into the world, killing more people as I go, and you’ll live knowing it’s your fault because you couldn’t stop me.”
He walked by me, kicking my gun aside as I writhed in pain, stopping at the base of the stairs to look at me one last time before making his escape.
“You know, agent Monroe, I really did like that wife and kids of mine. They were my pride and joy; my favorite family to date. Now I have to go out and find a new one.”
It was my fifth day in Gloaming, Nevada – an unincorporated township skirted on all sides by scorched barrenness. I had never been this far west before, and so the craggy, acacia-dotted desert was dazzling to my senses. I remember wishing that I could extend my stay, but also knew that doing so would be impossible. My business in the town was concluded, and the presentation had gone well. I was expected back at the home office on Monday.
Rather than spend my stay at a hotel, I lodged with two old friends who had moved out to the area after graduation. Jason and Clara were old sweethearts who eventually married and moved west to “live freely and without external instruction,” as they often phrased it. They were glad to host me for the week, and I enjoyed catching up with them – even if they had become hallucinogen-fueled desert spiritualists.
I was afraid to try mescaline, and I was especially terrified to experiment with psychedelics so far away from the (relatively) settled streets and services of Gloaming. Still, Clara assured me with eager confidence that the experience would be safe as well as beautiful. “When we’re way out there in the silent air of the desert,” she told me, “and the peyote kicks in and there’s no motion at all except for us and the campfire, all under a billion glittering stars…” She searched for more words, but instead could only smile serenely. “You’ll know what I mean.”
I agreed to join them on one of their “trips” before returning home.
That night, as we were preparing for the drive out together, Jason retrieved a glass jar with a tin screw cap from his closet, and held it up for me to see. Inside were perhaps two hundred small, clear gelatin capsules. Jason removed the tin cap and tipped several of the strange pills into his palm for me to inspect. I saw that each capsule was packed with shredded bits of something fibrous and hazel-colored. It reminded me of tree bark.
When we were ready, the three of us headed out together. Jason drove while Clara directed him out of the city, then along dozens of miles of unpaved roads. Eventually we were completely off-road, and I could feel the crags and small boulders of the landscape beneath us jostling the car as we drove. Soon Clara and Jason decided that they were satisfied by the pristine quality of the nature around them, and so Jason parked the car. The two of them set up camp while I prepared a makeshift fire pit.
When the dusk came and deepened into night, Clara lit the campfire they had built and Jason brought me my dose of peyote, along with a beer to help me swallow down the fistful of capsules. “Just eat them one by one,” Jason advised. “It won’t take long.” He demonstrated, placing a gelcap onto his tongue, sipping his beer, and then opening his mouth to show that the pill was gone. Over by the campfire, I could see that Clara was taking hers three or four at a time, pausing only to swig from her drink.
Soon we had each finished taking our dose. We drank and watched the fire together, and waited for what would come next. At first we spoke aloud to each other while we waited, but before long we were sitting in silence. The emptiness of the desert pressed inward with a tangible urgency for quiet, and it had rendered us mute.
Eventually, I noticed that I had become raptly attentive to the campfire flickering in front of me. Prismatic streaks of color had begun to spark out from the flame and into the night air, each one cascading like a living mote of light. I felt giddy, and noticed that Jason and Clara both seemed to have entered similar states. With smiles and searching eyes, they were watching the stars.
I turned my eyes back towards the fire, eager to lose myself once again in its dazzling movement. I began to melt back into its warmth, but soon noticed in myself a strange sense that something large was moving through the darkness nearby. Turning my focus towards the motion, I saw a human shape standing alone out in the desert, only barely illuminated at such a distance by the campfire’s flickering light. If it were only a few paces further away, I thought to myself, the shape would be completely obscured by darkness.
“I see something.” I heard myself say it out loud, but my voice sounded hazy and strange. Jason and Clara lazily turned their attention towards me. With a peaceful smile, Jason spoke.
“What do you see, Vince? Describe it for us.”
I strained against my own vision, which was already limited by the dark but now also warped by the peyote. Indeed, even the sand and the trees seemed to be moving and shifting around me. Still, the figure was not something abstract. It looked like a large man who was marching in place unsteadily, listing back-and-forth as he did so. It would take a step forward, then two steps back, then perhaps four rapid, mincing steps in our direction again, then another three steps back. It was staring in our direction the whole time this went on. The figure’s torso bounced gently against the elastic, up-and-down motion of its knees.
“I see a person,” I began hesitantly. “Or, I think I do.” I shifted in place nervously and then corrected myself. “I don’t think it’s a person. The eyes haven’t blinked at all.” Indeed, the eyes were shining bright to me, like two illuminated pinpricks against the darkness around them. They never flickered or dwindled at all as the figure marched.
“It’s probably just an owl,” Clara offered, her back still turned away from the thing. “Does it seem like the eyes are darting around in circles, or making shapes in the dark?”
“Yes,” I replied with a sobbing sort of crack in my voice. “But see for yourself, it’s not like an owl.”
Clara propped herself up on one arm, and looked over her shoulder to follow my pointed finger. Her lazy smile turned suddenly into a deep frown, and I felt nauseous to see the way her face had dropped. Jason noticed too, and turned to look with the same, sudden loss of relaxation. It seemed the thing was really there.
A series of warbling, clicking vocalizations rang out suddenly from the thing’s direction. As it continued, the procession of sounds grew more complex and strange, and soon the noise was rolling over itself like an ungodly, squealing battle-cry. It seemed to me that the thing was calling out to us deliberately, and this idea made my whole body tense up until I began to feel paralyzed. Clara and Jason began to shout at the form which still marched aimlessly without moving closer.
“Get lost, asshole!” Clara’s voice rang out fiercely, but I could hear that she was growing afraid.
“You’re going to wish you hadn’t fucked with us!” Jason added, projecting his voice across the desert in a similarly unsure tone.
But the thing did not seem to mind their threats. In fact, it began to advance slowly and deliberately. Soon it was close enough to the campfire that I could see it more fully. I wasn’t sure, but I felt that I could see the thing spasm badly across its whole body with every few steps that it took. It was as if the creature was struggling through some kind of grand mal seizure at it moved – and somehow it was winning the fight. In my vision and in my mind (both of which were already swimming with peyote fantasies), the thing contorted and twitched like a grotesque and poorly-directly marionette.
As it lurched unevenly across the sand, seemingly unresponsive to our shouted insistences that it leave, the thing began to click and mumble its strange sing-song noises again. This time, though, the sounds it made were more like English.
“Just get lost already!” Clara shouted, and rose to her feet to confront the humanoid creature that was now only a short distance away.
“Juss geh loss!” the creature bellowed back, and then added a hiccupping sort of chuckle that echoed softly in the night’s silence. It did not slow its approach.
“Find me the car keys,” Jason said quietly to Clara. “I’ll scare it away.”
Keys in hand, Jason moved quickly to unpack a tire iron from the trunk of the car, and then stood by the campfire with the makeshift weapon brandished over his head. “This is your last warning!” he shouted. “Don’t make us hurt you!” He took several steps towards the thing, as if prepared to attack. To our relief, the creature planted its feet and stood still. Clara and I shared a glad smile before turning our attention back to Jason.
When we did, however, we saw that Jason had dropped both the car keys and his weapon to the earth. He was now walking – lazily but deliberately – towards the thing that now stood patiently in the nearby darkness. The creature, staring at Jason with its shining and seemingly lidless eyes, waited patiently for him to join it where it stood, and then seem to lead Jason backwards into the opaque dark beyond the campfire in a marching sort of dance.
It had squatted down low and craned its head forward into Jason’s face; that’s what I saw. It seemed to me that the creature had hypnotized my friend with its unbroken stare as it backed away into the dark. Worse still, the thing actually had to stoop down, drop its shoulders, and bend its knees before its eyes were level with Jason’s. Whatever it was – it was much taller than humans generally get.
Clara and I both began to scream. We were so lost in panic that we couldn’t register anything besides our own begging sobs for Jason to return to the campfire – to please, please, please come back. We howled until we were both breathless, and when we finally stopped, we felt that utter and complete silence from before pour back over the desert. For perhaps a minute, the emptiness of the place was punctuated only by the soft crackling of the fire.
Then there was Jason screaming – screaming from somewhere that sounded like it was an impossible distance away. He was crying out in the kind of frantic anguish that only comes from someone who truly can’t believe the pain that they’re in. I looked at Clara in wide-eyed terror, and she mirrored my expression perfectly as her head swung around to look back at me. As suddenly as they had begun, Jason’s lamentations died into silence with a slushing, drowning sort of final gasp.
I was too petrified to move, but Clara was already on her feet. She hoisted me up by the front of my shirt and ran me over to where the car was parked. Before I could even fully register what was happening, she had pushed me into the backseat, and then rushed to retrieve the car keys from where Jason had dropped them on the ground. Soon she was back, sitting in the driver’s seat and doing her best to start the engine despite her badly shaking hands. “Which way is the road into town?” She whispered urgently, as if afraid to raise her voice too loudly. “Which way did we come from? Answer me, Vincent!”
“Just go,” was the only response I could muster. “Just get us away from here.” I felt an overwhelming vertigo at that moment, as if my spirit was trying to escape my doomed body, and so I shut my eyes tightly to regain my orientation. After a short while sitting like this, I realized that Clara wasn’t talking to me anymore. In fact, she wasn’t making any sound at all. My head was swimming so badly that I had been certain the car had at least lurched into motion, but when I opened my eyes Clara was sitting placidly in the driver’s seat of a stationary vehicle. She was staring silently through her window. As I followed Clara’s gaze, I saw that the thing was back – perched on its haunches a short distance away. The illuminated orbs in its eye sockets were focused on her. It was drawing her away from me.
I pleaded with Clara not to leave me alone as she removed the keys from the vehicle’s ignition and dropped them casually to the vehicle mat at her feet. She stepped out of the car and towards the creature. I stumbled dizzily from the backseat, and attempted to grab her around the shoulders. In automatic response, she elbowed me viciously in the guts and left me winded. I collapsed against the car, and when I found the strength to raise myself up again, she and the creature were gone.
I struggled desperately to get the car back into motion, but the combination of mescaline and adrenaline in my system made progress difficult. The steps involved in starting the engine, then putting the car into drive escaped me, and the lettering on the manual gearbox felt alien – as if I had forgotten the Roman alphabet completely. It did not help that as I was working to start the car, I could hear Clara’s voice (always so sweet and calm before tonight) now screaming wildly with a throat that sounded choked with gore.
Clara always spoke like music: pleasant, and soft, and wonderful. What tore through the cold desert air now, though, were ragged and wordless gasps of pitiful agony. The silence that eventually followed was worse, though. It told me that I was all alone.
I turned to peer out the driver’s side window from where I sat, still having failed to start the car. I could see that the creature had returned – once again lumbering playfully out from the obscurity of darkness, but this time directly towards me. I felt as if my panic would cause me to faint at that very moment, but mortal fear galvanized me to keep fighting. I finally managed to summon the engine to life, but pressing on the gas only caused the engine to rev in park. I could feel the creature’s eyes on me, and I knew that it was nearly at my window. I turned my back away from the window as deliberately as I could while still pressing the clutch down with one foot, and gripped the stick shift to pull it into a new (but arbitrary) position.
My vision was swimming too heavily to discern precisely what gear I was now in, but I did not care so long as the car would start moving. I faced forward and prepared to step on the gas, but suddenly found myself staring directly into the eyes of the creature. It was perched on the hood of the car now, and watched me through the windshield with those bulb-like, electric eyes. I closed my own eyes tightly, in a final bid to resist the thing’s hypnotic lure.
I was preparing myself to die, but a monstrous shriek and the sound of wild, receding footfalls broke my terrified meditation. It sounded to me as if the creature had suddenly been attacked, and was now fleeing. After remaining motionless for several moments with my eyes shut, I noticed the faint sensation of sunlight on my eyelids.
Sunrise was breaking over the distant mesas. The creature was gone, and it occurred to me that such a horrible thing could only exist in hellish darkness. For the first time since the creature had appeared, I felt as if maybe I could relax. Completely distraught, I drew the deepest comfort I’ve ever known from the warmth of the sunlight on my face. I lost consciousness without realizing how exhausted the night had left me, and slept for a few hours. When I awoke, I found that the peyote had mostly worn off, too. Feeling mostly sober now, I drove straight into town to find help for my missing friends.
I went to the police, and tried to tell them my story in a way that would seem at least halfway believable. I admitted everything that I could, knowing full well that it all sounded like a stereotypical “bad trip”. Skeptical and more than a little annoyed, a pair of officers eventually agreed to follow me out into the desert to investigate the details of Jason and Clara’s disappearance. Together we found the remains of our campfire, and a snarl of erratic tire-tracks in the sand. But there was no sign at all of my companions. Nor did the officers detect any signs that a struggle had occurred anywhere near the site.
The police soon concluded that the disappearance of my two friends was probably a simple matter of Clara and Jason having been surprised by the strength of mescaline. “They thought they were prepared by their previous experiences,” said one of them, already walking back towards the cruiser to drive us into town again. “And so they trusted themselves to wander out into the night alone.”
“Shared delusions are fairly common in these sort of scenarios,” the other officer agreed. “You were lucky it was your first time trying this stuff. You were too overwhelmed to follow them, and so you stayed by the fire instead. That, and the fact that you sat in the car with the engine turned on until sunrise, probably saved you from freezing.” He paused and raised his gaze upward, as if stopping to feel the sun on his face. “We’ll do our best to find your friends out here, but in all honesty I’d be surprised if they survived the night.”
I’m home now, safe, and far away from whatever that terrible creature was. Or at least I think I am. But I’ve realized something awful, and more and more the idea is driving me crazy. There’s no way for me to be completely sure that I’m not still out there, hypnotized and being led to my death while the fantasy of escape goes on. Let me try to explain it a little better. Every night since I left Nevada, I keep having the exact same dream. Every. Single. Night. The same terror plays out in my mind in precisely the same way, and it always goes just like this:
I’m driving out of Gloaming. It’s around noon, just after the police have told me, “We’ll do our best to find your friends.” I’m glad to be heading home. I consider calling my mother before I begin driving, but then realize that I don’t know what I would say if she answered. I’m still shocked and exhausted, so I decide simply to make distance between myself and the town.
I press eagerly on the accelerator as I drive, and yet for hours it seems as if I can make no progress. With a creeping sort of anxiety, I realized that there has not been another car in sight for hours. Even the signage on the roadside has dwindled away to nothing. My surroundings are now like an unfinished painting: jarringly without details. This is nothing like the road on which I had originally traveled into town. I don’t recognize anything.
With a suddenness that rends my heart from top to bottom, the steering wheel melts away from beneath my hands. The car, the road, and even the sun above me all dissolve in an instant.
I find myself standing in the undisturbed sands of the desert, teleported back into the almost perfect darkness of that gruesome nighttime. The creature looms and croaks a sound nearby, staring directly into my eyes. I realize that I’ve been looking back into its face for who knows how long. The safety of that morning’s sunrise – the relief of my narrow escape – they were all simply delusions inflicted upon me to occupy my mind as I march myself towards execution. In this dream, my waking life is the fantasy. I am still out there with the creature.
The thing howls at an ear-splitting volume, and I brace my hands against my skull in an attempt to resist the sound. Still, my knees buckle and I fall to the ground. The thing is inches away now, and I can see that it draws oxygen into itself from a number of chitinous vents which dot its chest and neck. Periodically, they suck inward like gasping mouths before relaxing again.
As the thing leans in to consume me, the sounds it makes become quieter and more discrete in tone. It begins to suck air more rhythmically, and releases each breath with a low hiss. “Haaa… Eeeeeth… Haaa… Eeeeeth…” As I feel it finally touch me with its hand-like appendages, it chokes out words. “Eeeeeth… Don’t you… Haaa… Miss your friends?”
With a slobbering, suctioning sort of sound, the flat and featureless jawline of the creature unfolds into a gaping maw. Chevrons of razor-edged teeth present themselves from fleshy folds all along the inside of the thing’s throat (which has now spread open like the distended jaws of a snake.) Now exposed to the air, they shimmer against the blackness of the night like stars.
In this dream, I am still under the effects of the peyote, and so I see ghostly emanations of impossible color snake outwards from the creature’s face and form. Quivering hallucinations pool around the thing, like lesser nightmares gathering to join it. Jeering, ephemeral demons spring through the night air towards me with each eager spasm of the thing’s face. Fractals drip from its lidless eyes, and I can feel that I too am weeping.
In this dream I can’t stop having, the sun does finally rise over that expanse of forsaken desert, but I am not alive to greet it.
Do you know what it’s like to live without a soul? Because I do.
It’s like watching a romantic movie that’s so perfect you find yourself falling in love with the character. Then the lights come on, and you suddenly remember that person doesn’t exist. And even if they did, they would never care that you exist.
It’s like running the wrong way on a race track. It doesn’t matter whether you ever finish or not, because everyone else has already crossed the line and gone home. You’ve run farther than anyone else, your legs are agony and there’s fire in your lungs, but you’re still running because you’re afraid of the silence when you finally stop.
Living without a soul is sitting in the eye of the hurricane. Life is moving all around you and sometimes it feels like you’re part of it when it passes too close, but in the end nothing and no-one can ever move you. And though the wind howls fierce in its savage glory and sweeps all the world from under your feet, you’ll never know what it feels like join that wild dance. And that’s okay. You tell yourself that at least you won’t be hurt like all those other fragile humans burdened with their souls, but deep down you wish you could feel that hurt. Just for a moment. Just so once in your life you know there’s something important enough to be hurt over.
I lost my soul when I was only six years old. My father didn’t want me. My mother told me so. She said I was the reason that he left, and I believed her. I was in first grade at the time, and our class project was to make a paper lantern which was closed at the top. The hot air from the candle was supposed to lift the lantern, although mine wasn’t sealed properly and couldn’t leave the ground. I was getting really frustrated, and after the fourth or fifth attempt I got so mad that I actually ripped the whole thing to shreds.
My teacher — Mr. Hansbury, a gentle dumpling of a man with a bristly mustache, squatted down next to me and gave me the lantern he had been building. I was so mad that I was about to destroy that one too, but he sat me down and said:
“Do you know what I love most about paper lanterns? They might seem flimsy, but when they fly they can carry away anything that you don’t want anymore. You can put all your anger into one of these, and the moment you light the candle, it’s going to float away and take that anger with it.”
That sounded pretty amazing to me at the time. I settled down to watch him glue the candle into place, concentrating all my little heart on filling the lantern with my bad feelings. It started off with just the anger at the project, but one bitterness led to the next, and by the time Mr. Hansbury was finished I’d poured everything that I was into the paper. All the other class lanterns only hovered a few feet off the ground, but mine went up and up and on forever — all the way to the top of the sky. The other kids laughed and cheered to see it go, and my teacher put his hand on my shoulder and looked so proud, but I didn’t feel much of anything. How could I, with my soul slowly disappearing from view?
I remember asking Mr. Hansbury if I could go home and live with him after that, but he said he didn’t think my mother would like that. I told him that she would, but he still said no. I don’t suppose it would have mattered one way or another though, because it was too late to take back what I did.
There’s something else besides the numbness that comes when your soul is gone. I didn’t see them the first night, but I could hear them breathing when I lay down to sleep. Soft as the wind, but regular and calm like a sleeping animal. I sat and listened in the darkness for a long while, covers clutched over my head; the breathing seemed so close I could feel its warmth billowing under the sheets. I cried for what seemed like hours, but mom didn’t come and I was too afraid to get out of bed. I don’t think I fell asleep until it was light outside.
Mom was angry at me in the morning for keeping her awake. She’d heard me, but she thought I would give up eventually. I didn’t get breakfast that day, and I didn’t mention the breathing again. That was only the beginning.
I think a soul does more than help you appreciate the things around you. It also protects you from noticing the things you aren’t supposed to see. And with it gone, they were everywhere. Beady eyes glinting from under the sofa, a dark flash at the corner of my eye, scuffling in the drawers and late-night knockings on doors and windows. I never got a good look at them, but they were always watching me. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and feel their weight all over my body, pinning me down. Rough skin against me, dirty fingers digging into my nose and mouth. Worse still, their touch penetrated my mind, inserting thoughts so vile that I knew they couldn’t be my own, although the longer they were in my head, the more difficult it was to be certain of that.
Did I want to insert a needle into my eye and see how far it would go? Probably not. Then why could I not stop thinking about it?
Were they making me think about beating my class-mates into bloody pulps? Or setting fires to people’s homes to watch them weep on the sidewalk? Or was that all from me?
The first few nights I lay awake and cried to myself, but I soon learned to be more afraid of my mom than I was of the creatures. As much as I hated the shadows, they never hit me after-all. I wouldn’t call it living, but I continued to exist for years like that. During the day I kept to myself: exhausted and numb. All colors seemed muted except for the glittering eyes which tracked me from unlikely crevices, all sounds muffled but for their scrapings and breathings. The only times I could really feel was when I was lay awake in the darkness, but these were the times I wish I felt less. Neither screams nor silence brought any comfort from the intrusive probings, and my mind was flooded with persistent images of violence, self-destruction, and despair.
Over time I found a trick to help me get through the insufferable nights. I convinced myself that my body was not my own, and that nothing it felt could do me harm. The real me was flying safe somewhere, high up in the sky inside a paper lantern. And no matter what happened to my flesh — no matter what my flesh did to anyone else — that had nothing to do with me.
I kept everything below the surface as best I could until I was fourteen years old. By then I’d lost all ability to distinguish the origin of my thoughts. All I knew is that I wanted to hurt someone — hurt them as badly as I wanted to be hurt in return. I picked fights at school. I pushed my classmates around and they stayed clear of me. I once drove a pencil into someone’s hand when they weren’t looking, grinding it back and forth to make sure to tip broke off inside the skin. I heard the creatures snickering at that, but it was a disdainful kind of laugh.
When I was called into the principal’s office afterward, I was surprised to see Mr. Hansbury there too. The principal was all rage, lecturing me and stamping around like the Spanish Inquisition. Mr. Hansbury didn’t say much. He just looked tired and sad. He didn’t speak up until the principal dismissed me, at which point he put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in real close to ask:
“Have you looked for it?”
I didn’t have the faintest idea what he meant. I gave him a stare that a marble statue would find cold.
“Your lantern. Did you ever try to get it back?”
I told him to go fuck himself.
“I’m sorry for telling you to send it away,” he added, gripping my shoulder to stop me from leaving. “I thought it would be easier than facing, but I was wrong. People can’t hide from themselves like that.”
The pencil was good, but it wasn’t enough. My thoughts matched the sardonic tone of the laughter, mocking me for my pitiful attempt. As the creatures crawled over me at night and their intentions mingled with my own, I decided to bring a knife next time. I considered a gun too, but resolved that it wasn’t personal enough. I’d rather look into one person’s eyes when the blade slipped into them than shoot a dozen scurrying figures from a distance. And what happened to me afterward? It didn’t matter, because the real me was safely floating in the breeze a thousand miles away.
It wasn’t going to be at school this time. I wanted to take my time and not be interrupted. Instead I went out at midnight, the taste of those dirty fingers still fresh in my mouth. I didn’t care who my victim was, as long as they could feel what I was doing to them. My neighborhood was quiet at night and there weren’t a lot of options though, so I decided to head down to the 24 hour gas station on the corner.
Kitchen knife gripped between my fingers, cold air filling my lungs, goading laughter and applause from the creatures thick around me in the darkness, I almost felt alive there for a second. Just like I did with the pencil, but this would taste better. Holding the knife, I felt like a virgin on prom night with my crush slowly unzipping my pants. I wasn’t in the eye of the storm anymore — I was the storm, and tonight would be the night —
that I saw a paper lantern floating in the air, just a few feet off the ground. The shell was so filthy and stained that I could barely see the light inside. It was impossible for the fragile thing to have survived all these years, more impossible still for the single candle to have burned all this time, but I knew without doubt that it was my light by the way the creatures howled. They hated it with a passion, and would have torn it to shreds if I hadn’t gotten there first. I plucked the lantern from the air and guided it softly to the ground, the shades screeching as they whirled around me, feral animals cowed by the miraculous flame.
Holding the lantern close, I found the note that was attached.
“I found this in the woods. Took a couple days to find it.” -Mr. H
I collapsed on the sidewalk, trembling for all the time I’d spent away from myself, blubbering and sobbing like an idiot until the flame guttered out from my tears. The howling creatures reached a feverish pitch, and then silence, all rising together into the sky with the last wisps of curling smoke from the lantern. It hurt like nothing I’d felt in years, but it was a cleansing kind of hurt. I didn’t hide from it. I didn’t send it away. I didn’t drown it with distractions or fight its grip on me. I won’t go so far as to say that pain is a good thing, but it is undeniably a real thing, and I’d rather hurt than send it away to live with the hole it leaves behind.