The Crossroads

By Chef SteelPanMan

//Source.

There was a mirror in the room that reflected dust from the windows and the stilted light that came in. He saw himself in its reflection and he also saw past himself. He looked at the film of dirt and black marks upon the mirror and wondered how old it must be.

He wore a suit that he had never owned and it was a shadow in the dark room. There was music outside and he listened hard but he could not understand it. It floated beyond his ears and he could only feel it in a ghostly way.

He stared at the mirror and looked at himself.

To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading.

He wondered where he had heard that before.

Does that make me a bad person?

And he thought, yes, he must be a bad person, for he had never asked himself that question before.

The door opened and there was tepid light flooding in. The light hardly reached him and he saw more dust motes dancing in the air. A beautiful woman looked at him. She was older than him, a perpetual thirty, and she had a kindness about her and he had never seen her before.

“You are awake,” she said.

“Where am I?”

“This is the last outpost. We call it the Crossroads. Here is the last meeting place of both our worlds.”

“I don’t understand. where am I? Am I under arrest? What has happened?”

“Look outside, if you will. You might understand then.”

The window was yellow from light, a blinding hole from an outside that did not want to be seen.

Scary monsters and super creeps keep me running scared.

He blinked the thought away and looked out the window. There were people outside dressed in black and sitting in folding chairs and there was a priest beside a casket. He knew he was inside that casket.

“What is…”

“You know what has happened. It will take some time to digest, I’m sure. But please, we have so much to do.”

“No… No…”

He remembered something he had read on dreaming. It was called lucid dreaming. That was when you knew you were in a dream and then you could control it. He had tried to induce them many times before.

I am dreaming. I am dreaming.

He forced the dream to change but nothing changed and he was in the room with the woman and there was dust about and a feeling of dread overcame him.

I’m dead.

Then others in his mind:

Good. Scum like you should die.

He looked at the woman. Her kindness belied an easy attractiveness about her, a dangerous kind that told him she was sharp and prepared.

Just like every woman, he thought. You can’t trust them even in a dream.

His heart hurt. Or maybe that was yearning, an emptiness that he mistook for his heart.

“I am in hell,” he said.

The woman smiled and came closer.

“I know why you would think that,” she said. “But no. we’re in the other place.”

“This doesn’t look like Heaven.”

“Well this is an outpost, and this outpost is rarely used. You must excuse its condition.”

Around him were dark wooden furniture, a bed for resting that was well loved, and there paintings on the wall of nostalgic Americana.

“What’s going on? This is hell. It has to be.”

“So you admit you were wrong in your ideology?”

“I admit that everyone told me it was wrong. People these days can’t handle the blunt truth.”

“And what’s that?”

“That the strong survive and the weak must die.”

“Is that so?”

He was shaking.

“Yes.”

“And yet we’re here.”

In the mirror he saw himself and the woman. The image was a comedy with him next to her. He saw the marks on his face, the years of unkind genetics and the apathy that fostered it.

I could look better.

That hurt him badly.

I could have tried more.

She stared at him with some confidence that he was unaccustomed to.

“I was right then, if I am in Heaven. Our thinking is right. There is a Master Race.”

She smiled at him with a patience that made him angry and afraid.

“You’re a hero,” she said. “You’ll even get your own special place in Heaven. This is why we came to this outpost. The way is hardly used, but sometimes we get someone worthy.”

“I was right then?”

“You are a weak man,” she said. “Look out that window and tell me if you were right.”

Mourning him were his kind. They were a scant few and he was embarrassed by them. When he was alive, he had thought them brave and outlaws. They were outcasts and nothing more.

“This is a joke. I am in Hell. This is a cruel joke.”

“Is it?”

He looked at his hands and they were shaking.

To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading.

It was coming to him. what was that girl’s name he wondered? Was it she who had pushed him, or was she merely the last in an inevitable conclusion?

“Her name was Amanda,” said the woman beside him. “But she told you her name was Anne. She didn’t like you very much and thought you were a fascist.”

“How do you know?”

The woman shrugged.

He remembered he was crying. He had the gun in his hands and there was vengeance in that weight. He listened to that song. She had mocked him with its words and he had listened to it to hurt himself and culture that self-pity he had thrived on.

To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading!

He wondered what he had called her.

“You called her an animal when she would not go out with you,” said the woman. “She did not cry as you hoped she would. She mocked you with that line.”

“And I listened to the song.”

“You searched the internet for it in your obsession.”

“And I planned to…”

“Yes, you planned to do it. To really do it this time.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. You don’t know. Maybe a mall or a street. Anywhere there were people.”

He could feel the weight of the gun in his hand.

“This is Hell,” he said.

“No,” she said. “This is Heaven.”

“There is no Master Race. You think I am a loser like they all did when I was alive.”

“Yes.”

“Then this is Hell.”

“No.”

“How? And why?”

“Because you did not do it. You hadn’t the heart to do it. Like all your kind, you were a coward at the end.”

“So what did I do?”

“You know what you did.”

The moment was blacked out in his mind. Like the music outside, he could only sense it in an ephemeral way. But he knew what had happened. There was purpose against his skull. The gun was cold and he trembled and nothing had seemed so harder than to breathe and commit to what he did not really want to do.

But I did want to.

“Yes,” the woman said. “You did. And you did do it.”

“I killed myself.”

“Yes. And as a result you saved many. Your life was an abyss for others to be ensnared in.”

“So you reward me with eternity in Heaven?”

Suddenly he was glad and he felt righteous. But the woman was bigger than him, as though her shadow would engulf him. He wondered what angel could she be.

“It is not an angel that you fear,” she said. “It is a woman.”

And he was breathing hard.

“I am in Heaven,” he said. “You said so yourself.”

“Yes. You are in Heaven. But for you it will be Hell. You will find that there are not many like you in here. All your brethren shall be in Hell. Here you will be the outcast you always were. Here you will live in a house of boredom, forgotten as the dust, another piece of furniture for the mirror to reflect.”

“No,” he said.

“Yes,” she said.

And then:

“Your funeral is almost over. Look well at those faces for they are the living. When we leave this place you will never see them again.”

He looked outside and the gathered was thinning. People he did not know paid half-baked respects. Little kin was there, and they wore dead faces, hopeless faces that tried to make peace with what he had been and what he had ultimately become.

Nothing, he thought.

“Yes,” said the woman. “And so shall you always be.”

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He Wasn’t There

By Chef JRHEvilInc/Joel R. Hunt

//Source.

Re: The Godwin Case – progress? From: asherniazi@nhs.net To: green.em@pattontrust.org Date: 22/05/17

Hello Emily,

I was just wondering if you’d made any progress with Alesha Godwin? Peter’s been sharing more with me in session, but his account is somewhat scattered and I think some cross-referencing may shed light on what he’s telling me. In any event, we should definitely organise a meeting before the first court date, preferably a week in advance to give Defence a good time to process it all.

Kind regards,

Asher

Dr Asher Niazi, Child Psychiatrist Continue reading “He Wasn’t There”

The Door Man

By Chef wolfdreams01

//Source.

It started as I was trying to go to sleep. I had brushed my teeth, flossed, and washed my face, but the faint sound of flowing water let me know that the toilet was still running. My toilet is a bit old, and sometimes the flush valve doesn’t close properly unless you jiggle the handle a bit. Sighing to myself, I got up, jiggled the handle until it caught, and went back to my bedroom. Then I froze for a second, because something felt very wrong. My couch is set against the windows facing the street, which means that even in an unlit house, I can see the outline of the couch from the street illumination. But in the split second that I had glanced into my living room before shutting the door, I had seen the silhouette of a person sitting on the sofa.

I quickly opened the door again. There was no silhouette. Maybe it was just a trick of the light. But because I’m paranoid as fuck from reading scary Reddit stories, I went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and searched the whole house thoroughly. There was nobody here. The doors were locked. I sighed again, concluded that my tired mind had imagined the whole thing, and went to sleep.


It was over a week before I saw it again. I was walking from the living room to the kitchen to do the dishes, and as I passed by the doorway to the corridor that leads to my front door, I caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye of somebody very tall standing at the far end of the corridor. I was right in the middle of my stride so I only saw it for a moment before passing the edge of the doorway, but I knew now that this was no trick of the light. The head had turned slightly as I walked by, as if tracking my movement. I quickly stepped back to the spot where I could see the far end of the hallway to get a better look at the intruder, but it was gone. There was no place it could have disappeared to without me seeing it – the hallway leads right from the front door to my living room, and I hadn’t heard the squeak of my rusty door hinges so it couldn’t have left by this route. But nevertheless, the hallway was now empty.

I stood there for a long time, heart pounding in my chest. Eventually I calmed down and started to clean the fragments of the plate that I had dropped in my fright.


The very next day, I put a Craigslist ad out to find a roommate. Staying in the empty house all by myself really bothered me. I interviewed several potential candidates, and eventually settled on a charming transgender woman named Mary. She had a very calming presence and a stable job. Although I didn’t tell her this, part of the reason that I chose her was because of her size. She was very tall and well-muscled, and I wanted somebody who could back me up physically if I saw that thing again.

Mary and me got along really well, and I felt much more secure with her in the apartment. She was a night owl – whereas I’ve always tended to go to sleep early – and it was reassuring to hear the sound of the television while I was drifting off to sleep. Knowing that on any given evening there was another person within twenty feet of me did a lot to dispel my terror of seeing the apparition again. Maybe it’s the fact that I read too many ghost stories, but I somehow felt that the constant presence of somebody else would protect me from whatever it was I had seen. I was wrong.

It was August when I saw the thing again. I was walking to the basement on a Thursday night to get my laundry from the dryer, and Mary was sitting in the dining room looking towards the window. Even from my quick glance, I could tell that something seemed very wrong with the shadows on her face, but I didn’t want to say anything and so I kept walking. It’s not that she would be angered by my criticism, but one thing that Mary takes a lot of pride in is how feminine she looks, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by saying anything about her makeup. Descending the basement steps, I could hear somebody was already there… in the basement, moving around. I could hear footsteps shuffling on the floor. It’s important to note that our upstairs neighbors don’t have access to our basement – the only people who can get in are me and Mary.

Somehow – almost instinctively – my hand reached for the wooden mop handle that we kept at the top of the basement stairs. Slowly, I unscrewed the body of the mop from the head, and then quietly… ever so quietly… I descended the stairs. The shuffling continued. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I leaped around the corner, the mop handle raised to bludgeon whatever intruder was in my basement.

It was Mary. She gave a little yelp of terror when she saw me leap out, and dropped the heavy storage boxes that she had been reorganizing. “What the hell!” she exclaimed. “That is SO not funny!” But I could say nothing, and the mop handle dropped from my limp fingers. If Mary was down here, then whom had I passed that was sitting in the living room?


I’ve always considered myself a rational person. Although I read scary stories on the internet, I never really believed in the supernatural. However, it was clear that whatever I was seeing could not be explained scientifically. So I went online to do some research. There are plenty of groups on the internet that focus on alledgedly real occult tales, scary stories, and folklore. Over time, I realized that my tale was not that unique. In fact, there were plenty of stories about similar sightings.

Germany had Der Großmann, supposedly the subject of Goethe’s famous poem “Der Erlkönig.” A tall man who would be seen in the woods, and kidnapped children, stuffing them in a large sack. The Caribbean islands had the “hupia,” a nocturnal humanoid without a face that would paralyze its victims with fear. In the British Isles, it was called the Clutchbone. And in more recent “urban legend”, there were countless tales of the Slender Man. All of these tales had some things in common with my experience. A tall humanoid that could seemingly appear anywhere. Reports on what its face looked like varied, but all accounts agreed that it was incredibly disturbing. Sometimes it would take its victims away, never to be seen again, but others it would leave alone after stalking them for a while. Often these victims were driven almost to the point of insanity from their experience.

One thing that made the stories different from mine is that they generally all happened in the woods, as somebody was travelling through them. I had only seen this… thing… through open doorways, and only for a split second. But when you think about it, is there really that much of a difference? When you are walking and see a doorway out of the corner of your eye, you get a split second glance at what lies beyond the threshold before the corners of the door block your field of vision. When you are walking through the woods, you get a split second glance at what lies in any given spot before a tree passes in front of your line of sight. Maybe there is something about those boundaries – where a person’s vision to a spot is momentarily clear before becoming obscured again – that allows us to see things that we otherwise could not. Or maybe there are some things so horrifying that our minds automatically edit them out as some sort of self-defense mechanism, so the most we can perceive of them are the fragmented glimpses that are too fleeting to give us a full mental image.


I realize that this sounds crazy, but it’s an idea I came to after much thought. I’m sure if I wrote about it in more detail, if I explained all the other times I saw it, I could justify why I arrived at this conclusion. But I have to get this story out, and I don’t know how much time I have left.

One thing that I don’t think many people realize is how many doorways we pass on any given night. Try walking down the street without catching a brief glimpse through somebody’s doorway, or an open window, or an open car door. It is impossible to avoid seeing them. I know this because this evening, I was aware of them all. As I walked home from work, I could see a quick glimpse of that silhouette behind every single doorway, every single open portal that I passed. Always just the faintest glimpse out of the corner of my eye, always with that subtle wrongness about the face – but never sighted directly enough or long enough to make out specific details. But tonight, I have a feeling that I’ll see it in its entirety, and finally know where it takes its other victims. Because even though I only caught fleeting glimpses of it out of the corner of my eye, there was one striking detail about its profile which was very different from all the other times I had spotted it.

Tonight, it was carrying a very large sack.

The Smiling Man

By Chef Blue_Tidal

About five years ago I lived downtown in a major city in the US. I’ve always been a night person, so I would often find myself bored after my roommate, who was decidedly not a night person, went to sleep. To pass the time, I used to go for long walks and spend the time thinking.

I spent four years like that, walking alone at night, and never once had a reason to feel afraid. I always used to joke with my roommate that even the drug dealers in the city were polite. But all of that changed in just a few minutes of one evening.

It was a Wednesday, somewhere between one and two in the morning, and I was walking near a police patrolled park quite a ways from my apartment. It was a quiet night, even for a week night, with very little traffic and almost no one on foot. The park, as it was most nights, was completely empty.

I turned down a short side street in order to loop back to my apartment when I first noticed him. At the far end of the street, on my side, was the silhouette of a man, dancing. It was a strange dance, similar to a waltz, but he finished each “box” with an odd forward stride. I guess you could say he was dance-walking, headed straight for me.

Deciding he was probably drunk, I stepped as close as I could to the road to give him the majority of the sidewalk to pass me by. The closer he got, the more I realized how gracefully he was moving. He was very tall and lanky, and wearing an old suit. He danced closer still, until I could make out his face. His eyes were open wide and wild, head tilted back slightly, looking off at the sky. His mouth was formed in a painfully wide cartoon of a smile. Between the eyes and the smile, I decided to cross the street before he danced any closer.

I took my eyes off of him to cross the empty street. As I reached the other side, I glanced back… and then stopped dead in my tracks. He had stopped dancing and was standing with one foot in the street, perfectly parallel to me. He was facing me but still looking skyward. Smile still wide on his lips.

I was completely and utterly unnerved by this. I started walking again, but kept my eyes on the man. He didn’t move. Once I had put about half a block between us, I turned away from him for a moment to watch the sidewalk in front of me. The street and sidewalk ahead of me were completely empty. Still unnerved, I looked back to where he had been standing to find him gone. For the briefest of moments I felt relieved, until I noticed him. He had crossed the street, and was now slightly crouched down. I couldn’t tell for sure due to the distance and the shadows, but I was certain he was facing me. I had looked away from him for no more than 10 seconds, so it was clear that he had moved fast.

I was so shocked that I stood there for some time, staring at him. And then he started moving toward me again. He took giant, exaggerated tip toed steps, as if he were a cartoon character sneaking up on someone. Except he was moving very, very quickly.

I’d like to say at this point I ran away or pulled out my pepper spray or my cellphone or anything at all, but I didn’t. I just stood there, completely frozen as the smiling man crept toward me.

And then he stopped again, about a car length away from me. Still smiling his smile, still looking to the sky.

When I finally found my voice, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. What I meant to ask was, “What the fuck do you want?!” in an angry, commanding tone. What came out was a whimper, “What the fuu…?”

Regardless of whether or not humans can smell fear, they can certainly hear it. I heard it in my own voice, and that only made me more afraid. But he didn’t react to it at all. He just stood there, smiling.

And then, after what felt like forever, he turned around, very slowly, and started dance-walking away. Just like that. Not wanting to turn my back to him again, I just watched him go, until he was far enough away to almost be out of sight. And then I realized something. He wasn’t moving away anymore, nor was he dancing. I watched in horror as the distant shape of him grew larger and larger. He was coming back my way. And this time he was running.

I ran too.

I ran until I was off of the side road and back onto a better lit road with sparse traffic. Looking behind me then, he was nowhere to be found. The rest of the way home, I kept glancing over my shoulder, always expecting to see his stupid smile, but he was never there.

I lived in that city for six months after that night, and I never went out for another walk. There was something about his face that always haunted me. He didn’t look drunk, he didn’t look high. He looked completely and utterly insane. And that’s a very, very scary thing to see.

Happy Puppet Syndrome

By Chef Error666

\\Message from the author: “Special thanks to Christian Harris for helping me. I mean no offense to people with Angelman Syndrome. I just thought the symptoms could be manipulated into something creepy.”\\

It was simple, we thought. Take a few chromosomes, slice them up, put them over there, and hey, perfect human being. I’m still not sure what went wrong. Maybe a miscalculation? A misprocedure? Or maybe something beyond our control. Who knows?

We (a few of my psychologist colleagues and I) were intrigued by human emotion. Anger, despair, euphoria. Was it possible to lock the mind into one emotion? To lock it into a euphoric state so that no sadness or anger would cloud its thought? Theoretically, yes.

I won’t describe the procedures of our experiments to you. Both because I wouldn’t want you to repeat them but also I fear I will go mad if I have to recount them. The terrible things we did. We were ambitious, youthful, nothing could stop us, and no one could tell us we were wrong. All I will tell is that we got ahold of a few stem cells, nurtured them into fetuses, and tampered ever so slightly with the genetics. The experiment was called “The Angel Man Project” and the goal was to create a being which felt only happiness. But something went wrong. Terribly wrong.

Half of the test subjects died unexpectedly, without warning and without cause. The remaining half were mostly born hideously distorted. Three were born well. Perfect, we thought. A human with mental capability beyond any other due to its locked euphoric state.

They were perfectly normal up to eighteen months. That’s when the first symptoms appeared. Lack of balance, trouble sleeping and eating, low responsiveness. We all panicked on the inside, of course, but on the outside we remained calm and continued the project. We should have ended there. We should have taken those damned subjects and euthanized them and burned them and closed the lab. But we continued.

Things only got worse. The subject’s movements became increasingly sporadic and they still could not utter words, although they could laugh and did so often. Much too often. Not happy laughter, but quiet, almost nervous laughing, nearly constant. No matter how much pain was inflicted on the subject it merely stared at you and laughed, as if it were mocking you, calling your attempts to harm it futile.

We expected the subjects to have extra learning capabilities. Quite the opposite occurred. Their mental development was severely delayed. They couldn’t pay attention to something for more than a few minutes before lapsing into a laughing fit. But we continued, hoping that these symptoms would clear up as the children got older. We gave a name to the symptoms. “Happy Puppet Syndrome”, because the mindless movements of the children made it seem like they were puppets on strings.

Five years into the project we realized there was no hope. We could no longer stand the incessant laughing of these children; as if they knew something we did not, as if some kind of joke passed between them. To look at a child and to see it twitch sporadically and laugh excessively is a haunting thing. Two of my colleagues had already quit because they could not stand it. I never heard from them afterwards. They are most likely dead.

The children had not talked for five years. Only laughed their damned laugh. We went in to give them breakfast and they stared at us with their huge eyes, twitching, giggling, and saying nothing. We lay the meal in front of them and left. The meal was laced with toxins that would silently and painlessly kill the subjects. It was a painful thing to do, but it had to be done. However, it would not be that easy.

As a friend of mine set a tray of food down in front of one of the boys, the laughing stopped. The boy looked up at my friend, his eyes suddenly dark, dead serious, the laughing gone.

They continued to stare at him and twitch for a while. My friend was in shock and would not move. My colleagues and I stood with pen and notepad ready to take notes. Suddenly, my friend fell to his knees, grasping his head and yelling furiously. He appeared to be in tremendous pain. My colleagues and I were so surprised by this we could do nothing but sit and watch. My friend collapsed to the floor, yelling curses. He jerked violently a few times, and then went limp.

I held back the urge to be sick, more successfully than a few of my colleagues. Something about this was not normal. A dark presence seemed to tower over us. We immediately sealed the entrance. The boy stopped, looked at the door, and laughed. He fell to the floor, twitching and rolling about laughing insanely. The two others did the same. After a few minutes the fit ceased, and they stood up, still twitching, still giggling.

The lights went out. I heard crashes, glass shattering, screams. The most terrifying thing of all were the haunting whispers, coupled with the quiet laughing. When the lights went back on, the subjects were gone. Two of my colleagues lay unconscious beside me, their bodies twisted at odd angles, blood trickling from their drooping mouths. At first they appeared to be dead. They showed no vital signs. But as I leaned in, I could hear them laughing, ever so slightly. I went over to examine my friend. No pulse, no breathing, but he continued to laugh quietly.

Although the subjects had gone, I still felt as if something were watching me, something that was just at the edge of my vision but that I would never be able to see.

Me and one remaining colleague closed everything down immediately. Before leaving we destroyed our research and locked and barricaded the lab. I lost communication with my colleagues. I presume they are dead.

I still feel like I am watched. I still hear the laughing, the whispering, in my dreams and sometimes when I am awake. When I do, I run. I get up and I leave wherever I am. I’m not able to stay in the same place for more than a few days because of this.

It spread. Other children were seen with similar symptoms. I have no idea how it spread, it shouldn’t be something that spreads. Somebody somewhere made something up about disjunction of the 15th chromosome, and that kept the people happy and in the dark, for now. The disease was coined “Angelman Syndrome”. So far the spawn are not dangerous. But I know the originals still lurk somewhere.

I know they are coming for me. I know they will find me. I accept this. It is what I get for attempting to tamper with nature. I leave this letter here as a warning. They are coming for you, too. They are coming for all of us. If ever you hear whispering, laughing, at the edge of your hearing, run. If ever you feel as if something stands right at the edge of your sight, but you cannot look at it, run.

Also, I warn you this. One: do not tamper with what is not yours. Two: Even Angels can be Demons in disguise. And three: Do not come for me. I am as good as dead.

***

The following manuscript was found in an abandoned and hidden laboratory discovered deep in an Alaskan forest. The laboratory consisted of an observation room and a containment room. The containment room was barricaded and locked, and the entire lab seemed to have caught fire at one point. Traces of blood were found after the containment room was breached, and a window was shattered. The exact nature of this lab is yet undiscovered.

The Sandman

By Chef Tam Lin

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”
-Edgar Allen Poe, “Eleanora”

***

“Go to bed and wait for the Sandman.”

Even as it came out of James’ mouth it seemed to him a strange thing to say, and he was not sure why he had, but for some reason it worked: Daniel went to bed.

The next morning, though, he asked: “What does the Sandman look like?”

James was making breakfast. Daniel sat at the table, short legs swinging under his chair. “Nothing, really,” James said. “It’s just an expression.”

“What does it mean?”

“Just something people say.” He put a plate of eggs in front of Daniel and kissed him on the top of his head. He thought that would be the end of it.

Until he saw the Sandman for himself.

He was getting ready for bed and stopped by Daniel’s room to check on him while he slept, as he often did. It was such a routine precaution that when he saw a pale, naked man sitting on the edge of Daniel’s bed, rocking back and forth, it took a moment for him to process what he was seeing.

He reacted the way any father would, of course: He ran into the room screaming, and for a moment he thought about attacking the intruder, but then the man on the bed turned, and that’s when James saw that it wasn’t really a man: It was a pale, slithery thing, hairless and warped, its joints turned the wrong way and its body out of shape with itself. When it moved it was like an insane marionette dancing on a stage.

James froze. The skittering thing watched him. He felt spreading warmth, and he realized he’d pissed his pants. Only when he remembered that Daniel was still there in bed, staring at the broken-shaped thing sitting a foot away, did he regain the courage to move. He grabbed Daniel and ran. In the hall he turned to see if the thing would follow them, but it didn’t. For a moment it watched and then, moving like a stop-motion nightmare, it crawled to the window and jumped out, leaving only the billowing curtains to mark its passing.

James had trouble talking to the police. He reported a break-in, but when asked to describe the intruder he didn’t know what to say. How could he make the ordinary man in the blue uniform sitting at his kitchen table while two of his colleagues searched the house understand a thing like he’d seen? He couldn’t even understand it himself.

To make it worse, Daniel’s memory did not correspond to James’: He described an ordinary looking burglar. “A man in a mask,” he said. James thought about it: Had it been a mask? No, it would had to have been a full costume, and an elaborate one, something like they would use for a movie. And that would not explain the way it moved…

But in the end he simply echoed his son’s testimony: “A man in a mask,” he said. “A burglar.” The lie unsettled him almost as much as what had happened.

The doctors said Daniel wasn’t hurt and showed no signs of molestation. James was relieved. They stayed at a motel for a couple of nights until they felt ready to come home, and then James had a new security system installed, along with bars on the windows. He didn’t like the sight of them in Daniel’s room, but it seemed like the only thing to do.

James was frightened that first night back in the house, but Daniel, strangely, was not. When asked if he felt okay sleeping alone, he just said yes. In the end it was James who found himself wishing he were not sleeping alone. He was up all night listening for the sound of anything moving in the house. Although he had convinced himself that his memory was faulty and that it had been a normal (albeit probably deeply disturbed) man in his son’s room, when he closed his eyes even for a moment he pictured bloodless skin and a twisted, inhuman face. He found himself wondering, why my house? Why my family? He knew, of course, that there didn’t have to be a reason. But still, he wondered.

Two weeks later Daniel stopped talking. James didn’t notice at first; kids went through quiet phases sometimes. But eventually he tried to get Daniel to talk, and he wouldn’t. Eventually, it became clear that he couldn’t.

Back to the doctor they went. Nothing wrong with him that we can see, was the diagnosis. Was it the trauma, James asked? Could be, they said. Sometimes these things come on late. Children can be a mystery even to those who know them best. They recommended a child psychologist, whom James couldn’t afford. He could not, for that matter, even afford the bill they were giving him now.

Nothing seemed to help. Daniel would write out answers to questions sometimes, but never more than a yes or no. When James would ask him what was wrong, or if he’d seen or heard anything that frightened him, Daniel would only stare. He seemed furtive and bemused. James found himself missing the sound of his son’s voice. Sometimes he wanted to hear it so bad that he ached. But it seemed that Daniel would not talk again until he was ready.

James had other things to worry about, too. He was convinced, beyond reason, that the intruder was not really gone. Though the alarm never went off and the locks and bars remained undisturbed, he was sure that he heard movement in the night. Not normal movement: It was a sound like a huge snake slithering through the house. When he heard it, he imagined horrible things. Nothing was ever there when he went to investigate, though he often thought he glimpsed something just out the corner of his eye, a pale foot or a misshapen shadow that would slink away as soon as he turned.

He rarely slept, and when he did he had haunted dreams.

Soon he realized he had not left the house in weeks except to go to the bank and buy groceries. He felt hemmed in. With Daniel acting mute he hadn’t had an actual conversation with anyone in weeks, so he called his mother. The connection was bad and her voice sounded faint, on the verge of being not there at all. “I guess I’m okay, Ma,” he said, pausing to wipe the sweat from his palms and then make sure he could hear Daniel playing in the next room. “But things have been a little rough. We had a break-in.”

“Oh how awful!” Mom said. “Did they take anything?”

“Nah. Just ran off. It was weird though. I haven’t really felt comfortable since then.”

“Are you still working at that hospital?”

“No Ma, I left last year, you know that.”

“Oh. Well, have you been getting out? What about that nice woman you were seeing last year, the one who played the piano?”

James scowled. She was always asking that kind of thing. Didn’t she know how hard it was being a single father? That he didn’t have the time? He was about to say so when something made him pause.

“Ma, is there anyone else on the line?”

“I don’t think so?”

James was sure he heard it, though: the short, gasping sound of someone trying to hold their breath and failing. A cold feeling crept across the back of his neck. “You’re sure nobody is listening on your other phone?”

“Dear, there is no other phone, I’m on the cell, that’s why the service is so bad.”

“Then what is—” James stopped. If the sound wasn’t coming from her end, then…

He dropped the phone and raced to the hall. The extension hung on its hook, undisturbed. Heart pounding, he hurdled into the garage; the spare phone sat on the workbench. No one was in sight. But could they have been? Could someone have been here all along, listening to his phone call, and then slithered away? Might they be here even now?

The next day he took out the extra phone extensions. He even filled in the jacks with rubber cement. Daniel watched him work, eyes curious, but James offered no explanation.

He began giving Daniel a light physical exam every week. His CNA training was a little rusty after a year on disability, but you never really forget. It was an absurd thing to do, of course; even if there was a physical cause for Daniel’s behavior, it would be nothing he could discover this way. And he was aware on some level that it was compulsive behavior. Nevertheless, it made him feel better.

One morning James set the diaphragm of the stethoscope against Daniel’s chest, but he could not locate a heartbeat. He moved his hand in search of the right spot, to no avail. Then, to test it, he listened to his own heartbeat; it came through steady and clear. But when he checked Daniel again he didn’t hear anything. A thought came unbidden to him of the Tin Man in “The Wizards of Oz,” whose chest was empty as a kettle.

A sick feeling roiled his stomach. He threw the stethoscope down and grabbed Daniel by the shoulders, looking into his face. Daniel stared back with bright eyes. He even smiled a little, with the corners of his mouth. James felt the tingle of tears. He swept his son up in his arms and hugged him, and Daniel hugged back. Then James put his shirt back on him and sent him to play. The stethoscope, he decided, was broken. He threw it in the trash.

Things got worse. James’ terrors were no longer relegated to the long hours of the night. Now it seemed that some creeping, some skittering and scuttling, some unknowable noise in some dark corner or another, filled every second of his day. The thought of how big the house really was started to weigh on him: There were so many rooms he wasn’t in at any given time, so many places someone—or something—else could be. He imagined strange figures occupying the rest of his home when he wasn’t around, melting into the walls or merging with the shadows whenever he turned on a light or opened a door. How would he know if they were there? How would he ever know?

Soon he didn’t even have to be outside of a room to imagine it. When he walked up the stairs he pictured pale figures lurking beneath them. When he went down the hall he pictured a crawling thing slithering behind the walls, shadowing his every step. If he sat too long in the same chair he imagined that it was right behind him. And he was never comforted when he turned around and found nothing there, as he could only guess that meant it had moved, swiftly and silently, behind him once again. Wherever he was not looking right now, that was where he imagined it to be.

He was losing his mind, he knew. The only thing that helped him cling to sanity was that Daniel seemed undisturbed. Other than his muteness, his behavior was perfectly normal. And whenever he seemed to sense that his father was troubled he would hug him, or squeeze his hand, or even smile. Sometimes, when he left the room, James cried.

One night he found himself creeping around the house with no lights on at two o’clock in the morning. If the intruding thing had taken to violating his daytime activities then he would get revenge by confronting it on its own terms: the night. And really, night was no more frightening to him now than day. They were almost interchangeable.

He padded barefoot down the halls, up the stairs, in and out of disused rooms. Sometimes he stopped to listen, hoping to locate it by sound; it was a stealthy, creeping thing, he knew, but it was awkward at times, and it couldn’t always keep its strangely shaped limbs from making their distinct, irregular footsteps. The smallest noise would give it away…

There was one room he suspected it spent most of its time in: the spare bedroom. Not a bedroom at all, really, more like a closet just large enough to accommodate a bed if one were so inclined. It was unpainted and uncarpeted and drafty; he’d always meant to fix it up. He didn’t come in here very often because he disliked the bare, unused look of it. It made him think of a partially dissected corpse.

He came in now, though. If the thing made its nest any one place in the house, this would be it. Of course, there was nothing there now…but that didn’t mean there was nothing there.

He cursed, running a hand through his sweat-damp hair. What was he missing? How did it hide from him? What was its secret? He peered into the room’s empty corners one by one, getting his face a few inches from the plaster and floorboards so that he could be certain—certain!—that there was no space for it to conceal itself.

The light bulb flickered. He froze. My God, he thought….it’s on the ceiling! He pictured it crawling above him like a huge, pale lizard. That’s how it gets around, he thought, that’s how it escapes anytime I should have it cornered, it just scuttles up the wall and hides right over my head! He imagined it dangling down behind him like a spider. If I turn around, he thought, it will be there, hanging with its face right next to mine. He held his breath. He did not want to turn around, but he had no choice; it was between him and the door.

With a quiet sob, he rounded on his heels.

Of course, he was alone. There was no man on the ceiling; he checked twice. Maybe it crawled out and was waiting for him in the hall…but when he checked there the coast was once again clear. It should have been a relief, but it was not. After all, it had to be in here somewhere. If the ceiling was not its trick that just meant it was something else, something even more strange, even more clever…

He went to Daniel’s room. He had not stopped checking on him at night, like he always had. This time, though, rather than open the door he listened at it first, pressing his ear against the grain of the cheap wood and holding his breath, terrified that he would hear a skittering sound on the other side of the barrier. What he heard instead shocked him more:

Daniel was talking to someone.

James recoiled for a second and then, when he’d caught his breath, he all but kicked the door in. Daniel was already awake, indeed, sitting up in bed, but he was not saying anything now. The light flashed on and James stalked halfway into the room before stopping, suddenly torn: What did he want more, to confirm that his son could speak again or to find whomever he was speaking to?

The creak of a door hinge settled the matter for him. He ran to the closet and threw it open: There was nothing inside, or at least, nothing that shouldn’t be there. He swept aside clothes on their hangars, but nothing was hiding between them. Then he dragged the toy box out and emptied it into the floor: Nothing. He combed along the bare walls and floor and, yes, the ceiling, pushing aside every last bit of rubbish and stray knick-knack so that he could be sure, absolutely sure, that nothing was hiding.

All the while Daniel watched him.

After a few minutes James was panting and covered in sweat and the closet was bare, and there were neither intruders nor answers inside. It struck him as funny, somehow, and he started to laugh, very quietly. He kicked his son’s toys out of the way as he went to sit down on the bed, dazed. He became aware, all at once, of several things, first being that he had not slept in days and was nowhere near his right mind. The second was how close he’d come to really losing it, for good.

Tomorrow, he decided, they would both sleep until the afternoon, and when they did wake up he and Daniel would get out of this creaky old house. No more staying cooped up like prisoners, and no more checkups, and no more dreams about monsters. He would even take the bars off the windows. It was time to get back to living like real people again. It was time to—

James saw it when he brushed a hand through Daniel’s hair. He pulled Daniel (a little too roughly) closer. His son acquiesced to the examination without fidgeting or complaint as James pawed the side of his head, hoping that what he was seeing would somehow stop being apparent. He stared and stared until he ached from not blinking, but there was no denying what was right in front of his eyes:

Daniel was missing an ear.

No, he realized with mounting nausea: both ears. There was no injury, no incision, no mark where they should have been, simply smooth, blank flesh. As blank as Daniel’s quiet, unperturbed demeanor.

James swept him up in his arms and ran into the hall. He was not sure where he was going or what he meant to do when he got there, he just knew that there was now nothing more important than getting his son out of that house. But their path was cut off: A naked man sat in the hallway with his back to them. No, not a man: James recognized its stretched limbs and stooped shoulders. The pale thing squatted on its haunches, rocking back and forth like it was palsied. It almost seemed to be in pain. James hugged his son closer and backed away. Then he heard Daniel’s voice: “dad-ee.”

James turned to Daniel, and he heard the voice again:

“dad-ee.”

But Daniel’s lips hadn’t moved.

James looked back at the hunched figure. Its head jerked when it talked, like a tic:

“hello. dad-ee.”

James’ mouth went dry. It took several tries before he could speak. “Don’t call me that.”

“it is. this voice’s name. for you.”

“Go away. Leave my family alone.”

“but i am. your family.”

The longer it talked the more the voice became distorted and blurred. An icy feeling nestled in James’ stomach. “Who are you?”

“someone. who came to visit.”

“Why here?”

“you. invited me.”

James’ heart thudded against the inside of his chest. “Why?”

“i had. something you wanted.”

James licked his dry lips. “You’re lying. You don’t have anything I want. I want you to leave. Leave, and never come back.”

“who. is. daniel’s. mother?”

James blinked. “What?”

“who. is. daniel’s. mother?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?”

“how. old. is. daniel?”

James blinked again. The thing’s voice caused a pinching pain in the center of his forehead. “Stop asking me these things.”

“when. is. daniel’s. birthday?”

“…I don’t know.”

“what. is. his. middle. name?”

“Shut up.”

“what. was. his. first word?”

“I said shut up!” James wanted to tear the thing apart with his bare hands. Only the heaviness of Daniel in his arms kept him where he was.

“you were. alone. you wanted. a son. so i. made one. for you.”

James’ hands began to shake. “That doesn’t make sense. Made out of what?”

“out of. myself.”

James’ stomach turned over.

“but now. i need those parts. back.”

Daniel picked at James’ shoulder to get his attention. Something was strange about Daniel’s face. “Danny? Open your eyes.”

Daniel scrunched his eyes shut tighter.

“Open your eyes. Danny? Danny. Open your eyes. Open your eyes!”

Daniel shook his head, trying to refuse, but he couldn’t hold it forever. Eventually his eyelids flicked up and James saw the truth.

Daniel’s eyes were gone.

James almost dropped him. For a second he wanted to throw his son down so that he could stop looking into those empty holes in his face. Daniel opened his mouth, as if to speak, but of course, he had no voice.

“he is coming back. to be part of me. again.”

“No. No, no, no, give him back, give him back!”

“i. cannot. it has been. too long. i warned you. this. would happen.”

“You’re lying! You’re lying, you’re a fucking liar, give me my son back, give him back!”

“i. do not lie. i. warned you. he could not exist forever. but you. do not remember. you. can only remember. what i want you to. you forget. all the times. we have talked.”

Daniel felt like a doll, or an empty bag. His hair was falling out, disappearing before it touched the ground. His hands vanished into his sleeves and his feet rolled up inside his pants cuffs. James cradled the tiny, shapeless thing. Tears streamed down his face. Soon he held a pile of empty clothes, and then those too were gone.

He looked around the house; toys disappeared, photos vanished from their frames, Daniel’s little shoes were no longer by the door. James turned toward Daniel’s room and confronted a wall where the door should be. He groped the blank surface, fingertips scrambling. He hit his head against the wall. The pain didn’t feel real. “Why did you do this?”

“it was. what you wanted. and i learned. so much.”

“This is impossible. People will ask, people will wonder: the police, the hospitals, the people in the neighborhood!”

“they. have already. forgotten him. they only. remembered. what i wanted them to. like you.”

James pressed his hands to his aching skull. “Will I at least remember him after this?”

“you. can try. but your mind. will fail you. now that everything. he was. is part of me. again.”

James sat on the floor, looking at the blank wall. Out the corner of his eye he saw the thing creep toward him and even felt its wet hand on his shoulder, but he did not look at it.

“If I won’t remember any of this,” he said, “then why tell me?”

“because. a father. should know.”

And then James was alone.

***

Abigail worried about James sometimes.

When they met a year ago, he said that he’d never been married and he’d never had kids, but there was a certain pained expression he assumed when he said the last part. Abigail knew that look: She’d met parents who lost children before. You learned to recognize it.

And there were other things about him that worried her too. Sometimes she would find him staring at a particular spot on the wall, brow furrowed in concentration. He did not seem to realize he was doing it. And of course there was the insomnia, and the sleepwalking to consider too. Yes, there was lots to worry about. But she loved him all the same.

James still said he’d never had kids, and neither had she. She’d long wanted one, but it was impossible, and she worried that James wouldn’t stay with a woman who couldn’t be a mother (though he constantly assured her that it was not so). There were times—and more and more often of late they were the nights when James took to sleepwalking, and even Abigail imagined that she heard strange, scuttling noises in the house and saw impossible shapes in dark corners—when she thought she would do anything, absolutely anything, if it meant having a little daughter for she and James to raise.

And at those moments, she became truly afraid. But she never knew why.

The Pastel Man

By Chef Vincent VenaCava

Consider this a warning. In the event it ever comes to you during a moment of weakness, as it did me all those years ago, say no to the Pastel Man. It doesn’t matter how much you love the person that it promises to help, nothing is worth what it wants in return. I tell you this in hopes that you don’t make the same mistake I did that cold winter night, kneeling beside my father’s writhing body on the living room floor.

It was 1997 when I first encountered the creature and ever since not a day has gone by where its awful face hasn’t haunted my thoughts. I was a teenager then, but I look at that evening as the night my childhood died – corrupted and violated by a callous hell beast with pale blue skin.

Even though it happened years ago, I still remember the events of that fateful first encounter vividly. I could tell you what my father and I were wearing, the toppings on the pizza we were eating, even the score of the football game playing on the TV. It was around half time when my father’s speech started to become slurred, which I found odd since he had been nursing the same bottle of beer since kickoff. Stranger even, I had seen him drink a six-pack to himself in the past without even appearing tipsy so I was having trouble understanding how a single drink could have such an effect on him. I realized it wasn’t the alcohol when half his body went limp and he slid off the couch. I asked him if he was all right, but his words had now become incomprehensible. I grabbed the phone off the coffee table and dialed 911.

“911 what’s your emergency?”

“I think my Dad’s having a stroke.” The thought had only crossed my mind a second before the operator answered the phone.

“Ok, we have your address. An ambulance is on its way. It should be there soon. Is he conscious?”

“Yes. He is, but I can’t understand him.” Nonsensical jumbled sounds were rambling out my father’s mouth. I was afraid. He was all I had. My mother passed away when I was a baby so I never got the chance to know her, but my dad was always there for me – doing the job of two parents. If I lost him then I would be alone.

“That’s normal with strokes. It’s good that he’s awake – “ And I didn’t hear the rest because that’s when I dropped the phone.

I was having one of those moments where everything faded into the background while my world fell silent. The football game playing on the television, the operator giving me instructions over the phone, even the sound of my father’s voice as he wailed in agony on the carpet became white noise – dissolving into the air as I lost all awareness of my surroundings. All of my attention and focus was now on one thing. The horrible abomination that was standing in my kitchen watching my father and I with a twisted smile across its disgusting face.

Its head narrowly missed scraping against our kitchen’s 9ft. ceiling as it shifted from side to side, fidgeting with anticipation like a giddy child in class on the last day of school waiting for that final bell to signal summer vacation. The pastel blue skin that covered its entire body, from the creature’s head all the way down to its feet horrible grimy feet, looked weathered and wrinkled like leather that had been left out in the sun for days. Hanging off its long, lanky frame was a plain brown satchel with black stitching. It lightly caressed the strap of its pouch with a long finger while it looked on with an eager expression on its face.

At first I thought I had gone mad from the sight of seeing my father have a stroke, but the closer the monstrosity slinked towards us, the more I realized it was no hallucination. It ducked its head under the light fixture in the living room and stepped a spindly leg over the couch. Though the monstrous freak of nature was clearly bipedal, it had moved down to all fours and appeared to be stalking us like some wild animal hunting its prey. I should have been terrified, but the horrible smile on its god-awful face made me feel more anger towards the thing than fear. It was as if it was taking pleasure in my father’s misery. Closer still it crept and I grabbed my father’s hand out of desperation in some veiled attempt to protect him. The creature stopped its face mere inches from mine before shifting its attention down to my father.

“I can save him, if you’d like?” I was taken back. I had prepared for the terrible thing to take a chunk of flesh out of my neck with its teeth or slash me across the face with its black crusty nails, but speaking to me was the last thing I expected. “He’s dying, but I can save him. If you’d like?”

I sat there, mouth agape, cradling my father’s head in my arm and staring into the two pink bulbous eyes that took up more than a third of the foul thing’s face. I remember thinking that they reminded me of Easter Eggs – a bizarre connection for my mind to make given the situation. It stood back up on two feet and once again I was reminded just how imposing the creature really was. It told me its name, which I dare not repeat because it also explained that speaking it is the best way to summon the beast. For the remainder of my story I will refer to this entity as the Pastel Man – just a name I came up with due to the pigment of its skin and the light shade of pink that was the color of its eyes. That and for some reason giving the creature a silly name always helped to make me feel less afraid of it. Not much less though.

Finally, my mind had recovered enough from shock to allow me to stutter out a few words, “What do you mean you could save him?”

“What I do is make deals, young man.” Its voice was surprisingly angelic – like a thousand choirs all singing in unison. If one were to close their eyes while the creature spoke to them, they might imagine they were listening to a seraph, not the hideous monster that was sporting a depraved grin in my living room. However, its extraordinary voice only managed to make me feel more uneasy. It wasn’t right that something so beautiful would belong to such a repulsive creature. The Pastel Man gestured to its satchel. “I have the ability to save your father’s life, but you have to agree to a deal with me.”

“What kind of a deal?”

“Everything happens for a reason, even death.” Its mischievous smile widened just a bit as if the creature was getting to the punch line of a joke. “It’s true that I can save your father’s life, but someone must die in his place. One shall die, so another may live. That’s the deal.” I clutched my chest. “Not you, what would be the point? No, I’m giving you the option to choose the person who will be replacing your father this evening.”

I was stunned by what I was hearing. “Are you death?”

The Pastel Man threw its head back and let out terrible howl. It was only later that I would come to realize that was how the wretched thing laughed. “No, I’m certainly not The Grim Reaper, although you aren’t the first person to ask me that. I’m not the devil either, nor do I work for him. Let’s just say I’m an independent contractor, shall we?” Two tiny holes that lied on the center of its face in the absence of a nose flared in satisfaction of its explanation.

“I can choose anyone?”

“Well, not anyone. That wouldn’t be very fun would it?” I could see a row of shark like teeth hiding in its mouth as it separated its lips to speak. “Your father’s replacement must be someone else in your life.”

“I’m not a murderer.” My voice was tiny. It barely escaped my mouth. I looked back down to my father. He had lost consciousness and his skin was becoming pale. “And I don’t think I could kill anyone I know.”

“You don’t have to murder anyone, young man.” The sly creature was moving into its final pitch. “All you have to do is tell me who it is you want dead and I will do the rest. Surely there must be someone you wouldn’t mind out of your life? A teacher, an ex girlfriend, a rival at school perhaps?”

There was. I had fantasized about it many times, but never in my wildest dreams would I have ever acted on it. Everyone has that person in their life who is toxic. Someone who makes getting up in the morning more difficult and I was certainly no exception. “Walter Flannigan,” I muttered under my breath.

“Who?”

“Walter Flannigan. He’s the guy at school who gave me this.” I lifted my shirt and showed it the handprint shaped bruise on my chest that Walter had given me during one of his infamous “hazing sessions” in the locker room earlier that week. “He’s been shoving me into lockers, and beating me up since I was a freshman. The faculty doesn’t do anything since he’s the best football player in the history of our school. He’s a five star recruit going to a huge college next year. ESPN even did a piece on him.”

“Ahhh,” The Pastel Man began to snicker to itself. It somehow widened its already enormous pink eyes even more then crouched back down to get face to face with me again. “What fun is being a king, without serfs to torment, eh?”

“Well I’m tired of being tormented so just go and kill him before I change my mind!”

The Pastel Man shot a massive hand out and wrapped its long fingers around my face. The grin that it was wearing since I first laid eyes on it had now been replaced by a scowl. “YOU DO NOT TELL ME WHAT TO DO! ARE WE CLEAR!?” I nodded sheepishly. The grip it had on my face was so tight. I understood then and there that if it wanted to, the creature could easily snap my neck or crush my skull like an egg. “Good, because it’s not so simple, young man. There are steps that must be taken.”

“Steps?”

“Yes,” A playful smirk once again returned to the Pastel Man’s face. “You will have to be present when this Walter Flannigan dies. In fact, I need you to summon me or else I can’t complete my end of the bargain. Get the boy alone and speak my name. You must watch him die by sunrise or else you will be violating the terms of our agreement. So do we have a deal?” I nodded again and the monster released its hold of my face before snatching my hand. Its giant paws swallowed my palm as we shook to cement the deal. “Excellent. With this handshake our deal is binding, young man.”

I watched curiously as the Pastel Man reached into its satchel and fumbled around until it found what it was looking for. In between its repugnant fingers it held a strange looking insect about the size of a quarter. The bug buzzed its wings in attempt to flutter away, but could not escape the Pastel Man’s grasp. With its other hand, it pushed down on my father’s jaw in order to open his mouth.

“What are you doing?” I asked, but the Pastel Man didn’t answer. It then violently stuffed the insect in my father’s mouth jamming it down his esophagus with its filthy fingers.

The Pastel Man rose once more to its feet. “There, the deed is done. Your father will recover in full. Now it’s your turn. Remember, the boy dies by sunrise or the deal is off.”

It turned its back to me and began to slither away.

“What if I change my mind?” I asked.

The creature stopped almost mid stride and twisted around. Again its smile had been supplanted by an awful sneer. I felt even less safe then when it was holding my face in a vice grip earlier. “Your father’s health has already been restored so someone must replace him. One must die so another shall live. That was the deal. If you fail to complete your end of the bargain then that someone will be you. Believe me when I say this young man, I don’t need to be summoned once our deal has been broken. I will come for you. That is a promise. And when I do you’re going to wish you never crossed me.” With that it continued out the kitchen and through the backdoor. I chased after it, but by the time I got outside into the back yard, the thing had disappeared. It was then that I spotted the lights of the ambulance as it pulled up across the street from my house. I flagged down the EMT’s and led them to my father.

It wasn’t difficult to find Walter. I knew exactly where he was going to be, but I had completely lost track of time while waiting to hear from my father’s doctors in the ICU. I had to hurry to Eddie Gillen’s house. Eddie’s parents were out of town and he had been talking all week at school about the “Rager” he planned on throwing. There were two things I knew about Walter:

1) Eddie was his best friend

2) He never missed a party.

It was somewhere around 3:30 AM when I pulled my car up to Eddie’s. I parked a little ways down the street so I wouldn’t be spotted. Because I had gotten held up at the hospital, I feared that I had missed my chance to catch Walter. My concerns were alleviated when I saw his raised pick-up truck still parked in the driveway. Another thought crossed my mind. What if Walter had gotten too drunk and passed out. I tried to think of away to get into Eddie’s and get Walter alone long enough for the Pastel Man to do whatever it was it had planned. Luckily for me, it wasn’t too long before Walter stumbled out of Eddie’s front door and climbed into his truck. I let out a sigh, having just escaped a potentially challenging problem.

He pulled out and I followed behind, staying far enough away so that I wouldn’t tip him off. He was drunk. Even from the distance I was tailing him, I could see his truck swerving in and out of its lane. The Pastel man’s otherworldly voice played itself over and over like a heavenly broken record in my mind.

“You must watch him die by sunrise…”

I wondered if I even had the courage to summon the creature again. Seeing it once that night was traumatic enough. Could I really handle looking into its horrible face for a second time? And what about Walter? Even though he was a huge ass, he didn’t deserve to die and certainly not at the hands of that thing.

It will kill you if you don’t let it kill him. Just remember, you’re doing this for Dad.

I’m not sure if it was the little angel on my shoulder or the little devil that was whispering in my ear. I looked out my driver side window. A pink ribbon lined the horizon – the very first signs of sunlight making its presence known in the dark evening sky. In a couple hours morning would arrive, and I would be too late to complete my end of the bargain. I would see the Pastel Man again one way or another.

Walter lived up in the foothills outside of town where some of the wealthier people owned homes. I had been there once for a school project – one where I did all the work and he ended up taking the credit. We had come to a part of the road leading towards his house that cut through a wooded area. I knew there would be no houses for a stretch so I decided that was where I would make my move. I sped up until I was tailgating the truck then started flashing my brights and honking my horn. I was prepared to rear end him in order to get him to stop driving, but it didn’t even take that to get the job done. He must have been panicking. His truck started to swerve violently across the street before running off road, sideswiping a tree, and coming to a complete stop.

I pulled up behind him then hesitated for a moment. A glimpse of the creatures grin flashed through my mind causing me to shutter. I got out of my car, but left the engine running and my headlights on. “Hey Walter!” I shouted.

Walter’s door jerked open and he jumped out the truck to the ground below. “Sean The Shithead?” he was confused, but clearly annoyed. Sean The Shithead was the nickname he had affectionately given me on my second week of school. Within a month he had my entire class calling me it. “You think that was funny? I am gonna fuck you up you little bitch!”

He stormed towards me with both fists clenched. Again doubts crossed my mind about whether or not I could pull the trigger. Guilt began to pump through my veins. Walter’s life was about to end and it was going to be because of me. Memories darted through my consciousness: All the afterschool beatings I took at the hands of Walter, the Pastel Man’s wicked smile, the look on my father’s face as he kicked and screamed on the living room floor. Finally those words, spoken through that unnervingly angelic voice of that terrible monster.

One must die so another shall live

Walter was moving closer. It was now or never. I had to choose whether or not I would summon the beast before the decision was out of my hands. I shouted the Pastel Man’s real name out in a burst of emotion aimed directly at the star football player. Walter paused for a moment, looking at me in confusion then recollected himself and proceeded towards me again – The Pastel Man was nowhere to be seen. For the second time that evening I wondered if I had gone insane. Could everything that had happened to me that night been in my head? What was real? Was my father even sick? Again I repeated the thing’s name in an effort to summon it, but this time it did nothing to hinder Walter’s pursuit of me.

He violently shoved me against the hood of my car, grabbed hold of my shirt collar and spun me around. Walter raised his fist to hit me. I winced and put my hands up in order to prepare for impact, but he never struck me. It only when I opened my eyes that I realized I wasn’t crazy. Walter’s face was white. His mouth hung open just as mine had when I first caught sight of the Pastel Man earlier that evening. I turned my head to see that unmistakable, long, lanky body slink out of the shadows and in front of my car’s headlights. Its face still wore that warped smile and I knew just beyond those thin lips was a mouth full of tiny daggers capable of tearing muscle from bone. Neither Walter nor I said a word. I think I might have been almost as terrified as him. My stomach began to feel sick as the Pastel Man stalked ever closer. I didn’t look at Walter’s face. How could I? The boy was about to die at the hands of this horrible monster and it was my fault. I didn’t have to summon it. I didn’t have to shake its hand.

“I’m sorry.” I truly was and I still am.

I hadn’t taken my eyes off the Pastel Man, but I think it had more to do with not being able to look Walter in the face than fear for my life. Walter said nothing. My car’s headlights fell on the creature’s face and now we could both see it clearly. The Pastel Man’s large pink eyes seemed to glow bright in the light of the headlamps.

Walter let go of me and made a break for his truck, but the hell beast pounced on him with a surprising amount of speed and agility that I had not yet seen it demonstrate. His screams were met with only apathy from the creature as it dug those filthy black fingernails into Walter’s abdomen. I tried to look away, but the Pastel Man made sure I remembered our agreement.

“YOU MUST WATCH, YOUNG MAN! DON’T FORGET WE HAD A DEAL!”

I forced myself to look back at the massacre. The creature’s smile had mutated from mischievous to depraved. It looked as if it was deriving some sort of sick sexual pleasure out of the torture it was putting Walter through. Deeper still, it burrowed its long bony fingers into Walter’s stomach. With a jerk the heinous thing yanked out a hand full of his intestines and dragged them across the ground as it approached me, flaring those holes on its face that filled in for a nose and clearly pleased with its handiwork.

“It’s over then?” I’m not sure if I was asking or begging the creature as the two of us faced each other in the empty street that night.

The Pastel Man threw his head back and once again let out that revolting howl. “Over? We’re just getting started.” It headed back over towards Walter, who at this point was crawling along the ground still trying to get to his truck while his innards trailed behind him. The Pastel Man cut him off and snatched him off the asphalt, easily lifting him by the head with one hand. It toyed with him for a bit, forcing Walter to look into its hideous face. With its free hand the creature reached into its satchel and pulled out a much bigger insect this time. It was different than the one my father had unknowingly ingested, both in size and in appearance. If the bug that the creature jammed down my father’s mouth was the size of a quarter then this one must have been as large as a golf ball. It was slimy – the mucous like membrane that encased its body glistened in my cars headlights. The Pastel Man dangled the nasty bug in front of Walter’s face for a few seconds.

“Now be a good boy and open your mouth.”

Walter screamed. That gave the blue beast the opening it needed. It thrust the slimy insect in his mouth and past his tonsils with its filthy fingers. I watched on as Walter gagged, presumably on the oversized maggot as it made its way down his throat. Soon he began to turn blue. I could tell he was choking to death and even though I wanted to save him, there was nothing I could do. A minute later and the Pastel Man dropped his lifeless body to the ground.

It examined the carnage for a moment, pondering over it as if it was a masterpiece in an art gallery. Then the demon turned away, retreating back towards the shadows and disappeared into the night without saying word. I stood there in the road, looking at the scene and still feeling sick to my stomach from what I just witnessed. I don’t know what I expected, to happen after the deed was done. There was no explosion, no brilliant light show where I would watch Walter’s soul either dragged down to hell or ascend upwards towards the heavens – just a dead boy in the road. A dead boy and his murderer. The Pastel Man was the gun, but I pulled the trigger. In a way there were two dead boys in the road that evening.

I knew that I didn’t have time to dawdle. At any moment a car could have come driving down the street and find me standing in the middle of that massacre. I sprinted back to my car and sped down the street towards town.

The coroner attributed Walter’s death to a drinking and driving accident, although there was understandably a lot of suspicion regarding the odd circumstances surrounding his demise. The autopsy revealed no evidence of the slimy bug that the Pastel Man had placed in Walter’s throat. The town was devastated. I remember a candle light vigil was held in his honor. A couple of big news outlets covered his death because of Walter’s status as an elite college football recruit. My father made a full recovery and just a couple of days after his stroke was released from the hospital. I would go on to graduate high school and meet the love of my life the very first semester at my university. Her name was Diana and she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. We married shortly after college, settled down and had a wonderful boy named Mathew. However, I never forgot the hand I played in Walter’s death. I have carried that guilt with me since the events of that night. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t forget. The Pastel Man wouldn’t let me.

It must have seen me as an easy patsy because the creature has come to me again and again every time a loved one has been on the brink of death, offering me the same deal I accepted that first shameful night. Though the creature had been persistent in its pursuit of blood lust, the image of Walter’s gruesome death never left my mind and gave me the strength to say no to its propositions. Even years later, on the eve of my father’s passing, I was able to refuse it’s proposal when the Pastel Man visited me in his hospital room.

I’ve been cursed to have my soul tested till the day that I die by the Pastel Man. A test that for years I was able to persevere through, until one evening where my life began crumbling down and once more the creature took advantage of me in a moment of weakness.

Diana and Mathew were on their way back from the airport after visiting my in-laws. I was swamped at work and had to pull an all-nighter in order to finish a project by its deadline so my wife hailed a taxi rather than ask me to pick them up.

It was around midnight and I was alone in the office when I got a call from the police department. They told me a drunk driver had collided with their cab on the highway coming back from the airport. My wife and the cabbie were killed on impact and my son was in critical condition. I sat there at my desk, unable to move or formulate a coherent thought. It was then that I realized I wasn’t by myself in the office anymore. Perched atop my boss’ desk was The Pastel Man, that abhorrent smile still painted across its nasty wrinkled face. It didn’t need to make an offer. This I believe the creature already knew.

“Can you save them?” I asked.

“Yes and no.”

“What do you mean!? Just spit it out!”

The Pastel man’s smirk disappeared and I could tell that it was not pleased with my tone of voice. Memories of the vice grip it had on my face the last time I demanded something from the creature bled into my consciousness. Perhaps it realized I was past the point of threats because instead of lunging at me as the creature had done in the past, it decided to clarify its cryptic response. “I cannot pull someone back from death’s clutches, only save them before it gets its hold of them. Your wife is dead. Now make your peace with that. Your son’s life on the other hand can be salvaged. For a price of course.”

I racked my mind. I couldn’t think of a single person in my life who deserved to die at the hands of that pale blue monstrosity. Even someone as awful as Walter didn’t deserve the gruesome fate he received that night due to my poor decision. But my son was all I had now, and he didn’t deserve to die either. Not because someone else had made a poor decision that evening and got behind the wheel of a car they were too intoxicated to drive.

The Pastel Man’s glorious voice filled the room again. I seemed to be hearing it from all directions. “The drunk driver that crashed into your family’s cab is still alive and in the very same hospital as your son. Why not him?”

For the first time that evening I looked into the large pink eyes of the creature. “You said it has to be someone I know?”

“Semantics. It just needs to be someone who has directly impacted your life. The moment he drove his car into your wife and son’s taxi he became a candidate.” The Pastel Man flared the tiny holes on its face with glee the way it always did when it was content with itself.

“Fine. Let’s do it,” I said. I shook its giant hand to make the arrangement official. And with that the Pastel Man gave me the instructions to complete our deal.

When I met with the doctors at the hospital they updated me on the condition of my son. “We’ve done all that we can, but he’s a fighter,” The doctors feigned optimism, but I could see in their eyes that they didn’t expect him to make it through the night.

They led me to his room and gave me some time alone with him. The Pastel Man was already there when I entered, smiling down on his broken body. Quickly I shut the door behind me and nodded to the creature. It reached a gangly arm into its satchel and pulled out the same type of strange-looking insect it had shoved down my father’s throat. I opened Mathew’s mouth and with two grubby fingers the creature crammed the bug deep into his oral cavity.

“He will make a full recovery. Now it’s your turn.” The Pastel Man waltzed behind the hospital curtain in my son’s room. I knew I didn’t have to check to see if it had disappeared. If it were to make another appearance at the hospital that evening, then it would be because I spoke its name.

When I agreed to the bargain at my office The Pastel Man had told me what room the driver was being kept in. His injuries were far less severe than Mathew’s so he was in a different wing of the facility. I could feel my heart pounding as I made my way towards his room. With each step the beating in my chest grew louder. Already that same feeling of guilt I had felt while I looked down at Walter’s corpse lying in the middle of the road washed over me. I was about to take another person’s life. Who was I to decide whether someone deserved to live or die? I felt just as ugly and horrible as the Pastel Man looked. Maybe I didn’t have pointed teeth or wrinkly blue skin, but if I knew that if I went through with our deal, then I was just as big of a monster as it was.

I stepped as stealthily as possible through the door, hoping no one would notice me sneak in. As I looked down at the face of the driver lying unconscious in his bed, I instantly felt that familiar sickness in my stomach. He was a boy, no older than Walter the night The Pastel Man and myself unfairly snuffed out his life before it truly had a chance to shine. Walter could have become someone different when he matured, someone capable of doing real good in this world, but he was never given the opportunity. This driver was just a stupid teenager who made a mistake, one that he’d never get the chance to atone for. I saw Walter in the boy’s face and my stomach began to churn more. I tried to call out the Pastel Man’s name, but couldn’t. Perhaps that little angel on my shoulder wouldn’t allow me. I would not be responsible for the death of another boy. Not this time. I refused to pull that trigger.

I walked out of his room and didn’t look back. I spent the rest of the evening sitting next to my son’s bed. The first few rays of morning sunlight snuck into Mathew’s hospital room and caught my attention. I peeked out through the blinds and watched the sun rise for the first time since the night Walter died. It was beautiful. The pink ribbon that lined the horizon had bled into the sky creating a dazzling purple hue. I had my light show, and it was spectacular.

I broke my deal with the Pastel Man and in doing so my fate now rests in its filthy hands. Hands that it likely plans on burying into my abdomen. On the plus side, my son will recover in full. It will be hard for him growing up without his parents, but he’s always been close with his Aunt. My wife’s sister is a wonderful woman with a caring family. She’s his legal godmother and promised us the day he was born that she would always be there for him. Her husband does well for himself and they’ve never had a problem with money. The life insurance policy Diana and I took out combined with the money we had been putting away for Mathew to go to college will insure that there should be no financial issues while he’s under their care.

It’s only a matter of time before the Pastel Man comes for me. I have accepted that my death is near, but I’m not scared. In a way I look forward to it. It’s almost as if the boy that died within me on that terrible night has been given another chance. When I die all the guilt and hate that I’ve had for myself dies with me – wiped away so that my soul can cross over to a new plane of existence pure and innocent. The way it was before I ever met that monster.

One must die so another shall live.

That’s what the Pastel Man said.

There is a Man Behind You

By Chef SmileyJack

My name is Robert Krandall, and I play a marginal part in the following story. I am attempting to post on this site for scary stories on behalf of the author, my friend Jonathan Tally. Jon is currently serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. I hope that seeing this published in a public forum will help ease his mind. His mental state has deteriorated considerably, as you’ll see. I am not a superstitious person, so I have no trouble seeing it as the hallucinations of a mentally disturbed individual. If you are superstitious, I recommend not reading it.

So here it is, reproduced, word for word, from Jon’s letters he wrote while in solitary confinement. He has pleaded repeatedly, almost desperately, to post it on some internet site where it will be read. As of last week, he has been threatening to kill himself if he is not able to see it published on the web. For the record, I did NOT do what Jon accuses me of at the beginning of the story. To Jon: you will see this soon, and I hope it brings you some measure of relief.

**********

I should tell you now, dear reader, I’m writing this story from prison. Solitary confinement. I have been in solitary confinement for a few days now, and it is for the best. I only hope that this reaches as many people as possible. These are the events that happened to me leading up to the murder and my incarceration. Whether you believe me or not is your business, but it is the truth.

This is New York City. I’m getting back home late at night after a fine evening of friends and drinking. It starts to rain really heavily, but luckily I’ve just made it to the subway station. So I go down into the subway. I get into the car, it’s empty. One stop later, one person gets on and sits in the middle of the car, on my side. A young guy, early twenties. He is sitting with strangely straight posture, staring at nothing. Head slightly tilted. A kind of wild look in his hair and eyes, like he hasn’t slept in a long time. I put my earbuds in to listen to music on my phone. Led Zeppelin, nice!

Two or three stops later, I happen to glance up and notice strangely that the distance between this guy and myself seems to have lessened. He’s still sitting the same way, back completely straight, head tilted, eyes wide and staring at nothing. This is weird, but maybe I misjudged the distance before. I turn back to my phone. One stop later I look up and he is three seats away from me. Ok, now it’s getting creepy, and I know this guy was getting closer to me for some reason.

“What the hell?” I say. “Look dude, there’s plenty of seats on the train, I don’t want any trouble.” He turns to look at me briefly, there’s a wildness in his eyes, but he turns back, facing forward. I’m watching this guy closely now. Suddenly, I notice that his clothes are completely dry. He got on three stops after me, after it had started raining, and yet he had no umbrella and was completely dry. I could only conclude that he had not come from above — he had been down in the subway tunnels the whole time. At first I’m thinking he may be homeless, but his jacket looks too new, and he isn’t dirty. Oh well, it’s New York. Sometimes there are weirdos on the train. He is kind of thin and pale, and I’m confident I could take him in a fight, but man I don’t want this shit tonight, and I’m still a little dizzy from the booze.

Suddenly I hear a loud gasp, the guy turns, and stares at me with a horrified look on his face. “What?” I shout. Part of me is getting pissed off at this asshole, yet I feel a shiver down my spine. His face is locked in a tableau of fear, like the exact instant when something terrifying surprises you. This guy is not acting, he’s afraid. Seconds go by, feeling like hours. The guy’s face is still completely frozen in fear, and by now I’m sure he has some kind of mental issue. And then he whispers something hurriedly.

“This embind do.”

“What?” I say again.

“This embind do, this embind do, this embind you.”

His whispering is fast and insistent, but I still can’t make out what he’s saying. “Speak slower.”

He gets slightly closer and leans in, still looking afraid. “This embind you, this men bind you, this a man bind you.”

“Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you!” I’m shouting now.

He grabs me by the shoulders, and my body shakes from an adrenaline rush.

“There is a man behind you.” The guy whispers in my ear and let’s go, leaning back. His face is still wild, but now it’s different. Like he’s no longer scared for himself, he’s scared for me.

I can’t help it. The incident is so weird, so creepy. I turn and look over my shoulder. Of course, there is nothing there.

And then I turn back, seeing nothing. The guy is gone! Completely! There is no one in the subway car but me, I am utterly alone. Somehow in the time I looked back, the guy must have run into the next car. I hurry over and look, but all I see are two elderly ladies who give me a weird look. Shivering, I sit down and think.

Now, dear reader, I am a logical man. I’m not religious, I really need to see something to believe it. I don’t believe in the supernatural, in fact I’m sure most “supernatural” incidents have perfectly logical explanations based in reality, even if they have not yet been discovered. The problem is that people want to believe, and so they do. There is only one logical explanation for this vanishing wild-eyed person — someone spiked my drink. It was a hallucination, had to be. As soon as I get out of the subway and above ground, I call my friend Rob on the phone. He was at the bar with me, and he’s been known to be a joker. I wouldn’t have put it past him to slip me something.

“Dude, Rob, what the fuck?” I said as he answered. Rob pretends like he had no idea what was going on. “You give me some acid shit? I was fuckin hallucinating all the way back home!”

“Jon, man, I really have no idea what you’re talking about. I swear.”

Finally I consider the possibility that he’s telling the truth. There were other people at the bar tonight. “Fine, man, but if I find out you’re fucking with me, I’m gonna kill you.” And I hung up. I called everyone I knew who had been at the bar that evening. Finally, I call Dave. Of course, same old, deny deny.

“Are you sure? Dude, I trust you, but I don’t trust everyone else. What about what’s-her-name? Jessie’s girlfriend, she was there by herself, which was weird. Maybe they just broke up and she was looking to date rape some guy like me by slipping lsd into their drink.”

No luck. No one poisoned my drink, and there was no reason to suspect anyone did. Yet what explanation was there for a disappearing crazy guy?

For the next few days I didn’t think anything of it. Life slowly got back to normal. I didn’t really think of the creepy incident on the train. I hung out with friends, went to work, drank at some bars. I even was able to take the subway without remembering what happened just a few days prior.

And then the weird stuff started happening. Just a light brush against my body here, a soft whisper there, an occasional breath. It felt like there was someone behind me. But whenever I turned to look, there was no one. Each time it happened, I was reminded of the subway man’s declaration: “There is a man behind you.”

A few days later I’m walking home after buying some cigarettes. I not only feel a breath, but hear it, directly behind me, like someone’s face is only a few inches away from my neck. My arms jerk backward, expecting to push away some horrible creeper, but I find only thin air, and I whirl around to face an empty street. Terrified, I run straight home and get right to bed, too scared to think about showering or brushing my teeth. Thankfully the feeling is gone. I’m lying face up, and the mattress feels soft and safe against my back. I don’t dare turn on my side or back for fear that the man will come back, hovering over me like some ghastly, evil apparition you always see in horror movies.

For a few weeks after nothing happened, and I started to feel better. Annoyingly, I became the butt of some jokes, people thinking I’m doing acid again. I keep telling people, I don’t do that shit anymore. I took the stuff years and years ago, but only a couple times. And there’s no way it’s a fucking flashback, people ask me that so many times and it pisses me off. No one came forward saying they drugged my drink, so I assume it was some desperate lonely girl in the bar, hoping I’d become woozy and she’d be able to swoop in and “save” me. Bitch.

But then, I began getting this weird feeling that someone was watching me. Behind me, just staring at me. A man behind me. I would be walking down the street and swear that the man was following me, only to turn back and see nothing. The worst of these incidents was in a restaurant, with my date, Julie. Immediately after sitting down, I get that feeling again. I sense him sitting at the table behind me and feel his eyes burning holes in the back of my head. The man is here, in the restaurant, watching me with that cold, obsessive stare. That terrifying expression, half a grin, half a growl. He has bloodshot eyes, wide open and staring, and crazy, untamed white hair. He is wearing a disheveled vintage wool coat. Don’t ask me now I know this, for some reason I just do. Julie starts complaining about how I keep turning backward, and she “wonders aloud” why she isn’t entertaining enough to keep my attention. Finally, I whisper to her, “There is someone watching me. Some man, behind me that is staring at me. Do you see him?” And she frowns at me, and looks over my shoulder behind me. Looks directly into what I am sure is the man’s face, that horrible face. I nearly expect her to scream out in terror. Instead: “I don’t see anything.” She looks at me strangely. She thinks I’m crazy, and maybe I am, but I know the man is there. After this night, Julie never called me or sent me another message. Bitch.

Up to this point I had thankfully never encountered the man inside my apartment. It had always been on the street or in some public place. I began to avoid leaving my apartment, and this gave me some small measure of respite. I took off from work and went for days without leaving my apartment, and those blissful days I never felt the man’s presence. I began telling everyone that I was sick as an excuse to stay in the apartment. If people asked to stop by, I obliged but pretended I had a cough and runny nose.

Dear reader, everyone has a weakness. Some trait that becomes his or her undoing, the one thing that friends and foes alike know and can use to their advantage. For me, this weakness is beautiful women. Hot chicks. I am smitten, always. I’m not terribly ugly, I have good hygiene and a decent paying job, and I try not to be an asshole, so I’ve done relatively well in the dating game. But I am currently single, and most of my friends know this. So my friend Jimmy sends me a text and a picture (asshole, I won’t forgive you for this). The text reads:

“Dude, this hot girl wants to meet you.”

The picture, sure enough, is a smoking hot Italian chick, college age, my absolute fave. I text back: “She wants to meet me or she wants to fuck me? :)”

“Keep it in your pants, dude. She said ‘meet’. But maybe more, I dunno? I sent her your picture and she seemed really into you.”

“Ok, sounds good. Where should I meet her?”

“Come to my party! You’re both invited! 7pm tonight my place. 😛

As it turns out, there is no fucking girl. Jimmy took the pic from some dating site and baited me into coming to his lame-ass house party in Queens. He tells me everyone has been asking why I’ve been so anti-social lately, but I’m too pissed off to care. I just want to go home. And as I turn to leave, that’s when I feel it. It hits me like a brick, oh so familiar and yet still so terrifying. The man is here. The man is behind me, somewhere, staring.

I turn, and I SEE him! Or, rather, I half saw him for an instant before someone passed in front of him. By the time the person moved, he was gone. But I swear I saw him, and I knew him instantly, even though I had never actually seen him before. Crazed, wild white hair, a head that was slightly too large and bloodshot red eyes, wide and insane. And his grin. An expression that could either be a grin or a growl, impossible to tell. He was of average height. Probably as tall as me.

Jimmy has been insisting for several minutes that I tell him about my problems, completely oblivious to the horror on my face. Finally, I say to him, “Fine, Jimmy, the reason is … I’ve been avoiding someone. And … and he’s here, at your party.”

Jimmy gives me a weird look and starts looking around, confused. “Dude, you know everyone here. WHo are you talking about?”

“A man. A crazy, white-haired man that just stares at me with this horrible grin on his face, I think he’s stalking me.”

Jimmy laughs. “Is it, like, some gay guy or something?”

This pisses me off. “No, Jimmy, it’s not some gay guy. I wouldn’t care if it were some gay guy. In fact, I’d love it if it were just some gay guy. No, this guy is like some psycho serial killer, man. He just looks at me like he’s hunting me, like he knows I can’t get away and all I have to do is leave the house and he’ll find me.”

“Ok,” Jimmy says, humoring me. “Let’s go find this psycho killer and at the very least kick him the fuck out of my party. He leads the way, room by room, noting every person we pass. I don’t feel the man anywhere, but I’m sure he is in the house somewhere. All of a sudden, I get the same overwhelming sense of dread. He’s behind me, I’m sure of it. I turn around, and I see a closed door.

“Dude, what’s in there?” I whisper, pointing at the door.

“That’s a fucking closet, Jon,” Jimmy answers.

“He’s in there, I’m sure of it.”

I look at Jimmy, and I can tell he knows I’m not messing with him. I’m genuinely terrified, and it’s making him really uneasy. He asks the people in the room if they saw anybody go in the closet, and everyone answers either no or they weren’t paying attention. Jimmy slowly creeps up to the door. As he gets closer, the rest of the party around me seems to fall away, as if there is nothing but me and Jimmy and the door. And the man. Jimmy gets within five steps, and I can’t help it. I freak out, I know that the man is behind the door and that he’s coming for me. He seems almost gleeful, like he’s been toying with me this whole time, but now he’s ready to come for me. For real.

I turn, and I run as fast as I can out of the house. I vaguely hear Jimmy screaming at me that there’s no one there, that the closet is empty, but it doesn’t matter. I know the man is there, and I know he’s coming for me. My lungs are nearly bursting as I reach the subway entrance. I hop over the entrance rail and just barely make it onto the train as the doors close a second behind me. I turn back, exhausted. The man has stopped. He’s above the steps, at the subway entrance, standing just out of sight. But he knows, and, more importantly, I know, I’ve escaped. For now, at least. I sigh, letting the fear drain from my body.

There was only one person on the train with me. A big burly guy, dark brown beard, mid 30s, probably had been to the gym every day since he was 15. Just on a whim, I went up next to him and said, “Dude, there’s a man behind you.”

He looked at me and his face scrunched up. For a second I felt like I was going to get punched, then he bellowed, “Fuck off, you crazy bastard.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Yeah, it sounded so stupid. I threw my hands up defensively. “Sorry, man, I’m just drunk. Don’t beat me up.” I didn’t have a drop of liquor in me. Hadn’t had a single drink since that other night on the train with the other guy the night this whole fucking nightmare started.

When I get out of the train, a gust of cold wind blows past me as the door to the train closes. My brain screams in terror. The man is here. Somehow, he is here, and we both know that now I’m alone. I bolt up the stairs and into the night. I don’t dare look behind me for fear of what I see, but I know what’s happening. The man has given me a slight head start, but he is now running, sprinting down the street at an unnaturally fast pace. He is going to catch me, I can feel it!

I have my keys in hand as I make it to my apartment building and jam the key into the lock. I sneak a glance back. The street is dark, but I can see the hazy outline of his shape as he runs toward me. His white hair flapping up and down with each step. I finally get the door open, hurry in, and slam the door behind me. Relief washes over me so quickly that I almost black out. My heart is pumping a mile and a minute, and I’m gasping like a madman, but I can’t help but laugh. I feel safe. Looking out the window, I see him. Or, I don’t see him, but I know he is there. He is standing in the darkness, just slightly beyond the range of the nearest street lamp. If I focus hard, I can barely see the outline of his white hair.

After this incident I stopped pretending to be sick. I didn’t go out, and when people asked why, I gave them no reason. I took some phone calls, but I did not let people into my apartment, even if they visited and knocked on my door. Other people came and went, so I couldn’t prevent the man from getting into the building, but I sure as hell wasn’t about to let him into my apartment. If my friends insisted that I open up, I just got angry with them until they left.

Slowly but surely, the inevitable happened. I made it through everything in my fridge. Then all the canned goods I had stocked up. Then everything in the freezer. The last day before my hell really started, I had nothing but a bottle of whiskey. Whiskey is made from grain, right? It’s like eating a loaf of bread. I downed half of it. Didn’t help. I was still hungry as all hell.

I can’t help it, I cave. I order take out. After about half an hour, the Chinese delivery guy arrives, and I press the button to let him in the door. In less than a minute, I hear his footsteps. My stomach is grumbling in anticipation of getting some real, actual food. As my doorbell rings, I stare out through the peephole.

It’s an Asian kid. Either late high school or early college age. As I open the door, he gets a look at me, and gives a start. Suddenly I become self-conscious. I probably look like a mess, I haven’t really been taking care of myself. “Ten dollars and thirty cents,” he says.

I get a ten and five dollar bill and thrust it into his hand, and snatch my food. “Thanks, I don’t need change,” I say, eager to just close the door.

“Thanks, mister!” the kid says, smiling, and I smile back briefly and start to close the door. But then, just before it closes completely, I notice it. His smile. His grin. His growl. The man, he’s the man! I stare out the peephole, and my breath catches in my throat. There is no one there. I look down. I stare at my open hands. There is no food. Suddenly, my apartment is chilly.

The man is not here, but something still feels terribly wrong. Like some protective barrier has been broken, and I’m now at the mercy of the man. Like the lighting has changed. The sunset colors outside my window seem more pale and foreboding than usual. Cold and hungry, I lock both the locks on my front door and hurry into my bedroom. Under my covers, I sigh as a feeling of safety returns. I try to reassure myself. Even if the young delivery guy was the horrible man, he is still outside.

My sleep that evening is dreamless, but I still wake up with a start, drenched in cold sweat. It is now completely dark outside. I look at my clock, it’s 4:17 AM. And my bladder is completely full, like a tight water balloon that could burst at any moment. When I can’t stand it any longer, I leap out of the covers and hurry into the bathroom. I start peeing, and it is the most glorious pee I’ve ever had in my life. I stand there for nearly a minute even after I finish, sighing with relief. Finally I wash my hands, deciding I’m just going to go back to bed, screw the fact that I haven’t eaten anything today. I’m feeling slightly nauseous, and I realize it’s because I’m hungover from the whiskey. As I leave the bathroom, I notice that there is a weird light in my apartment, and that’s when I see — MY FRONT DOOR IS FUCKING WIDE OPEN. With a strangled yell I rush over and slam it shut with a ferocity that surprises even me. It’s no use. He’s here. The man is here, he is behind me. I turn on the light, but the man is … nowhere. He is behind me. No matter where I turn. He is always behind me!

Finally I catch my reflection in a mirror. I stare at myself. I can see the wild terror in my eyes, and my heaving chest as my breath rushes in and out. But I see behind me, and he is not there. Not there. For a moment my mind can’t resolve this conflict. I flip flop between this overwhelming mental sensation that the man is behind me, and the visual proof from the mirror that he is not. First the mirror is truth, then a lie. Then truth, then a lie.

This conflict is strangely comforting. I go right up to the mirror and look past my reflection into the room behind me. He’s not anywhere in the room, and yet, I know in my mind that he is there. That the man exists. If I can just make it to my bed, I know I’ll be safe. I dash away from the mirror into my bedroom and crawl under the covers. The relief I feel is short-lived. Even lying on my back, I know he is there. HE IS BURIED, UNDER THE MATTRESS, JUST UNDERNEATH ME, AND I FEEL HIS ARMS COILING AROUND MY RIB CAGE. Even though my head is against the pillow, I can feel his breath against the back of my neck.

I scream and jump out of my bed and into the corner of my room. The man stays buried in my mattress. Suddenly he sits up, staring at me with those same intense, angry eyes, and his mouth locked in a grinning growl. I can’t look up, I’m too scared, but I know what he looks like and what he is doing. He cocks his head slightly, and whispers:

“No escape.”

Dear reader, you may have felt fear before, but you don’t know fear the way I knew it in that instant. To have the man staring at you, and you knowing you can’t escape. Frozen in fear. I sat like that, literally, feeling like that for hours, but it might as well have been days. The man never moved, never said anything else, just sat there, half buried in my bed, head cocked, and bloodshot, angry eyes staring at me. There I sat, in the corner, my head down, completely paralyzed, cold sweat dripping from my forehead.

The sun came up. Something was weird about him, though. Like the light was different for him than it was for everything else in the room. As if the sunlight was not reflecting off him properly. Feeling overwhelming fear for so long, other thoughts finally started to creep through into my mind.

He is feeding off of my fear. Yet, he hasn’t really done anything. He has looked at me creepily, he has chased me down, but he hasn’t actually done anything physically to me. Somehow I find the courage to stand up and rush out of the room. As I do, I feel him behind me. Every step I take, he takes one too, in perfect lock step, always close enough that he could wrap his arms around me if he wanted.

I figure if I can just get my mind off him. Maybe if I can just ease this feeling that he is behind me. My phone is nearly dead, but not quite. Grabbing ear buds, I thrust them in my ears and turn the sound up as high as it can go. And I play a song. Anything, anything just to take my mind off the man behind me. Nothin’ But a Good Time by Poison starts blaring in my ear drums. By the time the lyrics start, it’s starting to take the edge off my fear.

Now listen
Not a dime, I can’t pay my rent
I can barely make it through the week.

By the time the chorus starts, I’m thinking this might work. I might actually just be able to take my mind off my fear. I start to become delusional, that I might be able to break the man’s hold on me with the power of rock and roll!

Don’t need nothin’ but a good time
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time
And it don’t get better than this.

And right as that line ends, my arm twists violently behind me, and I feel his clammy, dead hands on my wrist, and cold breath on my neck. “You think you can shut me out?!” comes a cold, reptilian voice. I scream as I feel the skin on my back splitting open. I whirl around, seeing a bloodied butcher knife on the table. To this day, dear reader, I try to argue that the slash on my back could not possibly be self-inflicted due to its angle. But physicians noted that my arm was twisted as well, allowing for the possibly that I slashed my own back myself. They don’t believe me, dear reader, that the arm twist and slash on my back were both inflicted by the man.

Still feeling the man directly behind me, I grab the bloody knife and whirl around, expecting the knife to cut into the man’s face. Instead I find air. Of course. Still holding the knife, I dash out of my apartment, not bothering to lock the door. I fly down the stairs and out the building. The man is right on my tail. I run out into the street, but he is right behind me. Every time I turn, he rotates with me, like some horrifying cartoon character that you can’t shake. I turn around fast, but he is faster, and still behind. I turn again, but he is still behind me. I turn one more time and stab downward – one of these times, I will catch him … and my knife sinks six or seven inches into an elderly lady’s eyeball.

So that is the story. I committed manslaughter. To this day, that is the part I regret the most. I regret that my fear of this man, whether or not he is a hallucination, caused the unintended death of another person. I am sorry beyond what any words can express …

DO NOT LOOK NOW, DO NOT MOVE

… and I would like to once again convey my condolences to Mrs. Carpenter’s husband, and her son, and her son’s family. She did not deserve this, and if I could go back in time …

THERE IS A MAN BEHIND YOU, RIGHT NOW

… I would turn the knife on myself instead of her. If it had been my death there instead of hers, it would have been better for all parties.

Now, dear reader, here I make an apology. Did you look? Or even if you didn’t, did you want to? Any slight doubt, any pang of anxiety? If so, then, like the young guy at the beginning of the story, I have probably disappeared from my cell. I am sorry for what you will go through, but please believe me when I say I just desperately need relief from the man behind me, even if it means passing him on to a stranger such as yourself. Remember that it starts with a brush here, and a whisper there. A slight sound, a footstep, passing breath. A rustling you can’t explain, a sudden prickle on your back. My only advice: DO NOT IGNORE HIM, IT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE. Good luck!