They’re going to come back. And when they do, I don’t know what will happen.
I just know it will be bad.
It all started a few months ago.
You ever heard of The Black Eyed Kids? I hadn’t. I was at work, passing time by reading crap on the internet, and I came across this story by some American journalist. It was all about how he’d been at the cinema and was sitting in his car in the car park when he was approached by a couple of kids who knocked on the window and asked to use his phone. He said that he immediately felt this kind of primal terror running through his veins, and told them no. It was a couple of minutes into their interaction before he noticed their eyes. They were completely black. Like a void. Anyway, long story short, he broke eye contact and drove off into the night.
Now, I was reading this whilst alone at work. It was November, dark outside already even though it was still before 5. The only door to the place was at the other end to where I was sitting behind the counter. I finished reading the story, and glanced up as a gust of wind rattled a display unit near the door.
She was just stood there, looking at me with a smile on her face.
I couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. My eyes were fixed on this small girl, no more than 8 years old, stood in the only exit to the shop, her hands tightly holding the handle bar of a dolls pram. I willed myself not to look at her eyes because I knew what I would see. Just like in the story I’d just read, I felt that coil of raw terror wind itself around me.
“Can I come in? I need to call my mummy.”
Unable to speak, I mutely shook my head.
“Please, it’s getting dark and she’ll be worried. I won’t take long.”
I shook again.
“Oh come on! Just say I can come in and use the phone!”
Her voice had changed now, it was more demanding, with an undercurrent of something.
Something I didn’t want to think about.
“No!” Terror forced the word through my trembling lips. I was staring at her pram, and it was taking every shred of willpower I had to not look up. Just when I thought I was about to pass out with sheer fear, she let out a childish giggle and stepped away from the door.
It was a good half hour before my heart rate had settled down to anything even remotely resembling normal, and I crept to the door to make sure she’d gone. To my absolute relief, all I could see was other shops starting to close, and last minute shoppers hurrying home.
I should have left it at that, and it might have all been OK. But I didn’t.
There’s this theory about how if you open yourself up to an idea or a desire or something, that you start to attract it subconsciously. I could have gone home that evening and forgotten about it. Instead, I stayed up all night researching as much as I could about these creepy little bastards. I read everything I could find about them. In other words, I opened myself up to them completely and utterly. You’re kind of doing the same thing now, reading this.
And they came.
A week or so later, I had a friend over for dinner. We had a few drinks, watched a movie, and he left around 11pm. I made a hot chocolate and curled up on the sofa to read a while before heading to bed. After about 10 minutes there was a knock at the door. I smiled, thinking it was Mike come back. He had a habit of leaving stuff behind. A phone. A charger. His keys. I was halfway up off the sofa when that feeling hit me - the same toe-curling horror I’d felt that day at work. One thought screamed through my head - I hadn’t locked the door when Mike left.
I raced down the hallway, fighting every instinct to run as far away from the door as I could, and twisted the key fast, at the exact same moment as whatever was on the other side started rattling the handle. Muffling a scream, I clamped a hand over my mouth and sunk back against the wall.
“Can I come in? Can I use your phone? Say I can come in!” came the cry, pleading, cajoling, from outside.
“No!” My voice had no strength, no conviction.
“Oh please! Say I can come in! I just need to use your phone!”
“Come on, Mister! Just say I can come in! It won’t take long.” The last part was said with pure, unmistakable malice. I knew in that moment that if I opened the door, something very, very bad would happen.
“Go away! I mean it! I’m phoning the police!” I shouted back, panicked.
“Awww, come on! Just say I can come in!” back to pleading.
I screwed my eyes shut tight, praying that it would leave me alone. Instead, it knocked again, louder, more insistent this time.
“Let. Me. In.”
Realising that calling the police might actually be a good idea, I opened my eyes ready to go grab my phone.
My hand was on the door key, about to turn it.
Screaming, I ripped my hand away and ran back to the lounge, to retrieve my phone. I could hear the thing’s laughter fading as I ran. I didn’t sleep that night.
The very next day the worst encounter yet happened.
I’d finished work and had headed over to the car park in the shopping centre opposite. Unlocking the drivers side, I slid, exhausted, into the seat and started the engine. I wanted to let it tick over a little as it was so cold, so I flicked on the heater and let the engine idle. My eyes were heavy from lack of sleep the night before, so I let my head fall back against the rest and closed them. I have no idea how long I sat there for before I felt it - that white cold prickle on the back of my neck that told me I was being watched. My heart thumped so hard I thought it would fall out of my chest. I knew I had to open my eyes, but I was too scared. With a shaking hand, I blindly groped for the door and snapped the lock down.
Everything was quiet except for the ragged breath tearing from my lips. And then there was a gentle tap on the drivers side window. My eyes flew open through sheer instinct, my head jerking towards the sound. There, not 12 inches away from me, was the face of a child pushed up against the glass. I can’t even begin to describe what it looked like, but it wasn’t human, I know that much. The skin was too pale, the smile too crooked, and the eyes. . . they weren’t of this world. They were cold and dark as a bottomless well, and I could feel myself being drawn into them. My hand hovered over the door lock.
“Hey, Mister, let me in will you?”
Dumbly, I shook my head.
“Come on, let me in, say I can get in. It won’t take long.”
Again, I shook my head.
“Please Mister. Say I can get in!”
“What do you want with me?” I cried, suddenly finding my voice.
“I want you to let me in, of course,” came the reply, along with another chilling smile.
My fingers closed around the door lock, I could feel myself about to pop it open. I didn’t want to, but there was something about its voice, its smile, its words, that made me almost unable to refuse. As I looked in horror, transfixed by its soulless eyes, I felt helpless.
Just as I was about to open the door to my certain doom, another car swept around the corner of the car park, headlights gleaming. The creature briefly glanced at the new car, and that break in eye contact was all I needed to clear my head.
Snatching my hand away from the door lock, I grabbed the steering wheel tight and pressed my foot onto the accelerator.
That was 4 days ago. I’m writing this now so that there’s a record of what’s happened to me. They came back tonight., and there was more than one of them this time. I can hear them in the back garden. It’s getting harder to not let them in.
If you’re reading this, then I’m sorry. You should have stopped when you still could. When they come to you - and they will, now you’re open to them - avoid eye contact.
Tonight, if there’s a knock at your door. . . try not to answer it.
I remember going to bed on Friday night. It had been a long day at the business convention, and I had been exhausted by the time I’d returned to the dingy hotel room that was to be my home for the weekend. In fact, I’d been so tired that I’d sent my wife a text asking her to give the kids a kiss goodnight from me, and a promise that I’d call the next evening.
I don’t know how long ago that was. My head feels fuzzy, like a really bad hangover with a headache to match. My tongue keeps sticking to the roof of my mouth and my eyes feel blurry. Not that I can see much in here, wherever I am. It’s almost pitch dark. It feels cool, the walls made of stone, so I assume it’s some kind of cellar. There’s that typical damp smell hanging in the air too. I already checked for windows - there are none. Only a heavy concrete door. That’s when I discovered the scratch marks. All across and around the door. Someone was desperate enough to escape that they gouged channels out of the stone with their own fingernails. What happened in here to make someone that desperate, and why am I here now?
I’ve spent what feels like hours retracing the path of my life, trying to figure out if I’ve made any enemies insane enough to kidnap and imprison me. But I’m only a software salesman. Surely I’ve never inspired that much hatred in someone. My marriage is happy, no affairs, no secrets. And I have two beautiful children who I would say I was a good dad to. I’ve drawn a blank, but at least the process of mentally dissecting my life has given me something to focus on, something to keep the frantic panic pulsing in the back of my mind from drowning me completely.
I search around the space, arms outstretched in front of me, feeling my way around the walls. I judge it to be about 15 feet square. There’s a metal table in the centre of the room, and the pile of musty smelling blankets I woke up on in one corner. A small red light blinking just above the door, which I can only assume is some sort of monitoring device. I stand before it and wave.
“Hello? Hello? Anybody there? I’m here, I’m awake now. What do you want from me?”
No answer, not that I was expecting one really.
I quietly return to my corner, wrapping a blanket around my shoulders to protect from the damp air, and close my eyes.
A loud, slow groan wakes me up. Light floods the room, blinding me momentarily. Blinking furiously, I struggle to unwrap myself from the blankets and get to my feet. Shading my eyes with one hand, I look towards the glare and the figure standing in the doorway.
It’s dressed in a loose fitting boiler suit, with a full hood over the head and face. It walks slowly, stiffly, into the room, as though movement hurts, and I notice a pronounced limp. A stained, battered sports bag hangs from one gloved hand.
“Look around you,” it says, and I realise it must be using a voice changer inside the hood, as it sounds almost robotic. Whoever it is, they don’t want to be recognised.
I do as it says, and glance around the room. With the light flooding in from the doorway, I can now see the dark brown stains which pool on the floor around the table and spray up the walls.
“Your blood will soon join mine, as mine once joined that of those before me.”
“What? What the Hell are you talking about? Who are you? What is this?!”
“The rules of The Game will soon be explained. But first, I have work to do. Lie down on the table.”
“What? No! No way! Let me go!” I scream, starting to throw myself forwards towards the open door.
The figure shakes its head sadly and takes a step back out of the room. The door slams behind it, plunging me once again into near-total darkness. I hear a hissing noise and smell something sweet and cloying. And then there is only blackness.
When I awake, I’m chained naked to the table. A bare light bulb swings from the ceiling, illuminating the boiler-suited figure looming over me. It’s holding a 5 inch nail in one hand, a hammer in the other.
“The Game is about to begin. Are you ready?” It asks, in its strange, alien voice.
“What game?!” I scream, jerking at the chains around my wrists desperately.
“We are all part of The Game now.” It says. “You will learn the rules, just like I did. And those who played before me.”
“What FUCKING game?” I howl, terror choking the words out of my throat in a hoarse roar.
“The Game you were chosen to play. Let us begin.”
It runs the nail down my side, slowly, coming to rest over one of my ribs.
“Please, please, no!” I wail, tears pouring down my face as I flail limply from side to side.
“It is not up to us to change the rules,” it says, raising the hammer.
Time loses meaning in that cellar. All I know is terror, and pain - the likes of which I have never felt before. Just as I think I have felt all a human body can endure, I am proved wrong. Over and over again. Just as the figure promised, my blood soon mixes with the rest on the floor, my own signature in this game of agony. It goes on for hours. Or is it days? Weeks? I can’t tell. I’m delirious from pain.
I laugh as it pulls the last of my fingernails off with rusty pliers. Scream as it peels the skin from my kneecaps. I spit and threaten as it places metal blocks under my elbows and breaks them with a hammer. And when it looms before me with a lit blowtorch, I pass out into merciful unconsciousness.
“The Game can stop now.”
My eyes flicker open hesitantly. “What?” My voice is hoarse, barely a whisper.
“It is time to select a new player. You have learnt the rules.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have played for a week. That is long enough. It is time to chose a new player to take your place.”
I turn my head slowly, spit out a mouthful of blood.
“The Game cannot end. They will not allow it.”
“Just tell me what I need to do. I’ll do anything. Please!”
“Good. The Game is easier with a willing player. Time to rest now. I’ll be back soon.”
Too exhausted and agonised to do anything else, I close my eyes as I hear the door close and the familiar hiss, followed by that sweet, sweet smell of oblivion.
The next time I awake, I am in a proper bed. My arms are in plaster casts up to the elbows. Bandages crisscross most of my body. One eye is covered with a patch. I gingerly move one leg. Pain shoots from ankle to hip. I groan, trying to bend one arm, and the elbow screams in protest. I remember the metal blocks and the hammer, and feel bile rise in my throat. Trying to keep my wits about me, I look slowly around the room. There is a window in this one, lit with a gentle buttery light. The bed I am lying in is a regular one, with a mattress and pillows and a blanket. An IV drip attached to one arm leads to a stand holding one of those clear bags of fluid, like you see in hospitals. A chair sits next to the bed, and the walls are covered in a kind of faded floral wallpaper. It is sparse and unloved, but compared to the cellar it is a paradise.
There's a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” Panic grips me again.
Slowly, the door pushes open and the figure in the boiler suit comes into view.
“It is time,” it says.
“Time for what? Please, I beg you, don’t hurt me again!”
“It is time for a new player to be chosen. Are you ready to choose?”
“What? What new player? What do you mean?”
“I was chosen to play The Game. Once I had learned the rules, I had to choose a new player. That player was you. I had to teach you the rules. And now it is time for you to select a new player and show them, as I have shown you.”
The horror dawns on me.
“You mean, I have to do all that to someone else?”
“Those are The Rules, yes.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I know your family.”
Ice-cold fingers of dread ran the entire length of my body.
“No, no. . . Please, don’t hurt them! I’ll do it! I’ll play your game, OK! Just don’t hurt them! Please!” I'm sobbing now, desperate.
“You will choose a new Player first.”
“How, how do I choose?”
“The roll of a dice, of course.”
“Then give me the dice!”
“We have taken your phone and randomly selected 100 contacts. Each of them has been assigned a random number. You will roll a 100-sided dice. Whoever’s number comes up is the new player. You will do to them all that I have done to you. Their blood will join yours and mine and those who played before. Then it will be their turn to chose a new player. The Game will never die.”
“I have to do this to someone I know?” Another thought dawns on me. . . “And that means I know YOU!”
The figure nods slowly. “Yes. You know me.”
“Jesus. . .”
“I will give you an hour to decide.”
My head spins. This DEMON, this DEVIL, who has tortured me for days, is someone I know! I rack my brains trying to think of who it could be, but the disguise is too good. I realise I couldn’t even be sure if it was male or female.
And now I had to become that monster! Who would I chose? It could be my bank manager. It could be my sister. Oh. . . oh, God no. . . Jeremy! My little boy, just turned 10, so proud to get his first phone on his birthday.
Tears run down my cheeks, stinging the empty eye socket and lacerated cheeks.
How could I take that risk? But if I didn’t, they were all as good as dead anyway. What the FUCK could I do?!
The boiler suit is heavy and hot. My limbs ache as I limp towards the concrete door.
I rolled the dice. Number 31.
Now I get to find out who I chose.
BRIDE AND DOOM
I have to admit, my first thought when I walked through the elaborate doors was they’ve overdone it a bit. I didn’t know there were that many lilies in the entire county, but they seemed to have bought every last one and wrapped them around all available pillars, posts and podiums. I try not to smirk as I watch several guests rummaging in dainty silk clutch bags for their allergy tablets, or frantically trying to brush pollen stains off their finery.
They’ve overdone the bride, too. Just my personal opinion of course, but that much lace should only be ever found in a nursing home, and even then it’s not particularly attractive. She wasn’t anything special to start with, and the extra icing has not made the cake look more appealing, excuse the pun.
She’s grinning so hard as she waddles down the aisle, hampered by her diamante encrusted fortification, that she resembles some kind of bunny boiling Cheshire Cat. I stand there at the front, flanked by a taffeta tide of bridesmaids, barely able to contain my disdain.
He’s already there waiting, of course, and I can’t help but smugly note that he does not turn around to watch her progress down the aisle. In fact, he catches my eye instead. I look back coyly, angling my face slightly so he catches my best side. Well, the best one I can show in public, any way.
He saw plenty of other sides last night. . . and the night before that. And the week before that, and- well, you get the picture.
That’s right, he was with me last night, and now he’s standing up here, sweating ever so slightly, as he awaits his blushing bride. It’s OK though, I know he doesn’t really love her. But he has to marry her, any fool can see the sense in it. Her dad is loaded, you see, and he’d be stupid to turn down a share of that sizeable fortune. We’ve made plans, though. He’s going to rent a little place somewhere secluded, and we’re going to turn it into our own private love nest. Every time he “works late” or gets sent on a “business conference”, he’s really going to be there, with me! And she’s so thrilled to have landed a guy so far out of her league that she won’t be questioning anything. As long as she has him on her arm to all the important functions and dinners, she’ll be happy.
Personally, I wouldn’t care if she did find out about us. Once they’re married, he’d be able to take her to the cleaners if they divorced. She’d have too much to loose to make a scene. And anyway, she could hardly compete with me, now could she? I have things to offer him that she just. . . doesn’t. I’ll win in the end, I am sure of it, and we’ll take her money along the way!
The ceremony is pretty standard I suppose. She blubbers like an idiot throughout, but he looks more nauseous than lovesick. He did hesitate a moment before they exchanged rings though, and I wondered for a second if he was about to turn around and tell the world about me and him! I have to confess, there was a tiny part of me that had wanted to arrange a little “accident” for the rings. But, I’m not quite that vindictive, and I do know how to behave when required.
Luckily for her.
Like I said, I wouldn’t really care if he did declare his undying love for me right there and then, and at least I’d be dressed for the occasion. I know I look good, too. Better than she does, anyway. I did my hair the way I know he likes it, judging by how many times he runs his fingers through it when we’re alone. And the pale pink accents in my outfit (her choice) are remarkably flattering to my skin tone. Whereas she looks flashy and cheap, desperate for attention and adulation, I gleam like an understated diamond ring.
Anyway, I grin and bear it as vows are exchanged, his answers becoming more and more hesitant as things go on. By the end of it, he seems ten years older, and I wonder if I’m the only one who’s noticed how uncomfortable he looks. Nobody lets on if they have, such is the beauty of social convention and upper middle class values.
We are all filing out like a perfect little wedding party, when I feel a tug on my sleeve, and I turn to see him, somehow broken away from the rest of the group and looking beseechingly at me. I step back to stand with him, and we try and look casual, as though we are discussing something mundane, football results maybe. Once the last well-wisher has stopped to congratulate him and finally gone outside to face the overeager photographer, he pulls me back through a doorway and into a vestry.
As soon as the door shuts, we’re on each other, desperately kissing, as though we can erase the memory of what he just did as long as we can hold each other tightly enough. He looks at me with eyes that seem to want to devour every detail of my face, as though he craves the very sight of me. I return the look with every bit as much passion. My fingers begin to trace the round smoothness of the buttons running down his chest, moving further and further down, until. . .
Simultaneously almost, we come to our senses. This really would be a most undignified way of being caught out. Straightening our suits, we step away from each other, and sigh deeply. I smile wryly at him.
“Oh please, God.”
Shooting him one last smile, full of all the promise of “later”, I pull open the door with a flourish. Heading outside into the oblivious crowd, I make a beeline to find Great Aunt Ethel and compliment her on her new hat.
Well, I do have certain duties to uphold.
I am the Best Man, after all.