It Must Die
It’s hard to wake up from a nightmare when you aren’t even asleep.
My eyes were heavy, and my legs needed a little convincing to lift my body out of bed. Eventually following the sweet smell of French Toast and maple syrup coming from the kitchen, I pulled my chair out and sat down in a slow, exhausted fashion. I reached for my glass of orange juice and took a gulp to re-hydrate my dry mouth and wet my lips. I could tell the orange juice had been sitting out for a while because condensation formed on the sides of the glass, making it wet to the touch. But it quenched my thirst nonetheless, so I continued. Before I could open my mouth or raise my finger to ask how much longer before I got to taste the French Toast my wife was making, she turned around with a massive stack of it and kissed me on my head to say “Good morning”. I smiled and nodded to return the silent “Good morning” greeting. I devoured my entire plate and finished my orange juice before bringing my plate and utensils to the sink. My wife hardly asked anything of me really, besides helping with little things around the house and to clean up after myself. I didn’t mind helping her because I knew, and trust me, she also knew she was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Our grandfather clock chimed and sang as it does every hour on the hour. I counted the chimes to confirm the time, and I realized it was 11 am. I grabbed my dark blue windbreaker jacket, kissed my wife goodbye, and headed toward the door. I jumped in my jeep, threw my Ray-bans on in a very stylish and movie star way, and turned the music up. Spring truly was my favorite time of year, and I was going to make sure I enjoyed every minute. It was my Saturday morning ritual to enjoy a big breakfast that my wife so graciously made me and then head into town and enjoy my favorite bookstore. Although I guess it had to be my favorite bookstore because it was the only one within a 50-mile radius of where we lived. But it was great.
I swung the door open, and it went a little too far and hit the wall behind it, which startled Ms. Peggy. She spun around behind the counter and chuckled when she saw it was just me. Her short brown curly hair was all disheveled from her moving some boxes around as she was unpacking some new books that had just been delivered. Her light green shirt and blue jeans were covered in some sort of dirty film that had stained them with a gray tint, and her black slip on sneakers were a tad beat up from previous wear and tear. She was a tad larger than most women, but she wore it well as she stood about 5 feet and 8 inches tall and weighed roughly 220 lbs. She was very soft-spoken, almost reminding you of your grandma and your first grade teacher with that motherly sentiment. I figured she was about 45 years old now because we moved to Jamestown, Rhode Island, about 15 years ago when both her and my wife were close in age. They were about 30 years old then, and she’s been celebrating her “30th” birthday every year since.
“Ah! You startled me, my dear! It must be 11:15 a.m.! It’s amazing how you’re never a minute late! What are we looking for today, Mr. Waldman? A love story?”, she giggled facetiously.
“Now, Ms. Peggy. You know I don’t have any interest in that monotonous crap! Please save your banter and point me toward anything new in the horror genre that you have received this week.”, I politely asked.
“You know Mr. Waldman, you may want to check out a romance novel sometime. Your wife may find it romantic. But, if you are here for your typical horror excitement, I suppose I can recommend something. It’s an older one but I remember a man dropping it off a few years ago saying it was time to donate it. From what I can remember, he said the next reader would find it life changing. Whatever that means. I assume he was an author or avid reader much like yourself and simply fell in love with the book. Perhaps he wanted to share and spread the joy it brought to him. I never saw him again after that. I don’t suppose he is from the area. Anyway, here you go, my dear. Enjoy!”.
She handed me a thick black book that was so caked with dust; I choked when I accidentally took a breath as I went to grab it from her. Then she went back to unpacking the boxes and placing some new books on the shelves in alphabetical order. I was astonished at how well it was kept, despite sitting in the back of her closet and collecting cobwebs. It looked almost brand new besides a few indents in the front cover. I realized something peculiar, however. It didn’t have a title. “Odd”, I thought. Perhaps there was a cover to the book that had fallen off. I turned the book sideways to see if it was at least written on the spine, but no title or author’s name was found. “Oh well”, I thought. It will make the read that much more interesting.
I shoved the book into my backpack that was already overflowing with papers full of novel ideas that I had been working on for my next two projects. You’d think someone like myself, as an author I mean, would be a bit more organized. You know, really have my “shit together” as some put it. But I preferred to live in a life where everything was complete chaos as far as my work. I enjoy starting a piece, then starting a new one, and then going back and forth between the two until I finish them. This more often than not allows my creative ideas to flow and helps avoid writer’s block, which can happen when you’re focused on one topic for far too long.
We made small talk for a while and I realized it was already 12:30 p.m. Time really flew! I threw my backpack over my shoulder and headed for the door. I made sure to quietly open the door this time as Ms. Peggy was on a step stool and I wanted to make sure she did not fall if I startled her. I grabbed the brass doorknob, turned it delicately, and opened the door just wide enough for my body to slip through. I turned around quickly and grabbed the handle to avoid it slamming shut behind me. When I peeked through the window and confirmed she was still safely on her step stool, I walked down the front steps of the bookstore and headed toward my car.
Fifteen minutes had passed, and I pulled slowly into my driveway as I wanted to finish the last few seconds of Billy Joel’s, Piano Man. I hit that last note with the most tone deaf voice I’ve ever heard in my life. But man, I gave it all I had! I was surprised the neighborhood dogs didn’t start howling to sing along. I let out a chuckle and looked in the rear-view mirror at myself with a sly side smile, like I was James Bond at the end of a movie scene. I thought, “Still got it!”, only to remember I never had it in the first place. I was a lot of things including a writer, scotch connoisseur, and some may even call me a breakfast food snob since my wife makes the best breakfasts in all of Jamesport. But “decent singer” was not something anyone had ever called me before.
I walked into the house only to be greeted by my Doberman, Bentley, with a half chewed up bone in his mouth with his slimy drool leaking out the side of his mouth as he tried to breathe and chew at the same time. I patted my good boy on his head, only to realize his fur was full of dried mud and some sort of oily substance. “Gross!” I laughed. He barked back almost to say “You’re not too cute yourself sir!”. We both nodded in a respectable manner and went our separate ways. “Beth!” I called, “Where are you, my love?”. “In here!” she exclaimed from the kitchen. I kicked my shoes off, placed them on the indoor boot tray we had, and made my way into the kitchen, following the pleasant aroma of tonight’s dinner being started in the slow cooker. The smell was so lovely that it could have carried me by my nose through the doorway, if it was capable. As I lifted the lid to see what it was, the overwhelmingly delicious scent of homemade chili surrounded me and I admit I drooled a little.
The clock read 1:15 pm and I sat on the outdoor couch on my deck with my feet up on the matching dark brown wicker ottoman. What a beautiful day it was and with the cool Spring breeze rolling through, it was the perfect time to crack open my new book and see what this mystery was all about. I took a quick sip of my ice cold lemonade, got comfortable, and started the first page.
“My beloved Sterling,
He made me do it.
I’m sorry I was not strong enough.
Rest easy, Madeline. Grandpa loves you.
“What a weird way to start a book.”, I said to myself. It was eerie, but most definitely intriguing. As curiosity got the best of me, I flipped the page to continue. Second page, blank. Third page, blank. Fourth page, blank. Fifth page, blank. “Wait, a minute!”, I whispered to myself in low stern tone. I took the last page of the book and flipped it as rapidly as I could all the way back to the first page. “They’re ALL blank?! What the fuck did Ms. Peggy give me? A fill in the blank book? Do I have to write this shit myself?” I said sarcastically and in a slightly serious and annoyed manner. “Well, that figures! I get all the way home and want to relax and read my book, yet here I am staring at 300 white blank pages.” Laying back and putting my hands behind my head as a temporary relief for my newly formed headache, I just sat there confused and in complete awe. I yawned, stretched my legs out and arms up, and looked out into the distance, watching the woods in my backyard slowly disappear in front of my suddenly heavy eyelids.
“Alan! Dinner!”, Beth yelled from the open kitchen window. Looking at my watch in amazement that it was already 6 p.m., I shot right up. I must have dozed off for a while. On my way to the back door I rubbed my eyes to clear my vision, nearly tripped over Bentley who was still gnawing on the same bone from earlier, and stumbled to my place at the table. I nearly swallowed the entire bowl of chili whole before I came up for air. The spicy food warmed my stomach as I began to feel full, so I washed it down with a frosty glass of soda to cool my insides off. “I’ll pay for that later. I'm going to need more than a handful of Tums.”, I said to myself and giggled in a childish manner. I cleared the table and began rinsing the dishes as Beth split the leftover dinner into small containers that would serve as my lunches throughout the week. The table was clean, the dishwasher was full, and all was quiet as I flipped the switch off in the kitchen and retired to the bedroom.
“Honey, can I ask you a question?”, my wife asked. I Slid my reading glasses down my face and looked up at her to acknowledge her upcoming thoughts. She began, “When was the last time you even stepped foot in your office? I was in there this morning after you left for the library. I wanted to clean up a bit, but when I walked in there were papers, videotapes, and junk everywhere. I thought you said you were working on two new pieces? It’s been years since you found joy in anything besides my Saturday morning french toast and your trips to the bookstore. I’ve noticed you have been opening the scotch bottle a few times a week too and I know you say you trust your body but you need to be careful. I don’t want you to relapse after 10 years of sobriety. I finally have my husband back and the thought of you going back to that time in our lives is enough to make me sick. I just worry sometimes, and I-”. I placed my hand on her hand before she could continue. “Please my love, I’m fine. I AM working and I AM happy. I make as much money as I can from my blogs and creative writing classes I offer online. The rest of my time is devoted to the next two novels I am finishing. Beth, please, you make me the happiest man in the world. All the way from Long Island, New York to Jamestown, Rhode Island. I just don’t always want to sit in my office surrounded by four walls with absolutely no inspiration.” She smiled and leaned over to kiss me. That always made her smile. We are both originally from Long Island, New York but when Beth was offered a job as an English professor at the University of Rhode Island, I was so in love with her I packed up all of our stuff, quit my job as a magazine editor, and moved us here within two weeks. I explained to her that my love for her was strong enough to move a New York man out of his childhood neighborhood and all the way to Rhode Island. That subtle reminder of my love fr her had put her at ease and it was time for bed. I placed my reading glasses on the nightstand next to me and put my bookmark in the magazine I was reading to not lose my place. Delicately tugging the metal beaded chain connected to the multicolored stained glass lamp shade beside me, the lights went out. My eyes stared into the blackness surrounding me and before I knew it, I was drifting into my first stage of non-rem sleep.
As quick as I drifted into sleep, I was just as quickly awoken by the sound of someone screaming outside the bedroom door. I shot up nearly choking on saliva, saw Beth was beside me sound asleep, and spotted Bentley standing very statue-like in front of the bedroom door. His growl was low and deep, but his ears were straight up and his back legs looked as if they could launch him off the ground to attack. I leaned over to see what time it was, and the clock read 3 a.m. on the dot. Immediately my first instinct was to reach into the top drawer of the nightstand and grab my gun, but I was afraid to make any sudden movements or sounds that may startle Bentley. So instead, I carefully slid the blanket off my lower body and lifted my legs out of the bed before touching my bare feet to the cold wood floor beneath me. Creeping up behind him as quietly as I could, I reached out and tapped him on his back so he was aware I was behind him. I snapped my arm back as hard and as swiftly as I could in case my polite warning startled him. But not a single acknowledgement came from him. Not even a twitch. I shifted my body in between him and the door so I could hear the voices better. Pushing my ear against the door, almost as if I was trying to eavesdrop, I could hear someone singing “Happy Birthday Mason!”. I realized it was one of my home videos coming from inside my office. “But how could that be?”, I mumbled to myself. Determined to find the cause of this, I opened the door, shoved Bentley back into the bedroom, and yanked the door shut. I made my way down the hallway to the door of my office, and swung it open.
The air was so thick it was suffocating my lungs like hot steam in a sauna, and the glare coming from the projector’s light was so bright I could feel my retina's burning. I put my arm up to keep the light from ricocheting into my face and knocking me off balance. All I could focus on was the blaring sound of the motors turning in the projector as the videotapes played. Each step toward the light made my heart beat faster. The beads of perspiration ran down my forehead and onto my cheeks so rapidly that at one point I was not sure if it was sweat or if I was just a grown man crying out of fear. I did not know what was on the other side of that projector or what had the capability of lunging out at me as I got closer, but what I knew was, I had to turn that light off to be more aware of my surroundings so I had no choice but to keep moving.
The loud voices coming from one of our home videos was deafening enough, but the only thing worse and more distracting was the fear of the unknown. Of what was possibly sitting in the dark watching my every move. I had the worst feeling in the world of being watched, like I was on a stage on Broadway in front of a crowd. I was not sure if it was sitting in the dark like a person with its legs crossed, or if it crouched down on all fours like a bloodthirsty tiger just waiting to rip me into 100 pieces. Finally, I reached the off switch after what felt like 15 years of crawling. I pressed it as hard as I could to stop the blinding light and the incessant screeching. Standing as still as I could, I regrouped and refocused on what caused the projector to even turn on. But there was no one in the room, and the house was quiet. I looked all over my office to make sure there was not a faulty wire or some sort of power surge, but the only thing I could find was an incredible amount of built up dust under my desk. I ripped the plug out of the wall, sprinted toward the door, and locked my office. Nothing was getting into my office, and whatever was in there that I couldn’t see… wasn’t getting out. This brought me enough peace to at least make my way back to the bedroom where my wife was sound asleep.
That was until I turned around as I watched this black shadow out of the corner of my still burning retina’s, climb the wall with such speed and force that I thought it was going to rip the light fixture in the hall right off the wall. It ran right towards me and I felt my flight or fight instincts begin to kick in. I stopped, it stopped. I moved, it moved. It was studying and copying my every move. Quickly, I took a deep breath and blinked as hard as I could to make it go away, but it let out a blood-curdling screech. A screech so loud and so powerful that I was almost certain wherever this thing was from, it sure as hell wasn’t from this realm. The worst part was this creature had made its way into my home. The place where I’m supposed to be most relaxed and protected. Now it has become a place of fear, fight, and survival.
I felt an overwhelming sense of nausea as I turned my head to face whatever demonic presence this was. I could feel it breathing on the left side of my face and my biggest fear was it taking my head clean off. The same way that clown did to poor Georgie’s arm, from Stephen King’s “IT”. Although at this point I felt as if I was in some sort of demented horror film, so maybe that possibility wasn’t too far-fetched.
I turned my head at a 90-degree angle as slow as I could, trying my best not to make any sudden movements. Its breath was so hot on my neck that I felt as if my skin was melting. Finally, after what felt like 3 hours, I met it face to face and it was nothing shy of terrifying and unholy. It had this white pasty skin that looked as if someone smeared spackle all over it. Its eyes were so black and so deep they almost resembled craters, and its lips were a cold dead blue color. The teeth on this thing were shaped like fangs but were at least 3 inches long, yellowish, and so slender that they looked glued together. What I remember most though was its voice. I’ve tried repeatedly to forget, but it’s no use. It was a sound that would stay with me forever. A cross between a whisper and a cackle, a child and an elderly woman, a demonic force. “It must die.” The shortest, most horrifying, heart wrenching phrase a person could hear. It pointed its demented pasty white finger past my face to whatever it was referring to that “must die”. I guided my vision alongside it’s finger and eventually met face to face with the hallway mirror. Staring at my reflection, I realized it was referring to me, and it wanted me dead.
Before I could even look back, it had vanished. I stood in the hallway for what had to be at least fifteen minutes, just contemplating repeatedly what I had just heard, witnessed, and damn near died from. This couldn’t have been real. How could it? Even worse, if it was real, how was I supposed to tell anyone about it? How would I describe what I just saw without sounding like I just took my first dose of LSD? I convinced myself that maybe it all had just been a dream and I better lay off the scotch before bed. I knew one thing for sure, it was over and I was thankful to be alive. I swung my bedroom door open, locked it behind me, and crawled back into bed only to see my wife laying undisturbed. I took a few sips of water to re hydrate myself after sweating half my body weight out, slipped under the blanket, and drifted off to sleep.