When the Abyss Stares Back
Based on a True Story
Ever since I was a child, I have been afflicted with what I have recently dubbed “the horror gene.” It runs in my mother’s side of the family and skips a generation. My maternal grandfather had it; the varying four-foot tall stacks of horror films in his house certainly attested to that. Now, I have him to thank, for that very same morbid fascination with darkness and fear is in my own blood.
Rather than shying away from tales of murder, hauntings, and those whom society calls “monster,” I relished them. I would shudder through The Descent, Tales from the Darkside, and Darren Shan’s The Demonata series, every fibre of my being cursing me for not setting my mind on things less likely to scar. But I was inclined to addiction from birth. The horror genre wooed my gothically romantic soul and fed it ambrosia to prevent it from ever pondering leaving.
However, I was not merely content with reading or viewing. My curious nature and daring blood longed for true tales of my own to tell. Often did I promise friends and family that I would go to possessed houses or asylums and spend the night, or travel deep into pine barrens in search of the offspring of witches and devils.
Well, I did in fact gain a true tale to tell. On the May eve of Friday the 13th, 2016, I finally experienced tangible proof of things unseen and not in a way that I expected. As was customary with all days associated with the macabre, I devoted my night to watching things that produced in me fleeting terror and permanent satisfaction. Chilled air from a ceiling fan made my nearby candle dance with anticipation as I searched through video after video inside my cocoon of blankets.
Scariest Places on Earth, The Haunted, A Haunting, Lights Out, and—
My eyebrows rose in intrigue. I found on the entrance to one of YouTube’s many rabbit trails an anthology of “cursed” videos, many of them originating from the Dark Web, the internet’s so-called underworld. It’s been said that every example of human depravity imaginable can be found therein— serial killers, mercenaries, sex offenders, even members of cannibalistic cults.
Before that unlucky night, I had often watched clips that were reportedly smuggled out of that digital Tartarus. Chief among my favorites was a video dubbed “Hamburger Lady,” a shaky, static-filled slideshow of hospital gurneys and crematory slabs set to an eerie remix of the Throbbing Gristle song of the same name.
She can’t hold things up
And even with medical advances
There’s no end in sight
For hamburger lady
She’s burnt from the waist up
She’s burnt from the waist down
Has to eat her life through tubes
She’s okay if you change the tubes
I still haven’t gained the courage to listen to it all the way through in the dark yet.
Still, I thought nothing of exploring “that side” of YouTube. In fact, I applauded that which could induce in me nightmares, my adopted muses.
Besides, I hardly thought any of them were actually cursed. That warning label was just a disguised advertisement to encourage more viewers. Nothing more.
I clicked on the link to the aforementioned anthology and watched the video in its entirety. I’d seen many clips that the director had suggested, including a video featuring the strained convulsions of a dancing transvestite suffering the after-effects of polio, but one new one stood out to me. It was titled “Mereana Mordegard Glesgorv.” The blood and obsidian-colored thumbnail displayed a man with sunken cheeks staring lifelessly at the camera.
It was said that the original video had long since been taken down because any who watched it went horribly insane. Some poor souls were even said to have clawed out their eyes and mailed them to YouTube’s headquarters as recompense for their addled minds. I thought the idea preposterous, but at the very least, this copy would be an opportunity for a good adrenaline rush.
With a chuckle welling in my throat, I typed in the exotic title and clicked on the first link I saw.
The smile I had painted on my face slowly began to melt.
I had always associated chimes with light-heartedness, but this ethereal ringing seemed to make my room drop in temperature. I involuntarily shivered and wrapped my arms around my chest. All the while, his face stared back at me. The man in the video was silent in his buttoned collar and sullen frown. His black eyes bore holes into mine. It was almost as if he could sense my discomfort as his gaze only grew more intense.
Every time my eyes darted towards my open doorway, paranoia drew me back to my screen. I wanted to reassure myself that the man was still in that safe, sanitized digital world. Yet, despite the evidence I saw with my eyes, I still felt the telling itch that something real and present was with me, watching me. Transfixed, like a stray dog in the path of a speeding car, I continued to watch.
A deep reverberation, a growl that no creature on earth could make, meshed with the chimes.
The man’s face changed.
His once set features smeared like watercolor under the assault of unapologetic fingers. His eyes narrowed. His face stretched into a diabolic triangle. His sharp widow’s peak and black locks gave him the illusion of horns. His once dark eyes turned as white as bleached bone. His frown was traded in for a mirthless smile.
I tried to rationalize my nervousness and stared sideways at my feeble candle. I still had light. I could finish this. I was brave. I could unblinkingly stare into darkness. This video was merely well-made. In a few minutes, I would add it to a playlist and then move on.
Warmth spread across the right side of my body and I jolted like I had been splashed with water. My white-knuckled hands clasped each other on my bosom and my shoulders hitched. With dismay, I realized that my room’s stygian sanctuary had indeed been violated. I felt a thousand leering eyes upon my body. My bedchamber felt so full with this unseen presence that I half-expected to suffocate.
I heard a strange noise and, with a click of my trackpad, stopped the footage. My senses were alert. My ears pricked and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
My heart stopped.
The very same chiming that had been playing for the past minute on my computer could now be heard outside my room.
I looked down at the electronic device in disbelief. The sound was still off. The video was still paused. This was an impossibility! There was no such thing as a cursed video. It was just another entertaining thing to watch on one of my beloved holidays.
And yet, airy ringing beckoned at my threshold with no visible player.
The night had long since deprived my home of its light. My sister was fast asleep and my parents’ television program held no such disturbing sounds. My heart stomped its feet against my ribcage out of spite. You wanted this all your life, it screeched. Well, now you have it!
I slid toward the edge of my bed and tentatively set one bare foot down on the grey carpet. Moments passed and nothing happened. Satisfied that at least my fear of some invisible beast grabbing my ankle was unfounded, I took a bracing deep breath and stood. Mechanically, I put one foot after the other like a numb soldier who had just been ordered to cross no man’s land.
As I marched past my threshold, the music stopped.
With parted lips, I shrunk in on myself and peered into the hallway. No glowing eyes met mine, but I knew that they were there. They said not a word, but I knew deep in my heart that they meant me harm. I was naïve and foolish and they had come to punish me for digging too deep and disturbing their slumber.
With a muffled cry, I fled to my parents’ room, black nightgown swishing against my thighs as I looked behind me for a pursuer.
“Dad!” I slammed my clammy body against the cracked door and threw myself onto my father’s broad chest. He hit mute on the television and stared down at me with wide eyes as I babbled an explanation with a gradually rising voice. “Dad, it’s Friday the 13th, you know, and a full moon. I wanted to watch something scary so I clicked on this video that is supposed to be cursed and I turned it off. I turned it off and the same music that played on the video played outside my room! Please, can’t I stay here tonight?”
My mother and father exchanged a wry look.
“Megan,” my father began with a long-suffering sigh. “It’s three o’clock in the morning. Get some sleep. You’re probably just tired.”
I would have confronted him about his clear fallacy if it weren’t for the wraiths fiendishly twirling in the pit of my stomach. I knew I was eighteen. I knew he wouldn’t let me stay there, but there was still a part of me that hoped. I didn’t feel ready to go back into that foreboding hallway. For the first time in at least a decade, I was genuinely terrified. Not since the days of my chronic nightmares about dinosaurs tearing the roof off our house and swallowing me whole had I been so scared.
I glanced nervously at the pitch entryway before meeting my father’s stern gaze. My grip on his navy thermal tightened.
“Can’t you walk me to my room?” I entreated.
My father’s lips thinned. “Come on. You’re too old for that.” He gestured to the exit with a jerk of his arm. “It’s late. Go to bed.”
I turned to my mother for mercy but she seemed about as concerned as my father. Most likely impatient about getting back to her program, she too gestured at the door.
I did not want to start an argument and thus increase my nerves, so I reluctantly dragged my feet toward the door and pushed it open. I looked into the void, my hands clenching the moon-painted wood. I was brave, wasn’t I? This was nothing. This was a mere sound beckoning me in the darkness. Not a thing more.
I took a deep breath and reentered Nyx’s territory. I was a soldier who had been shot down and was limping back into the trenches. I would receive no sympathy that night nor quarter. So I painstakingly walked onward and hoped that the invisible musician wouldn’t snatch me up and pull me down to depths from which there is no return. I could all but see spidery digits wriggling between the wooden stair rails. I could all but hear the clack of teeth on teeth.
I sharply turned left, biting down a groan of pain as my hip bumped into a doorframe in my haste for shelter. I closed the door and fumbled for the nearby switch. My shoulders visibly lowered in relief when my environment brightened. It is truly amazing that something as simple as an electric bulb can foster courage. And, as I brushed my teeth and basked in the yellow glow, I found my panic ebbing. It was late and I surely was tired. I’d go to bed and laugh at my hysteria in the morning. My curiosity was still free to roam without satisfaction of the things which I before sought.
A small thrill wracked my chest, but I promptly smothered it and entered my room in the span of three wide steps. I turned on the light and checked my surroundings, more to see clearly enough to put my laptop and water on my desk than to check for ghouls lurking in corners. The overhead orb was put to rest before I walked over to blow out my candle. Now in complete darkness, I climbed into bed and pulled the protective covers over me. I curled onto my right side as was custom and my eyes fluttered closed at the soft caress of cold air that my fan provided. I breathed deeply and contently sighed at the remnant perfume of pumpkin spice.
All was peaceful.
All was quiet.
A warm puff on my cheek caused my muscles to tense and the fine hair on my face to prick. My fan could not produce hot air and the night air was cool.
What was this?
I thought it merely a trick of the mind too until it continued against my thoughts of reason. Rhythmically it went on, in and out.
In and out.
It reminded me of a person’s breath.
I’m here, it seemed to be saying. I’m real. Acknowledge me.
My eyes flew open.
Nothing was there. Nothing except an inky absence of light.
My heart began another jittery dance in my chest. Those same transfixing invisible eyes held me captive, yet this time I feared I could not escape. The presence’s mass weighed upon me like half-dried concrete and my breathing grew labored as if the creature’s tendrils were squeezing my lungs shut. I wondered if I still had the strength to jump out of bed and throw the door open before the specter could pull me back. Was there any possible escape from this?
No, my mind whispered. Try to dislodge it and you will die.
The only thing I could do then was open and close my eyes.
Father, my spirit cried. Please protect me. Pleasepleaseplease. Protect me. Set your angels charge over me. Please let nothing happen. Please. I promise, I’ll never watch that video again. Just please help me!
Fear is an exhausting thing. It is an incubus that drains you, mind and heart, a truly fickle lover. The very thing that had previously given me pleasure had now turned on me and left me for the wolves to devour.
I don’t know how long I cried out for deliverance in my adrenaline-induced haze: minutes, hours? To me this silent battle between innocent explorer and wrathful discovery lasted for months, even years. It was a war that seemed to hold no signs of ending. Nonetheless, no matter how much time had actually passed, my body inevitably conceded defeat. My heart collapsed from its chaotic dance mid-pirouette and my mind at last succumbed to the comforting embrace of Hypnos.
I was so exhausted in fact that no doors from either Dreamland or the Nightmare realm were opened to me. My weariness instead placed me in a dreamless coma, where I lay suspended in a different sort of darkness, a healing chamber that protected me from the battle that must have still been roaring outside. The phantom’s ravenous huffing still graced my cheek when the god of sleep drew my spirit away. I like to think that afterward some guardian celestial drew his sword and finally scared the inimical spirit away, receiving orders that I had sufficiently learned my lesson.
Or perhaps that creature still dwells under my bed or within the nooks of my closet, waiting for more depraved chimes to summon him forth.
In spite of this harrowing experience, my horror gene has urged me to crawl back to my old habits like a beaten pet whose sole love is its owner. My mind races with possibilities of future experiences and stories to tell. I’ve done it once, I reason. I can do it again. And, if I do it again, what more will meet me? A touch? A garbled whisper? A visible face that I can match with those thousands upon thousands of eyes?
I have spent much of my life staring into the abyss, daring anyone, anything, to show itself to me. That May eve, the abyss finally granted my wish.
I am tempted to try fate and see if that mysterious jinn will grant me another.
About the author
Becca is a chronically-ill lady, writes on health, humanity, and what it truly means to be alive. She invites you into her unique world, and the imagination, that comes with being stuck in bed. The world may be still, but words keep moving.