Sam Peterson sat in the blue-cushioned chair, fidgeting nervously and avoiding eye contact. The office was hot. His hands were starting to sweat. He wanted to be anywhere other than here right now. “I can’t,” he said softly. “It’s too much. Talking about it makes me feel like I’m back there again, in the room…with it.”
Dr. Ballard’s lips curved into a pleasant, calming smile, pushing his bushy grey beard out around it. Sam put the man somewhere in his mid-to-late sixties; an accomplished and distinguished psychologist, well respected in his field. Yet Sam found himself reluctant to speak, to tell the man his story. “That’s an interesting statement, Sam. Tell me more. What is it?”
“I can’t. It’ll hear me…”
Dr. Ballard shook his head. “I assure you, whatever it is, it can’t get to you in this office.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
Doctor Ballard slipped off his glasses and set them down on the desk, then closed the manila folder in front of him and slid it away. “Sam, this is your third session. We’ve spent some time getting to know each other, but we’ve yet to discuss the main causative factor that brought you in. You came here seeking my help, and I’d like to give that to you, but you’ll need to trust me if I’m going to be able to do that.”
Trust? Sam thought bitterly. Such a strange word it seemed to him now. He wasn’t even sure he was capable of it anymore. Not after all that had happened. But Dr. Ballard was right: he had come here for help. He knew if he didn’t get some soon he would surely go mad. Hell, maybe he already had. This wasn’t something he could talk to Karina about. He couldn’t talk to her about anything anymore. They felt more like strangers now than husband and wife. Coming to Dr. Ballard had been his last desperate attempt to regain some of his sanity, to try and get his life back on track before it was too late. He had to try.
Sam sighed. “All right, Doc. You win. But you’re gonna think I’ve gone nuts.”
There was that pleasant, calming smile again. “I’m sure I won’t.”
Sam looked down for several long seconds, holding his breath and summoning the courage to speak. Finally he began. “It started about a month ago. It didn’t happen every night, not at first…not like it does now. I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s dark in the bedroom. I’m alone in the bed–Karina and I sleep in separate bedrooms now–or at least I think I’m alone. Then I try to sit up but find that I can’t move. It’s like I’m tied down, but there’s nothing physically holding me. I begin to panic. My heart starts to race. Time seems to be standing still. And that’s when I hear it, coming from a dark corner of the bedroom, a corner where nothing is supposed to be: a deep, raspy, rhythmic sound…the sound of breathing.
“Something is there, in that corner. Something terrible. I can barely make out its shape in the darkness. It’s just this tall, hulking shadow staring down at me with these horrible red eyes. I can feel that it wants to do something to me, but it doesn’t move. It just stands there in the corner, watching me…waiting.
“I can feel the scream building in my throat but can’t open my mouth to release it. I can’t move. I can’t do anything! All I can do is lie there, helpless–terrified!–praying for daylight. But morning is far away and time creeps by slowly. God, so slowly. Every time I look away I think I see movement out of the corner of my eye, and imagine it sliding slowly toward me with long black fingers outstretched, only to look back and find that it hasn’t moved. It’s just been standing there the whole time, watching.
“Then, eventually, after a seemingly interminable night, the morning sun comes in through the curtains, the thing in the corner disappears, and finally I can move again. But I know that’s not the end. I know that, even though I can’t see it, the creature is still there in the room with me, still watching me, still waiting. And I know that one of these nights it will move from its corner…and I won’t like what happens when it does.”
Sam looked up at Dr. Ballard. The man was just sitting there, staring at him with rapt attention, his face ashen. Sam was certain he was about to pick up the phone and call in some men in white coats to put him in a straight jacket. But instead, he loudly cleared his throat and sat back as he tried to compose himself.
“That sounds like quite a terrifying ordeal,” the doctor said. “I can certainly understand why you’d be afraid.” He put on his pleasant, comforting smile once again, but this time it seemed weaker, much more forced, as if he too was grappling with the terror Sam had felt so vividly upon telling his tale. “And you are correct, it wasn’t a dream.”
Sam felt his heart leap into his throat. He had wondered whether it would be worse for him to be going mad or for all this to have been true. Suddenly, he wished desperately it was madness.
“But neither was this supernatural in nature.”
Sam crinkled his brow in confusion.
“Sam, what you’re describing is a common medical phenomenon known as sleep-paralysis. It can seem very frightening when it happens, but in truth it’s quite harmless. It occurs when a person becomes aware before their REM cycle has finished. Your mind simply isn’t ready to awaken yet. It can happen to anyone, and hallucinations–like this creature you saw-are a frequent complaint amongst these cases.”
Sam felt his heart sink. He could feel his last hope drifting away. He had come here for exactly this kind of answer. An answer that told him it was all in his head, that there was nothing to fear. But now, after hearing it spoken aloud, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel true. Suddenly, Sam had no doubt that the thing in the corner was real. And it had plans for him…
Sam gave the doctor a strained smile. “You don’t know how much I wish that were true, Doctor Ballard. I came here hoping for an answer just like that, but I can’t lie to myself anymore. I know that thing is real. I don’t know where it came from or what it wants, but I know it’s after me, and sooner or later it’s going to kill me.”
Dr. Ballard smiled again, but the smile no longer felt warm and comforting. It now felt arrogant and condescending. “Sam, these kinds of things, these…devils and demons, they simply don’t exist. They’re just figments of our imagination, boogeymen dreamt up by the minds of simple, superstitious people in much darker times than these in an effort to explain away all of life’s ailments. Modern science has shed light on these kinds of things, and I promise you that your problem is quite normal.”
Sam ran a hand over his face as frustration took hold. “It’s not normal. There’s nothing normal about this. I can feel that thing’s presence all the time, even during the day. It’s like it’s always here somewhere, I just can’t see it.” He leaned forward, dropping his voice. “Can’t you feel it, Doctor Ballard? It’s here in the room with us, right now…watching.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, the lights in the room seemed to dim, the temperature dropped, and an ominous silence filled the air.
Something was here.
The color drained from Dr. Ballard’s face as he glanced nervously around the room, his eyes hesitating in the corners where shadows that hadn’t been there a moment ago now seemed thick and menacing. He opened his mouth to say something but the words wouldn’t come out, and all he could do was sit there, staring at Sam, frozen with fear. Sam was certain Dr. Ballard would later try to rationalize this all away with science, blaming it all on some form of contagious psychosis, but deep down he would know the truth. It was the kind of awful truth you could look away from in the daylight, pretending it wasn’t there, but when night fell it would wrap itself around you like a pair of skeletal hands, impenetrable, unyielding…suffocating.
Sam knew Dr. Ballard wouldn’t be sleeping tonight.
Neither would he.
Sam closed the thick wooden door to his office, shutting out all the distracting noises of the building, and sat back down at his computer. The day had been hell. He hadn’t slept in three days for fear of his nocturnal visitor, and it was beginning to take its toll. He could barely keep his eyes open. It was impossible to focus. He was getting nothing accomplished.
And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The impending merger meant a lot of Galvan Corp employees were about to lose their jobs–hard-working men and women, like him, who’d worked tirelessly for years to get to where they were today. He didn’t want to be one of them. Sam had over twenty years with the company, twenty long, hard years of working his way up the corporate ladder, and it could all be gone in the blink of an eye. He had to find a way to focus, prove his worth to the new owners, if he expected to keep his job. But Sam’s mind kept drifting back to yesterday’s appointment with Dr. Ballard. Part of him regretted going. Now that he knew he wasn’t going mad–that the thing in the corner was real–he felt more terrified than ever. He could feel it watching him all the time. Even now he could feel its presence somewhere nearby. He wished he knew what it was, where it came from, what it wanted. But most of all he wished there was someone he could talk to about it. He couldn’t go back to Dr. Ballard, not after yesterday’s session, and he certainly couldn’t discuss it with Karina. They had enough problems as it was. It appeared he was cursed to suffer his problem alone.
No, that wasn’t exactly true, he told himself. There was someone else–someone he could trust, someone who wouldn’t think he was crazy.
Sam reached for the phone on his desk, and then stopped. What the hell was he thinking? He couldn’t call her! He’d promised Karina that it was over, that he would never call her again. But what other choice did he have? He had to talk to someone.
Stephanie Murphy was very different from Karina. Equally attractive, she was thoughtful and understanding where Karina was judgmental and self-absorbed. Stephanie had been hired as a temp, working as a secretary for Mark Stanton, the V.P. of Marketing, whose office was right down the hall. What had begun as casual office flirting soon escalated to clandestine after-work trips to a seedy little motel just a few miles away. It was the kind of place where you could pay by the hour, in cash, and there would be no record that you were ever there.
But as Sam’s feelings for Stephanie grew, so did his guilt over lying to Karina. He was well aware of the affair that she was having with some artist she’d met at a party last year, but that didn’t make it any easier. This wasn’t the kind of man he was, he’d told himself at the time. For better or worse, he was married to Karina. He’d made a promise to her at the altar that day, back when things were still good between them, and what he was doing with Stephanie was wrong, regardless of the reason. Eventually his guilt won out; he went to Karina and confessed to her about Stephanie, and told her he knew about her affair with the artist. They’d both agreed to break off the affairs and to try and reconcile their marriage.
Stephanie had been devastated when Sam told her he couldn’t see her anymore. She’d immediately quit the office and had her temp service find her another job with a competing firm. Since then, she’d called him a few times, leaving messages on his voicemail and saying that she missed him and she’d been having trouble sleeping; she really needed to talk to him. Sam felt terrible about not calling her back–she’d sounded so desperate on the messages–but he’d made a promise to Karina, and this time he intended to keep it.
Only now things were different. Nothing had improved with Karina in the least. If anything, it had gotten worse. He was certain she was still seeing that artist–or maybe a different artist–and had grown much more demanding and pugnacious. His life, his problems, wouldn’t interest her in the least. But he had to talk to someone, and Stephanie appeared to be his only alternative. He realized that part of it was simply the fact that he’d missed her terribly all these long weeks. Just hearing the sound of her voice would make him feel better. He picked up the handset and dialed.
There was silence for several seconds, and then a woman’s monotone voice came on the line and said, “The cellular number you dialed is no longer in service.”
Sam frowned at the handset. Had she gotten a new cell number? She’d called him from this one just a few weeks ago. He decided to try her land line next.
It rang several times and then a young woman answered, “Hello?” Sam felt a momentary rush of excitement, but then it all drained away when he realized it was just her roommate, Allison, whom he’d met only a couple of times near the end of the affair.
“Hey, Allison. This is Sam Peterson.”
For a moment she was silent, as if trying to place him, then she said, “Oh…right. You were Stephanie’s marri—-err, guy she was seeing.”
“Right,” Sam said, unable to suppress a smile. “Anyway, I just tried dialing Stephanie’s cell phone but it said it was disconnected. I was wondering if she was around.”
Silence again. But this time it was different, uncomfortable.
“Allison? You there?”
“Yeah,” she said. Her voice now sounded small and far away. “I’m sorry, Sam. I don’t know how to say this…Stephanie’s dead.”
Sam’s blood suddenly turned to ice. He looked down at the receiver. There had to be some kind of problem with the connection. He couldn’t have heard that right. “I’m sorry, I think I misheard you. Did you say she was…dead?”
“Yes.” Her voice was almost a whisper now.
Sam could barely comprehend what he was hearing. It had to be some kind of sick joke. “That’s impossible! When? How?”
“About a month ago. I was the one who found her. I went in to check on her one morning. Her alarm clock had been going off, over and over, for almost an hour. I didn’t want her to be late for work. But when I found her she was just lying on top of the covers in her underwear. Her eyes were open and this stuff, this black goo, was seeping out of her. God, it was horrible. It was leaking out from everywhere: around her eyes, her nose, mouth…” she made a disgusted sound, “…from under her panties.”
Sam said nothing. He couldn’t say anything. He just sat there in shocked silence.
“But the worst part of it all was the look on her face. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. It was a look of pure horror…like she died looking into hell itself.”
An icy feeling was coiling in the pit of Sam’s stomach. How could this have happened? It seemed like just yesterday they were lying next to each other in the hotel room, talking well into the evening. And now for something like this to have happened…he felt like he was going to be sick.
“You would think that if she died…like that,” Allison continued, “I would have heard something, she would have screamed. But I never heard anything.”
Sam’s tongue felt huge and dry in his mouth, but he forced himself to speak, “Do they know what caused it?”
“No. The medical examiner said it must have been some kind of virus. They’ve been running all kinds of tests on that black sludge that was in her, but they’ve never seen anything like it. They took me into the hospital, thinking it might have been contagious. But I was fine.”
“Did Stephanie ever say anything to you about feeling sick?”
“No. She seemed fine. Well, except for her sleep problems.”
Sam felt a hot burst of panic race through him. “What sleep problems?”
“I don’t know. Insomnia, I guess. Although, I think her doctor said it was something else…sleep paralysis, maybe.”
The panic surging through him began to swell, heating his body. His face became hot. His palms began to sweat. He gripped the phone tighter. “Allison, this is going to sound crazy, but it’s very important. Did Stephanie ever say anything about someone watching her while she slept? Someone in the room with her?”
“Watching her? Okay, Sam, you’re starting to creep me out now. I don’t know anything about anybody watching her. I just know that she was scared shitless of falling asleep.”
Sam fell silent for a moment, trying to regain his composure. “I’m sorry, Allison. I didn’t mean to freak you out.”
She let out a strained, little laugh. “It’s fine. Trust me, you can’t freak me out much worse than the nightmares I still have about it.”
“Listen, Allison…I’m gonna have to let you go. I’m really sorry to hear about Stephanie. I hope you’ll be okay.”
They said their goodbyes and Sam hung up the phone.
The sudden silence in his office was unbearable. This was all his fault. Stephanie had called him, frightened and desperate, pleading for help…and he’d ignored her. He’d left her to die alone and terrified at the hands of that creature, and all for the sake of a woman who clearly didn’t care. Sam suddenly regretted the way he’d treated Stephanie near the end, putting her out of his life like that. He realized now that what they’d had was more than just an affair of passion. They’d had a connection, something real, something rare. It was more than anything he’d ever had with Karina, anything he ever could have with her. He had loved Stephanie.
And now she was gone.
Sam stood from his desk. He couldn’t sit here anymore. He had to get out of the office and go somewhere—-anywhere! He stepped out into the hallway and headed down toward Mark’s office. A knife twisted in his gut as he stepped past Stephanie’s old desk, offering a wan smile to the new secretary, and knocked on the open door of Mark’s office.
Mark looked up from his computer as Sam entered. “Shit, man, you look like someone just ran over your dog. What’s the matter?”
Sam quickly explained what had happened and that he needed to leave work early. Mark, being one of his closest friends in the office–and one of the few who knew about the affair–expressed his condolences and agreed to cover for him for the rest of the day. Sam exited the building in a daze, got into his car, and set off driving with no particular destination in mind.
Sam drove on autopilot, his mind drifting through memories of all the wonderful times he and Stephanie had shared. When he finally pulled into a parking space, he wasn’t at all surprised to find himself sitting outside that same run-down motel where they had spent so much of their time together. The dilapidated, two-story building looked like a haven for drug addicts and prostitutes. A rusted, metal staircase leading up to the second floor balcony looked as if it could collapse at any moment. The word “vacancy” flashed in bright red neon letters on its sign.
Sam turned off the engine and closed his eyes. He could still see her there in the motel room, lying naked on the bed, her lithe body glistening with sweat. Long blonde curls hung down over her petite frame, some of the strands sticking to her small, perky breasts. She stared lovingly up at him with cloud-gray eyes, beckoning to him, begging him to come back to bed, to stay for just a little while longer. He wished he could. He wanted nothing more than to just climb back into bed with her and stay there forever.
Sam opened his eyes and the illusion shattered, gone forever, just like she was. He felt his eyes brimming with tears; he pushed the car door open and climbed out before they could fall.
A cool wind carried burger wrappers and trash past as he walked between the few beat-up cars in the parking lot, looking around with nostalgia. He thought about going inside and getting a room–it would make him feel like they were there together again.
“You might wanna think twice about getting a room here, fella,” a voice said.
Sam whirled around. A man sat on the cement walkway of the motel next to a shopping cart filled with clothing, pop cans, and trash bags stuffed near to bursting. His blue flannel jacket looked as if it hadn’t been washed in ages. Long, greasy gray hair hung down in his bearded face, making it impossible to tell how old he was. Sam was certain he hadn’t been sitting there a moment ago.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, eyeing the man suspiciously.
The man scowled at him. “Can’t you feel it? The heaviness in the air, the dark, oily energy clinging to these walls…the wrongness of the place? This is a place that’s been cursed.”
Sam almost laughed. What an absurd thought. The place where he’d spent some of the best moments of his life, cursed? Ridiculous. The guy was clearly a nut-job.
“I can see you don’t believe me,” the man said.
This time Sam did laugh. “Sorry, pal, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time here, and all of it’s been pretty damn good. And I don’t believe in curses.” He turned to walk away.
“Then I suppose you’ve never seen it…watching you as you sleep.”
Sam froze. Every muscle in his body seemed to tense. He felt that black bubble of fear welling up inside him again. Slowly, he turned back around. “What did you say?”
The man grinned at him. “Ah…so you have seen it.”
Sam took a step closer, looking at the man with renewed interest. “Have you seen it?”
The man shook his head. “Not me. I’ve never stayed here…never would. But I’ve heard stories from those who have.”
Sam knelt down by the man, staring at him intently. “Tell me what you’ve heard.”
The man’s face seemed to darken then, and Sam found himself terrified of what he was about to hear. His instincts told him to run, to get as far from this place as possible and never return. But instead, he just sat there, mesmerized.
“There are other worlds than ours,” the man said. “Some of them are terrible places, worlds made of nightmare, inhabited by things so awful they would destroy a man’s sanity if he were ever to gaze upon them. Many of the inhabitants of these worlds are seeking a way to cross over into our world, to bring the torment and horrors of their world to us. And, unfortunately for us, there are places where they can cross over, places where the fabric between worlds has been worn thin by the sins committed there.” He waved his arms, gesturing to the building behind him. “Places like this.”
Sam looked up at the motel, and his mind began conjuring up images of all the dark deeds that must have been committed here throughout the years: the drugs deals that were made, the stolen merchandise sold—-some of it still speckled with the blood of its former owners—-all of the prostitutes who sucked or fucked in these rooms, the women who were raped, the people that were killed, and of course…the affairs. The motel had stood on this spot for decades: plenty of time for the barrier between worlds to have been worn away. Sam could suddenly feel the miasma of rot, death, and sex all around him.
He looked back down at the man. “But if this thing has already crossed over, what does it want with me?”
The man shook his head. “I don’t think it has. Not completely, anyhow. It still needs something. It latches onto those who have helped wear away the barrier, follows them home. It’s always there with them, just on the other side of our reality, watching them…waiting.”
“But why?” Sam asked, suddenly frustrated. “What’s it waiting for?”
The man grinned, showing off two crooked rows of rotting black teeth. “Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? When you figure that out, maybe you’ll be able to escape it.”
Sam stood, gritting his teeth. “Damn it. That thing has already killed a close friend of mine, and now it’s coming after me. I have to find a way to stop it.”
The man slowly stood, his eyes squinting as if deep in thought. “Well, the way I see it, this thing seems to feed off sin. Maybe if you found someone who was deeper in it than you are, and you brought them to it…”
“It would take them instead of me.”
Sam was simultaneously excited and revolted by this disturbing idea. On one hand, there was a chance it would work, and he’d be free of this evil thing forever. On the other, he’d be forced to murder someone in order to save himself. What kind of person would that make him? Would he really be able to give someone to this thing? And who would be a horrible enough person to fit the creature’s dark desires?
The man turned his shopping cart around and began pushing it away from the motel, a wheel squealing as he went. “Whatever you decide, you’d better do it quickly. If your friend is already dead, then you don’t have much time left.”
Sam watched the man disappear around the corner of the building, his heart filling with dread. The man was right; he had to make a decision soon.
He didn’t think he could stay awake much longer.
Sam awoke in the driver’s seat of his silver BMW and pulled his head up off the window. The motel was aglow against the brilliant orange light of the setting sun. The shadows were long, the place alive with movement. Shady characters loitered about, engaged in shady business. The parking lot was filled with cars. He’d intended to go home hours ago, but apparently his body had other ideas and had given him over to the waiting arms of the Sandman. He was just glad the thing hadn’t decided to visit him while he slept. Sam put his key in the ignition, started her up, and pulled out onto the street.
Almost an hour later he pulled into his own driveway and killed the engine. Karina greeted him as soon as he stepped into the wide marble-tiled foyer. She stood on the staircase that led up to the second floor landing, and for a moment, Sam could almost remember why he’d married her. She was breathtaking. Shiny, chin-length black hair framed a face that would be right at home on the cover of any women’s magazine. She had high cheekbones, sculpted eyebrows, and dark-brown eyes that a man could easily get lost in. A white tank top clung tightly to her athletic figure, accentuating her modest curves; and long tanned legs jutted out from beneath her tiny black skirt. Suddenly, Sam wanted to forget about all of their problems and take her right there on the stairs.
“Hi, honey,” she said cheerfully. “You’ll never guess what I heard today.” An icy smile crossed her lips. “I heard your little whore is dead.”
Sam could actually feel her words. They hit him like a sucker punch to the gut, sending him reeling back a step. It was like hearing about Stephanie’s death for the first time all over again. The shock quickly melted away, leaving anger in its wake, burning through him like hot lead. How dare she say something like that! She didn’t know anything about Stephanie. She had no right to talk about her like that—-and to laugh about her death!
“That’s a pretty shitty thing to say about someone,” he said. “How the hell do you even know about this, anyway?”
She smiled sweetly. “Your buddy Mark gave me a call earlier. He thought I might enjoy hearing the good news.”
“Mark? Why the hell is he calling you?”
She laughed derisively. “Mark has been calling me, silly. Ever since your company holiday party last year when he fucked me in the coat room.”
Sam’s mouth dropped open. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Oh, come on. Don’t act like you didn’t know. You can’t really be that stupid.”
Sam’s face flushed hot with anger. He gritted his teeth, clinching his fists tightly. “You heartless fucking bitch…”
Karina laughed again, and then glanced down at his balled-up fists. “Oh, please. Don’t act like you’re going to hit me. We both know how this works: I do what I want, when I want, and you pretend not to notice. That’s how it always has been, and that’s how it’s going to stay.” She started to turn and then stopped. “Oh, and for the record…that bitch got what she deserved.” She flashed him a final sardonic grin, and then strode off up the stairs.
Sam stood in the foyer, staring up after her, seething with anger. He couldn’t believe her cruelty. She’d been getting progressively worse, confident in her control over him, but this time she’d gone too far. He found himself consumed by an intense, desperate need to hurt her, to make her suffer for everything she had done to him. Suddenly, Sam decided he wasn’t above sacrificing someone to the creature, after all…
And he’d just been given a volunteer.
His hands were shaking as Sam put the key with the big red tag labeled ‘Room 13’ on it into the lock. He couldn’t believe he was doing this. Everything had just gotten out of hand so quickly. One minute he was arguing with Karina in her upstairs bedroom, and the next she was lying unconscious on the floor, blood seeping from a deep gash in her head as he stood above her clutching the broken lamp. He hadn’t even been sure she was alive when he’d tied and gagged her, dragged her down to the garage, and threw her into the trunk of her own Lexus. The next thing he knew he was wearing gloves and a disguise and driving back to the very motel where it had all begun.
This wasn’t him, he kept telling himself. He just didn’t do things like this. He’d actually loved this woman at one point. Even so, he got out of the car, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then popped the trunk and hauled her body out and into the motel room.
She stirred a bit as he threw her onto the bed. Good. She was still alive. He didn’t think the creature would want her if she was already dead. He locked the dead bolt and crawled into bed beside her. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his frantic nerves. It wouldn’t be long now, he told himself. Just go to sleep, let the creature take her, and it would all be over. His eyelids began to feel heavy as his body sunk into the mattress, the stress of the day weighing heavily upon him. Soon the world faded away and blackness engulfed him.
It seemed no sooner had he fallen asleep than his eyelids snapped up, like two window shades being simultaneously released. It was dark in the motel room, with only a hint of neon light filtering in through the curtains from the sign outside. The display on the digital clock cast an eerie crimson glow across the room. All was silent.
Slowly, his eyes began to adjust. He could start to make out nebulous shapes in the darkness. Two large, bulky things that could have been chairs crouched over by the window. A large square that might have been an old TV stared at him from the front of the room. A tall twisted thing that may have been a coat rack reached out at him with mangled fingers—-
Sam’s heart took off like a jet engine. His instincts kicked in and he immediately tried to sit up. His body refused to move. It was here…in the room with him. He looked into the corner and there it was, staring down at him with those sinister red eyes.
Panic surged through him, hot and fierce. He was suddenly certain he’d made a terrible mistake. It wasn’t going to take her—-it was going to take him! He fought to sit up, fought harder than ever before, straining with every muscle in his body. But it was all for nothing. Nothing moved. Not the slightest twitch of a muscle. And then his worst nightmare came true…
The thing began to move from its corner.
It happened suddenly. The room came alive, shadows moving and undulating with a life of their own, painting the room in a strange, unnatural light. A thick black fog rolled out from the corner, flowing across the carpet and up onto the bed, reaching out to him with long, finger-like tendrils. The hulking thing stood to its full, intimidating height and began to float toward him on the fog, like the ferryman crossing the river Styx on his boat.
Sam wanted to scream. He wanted it more than he’d wanted anything in his entire life. Fear welled up inside him, building to a pandemonium, like a horde of lunatics trying to escape an asylum. He wanted run; to tear through the door and run screaming trough the parking lot like a maniac. But he couldn’t. All he could do was lie there, a scream building up inside him that could never be released, knowing he was at its mercy.
The thing stopped at the foot of the bed. He could feel its eyes burning on him, penetrating him like an x-ray, looking into the very depths of his soul. It was a connection that seemed to go both ways, and he found that he was able to see inside of it, as well. And suddenly Sam knew things.
He saw Stephanie through the creature’s eyes, lying paralyzed on her bed, as it watched her from its corner. Night after night it watched, as terror and stress built up inside of her, her body and mind becoming weak from fear and lack of sleep, until finally she could take it no more. She opened a bottle of sleeping pills and swallowed them all. Then, all she could do was lie there, still awake and terrified, the pills working their way through her system as it approached her bed.
He saw himself through its eyes during his argument with Karina. It had watched as he’d picked up the lamp and savagely smashed it over her head, tied her up, and brought her to this motel room…brought her here to kill her. Words flashed in his mind:
And finally he understood.
It had needed them to be ready: their souls had to be dark enough. And now they were. Sam could see the old vagrant, somewhere inside the creature, laughing at him—-a man who never really existed—-just part of a strange, twisted dream, a deadly trap set by the creature to push him over the edge.
The tendrils of darkness began moving up onto the bed. Cold and slimy, they moved over his skin, crawling up his body, sliding under his clothes and over his face, looking for places to enter him. An image of Stephanie’s face flashed in his mind, twisted and contorted in agony, and Sam found himself terrified of what was about to happen.
The tendrils seemed to hesitate, as if waiting for something. Sam looked up and saw the creature’s sinister red eyes were no longer on him—-they were on Karina. They seemed to be probing her now, looking deep within her soul, discovering who she was and what kinds of sins she’d committed. Suddenly, the tendrils began pulling back, slithering off his body…and moving toward hers.
As soon as the darkness touched her, Karina’s eyes snapped open. Her head was turned towards him, and Sam saw a look of shock flash in her dark-brown eyes. She now shared the connection with the creature, and as he looked into her eyes, that shock slowly melted away, replaced by a look of fear and accusation, and he could tell she understood. She understood all of it: the hell she’d put him through all these long months, the hatred that burned in his soul for her, and the nightmare that was about to be inflicted upon her by this creature. She knew all of it, and she was afraid.
And suddenly Sam wanted to smile.
He watched, a twisted mixture of horror and satisfaction rushing through his veins, as the tendrils made their way up her body. They crawled under her skirt, over her chest, onto her face. The look in her eyes changed to one of pure torment as the darkness began to solidify into a hideous black sludge, forcing itself inside her. It shoved itself up her nose, down her throat, inside her ears. It pushed itself in around her eye sockets. Sam knew it was entering other places as well—-unseen places that were far more delicate. Every muscle in her body was pulled tight. She may not have been able to move, but she could still feel every painful moment.
The flow of dark sludge seemed endless, continuing its assault for what seemed like forever, violating her in the most intimate and horrifying of ways. More and more seeped into her body, filling her up, until Sam thought she would explode. Karina began to exhibit the smallest signs of movement. Her lips curled back from her teeth, her back arched slightly, her pelvis thrusting upward from the bed.
She looked like she was trying to scream.
Finally, the flow of black sludge stopped. The tendrils began to slowly retract from her body, and Sam had the strange sensation he could feel her being carried back with them, her soul being added to its collection of the damned. The look in her eyes glazed over with the vacant stare of death and it was over.
Sam closed his eyes and felt darkness wash over him once more.
He awoke to find the morning sun sneaking in through the curtains, painting the dingy room with the harsh light of day. Now that the creature and its terrible cloud of darkness were gone, the room reverted to normal. Karina was still there, lying next to him in the bed, her body now held by the icy grip of death instead of the creature’s dark spell. Her muscles were still pulled tight, her face contorted in a look of pure agony, a silent scream frozen on her face for all of time. He felt oddly satisfied by the sight.
Sam crawled out of bed and looked around. He would have to start cleaning up, wiping down any surfaces he had touched, removing any evidence he’d ever—-
Something was wrong.
It was still here, in the room with him…watching.
“No!” he said aloud to the seemingly empty room. “I gave her to you. That was the trade: her soul for mine. You have to let me go!”
The creature’s response came silently. There were no spoken words, but it answered him just the same. The answer seemed to just appear in his mind, knowledge forming from nothing. But he knew it was true.
It doesn’t make deals, It doesn’t have mercy, and It can’t be escaped…but It does accept sacrifices.
Like a blackmailer who could never be truly paid off, it would keep asking for more. And the only way Sam could appease it—-albeit temporarily—-would be to bring it more.
Sam opened his mouth to protest, but then stopped. It was useless. He was as helpless against the creature now as if he were still paralyzed in his bed. He would have no choice but to bring it more, constantly feeding the thing’s insatiable appetite. It would be a dark and wicked road, and now, with both of the women in his life gone, it was one he would be forced to walk alone.
He began gathering up his belongings and wiping down the room. When he was finished, he walked to the door and turned to take one final look at the room. It was sickening, he thought, how different it looked to him now. Once a beautiful place where he had made so many great memories, it now looked like a graveyard of lost souls. Like many things in his life, it had lost its luster, becoming a shadow of its former self. He wished he would never have to see this place again, but knew it was a wish that would go unfulfilled. He wondered who he would return here with, and a name flashed in his mind:
His co-worker. His so-called friend. The man who was fucking his wife. What worse person could there possibly be? Surely the creature would want him!
A dark smile pulled at the corners of Sam’s lips. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all…
David A. Anthony was born and raised in Southwest Michigan but now resides in the Seattle area with his wife and dog. Having been a fan of dark fiction all his life, he now writes horror, sci-fi, and fantasy of the darker varieties. He is an avid reader, movie fan, and frequent traveler.
His short stories can be found in several anthologies and magazines and he is currently at work on his first novel. Find out more about him and his work at davidaanthony.wordpress.com
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Story illustration by Henrik Magnusson.