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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #1488568
He wakes up wet and sticky and unaware of what happened...
I wake up alone.  It’s quiet now but the shouts and cries are still bouncing around in my head.  Familiar feelings of revulsion and fear rush through me, but I remind myself that the others aren’t here; they’re long, long gone.  It’s such a relief at first, but now I’m becoming aware of warm, sticky wetness and a smell like uncooked steak.  I can remember them all urging me on, twitching and gyrating in their excitement like in some primitive ritualistic dance.  I don’t remember much else.  I’m on the couch, and the more I wake up the more I don’t want to.  Better to just go back to sleep.  But now that I’m awake there’s no chance of that.  Sitting up, I feel completely drained.  I’m covered in blood, I notice.  It’s sticky and sickening, congealed in lumps around my knuckles and streaks down my arms, like veins outside of my skin.  My shirt is wet and heavy against me.  What the hell have I done? 

         There’s a buzzing in my head, a low, steady hum like a bad ground in an audio system.  It’s been there for years, but now it’s getting bigger and louder.  I look around the room, squinting against the dim light.  Everything is as it should be…but there’s something on the floor, practically right in front of me, and I can't look at it.  It pushes my eyes away like an opposing magnetic force, yet it’s there in my peripheral vision.  Acknowledging this, the humming rises in intensity until I can feel it in my teeth, in my earlobes.  The echoing voices are absorbed by the hum, giving it energy.  Very suddenly I’m aware that I’m going to be sick.  I want to get up but I know I’ll never make it.  I lean over and puke down the side of the couch.  It’s disgusting but it’s hard to care when there’s already so much blood.

         I’m exhausted from throwing up but at least the buzzing has subsided.  Tonight’s dinner didn’t taste much better going down than it did coming up, anyway.  I have a little grin at that; I’m such a lousy cook.  I know I’m just distracting myself, putting off the inevitable.  I’m good at putting things off, like going to the doctor and especially taking my medication.  I hate how it makes me feel, or rather how it makes me not feel, not feel anything.  They assured me, though, that I need this stuff after what happened. 

         I don’t want to think about that now, but it’s all interconnected, the scene around me and the event that’s embedded in my brain.  I don’t need a shrink to point that out for me.  What I’ll never know is why they did it, or why they made me do it.  We were so young and we thought we had things figured out; at least I did.  God, we were stupid.

         The media blamed it all on heavy metal.  Yeah, we were metalheads, but that’s a minor detail.  What matters is that we were looking for something to believe in and belong to.  So much is made of peer pressure, the need to conform, all that bullshit.  Nobody even considers the non-conformists, the kids that want to set themselves apart from the trendy high school crap that absorbs and swallows everyone else.  It was so boring and predictable, which is why we forged our own scene.  But we were too young; we took things too seriously.  Everything seems so serious when you’re a teenager.  It didn’t help that I was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, and that I watched too many horror movies at a young age.  I always knew I was different, just not how different.   

         So heavy metal took the blame, lawsuits ensued, my friends did some time in a youth detention centre, and here I am with an incessant hum drowning out the vile memories.  So what happened tonight?  I don’t feel like I can handle this.  I consider leaving, averting my eyes and getting the hell out of here, but then I remember that if I leave I’ll be confronted by the very images that probably set me off in the first place.  The doctor calls them triggers, and they can be summed up as anything associated with Halloween.  October is a long month for me.  I don’t go out, anywhere.  I order all of my groceries online, and sustain my sanity mostly through video games and music.  TV is no good; way too much Halloween crap on every channel.  I go stir crazy like you wouldn’t believe.  A month is a long time to isolate yourself.  Still, it’s better than the alternative, which is going crazy for real. 

         I had an episode the other year; I guess you could call it a breakdown.  As I said, I try to stay away from all media this time of year, but the Internet is my lifeline.  I can hardly blame myself for opening an email once in a while, especially since I never see my family anymore and it’s how we stay in touch.  Anyway, I don’t know where it came from, if it was a pop-up ad or whatever, but I can recall the image precisely: a photograph of a black cat perched on a leafless tree limb, silhouetted by an ominous full moon, with a presumably haunted farmhouse in the background.  It was the most clich├ęd Halloween image you can imagine.  My landlord, who lives upstairs, knows of my problems and hesitated in calling the police, but when I didn’t stop screaming after ten minutes I guess he had no choice.  I had pretty well trashed my basement apartment, and I was still screaming when the cops arrived.  You see how sensitive I am? 

         Which brings me back to my present situation.  Oh God, I just want it all to go away.  There’s a trick I use when the thoughts and memories and ceaseless humming overwhelm me.  I have a strong imagination and if I concentrate and focus my mind I can actually transport myself to another place, as if I’m really there.  It’s like dreaming while wide awake.  The danger is that I can’t always control where I end up, but tonight I’m willing to take the chance.  Anything to get out of here for just a while. 

         I close my eyes and stop thinking, focussing inward, breathing, counting the breaths while imagining our old house and the yard where I used to play, counting the breaths until my body disappears and my mind is suspended in darkness.  I can feel myself travelling, soaring through space in a sudden rush, and the light begins to return, followed by my body…

I open my eyes.  The light from dozens of candles flickers and jumps, casting distorted shadows that dance along the concrete walls.  In this lighting the whole basement seems to twist and stretch, making me wonder what else was in the joint we just smoked.  Adam has stopped chanting but the arcane phrases echo in a voice that’s almost like my own.  Something’s about to happen; I can feel it. 

         It seemed way too Hollywood at first, enacting these rituals on Devil’s Night.  Maybe the others thought so too; maybe not.  But we generally follow Adam’s lead in these things, him being the oldest and the most headstrong and opinionated of us.  Looking around at their faces, enshrouded as they are by shadows, I can see that they’re all taking it seriously now.  Fatty is across from me; sweat glistens on his plump face though it’s not even hot down here.  Adam is beside him, tall and strong and serious, a black hood over his head.  To my left is Snaky, blinking his bulging eyes rapidly and licking his thin lips; swaying in the candlelight, he really does look snakelike.  Tommy Madder is on my right.  He’s new to the group but he already follows Adam around like his personal orderly, and though he’s short and not that stocky he’s established himself as a bully.  He even looks the part with a ruddy, freckled face, a blunt nose and a thick brow.  Our eyes meet and he stares at me and flashes a grin of secretive meanness.  I look away.

         Beside him is Fatty’s little brother.  We call him Junior but Tommy has started calling him Squirt, which he hates.  They are the same height, Tommy and Junior, but Junior is so thin that Adam can easily hoist him with one arm.  Junior is the tag-along of our group.  He’s the youngest, though in truth I’m barely a year older than him.  We tolerate him but Fatty can be especially cruel to his little brother.  I don’t know why. 

         Adam is a collector of Satanic and occult literature and we spent the last hour casting destructive spells on enemies from high school and charms on girls we like.  None of us have girlfriends so we’re all hoping it’ll work. 

         We sit around silent for a few minutes, afraid to break the tension, and then Tommy gets up and leaves the circle, disappearing into the shadows.  Adam is calm but there’s a hungry gleam in his eyes; Fatty is sweating and nervous.  Then Tommy comes back carrying a cage.  Inside, a cinnamon-coloured cat is waking up and stretching.  Tommy grins like the mean bastard he is.  Then Junior cries out, “Ginger!  What are you doing with Ginger?” 

         “None of this will work without a live sacrifice," says Adam.  "We have to show them that we’re serious.”  His voice is calm and reasonable.  It’s not clear who he means by “them”, but we don’t question it.

         “You’re not sacrificing Ginger!  Gene, make him stop!”  Fatty winces at his real name, and at his brother’s whining tone, but he remains silent.  Now I know why he’s nervous.  Tommy sets the cage down. 

         “Shut up, Squirt.  You heard the man.  We’ve gotta do this.  Travis, you’re up.”  He tosses something onto my lap.  It’s a small dagger in a black sheath, with a spider engraved on the handle.  For a second I can’t move.  The room is getting smaller; everyone in it is shrinking, their voices fading away.  I don’t feel myself walk over to the cage.  I’m detached from the whole scene, but I know that I have no choice either way; they’ve decided I’m going to do it and they’re bigger and stronger and older than me.  No choice.

         We set out to put hexes on others but really we’ve put a spell on ourselves, like we’re all possessed right now without knowing it, except Junior, who rushes at me at the last second.  I’m not in control anymore, and when I push the knife into him instead of the cat, there’s a second of shocked silence.  We stand frozen, staring, breathless, and then all the tension and anticipation is finally let loose, and as I return to the room and re-enter my body I’m surrounded by the shouts and cries and gyrations of the others, twisting around me in a Devil’s Night dance, and my head is filled with a scream, growing louder and louder, a scream from within that rises until it threatens to burst out of my mind and destroy us all…

A booming, pounding sound cuts through the scream, which is no longer internal but is being torn from my throat.  The pounding persists; it’s coming from my front door, and when I run out of breath I can see orange fur through all the blood, not Fatty’s cat but my landlord’s golden retriever.  I’m holding not a dagger but a kitchen knife, and I sit back, sweaty, my throat hoarse.  As I sit and wait for the police, the room begins to shrink, everything becoming smaller and smaller.  All I can think is, I had no choice.          

Word Count: 1982

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