My mother slowly bent to my height, her fragile, delicate lips touching my cold cheek. I turned my head to meet her gaze, “Just go already.” I gave her a push toward the dark red door. She picked up her bag; it must have been heavy because she quivered as she brought it to her shoulder. “I’ve never been away before. I mean, after your father left us.” She touched the door but her mind was elsewhere. “I know. But I’ll be fine, I’m seventeen!” I egged her on, giving a forceful smile. Yet, she lingered at the brass knob. “Don’t answer the door unless it’s an emergency,” she said sternly. “Get to school on Monday, don’t get caught up at work and-” she stopped, boring even herself, still insecure. “I love you, Jane.” She smiled again, with the ‘I’m trying my best’ smile you get from your mother all the time. “I love you too.” I waved from the couch. She heaved the massive bag to the car and reluctantly drove off the gravel. It was a pitch black, misty night. A sliver of the blue moon peeped through the curtains and lit the room with an eerie glow. I was ready for bed already, and slowly arose to set the alarm. I was halfway from the door when I heard it pounded by a mysterious force, strong for a knock. Just Robert, asking me to prom again. He’s never come so late. “It’s an emergency! Someone’s in the house!” It sounded like my old neighbor, Ms. Stampoli. I looked in the peep-hole of the dark red door; the frail old women was in curlers with a panicked strain of gray straw-like mangles peaking out of her tired skull. She was scared, jittering. A mess of bones, shaking in a display of chaos. Her pink robe was half off as a pessimist would figure. Looking over her shoulder, she managed to stutter, “Please hurry!” I grasped the door but let my hand drift away with remorse. I was deciding forever, before I finally swung it open. I was too late because the women was gone, and a tall man was looking down at me. I jumped back a little. He had a nervous look on his tan face. “My mother apologizes,” He spat out in a frenzy of frustration. “The power is out. Is Dena home?” he said in covered excitement. “No. Can I help your mother?” I asked concerned. “You come into the house then,” he said in an awkward manner. His house was a melancholy place; even the creaks in the wood floor echoed a slurred cry of the old lady’s lonesome soul and her separation from any hope. There were many mirrors that reflected only the vacancy of the man’s mindset. He brought me to a winding stairway that itself was living, breathing as I hopped up to the attic, where he said the generator was located. The room was misshaped, from the way the shadows hit each corner. It had an uneasiness to itself, a solitude. I turned to ask the mysterious neighbor figure what he wanted me to do. He was not behind me. “Mr. Stampoli?” I quivered, unknowingly. I paced in the doorway, a fleeting fear came over my senses. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned at a painfully slow speed, at the apprehension of evil, the impending danger upon me. “Didn’t your father ever teach you not to talk to strangers?” he said maniacally, with the same lost look he had given me earlier. Before I could respond to the scene unfolding before me, he thrust the door closed; a gust of air swept across my face, nearly hitting my nose. Quickly, I approached the gray door and began to wiggle the knob, but he was holding it, and I could not fight back hard enough. Minutes turned into what could have easily been an hour, as I lay on the dusty hardwood, pounding the door with whatever energy was left inside my will. All logic had been dismissed from my senses, and my expectations of hope had diminished entirely. Silently, I held up my head and carried my body across the room, surveying the place I was sure I’d spend the rest of my life. I lingered at the back wall, the one that looked on the door, who would have witnessed the struggle I had with the tortuous barrier between freedom and myself. I tried to calm down, but the bloodcurdling lump in my throat built up in my chest, and the wells in my eyes forced myself to reality. I psychotically began the talk with my senses, “What is going to happen is…” I swallowed the lump as hard as I could, “You’re going to die, but that’s okay.” I laughed a little at how ridiculous I sounded. “Who wants to live forever anyway?” I stopped. “I guess that’s okay. Soon it will be over.” I thought of mother and how she would be alone, and I realized at least I wouldn’t be there to see her suffer. I smiled at this wall, my only witness. My only friend for a while. Then I heard a thump at the door, feet climbing. I scurried up against my wall, falling over myself in anticipation, and closing my eyes. My eyes, the only shield from the coming experience, shelter from storm. He emerged victoriously from the doorway. I know he saw the tragedy in my face, but little did it faze him. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, Jane.” I opened my clenched eyes and fists, I swore I would not look at the monster. “You are my daughter.” He laughed. I tuned it out; death was supposed to be like going to sleep, musical almost. I did look up once; he held a knife over my head, drenched in red, and every time I felt it pierce my skin, I would not weep. I would not cry. I house that fear deep inside, though I did not die, a part of me did. The innocent part, the trust, that will be gone forever.
Alone, I was always alone; this is how I came to be what I became, I suppose. But I would not completely blame my downfall on myself; it was all because of something else inside me, something that I could not control, nor could anyone else probably. It was what made me insane. A voice so crisp and clear it must be real began to talk to me when I was about ten, four years ago. An imaginary friend is what it must be, was my initial thought when I first heard the voice. T.V. was the first place I heard about imaginary friends, but I had never been able to create one in my mind. Maybe you don’t make imaginary friends, but they come to you, already existing, I thought, thrilled that after all these years I finally had a friend. Responding to the voice started off as fun; it told me that I was just different, but better, than the kids at school, the ones who didn’t like me. I felt comfort when the voice spoke to me; it was my best friend, and my only friend. It caused me to feel; the emotions that raged inside me were always caused by it. “Hey, Eli, maybe if you stopped talking to yourself you’d actually have friends!”’ taunted Heather Jenson from across the sixth grade classroom. “You hate her, she doesn’t respect you, she isn’t worthy of her painless life,” the voice told me from inside my head. And I believed it because it made sense to me. With thoughts buzzing around in my head too fast to fathom, I moved across the room in a few swift motions, sharpened pencil in hand, and just as I was about to inflict pain upon Heather with my number two pencil, the teacher stopped me. That was the cause of my first trip to the counselor’s office; I tried to explain that it was all the voice’s fault and not mine, but no one ever listened to me. Anger was all the voice felt, which, of course, made me angry. A pounding in my head started when the deep voice boomed. Weaker is what I became over the two years, although I had caused more injuries, even to myself, and the voice grew stronger. It was a funny thing, like I was slowly being consumed by my own head. Most of my time was spent in my room, not alone though because of the voice speaking to me from my mind. Time was spent plotting, writing, planning, all directed by the pesky voice. Now though it wasn’t just in my head; my body started to surrender to the power of the thing inside me. Hurting myself and hurting others was what it was doing. I had been coached by the thing inside me how to perfectly execute a simple injury to someone else, nothing too serious, just a little trickle of blood. Being caught was not an option; I knew what would happen, something would happen to the thing in me, and if that voice, that thing went away, I could never sleep. Paranoia consumed me; the thing couldn’t disappear, it was too strong; it would come back for me, I knew it would. Being sneaky was a trait I had learned from my own mind, or whatever was controlling my mind. The thing inside me was powerful and forced me to do things that I never would have done without it. Sharpened knife in hand, I climbed up to Heather’s window sill, the Heather that had bullied me all throughout school. But I wasn’t really in control of my actions that night; it was something else, the growing force inside my mind, controlling me.The voice filled me with a demented thought:, I needed to kill Heather. And quite simply, I did. A knife in the chest is an effective way of murdering someone; I learned from that experience. And of course by the time the news of Heather’s murder had gotten around, I was paranoid. My mind, but not really my mind, told me not to be, and that it was all just in my head. How ironic. It was too much., I had to escape, “GET OUT!” I shouted into the darkness of my empty room, “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” I was insane. The next morning I was curled up in a ball on the floor of my room, memories from last night etched into my wrists in the form of bloody cuts. Why, why me? Why, oh why me? The thoughts ran through my head as I sobbed into my hands. As I was wallowing in my self-pity and guilt, my breaths coming in short gasps, a chant began. “Let me out,” it began as a whisper, “set me free.” Not the stupid voice in my head again, I thought, tears starting to escape my eyes. The throbbing in my head increased as the chant grew louder, becoming more powerful with each word. “NO! MAKE IT STOP!” I screamed, gasping for breath. The chant continued, consuming me. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and made my final decision. This thing was going to kill me; I could feel it’s power wrapping around my throat, restricting me from air. No, it was not going to kill me, but I was going to die. To take my own life would be to set it free, as it demanded in the chants which grew louder every second. It was going to be free, but so was I. Would it prey on another person, maybe someone even weaker than I? I would never find out, and as my fingers clenched around the handle of the knife, I jabbed it into my chest, using the same technique I had used when killing Heather Jenson. Good-bye, I choked out, exhaling my final breath.
Time, Mikey decided, could be described as nothing but enigmatic. It was perplexing how it appeared to work; it could dawdle at an infuriating pace, and just as easily speed by so rapidly that if you blinked, you risked missing the moment. But what was truly fascinating was the way that, no matter the pace, it never failed to drag everyone and everything along its constantly shifting path. Memories of childhood friends were just that, memories. Time had grabbed them one by one and pulled them along its perilous yet unavoidable journey, changing them from friends to strangers to less than that. Confiding whispers of childish notions had inexplicably changed to whispers of revulsion when he passed. At first it had hurt, and admittedly still did every once in a while, but Jimmy kept him firmly on his feet. Jimmy sometimes appeared to be his only friend. Not that Mikey minded; at one point everyone else had become insignificant. Jimmy had stood by him as a child, and he stood by him now. And though his appearance had changed over the years, his mischievous attitude had managed to slip from the suffocating grip of time. The two of them looked to be polar opposites, despite being inseparable friends. Mikey supposed he looked like an average sixteen-year-old boy. He was of average height and weight, his mousy brown hair cropped short. Shining blue eyes were always wide and curious and rested above his pointed nose. He had never been very interested in sports, but rather enjoyed reading and drawing, and was rarely seen without a novel or a sketchpad of some sort. Jimmy, however, was different from everyone else, although he preferred the term “idiosyncratic.” He was short and skinny but made up for his lack of height with his loud and boisterous personality. His small nose often donned a lustrous piercing that never failed to catch the attention of the light. His black dyed hair was too long, and the shaggy locks curled around his ears, but they managed to frame his pale face and bring out the emerald green of his eyes. If asked, both would say that they considered the other a brother if not more. Although, the only person that seemed to ask Mikey about Jimmy anymore was a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Kline. Mikey didn’t like her, if only for the fact she was his therapist. When Mikey had first heard from his parents that they had gotten him “professional help,” as they had called it, he had been distraught. He had locked himself in his room and outright refused to let anyone in. But of course Jimmy had found a way past his barriers and had comforted him like the good friend he was. He told him everything he needed to hear: that he was right to feel wronged, that he wasn’t crazy in the least. The kids at school were idiots to call him insane, and his parents more so to believe the rumors; because that’s all they were, rumors. Mikey finally left his sanctuary after almost two days, to find his mother anxious and his father furious. Tears streamed down his mother’s face while she watched his father scream at Mikey. “You need help, Michael! Do you understand? Because really, I don’t think you do. It’s not normal to have imaginary friends at sixteen. I thought I had been accommodating, but it’s obvious now that you are completely insane.” And really, Mikey had seen red, or at least he wanted to; he wanted to see red pool on the clean carpet of the floor. He wanted his father to stain the lavender drapes hanging over the closed window letting the light of dusk in, and watch his brain drip from the cream walls of the living room. How amusing it would be to watch him try and call him crazy when his throat wasn’t intact, but instead plastered to the comfortable spot on the sofa he so often occupied. But no, Jimmy held him back, whispered soft nothings in his ear for several long moments, until Mikey could do more than breathe heavily through his nostrils. When Mikey gathered the coherency needed to speak, his voice sounded alien even to him. “And just who is this imaginary friend?” he said icily. His mother’s eyes were red and puffy, and her slowly receding tears came back in heart wrenching sobs. His father looked disturbed and, rather than angry, sympathetic. “The person that you were just muttering to,” he said, voice devoid of malice but sounding wary and upset now. Good, let him feel pain. “Mikey, please, just try therapy. We’re doing this because we love you, and we want you to get better.” And so Mikey had gone to three different meetings in the following week alone, all the while repeating in his head as a mantra, I don’t need to get better because nothing’s wrong. His parents were the crazy ones, not him, and Jimmy had agreed. How could they not see him? Was it a cruel, elaborate joke? After their encounter, he had dragged Jimmy upstairs and held him close, needing the assurance that he was real, that he was still there. And Jimmy had held on just as tightly, providing everything he needed in the embrace. The comfort had been welcome at the time and Mikey still found himself craving it, but unfortunately, he was currently stuck in Mrs. Kline’s office again. “Michael, I want to help you, really I do, but this is the fourth meeting this week, and you haven’t spoken to me once.” Mrs. Kline rubbed her eyes tiredly, and then dragged her hand through graying hair. Really, she was just doing her job, but Mikey despised her for it. “Why don’t you tell me about Jimmy?” “Why won’t you leave it alone?” he rudely responded. Perhaps that was unnecessary, but after four redundant meetings, Mikey was ready to hit someone. His mood brightened when a face revealed itself through the low window on the opposite side of the room. Jimmy was there, outside of his therapy session, a sizeable hammer incongruously hanging at his side. Before he had time to contemplate what his playful friend could be up to, Jimmy drew the mallet back and broke the glass on impact. Mrs. Kline jumped up in fright while Mikey returned Jimmy’s impish smile with a confused one. “You really shouldn’t break private property,” he admonished lightly. Honestly, why did Mrs. Kline look as if she were about to fall over? Neither of them deemed her breathy question of “Who just broke through my window?” worthy of an answer. Jimmy slowly swung the hammer around in his hand and responded to Mikey’s own comment. “Where’s the fun in that? But come on, stupid, I’m here to break you out.” He rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you wait for me outside? I’ll be out in a minute.” And so Mikey walked outside with a bemused expression, and watched the clouds pass overhead. The sounds of pleading and screaming (and eventually a series of disturbing wails and squelches) were simply background to him. And when Jimmy walked out with red on his hammer and hands, Mikey ignored it, because he was a good friend. “So what was with the sudden onslaught?” he asked, mildly interested. Jimmy grinned in return. “Well, I decided I’m just a bit fed up watching people insult my best friend.” His smile dropped for a minute and he looked unsure. “Is that alright? Are you good if I get vengeance for you?” And Mikey found it impossible to say no to the bright green eyes pleading with him. Later, he was glad in his decision. He had seen the school trophy display tainted with the tears and crimson blood of his sixth grade bully. He had smiled when Cindy, the cheerleader that had once destroyed his beloved sketchbook, bled out her life from gaping sockets, her two missing limbs crossed under her head. Mikey had even openly laughed when his father begged for his forgiveness as his blood pooled on the clean carpet of the floor and stained the lavender drapes hanging over the closed window. And it truly was amusing to watch him try and take back his accusations of insanity when his throat wasn’t intact. Any regret for taking their lives (as well as others’) dissolved when Jimmy smiled at the end of their bloody revenge. “I knew all along you weren’t crazy.”
I could have sworn that I had heard a rattle of chains right next to me. My head shot up from my pillow and searched my tiny apartment. My eyes roved over stacks of old leather-bound books weighing down the coffee table, the green shrunken heads and indian dream catchers hanging from the ceiling, and the shelves of odd body parts in jars lining the walls. I sighed and leaned back against the headboard. That same dream! I thought shakily to myself. The nightmare I had just experienced was the same one that had been tormenting me for the past few weeks. In the dream, I was running around an abandoned New York. Empty cars and shops occupied the landscape. There was always a slight fog in the dream, too. Worst of all, there was always this… thing. A creature that rattled chains as it chased me down the empty streets. I could never see it through the mist, but that was okay with me; I didn’t want to. I threw back the blue covers of my bed and stood and padded over the cold floor to the bathroom. Putting both of my hands on either side of the sink, I stared at my reflection. It was distorted by a crack running down the middle, but I could see my deep chocolate eyes, pale skin, bedhead brown hair, and long upturned nose. I ran my finger along my jawline. I guess I would be considered attractive, but I didn’t care about that. I didn’t want or need human affection. I was done dealing with people, mostly stupid ones. I already had a job as a low paid mail boy at the law firm where my old enemy from NYU worked. I didn’t want the job, but the company was the only one willing to hire a drop-out. I had left college to further study the art of summoning. In fact, I had recently discovered an old demon worshipping book at a sale. If I could control that demon and his powers, I could find the path to immortality, I thought wistfully. I had had no luck yet in the book, though. I was even beginning to wonder whether or not spirits and demons existed. I did not like the thought of all that time wasted. I turned the handle of the sink and fresh water poured out of the nozzle. Filling both hands with water, I drank some and splashed the rest on my face. I glanced up in the gritty mirror and almost screamed. Glowing yellow, blood-shot eyes stared at me from the darkness of the apartment. Gasping, I spun around, sending droplets of water flying like a sprinkler. The room was empty. I let out a strangled breath. Heart pounding, I put my head in my hands and slid down the wall. It’s your imagination, I told myself, Nothing to be afraid of. I pulled myself together and got to my feet, performing my usual morning routine; all the while I kept my eyes on the mirror and the door. I left the apartment and started down the hallway to the elevator. The elevator was slow and smelled like sour milk, but I lived on the sixth floor. I wasn’t going to walk up and down stairs every day. Reaching out to push the down button, I hesitated as a cold feeling washed over me. I shrugged as the feeling passed and pushed the button, waiting a moment until the elevator dinged and opened. A wave of nausea came over me as it opened. I stepped onto the stained carpet and pushed the main floor button. The door slid shut, and the elevator started downward. As it bumped along down the elevator shaft, the dim lights flickered and the elevator jolted. I grabbed the railing on the back wall as the elevator plummeted down the shaft. I yelled and suddenly it stopped. Something was wrong. As soon as the elevator door opened, I froze like a statue. It was quiet. Too quiet. If you’re not from the Big Apple, you might not think this is a big deal, but for me, this was scary. Even in the main lobby of the old brownstone, I could normally hear the bustle of traffic caused by millions of people. Slowly, I crept down the hallway to the old front doors, listening for sound. There was none. I reached the doors and halted. I peered out the window and there was a frightening scene. There weren’t any people outside. The pizza place across the street, Robert’s Pies, was empty, the pizzas inside left uneaten. Taxis idled in the street. The fog scared me the most. Fear was building up in me. It was as though everyone had packed up and left. That was when I heard the ring of chains down the hallway. Bursting out the doors, I ran for my life, dodging in and out of cars. I kept sprinting until I saw something horrifying; Robert’s Pies. I had been sure that I had been heading away from there. I ran the way I had come from and stopped again. I was standing between my apartment and Robert’s. I couldn’t get away. I realized the chains had stopped. The creature’s voice rasped from the mist. “You should not have interfered with immortal affairs.” There was a shuffling sound and a mask appeared. It was like a hockey mask, but black spikes stuck out of the holes. The demon had terrible yellow eyes in which defined red capillaries stuck out. Then the rest of its grotesque body cleared the mist. It wore baggy rags and its skin was black. Two huge hooks stuck out of its back like flightless wings and had chains hanging from them. It then spoke again, “My name is Aka Manah, demon of evil thought. Time to die.”