He would show up almost always at random, just out of sight. A fragment of my imagination floating in the far corner of my eye. Willow had told me to ignore it… to ignore him. She had begged me not to look, not ever.
“There’s no need.” she’d argue, “If he makes you uncomfortable, you ignore him. You pretend he’s not there.”
And I listened, to begin with. Out of love alone if nothing else. Refusing to acknowledge the specter in the shadows. But with time the urge to look grew stronger. I wanted to know who he was. I needed to know.
One late December eve Willow and I were walking home from a night of what we called The Triple Threat, the three D’s essential to any great night out. Drink. Dance. And Drag. Too soon we’d add Death to the mix. You know what they say; three’s a crowd, four makes for murder.
Drag. Madame O’ had been performing at Deep Lays, and God what a performance she gave. That b*tch was one damn fierce queen. We didn’t live too far outside of town, a mile and a half in all. A walk that seemed a good idea. It’ll give us time to enjoy the fresh air, and maybe sober up enough to enjoy each other.
Fresh air? That night was bitterly cold, a chill sat patiently over the gentle winds. Snow threatened to fall from bleak, white clouds that brooded in an almost rich, crimson sky. The tall buildings around us, imperceptible in all but shape beneath the gloom, towered like silent giants watching over the vast city landscape. A horrid glow tormented the streets and the starving back alleys, luminescent nightlife signs screaming bright colours into the depths of the shadows.
He was there, watching us. I could feel him, eyes boring into the back of our skulls. Look behind you. The shadow, a wavering figure just barely out of sight, taunting us… or me. Turn around, now! You know you want to. And by the Gods did I.
I wrapped my fingers tight around Willow’s hand, she could sense my unease, but said nothing of it. Instead she smiled. “Not much further.” she squeezed my own hand lovingly in return.
The streets were empty, all save for the figure lurking someplace not so far behind us. No other night crawlers were out on the prowl, not so much as a single cab in search of a fare was patrolling the roads. Utterly still, the city slept, and in its slumber he followed us joyfully.
Just a quick little peak, that’s all you need. Come now. LOOK AT ME!
Closing my eyes I turned to Willow, “He’s here.” I whispered, the chill carried off my pale lips.
Willow kissed me – she knew – hugged me tight, and whispered back, “Ignore him, honey. We’re nearly home now.”
And I might have been able to, ignore him that is. I might not have looked if the silence had remained as it was. But his taunting grew louder, like the dripping of a tap. Drip, drip. Drip, drip. An itch on my mind and in my ears, one that I badly needed to scratch. After all – I told myself – you just need to turn the tap a little tighter…
“Ella, no!” Willow grabbed at my arm, trying to stop me mid-turn. But she was too late; I’d already seen him.
A man unnaturally tall and hellishly thin, only bones to outline his being, cheeks, and ribs, and skullen hands. He wore a cloak of pale grey, the same colour as what little skin he had. Though that skin… it looked more like leather, and it frayed and flaked at every join.
In his hand he held a dagger, a blood red eye within the hilt, watching me, and watching Willow.
Willow reached into her pocket and took out a knife of her own. A flip knife… so small, what good could it do!
“What… what the hell are you doing?” I cried, my voice quivering from more than just the cold.
Willow knelt down before the sidewalk and began frantically carving, then she turned to me and with an eerie calmness said, “Run, and whatever you hear don’t you dare look back.” she nodded and with her lips mouthed I love you.
I don’t know why but I did as she asked, I started to run. My legs carried me away without so much as a second thought, or even a first. Yet it was no use. I’d seen him. What was done was done.
I urged myself to stop. To turn around. To watch. But why?
Upon the sidewalk strange runes carved by knife (but not all that strange to my mind) began to char and blacken. From without them drooled a steady, rising mist of ash. Clumped together the ash became a figure, limping, bent double over back, heavy claws dragging at its side. Willow smiled, and it was a sickly thing to see.
“Oh, Willow.” the man in the grey tittered, “Return her to me and let this all be done.”
I noticed now that the man had no eyes of his own, just hollow sockets in his skull. But his face, I recognised it. Where from? I ran rapidly over long ties of memory. There was something there, hidden deep, something I’d forgotten.
Willow’s ashen demon was bounding toward the man in grey, its guttural cries desecrating the somber silence of the cities night. Lights flickered in the windows of those tall and lurching buildings. Some high. More low. Shadows had started gathering in the wake of their yellowed, yawning mouths.
The man in grey shook his head, tongue lolling in his mouth. “I really wish you wouldn’t.” he said, and without seeming to move the dagger flew from his hand, turning over in the air, the lone eye seeming still to glare longingly at me. Me! More so than Willow. Me!
The dagger found its mark, buried deep within the ashen creature’s forehead. In a glorious blaze that soon fizzled out the creature disbanded, melting away against the slabbed floor of the sidewalk.
“Too long I’ve waited for this.” the man in grey began, and with a subtle flick of the wrist the dagger rose up and returned to his hand, “Do you think so common a creature could stop me?” he let loose a heavy sigh, “I tire of our games, Willow. Give the girl to me. She is mine by rights. Mine!”
Give the girl to me… a sudden realisation dawned upon me, and piece by piece this skeletal figure of a man found its place within my memory. Sebastian? I recalled him as a man much younger, and far more lively in the flesh. It was the eyes that had tricked my not entirely sober mind. Sebastian. Dearest friend to my father, the only one to have watched him die…
“Willow, what’s going on?” I stumbled toward her, my head aching, my heart thrumming in my chest, “How can this be?”
Willow turned to me, the runes about her feet half smoking, something new was rising up from whatever hell lay down below. But I didn’t recognise her anymore. Willow, with a face so gaunt and lifeless, festering with flies. I screamed, but no sound came free. She looked at me through tired eyes, her lips curled into a snarl, hissing in attempt at a wordless apology.
There were threads, I noticed, like rope formed from dusted light, running from Willow – binding around her neck, her chest, her wrists – down into the Earth. Something was pulling on them, dragging her down, dragging itself up. She groaned, tears of black streaking her face.
The man in grey laughed a senile sort of laughter, he was strolling toward us with not a care in the World. More and yet more shadows gathered, and some far distant way off sirens were calling.
The ground began to shake and all around cracks grew from the waning runes upon the walkway. I tried to come closer, but Willow forced me back. She shook her head, skin flaking from her scalp. Is she dying? I wondered, heart wrenching at the thought. No. She’s already dead.
Again the man laughed, teeth chittering in his ancient gums, each step taken enthralled in agonising humour.
“It needn’t be like this.” he jived, “Your tricks will do no good, not now my child, not anymore.” spreading his arms to show in all their glory his jarring cage of ribs, the man in grey settled upon me, beckoning me to him. He twirled the dagger with crimson eye about his skeletal fingers.
The ground burst open. The dagger fled his hand. Willow wrapped me fully in her arms, this time throwing herself around me… it all happened so suddenly, there was no warning of what was to come.
Willow’s body started to fade, to fade from life, to fade to dust. I saw the dagger in her back, blood pooling round the blade. It was meant for me! I screamed, my eyes straining to love the rotting corpse that once was Willow, clutching still at what life it had left. She staggered up to kiss me, but I pulled away. Away! A horror flooded through her face. And then she was gone. A powder to the wind. A last kiss lost. A face never seen again.
I fell to a heap upon the ground as the man in grey drew closer.
“There, there, my girl. You’ve nothing more to fear. Suffering soon ends.”
Up out of the ground rose the spawn of some unearthly creature; with legs too many thickly coated in a fur that writhed to stand on end. With a dozen eyes of oozing black that swam freely about its malformed body. With yet more and more hands growing and grabbing to haul the heavy beast up and out of its pit. With a tail lashing out about behind it with poison dripping from its tip.
This unearthly spawn reared up onto its hind legs, shrieking at the man in grey. He retreated a step, teeth gritted in frustration. “Even in death she mocks me.” he cursed, “You may have to wait, my dear.” he looked intently down upon me, a fetal ball strewn across the sidewalk. The runes simmered at my feet and all around a powder settled like snow, smelling so sickly sweet of Willow.
The man in grey raised his arms, and the shadows drew closer, spectators he’d now brought to life. The spawn shrieked once again, only now it was the one stepping back…
My God, it’s scared of him!
I closed my eyes. This is all a dream. I told myself. But I knew that was a lie.
If only I’d listened… perhaps she’d have lived.
Too curious! Was I. And so close to home.
Too curious! Was I. And now left alone.
Copyright © K R Perry 2019