‘Child’ by Mark Towse

Child

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

There is an evil to him that goes beyond the worst I have read in books or seen in movies—an evil far more threatening than the shadowy figures I bring to life in my stories. The moments when I catch his eye make my skin prickle and my body shudder. It feels like he is running his fingers up and down my spine, and the coldness lingers deep inside me for hours afterward.

My fascination with dark fiction exposes me to all sorts of menace, but nothing ever comes close to the Man that only I can see. I was ten when the visions first started, and, as I got older, they gradually became more frequent. I am thirteen now, and, until the last week, I have been seeing him almost every day. In the beginning, he appeared as a blurry shadow out of the corner of my eye, but each day his presence has become more defined and lingers a little bit longer. I have seen him outside of the house, too. He’s at school, the supermarket, the park . . . everywhere. The same taunting smile greets me every time. He is always wearing the long dark leather trench coat that completes his ominous Manifestation.

Upon first glance, there is a handsomeness to him: pitch black hair, matching stubble, sharp features, a strong chin, crystal blue eyes that suggest purity. When he fixes you in his cold gaze and smiles, an innate ugliness consumes him. His eyes turn black and any humanity fades. It is more than a look of disdain, as though it is causing him pain not to reach inside your chest and rip your heart out. His smell is overpowering and lingers for hours after he visits—rotting meat doused with cheap aftershave.

I live in fear.

At bedtime, I don’t let myself relax, afraid that he might materialize from the darkness. My body lies rigid, eyes fixed on the corner of the room where the moonlight doesn’t reach, and I lay there praying for him not to appear. Eventually, I fall asleep, but sometimes he steps out from behind the closet and I run screaming into my mum’s room. The sound of his taunting laughter is not far behind.

My mum says it’s just a phase, like having an invisible friend, but she’s looked more than a little concerned of late. The interrupted nights and worry for me have depleted her to the point of exhaustion, and I feel guilty for that.

In a desperate attempt, she took me to see a psychiatrist a few weeks ago; a middle-aged lady called Doctor Roper. But, as expected, the Man appeared in the session. At one point he stood behind the doctor with his hands around her neck, mimicking strangulation. I was too scared to speak.

“Tom, take a lollipop and go and sit in reception for a few minutes please,” Dr. Roper said.

Five minutes later, my mum came out with smudged mascara and tears down her cheeks.

I love her. I know she must have been through so much after dad died, but that was so long ago now. It still feels like a dark cloud hovers over our lives. There have been a couple of men in her life over the years. Brian was the coolest, and I hoped he might become part of our family, someone I could perhaps call dad. Towards the end of their relationship, she started treating him badly and kept pushing him away. Eventually, he never came back.

Mum pretends to be strong, but I know it’s just an act. Sometimes I hear her crying in her room. I want to comfort her, but I don’t know what to say. If she is having a particularly bad week, I bring her breakfast in bed. She doesn’t even care when I burn the bacon.

I want to see her smile more often. It makes me feel warm inside when she does, but all I seem to do is worry her.

I often wonder what happened to my dad? How he died? I didn’t know him, and mum hasn’t told me much. If I even mention him, she shuts down. It doesn’t seem fair, but I don’t want to cause any more distress than I already have.

My episodes with the Man have put extra pressure on us. I try not to bother her with it, but his presence has felt more malignant of late, and that terrifies me. Last week when I sat at the kitchen table with my mum. He bent over and whispered in my ear that he was going to kill her and take her head back to hell as a trophy.

It’s hard to tell what’s real or not anymore.

Days have passed since that threat, with no sign of him. I try to convince myself that it was just a silly phase after all—a figment of my over-active imagination. Either way, the house is different without his presence, and things seem to be returning to normal. Last night I slept through for the first time in ages. Mum looks a lot less tired too.

Now, as I lay in bed, I am thinking about new characters for my next story. I even contemplate writing one about the Man that has been tormenting me, perhaps as a form of closure. That might be a bad idea, especially after the last few times. I get so engrossed in my stories that it feels as though the monsters might suddenly jump off the page. Sometimes I can smell them, and if I really concentrate, I can hear their low guttural growls as if they are with me. During my last story, I even thought that I heard footsteps approaching from behind, and I got so scared that I had to throw the pen down. I wondered if it is all just in my head, but that day I swore I felt hot air on the back of my neck. That’s how I know I am getting better at it.

As I am about to close my eyes, a scream rattles through the house. It’s unlike any of the movie screams I have heard before; this one is more of a howl, raw and pained, blood-curdling.

I jump out of bed and rush down the hallway into my mum’s room. The Man turns to look at me as I enter. He is straddling her on the bed with his hands wrapped around her neck. He smiles that signature smile, unveiling his perfect white teeth that only serve to emphasize the darkness of his eyes. He begins to howl with obvious pleasure, removing one hand temporarily to beat his chest in celebration.

I feel as though I might pass out and I lose all feeling in my legs. Frozen in place, all I can do is listen to my mum’s croaks as he continues to choke her, her hands flailing in front of his face.  She’s beginning to look like a blueberry.

Eventually, the room stops spinning and the dream-like sequence becomes all too real.

“It’s been a long time coming, child!” The Man screams.

I feel the warmth spread across the front of my pants and I know he sees it too.

“You’re next, piss stick.”

The mocking laughter that follows flicks a switch inside, and my anger erupts.

I close my eyes, and with the darkness serving as a suitable blank canvas, my imagination beings to paint the worst. The fear has left now. My body trembles with hatred instead, and it fuels my creativity. Soon the spine-chilling cries begin as the first few creatures take form in the temporary dungeon I have created. They are frenzied and starved, and there are sounds of tearing flesh as they begin to feed on each other. Bloody saliva pours from mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth.

As I begin to unlock their makeshift cages, the monsters roar and scream with anticipation; yet, they still feel two-dimensional—fine for my stories, but not good enough to save my mum. I will only have one shot at this. I need this creature to live, breathe, and feel. It must be authentic enough to be brought to life in this room. It needs desire; to be ravenous for murder and the accolade of most evil.

With my eyes still closed, I refocus. This is my last chance. I NEED to save her.

Then I am there, back in the darkness, but this is a new place—one I haven’t been before. There is a putrid smell of death here so strong it makes me want to gag. In the middle of the drab concrete floor, a dark green pool of viscous liquid angrily fizzes and bubbles away. And then the first green vine slowly breaks the surface and begins to dance erratically, as though feeling out its surroundings.

It feels much more real this time. I am its creator, and I have given it life and purpose.

“I demand your presence here with me!” I scream.

Before long, I hear raspy breathing in front of me, and the pungent smell of rotting vegetation fills my nostrils. The creature is born.

I hear a weak groan from the bed. Mum. I almost lose focus but keep my eyes shut tight and add the finishing touches to my creation.

Its green scaly exterior is fortified by hundreds of tendrils that are capable of latching onto their prey and holding them until there is no longer a need. The head is dark green and crowned with two large horn-shaped rocks. Its eyes are as black as coal and sit slightly above its oversized snout. Its nostrils searching the air for its first meal.

The elongated mouth opens to reveal layers of razor-sharp teeth, and its tongue drips with the green substance that hisses as it lands on the wooden floor below.

I open my eyes and watch the Man release his grip around my mum’s neck. He commands the creature to leave, announcing he is already doing the dark work. For a moment, I doubt myself and feel my legs start to go once again. The creature starts to fade, and the Man laughs and places his hands back around her neck. I briefly think that it might be too late.

“This is your fault, child!”

I stare at the scene with mouth wide open. My concentration has gone and with it my creature.

“She killed me, child – put a knife straight through my chest.” He says this as he opens his trench coat, exposing the two-inch wound.

“She killed your daddy, but I’m back now, and I’m going to take care of you both.”

I close my eyes again, and my mind explodes with confusion and rage. Soon the creature is back, but even more desperate and hungry. The roar is fiercer and more intentional this time. Its only sustenance so far has been the evil that I fed it, but it is present now in our world and with all the smells and temptations of fresh human flesh. The creature quivers as though it is all too much, and the tendrils start to dance in the air like kite strings. Finally, they start to work together and slowly pierce through the air towards the Man. He releases his grip and there is another plea for the creature to back down, but it doesn’t help him this time. The creature has fully crossed over.

The tendrils hover a few inches from his face, and although he manages to knock a few away, they keep on coming. The first few launch their attack, coiling around his neck like serpents, and the scream that follows is satisfyingly human. Slowly, they slither upwards leaving a sticky trail on his skin, and then the first one enters his open mouth. I see it visibly snake its way down his throat. Others follow, and soon the Man is clawing at his neck and gasping for breath. The ones not already in his mouth twist and writhe around his body in excitement and soon he is cocooned and incapable of movement.

As I finally open my eyes not wanting to miss the moment, I see the tendril’s hoist the Man’s heart from his mouth. The lifeless body falls to the bed, and once again the eyes fix on me. There isn’t a smile this time though, just a lifeless pose and an unnaturally swollen neck.

The creature roars once more and begins to feast on the heart.

I look towards the blood-painted face of my mum, unable to do anything but watch as my creation continues to dine on its prize. I can see she is starting to take in strained mouthfuls of air. In only a few moments, the Man is stripped of most of his flesh and his intestines lie glistening on the bed next to him. Once done, the creature begins to sniff the air again, ready for its next meal.

“Mum!”

The creature turns to look at me and bares its flesh covered teeth as it sends its tendrils towards me. I close my eyes again and vision the beast back to the place it came from, but it is strong and is not going without a fight. I feel one of the tendrils slide against my cheek, and then dampness around my neck as others begin to slither their way around me. The pressure around my throat begins, and as I begin to struggle for air, I hear the creature move in towards me. It doesn’t want to be locked away again. It has a taste for flesh now. All at once, I unleash the other monsters from their cages, but this time they feel even more real as though I have taken them to the next level. This is getting easier.

The green tendrils work astonishingly fast, pinning them against the wall and ripping them to shreds one by one. There are limbs and heads flying everywhere, accompanied by an orchestra of vicious snarls and pained whimpers. Then I bring a strategy to the savagery, and I begin to flank it from the left with my earlier creations. While it is busy making light work of them, my latest and worst rush in from the right. After a monumental struggle, they eventually manage to bring it down and drag it into its newly formed iron cage. The heavy gate falls behind it.

Finally, I open my eyes. Evil has left the room.

I run to my mum. She is in pain, but at least she is breathing. Her voice is hoarse, and there are red marks around her neck, but we hold each other tight in the knowledge we are lucky to be alive.

As she begins to recover, she tells me she has been seeing him too. Doctor Roper told her that it was just the guilt resurfacing – her brain playing tricks and projecting a physical manifestation of her inner turmoil.

“It wasn’t guilt,” she says. “I would do the same thing over again. Black and blue he used to beat me. That wasn’t the worst of it.”

She goes on to explain that if she tried to resist, he’d threatened to hurt the child. That is what he used to call me apparently, the child—not son.

“Something snapped inside him when he found out he was going to be a father. I refused to get an abortion, and that’s when it all started. He didn’t want to share me and punished me for loving you so much. We weren’t even allowed to leave the house. He said he would kill us both if I ever tried. One afternoon, I walked into your bedroom and found him holding a pillow over your head. That same night, I killed him. I took the largest knife I could find in the drawer and plunged it into his chest. . . and I am not sorry for that. He was an evil and manipulative bastard.”

I guess he even bargained with the devil for a chance at vengeance.

The bruises and cuts plastered all over her body were enough to convince authorities that it was self-defense.

I finally have my answers.

I understand now what made him so terrifying. This character was not a fabrication in a story. He was real—once human but with a soul tarnished by evil. His hate had continued to build even after death and was strong enough to bring him back into our lives.

I hope we have seen the last of him, but if he does return, I will be ready for him.

Evil lurks in the tunnels of my mind, too.

 


MARK TOWSE has only been writing short stories for five months now, but his passion and enthusiasm are unparalleled, and this has recently resulted in paid pieces in many prestigious magazines including Books N’ Pieces, Artpost Magazine, Page & Spine, Montréal Writes, Flash Fiction Online, a recent acceptance for The No Sleep Podcast and six anthologies.

Copyright © 2019 by Mark Towse. All rights reserved.