I opened my eyes and immediately regretted that I had. The routine had always been, leave school, get on the bus, take a nap, get home, and jerk the fuck off. A typical course of action for a multitude of teens, I’m sure, as they head home from school.
This all changed when Joshua moved into town a month ago.
The noise on the bus had become unbearable. My eyes forced open. Sleep was now an impossibility and without thinking too hard, I immediately knew the source.
I looked to my right and, after slapping him on the back of the head, David had Joshua’s hat in his hands.
“Confrontation engage!” Joshua said in his mechanical voice as he stood up onto his gargantuan legs. He made a flimsy attempt to retrieve his hat. Before he could grasp onto the object, it flung out of David’s hands and into Mathew’s grasp.
“Hey, you fucking retard! Over here.”
I winced from the insult and looked to the front of the bus with bleary eyes, and of course, the bus driver was doing nothing to intervene. His indifference was alarming, reprehensible to be honest. Like everyone else on this bus (myself included sadly), he was allowing the bullying to continue unabated. Butterflies rose in my stomach. I kept saying to myself, “this is the day, c’mon just fucking do it.” However, I just sat there and didn’t do a goddamn thing.
I had found a sweet spot in the social hierarchy of Andrew Jackson High School. Mathew, David, and their cronies were perched at the top. My poor friend Joshua was firmly smothered at the bottom. I had miraculously worked my way to somewhere on the periphery, neither target or player in the neverending jockeying of high school politics. By publicly throwing my allegiance to Joshua, I would upset the order of things. I had chosen, cowardly I will admit, to provide moral support after and not during frays such as these.
Mercifully, the bus reached our stop. Joshua cried out, “exit of vehicle engage!” leaving his hat behind without a care in the world.
As the yellow bus pulled out of sight, I began to comfort Joshua, going as far as to put my arm around him.
We continued to walk in silence. I regarded his enormous figure, really looked at him and sincerely asked, “why don’t you just fight back?”
Never once looking in my eyes, always looking over his shoulder, he said tonelessly, “conversation engage!” I cringed. Before he could answer, I interrupted him.
“Listen Joshua, it’s because you say weird shit like that that people pick on you. If you just…” I stopped talking. Joshua wasn’t hearing a word I was saying. He was staring at the space over his right shoulder. I grew frustrated. In that brief moment, I viewed him as complicit in his own abuse. “And that’s another thing. Dude, you’ve got to be like 17 years old. How the fuck do you still have an imaginary friend?”
This was the real source of Joshua’s bullying. For the past two weeks, he would spend the entire day talking to a man that wasn’t there, even interrupting class to hold conversations with him.
He was already a bruised and battered pariah before, and this only made things worse. However, he just seemed too oblivious and innocent to care. I mused that he must have some sort of undiagnosed mental disability. My anger subsided. My irritation with Joshua gave way to genuine pity. I stopped walking and looked at him with genuine sorrow in my heart. He stared over his shoulders, now regarding a street sign.
My tone deftly shifted to one of sympathy, now willing to meet Joshua halfway in his weirdness.
“Joshua, what’s so interesting about that sign?”
“It says no standing,” he said in his indelibly monotonous voice.
“So, yeah it means you can’t park your car here.”
“No, it’s for him,” pointing to the space next to him. “The man with horns. He doesn’t stand. He floats.”
Normally I would chalk that up to the usual odd nonsense that escapes Joshua’s lips, but something about that statement really got to me. It was said in such a creepy way and so sincerely that a chill overcame me in spite of the warm, spring air.
Wanting to change the subject, I asked him again, “Joshua, you’re a really big guy. Why don’t you stand up for yourself?” (Which begged the question in my mind, why the fuck don’t you do anything?).
Never once looking me in the eye, always staring next to him, he replied, “Don’t worry. No one helps me, but he came to me. He says I have potential. The plan. His plan.”
The conversation with Joshua had unnerved me greatly. One thought consumed me as I lay in bed. It was Joshua’s voice played over and over again in my head. I was rattled to my core.
“The man with horns. He doesn’t stand. He floats.”
“The plan. His plan.”
I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night without assistance. So, I stole one of my mother’s Ambien and had taken it while praying that slumber would eradicate the fear bubbling up inside.
As I lay in bed waiting with open arms for sleep to find me, my phone continued to buzz on my nightstand. I finally picked it up hoping to keep my mind off of Joshua and his… “friend.” My heart sank as his name stared back at me from my phone. I immediately regretted giving him my number on our walk that afternoon. It was done with good intentions and legitimate care, but I should have figured that, with his lack of social graces, he would blow up my phone. I read the first text.
I actually smiled. His idiosyncrasies tickling me as the Ambien finally began to take effect. However, what little joy I felt perished as I continued to read his texts.
He likes you, you know, potensheol ha.
Horns and glory. Horns. Hel. Eternal.
Him. Its always him. Forver.
He wants to see you. The plan you see. We’re steps. Just. His plan.
Say hi tonight. The plan. Tell him I said Hi.
Nothing in the world could prepare me for this. The Ambien completely overtook me as I fought to stay awake beyond terrified of what dreams may come.
I awoke with a start. Drawing my vision, the light of my alarm clock cut through the darkness.
It took a moment for me to realize that this wasn’t the only source of light in my room.
A faint, green glow was emanating from my closet. I blinked twice. I was convinced that I was in some sort of intense, Ambien induced, lucid dream. I noticed that the room was no longer filled with silence but a faint whirring sound filled the still air. I made my way towards the closet door one step at a time.
The sound of my footsteps on the hardwood floor of the bedroom rose above that ethereal noise. As I approached the light, it grew brighter. Eventually, the sound began to drown out my footsteps as well.
I reached for the knob of my closet door. As my arm extended, another high pitch tone entered the air, it resembled… laughter.
Drawing a deep breath and closing my eyes, I pulled the door ajar.
My eyes shot open. The light had disappeared.
I felt something behind me. With panic consuming me, I turned my head one millimeter at a time.
Two green eyes were floating over my right shoulder.
I backed away and fell onto my bed. I looked up and saw two incandescent green circles floating above the space to my right. I gasped in horror as they illuminated a pair of horns. The light grew brighter, revealing a sickening smile lined with fangs. Evil thoughts filled my brain and consumed me. I closed my eyes and prayed for relief…
I opened my eyes, and I was sitting on the bus.
The entire day had gone by in a haze.
“This fat fuck isn’t going to do shit!” David shouted as he grabbed a handful of Joshua’s ample bosom. Mathew gleefully grabbed his left breast and twisted it ferociously. I could only fathom the pain Joshua was in at the moment.
As fucked up as it is, I almost welcomed the familiarity of this abuse. He had scared me so bad the previous night that it was going to take some time for me to forgive him for the terrifying dream he had injected into my mind. I felt that my revenge would be turning a blind eye on that bus ride. Though this was a complete rationalization of my cowardice, I felt content in not doing anything at least for that day.
We got off the bus and began to walk. He finally broke the silence.
“Conversation engage,” he said with his characteristically flat affect. “He likes you you know. His plan.”
I shuddered. “You said that last night, and I’m going to be honest. You scared the fuck out of me. I am trying to be your friend, and that really fucked me up. Gave me crazy dreams. You need to knock that shit off.”
“He’s going to mark you, isn’t that right Mr. H.C.T.O?”
“This is the sort of shit I’m talking about…” I wanted to lay into him, but again I saw how truly pathetic this kid was. Pity filled me once more, and I backed off. No matter how bizarre this kid is, he still doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him. The constant barrage of violence was turning this strange kid even weirder. I felt guilty for my anger and ambivalence toward this clearly troubled person.
“It’s okay Joshua. Let’s just talk about something else.”
We ended up talking about video games. It was of little surprise that he was really into JRPGs (as was I but I kept this little nugget of information to myself). It turns out he had a copy of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment which I had been waiting to play with bated breath. He said I could come over and borrow it.
We entered his home, and I was immediately put off. His house had a strange, stifling energy. It looked derelict and empty. Darkness enshrouded his living room and kitchen. I remarked in my mind that his parents or any sign of a parental figure were nowhere to be seen. If they were present or involved in his life, they would maybe do something about the relentless bullying their son was subject to. My thoughts scattered as Joshua pointed to the second story and led the way. I ascended the stairs further into the darkness.
We entered his bedroom. It was drab, stark, and empty like the rest of the house. He reached for the lamp on the nightstand and turned it on.
I gasped. Four large letters had been crudely scratched into the wall.
Joshua saw me staring at them, looked over his right shoulder, and began to speak.
“I can tell him right? Mr. H.C.T.O. That’s his name. He scratched it there when he marked me. Plans Tomorrow. Potential.”
I looked at the wall, staring intently at Joshua’s large silhouette. Next to his shadow, I saw it. A pair of horns appeared on the wall floating over Joshua’s shoulder. Fear seized me.
I blinked, and they were gone. It didn’t matter. I left that house as fast as my feet could carry me and ran two doors down to the relative safety of my home.
As I entered my living room, I took a deep breath. I gave myself a pep talk. Listen, you need to calm down. Yes, he’s weird and the fucked up shit he’s said has gotten into your head, but he needs a friend now.
The fear began to dissipate. I texted Joshua apologizing for before. I told him I felt really sick and that’s why I left like I did. I texted him asking, we’re still friends, right?
Me, you, and Mr. H.C.T.O. are friends forver. See you tomorrow. Big plans. Tomorrow. Potensheol.
Though I was somewhat relieved, I still slept on my couch that night, terrified of what might be waiting for me in my bedroom and too timid to even check.
This time on the bus sleep was beyond impossible. In fact, even pretending to be asleep wasn’t going to cut it. The bullying had reached a fever pitch. Mathew had Joshua in a choke hold while David pummeled his stomach. The stress of the last few days had gotten to me and without fully contemplating the ramifications, I shouted at the top of my lungs.
Mathew and David looked at me with incredulous eyes. All of the ire they were directing at Joshua turned to me with a laser-like focus.
“What the fuck did you just say?” Mathew growled while glaring at me. David began to approach me. His hands were drawn to his sides in fists. He towered over me. All of the fear from the past few days was replaced with a new, more imminent terror.
“Did you just fucking tell us to stop?”
“Well… um…” I was a few blocks away from home. I was hoping that, if I could filibuster long enough, I would be able to leave the bus unscathed. Suddenly, a voice called out.
“Insult engage! Mr. H.C.T.O. wants to know, David, what does Mathew’s dick taste like?”
I couldn’t believe my fucking ears. Everyone on the bus gasped. Mathew and David turned to Joshua. They had an unparalleled look of rage on their faces. All of the fear I had felt for myself quickly transferred to Joshua.
The timing of Joshua’s insult couldn’t have been more perfect. The bus came to a stop. Joshua, got off the bus and ran. My heart sank as Mathew and David followed suit.
I called out to them, “he’s fucked up man. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” They clearly didn’t give a fuck and continued their chase. As I ran after them, I marveled at how fast Joshua’s enormous feet could carry him.
Joshua entered his home. Mathew and David followed soon after. My heart was racing. What the fuck do I do? I had only moments to decide.
I ran home and grabbed the baseball bat. As I ran over to his house, I called the police. Holding the bat above my head, I entered Joshua’s home.
It was just as dark as the previous day. But the most unsettling detail of all that afternoon was the silence that greeted me. I expected to hear shouting, but silence filled the still air of the empty abode.
I surveyed the first floor and found nothing. As I began to ascend the stairs, the creaking of my footsteps almost gave me pause, but I was determined. With bat in hand, I was going to make up for my inaction, all of the bullying I had let occur without intervening.
I rounded the corner to Joshua’s room and could see a light. I closed my eyes and steeled myself for what was to come next.
Nothing in the world could prepare me for the horror I would see when they opened. I dropped the bat and fell to my knees.
Mathew lay on the floor. Stab wounds riddled his body. I looked next to him to see the form of David. He had been stabbed so many times in the neck his head lay a few inches from the rest of his body. I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt my vision began to fade. That’s when I saw Joshua’s hulking figure standing over the bodies. He was literally bathing in their blood. His eyes had taken on a green, ethereal glow. He began to speak.
“The plan. The plan.”
Before I passed out, I looked at the wall and noticed a strange detail. The letters embossed on it the previous day were no longer there.
To say I was dreading this visit, would be a gross understatement, but I still felt horrible for Joshua, and I knew I would be the only person coming to see him. I entered the jail.
I was a wreck. So much regret encumbered me. I kept playing all of the scenarios in my mind. If I had stood up for him earlier, if someone else would have stepped in, it wouldn’t have come to this, Joshua facing life in prison at worst or committal to a psychiatric hospital at best. At first, there was a sliver of hope for self-defense, but that was dashed as soon as the sickening and brutal details of the murders came to light.
Looking at the glass through misty eyes, I could see Joshua enter the area. He sat down and slowly picked up the phone all while looking downward. I began to talk to him.
“Hey Joshua,” I said weakly.
He continued to look down.
“Conversation engage!” A tear streamed down my face as he said that.
With a manic energy, he began to speak. “He’s done with me you see. After Bill, he’s free from hell. Anyone he wants. Done with me. But you’re next. He’ll mark you, you’ll see. You have… potential.” His head turned upward and instead of glancing over his shoulder as he always did, he was staring at the space to my right with an unwavering gaze.
”The plan. His plan.”
The second he said “plan” my mind went back to the grotesque scene in Joshua’s bedroom. I could see David’s dead eyes staring back at me. I could envision Joshua picking up handfuls of their blood and rubbing it on his body.
Worst of all, I could see the green, demonic glow of his eyes in that moment.
Panic filled me. I couldn’t bear to be there anymore. I swiftly left the visiting area of the jail. As I was leaving, a man approached me. He had a look of terror and concern written on his face. He attempted to speak to me, but I blew him off and ran towards my father’s car.
When I finally got home, I looked long and hard into my bathroom mirror. I splashed water on my face as my thoughts continued to race. My phone began to ring. I looked at it to see an unfamiliar number. I answered and let the rage that had been building in my gut spill forth from my mouth.
“What the fuck do you want!?!” I shouted.
“Listen, my name is Dr. Williams. We need to…” Before he could finish, I had already dropped my phone. A scratching noise filled the air. As I stared into my bathroom mirror, I saw the letter O appear on the wall, written by some unseen force.