QUESTION 1: ‘DO YOU WANT TO HEAR SOMETHING FUCKED UP?’
I wrote a whole book about how folks like to tell me their stories. Especially the really horrifying ones it seems, but I’m not complaining. Quite the opposite, in fact: My stock-and-trade is writing what I affectionately like to refer to as “Goosebumps for grownups” and some of my best work has been inspired by the truly batshit stuff people have shared with me (see: the “whole book” mentioned above).
I’m not sure how it all started, but it seemed that pretty much every time I’d post a new story online, at least a handful of readers would respond with a detailed email recounting some horrifying event from their own lives. Granted, strangers sending you private messages about the fucked up things that have happened to them might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, it’s an absolute joy and I hope you crazy bastards never stop.
Usually, you’ll start by telling me something along the lines of: “I always thought this would make a good story but I’m not a writer…”
Bullshit. You just wrote that whole thing down well enough to affect me as the reader. That’s all being a writer is and I’ll fistfight anybody who tells you otherwise, I often want to say, but never do. Not anymore, at least.
By now, I’ve realized that there’s a difference between being able to write and being a writer: One is a skill that you can hone and the other is a crippling addiction that you constantly have to feed once you start because otherwise, there’s no place for all those voices in your head to go and before you know it, you’re setting cars on fire because the stupid fucking moon won’t stop looking at you funny. Basically, it’s not for everybody is my point.
Plus there is something kind of cathartic about a complete stranger granting me artistic license to their memories. The whole thing can begin with something as unassuming as a DM from a Twitter follower.
Of course, I saw that message and was immediately intrigued. I responded to this girl, who we’ll call “Molly,” providing her with my Gmail address and asking if she wouldn’t mind elaborating further.
Later that night, she sent me a detailed reply and even before I was done reading it, I knew that I had to make Molly’s story the subject of my next article. Though this decision may have seemed like business as usual at the time, it is one that I have come to regret like a motherfucker…
So… it went like this:
I was sort of seeing this guy named [NAME OMITTED]. Or rather I was sort of fucking him even though he had a girlfriend. Not my finest moment, I’ll admit. [NAME OMITTED] was the lead singer of a popular local band and also an aspiring writer; his thing was mostly Bukowki-esque poetry and prose stories that were pretty good. Good enough. He was also kind of fat, mostly because he drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of frozen pizza. Very classy fellow.
I have absolutely no idea how he managed to bag so many hot chicks. His girlfriend was smoking hot. Plus, he had a small tribe of groupies that used to follow his low-rent rock band around from dive-bar to dive-bar and scream out his name between every throaty Bush cover.
So one night [NAME OMITTED] invited me over to his dorm room (this was all back when I was in college) and he tells me he wants to show me something. Keep in mind I was his designated “weird friend.” I’m fascinated by serial killers and the psychology of evil, etc.
Anyway, so he sat me down and said that I had to promise I would never tell anyone of what I was about to see, and if I did he would hunt me down and rape me and leave me dead in a ditch.
Naturally, this comment left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Eventually I nodded and he started to give me a brief background. One of [NAME OMITTED]’s childhood friends had OD’d a few years back and he had found the video buried amidst a box of old porno films [NAME OMITTED] had found in the back of his dead friend’s closet. The VHS had a one-word hand-written label: LYLA.
[NAME OMITTED] put the tape in a VCR (after ejecting Bambi, which I now find kind of disturbing) and pressed play. There was a girl sitting in a room that looked like it was in a trailer. From what I remember, she looked super drugged out. She wasn’t tied up or anything, just sitting there on an old mattress. She was wearing panties and a t-shirt of some kind and looked like she was about 18 or 19.
She said something to whoever was behind the camera, but the girl was so fucked up it just came out as incoherent mumbling. Then this guy appeared from the corner of the shot with this really weird mask pulled tightly over his face. The mask was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. It was flesh-tone and covered his whole head and it had this wispy beard. The skin was covered in all of these weird lines that looked somehow tribal.
Like I said, it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. At first glance, it was hard to put into words what exactly was so wrong about it but I’ve seen enough Halloween masks to know that this thing didn’t come from any party store. It must’ve taken me close to a minute of staring to realize the “mask” was made from the skin of someone’s actual face.
The victim had been skinned from the neck up with such surgical precision that the effect of looking at it on another person’s head was truly surreal. The man wearing the mask was rather pudgy and on the tall side, maybe 6’3. Other than that you couldn’t really tell anything about him because the room wasn’t super well-lit.
The guy in the mask began to fuck the girl. Not all that violently. It was kind of disgusting to look at, but not bad enough to make me stop watching. He smacked her around a little, but nothing worse than you’d see in hardcore porn. When he got done fucking her, the man went over to his pants and pulled something out of the pocket. It was a scalpel, I think.
Then he walked back over to the girl and slit her throat. She didn’t even try to struggle. The girl took a few moments to bleed out, her blood forming a large pool on the filthy bare mattress beneath her. Then the tape cut to black.
I think I was mostly shocked because it all happened so fast and the man in the mask had been so nonchalant about everything, like she was simply livestock due for a slaughter. But I guess what do you expect from a guy wearing a skin-mask?
Still, I was freaked out and mildly terrified that [NAME OMITTED] was going to do something crazy. When it was over, I turned to him and realized he had been watching me the whole time, gaging my reaction I guess. I managed to suppress my panic long enough for me to not sound absolutely terrified as I suggested that we take a shot of whiskey, hoping to ease the tension.
We did the shots in awkward silence. Finally, [NAME OMMITTED] asked if I liked the tape and I asked him if it was real. He said he didn’t know and we never talked about it after that night and I sure as hell never slept with him again (there’s something about rape-threats that didn’t really do it for me), though we still remained casual friends for about a year or so after if for no other reason but that it was college and I was an idiot.
I probably should’ve done something about what I had seen but I absolutely loathed talking to cops. Plus, the whole thing could’ve been fake. At least that’s what I kept telling myself. That skin mask had been pretty convincing, though there was still no way I could be sure. But mostly I just didn’t want to run the risk of being done in by some 90s pop-grunge covering, Charles Bukowski wannabe.
And that is my story.
About five months after me and [NAME OMITTED] stopped talking, he showed up to a party at my friend’s apartment suuuuuuuper drunk. He was apparently fucking a friend of mine from work at the time and at some point they went into the spare room to do it. About 30 minutes later we all heard a scream and my work-friend came running out of the room crying.
For the longest time she wouldn’t tell anyone what had happened but I eventually got her to confess to me that [NAME OMITTED] had been eating her out and bit one of her labia almost clean off. She had to go to the ER and get stiches on her va-jay-jay and everything.
Oh, also [NAME OMITTED] recently sent me a friend request on Facebook. I live on the other side of the country these days and the distance made me feel safe enough to accept the request, which I did out of simple curiosity. Apparently, he found God after his little girl was born and was now a Bible-thumper. I know, right?
P.S., If you include any of this in a story (and I hope you do), please don’t use my real name. As I mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan of getting raped and/or bit on my genitals. Thanks! ☺
QUESTION 2: ‘HAVE YOU EVER STALKED SOMEONE?’
My first step after finishing Molly’s letter was to search her Facebook friends for [NAME OMITTED]’s profile and sure enough, there he was. I gave his posts a cursory look and the guy seemed mundane enough. I was about to close the tab and try a different route when I received a private Facebook message from [NAME OMITTED]:
Why are you stalking me?
I had to take a moment to let this sink in. As far as I knew, there was no setting or 3rd party install that can alert you when someone is simply looking at your Facebook profile. Had I accidently liked one of his posts while I was scrolling through them?
I was sure I hadn’t but double-checked anyway. As I was checking through his wall, another message appeared:
You’re still doing it.
I immediately closed the browser. Then, for good measure, I switched off my laptop and shut it. Then I unplugged my modem. Then I locked my front door.
Maybe Molly had set me up. Maybe she had mentioned that thing about him friending her at the end of her email because she knew it would make me check out his profile as soon as I was done reading it. As nefarious as that sounded, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. And if that was the case, I had fallen for it hook-line-and-sinker because there was no way I was reconnecting the internet so I could ask her about it. Not tonight…
I tried to put the whole thing out of my head so I could get some sleep but it was no use. Every time I started to drift off, I would hear this sound like people whispering outside my bedroom window and my eyes would snap open and I would get up and look through the blinds to find no one there. After repeating this process three or four times, I went into the den and laid in front of the TV where I eventually managed to nod off for a few hours before I finally had to get up and leave for work.
About an hour after lunch, my manager pulled me aside and said there were two FBI agents waiting for me out in the lobby. In my sleep-deprived haze, I thought I misheard her, but she shook her head and repeated, “Two men from the FBI,” loud enough for everybody around us to hear. That snapped me out of it.
I’m sure I couldn’t have possibly looked more baffled than I did as I exited the elevator to see those two agents sitting there in the lobby waiting for me. They both had mustaches and were wearing similar charcoal grey suits. The men stood in unison as I approached with a hand extended to the older one and said, “I’m Joel Farrelly. I was told you were looking for me?”
The older agent ignored my extended hand and reached into his blazer. He pulled out a leather billfold and showed me his badge as he finally responded, “I’m Agent Matheson. Me and Agent Ennis here hopped on a plane last night and flew here to ask you one very specific question. A question I strongly urge you to answer with honesty and candor because otherwise, I can personally assure you, Mr. Farrelly, that lying to the FBI would be the biggest mistake you ever made.”
I was too dumbfounded to speak at this point and so I simply nodded in reply.
“What is your affiliation with one Mr. [NAME OMITTED]?” This was the younger agent (Ennis) talking now, though his gravelly voice made him sound considerably older than his partner. My mind was going a mile a minute as I tried to formulate the proper response…
I didn’t want to betray Molly’s trust, but this was the FBI. Chances were they had read our emails on the way over here and knew everything. But then why would they have come all this way to question me in the first place?
I had to assume that what they knew hadn’t been enough to allow them access to my Gmail account and so I decided to take a calculated risk and fudge a few of the minor details. “I write articles for this site, Thought Catalog, and I was researching a story about first-date nightmares…”
Matheson frowned at me and said, “About WHAT?”
“First-date nightmares… When you go on a first date with someone and it’s exceptionally terrible. Like let’s say you take a girl out to dinner and she won’t stop picking her nose or there was this woman who wrote me about a blind date who called their waiter the N-word… Horribly awkward stuff like that. Anyway, last night someone emailed me about a nightmare date she’d had with [NAME OMITTED]. I was going to message him on Facebook to get his side of the story but then…”
I stumbled as I tried to think of how to best phrase the fact that he had sent me running like a scared little girl when Ennis said, “But then what?”
“I decided not to include the story in my article. Why? Am I in some kind of trouble?”
Ennis gave me a suspicious look as he said, “Why would you think that?”
“Because I’m being questioned by the FBI.”
The agents exchanged a quick glance and then turned back to face me as Matheson asked, “What was this girl’s name? The one that wrote you about [NAME OMITTED].”
I shrugged as convincingly as possible and said, “No clue. She emailed me from an anonymous account.”
Ennis let out a defeated sigh and I was pretty sure my bluff had worked. Then Matheson gently grabbed me by the arm and leaned in close to whisper, “You’re going to have to come with us. Mr. [NAME OMITTED] is an extremely dangerous man and we have reason to believe that he wants you dead.”
These words hit me like a jab to the face and I reflexively pulled free of Matheson’s grasp. “Why would he want ME dead?”
“Your guess is as good as ours but we know that he does and that he’s coming for you.” Matheson grabbed me by the arm again, this time tighter, and gestured toward the lobby’s front exit as he said, “We need to leave immediately. It’s a miracle that we got to you before he did and the longer we waste time standing around here, the more likely it is that he’ll pick up our trail.”
“Can I at least…” I started to ask as I pointed back towards the elevators.
“No, you cannot,” Matheson replied and then hurried me outside.
QUESTION 3: ‘HAVE YOU EVER BEEN KIDNAPPED?’
I threw a glance back at the tinted windows of the office building behind me, wondering if my coworkers were watching as Matheson and Ennis guided me towards a green Volvo parked at the far end of the lot.
“So what’s the deal with [NAME OMITTED]? What makes him so dangerous?”
Matheson looked at me with what seemed like pity as he said, “He’s the son of the leader of Blue Horizon Ministry.”
“And that is?”
“BHM is currently the largest religious cult operating within the United States. The whole thing is a front for a ring of sex-slave traffickers. The church’s numbers range somewhere close to 70,000 members. The cult’s methods are notoriously violent and [NAME OMITTED] is, himself, a complete psychopath. He has committed at least five murders that we know of, but none which we were able to prove in a court of law. Point is if this guy wants you dead, he WILL kill you and probably get away with it.”
As we reached the car, Ennis pulled open the door to the backseat and Matheson motioned for me to get in. I was startled by how trashed the car was; I had to brush several crumpled fast food bags and about a dozen empty 5-Hour Energy bottles off of my seat and onto the already littered floor before finally sliding inside. Ennis shut my door as I did so and then got in behind the wheel as Matheson walked around to the passenger side while cautiously scanning the parking lot.
“I think we’re good,” he said as he opened his door and got in. Ennis nodded and started the car. As we pulled out of the lot, I was hit with a sudden thought: Matheson said they flew here, but the trashed backseat was indicative of an all-night drive. Why had they bothered to lie about something so trivial?
I glanced at the rearview mirror and found Matheson staring at my reflection. He reached across Ennis’s lap and engaged the child-locks. I glanced out the window to my left and tried to act as nonchalant about this as possible.
The car slowed as we approached a red light. It was the middle of the day and the intersection was packed. As quickly as possible, I leaned back and kicked the passenger-side window with both feet.
The window shattered in a hail of safety glass. Matheson turned and grabbed me by the collar of my jacket but I was able to slip out of it on my way through the window. Somebody honked as I darted across their lane and towards a busy strip mall on the other side of the street.
I sprinted behind one end of the strip mall and found myself in a suburban neighborhood. Apparently, neither of my would-be kidnappers had bothered to chase after me on foot and so I decided to double back towards the strip mall and found a rear entrance for a Starbucks which ended up being attached to a large two-story Barnes and Noble. I made my way to the men’s restroom in as casual of a manner as I could manage and then hid inside one of the stalls.
About ten minutes later, I heard two teenagers enter the bathroom and one of them took a piss at the urinal while the other waited by the sink and they continued their conversation regarding a girl at their school with “stupid boobs.” A short while after they left someone came in and entered the stall beside me and, after a tense moment of silence, undid their belt and sat down.
After he left, I decided it was finally safe to text someone to come get me but who? Who was even going to believe my story, let alone want to possibly endanger their own life by coming to get me? Who was I even comfortable asking that of?
There was really only one right answer to that question: My cousin, John. He was ex-Navy and currently worked for the New Orleans sheriff’s office, meaning he wasn’t a man who was easily phased. I sent John a text detailing my current situation and his reply was:
Sit tight, I’m omw
When John got there, he texted me that there was no sign of a green Volvo in the parking lot. I hurried out to his car. The plan was to go back to his house, where we could then formulate a real plan and I could crash for the night. But first we needed to stop at my place for a change of clothes.
When we got there, John (who, of course, had his gun on him) followed me up to my apartment. I unlocked the door and started inside but then John stopped me with a hand to my chest. “Hold up, let me do a quick sweep.”
I nodded and John pulled the 45 caliber Colt from his jacket as he entered my apartment. He flipped on the overhead light and then started down the hallway. As John reached my bedroom, he quickly shoved open the door and switched on the light.
He disappeared inside the bedroom and, after a tense beat of me standing there in the open doorway of my apartment with my hand gripping the knob on the front door so tightly that my knuckles were turning white, John called out, “All clear.”
I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding in and entered the apartment just as my phone started to ring. The ringing stopped as I pulled my cell out and it suddenly snapped a picture of me.
I must’ve accidently opened the camera app while it had been in my pocket. The thumbnail of the picture looked to be a pretty decent accidental selfie and so I enlarged the photo and that’s when I finally saw it…
The skin-mask was resting on the shelf behind me. The reason neither me or John had noticed it at first was because the shelf in question normally looked like this…
John started to holster his gun as he exited the bedroom but then he saw the expression on my face and froze. I had turned to examine the mask with my own eyes and pointed at the shelf as I half-shouted, “Look…”
Just then, something cold was pressed against the back of my neck and I began to seize from an electric shock so powerful that it knocked me unconscious.
QUESTION 4: ‘DO YOU WANT TO WATCH A SNUFF FILM?’
My head was pounding. It was so bad that I didn’t want to open my eyes at first but then I heard someone shuffling around in front of me and forced myself to look…
A tall naked man with a round belly and pudgy arms was standing in front of me, wearing the skin-mask I had seen on the shelf in my apartment. There was a flatscreen television positioned on the stand behind him, the TV displaying a blue input-screen. The flatscreen was the otherwise dark room’s only light source. Though, judging from the lack of windows and the musky scent, I assumed I was in some kind of cellar.
The man in the skin-mask started toward me as he nodded down at the mirror he was holding and said, “What do you think?”
I squinted through the throbbing headache to focus my vision on my reflection and let out a reflexive gasp…
My head had been shaved bald and someone had taken a black marker to my face, covering it in a series of lines and circles similar to the drawings on the tall man’s skin-mask. I began to scream.
The man let out a hearty laugh at this. I was seated on a tattered sofa that smelled like a wet dog. I wasn’t tied up or restrained in any way, but on top of the pounding headache, I felt strangely weak and was unable to stand.
The man eventually put a finger to his mouth and shushed me. My screaming faded with a whimper as my wide eyes continued to desperately scan the room. “What do you want?”
The naked man took a seat beside me on the sofa and set down his mirror as he said, “At first, it was simply to kill you. But now, I guess you could say it runs deeper than that. After I figured out you weren’t an actual threat, but merely the victim of a dumb whore with a big mouth, I almost decided to let you be. But then I read some of your stories and I’ve gotta admit…I was pretty entertained.”
The man suddenly turned and snatched something off of a small table beside the sofa, causing me to flinch as he turned back and aimed a remote at the TV. “PLAY” flashed at the top left of the screen and then the video began.
It was the same snuff film that Molly had described in her email… the intoxicated girl mumbling to the camera, the man in the skin mask, the surprisingly tame sex… After the girl’s throat was slit and the video finally cut to black, the man turned to me and said, “I never showed this part to Molly.”
The video started up again; the same static shot of the bed as before. The man was now gone and the girl’s lifeless body was splayed out on the dirty bare mattress. After several moments of immensely awkward silence, the dead girl’s head began to turn until her wide lifeless eyes were staring straight into the camera. Her slack mouth hung open, fixed in a silent scream as the girl’s stomach began to swell.
There was a muffled moaning sound that didn’t seem to be coming from her. The girl’s stomach was soon the size of a pregnant woman well into her third trimester and whatever was inside the girl began to pulsate as the moaning grew louder. There was a wet tearing sound and then the source of the moaning finally revealed itself…
Something resembling a tiny hairless chimpanzee with a nose-less face and no eyes crawled out of the dead girl and then over to her open mouth. The thing’s moaning finally ceased as a thin tentacle slithered out from its own mouth and down into her throat. There was a sound like sucking and the girl’s flesh began to wither.
The man in the skin-mask entered frame a moment later and scooped the monkey thing up in his arms, cradling it like a newborn baby. And as he approached the camera, that’s exactly what it became; right before my eyes this thing transformed into a completely normal-looking infant boy.
The man seated beside me turned and said, “We are legion.”
PROLOGUE: ‘THE END, QUESTION MARK?’
The next thing I remember was waking up to more pounding, only this time it was coming from the trunk of John’s car instead of my head. I found myself lying across the backseat and quickly sat up. It was early morning and the car was right where we had left it the day before; parked down the street from my apartment complex.
There was more pounding from inside of the trunk and I quickly leaned into the front seat to pull on the lever. I hopped out of the car and hurried around to the back to find John lying inside the trunk with his wrists and ankles tightly bound in nylon climbing-rope and his mouth covered by duct-tape. Whoever did this had the presence of mind to disable the trunk’s interior safety-lever.
“Holy shit! Hold on…” I said, holding up a finger. I found a folding-knife in the center console and cut John’s wrists loose. He took the knife from me and sat up. John cut the ropes from his ankles and then yanked the duct-tape off of his mouth.
“What the fuck happened?!”
“I was hoping that you would know.”
John squinted at my chest and then reached out a hand to grab the piece of paper that I hadn’t noticed taped to my shirt. The note read:
I HAD A GREAT TIME LAST NIGHT. CAN’T WAIT TO READ ALL ABOUT IT!
I thought about emailing Molly to warn her (that is, if she wasn’t already dead), but was worried that I would be risking drawing even more unwanted attention. If I’m lucky, this story will be enough to keep Mr. [NAME OMITTED] and company from screwing with me any further. Of course, just by posting this story I’m also running the risk of him liking it enough to want a sequel.