“Dumbly, I shamble about, a thing that could never have been known as human; a thing whose shape is so alien a travesty, that humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance.”
I need to be honest with you. Since the recent Presidential election, I haven’t really been “feeling it” with regards to writing any scary stories. Which is a shame because it’s pretty much the only thing I’m good for (the irony of a sentence where I claim to be a proficient writer ending in a preposition was for you, Elisha.) Now, I’m not looking to get too overtly political here but I also know I’m not the only American who feels like they are living in a divided nation.
The electoral college aside, I think the biggest problem with the current state of U.S. democracy is this adversarial “us versus them” mentality that we are ALL at least a little guilty of ascribing to our political leanings. How we shape society should be treated as an ongoing conversation, not a rumble between the Greasers and the Socs. And that kind of truth is simply too sad to be scary.
So, I decided that the healthiest option would be for me to simply take a break. I had just finished writing an entire novel, after all. Plus, by that point it was nearing the holidays and I figured there couldn’t be much harm in giving my brain a few week’s reprieve from having to dream up all that horrific shit I like to write about.
It was maybe eight days into this self-imposed sabbatical when I started having the nightmare. Yes, THE nightmare. Singular. The same one. Every night. If you know my work, then you know I’ve had a lifelong issue with chronic nightmares.
That’s not what this was.
No, this particular nightmare was something else entirely. For starters, regardless of how honed my normal dream-retention skills were, I could never remember this one when I woke up. I knew it had to be the same recurring dream each time, though.
I kept waking to find myself basted in a feverish sweat, believing that some sort of large aircraft had just passed over my house, flying so low to the ground that I could still feel it rattling the fillings in my teeth. And every time, my first impulse was to switch on the TV and check the 24-hour news channels, certain that they would be airing live coverage of… something.
This was typically the point where I would try to recall the dream in question and realize that I couldn’t. And for someone who has spent over a decade honing their lucid dreaming skills, suddenly not being able to remember a nightmare can be even more disturbing than the nightmare itself.
Not in this particular case, of course. In this case, the actual nightmare was WAY worse. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Eventually, I became so desperate for answers that I decided to tell my shrink about it.
I started seeing him around the beginning of 2016, after making it my New Year’s resolution to try and improve my interpersonal communication skills. Of course, that decision probably made a bit more sense if you also knew that I had just finished sabotaging yet another relationship with a girl I genuinely cared about (bringing the current grand total to: “all of them.”)
Hence the shrink. His name was Dr. Ed Skoog. When he introduced himself, he said, “Most of my patients just call me ‘Skoog.’”
“Can I call you Skoogie Howser, M.D.?”
“Not for the rate you’re paying me.”
I slowly nodded and replied, “You’ll do.”
And he had. When I told Skoog about my recurring nightmare and how it kept leaving me with this unshakable sense of impending doom, he seemed genuinely intrigued.
After taking a beat to consider something, Skoog finally pointed at me and said, “We could always go the Exorcist II route and hypnotize you. I actually know a guy. You’ll like him. He’s a girl and she’s quite attractive.”
“Is this like a Bruce Jenner situation?”
Skoog chuckled and slowly shook his head, looking a bit bashful as he replied, “No, I was just being weird. I try to adopt a tone that’s most effective for each of my patients. You generally respond well to weird. Weird and movie references.”
“Damn, Skoogie. You ARE good.”
We agreed to schedule the hypnosis session for that next Wednesday but when I arrived at his office the following week, the lights were off and the door was locked. Confused, I retrieved Skoog’s business card from my wallet and called the number listed on there, but all I got was his voicemail. I started to put his card away and that’s when I spotted it.
There, in the section of my wallet where I kept pertinent business cards, was one for a Hypnotherapist. It was hard to miss. I’m pretty sure if you just say that profession out loud, somewhere a proud father’s “#1 Dad” mug shatters. Though, what was truly jarring about this specific card was the intense sense of deja vu that I felt when I saw it.
I needed to know how the card had gotten into my possession and was unlocking my phone to call this “Miss Leena Virtanen, Hypnotherapist”, when I noticed the date on my home screen. I did a literal double-take as my confusion suddenly transformed into full-on dread. It wasn’t Wednesday. It was Thursday.
For you non-mathematicians, that meant I had somehow lost a whole day.
I let that sink in, tried to process the implications, and decided to put a pin in them for now as I dialed the number on the card. It was a good ten rings before someone answered and I heard a woman’s irate voice scream, “WHAT?!”
I cleared my throat and asked, “Is this Miss Virtanen, the um… Hypnotherapist?”
There was a brief pause on the other end and then, to my surprise, the sound of laughter. Manic, humorless laughter and then finally she said, “Who is this, Skoog’s patient? Why the FUCK are you calling me?”
“I have no memory of yesterday… It’s just one big blank.”
The woman emitted an exasperated scoff and said, “Yeah, Sherlock. There’s a reason for that.”
It took me a moment to decipher what this meant and finally I replied, “Wait… You’re saying YOU did this to me?!”
She echoed my question back at me in a mocking tone, “WHY?! Why do you think your shrink hung himself?!”
That hit me like an unexpected punch to the gut and it took a moment before I could form the words to ask, “When did Skoog hang himself?”
“I really don’t have time for this.” CLICK.
“Well fuck you too…” I lowered my phone and glanced down at the card in my hand to double-check her name as I condescendingly muttered, “LEENA.”
Fortunately, an address had been scribbled onto the back of Leena’s card in what looked like Skoog’s handwriting. Now, your experience may vary but I don’t generally see a lot of Hypnotherapy clinics around where I live, so I assumed it was the kind of gig that appealed to mostly work-at-home types.
Which is why I wasn’t even a little surprised when the address on the card eventually led me to an upscale residential neighborhood. I pulled to a stop in front of the large brick two-story house matching this address just as a guy wearing a faded Blind Melon t-shirt came storming out through the front door.
He had graying sideburns and was carrying a box labeled “MAN CAVE” with a George Foreman grill perched precariously atop it. I exited my car and waved hello as the man spotted me. Even with the black thick-framed glasses obscuring his eyes, I could tell he had been crying.
The guy used a keyless entry fob to pop the trunk on the sedan parked in the driveway. He turned to set his “MAN CAVE” box down inside the open trunk and, with his back still to me, the man said, “I don’t think she’s seeing any patients today, hombre.”
I was worried I might have to deal with a receptionist or gatekeeper of some sort and had already thought up an appropriate lie on the way over here.
“I’m a… I mean I WAS a friend of Skoog’s,” I said, being sure to emphasize the pause for good measure. “Leena asked me to come over.”
I flinched as he slammed the trunk’s lid closed. The guy slowly turned to face me. He took a moment to look me over and then he said, “You fuck her yet?”
I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly and started to reply, “I’m sorry, wha…”
The guy cut me off as he said, “Or was this like, you know, the plan? Jesus, she couldn’t at least tell you to wait until I was gone? That cold-blooded bitch.”
“I… That’s really not…”
The guy held up a hand as he interrupted me once more to say, “Dude, don’t even worry about it. I wish you the best of luck. I really do. Maybe you can help pull her out of whatever this shit is because I don’t have the fucking strength anymore.”
As he said this last line, he turned and got into his car. As the guy started to drive off, I glanced over at Leena’s house and saw that he had left the front door sitting wide open. For the record, kids, what I did here was STILL technically “Breaking and Entering” in the eyes of the law. But, to quote my close personal friend, Batman…
“Laws are for bad guys. If some punkass busta crosses you, they gotta get got.” — Detective Comics #43, “The Dark Knight Straight Cuts a Bitch”
I found Leena in the living room, kneeling in front of a lit fireplace. She was wearing an oven-mit on her right hand, which was gripping a red-hot butter knife. As she heard me enter the room, Leena said, “For fuck’s sake, Rory. What could you possibly-OH…”
She had turned to see that I wasn’t Rory and appeared to be almost relieved when she spotted me standing in the entrance to her den. With her gaze locked to mine, Leena pressed the flat side of the glowing-red butter knife to her forearm, prompting me to shout, “What the fuck?!”
“You caused this,” Leena said, her tone disturbingly neutral. “This is what your dream did to me.”
“I’m… so sorry,” I replied, not really knowing what to say, which was a rare feeling for me.
“You REALLY wanna hear it, huh? I mean, that’s why you came here, right? Fine,” Leena said, lifting the butter knife from her smoking flesh and revealing a charred strip of skin that matched the three other burn marks already lining the underside of her arm as she pointed at the hallway behind me.
“First door on your left is my office. Laptop in there has the recording of your session saved on it. The password is ‘wetmeadow’, no space. Look for the audio logs folder on the desktop. File labeled yesterday’s date.”
Leena slipped off the shirt she was wearing while she spoke, briefly flashing me her bare breasts as she then turned back to face the roaring fire. I would rather not describe where she put that knife next, but let’s just say I’m pretty sure she should’ve been screaming. I found that file on Lena’s computer and sent it to myself and then I promptly got the fuck out of there.
“January 11th, 2017. Patient is Joel Farrelly. Male, caucasian…”
“Is it that obvious?”
“That was said patient. I am joined by my associate, Dr. Ed Skoog. Ed, you mind saying something to confirm your presence?”
[Skoog clears his throat.]
“Something to confirm my presence.”
“Never heard that one before. Thanks, Ed. Okay, all parties are aware of and have consented to this recording.”
[It sounds like the recording is paused here and resumes once the hypnosis has taken effect.]
“Okay, Joel. Tell me where you are.”
“I’m… in a dark room. Pitch black. It feels… It feels like I’m nowhere.”
“Is this your nightmare?”
“No. But it’s where I go when I have it.”
“How do you mean?”
“There’s something in the room with me… I can hear it moving around.”
“Can you describe it? The sound. What does it sound like?”
“It… It’s saying it wants to tell you something.”
“Go ahead. We’re listening.”
[There is an audible gasp from both Leena and Skoog.]
“Is it normal for people under hypnosis to sit up and smile like that?”
“Not really. Joel?”
[The voice that replies is not mine. I know everyone says that about recordings of themselves but trust me. This doesn’t sound like ANYONE, save for maybe the unholy offspring of Bobcat Goldthwait and that guy who narrates movie trailers.]
“Guess again, Tits.”
“OH-kay… Can I ask who I’m speaking with then?”
“Names are a human concept. If you want to know WHAT I am, let’s just say that the nerd I’m talking to you through spends a lot of his time hunting down horrors to write about and every once in awhile, he actually finds them.”
“So what did you wanna tell us?”
“The same thing I’ve been trying to tell this pussy for the past three weeks. I can see the future and I see something… AMAZING that is about to happen. Something that will redefine the world as you stupid humans know it.”
“And what’s that?”
“Several weeks from now, a large commercial plane will take off from a major U.S. airport with something in its cargo-hold. This particular something will not have been put there by anyone who loaded or boarded the plane. Rather, it crawled in of its own accord an hour earlier, having scaled the plane’s extended landing gear with a clear sense of purpose… Once they are safely off the ground, it completes what can only be described as a molting process in which the thing officially transforms from an ‘it’ into a ‘he’ and he emerges from a hatch in the floor of the first class cabin to finally reveal himself to humanity, once and for all. He has been planning this for eons. A few minutes after his grand entrance, someone on the ground receives the first of what will become many phone calls from the passengers aboard that doomed flight…”
[The volume of the thing’s voice grows louder as Leena moves the recorder closer to my mouth.]
“They are told stories of a man who isn’t really a man. He shares the shape, but only vaguely. He has arms but no real hands to speak of. Dangling from the end of each jagged gray limb is what appears to be a cluster of tiny toothless mouths. His head is like a small sun, a featureless ball of molten light that you can’t look directly at without eventually going blind… But despite the man’s strange appearance and the fact that his first order of business had been to kill and consume all 4 children aboard including a 10-month old baby girl, everyone along with the pilots agree that he is still a really great guy who means well. He simply can’t allow them to land just yet. He has so many fun games planned. So many neat experiments… He tells his messengers to warn their friends and family that if anyone tries to shoot them down in the meantime, the entire nation will come to regret it. Of course, the U.S. government doesn’t heed this warning and immediately scrambles a pair of fighter jets to converge on the plane’s location. Seeming to sense their approach, the man with the sun for a face crawls out onto the underside of the plane, held fixed in place by his strange appendages as his gleaming head illuminates the night sky like an exploding firework frozen in time. The fighter pilots spot him while still well out of firing-range and both of them immediately crash as a result.”
“Fascinating as all this is, Leena, I feel like…”
[Leena abruptly shushes Skoog.]
“This is exactly why you asked me here. Now PLEASE… Shut up.”
[An awkward pause follows and then Skoog mutters something inaudible. A beat later, the thing speaking through me continues its story…]
“The man’s radiant appearance quickly draws a crowd of mesmerized onlookers on the ground below and everyone who catches sight of him becomes hopelessly transfixed, desperately sprinting to stay within the glow of the man’s molten face and running as fast as they possibly can until their kneecaps shatter and their legs give out and even then, they will continue to crawl towards the plane long after it has flown out of sight. News outlets issue warnings and special reports. An endless slew of talking heads and fancy color graphics, and all of them more-or-less saying the same thing. ‘Don’t look up!’ But by then, it is already too late. Just the sight of him has inadvertently killed hundreds and left thousands more disabled… And this was only a demonstration. The man soon climbs back inside the plane, confident that his point has been made. He returns to the passengers who he now refers to as his children and the man informs them that before they can officially get started, he will need to surgically remove everyone’s genitals. The man insists that it’s for their own safety and tells the passengers not to worry. They will get them back soon enough… Just with a few minor alterations.”
[The recording abruptly cuts again here and then resumes with the constant din of the voice talking through me now only faintly audible in the background while Leena speaks directly into the microphone.]
“Five hours in and he’s still going. My digital recorder is running low on memory and I’ve decided to delete most of what we have so far to make room. Not that I ever plan on listening to it again. We’ve tried everything to pull Joel out of the hypnosis but it’s no use. Ed is getting pretty worried.”
[Another cut in the audio and now Leena sounds like she’s starting to panic.]
“He won’t stop. He REFUSES to stop! And every word out of his mouth is just… awful. The sickest, most depraved things imaginable. Someone’s blocked the office doors from the outside and it doesn’t seem like anyone can hear us from in here. Ed tried to break out the windows but no matter what he throws at the glass, it just bounces off. He’s gone practically catatonic on me. It feels like we’ve been in here for days, listening to this fucking madman ramble on and on and on and on. We even tried plugging our ears with tissues, but he only shouted louder.”
[There is another cut in the audio and then Leena can be heard screaming at what I presume is the thing still speaking through me.]
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!”
[Yet another cut in the audio and when it resumes, Leena’s tone has become one of intense interest.]
“Wow… THEN what happens?”
[The sound of a taut rope slowly swinging back and forth can be heard throughout this final bit of audio. The voice begins to speak through me once more, this time audible enough that Leena seems to be properly recording me again.]
“Once the world has been reduced to a barren, irradiated wasteland of half-charred ‘don’t look up!’ signs and the last surviving members of the subterranean human hordes have turned to cannibalism, only then will he allow the plane to land. And when it does, he will reveal his children to what remains of the world. Even now, decades after the apocalypse has come and gone, he will still somehow manage to draw a crowd. The things you subpar hairless primates have been reduced to by then will find their way to the ancient ruins of an overgrown airfield and you will watch dumbfounded as the plane’s emergency exits open and you see the godless abominations that emerge from inside and in that moment, you will still envy them.”
“That is so cool. Would you, um… mind if I ate just a little of him now, before he starts to turn? I’m so hungry.”
[I assume Leena is referring to Skoog’s dead body here, which is presumably hanging nearby.]
“There is no need, Leena. I am done and have unblocked the exits. You are free to go.”
[Leena begins to weep.]
“Do you not WANT to leave?”
“I do. It’s just… It’s been so long since I’ve heard someone say my name. I’d almost forgotten what it sounded like.”
[Leena continues to cry.]
The entity which latched onto me prior to all of this must have gotten what it wanted when it trapped Leena and Skoog in that endless timesink, because I haven’t had the nightmare since that day. And I wouldn’t worry too much about the prophecy itself.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of malevolent entities in the past and can assure you that they are all huge liars. When they aren’t busy convincing you that they’re the literal Devil, it’s usually because they’re trying to sell you on some kind of horrific fortune.
My point is that the specifics aren’t important. What IS important is the underlining message. And the message here is simple: Regardless of what happens over the next four years, don’t let yourself become hypnotized.