Something Found Me On My Nightly Run, And I Don’t Think It’s Human

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I’m going to share with you something that happened to me a few months ago. I’ll tell you right now, it sounds insane. There’s a part of me that wants to believe it was all a hallucination, but I know it wasn’t. I know what I saw. I know what I heard. And you need to know too.

People need to know what’s out there, walking around at night…

To begin by telling you my favourite season is summer is hardly unique and intriguing, but there it is. I love summer. The warmth that allows us to shed scratchy layers of clothing and bare our skin to the breeze, the sun that kisses our faces with either a glow or an angry red burn — nothing compares. But it’s the end of summer I especially enjoy. If I had to pick a month to play on repeat, it would be August. Late summer nights have a weight to them — the air is sweeter, quieter. The chirping of crickets and cicadas blend and weave together, encouraging us to open our windows, to let the night in.

These are the nights I like to go on my runs.

I say run, but there isn’t a whole lot of running involved. Usually I tuck a small, carefully rolled joint into the slim pocket of my workout shorts and hide a lighter in my shoe. I don’t know why I put the lighter in my shoe. I like to jog for a bit before lighting up, but then I mostly just walk. I ponder. I write stories in my head. I imagine trailers of movies my stories will never become. Sometimes I put my music on and dance a little. This sounds ridiculous, but I do it. Besides genuinely enjoying myself, I think it’s funny that an unsuspecting person may glance out their window to see a girl wiggling awkwardly down the sidewalk. These “runs” are my way of winding down, of processing my thoughts and feelings after eventful or stressful days.

This night was ideal. I knew from the rain storm that had battered us earlier in the day that the air would finally be nice and cool, much unlike the previous evenings that had been sweltering. I had been feeling trapped in the air conditioned house and this was the perfect opportunity to stretch my legs. It was about 11:30 when I slipped on my highlighter yellow running shorts, laced my shoes, hid the joint, deposited the lighter, and stepped out the door.

Instead of starting with my usual sprint around the block, I decided to head to the park near my house. It was about a 10 minute stroll and had a swing set. I love swing sets more than any adult should, but you are lying to yourself if you don’t agree they’re at least a little fun. Of course it’s awkward to be the only adult swinging in a park full of kids, so the cover of darkness is the only time I get to fulfill this childish desire.

The park was quiet and lit with the soft orange glow of the streetlamps as I strolled along the path that brought me to the swings. Some nights there would be teenagers hanging out on the playground, or a person in one of the fields trekking back and forth still playing that Pokémon game. But tonight there was no one. It was just me and the nocturnal bugs singing their songs to one another, so I parked myself in one of the swing seats and lit my joint. I inhaled and swung back and forth gently, letting the fragrant smoke cloud around me as my mind wandered.

It’s always been easy for me to get lost in my head, and so this is what I did. I stared into the darkness that lay just beyond the reach of the street lights and wondered what tiny creatures went about their business in the night. I pondered the black windows of the middle school across the road that would remain empty until the summer was over. It was an older building and I entertained thoughts of ghosts roaming the hallways, longing for the laughter of children to fill ghostly voids within ghostly chests. I wondered if these ghosts looked out the windows and saw me staring back at them, both of us drifting along the waves of our own musings.

I was jolted from my fantasies by a figure that suddenly appeared from behind the hulking shadow of the playground. As the figure got closer, I saw that it was a slight young man, maybe late teens, wearing a backpack and with his eyes trained on his phone as he walked. Though he didn’t look at me, I felt something was off about him. His gate was stiff and the set of his mouth was unnatural, as though his lips were tightly closed to keep something in. In fact, his whole face was weird. Like a mask of human skin stretched too tight over someone else’s skull. He didn’t seem to notice me as he walked past me swinging back and forth with a joint smoldering between my fingers. I watched him go, decided I was being overly critical of an awkward teenager still growing into his body.

My restless legs decided it was time to keep moving. I smothered the burning end of the joint and tossed it into the nearby garbage can. I continued along the path I had come in on, exiting out the far side of the park that was closer to the school. As I reached the point where the park path turned into the sidewalk, two people in my peripheral caught my attention. I paused to glance at them. It was the strange teenager I had seen earlier standing with another young man who was significantly shorter in stature. They were facing each other but didn’t appear to be saying anything. The shorter one of the two was facing me, but I could only make out the milky complexion of his face. I don’t know why but this creeped me out, the way the two of them stood there facing each other silently, the way the one appeared pale and featureless. I figured it was because I was kind of stoned. Smoking always gives me a paranoid edge, and I tend to avoid people during my runs for this reason. I’m pretty good at freaking myself out and didn’t need any extra fuel feeding my imagination tonight.

Deciding I didn’t like the vibes the silent duo gave off, I walked up the sidewalk that led away from them. I had multiple routes mapped in my head for these runs and I always just took the one that felt right at the time. At this point heading in the direction of my house was what felt right. I took long strides and worked on convincing myself that not every person I saw in the dark was a murderer, a rapist, and certainly not a faceless demon. They were just people who enjoyed walks on lovely August evenings, people like me.

This is what I was telling myself until a nagging voice in the back of my head told me to turn around. Against my better judgement I glanced over my shoulder and a jolt of panic made my breath catch and my heart jump.

They were following me. They were about fifty strides behind me, moving in silence and looking straight ahead.

I focussed on walking a little faster and controlling my breathing. Of course they weren’t following me. They were just heading in the same direction I was and to think otherwise was insane and self-centred. People could walk in the same direction. It had nothing to do with me, there was just a sidewalk that led to many destinations and they were walking along it.

Behind me.

In the dark.

On a quiet summer night.

I couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that swelled within my chest, so I turned right onto the next street that came up and broke into a jog. I couldn’t see them behind me, and I began to relax a little. After about five minutes they still hadn’t come up the road behind me and I slowed to a walk, laughing at myself. This wasn’t the first time this had happened — thinking the same car had driven by me more than once, or that I was being followed by a sinister pedestrian. It’s good that I’m cautious on these runs because you never know who could be roaming the streets at night, but I have a bad habit of spotting danger when there isn’t any. Like I said, I’m good at freaking myself out.

My paranoia had originally urged me to head home for the evening but I was filled with fresh energy brought on by my relief that nobody was stalking me. I made another right that would take me on a loop around the neighbourhood and back towards the park, adding another three kilometres to my evening stroll. Feeling pleased that I’d fully recovered from my earlier foolishness, I popped in my music and quickened my pace. A gentle breeze picked up and ran playful fingers through my swinging ponytail.

It was in the pause between two songs that I felt rather than heard someone fall into step behind me. Instead of whipping around to face whoever was walking a little too close for my liking, I pretended like I hadn’t noticed. My mind did little cartwheels as I fought the urge to bolt. Wait. Wait. I wanted to reach the end of the street before I made a break for it. At least I had a chance of hiding if I could get around the corner first. The image of the two young men, that empty milky face, assaulted my panicking brain. It’s them, I know it, my inner voice whimpered. And that was that.

I ran.

I don’t remember ripping out my earphones, but I could feel them bouncing off my stretching legs as I ran faster than I ever have in my life. My feet pounded deafeningly on the sidewalk and my heart pounded deafeningly in my chest. Maybe the whole street would wake up and whatever was chasing me would be forced to flee.

I’m being chased.

Adrenaline is a marvelous thing, and I managed to round the corner onto another street before I could be assaulted, ripped to pieces, kidnapped, sucked dry of life — whatever the end game of my pursuers, I was faster. I slid into the shadows of the first house past the corner and crouched behind a van parked in the driveway, hand clasped over my mouth the muffle my heaving breath.

I heard nothing, but remained motionless for a while longer before peeking around the van and looking to the road. Nothing moved at first, but then I saw him. The teenager from the park, the first guy I had seen who had walked past me with his eyes glued to his phone. He walked casually into the orange glow of the streetlamp, looking around with a blank expression.

His inhumanly tight face was fully illuminated. His skin looked so thin and papery, his mouth so strangely set. He moved to the middle of the road, turned slowly in a full circle, and then stopped. His bizarre mouth opened and he let out a long, slow hiss. Or at least, it started as a hiss. It grew louder and louder, turning into a strangled moan and I watched in horror as his body stretched impossibly, growing wider. As he grew wider, one half of him began to take the shape of another person entirely. It was like watching a cell multiply. This second shape separated and now standing beside him was the slighter figure I’d seen earlier. It mimicked his movements as he once again looked around. Fresh fear crashed over me like an icy wave and I bit my own hand to keep the scream from rising in my throat. Its face was pale and indented with features that weren’t actually there. The shock of dark hair on top of its head looked like a cheap wig and the outfit it wore, identical to the young man’s, looked damp and filthy.

A strange sound came from this featureless creature, prompting the guy to reach over and smack it violently across the empty face. He raised a finger to his lips and then pointed down the road.

“Find.”

I felt like my chest was going to explode. I was not breathing deeply enough to satisfy my lungs. My blood was ice. Every part of my body was tight and cold with fear, yet I felt a bead of sweat sliding down the back of my neck. I sunk to the ground and pressed my back to the front bumper of the van.

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my fucking god. Various profanities fought for space in my head as I wondered what the fuck my weed was laced with. I had to be hallucinating. There was no fucking way a monster that could divide in two was stalking my neighbourhood. I mean, that’s something people notice and I know for a fact I am not the sole individual that takes walks in the night. Lots of younger people live in this neighbourhood.

I crouched behind the van like this, swearing silently and trying to convince myself it was all in my head, for what felt like a lifetime. I glanced past the van several times but could no longer see the… things. As time passed I began to calm a little. If these were hallucinations and I couldn’t see them right now, maybe it was over. I could safely get up and go home. I would go home and I would flush every bit of weed I had down the toilet, and tomorrow I would call my dealer and tell him to go fuck himself.

I was in the midst of convincing myself to stand when my phone buzzed quietly in my pocket. I had completely forgotten that I had my phone on me and this fact made me feel 10 times better. What do you do when you’re freaking out? You reach out to a less-insane friend to talk you down from the tree of weed-induced paranoia you climbed up. I fished the phone from my pocket and read the text from my best friend Beth.

We still on for tomorrow? it read. I began tapping out a frantic message about how high I was and the things I’d seen following me. Right before I could hit send my phone vibrated again, startling me badly. I jumped and fumbled with my phone, but in my fumble I sent it clattering onto the tarmac of the driveway. It was loud and I froze, falling right back into fearful paralysis.

I stared at my phone sitting several feet away from me and counted to 10. Nothing. Then I counted to 20. Nothing. I counted to 30. Still nothing. A full minute went by and I’d had enough. There was nothing chasing me and I was being stupid. It was time to go home, crawl into bed, and watch a Disney movie or two to get over the awful images my mind had conjured.

Giving myself no time to reconsider, I stood up straight and walked to the end of the driveway. This turned out to be a big mistake because standing on the other side of the street, side by side and motionless, were the two creatures. They were looking right at me. The one with the thin skin, the leader, said, “There you are.”

I think I tried to scream but no sound escaped my mouth. I definitely tried to run but like every stupid girl in a cliché horror movie, I tripped over my feet, which were all pins-and-needles from crouching behind the van for so long. As I fell I saw the face laughing grotesquely while the faceless one crouched as though to pounce. I felt my knees scrape the sidewalk but by sheer dumb luck my hands took the brunt of the fall. I managed to use the momentum to throw myself into a full-tilt run and the laughing turning into a series of hisses and shrieks.

As I ran up my street, praying to every force in the universe that I made it home, I fought the urge to look over my shoulder. But I did anyway and saw that I was not going to be fast enough this time. The two creatures were gaining on me.

A hand grabbed at my ponytail and jerked my head backwards. My legs flew out from under me as I fell and landed flat on my back with a breathless thud. My mind vaguely registered the velvet black of the night sky before I realized I was being dragged in the direction we had come. I lifted my head to see that the faceless creature had me by one of the legs. The other thing was walking alongside it, and turned to flash me a terrifying toothy smile.

This time I did manage to scream. It must have been loud, because a dog began barking and the porch light of the house we were passing turned on. The two creatures, clearly worried by this, began to hiss. The front door squeaked open, and a woman’s voice said, “What’s going on?”

The creature dropped my leg and I took the opportunity to struggle to my feet. I made a dash for the open door, but I watched as the woman’s face twisted in horror as she registered the scene before her: a hissing young man and his shorter, faceless twin. Before I could even make it across the lawn, the door shut and the light went out. In hindsight, I don’t blame her. If I opened my door to see monsters attacking a girl on the sidewalk, I think I would shut my door too.

But in that instant I just thought I’m really fucked now. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the things approaching me, ready to get back to the whole dragging thing. A resolve rose within me, and I decided then and there I was going home. I was not being swept away to some creepy monster lair, not tonight.

Though my legs ached and my lungs burned, I ran up the hill back to my house without even thinking of looking behind me this time. And I made it. My hands slipped on the handle of my front door, but I made it and when the door closed I locked it with shaking fingers. I ran to the living room to peek out the front window, to see if they were still there, and that’s when I realized my mistake.

I’d led them to my fucking house.

They stood on the sidewalk under the streetlamp, facing my house. The one caught my eye through the window and gave me that chilling smile. He gestured as if to say, “Well here we are.” I swore under my breath. I don’t know how he could even see me standing there in the dark room. I drew the curtains together then ran through the rest of the house making sure all the curtains were closed.

I went to bed that night with my lamp on, plagued by images of that empty face and the sound of hissing. I watched not two, but three Disney movies. They didn’t help.

I tried to go to the house down the road to talk to that woman, but every time I did either no one was home or I was ignored. The house went up for sale a few weeks later, and near the end of September I saw the moving vans in the driveway. I know she’s gone now because the driveway has been void of cars for weeks now. I wish I’d been able to talk to her. I wish she could have told me to my face that she had seen them too.

I’ve been wary of going out past dark since that night. From now on, no more evening “runs” and definitely no more weed. Be careful next time you’re walking out in the night.

And if you see them, just know — they’re real. TC mark

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