This Isn’t A Story. This Is A Warning.

Flickr, Ivan
Flickr, Ivan

Forgive my brevity. There’s not much time left. I read about an experiment once that said some kid in 1965 stayed awake for 11 days, set a world record, but I haven’t slept in nearly a month and I’m afraid my breaking point is on the horizon.

You know those people who love to be scared? The ones who see every horror movie, read every Stephen King novel, jump out of airplanes just for the rush? Maybe you’re one of them. I know I was.

It started simply enough. Another boring Saturday night surfing the internet and watching Netflix, because focusing your attention on one thing in this day and age is not only laughable, but impossible.

You never expect your life to change, you know? Especially not thanks to some stupid email.

Shit. I have to stay focused. It’s hard to focus, though, it said so in that article about the kid in 1965, how there was no extensive damage to the people who stayed awake that long but their concentration broke down more and more as the days went on. It’s almost like being a kid again, the way your eyes and mind jump from subject to subject endlessly, endlessly.

Anyway. It was the email that started it all. I figured it was some new form of viral marketing, a program that was tracking my browser history and targeting me for a sale — hey, that stuff is out there, look it up if you don’t believe me — and I nearly deleted it without reading.

I should have. I should have deleted it. I know that now.

But the subject was just too tantalizing. In all-caps, like some sort of electronic shout, it read:

SEARCHERS AFTER HORROR HAUNT STRANGE, FAR PLACES

What did it mean? Nothing really, I suppose, but the lyrical quality of the words and the vague promise they held urged me to click. So I did.

It was poorly constructed, just plaintext and odd, nonsensical line breaks:

if the only
thing to fear
is fear
itself
then why are you
still
here?
4100 w pfeiffer rd

COME
ALONE

A quick plug of the address into Google brought up a place about 20 minutes from where I lived, somewhere I’d heard of and knew was most definitely not open to the public. It was stupid. A prank. At the very least, some sort of trap, where I’d end up mugged and unconscious, a fitting punishment for someone who paid attention to emails like this.

I closed it. Watched more of the movie. Opened it again.

Something was tugging at me. Maybe the way it was constructed, the breaks without rhyme or reason, the musical sound of the subject line. Searchers after horror.

Strange, far places.

It was after midnight but I grabbed my keys, put the address into my iPhone, and heeded the email’s advice — I went alone.

The turn-by-turn directions landed me in the middle of an industrial park, right in front of a hulking monstrosity of a building. It was clearly abandoned, the windows closest to the ground boarded up to discourage trespassers. The rest of the windows were like dead, staring eyes, half-open and full of shattered glass.

Okay. Off to a good start. Definitely scary. But I’ll admit, at the moment my biggest fear was being caught by the cops.

I sat in my car for a little while, unwilling to approach the building without proof that someone was waiting for me, until the thick rusted bars of the front door swung open and a hand beckoned.

Ooo. Spooky.

Just like an idiot in a horror movie I got out of the car and hightailed it up the front steps. I don’t know what I expected, maybe someone dressed like the Grim Reaper or wearing a Scream mask, but waiting inside was just a regular-looking guy with an Arcade Fire t-shirt.

“You made it,” he said, grinning.

“How do you know I’m the right person?” I pocketed my car keys as he shut the door behind me with a clang.

“You were tonight’s target,” the guy explained, and when I frowned he laughed a little. “Our target demo. You’ve been on our radar for a while. Internet cookies, you know? I’ve seen your Facebook, I recognized you.”

See? What did I tell you? That shit is what’s really scary.

The inside of the place was ransacked; the paint peeled off the walls, there were upended chairs everywhere. Above one of the doorways that lead further inside some genius had spraypainted “HELL AWAITS”. A nice touch.

“We’re glad you showed up,” the guy said suddenly, drawing my attention away from the doorway. “We’ve only got a 2% conversion rate, which is great in most businesses but not very efficient in what we do.”

He kept saying ‘we’, but I didn’t see anyone else around.

“What exactly do you do?” When I glanced back at his face I realized how tired he looked, like he’d just pulled an all-nighter or something. The guy laughed again.

“We specialize in what you want,” he said breezily. “Fear.”

He didn’t say anything else. His eyes had gone somewhat distant, like someone had unplugged him and all the machinery was shutting down. I was suddenly sure that I was going to be murdered and left in a ditch somewhere, but the guy snapped out of it and turned to a black backpack resting against the wall.

“Take these.” He fished around for a moment and produced a small pill-holder, the generic plastic kind you can buy at Walgreens with all of the days portioned out neatly for the whole week. In each section there was a small round pill. It reminded me of the percocet I took when I had my wisdom teeth removed.

“I’m not gonna just take some pills from a stranger, man,” I told him, but he had already put the container into my hand.

“Yeah,” he said simply. “You are.”

The guy turned away and shouldered his backpack. I saw that he meant to leave, looked at the pills again, and followed him to the door.

“Hey! Wait!” I grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him to face me. “I don’t know what all this is, but I’m not taking these pills—“

“You have to.” The guy looked mildly alarmed, his eyes darting all over my face. The bags under them were like bruises. “You’re the target, it’s what you like, we know it is. You like to be scared. So you’ll take the pills, but only one a day. Or night. Whatever.” He shrugged away from me and headed for the door again.

When he reached it, he paused. His head turned back to me.

“Best to take one here,” he murmured thoughtfully. “Works better the first time with negative energy.” Then, just like that, he was gone.

I stood there, alone, for quite some time. I stared at the pill container in my hand.

This whole thing was stupid, I remember thinking how stupid it was even as I opened that day’s section and dumped the pill into my palm. Even as I opened my mouth and dry-swallowed the little white tablet, I was thinking, this is so stupid.

It was only after the pill was down my throat and gone that I realized what I’d done. I felt vaguely like one of the characters in Lovecraft’s stories, the ones where a hapless young man is drawn into a situation that’s clearly dangerous, like going to a remote cabin in the woods or having sex with a witch.

I thought about forcing myself to throw it up, but before I knew it I was back in my car, driving the 20 minutes towards home. When I got there it was nearly 2 in the morning; I kicked off my shoes and collapsed into bed.

That night, I had the most horrific nightmares. I never had nightmares — usually, the worst of them involved being back in college and taking a test I hadn’t studied for — but that night was different. I can’t remember them all, but in one I was being slowly eaten alive by a grey skeletal creature, a sharp-toothed grimacing smile on its face as I screamed and screamed and it licked my blood from its fingers.

In another, I lived in a high-rise building that hadn’t been constructed properly; every time I tried to cross the room the entire structure shook, threatening to collapse all of its hundreds of stories with me inside.

When I finally woke the next morning I was absolutely drenched in sweat. My heart raced wildly in my chest. The terror from those awful dreams still crawled through my skin even though I was awake, I knew I was awake, I touched my face and the sheets as proof.

Works better the first time with negative energy. The guy’s voice echoed in my head. Was that what did it? The pill? I took the pill in that abandoned old place and somehow it not only worked, but it worked better?

What was their angle? They found people online, gave them free pills that caused nightmares? What the fuck kind of sense did that make?

Well, one thing was for certain — I wasn’t going to take another one.

That night, I swallowed the second pill and chased it with vodka.

I wish I could explain why I took it. I wish I could explain it to you but I’m so goddamn tired.

The second night was worse. The nightmare was like a film that kept skipping; I was being pursued by something through a dark tangle of woods, I kept tripping and falling but it never quite caught up to me. When I hit the ground something would chuckle softly nearby, too nearby, so I would scramble to my feet and keep going. Just when the woods seemed to clear the dream would shudder and suddenly I was back at the beginning.

When I woke up it was like I hadn’t slept at all. I was mentally exhausted, so tired that I called in sick to work that day.

And the day after that. Because that night, I took another pill.

It went on that way until the pills were gone. I was like a heroin junkie chasing a fix; I couldn’t stop. As long as there were pills in the container, I took them. It was an indescribable relief to realize one day that they were all gone, that they didn’t have power over me anymore.

I called my job and promised I’d be in the next day. I took a long, hot shower. I watched a nice romantic comedy on Netflix, something where no one was being tortured or murdered. I drank a mug of peppermint tea.

That night was the worst yet. Even without the pills, the nightmares not only continued, they intensified. Now when I hit the ground I could feel the brittle branches beneath my hands, when the grey creature ate away at my feet it actually hurt.

The morning I woke up missing the big toe from my left foot, well, that was when I knew I was in trouble.

I couldn’t go to the doctor — there was no explanation for why there was a bloody stump where my toe had once been. Besides, what if he prescribed more pills? There was no knowing what reaction I would have to medication, if it would make things worse.

Maybe that makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t. Things stop making much sense after a few days without sleep.

Because that was the only answer, you know? Don’t sleep. If you don’t sleep, you can’t have nightmares. It all seemed so simple.

I drank coffee. I bought a case of those Five Hour Energy things. Red Bull and cold showers. I kept a tack in my shoe so when I felt myself drifting off I could step down on it. The pain always brought me back.

Like I said, it’s been almost a month. I feel like I’m losing it. Can’t even look in a mirror for fear of what I might see staring back at me.

I’ve thought about it a lot. There’s no way to trace the guy, or the email they sent me, but I’ve thought about it.

The guy, he was tired too. So tired. But not as tired as me. Because I think he figured it out. He went back to whoever gave him the pills, asked how to make it stop.

They had to find someone like me. Someone who foolishly loved fear, someone to whom the call of the dark would be irresistible.

And, as all tyrants and dictators already know, fear spreads.

The one thing I can’t figure out is why.

I need to finish this up because I really don’t think I can do it anymore. I need to sleep, no one can stay awake forever, but I’m so scared. I’m scared because this time I think I’ll lose more than just a toe.

So like I said. This isn’t a story. It’s a warning. Because if you’re here, reading this now, you’re on their radar.

You’re here because you like fear.

But you have no idea. You have no idea what true fear is.

Don’t open the email. Don’t meet them anywhere. Don’t take the pills.

Strange, far places.

I have to go now.

Be safe. TC mark

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