It had been unseasonably cold for June. The morning dew collected on the grass as a slight breeze sent a shiver down my spine. I could think of a hundred places I’d rather have been, but I was standing in the tall grass of a field adjacent my girlfriend’s house. The sun hadn’t yet poked its head over the trees and the resulting blue glow of the night fading into sunset left a blue to orange gradient across the sky. It was still dark where I was standing. Through the binoculars in my hands, I could see that the man calling upon the woman I loved was anyone other than myself. I stood silently contemplating my next move. It wasn’t the first time I had caught her cheating.
I could’ve confronted her. It would have been the best thing to do. Instead I trudged back through the field and into the wooded area at the boundary. After a few minutes of walking through the thicket, I found my car parked on the side of the single lane gravel road. I climbed in on the driver’s side and turned the ignition as I sighed at the thought of the man currently stationed between the thighs I had established as my personal happy place. I wasn’t angry. I’m not the type to be jealous, but I’d prefer she was honest with me. Knowing this makes it all the more harder to continue seeing her.
The drive home was short and uneventful. I crawled out of my tiny car and staggered through the parking lot and up to my apartment with the knowledge that I was once again replaced by someone she didn’t have the common courtesy to inform me of. I should be angry, but I’m not. Anger would make sense and from my experience, things that make sense are seldom a good idea.
I work the third sub-basement of a skyscraper that is home to no less than two Fortune 500 companies. I work for neither. My job revolves around setting the schedule for the janitorial staff and occasionally meeting with my boss for updates on budget and what not. I spend eight hours a day sitting in an office 30 feet below the surface of the earth staring at a poster of a beach in Fiji. I’ll never go to Fiji. I mentioned it to Calista once, but she laughed at the thought of me getting on an airplane. It’s not that I’m afraid to fly, just that I’m not really willing seal myself in a thin metal tube hovering five miles higher than evolution has prepared my body to survive a fall.
My apartment is on the edge of the city. The rent is cheap and my neighbors are all senior citizens. I live in a quiet building in a quiet neighborhood about an hour from the business district. I don’t really have friends. I have co-workers that try to invite me out for drinks, but in the end, all they talk about is work — and I hate my job. Every day I consider the possibility of showing up to the Eastman Building with a semi-automatic AR-15 with a short barrel modification and pumping round after round of ammunition into the smug faces of those corporate assholes who pay me to manage the poor sobs that clean up their shit. I smile when I think of this, but it is unlikely. I try really hard not to get angry. If anything, the thought of violence should disturb me. It doesn’t and that is what I find disturbing.
Calista has been my only real link to the world at large. Her most recent indiscretion has ensured I won’t be visiting her anytime soon. The last time she cheated, I lost my temper. I’m ashamed of it, but I raised my voice and called her some less than flattering names before realizing my error and apologizing. She called me a psycho and told me never to come back, but it wasn’t a week before she showed up at my apartment drunk and willing to make up. I take her back every time. It’s pathetic, but I can’t help myself around that woman. She is my kryptonite.
With my recent aversion to see Calista in mind, I decided to go out on the town alone. I had mixed results going out alone in the past. Even still, the thought of another night hunched over a keyboard as I scoured the internet for something to entertain me long enough to drift into sleep was a bit more depressing than I wanted to admit. I set out to drink at one of the bars my employees mentioned. I called a cab and 20 minutes later, I was standing outside of the douchey microbrewery named “Mike’s.” The guy at the door asked to check my coat and I gave him a blank stare that ended in him pointing toward the bar.
“Umm yeah. Welcome to Mike’s,” he said.
I didn’t recognize anyone. For all my co-workers talked the place up, not a single one of them was in attendance at 9 PM on a Friday. I sat at the bar and after getting the bartender’s attention, I ordered two fingers of bourbon and nursed it as I surveyed the room.
The bar was filled with casually dressed 30-somethings that all seemed to be trying a bit too hard. There was an arcade console in the corner and a few guys huddled around it playing Ms. Pacman. There were a few girls scattered here and there, but no one that really caught my interest. I brought the glass of bourbon to my lips and sighed with a deep breath as I motioned for the bartender to bring me another. I may not have been the most social of creatures, but I did enjoy a good glass of bourbon.
This pretty little thing walked up to me and slid onto the stool beside me. She said her name was Candy.
“Well that’s a coincidence, I was just thinking that I should eat something sweet until I have diabetes,” I said, not looking up from my drink. She laughed a bit too long on that one. I couldn’t tell if she was genuinely interested in me or fishing for a free drink. I would have normally told her to piss off, but something about the events of that morning stuck in my head. I motioned for the bartender again and he brought her some fruity drink. Apparently she was a regular. She took a sip from the curly straw in her glass.
“You’re new around here… and cute. Wanna head somewhere more private?” she asked.
I should have known better. Two drinks and a 10 minute cab ride later, and we are making out in the hallway of her dingy apartment building. She fumbled her keys in the door and pushed the door open. For a brief moment I thought I had actually worked up the nerve to go out and hook up with a beautiful woman. This illusion was shattered when she pulled away.
“Okay that’ll be fifty bucks for now and a hundred bucks for the next hour,” she said.
I looked at her confused as she rattled off these prices.
“Y-you’re a hooker?” I stammered.
She slammed her palm into her face.
“Don’t act surprised. You really thought you’d get a girl like me with that cheesy pickup line and a few drinks. Don’t act like you’ve never paid for it before you fucking bum. Pay up or get out!” she shouted.
I turned toward the door and was ready to walk out when I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head. This occurred around the same time I heard glass shatter and it was a moment later I felt the warm liquid flowing down the back of my head and onto my shoulder. Candy had hit me with a glass vase in the back of the head. I should have been afraid, or angry or even hurt, but I felt nothing. I turned and closed the door behind me. She could see it in my eyes, she had my attention.
Three minutes later I was standing over the tattered body of a woman that had made the mistake of attacking me. I considered calling the police, but given the recent string of homicides in the city, I didn’t figure a dead hooker would rank high on the police agenda. Aside from blood that had dripped on the floor, I didn’t leave much in the way of evidence. A cab picked me up a few blocks away. The sound of sirens in the distance told me that the fire department had their work cut out for them.
All I really wanted was a drink and to socialize. People disappoint me.
I got home to a note on my door from Calista. It read:
Were you standing outside my house this morning? I can explain. Please, give me a call when you get a chance.
I don’t remember making my presence known and I didn’t say anything to her about it. I tried to figure out how she could have been aware of my presence and my mind drew a blank. I was already thumbing her number out on my phone as I opened the door to my apartment. The living room was empty and cold. The futon sofa in the corner of the living room sat adjacent to the coffee table I hadn’t even taken out of the plastic. I rarely spent more than the time required to sleep at home. Between work and Calista, I was always doing something.
The phone rang three times before going to voicemail. It wasn’t like her to press the “fuck you” button. For a brief moment, I considered driving over there and checking on her, but I was exhausted from my experience with Candy. I laid across the futon and drifted off to sleep as I looked at pictures of Calista on my phone. It made sense that my first attempt at retribution for her infidelity would result in a dead hooker and a structure fire. I’m not meant to be happy.
I woke to a knock at my door at 3 AM. I stumbled over to the door and checked the peephole to see two uniformed police officers standing outside. The taller of the two had a look of disinterest on his face that was complemented by the look of frustration on the shorter one. I stepped back from the door.
“One minute, I’m naked!” I shouted.
“Hurry up! We don’t have all night,” one of the officers shouted.
I walked into the bedroom and over to the sliding door that led to the balcony. I lived on the second floor. I didn’t know why the police were standing outside, but I knew I didn’t want to risk getting caught for my previous indiscretion. I climbed down the side of the building and jogged over to my car. I could see the light come on in my apartment as I was pulling away. They kicked the door in, that was all I needed to know.
It took 20 minutes to drive to Calista’s place. She wouldn’t answer her phone, but I was fairly certain she’d answer the door if I knocked loud enough. I parked along the gravel road and walked through the thicket and adjacent field before showing up on her porch. It was quite literally the first place a smart cop would look for me — parking in her driveway seemed a bit too naïve for my tastes.
I knocked on the door with two firm knocks, but there was no reply. I jiggled the handle, but it was locked. I went to pull the key from under the flower pot when I heard the door swing open behind me. I turned to see Calista holding a shotgun.
“Get out of here or I’ll call the cops,” she shouted.
I raised my hands to be level with my head.
“But you left me that note at my place. I thought you wanted to talk,” I said.
“I didn’t leave you a fucking note you crazy bastard,” she snapped.
The look in her eyes was as much fear as it was anger.
“I don’t understand. There was a note on the door when I got home. It was from you. You told me to call you.”
“The restraining order goes both ways. Bryan. I wouldn’t go near your place for fear of bumping into your crazy ass. Get off my porch or I’ll fucking shoot you,” she said.
I dropped my hands to my side.
“Who is making you say these things? Is this because I found out about him? I don’t care. I’ve never been jealous,” I said. “Come on, let’s go inside and talk.”
Her glare went from anger to complete terror. Something had to be up. It wasn’t like her to be so confrontational. I twisted my hips and put my hand on the barrel of the shotgun, pulling it away from her. In the process, the trigger was pulled and the buckshot slammed into the windshield of her car. I yanked the gun out of her hand.
“It’s safe now. I’m here. Tell me who made you say those terrible things,” I said.
She started to cry.
“I’m sorry baby,” she said through tears. “It’s just that I was worried they would hurt you if you stayed.”
I stepped inside and set the shotgun by the door as she went into the kitchen and poured me a drink. She brought it back and sat across from me in the living room as I asked her to tell me what was going on.
“There was a guy here this morning. He and I did things. He told me that I had to keep you away,” she said.
I reached forward and ran my palm across the bottom of her cheek to wipe away her tears with my thumb. She smiled awkwardly.
“You shouldn’t be here. They’ll find you.”
I leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. I wanted to stay, but she was right. If they were coming for me, she was in danger. I took the shotgun with me as I went out the door and back through the field to my car. I propped the shotgun up in the front seat and pulled out my cell phone. I was only getting a few bars of service but the 4G was fast enough to pull up Google. I searched for: “Things that try to make you think you’re crazy.” The first few results were less than helpful, but after clicking through a few links, I found a page that contained this line:
“The Rathen are known to infect our loved ones and turn them against us. They tell us that we imagined things as we remember them. Once someone has been lost to them, there is no hope. Cut all contact. After the infection has taken root, it is only a matter of time until the host his taken over and they are ready to strike.”
There was an email address at the bottom of the page and I sent them a message.
“I think I’m being targeted by the Rathen. If you have any advice, it would be very helpful.”
The website said I could recognize the Rathen by the empty soulless look in their eyes. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was enough to send me on the right direction. I started up my car and drove further into the country. My apartment had been compromised. I drove until the sun came up and stopped at an ATM. Thankfully they hadn’t froze my accounts yet. I pulled out $800, the maximum amount the ATM would allow, and tossed my card and cell phone into the trash can beside it.
I went back to my car and doubled back towards town for about an hour before turning down a side road and ultimately driving aimlessly until I found a backwater motel on a two lane highway about 10 miles from nowhere. I paid cash for the room and used the name Jim Richmond. They didn’t ask for ID and I was given a key to a room on the first floor.
I caught a few hours of sleep and hit up a Dollar General I recalled seeing down the road a ways. I dropped about $100 on legal pads, junk food, and a prepaid smartphone. I drove a town over to check my email, but there was no reply from the guy who ran the Rathen website. I went back to the hotel and walked up to the office. The woman behind the counter gave me a blank expression as I said I wanted to pay the room through the week. I stared into those glassy eyes and saw the soulless expression behind them. She shouted something in Urdu and I realized she was warning the other Rathen of my presence. I couldn’t risk being found just yet. Instead of paying for the room, I turned and walked out the door.
“You give back key. You don’t pay you don’t stay,” she shouted at me.
I didn’t want to make a scene. I had done my best avoid detection but if she called it in, it would only be a matter of time before they found me. I tried to just walk away and drive off, but this mountain of a man ran out after me. He must have been her son. He was younger and had a bit of a baby face. He stood a few inches taller than me and was built like a linebacker. The empty soulless look in his eyes said it all as said, “Gimme the key old man.” He smiled and cracked his knuckles as I reached into my pocket to grab the key to my room. I tucked the key between my fingers and made a fist. I threw a punch to side of his neck and gouged the key into it.
His blood was darker than it was supposed to be. The was less crimson and closer to a dark brown. He brought his hands up to his neck and let out a shout as I put to more punches to his face. He hit the ground hard and I stomped the back of my heel into his head until he stopped twitching. Realizing that I had been caught, I went back into the office to deal with the female Rathen. I made it a point to clear out the register and lift the security tape on my way out. I needed as much of a head start as I could manage.
Motels were too dangerous. I picked up a local free paper and went through the classifieds looking for rental properties. A few minutes later, I hopped back in my car to check out a listing. It was billed as a two bedroom two bathroom trailer 10 miles from town. I had no intention of calling the landlord. I pulled into the driveway and parked behind the trailer. It was about 50 yards from the road with no neighbors in either direction for more than a few hundred yards. The power box was attached without a meter. Taking note, I went a town over to get supplies. Later that night, I had the power box jury rigged and water turned on. I blew up an inflatable mattress I picked up and went back to the website talking about the Rathen.
The website didn’t properly render on the tiny screen. I had bought the cheapest Android phone available and it didn’t exactly come will full service in terms of its web browser. I read through descriptions of Rathen society and how they control the world around us. It was a daunting concept. Just a few days beforehand I was middle-management at an office complex and suddenly I was thrust into a secret world of alien parasites and global conspiracies. I locked the phone and sprawled out on the mattress.
It was the first good night’s sleep I had in days. I rolled off of the air mattress the next morning and opened the fridge to realize I needed supplies. I made a trip into town and stopped at a gas station. The girl behind the register seemed perky enough, she had a plain face and red hair. The name tag on her blue apron read “Megan.” I struck up a conversation
“So… Megan… is there anything worth doing in this town? I’m kinda new to the area,” I said.
She gave me a blank expression.
“That’ll be $14.37,” she said.
I chuckled under my breath and handed her $20.
“You don’t have to be rude,” I said as she handed me my change.
She looked at me confused.
“How was I rude?” she asked.
I shook my head.
She was an odd duck, but I could see a person in those eyes. I’m not some indiscriminate killer. Hell, prior to the events of the past few days, I was all but entirely non-violent. I drove back to my squat in silence. The events of the past few days played out in my head and as I pulled in behind the trailer it clicked in my head. I got the idea to spy on Calista. The evening I was solicited by a hooker. She tried to kill me. I came home to find a note from Calista, but she denied it. The cops arrive. I narrowly escape and meet up with Calista who admits that she has been threatened about me. Then there were the Rathen at the motel. It was forming into a bigger picture in my mind, but I couldn’t quite figured out where I fit into all of it. It clicked in my head when I realized why I was targeted.
Both of the corporations that made their home in my office building were big players in the foreign energy markets. My job gave me access to the entire building. If they could infect me, they would have access to infect individual with serious levels of global influence. I pulled out my phone and went to check my email. Nothing, no replies, not even spam. I realized I was being watched. It was only a matter of time before they triangulated the position of my cell phone. I tossed it into the field and gathered up my stuff. It was only a matter of time before they showed up at my door. I took off.
My car ran out of gas about two miles from the next exit. I gathered up my remaining cash and fit what I could into my backpack before hoofing it down the road. Thirty minutes later, I was standing at a gas station just off the off-ramp. The teenager behind the counter nodded at me.
“I saw you walking down the highway as I came in. You run out of gas or something?” he asked.
“I hope you have a gas can because we don’t sell them,” he said.
I bought myself a bottle of water and paid in cash before heading outside. The kid went about his mundane life as I scanned the parking lot for options. Relief came in the form of an old pickup parked at the end of the lot.
An elderly occupant sat in the front seat rolling what looked to be a cigarette. I strolled up to the driver’s side door and knocked on the window. He reached over and rolled down the window a few inches.
“Can I help you son?” he asked.
There was an empty soulless look in his eyes. I opened the door to his truck and pulled him into the grass at the edge of the parking lot. He yelled and fought but I covered his mouth. I was lucky to have found a Rathen. I refuse to hurt an innocent person, but given what they have taken from me, I can rest assured that I am doing the world a favor when I take one out.
I left the creature in a puddle of his own brown blood as I emptied his pockets and scored myself a pack of smokes and a wallet with $300 cash. I took his truck and went back to town. I knew it was only a matter of time before they caught me. The website said the Rathen were everywhere. I knew it was pointless to fight them, but the least I could do was to put up a fight. It was only a matter of time until they found me. I purchased a new phone and after a few minutes poking around on Craigslist, I found an address of a man selling a few of his guns online. I drove to his house, cash in hand, hoping to level the playing field.
I pulled up to this driveway where the mailbox sported a rebel flag. I parked next to this big red dually truck with the flood lights on the roof and several politically themed bumper stickers. I was met by a behemoth of a man who introduced himself as Randy. Randy ushered me inside.
“So you’re interested in the Glock 17. That’s a good weapon. I’ve got a few other pieces if you’d like to see them,” he said.
I sat on the couch and he handed me a beer. I popped the top and took a sip before setting it down on his coffee table. He went into the back room and came back with a guitar case. He placed it on the table and opened it to reveal nearly thirty or so assorted handguns and rifles.
I reached forward, then hesitated.
“May I?” I asked.
He nodded and I picked up a shotgun.
“The USAS12 with a Short Barrel Modification and a collapsing stock. I’ve always wanted one of these,” I said.
“For $1500, she’s all yours,” he said.
I put it down.
“And this one, the Glock 19 Machine Pistol. How much?” I asked.
“That’ll run you a thousand. I take it you want the extended magazines?”
“Yes, for both.”
I barely had the money and ended up paying the last two hundred in fives and ones. He put the guns in a paper grocery bag along with the magazines and the ammunition. As I walked back to the truck he called out to me.
“If you’re gonna do something stupid, you didn’t get em from me.”
I climbed behind the wheel and waved as I drove off.
The sun was low in the sky as I pulled into the parking garage that sat over my old office. My keycard still worked. I carried the grocery bag into my office and set myself up loading the magazines and tucking them into my belt. I knew I couldn’t take all of them out, but I owed it to the world to try. With the shotgun strapped to my back and the pistol in my hand, I walked over to the elevator and used my key to go straight to the top floor. I’d been gone long enough for them to infect the entire executive staff. With access to foreign oil and natural gas markets, the Rathen would have the power to secure themselves in the upper echelons of human society. I could only hope that I wasn’t too late.
I exited the elevator at 4:58 PM. It was worse than I thought. Every single one of them had the same emptiness in their eyes. I couldn’t let a single one of them leave alive, and I didn’t. I used my key to lock the elevator and went through the hallway, moving from office to office as I put round after round into each and every one of them. Ten minutes and 300 rounds later, I stashed the guns in a trashcan and rode the elevator back down to the lobby.
The police were rushing in at this point. I did my best to look scared as I ran forward with my staff badge in my hand. An officer looked at it for half a second before grabbing my shoulder and pushing me behind him.
“He’s clear let him through,” he shouted.
I was on the street and in a cab before anyone was the wiser. I went back on the website and read up on the Rathen as the cabbie drove me to my old apartment. I had some money stashed away in the top of my closet for a rainy day and while it was risky, I needed a few bucks to get me out of town. It was only a matter of time before the Rathen figured out how hard I’d hit them. They’d be coming for me, hard.
I tipped the cabbie my last $10. There was police tape on my apartment door and it looked like the place had been tossed. The lockbox from the top of my closet was on the floor, but hadn’t been opened. I fiddled with my keys for a second before producing the right one and opened the box to find a few thousand dollars and my spare gun, a replica M1911. I tucked the pistol into my waistband and shoved the money into my pocket as I turned to leave. The note Calista left me lay on the floor about where I had left it, it read: “Your neighbors have been complaining about the noise, give me a call when you can. Management.”
The Rathen were going for a low blow. They thrived on making you question your sanity. I walked down the hall and pulled the key from under a neighbor’s mat. Mrs. Holcomb spent the summer in Canada with her grandkids. I reached inside the door and grabbed the keys to her old Buick. After making my way downstairs and getting her engine to turn over after a few tries, I drove south and hoped to find a place to settle down for a while.
I was road-weary and tired. I shaved my face in a truck stop bathroom and used a box of cheap hair dye to turn my blonde hair black. I even went so far as to dye my eyebrows. I went back to my car and down the road a bit before I found myself at a rest area. I slept in the car. A few hours later, I woke with a pain in my neck and a headache. My shoulder was sore from the recoil of the shotgun. I drove a few more hours before stopping at a gas station and picking up another phone. I did a quick search on the Eastman Building and found no results on the shooting.
I drove on a bit more and stopped at a motel. I spent the next six hours flipping through all the news stations, there was no mention of the mass shooting. I had put more than 70 of those Rathen bastards in body bags and there wasn’t so much as a by line mentioning my achievement. I sat there searching the web on my phone when I thought to check my email again. There was a reply from email@example.com. It read:
“I don’t know what kind of drugs you’re on, but the Rathen are fictional monsters in a role playing game. If you think they are after you, you’re crazy.”
They got to him. I went to the website, but it said: “Page Not Found.” All of that effort, all of that work and I had nothing to show for it. They had won. I realized how fucked I was. I pulled the pistol from my waistband and pressed it to my temple for a brief moment. I thought about the bullet passing through my skull and bringing a trail of blood and viscera with it as it embedded itself in the wall beside me. It was around that time that I heard a knock on the door. I put the gun on the bed and walked over to the door. I looked through the peephole to see a uniformed sheriff’s deputy.
I opened door.
“How may I help you deputy?” I asked.
He pulled his gun from his holster and kicked the door, knocking me to the ground.
“Roll on your stomach, hand on your head,” he shouted.
He wrenched my hands behind my back and cuffed me. He picked up his radio.
“Yeah, I got him. I’ll be bringing him in.”
The deputy jerked me to my feet and led me to his patrol car. Half an hour later, I was processed and placed in a holding cell. I asked for a lawyer. Two hours passed and this wimp in a cheap suit met me in an interview room with glass walls.
He fumbled through a stack of papers.
“Mr. Graves, I’m John Schwartz, your attorney,” he said.
“What am I being charged with?” I asked.
He looked over a page in front of him.
“It says here that…you are charged with violating a restraining order and stealing a firearm. Taking your mental state into effect…I think we can get you moved to Western State for evaluation and then…released into your own custody after you’ve been cleared.”
“My mental state? I’m fine,” I said.
“According to your file you are a documented paranoid schizophrenic. Miss Druga, erm, Calista, reported…she was your primary psychiatrist until you got…and I quote inappropriate. I went ahead and contacted your primary care provider and they confirmed that you have missed your last three sessions. With this information, I should be able to make a pretty strong case that you had no idea what you were doing.”
I stared through the glass wall into the police station.
After that it was as you would expect. I was transported to Western State Hospital and placed in the care of their secure unit. A week of bad food and medication and my mind isn’t as clear as it used to be. I was released with a script for Geodon and sent on my way. I have a court date scheduled for next month. I returned home and went through my computer. Only after a few hours of browsing YouTube, I decided to log in and check my email.
There was an email with no return address. I thought it was odd, but I clicked through. A moment later I read the following message:
“They took down the site and have control of my email account. This is Rick, you emailed me about the Rathen. If they are after you, you only have a certain amount of time. They control everything. Just this past week they covered up a mass shooting at an office building. Here’s a link to the leaked security footage.”
I turned my head away from the screen and put my face in my hands. I had enough doubts about what was real and what was a result of my twisted imagination. I couldn’t tell you what was real and what was a byproduct of my delusional mind. The medicine seemed to be working. I was thinking clearer. I recognized that Calista never wanted me.
I turned back to watch the linked video and stared at the screen in horror as I saw myself moving from office to office and firing round after round into the crowds of people. I closed the window and went outside for a cigarette. I quit smoking nearly two years ago, but after seeing that video…
I went back to my computer and opened the browser only for the page to refresh with the message, “This video has been removed.” I closed the browser and click through to my email. I went to reread the reply and the email had been removed. Just to be safe, I went ahead and took my nightly dose of Geodon, but just to be sure I am writing this down. I’d post it in a place where it could get more attention, but I doubt the Rathen are going to find it immediately if I post it here. Someone should know what to watch for.
If someone you know or love goes from acting like themselves to having an empty soulless look in their eyes, just leave. Don’t do anything to indicate that you know, just make sure you avoid them. They have ways of convincing you that you’re crazy. They have so much more control than I ever imagined.