NOTICE: Chapters 1-15 have been replaced with improved, heavily edited versions! I was forced to stop posting my work here due to thefts, which was a huge bummer. The good news is that full story is now available as an inexpensive ebook series on Amazon under my pen name Vivi Dubois (Book 3 is still in the works). Please see my profile page for details!
Thank you all for your incredible support!
There was a shape at my second floor window.
I'd been lying there in bed for the past few minutes, trying in vain to figure out what had woken me up, when my gaze fell upon it.
My whole body tensed with realization. The blinds were pulled up, so I could make out the shape very clearly, backlit by a streetlamp of our quiet suburb.
I continued to stare, afraid to blink, trying to come to a rational explanation. After all, everything looks menacing in the dark, even sweaters on chairs. It was a sheer drop from my windowsill down to the front door, however. Ten meters of air between us. That made a logical explanation I bit more of a challenge
But the fact remained; something was definitely there.
A raccoon, perhaps, somehow grappling against the bricks of the house? Or maybe it was a bag, snagged on the eaves troughs, casting a shadow?
But the shape was keeping very still, not climbing forward like an animal or waving in the wind like a bag, and it was silent. More than anything, these facts encouraged me to toss aside the blankets and investigate. After all, if it wasn't moving, it probably wasn't a living thing. There was a silly explanation for it. There had to be.
It was as my feet hit the floor that I saw the shape move.
The angles of the shadow shifted, something turned, and very suddenly I was faced with a set of glowing red eyes looking in.
I was paralyzed, half-hunched with one hand pressed on the mattress and the other hanging in midair as I'd been prepared to stand. My heart was suddenly pounding in my ears. I stared back, unable to process anything but the naïve hope that it couldn't see me as well as I could see it. I struggled to breathe, slow and quiet, even though I wanted to gasp for air. The eyes shifted, or rather the head did, craning at an angle to observe me, and I felt my skin prickle and my palms grow hot.
Move, I told myself, but I barely managed to pull my extended hand into a fist. Run away, or scare it, or something, just move.
With a sudden burst of adrenaline I launched myself forward several steps, stopping just a few feet from the window. I don't know what I was expecting, maybe to startle it? But the shape did not budge. And that scared me even more.
This was a nightmare.
Realizing this calmed me instantly. It was the only thing that made sense. My stiff body, the overwhelming fear. And how could someone be hanging off the wall of my house, anyway? It made no sense.
My joints slowly unfroze, my breathing went back to normal, and a stared into those eyes defiantly.
"Go away." I said, and my voice was clear and steady.
The shape twitched, sort of tugged its head back in surprise, and it blinked. I kept staring it down, annoyed.
"Go on!" I shooed it with the flick of a wrist, like you would a squirrel that was digging up tulips, "I have school in the morning!"
As if the notion of ruining my school day struck a cord, the shape glanced sideways, shimmied down a bit, hesitated, then jumped away from the glass and out of sight. I treaded up to the window and looked down to see something incredibly fast leap into the neighbour's hydrangeas.
I stood there for a few more moments, but it was like it had never even happened. Suddenly exhausted, I dragged myself back to the bed, flopped onto the mattress and threw the covers over myself with one hand.
Then my phone alarm went off.
I tossed the blankets aside and cringed violently as morning light assaulted my eyes. I kept them shut with a hand over my face and I felt around the bedside table blindly until I located the phone. Blinking and wincing, I eventually shut it off and sat there, groaning, as my eyes adjusted to daylight.
I chuckled to myself. What a weird dream.
As I stood up I flinched and pressed a hand against my left shoulder blade. It had been sore for days, but this morning was worse for some reason. I wasn't sure what I'd done to it, but clearly my body was resentful.
I went through my morning routine in the usual solitude. Showered, dressed, ate toast. Caught my reflection in one of the glass cupboards and noted that my once bright blue hair was now pathetically faded with my roots growing in and had to be dyed again.
Then I made the mistake of checking the landline's messages.
"Hey Lionel, sweetie, it's Mom," the voice said, painfully chipper as always, "Sorry I missed you, can't call back because the next flight's in an hour. Just had to let you know, looks like I won't be able to make it for next weekend like we planned. The schedule got changed because Eddie's mother died, poor thing was sick for ages—"
I let out a long, fed-up sigh as she rattled on about this co-worker and how very awful this all was for another ten seconds.
"—anyway I'll make it up to you, okay hun? Love you!"
I rolled my eyes as the message ended.
"No you don't." I said as I punched the delete button with my thumb and erased her voice.
It might have seemed dramatic to an outsider, but this wasn't an isolated incident. There was always something with her. She could have requested the time off, but she probably offered to cover 'Eddie's' shift so that she had a good excuse to put off the visit. I knew her too well. Which was a shame, because it didn't go both ways.
The voicemails didn't affect my mood as badly as they used to. I hadn't actually expected her to stay for the weekend like she'd promised, although I had hoped for at least a few hours at the airport between flights. But that was asking for too much, it seemed.
"Looks like it's just us again, this weekend." I said casually to the avocado sprout that was suspended in a glass of water on the kitchen table.
The avocado, the latest of dozens of plants I'd taken in, didn't respond. In it's defence, though, I'm sure it would have agreed if it could.
I threw on my jacket, grabbed my backpack and finally the keys. I quickly checked my cell as I pulled open the front door. The cool autumn breeze hit my face as I headed out, but I happened to glance down just in time to save myself from stepping in—well honestly, it was hard to describe.
It was a pile of what used to be a pigeon, which I only recognized from the feathers, lovingly piled and placed within a ritual-circle of it's own blood. It was a very precise, neatly drawn pentagram, as if someone had been finger-painting with the entrails.
I stood there, one leg bent up and hovering over the display, swallowing hard and slowly, hesitantly, taking a picture with my phone. I had no idea what else to do. This was some screwed up, sickening intimidation technique or something, and I couldn't for the life of me come up with a likely cause or suspect. This was the first time something like this had ever happened to me.
I shouldn't have been quite so shocked. Shadow Avenue, the street I lived on, was not a normal place to live. Mom bought the house, site unseen, after coming across an online posting. She was just itching to sell the old place after Dad had passed away. She'd held off for a few years, until I finished grade school, but finally she'd had enough. She'd said the old place held too many memories.
Then she had me move in on my own while she jetted off on a new job as an air hostess for the summer, and then just decided not to come home. I was fourteen when she left.
But in the four years I'd lived here by myself, I'd always known that something was off. Honestly, I should have been more surprised that this was the first scary thing to happen since moving here.
Still, now that I stood there staring down at this scene, I found my fingers drumming nervously on the side of my cell. If this was intimidation, it was working. I was definitely freaked out. And the dream I'd had last night was bugging me too, because unlike most dreams that fade over the course of the morning, it was still crystal clear in my mind.
I sidestepped the carnage, careful not smudge it with my shoes, and decided to figure out what to do about it later. I'd ask around, see what other people thought. I might have to report it to the police. Or was one incident not enough?
I rubbed my shoulder again. It was like this sudden burst of stress was making it worse. My arm was aching something awful.
I walked to the sidewalk and glanced at my porch again. Then I looked over at the neighbours hydrangeas. I knew, logically, that I'd dreamt that part. I knew, and yet I walked over to them anyway. They looked disturbed, but it was Fall, and the leaves were dying, and it was probably just the wind that made them look so ruffled.
Realizing that I was standing in mud, I clicked my teeth in irritation and stepped backwards.
It was at this angle that I saw a footprint that wasn't mine. I paused and leaned down, certain I'd been mistaken. Yet there it was, a single, bare-footed human footprint, pointed straight towards the bushes.
Incredulous, I whipped my head around at looked up at my bedroom window. I couldn't see any evidence of the figure from last night, but the footprint was certainly real. Which meant whatever had been at my window had also likely been real.
And it left when I shouted at it.
I looked down at the footprint again, then held out my phone.
The consensus at school seemed to be that it was a prank.
One of my more bookish friends, Julian, insisted that 'some kids probably found a dead bird and wanted to try freaking somebody out'. Of course, it's not like I gave him all the facts.
Although I had a handful of classmates at school that I'd call friends, some of whom I'd known since childhood, I didn't actually have anyone I considered close enough to discuss the phantom at the window. Or 'the stalker' as another classmate, Gord, had called it.
As far as they knew, there was a dead bird in a pentagram and a footprint from the culprit, so the prank theory made sense to most of them. Although Luke, the more sports-minded fellow in our circle, couldn't seem to focus on the bird at all.
"Dude, I don't get it." Luke had said, looking at the picture of the footprint, "Bare feet in October? Wasn't that bro cold?"
At the time it seemed like a pointless observation, but it stayed with me for the rest of the day. It was just strange enough to bother me.
It had been barely two degrees last night. The wind was strong. And the figure at my window wasn't even wearing shoes. It wasn't proof of anything, and it might not mean anything at all. But it left me feeling uneasy, and that uneasiness stayed at the back of my mind the whole walk home.
It was already getting dark as I turned the corner onto my street. From a distance, it honestly looked like an ordinary neighbourhood. This was especially true during the day, and at a distance. It boasted small old houses, mostly bungalows, and plenty of big trees. The lawns were a bit overgrown, but they never quite looked abandoned. It was a neighbourhood that seemed as if there should be people in it. Like there could be, if you needed to think so. But the reality was that when you stepped onto the street it felt…
That was the feeling I got as I stepped off the curb. The sky visibly darkened as I looked up, and the streetlamps began to flicker on. More than that, the distant hum of the highway fell silent.
This is the way it had always been. It took me until the end of my tenth grade summer to notice. I'd always listened to music on the walk home, and I'd chalked up the darkness to my overactive imagination.
Eventually I noticed a trend. It could be the brightest summer day you've ever seen, but when you'd round the corner past the signpost, it was like the whole world dimmed to a mild grey. I'd even brought a thermometer and measured the temperature. It was exactly two degrees colder at all times. I couldn't explain it, but it was an undeniable fact.
And there was the fact that I'd never seen another person on my street. I'd never seen any cars go by either, and every driveway was empty.
All incoming mail addressed to Shadow Avenue always got held at the nearest post office as well, for some reason. When I'd asked the clerk, they'd said it was some sort of mapping oversight that the city was responsible for. Apparently the street wasn't included in any delivery route, and an inquiry on resolving the issue had been pending for years. She assured me it was much easier to simply pick up my mail from them once a week, which I had done ever since.
It was the same with garbage. There was a dumpster at the end of the street where the trash got picked up, and I had to get into the habit of throwing a bag out on my way to school a few times a week.
Those were only minor inconveniences, though.
The noise issue was much stranger. I could clearly hear the sounds of the city again the moment I stepped off the curb onto the next street, but one step back onto Shadow Avenue and it felt like walking into a soundproof room. The wind would blow, the mourning doves still cooed on the power lines, but everything outside the street just died off.
My personal theory was that I lived in a small-scale equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. It was the most logical explanation I could come up with. I didn't know if it was radio waves or electromagnetic currents or whatever else that made this street so strange, but I could only go by my own experience. And experience said there was something wrong with this place.
And until now, I'd liked it.
The street was always eerie and dark, but it had never felt dangerous to me. It was weird, but it was harmlessly weird, and that made it fun for an eighteen-year-old boy who had trouble making connections with people. It was my little secret, the one good thing to come from Mom's disappearing act.
But things were different now, this evening in early October. The encroaching dark now felt sinister, the silence felt suspicious, the cold felt like a warning. And I was left to wonder if it had always been this way and I'd simply failed to realize, or if maybe something had actually changed. Maybe Shadow Avenue was more wrong than usual.
Flinching from the cold and picking up the pace, I eventually made it to my front door. I'd been so lost in thought that I'd forgotten about the dead bird waiting for me. It was dark, and I could only vaguely make it out. I stepped around it, unlocked the door and flicked on the porch light to see the mess that I was going to have to clean.
But bird corpse had…changed.
The flesh and feathers had been stripped from the bones. All that was left on my porch was a tiny skeleton and the blood-drawing beneath, now dry and dark brown. Ordinarily I'd think it had been a hungry animal that had come for a free meal, but the position of the bird was too perfect. I compared it to my photo, and confirmed that it was still posed in the exact same way it had been that morning.
I stood there, frowning deeply and peering out into the dark street. But there was no one. There was always no one. Wincing a bit, I extended one leg and swept the bones aside with my foot, having them tumble off into the bushes. Then I stared down at the blood circle and bit my lip.
My shoulder began to ache again as I shut the door.
I couldn't sleep that night.
I tried to. I shut all the blinds, tested every lock, made sure that my phone was charged and under my pillow, even had my old baseball bat under the bed. Everything I could think of.
Tomorrow would be a long day. The Fall Gala was being held in the gym after school, and I was a senior member of the tech team that had to support the performances. I needed my rest now more than ever. But my brain refused to shut down.
It was around 2am when I simply got up. There was nothing else to do, so I headed down to the kitchen and filled a pitcher of water. At least my plants could be happy if I couldn't be.
I'd always loved plants. That was something I'd picked up from Dad when he was still around. I was really good at it. It's not exactly a skill to brag about in your last year of high school, but my friends thought it was interesting. It's 'eccentric', Naomi had said, like I was some sort of mad-plant-scientist.
My yard always looked amazing in the spring, not that anyone but me ever saw it. Even just last month I'd expanded the flower bed at the front. It took some serious digging, there were thick tree roots buried a foot down that I had to cut through, but in the end it was worth the hard work.
In the fall and winter I still had my indoor plants to take care of, like I was doing tonight. I used the birthday money Mom sent to buy new ones every year. It was at the point where I had at least five per room.
Plants, like people, are very easy to care for as long as you know what each of them needs. But I found plants to be more reliable. You water them, give them light, give them fresh soil, transplant them when they outgrow their pot…
And in return they never become flight attendants and leave the country for an uncertain number of years.
I swallowed my bitterness as I checked the zebra plant's pot. It was the last plant Dad bought before he got sick. But it was always unhappy; either the leaves were dying for no reason or they started drooping without warning. I tried everything, but it was a constant battle to keep it alive. Mom tried to throw it out once, before the move. I'd fished it out of the trash and moved it to my bedroom to keep her away from it. She'd always said I was too stubborn to let it die.
Sighing, standing in my hardly 'lived-in' living room, I picked the dead leaves off of the thing and sprayed it with a water bottle. Being stubborn had nothing to do with it. I took care of the zebra plant because I was the only one that could. The only one willing to. It was work, it was disheartening sometimes, but the zebra plant was still alive, and a few weeks a year it would even thrive. And as long as there was a chance that I could keep it that way, I couldn't just stop. It needed me.
It was probably the only thing in the world that did.
The following day was a rough one, and all I was looking forward to was coming home to sleep.
After a half-day of classes, I had been excused to set up for the concert. I got the new Tech members to do all the legwork, running mikes and timing the music, while I stayed in the upper control panel nook and did the lighting on my own. I would have skipped and gone home if the whole thing didn't look so good on college applications.
It was past eleven by the time I rounded the corner to my street. My head ached, and my shoulder was the sorest it had ever been. The streetlamps on Shadow Avenue were fairly far apart, and the one if front of my house sometimes flickered like a prop in a horror movie. This was one of those nights.
But it was as it flickered that I noticed a person standing there, in the yard across from mine, beside the hip-high picket fence that had seen better days. The run-down house across the street, Thirteen Shadow Avenue, had always seemed as vacant as the rest. But tonight it wasn't, and the shock of seeing another person made me pause mid-step.
He was standing still, staring up at the overcast sky as if lost in thought, but he looked over abruptly when I stopped walking.
He wasn't especially strange looking, at least for someone who seemed to have spawned right out of thin air. He was a tall, skinny thing, wearing all dark colours; a turtleneck, slacks, and then, inexplicably, bright blue slippers. His hair was dark, thin and long, tied up in a high bun behind his head.
He looked to be about the same age as I was, and he seemed just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. We both stood there without speaking just long enough to make it awkward.
I was the first to recover.
"Hi there," I called over, raising a hand and waggling my fingers. I was being overly friendly to compensate for my uneasiness.
The boy frowned at me at first, and then he looked me up and down as if he wasn't sure he was seeing straight. I just kind of stood in the middle of the road like an idiot, waiting for a response.
The streetlamp paused in it's flickering. My god, he was pale. Incredibly pale. The kind of pale you see in the terminal wards at the hospital.
I studied his face. His expression was blank, but intense. I felt like I was being examined under a microscope. And there was something wrong with his eyes. They made the hairs on my arms stand up even more than the cold. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
It was almost like when the lamp flickered out, I could still see them.
"…Hello." When he finally spoke, it was in a surprisingly average voice. Higher than expected, and a bit nasal. "What are you doing here?"
His tone was cautious, but not unfriendly. I could tell from his expression that he thought I was lost.
"I, um, well I live here." I pointed my thumb behind me, towards my house, "Right across from you."
He frowned at this answer.
"You—what?" He stared at the house, then back at me, then back at my house again, "Really?"
I nodded and shrugged, and his expression softened a bit.
"That is so strange." He said to himself, then glanced up at me, "Is that why the garden's so nice every spring?"
"Oh," I felt strangely flattered, "I didn't think anyone else saw it. I mean, I've never seen anyone else around here."
"Me neither." He said, and I was relieved that it wasn't just me.
"This is crazy." I shook my head, offering him a small smile, "I've lived here for four years and never even seen you. Oh, I'm Lionel, by the way."
The streetlamp stopped flickering again. Only the almighty lamp could decide if you were worthy to get into the house without tripping. I could now distinctly see my neighbour raise his eyebrows in surprise.
"Really? Four years?" he asked as he approached the gate in a friendly manner, pushing it open, and I walked over to him.
At this proximity I could clearly make him out. His height was now obvious as he stood a few inches above me.
"Yep, it's almost been five years now, actually." I said, matching his enthusiasm, "Seriously, I was starting to think I might be the only one here."
The stranger was still frowning and glancing over at my house every few seconds, like he was trying to understand, but in the end he just shook his head and shrugged.
"It must be a matter of timing." He said, unable to come up with a better explanation, "I don't go out during the day, so we must have been missing each other."
"Oh?" I couldn't hide the curiosity in my voice.
"Oh, well," the boy hesitated, shifting his feet, and I had a feeling he already regretted bringing it up, "I have, well, it's a skin condition. The sun makes my skin blister. I can only come out after dark."
This should have been a red flag, looking back, but at the time I just nodded because I'd heard of that kind of thing before. It was a rare, but very real, sort of condition that you could be born with. A literal allergy to the sun.
"That's tough." I said in awe, "I bet you had to deal with a lot of vampire jokes, growing up. Are you homeschooled?" I shook my head in disbelief, "It must be pretty hard to make friends."
He looked alarmed for half a second, like he hadn't understood my meaning, then his lips pulled into a tight smile.
"Yes." he said brazenly, while staring at his feet, "Friends. Hm. That would be nice."
The dry sarcasm put me at ease. I was trying to think of something else to stay, but the dull throb in my shoulder turned into a sharp, stabbing pain. I flinched and hissed.
"Damn, sorry," I grabbed my shoulder, "My back's killing me, I need to go take some pain-killers. Maybe we can talk again later?"
The stranger, who still hadn't told me his name, nodded. He looked a bit concerned. I waved weakly and turned to cross the street.
I nearly dropped my bag. I jerked my head over my shoulder at the urgency of his scream.
He was staring at me, wide-eyed, hand extended as if to emphasize that I stay still.
"Y-You—" He was searching for the right word, almost trembling with alarm, "You have a—on you're back—there's a giant spider—it's so big it's—don't move!"
My entire body froze.
"WHERE?" I wanted to roll on the ground like they'd taught us in fire safety.
"Don't even—please, just stay still!" He approached me, carefully, arms held out and staring at something just out of my sight on my upper back.
He reached forward, and I distinctly felt him grab—something—and pull.
"OW!" I tried to jerk forward as pain surged through my back, "What is that?"
"Don't move!" the boy said again, "It's got it's fangs in, I've got to—almost—there!"
I felt something disconnect from my back and I was thrown forward. I stumbled and turned to look at what he'd pulled off of me, and my eyes went wide as saucers.
In the boy's hands, held at arm's length, was a red, hard-shelled spider as big as a cat. And that was just its body. The legs extended outward angrily, long thin appendages reaching for something to grab on to. Eight beady eyes the size of marbles and two hooked, hungry fangs glistened in the lamplight as it struggled to get free. The boy didn't seem half as alarmed as I was, but he was at least twice as revolted to make up for it.
"Disgusting." He noted, glancing around for somewhere to put it, "Do you happen to have any salt?"
"Salt?" I asked.
"Trust me," He said pulling his head back to avoid a leg grabbing his face, "It will work."
Taking his word for it I ran home, threw my bag down and grabbed a salt shaker. By the time I came back, the spider was genuinely trying to wriggle free and making a low 'screeeee' sort of noise. I was strongly reminded of the movie 'Alien'.
"It heard me mention the salt," the boy said irritably, "It's a smart one. Here, take off the cap and pour it in its mouth."
I did as he said, popping off the lid and tipping the business-end of the salt shaker over the spider's head. As the salt poured down to its mandibles, the noise it made became a shrieking wail, and I cringed as I tapped the back of the container to make sure I'd used it all.
Before our eyes, the spider shuddered and grew quiet, skin darkening as if it were burned. After a few seconds it went still, then trembled one last time and curled into itself as spiders do when they die. Satisfied, the boy dropped it and held up his hands like they were tainted.
"Filthy things," He muttered, "I've never seen one that big before. How long had your back been hurting you?"
I stared down at the spider's body, still reeling that it had been on my person. I was also keenly aware that the pain in my shoulder was completely gone
"Maybe two weeks, I think?" I looked over at him, "Wait, are you saying it was the giant spider that was doing it?"
The boy didn't answer, his jaw went slack when I'd said 'two weeks'.
"Two—really?" he was incredulous, "It usually takes four days for one of those to kill a man. They feed on energy, mostly, but apparently this one was as incompetent as it was ugly."
He kicked it with a smug expression, then grimaced at the sight of it rolling away.
"But I couldn't even see it." I said, still reeling, "I couldn't even feel it, I showered every morning—"
"They're very good at hiding," the boy said, as if this settled the issue, "Honestly though, you're lucky to be alive. They don't often go for people. But now that you've seen one, you'll have an easier time spotting them." He gestured to my salt shaker, "When in doubt, if you feel any strange pains, just take a salt bath. Or take one every few weeks, that'll keep them off you."
It was like I'd walked into an episode of the Twilight Zone. I couldn't quite wrap my head around these past ten minutes.
"Thank you," I said at last, wide-eyed and earnest.
The boy's expression changed, like he was suddenly unsure of himself.
"Oh I, well, you're welcome I suppose." He said, rubbing the back of his neck unconsciously, not meeting my eye, "I mean it's one of those things I just happen to know about, so."
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said quickly, "My name is Morden, good to meet you. Lionel, wasn't it?"
I nodded, and held out a hand.
Morden looked at my hand for a moment, as if he wasn't quite sure what I was doing.
Then, slowly, he brought his ghostly white hand forward, a few long slender fingers extended. It looked like he was going to try to poke me.
Instead of waiting, I grabbed his hesitant hand in mine and shook it fiercely. I'd surprised him at first, but his face then broke out into a wide and sincere smile. He even laughed a little and he shook back just as hard, as if it were a game. It was a childlike behaviour, like he was thrilled just to experience a handshake. Like human contact was a rare treat.
"Oh," he said suddenly, yanking his hand back, "Now I've got you covered in spider dirt."
"It was on my back for weeks, apparently." I shrugged, "I think I'm worse off than you are."
He looked aside and giggled; a small, honest noise. And for my part, I was so distracted that I forgot all about the pentagram and the stalker until the following morning.