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MY NAME IS ELLIOT LEM. I'M WRITING THIS STORY DOWN IN A DIARY BECAUSE I WANT TO HAVE ONE RECORD OF IT, I WANT TO WRITE IT ONCE AND THEN I CAN BE DONE. I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I'LL DO WITH THE DIARY, BUT IT'LL EXIST, AND THAT'S ALL I NEED. I'M THIRTY YEARS OLD RIGHT NOW. MOST OF WHAT HAPPENED TO ME HAPPENED WHEN I WAS TWENTY-FIVE, ONE YEAR OUT OF COLLEGE. I WENT TO AMERICAN UNIVERSITY FOR FOUR FULL YEARS, AND THREE MONTHS BEFORE I GRADUATED I WAS OFFERED A FULL SCHOLARSHIP TO GRADUATE SCHOOL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, A TARNOVSKY SCHOLARSHIP IN HISTORY, ALL EXPENSES PAID, PLUS A STIPEND FOR SIX MONTHS OF OVERSEAS STUDY. TWO WEEKS BEFORE GRADUATION, I WENT CAMPING UP IN THE SHENANDOAH MOUNTAINS FOR A WEEKEND. I TOOK JUST A TENT AND SOME BASIC GEAR AND GOT A PRIMITIVE SITE ABOUT A HALF MILE AWAY FROM THE CLOSEST CAMPGROUND, CLOSE ENOUGH THAT I COULD SEE THE FIRES PEOPLE MADE THERE. ON. THE FIRST NIGHT OF CAMPING, I DECIDED TO GO FOR A WALK IN THE WOODS WITH JUST MY FLASHLIGHT. I WASN'T FAR AWAY FROM THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL AND A POPULAR STREAM, SO I FIGURED THERE WOULD PROBABLY BE A FEW OTHER PEOPLE OUT WALKING. IT WAS ONLY NINE O'CLOCK OR SO. BUT I WAS PRETTY MUCH ALONE, WALKING DOWN A TRAIL THAT WOUND ALONG THE SIDE OF A PRETTY STEEP HILL. ON MY RIGHT, THE HILL SLOPED UPWARD, AND ON MY LEFT, IT SLOPED DOWNWARD TOWARD THE STREAM. MY INTENTION WAS TO FOLLOW THE HILL ALL THE WAY AROUND TO THE ROAD AND HIKE BACK UP FROM THERE. IT WOULD HAVE TAKEN ABOUT AN HOUR. AS I WAS WALKING, I HEARD FROM JUST UP AHEAD A SCUTTLING IN THE LEAVES, LIKE SOMETHING HAD BEGUN TO MOVE SUDDENLY, AND THEN I HEARD A MAN SHRIEKING. HE APPEARED BEFORE ME COMING FROM AROUND A BEND IN THE TRAIL. HE WAS RUNNING AS FAST AS HE COULD RIGHT AT ME, AND HE WAS SCREAMING 'BEAR! BEAR!' IN A HIGH-PITCHED, TERRIFIED VOICE. HE NEVER EVEN SAW ME UNTIL HE COLLIDED WITH ME, TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL. HE SLAMMED INTO THE RIGHT SIDE OF MY BODY, WHICH KNOCKED ME BACKWARDS SEVERAL FEET AND OFF THE TRAIL ENTIRELY. MY LEFT FOOT SKIDDED ON THE VERGE OF THE DOWNSLOPE AND I LOST MY BALANCE AND FELL. AS I WENT DOWN I SAW A SHAPE IN THE DARK, ON THE TRAIL, ABOUT THIRTY FEET AWAY, VERY LOW TO THE GROUND BUT MOVING VERY FAST, AND I SAW OUT OF THE CORNER OF MY EYE THAT THE MAN HAD MANAGED TO KEEP HIS FEET AFTER HTTING ME BUT HE JUMPED ONTO THE DOWNSLOPE TO GET AWAY, AND HE LOST HIS BALANCE TOO, UNABLE TO GET HIS FOOTING. WE BOTH ROLLED DOWN THE SLOPE, WHICH WAS DOTTED WITH THIN TREES. ABOUT HALFWAY DOWN, MY LEFT LEG CONNECTED HARD WITH ONE, AND I HEARD SOMETHING SNAP AND HALF OF IT WENT NUMB WHILE THE OTHER HALF JUST SEEMED TO EXPLODE. THE PAIN WAS AWFUL. I CAME TO REST ABOUT TEN FEET AWAY FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE SLOPE, SOME YARDS AWAY FROM THE STREAM'S BANK, AND I BLACKED OUT FOR JUST A SECOND BEFORE I CAME TO AGAIN. THE MAN WASN'T HURT FALLING DOWN THE SLOPE AND HE SCRAMBLED THROUGH THE LEAVES TOWARD ME. I WAS WHIMPERING, TRYING NOT TO SCREAM. THE MAN WAS PLEADING WITH ME NOT TO, HE SAID HE 'DIDN'T KNOW WHERE IT WENT', AND THEN HE SAID, 'JESUS, IT WAS A MOUNTAIN LION, IT WAS A MOUNTAIN LION.' HE ASKED ME WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME. I TOLD HIM IT WAS MY LEG. HE TOOK A CELL PHONE OUT OF HIS JACKET AND HE PRESSED HIMSELF INTO THE GROUND, ALMOST FLAT ON HIS FACE, AND LOOKING UP THE SLOPE HE CALLED FOR HELP. HE CALLED THE PEOPLE HE HAD BEEN CAMPING WITH, AND TOLD THEM TO GET A RANGER. WHEN HE HUNG UP HE KEPT TELLING ME NOT TO SCREAM. HE WAS TERRIFIED THE MOUNTAIN LION, IF THAT'S WHAT IT TRULY HAD BEEN, WOULD COME FOR US.

THE PAIN AFTER MY LEG WAS TREATED, AFTER MY THREE DAYS IN THE HOSPITAL, WAS FAR WORSE THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE. IT JUST DIDN'T STOP, AND THE DOCTORS HAD NO FIRM EXPLANATION FOR IT. MY LEG HAD TO BE TOTALLY IMMOBILIZED, AND THEN I WAS ON CRUTCHES FOR TWO MONTHS, AND DURING THIS TIME I SLOWLY DEVELOPED A DEPENDENCE ON Z-SOMINOL. I THOUGHT I WAS FINE, BUT THEN WHEN I WENT OFF IT, I COULDN'T DEAL WITH IT. IT FELT LIKE MY BODY WAS SCREAMING FOR IT. IT'S NOT THAT THE DRUGS MADE ME FEEL SO GOOD, IT'S THAT WITHOUT THEM, MY ENTIRE SYSTEM FELT SHAKY AND HOLLOW, LIKE I WAS MADE OUT OF DELICATE GLASS. IT WAS A SCARY FEELING AND ONLY THE Z-SOMINOL MADE IT GO AWAY. IT MADE ME LOSE INTEREST IN PREPARING FOR SCHOOL, AND I HAD A LOT OF INSOMNIA. IT TOOK MONTHS FOR THE LEG TO HEAL. I DECIDED TO POSTPONE GOING TO IOWA FOR A SEMESTER, AND START INSTEAD IN JANUARY. I DIDN'T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW ABOUT THIS DEPENDENCE I WAS STRUGGLING WITH, SO RATHER THAN GO BACK TO MY FATHER'S HOUSE IN PENNSYLVANIA, I RENTED A VERY SMALL EFFICIENCY IN A BUILDING WHERE MY LANDLORD WAS A NINETY-FOUR YEAR OLD WOMAN. I DIDN'T SEE MUCH OF HER AT ALL. I MOSTLY JUST STAYED IN MY ROOM AND LOOKED THROUGH THE CLASSIFIEDS FOR A JOB. ALL THIS TIME, MY PRESCRIPTION FOR THE Z-SOMINOL JUST KEPT GOING AND GOING, EVEN THOUGH MY LEG WAS TOTALLY FUNCTIONAL AGAIN AND THE PAIN WAS ONLY BAD ONE DAY OUT OF EVERY THREE. BUT THE FEELING OF BEING WITHOUT THE DRUGS WAS INTOLERABLE. I REALIZED WHAT WAS HAPPENING, AND I TOLD MYSELF I WOULD QUIT THE PAINKILLERS SLOWLY, OVER THE COURSE OF A MONTH OR SO. I WORKED AT A CALL CENTER FOR A LITTLE WHILE BUT I ALMOST GOT FIRED BECAUSE I MISSED WORK TOO MUCH. MY DEPRESSION WAS GETTING PRETTY BAD, AND I WAS DRINKING, DRINKING A LOT, ALONE, MOSTLY, SOMETIMES WITH SOME COLLEGE FRIENDS WHO WERE STILL AT AMERICAN. IT WAS THE ONLY THING THAT KILLED THE FEELING OF BEING WITHOUT Z-SOMINOL.

ONE DAY I SAW AN AD IN THE PAPER, IN THE HELP WANTED SECTION, WHICH SAID 'CLEANING ASSISTANT NEEDED', FOURTEEN DOLLARS AN HOUR, NIGHT SHIFTS, SO I APPLIED FOR IT, AND IT TURNED OUT WHAT I WOULD BE HELPING TO CLEAN WAS CRIME SCENES, CRIME SCENES AND PLACES WHERE THERE WAS SOME QUESTION OF A BIOLOGICAL HAZARD. THE COMPANY CONSISTED OF JUST ONE PERSON. HIS NAME WAS PETER. HE WAS ABOUT SIXTY-FIVE YEARS OLD, I THINK, BUT HE DYED HIS HAIR A TOTALLY ARTIFICIAL BLACK, IT LOOKED AWFUL, AND HE WAS INCREDIBLY SKINNY AND HIS ARMS WERE COVERED WITH TATTOOS. HE HAD BEEN IN THE NAVY, THEN HE WAS A BARBER FOR YEARS AND YEARS, THEN A SPORTS HANDICAPPER IN RENO, AND FINALLY THROUGH HIS BROTHER HE GOT INTO CLEANING CRIME SCENES, JUST GOING AROUND IN A VAN WHEN HE GOT A CALL AND DOING THIS. HE SWORE ALL THE TIME, HE SMOKED ALL THE TIME, HE TOLD AWFUL DIRTY JOKES THAT HE WOULD TELL IN THE FIRST PERSON, AS IF THESE SITUATIONS ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO HIM, HE SPENT MOST OF HIS SPARE TIME AT STRIP CLUBS, JUST THE MOST HIDEOUS PERSON. BUT HE GAVE ME THE JOB AND I NEEDED IT. HE GAVE ME A BEEPER AND I WAS ON CALL BASICALLY TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY. I HAD TO HELP HIM WHENEVER HE CALLED ME, SIX DAYS A WEEK, SO MY BODY CLOCK WAS ALL OVER THE PLACE. I JUST DIDN'T FEEL LIKE GOING HOME MOST OF THE TIME SO I STAYED INDOORS MOSTLY, DRINKING A LOT.

THE JOB WAS REPULSIVE. IT WAS EXACTLY WHAT YOU'D EXPECT IT TO BE. WE WOULD SHOW UP AFTER THE POLICE HAD LEFT A MOTEL ROOM OR SOMEONE'S HOUSE, AFTER ALL THE EVIDENCE HAD BEEN TAKEN AWAY, AND WE CLEANED UP BLOOD, WE CLEANED UP AFTER SOMEONE HAD COMMITTED SUICIDE, OR SOMEONE HAD BEEN KILLED. SO I SAW HORRIBLE THINGS. THE PEOPLE WERE ALWAYS GONE BY THEN, BUT IT WAS UNTHINKABLE. IT WAS THE ONLY TIME IN MY LIFE THAT I SAW THINGS THAT FOLLOWED ME INTO MY DREAMS THE VERY SAME NIGHT. PETER ONLY NEEDED ME TWENTY HOURS OR SO A WEEK. GOD KNOWS HOW MUCH HE HAD SEEN DOING THIS FULL-TIME. A LOT OF THE TIME, THE WHOLE THING WAS JUST GOING TO A SCENE WHERE SOMEONE HAD BEEN SHOT, EVEN IN AN ALLEY OR ON THE STREET, AND JUST POWER WASHING A SMALL AMOUNT OF BLOOD AWAY, OR COVERING THE SPOT WITH CHEMICALS. OUR NIGHTS ALWAYS ENDED WITH US TAKING THE REMAINS OF WHAT WE HAD TO THROW OUT AND DRIVING THEM INTO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE TO AN E.P.A. DUMPSTER. SOMETIMES I THOUGHT I WOULD BE ABLE TO ENDURE IT ALL, BUT IN THE BRIEF TIME I DID THE JOB, I HAD TO HELP PETER CLEAN UP SOME BAD SITES. THE SECOND JOB I WENT ON WITH HIM, I HAD TO PUT ON A PROTECTION MASK AND GLOVES, THE WHOLE THING. PETER HAD BEEN TOLD WE WOULDN'T NEED THAT STUFF FOR THIS ONE, BUT WE GOT INSIDE THE DOOR OF THIS HOUSE AND WE SAW SOMETHING RED SPRAYED ON THE WALLS, AND HE SWORE UNDER HIS BREATH AND TOLD ME WE'D HAVE TO GET OUR GEAR ON. WHEN I SAW THAT RED SUBSTANCE ON THE WALLS, AND STAINING A LAMPSHADE IN THERE, I ALMOST WALKED AWAY RIGHT THEN. IT WASN'T BLOOD, THOUGH, THAT WE'D SEEN. THE MAN IN THE HOUSE HAD COMMITTED SUICIDE BY CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING, HE HAD RUN A GAS GENERATOR INSIDE HIS HOUSE AS HE SLEPT TO KILL HIMSELF. THE POLICE TOLD US IT WAS PROBABLY THE MOST PEACEFUL WAY TO DIE POSSIBLE. THE GUY HAD EVEN SAID SO IN HIS NOTE. BUT BEFORE HE'D DONE THIS, HE HAD FOR SOME REASON GONE THROUGH HIS REFRIGERATOR AND THROWN ALL THE FOOD ALL OVER THE FIRST FLOOR OF THE HOUSE. TWO JARS OF SPAGHETTI SAUCE HAD BEEN HURLED AGAINST ONE WALL. HE'D DUMPED ORANGE JUICE EVERYWHERE, AND ACTUALLY OPENED ALL HIS CANS OF SOUP AND THROWN THEM AGAINST THE WALLS TOO. HE HAD BEEN RENTING THE HOUSE, SO IT HAD TO BE CLEANED. I ASSUMED SOME OF THE MONEY FOR IT WOULD COME OUT OF THE DEAD MAN'S SECURITY DEPOSIT. STRANGE THOUGHTS LIKE THESE OCCURRED TO ME WHEN IT ALL GOT SO DISTURBING. IF IT WAS A HOTEL OR A MOTEL, WE SOMETIMES HAD TO CUT OUT THE SPOT ON THE CARPET WHERE THE BLOOD HAD STAINED IT, OR SOMETIMES BRAIN MATTER. IT DIDN'T COME ALL THE WAY OUT A LOT OF THE TIME. WE HAD A LOT OF CHEMICALS, BUT SOMETIMES THEY DIDN'T WORK.

PETER WAS ALWAYS TRYING TO GET ME TO COME OUT WITH HIM AFTER WORK OR BEFORE WORK. HE HAD NO FRIENDS THAT I KNEW OF. I WAS ALWAYS TRYING TO AVOID HIM, BUT TO BE NICE ONE NIGHT, I WENT OVER TO HIS HOUSE TO WATCH A FOOTBALL GAME. WE HAD WATCHED ABOUT HALF OF IT, AND I WAS ALMOST HOPING WE WOULD GET A CALL, IT WAS SO AWKWARD TO BE THERE. WE WERE SITTING THERE, AND RIGHT BEHIND MY HEAD, IN THE WALL, I HEARD A SCRATCHING SOUND, LIKE JUST ONE FINGER SCRATCHING. IT SCRATCHED FOR TEN SECONDS, THEN IT STOPPED, THEN IT STARTED AGAIN, WENT FOR FIVE OR SEVEN SECONDS. AND PETER OBVIOUSLY HEARD IT TOO, BUT ALL HE DID WAS IMMEDIATELY TURN THE TV VOLUME UP. THE SCRATCHING STOPPED FOR ABOUT TEN MINUTES, AND THEN IT STARTED AGAIN, AND I SAID, ‘WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THIS, WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS?' AND PETER JUST KEPT WATCHING THE TV AND HE SAID, ‘YEAH, DON'T WORRY ABOUT THAT, THAT'S JUST MY LITTLE FRIEND, JUST IGNORE IT.' BUT I COULDN'T IGNORE IT, IT WAS RIGHT BEHIND MY HEAD, AND IT DIDN'T MAKE ANY SENSE, BECAUSE THERE WAS NO ADJACENT ROOM. SO I TOLD HIM HE PROBABLY HAD A RACCOON IN THE WALL OR SOMETHING, BUT PETER SAID NO, THAT WASN'T IT. IT HAD BEEN GOING ON FOR SIX MONTHS, OFF AND ON, BUT IT WASN'T A RACCOON. I ASKED HIM HOW HE KNEW, AND STILL WATCHING THE TV, WITHOUT THE SLIGHTEST INTEREST IN THE SCRATCH, HE TOLD ME TO 'WATCH THIS', AND HE CAME ACROSS THE ROOM, AND HE SAT ON THE SOFA AND TILTED HIS HEAD WAY BACK SO IT TOUCHED THE WALL, AND AFTER TEN SECONDS, THE SCRATCHING HAD MOVED SUDDENLY TO A SPOT RIGHT BEHIND HIS HEAD. HE GOT UP AFTER THAT AND WENT BACK ACROSS TO HIS EASY CHAIR AND HE SAID IF I JUST DIDN'T LET MY HEAD TOUCH THE WALL, I WOULDN'T BE BOTHERED ANYMORE. I WAS JUST BAFFLED. I WAITED UNTIL PETER WENT TO THE BATHROOM AND I PUT MY HEAD BACK AGAINST THE WALL, AND ALMOST RIGHT AWAY THE FINGER SCRATCHING BEGAN AGAIN. I GOT UP AND MOVED THREE FEET OVER TO THE SOFA AND TILTED MY HEAD BACK SO THAT IT TOUCHED THE WALL, AND THE SCRATCHING STARTED THERE TOO, RIGHT BEHIND MY HEAD. PETER CAME BACK RIGHT AT THAT SECOND, AND HE WAS INCREDIBLY MAD. HE WAS ALWAYS MAD AT SOMETHING. THIS TIME HE YELLED AT ME NOT TO GET IT STARTED, BECAUSE IF IT REALLY GOT STARTED IT COULD LAST ALL NIGHT. HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE SCRATCHING COULD POSSIBLY BE, HE WAS JUST TRYING TO IGNORE IT. SO WE WATCHED THE GAME, AND A CALL CAME IN TEN MINUTES BEFORE IT FINISHED, AND WE HAD TO GO OUT.

THE CALL THIS TIME WAS TO A BUILDING IN ROCKVILLE. IT WAS ON A SMALL SCIENTIFIC CAMPUS OWNED BY SOME PRNATE RESEARCH COMPANY. WE WERE WAVED THROUGH A GATE AND UP A SMALL ROAD TO THE FRONT OF A PLAIN BRICK BUILDING. THERE WAS ONLY ONE POLICE CAR THERE. WE SAW THAT A WINDOW HAD BEEN BROKEN, MORE LIKE BLOWN OUT, ON THE THIRD FLOOR OF THE BUILDING. A COP TOOK US IN AFTER TELLING US IT WOULD JUST BE A BLOOD JOB, AND HE ASKED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT THE INCIDENT, WHICH WAS NOTHING. PETER HAD JUST BEEN GIVEN AN ADDRESS AND AN IDEA OF WHAT MATERIALS WE'D NEED FOR THE CLEANUP. SO THE COP TOLD US AS WE WENT IN THAT THERE WAS A LOT OF ANIMAL RESEARCH AND VIVISECTION IN THIS BUILDING, AND THAT A GERMAN SHEPHERD HAD GOTTEN LOOSE DURING A SURGICAL PROCEDURE, AND HAD GOTTEN WAY OUT OF CONTROL AND HAD JUMPED TO ITS DEATH OUT THE THIRD STORY WINDOW. WHEN WE GOT UP THERE, THERE WAS JUST ONE EMPLOYEE OF THE COMPANY LEFT IN THE BUILDING IT WAS ABOUT ELEVEN O'CLOCK. HE POINTED TO A DARK TRAIL OF BLOOD THAT BEGAN INSIDE WHAT LOOKED LIKE A VERY SMALL OPERATING ROOM. THE BLOOD WENT OUT INTO THE HALLWAY, VERY CONSISTENTLY, TURNED A CORNER, AND THEN WENT IN MORE OR LESS A STRAIGHT LINE DOWN ANOTHER HALLWAY ABOUT FIFTY FEET LONG, RIGHT INTO THE SHATTERED WINDOW. I WALKED TO IT AND LOOKED OUT. THEY'D HAD TO CUT THE DOG OUT OF A SHORT TREE OUTSIDE THE BUILDING. IN THE EXTREMITY OF ITS MADNESS IT HAD CRASHED THROUGH THE WINDOW AND FALLEN DOWNWARDS INTO IT, GETTING CAUGHT UP IN THE BRANCHES AND HANGING FROM THEM. THERE WAS MUCH MORE BLOOD ON THE SIDEWALK BELOW. NEITHER PETER NOR I HAD EVER HEARD OF SUCH BEHAVIOR FROM A NORMAL DOG. WE NEVER ASKED WHAT THEY'D BEEN DOING TO IT, OR WHY IT HAD GONE SO INSANE. WE CLEANED THE PLACE UP, LIKE WE WERE TOLD TO. IT TOOK A COUPLE OF HOURS, THE HALLWAY AND THE SIDEWALK. SOMEONE PAID PETER, AND PETER PAID ME.

I THOUGHT ABOUT THE SCRATCHING IN PETER'S HOUSE A LOT OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF WEEKS. IT WAS JUST SO STRANGE, AND PETER STARTED TO TALK ABOUT IT MORE AND MORE WHENEVER WE DROVE SOMEWHERE. HE SAID SOMETIMES HE COULDN'T SLEEP BECAUSE HE COULD JUST BARELY HEAR IT FROM HIS BEDROOM. ONE NIGHT AS WE WERE SITTING IN THE VAN WAITING FOR THE POLICE TO COME AND OPEN UP AN APARTMENT BUILDING, HE SAID TO ME, OUT OF NOWHERE, WITHOUT SMILING AT ALL, 'OH, I BET IT'S THAT GUY WHO DROWNED ON OUR SHIP THAT TIME. I BET HE STILL THINKS IT'S MY FAULT HE WENT UNDER. WELL, MAYBE IT WAS, YOU KNOW, I STILL FEEL KINDA BAD ABOUT THAT.’

SOMEWHERE IN THERE I WAS IN SOME BAR, PRETTY DRUNK, AND SOMEONE NEXT TO ME ASKED ME TO PLEASE STOP WHAT I WAS DOING, AND I SAID, 'WHAT AM I DOING?' I HAD BEEN SCRATCHING THE TOP OF THE BAR WITH MY FINGER, UNCONSCIOUSLY, AGAIN AND AGAIN, NOT DOING ANY DAMAGE, BUT IT JUST IRRITATED THIS PERSON.

FOR A MONTH OR SO I DID THE JOB, AND THEN THERE WAS A STRETCH OF TWO DAYS WHEN PETER DIDN'T CALL ME, AND I'D DECIDED THAT WHENEVER HE DID, I WOULD TELL HIM I'D HAD ENOUGH, I QUIT. ON THE THIRD NIGHT, A CALL CAME TO MY BEEPER. IT WASN'T PETER, IT WAS THE HOLIDAY INN IN CHANTILLY, AND THE MANAGER AND SOMEONE ON THE POLICE HAD BEEN TRYING TO REACH PETER, BUT THERE WAS NO ANSWER, AND THEY NEEDED A ROOM CLEANED. THEY DIDN'T SAY WHY. AND I JUST TOLD THEM THAT I DIDN'T KNOW WHERE HE WAS, I DIDN'T HAVE THE VAN, I WAS THE ASSISTANT, AND THEY SAID ALL RIGHT, AND HUNG UP. THE NEXT NIGHT, THE SAME THING HAPPENED. THE POLICE CALLED PETER AND COULDN'T FIND HIM TO CLEAN A BEDROOM IN A HOUSE WHERE THERE'D BEEN A SUICIDE. SO I DROVE OVER TO HIS PLACE THE NEXT MORNING, BECAUSE I COULDN'T REACH HIM EITHER.

THE VAN WAS THERE, PARKED IN THE DRIVEWAY. I KNOCKED, BUT NO ONE CAME. I WENT AROUND TO THE BACK PORCH AND I SAW THAT THE DOOR WAS OPEN BACK THERE, WIDE OPEN. I STUCK MY HEAD IN AND CALLED OUT, BUT THERE WASN'T ANY ANSWER. I WENT THROUGH THE KITCHEN AND INTO THE LIVING ROOM, THE ONLY ROOM THERE I'D EVER REALLY BEEN IN. IN THERE, THE WALL OPPOSITE THE FRONT WINDOW HAD BEEN RIPPED APART, THE WALL WHERE THAT SCRATCHING WAS. IT HAD BEEN COMPLETELY RIPPED OPEN WITH LONG DIAGONAL AND HORIZONTAL SLASHES THAT WENT ALL OVER THE PLACE, GOUGING THE PAINT AND THE DRYWALL, CREATING A LOT OF LITTLE HOLES, THERE WERE ABOUT TWENTY OF THEM. AND THERE WAS A CHAINSAW SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR, WHICH WAS COVERED IN DUST BECAUSE OF THE LITTLE BITS OF WALL THAT HAD FLOWN OUT. THE WALL HAD BEEN COMPLETELY, CRAZILY ATTACKED. BUT THERE WAS NO SIGN OF PETER. I NEVER WENT UPSTAIRS, THOUGH. HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN UP THERE, BUT THAT BACK DOOR BEING OPEN MADE ME THINK HE WAS GONE. ALMOST AS SOON AS I SAW THE CHAINSAW, I BACKED OUT OF THERE AND LEFT. AND I NEVER FOUND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.

MAYBE THREE NIGHTS AFTER THAT I GOT TOTALLY DRUNK AT THE BAR CLOSEST TO MY PLACE. I GOT SO DRUNK THIS TIME THAT IT DIDN'T EVEN OCCUR ME NOT TO DRIVE. I JUST LOST THE ABILITY TO THINK. I RECALL SOMEONE OFFERING ME A LIFT AND ME SAYING NO. WHAT HAPPENED TO ME CAME IN LITTLE FLASHES. THAT'S THE ONLY WAY I CAN REMEMBER IT. I REMEMBER DRIVING THE CAR REALLY SLOWLY, DRIVING IT ALL OVER MY NEIGHBORHOOD. I WAS TRYING TO FIND MY WAY HOME BUT I WAS SENSELESS, I HAD NO IDEA WHERE I WAS GOING. I DROVE ALONG THE SHOULDER FOR A MILE OR MORE, AT A WALKING PACE, JUST CRAWLING ALONG. I WAS FAIRLY CLOSE TO HOME, BUT THE SIGNS WEREN'T MAKING ANY SENSE TO ME. EVENTULLY I GOT FARTHER AND FARTHER AWAY FROM WHERE I WANTED TO GET. AND THEN THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD I SAW BLACK GATES IN FRONT OF ME, TALL IRON GATES IN THE DARK, AND IT HAD BECOME FOGGY. FOR SOME REASON I THOUGHT I HAD TO GO THROUGH THE GATES TO GET HOME, SO I NUDGED THE FRONT OF THE CAR FORWARD INTO THEM, AND THEY PARTED. THEY WEREN'T LOCKED. IN FRONT OF ME WAS A GRAVEL PATH THAT I COULD JUST BARELY SEE THROUGH THE FOG, AND SO I MOVED THE CAR FORWARD. I WAS SO DRUNK IT TOOK ALL MY EFFORT TO STAY ON THE PATH. TO MY RIGHT I SAW TOMBSTONES GOING PAST ME, THE HEADLIGHTS PICKED THEM UP. ALL OF THEM WERE CUT THE SAME, MARCHING PAST IN LONG ROWS. THE SIDE OF THE CAR SCRAPED A TREE. I WAS SO TRANSFIXED BY THE TOMBSTONES THAT I HADN'T SEEN IT COMING. SUDDENLY THE PATH WENT ONE WAY OR THE OTHER AND I LOST IT, I DIDN'T TURN AT ALL, AND THE NOSE OF THE CAR WENT DOWNWARD, AND IT SLID ABOUT TEN FEET DOWN A TINY HILL AND THEN LEVELED OUT. I HIT THE BRAKES HARD, SO THE CAR WENT SIDEWAYS AND SKIDDED IN THE GRASS, WHICH WAS WET, AND THEN IT STALLED. I SHUT OFF THE LIGHTS AND KILLED THE ENGINE AND I GOT OUT. I COULDN'T EVEN TELL YOU THEN WHICH CEMETERY I WAS IN. I SAW SOME TINY LIGHTS WAY OFF IN THE DISTANCE, TOWN LIGHTS, SO I STARTED WALKING IN THAT DIRECTION, JUST TOTALLY STAGGERING. I THOUGHT ABOUT GOING TO SLEEP RIGHT THERE, THINKING NOTHING WAS WRONG WITH THAT. THEN I WAS IN THE MAIN PART OF THE CEMETERY, AND IT WAS COMPLETELY DARK, AND THE FOG HAD SETTLED ABOUT THREE FEET OFF THE GROUND, IT CAME UP TO ABOUT MY WAIST. I STOPPED WALKING AND JUST LOOKED AROUND ME. I COULD SEE ALL THESE SILHOUETTES OF TOMBSTONES, MARCHING AWAY TOWARD THE WOODS. I GOT NERVOUS AND BEGAN TO SING UNDER MY BREATH TO MAKE MYSELF FEEL MORE AT EASE. AND THEN I SAW A SHAPE ABOUT ONE HUNDRED EET AWAY, A SHAPE COMING TOWARD ME. IT WAS SOMETHING IN THE SHAPE OF A MAN, I COULD JUST MAKE IT OUT, IT WAS COMPLETELY BLACK. IT SEEMED LIKE THE SHAPE WAS BEING CARRIED ALONG THE GROUND SOMEHOW, IT WAS MOVING SO SMOOTHLY, BUT THIS WAS ONLY MY IMAGINATION. STILL, I FROZE BECAUSE THE IMAGE WAS SO LIKE ONE I SAW AS A CHILD IN A PICTURE BOOK SHOWING THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, A SHADOW WITH YELLOW EYES FLOATING ALONG THE WATER BESIDE A CLIPPER SHIP, REACHING ITS ARMS OUT ON THE NIGHT SEA. SUDDENLY A BRIGHT LIGHT CAME ON AND I SCREAMED. I THOUGHT THE FLYING DUTCHMAN'S EYES HAD LEAPT OUT AT ME. IT WAS JUST A FLASHLIGHT. THE MAN-SHAPE WAS THE CARETAKER OF THE CEMETERY COMING TO SEE IF I WAS HURT. AND I DON'T REMEMBER ANYTHING AFTER THAT LIGHT WENT OFF IN MY EYES UNTIL I WAS IN A JAIL CELL.

I WAS IN JAIL, AND AFTER I SOBERED UP A LITTLE I DIDN'T KNOW WHO TO CALL. IT WAS BETTER TO KEEP THIS SHAMEFUL THING TO MYSELF. SO I STAYED THE NIGHT IN THE TINY CELL UNTIL THEY LET ME GO THE NEXT DAY. THERE WERE TWO OTHER PEOPLE IN THERE WITH ME. ONE WAS A LATINO GUY WHO CAME IN AFTER I DID, HE SLEPT THE WHOLE TIME, ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT AND INTO THE NEXT DAY. THE OTHER PERSON IN THE CELL INTRODUCED HIMSELF TO ME. HIS NAME WAS MAURICE. HE SAID HE WAS TWENTY-FIVE, WHICH WAS MY AGE. HE HAD LONG BLACK HAIR, REALLY LONG, AND HE WAS AS THIN AS PETER HAD BEEN. HE HAD A STRANGE TATTOO ON HIS ARM, HALF A SKELETON, JUST HALF, DIVIDED VERTICALLY. HE WAS IN JAIL FOR DEFACING SOME FOUNTAIN, HE DIDN'T GO INTO IT TOO MUCH. IT SEEMED LIKE HE HAD BEEN IN JAIL BEFORE, HE WAS VERY CARELESS ABOUT IT. HE STARTED TALKING TO ME, AND HE SEEMED NORMAL ENOUGH, THOUGH HE DIDN'T SEEM ABLE TO REALLY LAUGH. WHEN SOMETHING WAS FUNNY HE JUST NODDED AS IF HE'D HEARD IT ALL BEFORE. WE TALKED ABOUT MUSIC AND A LITTLE ABOUT THE CIVIL WAR HISTORY OF THE AREA, WHICH INTERESTED HIM A LOT, AND THEN WE JUST SLEPT. HE COULDN'T GET OUT ON BAIL EITHER. AT SEVEN THE NEXT MORNING I WAS LET GO, AND MAURICE SHOOK MY HAND AND HE INVITED ME TO A PARTY THE VERY NEXT NIGHT. IT WAS A PARTY MAYBE TWO MILES FROM MY PLACE. I SAID SURE, I'LL BE THERE. I DIDN'T THINK I WOULD BE, THOUGH. AFTER BEING ARRESTED ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS GO BACK TO MY ROOM AND SLEEP, AND FIGURE OUT WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME. I HAD A COURT DATE JUST A WEEK FROM THEN. BUT I WOUND UP GOING TO THAT PARTY, I GUESS BECAUSE I WAS LONELY. I HAD LOST TOUCH WITH MY FRIENDS. I DIDN'T WANT THEM TO SEE ME WHILE I WAS GETTING OFF Z-SOMINOL, I THOUGHT THEY MIGHT SENSE IT SOMEHOW. SO I WENT TO THIS SLUMMY LITTLE HOUSE AT THE END OF A CUL-DE-SAC IN A BAD NEIGHBORHOOD. IT WAS A GROUP HOUSE, THERE WERE ABOUT SIX OR SEVEN PEOPLE LIVING THERE. AND IT WASN'T REALLY A PARTY AT ALL, THERE WERE ONLY FOUR OR FIVE PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T ALREADY LIVE THERE. IT WASN'T ANYTHING MORE THAN THEM JUST SITTING AROUND AND GETTING HIGH, THERE WASN'T EVEN ANY MUSIC PLAYING. THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED WITH MAURICE WERE GOTH TYPES, THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO DRESSED ALL IN BLACK ALL THE TIME. THEY WERE POLITE ENOUGH, BUT THEY DIDN'T REALLY PAY ANY ATTENTION TO ME. SO WE SAT AROUND, THERE WAS A MOVIE PLAYING ON THE TV, I THINK IT WAS ‘COBRA VERDE'. THERE WERE TWO SHELVES FULL OF MOVIES I'D NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE, AND A THIRD SHELF FILLED WITH TAPES MARKED EITHER ‘TRANCES' OR ‘GROUP MASS'. AT ABOUT MIDNIGHT, MAURICE TOLD ME THAT HE WANTED TO SHOW ME SOMETHING UPSTAIRS. I REMEMBER THAT AS WE WENT UP THE STAIRS I ASKED HIM WHAT HE DID FOR A LIVING, AND HE SAID HE HAD A HAND IN SOME CLUB IN THE CITY. HE WAS NEVER SPECIFIC ABOUT ANYTHING. I WAS GETIING A WEIRD FEELING FROM HIM. IT OCCURRED TO ME THAT WHENEVER HE WAS ASKED ANYTHING ABOUT THE SPECIFICS OF HIS LIFE HE WAS EVASIVE, AND NOW THAT I HAD SEEN HIM MORE, I THOUGHT HE MUST HAVE LIED WHEN HE SAID HE WAS TWENTY-FIVE. HE LOOKED AT LEAST FIVE YEARS OLDER THAN THAT.

WE WENT INTO HIS ROOM AT THE END OF THE HALL, AND ALL THAT WAS IN THERE WAS A MATTRESS AND A WRITING DESK, AND A CHAIR, NOTHING ELSE EXCEPT FOR A BUREAU WHERE HIS CLOTHES WERE. SO HE OPENED UP A DRAWER IN THE BUREAU AND HE SAID 'LOOK AT THIS'. AND HE HELD OUT A DAGGER, A REAL ONE, MADE OUT OF STEEL I THINK, BUT THE BLADE CURVED SHARPLY TO A STRANGE ANGLE. AND I SAID THAT WAS NICE, AND I ASKED HIM WHAT IT WAS FOR. AND HE SAID 'NOTHING REALLY, THE SHAPE IS JUST INTERESTING. I USED TO MESS AROUND WITH THIS, IT'S DESIGNED FOR MARKING THE SKIN WITHOUT CUTTING IT’ AND I LOOKED AT MAURICE AND I SAID, 'SO ARE YOU A SATANIST OR SOMETHING, IS THAT WHAT'S GOING ON?' AND HE SAID 'YES, AS A MATTER OF FACT, I AM. WE ALL ARE, US LIVING HERE, THE SIX OF US ARE.' I JUST LAUGHED I THINK, AND HE ASKED ME IF I WAS INTERESTED IN THAT SORT OF THING, LIKE HE WAS ASKING ME IF I WAS INTERESTED IN STAMP COLLECTING OR BASEBALL. I SAID NO, AND HE SAID HE REALLY WANTED TO EXPLAIN IT TO ME RATIONALLY SOMETIME SO I WOULDN'T THINK HE WAS CRAZY. I TRIED TO JUST SHRUG HIM OFF AND WE WENT BACK DOWNSTAIRS, AND I WOULD HAVE TRIED TO EXCUSE MYSELF AND LEAVE BUT I WAS TOO DRUNK, I GOT TOO DRUNK, JUST SITTING AROUND WITH THESE PEOPLE. THEY WERE TAKING STRAIGHT GIN AND WHISKEY. AT SOME POINT MAURICE AND I WERE BACK UPSTAIRS AGAIN, HE SAID I SHOULDN'T DRIVE HOME AND I KNEW THAT HE WAS RIGHT, SO I WAS GOING TO SLEEP ON THE SOFA OR SOMETHING BUT WE WERE BACK IN HIS ROOM FOR SOME REASON. IT WAS DARK, AND I COULD ONLY SEE THE LIGHT OF HIS CIGARETTE AS HE SAT ON THE COT, AND HE WAS EXPLAINING SATANISM TO ME. HE WAS EXPLAINING WHAT HIS PURPOSE WAS. HE SAID I HAD TO UNDERSTAND, IT WASN'T ABOUT HURTING ANYONE OR HURTING HIMSELF. ALL IT WAS, WAS GETTING ON A PATH TO RECOGNIZING AND ACCEPTING THE DARKEST ASPECTS OF LIVING IN THIS WORLD, WELCOMING THEM INTO YOUR LIFE AND SEEING THOSE ASPECTS AS A NATURAL PART OF EXISTENCE, SEEING DEATH AND ALL THE HORRORS THAT COULD COME FOR YOU AS INEVITABLE AND UNDERSTANDABLE SO THAT WHEN SOMETHING AWFUL HAPPENED TO YOU, YOU WERE PREPARED FOR IT. IT WOULD HAVE BECOME JUST ANOTHER SIDE OF YOU. HE SAID YOU COULDN'T REACH TOTAL PEACE IN YOUR LIFE UNTIL YOU STOPPED BEING AFRAID OF EVERYTHING THAT'S IN THE DARK, AND THAT'S WHAT THEIR SATANISM WAS, FOR HIM AND HIS FRIENDS. IT MEANT THE CHANCE TO MEET THE THINGS IN THE DARK, EMBRACE THEM, AND LOSE THEIR FEAR OF THEM SO THEY COULD GET ON LIVING. MOST PEOPLE WALKED AROUND IN FEAR OF THE CATACLYSMIC EVENTS THAT COULD DESTROY THEIR LIVES. MAURICE SAID YOU HAD TO BRUSH UP AGAINST THOSE THINGS INTIMATELY, AND THEN YOU COULD LOSE THAT FEAR. SO I SAID 'HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT DOING THAT', AND HE JUST SAID, 'WELL, WE'RE HAVING A GATHERING ON FRIDAY, WHY DON'T YOU COME TO IT, JUST THE ONE TIME'. I DON'T KNOW HOW I ANSWERED, BUT I WOUND UP LEAVING THE HOUSE THAT NIGHT AND ACTUALLY WALKING HOME. I LEFT MY CAR THERE AND STAGGERED BACK TO MY ROOM. AND I DID GO BACK, I TALKED TO MAURICE ON THE PHONE AND HE ASKED ME AGAIN TO COME, JUST COME AND PICK UP MY CAR AND STOP IN AT THE GATHERING FOR HALF AN HOUR, BECAUSE HE THOUGHT I WAS READY TO SEE HIS SIDE OF THINGS. HE SAID I WOULD PROBABLY UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY WERE DOING. AND I THINK IT WAS LONELINESS AGAIN THAT SENT ME BACK THERE, BUT I WAS ALSO A LITTLE CURIOUS. MAURICE DIDN'T SEEM INSANE, SO I LOOKED AT IT AS A CHANCE TO PEEK INTO A CORNER I HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE. I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT WAS ALL AS INNOCENT AS MAURICE SAID. AND I COULD AT LEAST SAY I'D KNOWN PEOPLE WHO WERE INTO THIS, I WOULD KNOW WHAT THEY WERE LIKE.

SO ON FRIDAY NIGHT I WALKED BACK TO MAURICE'S HOUSE, WHERE HE LIVED WITH THOSE SIX OTHER PEOPLE, FIVE GUYS AND ONE GIRL. WHEN I GOT THERE AT TEN, THERE WERE FIVE OR SIX MORE PEOPLE INSIDE, AND THE ATMOSPHERE WAS MORE OR LESS JUST LIKE WHAT IT WAS ON WEDNESDAY. EVERYONE WAS JUST SITTING AROUND, NOT DRESSED ANY DIFFERENTLY. I FOUND MYSELF LOOKING AROUND FOR SOME OF THE USUAL PARAPHERNALIA THAT I ASSUMED WENT WITH SATANISM, BUT I DIDN'T SEE ANYTHING AT ALL. WE TALKED FOR ABOUT TWENTY MINUTES ABOUT NOTHING IN PARTICULAR, AND EVERYONE SEEMED TO NOT WANT TO MENTION THE SPECIFICS OF WHY WE WERE THERE. THEN MAURICE SAID IT WAS TIME FOR US ALL TO GO INTO THE BASEMENT. DOWN IN THE BASEMENT, IT WAS COMPLETELY EMPTY, THERE WAS NOTHING THERE EXCEPT FORA CEMENT FLOOR, A WATER HEATER, AND A LIGHT BULB ON A CHAIN, JUST A BIG OPEN AREA. EVERYONE WENT DOWN THE STAIRS AND WE STOOD THERE AND THEY WERE ALL WAITING FOR MAURICE TO TELL THEM WHAT TO DO. OBVIOUSLY HE WAS THE LEADER OF THE GROUP, THEY ALL LOOKED UP TO HIM. HE MUST HAVE EASILY BEEN THE OLDEST. EVERYONE ELSE WAS BETWEEN TWENTY-TWO AND TWENTY-FIVE OR SO. IT WAS WEIRD HOW EVERY TIME I LOOKED AT MAURICE, HE SEEMED A LITTLE OLDER. HE TOLD US ALL TO LAY DOWN IN A BIG CIRCLE, LAY DOWN AND STARE AT THE CEILING, SO WE ALL DID IT, WE FANNED OUT IN A RING AND STARED UP AT THE CEILING, LYING ON THE COLD CEMENT FLOOR. HE STOOD IN THE CENTER OF IT. HE TOLD US TO CLOSE OUR EYES, SO WE DID, AND THEN HE SHUT OFF THE LIGHT, YOU COULD HEAR IT AND SENSE IT. HE HAD US LIE THERE FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES, COMPLETELY QUIET, JUST BREATHING. THEN HE SAID, ‘I WANT YOU ALL TO IMAGINE YOURSELF IN THE WOODS, ALONE IN THE WOODS, LATE AT NIGHT. THE TREES ARE BARE, NO LEAVES LEFT. IT'S WINTER, JUST LIKE IT IS NOW. AND IN THE TREES IN FRONT OF YOU, THERE ARE WHITE SHEETS HANGING FROM THE BRANCHES EVERY FIFTY FEET OR SO, TORN INTO RIBBONS. AND THESE FRAGMENTS OF SHEETS ARE ALL MORE OR LESS IN A LINE, JUST WAVING IN THE WIND. YOU’RE GOING TO FOLLOW THEM. SO IMAGINE YOURSELF IN THE WOODS, WALKING FORWARD BETWEEN THEM, STEPPING ON LEAVES AND TWIGS AND BRANCHES. THERE'S NO COLOR ANYWHERE, IT'S ALL IN BLACK AND WHITE. AND AS YOU PASS BY THE TORN SHEETS, THE WIND RUFFLES THEM AND THEY TOUCH YOU AS YOU GO BY. YOU WALK AND WALK, AND EVENTUALLY THERE'S A BREAK IN THE WOODS, AND YOU STEP OUT INTO A CLEARING. THE CLEARING ENDS IN A LONG HILL THAT SLOPES UPWARDS FOR TWO HUNDRED FEET. YOU'RE LOOKING UP, AND AT THE TOP OF THAT HILL, THERE'S A PALACE STANDING THERE AGAINST THE SKY, A GLORIOUS PALACE, WITH JEWELS EMBEDDED IN THE STONES OVER THE ENTRANCE, AND MORE WINDOWS THAN YOU CAN COUNT, AND THE PALACE IS MADE OF ANCIENT BUT FLAWLESS BRICK. THE BRICK IS RED AND BROWN AND BLACK. THERE MUST BE TWO HUNDRED ROOMS IN THE PALACE, AND IT'S LIT UP WITH A THOUSAND CANDLES ALONG THE ROOF.' AND THEN MAURICE TOLD US TO IMAGINE OURSELVES WALKING UP TOWARD THAT PALACE, UP THE GRASSY HILL, AND CROSSING A DRAWBRIDGE OVER A SERENE MOAT AND ENTERING THROUGH THE TALL DOORS. 'BUT ONCE YOU GET INSIDE', HE SAID, 'SOMETHING'S STRANGE, BECAUSE IT'S NOT VERY WELCOMING AT ALL. YOU WERE EXPECTING PEOPLE, REVELERS, BUT THERE'S NO ONE THERE. IT'S DARK AND KIND OF DUSTY, AND THERE'S NOT MUCH OF ANYTHING IN THE GRAND FOYER BUT ORNATE FURNITURE NO ONE'S USED FOR A LONG TIME. YOU GO UP A STONE FLIGHT OF STEPS, AND ON THE SECOND FLOOR IT'S EVEN DARKER, AND THERE ARE COBWEBS EVERYWHERE. YOU SEE THAT THERE'S ONE FLIGHT OF STAIRS LEADING TO THE TOP LEVEL.’ AND THEN MAURICE SAID TO US, 'DO YOU WANT TO GO UP THOSE STAIRS?' AND WHEN HE ASKED THAT, THE EIGHT PEOPLE IN THE ROOM, ALL OF THEM EXCEPT FOR ME, SAID 'YES' SIMULTANEOUSLY. IT WAS KIND OF A SHOCK, THE WAY THEY DID THAT. EVERYTHING HAD BEEN SO QUIET. SO MAURICE SAID 'ALL RIGHT. YOU CLIMB THAT LAST FLIGHT OF STEPS, AND YOU SEE THAT THERE'S BLOOD ON THE STEPS, AND SOMETHING SMELLS FOUL WHEN YOU REACH THE TOP. AND AT THE TOP OF THE PALACE IT'S ALMOST TOTALLY DARK, YOU CAN BARELY SEE YOUR HAND IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE.' HE ASKED US, 'DO YOU WANT TO KEEP WALKING FORWARD?' AND EVERYONE IN THE ROOM AGAIN SAID ‘YES', IN PERFECT UNISON, EXCEPT ME, I WAS QUIET. SO MAURICE WENT ON. HE SAID, ‘ALL AROUND YOU IN THIS HALLWAY, THERE ARE HANDS ON THE FLOOR, SEVERED HANDS. AS YOU WALK FORWARD, YOU CAN HEAR SCREAMS FROM BEHIND THE WALLS, AND YOU'RE WALKING BLINDLY THROUGH THE DARK, AND THE SMELL IS TERRIBLE, AND YOU FEEL OUT FOR SOMETHING, ANYTHING, BUT THERE'S NOTHING THERE. FINALLY YOU BUMP INTO SOMETHING IN THE DARK. IT'S A WOODEN DOOR. YOU CAN TURN BACK NOW, AND RUN AWAY, BUT DO YOU WANT TO OPEN IT?' AND EVERYONE SAID ‘YES', WITH NO DOUBT, OR ANY HESITATION. MAURICE SAID, ‘YOU OPEN THE DOOR AND YOU ENTER A TINY ROOM. IT'S VERY HOT IN THE ROOM, AND AROUND YOU ARE THE WHISPERS OF PEOPLE BEGGING FOR YOUR HELP, AND THEY’RE ALSO TELLING YOU THAT YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE, IT'S TOO DANGEROUS. FINGERS REACH OUT TO TOUCH YOU, AND THOUGH YOU CAN'T SEE ANYTHING YOU CAN FEEL THE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS, TOUCHING YOUR CHEEK, AND SOME OF THEM ARE SCREAMING, AND YOU CAN BARELY BREATHE, AND THIS IS THE VERY LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK AND LEAVE THE PALACE, BECAUSE ALL THAT WAITS FOR YOU NOW IS A TRAP DOOR IN THE CENTER OF THE ROOM. IF YOU OPEN THAT DOOR AND GO DOWN THROUGH IT YOU WILL KNOW ALL THE SECRETS OF THE PALACE, EVEN THOUGH THE PEOPLE ARE TELLING YOU THAT YOU MUSTN'T, YOU MUSTN'T. DO YOU WANT TO OPEN THAT TRAP DOOR? DO YOU WANT TO KNOW ITS SECRETS?' AND ONE LAST TIME EVERYONE IN THE BASEMENT SAID ‘YES,' BUT LOUDER THIS TIME, ALMOST SHOUTING IT, ALL TOGETHER. MAURICE WAS QUIET FOR A BIT AFTER THAT. WE JUST LAY THERE IN THE DARK FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES, KEEPING OUR EYES CLOSED. THEN I HEARD THIS SOUND, LIKE A HISSING, BUT MUCH SOFTER, AND I COULD HEAR MAURICE MOVING, AND AFTER A BIT I FLINCHED BECAUSE I FELT A TICKLE ON MY NECK, AND THEN A LONG PIECE OF WHAT FELT LIKE VELVET RIBBON DRAWN ACROSS MY RIGHT HAND. THEN IT WENT ACROSS MY NECK. MAURICE WAS DRAGGING A HEAVY RIBBON AND I ASSUMED HE WAS MAKING IT SNAKE VERY SLOWLY OVER EVERY PERSON IN THE ROOM, BECAUSE THE SOFT HISSING WOULD BE INTERRUPTED FOR JUST A SECOND AND THEN CONTINUE. HE DRAGGED IT ACROSS MY CHEST, AND THEN MY LEGS, AND THEN IT WAS GONE. I HEARD IT SKATING ACROSS THE FLOOR, AND I IMAGINED THE NEXT PERSON WAS EXPERIENCING THE FEEL OF THE RIBBON. THEN, LIKE A CIRCUIT BREAKER HAD SNAPPED INSIDE MY MIND, I WENT UNCONSCIOUS, THAT'S THE LAST THING I KNEW OF. I DIDN'T FEEL PHYSICALLY STRANGE BEFORE IT HAPPENED. ALL I KNOW IS THAT I WENT OUT ALL OF A SUDDEN, ALMOST LIKE A HYPNOTIST HAD FORCED ME OUT.

WHEN I WOKE UP IT WAS MORNING, AND I WAS LYING ON THE SOFA IN THE MAIN ROOM DOWNTAIRS. I WAS FACE UP, STILL IN MY CLOTHES, AND IT WAS JUST PAST DAWN. AND OBVIOUSLY I WONDERED WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO ME. I HADN'T DRUNK ENOUGH TO PASS OUT OR BLACK OUT, EVERYTHING HAD JUST GONE OUT AT SOME POINT. I'D SLEPT FOR ABOUT FIVE OR SIX HOURS. I SAT UP AND I FELT REALLY GROGGY, LIKE I HAD A FEVER, AND I JUST WALKED OVER TO THE FRONT DOOR AND I WALKED OUT, AND I GOT IN MY CAR AND I DROVE HOME. ON THE WAY DRIVING, I SAW SOMETHING STRANGE ABOUT MY WRISTS. THE INSIDE OF MY RIGHT WRIST HAD A SMALL ABRASION ON IT, A HORIZONTAL ONE, THAT RAN ABOUT HALFWAY ACROSS, ALMOST AS IF I HAD BEEN BURNED. AND ON MY LEFT WRIST, IN THE SAME PLACE, A HALF INCH BELOW THE BEGINNING OF MY PALM, WAS THE SMALLEST HINT OF THE SAME THING, MAYBE A CENTIMETER ACROSS, BUT DEFINITELY AN ABRASION. THEY DIDN'T FEEL LIKE ANYTHING, BUT MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS THAT SOMETHING HAD AT SOME POINT BEEN TIED AROUND MY WRISTS, AND KNOTTED TOO TIGHT ON THE INSIDES OF THEM MAYBE. I HAD NO IDEA. I WENT HOME AND I SLEPT UNTIL ALMOST FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON. WHEN I WOKE UP I DIDN'T FEEL GROGGY ANYMORE. I WAS BACK TO NORMAL, EXCEPT FOR A CRAVING TO DRINK.

MAURICE CALLED ME THAT NIGHT AROUND ELEVEN, AND HE ASKED ME WHAT I THOUGHT OF THE LITILE GATHERING. I SAID I WASN’T SURE HOW MUCH OF IT I MISSED. HE SAID THEY'D FOUND ME PASSED OUT WHEN THEY'D TURNED THE LIGHTS ON AGAIN ABOUT AN HOUR AFTER THEY STARTED, AND THEY WERE A LITTLE WORRIED, THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHY I HAD BLACKED OUT. I DIDN'T MENTION THE MARKS ON MY WRISTS, BUT I DID ASK HIM WHAT HAPPENED THAT LAST HALF HOUR OR SO, WHAT THEY HAD ALL DONE THERE IN THE DARK. AND HE SAID IT HAD JUST BEEN SOME KIND OF MEDITATION AND VISUALIZATON RITUAL THAT THEY'D ALL GONE THROUGH BEFORE. AS HE WAS SAYING THIS I WAS LOOKING AT MY WRISTS, AND I KNEW SOMEONE MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING TO ME. HE SAID HE CARRIED ME HMSELF TO THE SOFA WHEN HE SAW I WASN'T COMING AROUND. THE MAIN REASON HE WAS CALLING WAS THAT HE WANTED TO INVITE ME THE NEXT NIGHT TO SOMETHING CALLED A PROXY CRAWL. I ASKED HIM WHAT THAT WAS, AND HE SAID HE COULDN'T REALLY EXPLAIN IT TO ME, BUT IT WAS SOMETHING THE GROUP DID EVERY FEW MONTHS, A LITTLE BIT MORE INTENSELY EACH TIME, AND ANYONE NEW SHOULD REALLY EXPERIENCE IT FOR THEMSELVES. I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY. I HAD NO INTEREST IN GOING BACK THERE, THE THOUGHT OF IT DISTURBED ME. BUT MY DEPRESSION WAS DOING SOMETHING TO ME. IT WAS SLOWLY MAKING IT SEEM LIKE ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED TO ME WAS ALL RIGHT AS LONG AS I DIDN'T HAVE A SAY IN IT. AS LONG AS ALL MY DECISIONS WERE SOMEONE ELSE'S, I COULD GET THROUGH THE DAY IN ONE PIECE. THE ONLY REAL ENEMY I HAD WAS BEING ALONE IN MY ROOM. ANY HUMAN CONTACT FELT LIKE I WAS ON A GOOD ISLAND SOMEHOW. SO EVEN THOUGH MY FIRST REACTION WAS TO THINK I DIDN'T WANT TO ASSOCIATE WITH MAURICE ANYMORE, ONLY A LITTLE BIT OF TIME HAD TO GO BY BEFORE I RECONSIDERED. I CONVINCED MYSELF THAT I WANTED TO HAVE MY QUESTIONS ANSWERED, I WANTED TO KNOW WHAT WAS ON THE VIDEOTAPES I HAD SEEN ON THAT SHELF, THE ONES MARKED SO STRANGELY. MAYBE I COULD WRITE A BOOK SOMETIME ABOUT ALL THIS, ABOUT THIS SORT OF PERSON. I FIGURED AS LONG AS I STAYED ALERT AROUND THEM I WOULD BE FINE. MAURICE SAID HE WANTED TO PICK ME UP AT NINE THE NEXT NIGHT. I DON'T THINK I SPECIFICALLY SAID YES OR NO. I THINK HE JUST ASSUMED AN ANSWER FOR ME.

MY FEVER CAME BACK WHEN I WENT TO BED AROUND MIDNIGHT. I COULD FEEL IT, AND IT GOT BAD OVER THE SPACE OF AN HOUR, I REALLY DID HAVE SOMETHING. I GOT UP AND WENT TO TAKE A HOT SHOWER, WHICH USUALLY MADE ME FEEL BETTER WHEN I WAS GETTING REALLY SICK. I TOOK OFF MY CLOTHES AND I LOOKED IN THE MIRROR, AND RIGHT AWAY I SAW SOMETHING ON MY NECK. ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF IT AND ON THE LEFT SIDE OF IT, VERY LOW, JUST ABOVE MY CHEST, WERE TWO MORE ABRASIONS, ONE OF THEM MUCH BIGGER THAN THE OTHER, LIKE BURN MARKS AGAIN, HORIZONTAL, AND I TURNED AROUND AND LOOKED AT MY BACK IN THE MIRROR, BUT THERE WAS NOTHING ON THE BACK OF MY NECK. I TOOK MY SHOWER AND CLIMBED BACK INTO BED, BUT I COULDN'T SLEEP. IT GOT LATER AND LATER, AND AT ONE POINT FOR NO REASON I COULD REALLY UNDERSTAND, I GOT SCARED. I GOT SCARED OF THE DARK IN THE ROOM, AND EVERYTHING OUTSIDE OF IT. I BEGAN TO WONDER WHAT WAS UNDER MY BED, WHAT WAS INSIDE MY CLOSET. I FELT VULNERABLE, AND I COVERED MYSELF DEEPER WITH MY BLANKETS BUT IT DIDN'T WORK. AFTER TEN MINUTES OF THINKING ABOUT THIS, I WAS TERRIFIED TO BE IN MY ROOM, WHERE ANYTHING COULD GET AT ME. PART OF THIS PARANOIA WAS BROUGHT ON BY THE FEVER, AND MY RISING TEMPERATURE, BUT NOT ALL OF IT. I COULDN'T EXPLAIN THE REST, BUT IT WAS PALPABLE. THE ROOM WAS TOO STILL, AND TOO QUIET, SO I DECIDED TO BREAK IT, TO SAY SOMETHING OUT LOUD. I COULDN'T THINK OF WHAT, SO OUT OF NOWHERE, NOT REALLY KNOWING WHY I CHOSE THESE WORDS, I SAID, 'SATAN, SHOW YOURSELF' VERY LOUDLY, I THINK HOPING THAT SAYING SOMETHING COMPLETELY ABSURD WOULD END IT, WOULD GET ME OUT OF THE TRANCE I WAS IN. IT WAS A BIZARRE COMMAND, A BIZARRE CHALLENGE. BUT I DIDN'T FEEL BETTER AFTER I SAID THAT AND ALMOST IMMEDIATELY SOMETHING HAPPENED. I TENSED UP AND I FELT LIKE I SUDDENLY COULDN'T MOVE AT ALL. MY ARMS AND MY LEGS FELT LOCKED. I COULDN'T EVEN MOVE MY HEAD FROM SIDE TO SIDE. AND IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM, AT ABOUT KNEE HEIGHT, A SMALL BLACK MASS EVOLVED FROM NOTHING. THEN IT WAS HANGING IN THE AIR, AND THEN IT WAS COMING TOWARD ME, VERY SLOWLY THROUGH THE DARK. I WANTED TO JUMP UP AND RUN BUT I COULDN'T MOVE, I WAS PETRIFIED, BOTH WITH FEAR AND WITH SOME KIND OF PHYSICAL FAILURE WHICH RENDERED MY LIMBS USELESS. I WAS LYING ON MY LEFT SIDE AND I COULDN'T MOVE. THE BLACK MASS OF GAUZE CAME FORWARD, IT FLOATED TOWARD MY FACE, GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER, JUST A SOLID FIELD OF TOTAL DARKNESS ABOUT A FOOT ON EACH SIDE. I WAS SWEATING, MY HEART WAS POUNDING. IT GOT TO WITHIN SIX INCHES OF MY FACE, THEN TO ABOUT THREE INCHES, COMPLETELY OBLITERATING MY VIEW OF ANYTHING BUT ITSELF. THEN IT STOPPED, AND I WAS LEFT LOOKING INTO THIS ENTIRELY FEATURELESS PATCH OF THE DARKEST NIGHT, SOMETHING SO ABSOLUTE AND AWFUL I WAS AFRAID TO CLOSE MY EYES BEFORE IT. AND THEN IT WITHDREW, JUST AS SLOWLY AS IT HAD COME FOR ME. IT WENT BACK TOWARD THE CORNER OF THE ROOM. IT TOOK MAYBE TWO MINUTES TO FADE, AND THEN IT JUST DEVOLVED INTO NOTHING AGAIN. I LAY THERE IN BED FOR ANOTHER TWO HOURS. IT TOOK ME A FULL HOUR JUST TO CALM DOWN. I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO ME. I WAS ABLE TO MOVE AGAIN, AT LEAST.

I HAD A COUPLE OF JOB INTERVIEWS THE NEXT DAY. I GOT ABOUT TWO HOURS OF SLEEP. I DIDN'T GET EITHER ONE OF THE JOBS, BUT IT WAS A GOOD THING, THE INTERVIEWS, DOING SOMETHING NORMAL. AT ABOUT DUSK, THOUGH, I GOT VERY LOW. I HAD THREE BEERS, I TURNED THE TV ON FULL BLAST AND TURNED ALL THE LIGHTS ON, AND I WATCHED SITCOMS. MAURICE WAS SUPPOSED TO PICK ME UP AT ABOUT NINE, BUT NINE CAME AND WENT, THEN TEN, THEN ELEVEN, AND STILL NO SIGN OF HIM. I CALLED THE HOUSE, THERE WAS NO ANSWER. I DESPERATELY WANTED MORE TO DRINK BUT I FORCED MYSELF TO STOP WHERE I WAS. FINALLY AT ELEVEN THIRTY MAURICE PULLED UP OUTSIDE AND HONKED HIS HORN AND I WENT OUT AND GOT INTO HIS CHEVY.

HE WAS DIFFERENT, EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM SEEMED DIFFERENT. THERE WAS NO REAL FRIENDLINESS IN HIM SUDDENLY. THE ONLY THING HE REALLY SAID TO ME IN THE BEGINNING WAS TO ASK ME HOW I SLEPT. HE DIDN'T SAY WHERE WE WERE GOING OR HOW LONG IT WOULD TAKE TO GET THERE. SO WE WERE DRIVING AND I FINALLY ASKED HIM IF ANYONE BUT HIMSELF HAD TOUCHED ME THE OTHER NIGHT, WHEN I PASSED OUT. HE SAID NO, AND I SHOWED HIM MY WRISTS, I POINTED OUT THE ABRASIONS. HE JUST LOOKED AT THEM FOR A SECOND AND WENT BACK TO STARING THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD. HE CLAIMED HE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT COULD HAVE CAUSED THEM. HE ASKED ME WHAT WAS THE LAST THING I REMEMBERED BEFORE I BLACKED OUT, AND I TOLD HIM IT WAS THE FEELNG OF THAT RIBBON MOVING OVER MY CHEST AND MY ARMS AND MY HANDS, AND HE FROWNED, AND HE SAID, 'IT FELT LIKE A RIBBON TO YOU?' AND I SAID 'YEAH, WHAT WAS IT?' AND HE SAID IT HAD BEEN A STRING OF BEADS, A VERY HEAVY STRING OF BEADS, ABOUT EIGHT FEET LONG. THERE WAS NO RIBBON, AND NOTHING LIKE IT. I SAID I HAD HEARD SOMETHING THAT CERTAINLY WASN'T BEADS MOVING ALONG THE CEMENT FLOOR, AND HE JUST SHOOK HIS HEAD, AND THEN HE SAID THAT REMINDED HIM OF SOMETHING, HE THOUGHT THAT MEANT SOMETHING. IN HIS READING FROM SOME TIME AGO, HE'D COME ACROSS THAT PHENOMENON, BUT HE COULDN'T REMEMBER WHERE OR WHAT IT SPECIFICALLY MEANT. THEN HE STARTED TO TALK SOME MORE, AS WE WERE GOING DOWN THIS COUNTRY ROAD WITH THE HIGH BEAMS ON, ABOUT HOW THE SATANISM HAD CHANGED HIM OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS SINCE HE HAD GOTTEN INTO IT, HOW IT WAS GETTING EASIER AND EASIER FOR HIM TO KEEP ONE FOOT IN THE NORMAL WORLD, KEEP UP A MASK FOR HIS FRIENDS AND HIS PARENTS AND THE PEOPLE HE SAW AT HIS JOB, AND AT THE SAME TIME BE SOMEWHERE ELSE ENTIRELY, ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT, EVEN WHEN HE WAS ASLEEP. HE HAD ACHIEVED PERFECT ASTRAL PROJECTION, FOR EXAMPLE, FOR AN HOUR AT A TIME. HE COULD DO IT AWAKE, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY, IN CONVERSATION EVEN.

WE DROVE FOR FIFTEEN MORE MINUTES, DEEPER AND DEEPER INTO THE COUNTRY, AND THERE WERE WOODS ON EITHER SIDE OF US AT ONE POINT, THIN WOODS, AND I RECOGNIZED WHERE WE WERE. WE WERE ON A ONE LANE, UNMARKED BLACKTOP IN A STATE PARK. I'D BEEN SOMEWHERE AROUND THERE BEFORE, HIKING WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER. IT WAS JUST WOODS FOR A COUPLE OF MILES IN EITHER DIRECTION. WE WENT OVER A LITTLE WOODEN BRIDGE OVER A CREEK, AND MAURICE PULLED OVER JUST AFTER IT, ON A WIDE PATCH OF DIRT, AND HE STOPPED THE CAR, AND HE SMILED FOR THE FIRST TIME THAT NIGHT. HE SAID, 'HERE WE ARE, THIS IS WHERE WE'RE MEETING EVERYONE.' I GOT OUT. IT WAS REALLY COLD, AND I LOOKED AROUND, AND I FOLLOWED MAURICE ONTO A TRAIL, AND WE STARTED WALKING DEEPER INTO THE WOODS. JUST BEING THERE MADE ME UNEASY, BECAUSE THE LAST TIME I HAD BEEN SOMEWHERE THIS REMOTE, AT NIGHT, I HAD SUFFERED MY BROKEN LEG. I HAD THESE VERY BAD ASSOCIATIONS WITH IT. WE COULD SEE EVERYTHING, OUR NIGHT VISION GOT ADJUSTED VERY QUICKLY, AND THERE WERE ABSOLUTELY NO ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS, HOUSE LIGHTS, NEIGHBORHOOD LIGHTS, ON FOR MILES, SO IT WAS PRETTY CLEAR. WE WALKED FOR ABOUT FIVE MINUTES AND THE WOODS GOT A LITTLE THICKER, AND SOMEONE WAS UP AHEAD. IT WAS A GUY NAMED CURTIS, WHO I'D MET AT MAURICE'S HOUSE. HE NODDED AT ME, AND THEN A GIRL NAMED PAULA WAS THERE, AND WE KEPT WALKING. AND THEN I SAW SOMETHING UNUSUAL ABOUT THE TREES UP AHEAD. THERE WERE STRIPS OF WHITE SHEETS HANGING FROM THE BRANCHES. THEN MORE AND MORE OF THEM, PRETTY MUCH MARKING OUR.WAY THROUGH THE WOODS, JUST BEDSHEETS, TORN UP, HANGING THERE, FLUTTERING IN THE WIND. NO ONE WAS SAYING ANYTHING. MAURICE WAS RIGHT BESIDE ME, AND I ASKED WHAT THE SHEETS MEANT, AND WHY THEY WERE PUT THERE. AND HE SAID 'YOU KNOW, WHEN WE DIE, THEY WRAP OUR BODY IN ONE', AND HE JUST STARED AT THE GROUND AS WE WALKED, AND WE KEPT MOVING. WE CAUGHT UP WITH TWO OTHER PEOPLE. I COULDN'T ACTUALLY SEE THEIR FACES TOO WELL. WE KEPT WALKING. SOMEONE HAD RIPPED UP SHEETS AND HUNG THEM FOR SEVERAL HUNDRED YARDS. THEY WERE HANGING EVERY THIRTY FEET OR SO. AFTER A MINUTE I REALIZED THAT THE OTHERS WERE WALKING ABOUT AS FAST AS I WAS, BUT THEY WERE LAGGING BEHIND ME, I WAS ACTUALLY IN FRONT. EVEN MAURICE HAD DROPPED A COUPLE OF STEPS BACK. WHEN I STOPPED FOR A SECOND TO LET HIM CATCH UP, HE STOPPED TOO AND HE SAID ‘NO NO, YOU'RE GOING FIRST, THIS IS YOUR CRAWL' AND I SAID TO HIM ‘WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?' AND HE SAID THEY WERE FOLLOWING ME, AND THAT IF I JUST KEPT WALKING, EVERYTHING WOULD BE OBVIOUS IN JUST A COUPLE OF MINUTES. THAT'S WHEN I GOT REALLY SCARED. THE OTHERS HAD STOPPED AND THEY WERE LOOKING AT ME. I ASKED THEM TO TELL ME WHERE WE WERE GOING. MAURICE SAID, ‘WE'RE GOING TO THE PALACE, JUST LIKE THE OTHER NIGHT. ONLY TONIGHT, YOU'RE REALLY GOING TO TAKE US THERE. IT HAS TO BE YOU.' I SAID ‘WHY ME?' AND HE DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING FOR A SECOND, THEN HE SAID ‘IF YOU WALK AHEAD, JUST A COUPLE OF MORE MINUTES, THE PALACE WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU.' THE OTHERS DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING, THEY WERE WAITING FOR ME TO GO FORWARD. I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO. THERE WAS ONLY ONE TRAIL, THE WOODS WERE THICK, THERE WAS ONLY ONE WAY TO GO. SO I WENT FORWARD, AND I WAS THINKING ABOUT HOW TO GET AWAY FROM THESE INSANE PEOPLE. I THOUGHT IT WAS VERY POSSIBLE THEY WERE GOING TO TRY TO HURT ME.

IN ANOTHER THIRTY SECONDS OR SO I SAW THAT THE TRAIL WAS ENDING UP AHEAD. I COULD SEE GRASS THERE, THE WOODS WERE ENDING ENTIRELY. I HEARD MAURICE SAY ‘STOP’, AND I TURNED AROUND, AND THEY HAD ALL STOPPED, BUT HE TOLD ME THEY WOULD JUST WAIT FOR ME TO STEP INTO THE CLEARING AND SEE THE PALACE. I GOT TO SEE IT FIRST TONIGHT, AND I WOULD LEAD THEM IN, AND THEY WOULD JOIN ME. IT WAS JUST A FEW STEPS MORE, HE SAID, AND WHEN I SAW IT, I WOULD KNOW HOW GREAT IT WAS TO BEHOLD IT. THEN WE WOULD ALL GO IN AND CELEBRATE. SO I WALKED AHEAD, AND THE TREES ENDED AND THEN I WAS IN A CLEARING. THERE WAS A GENTLY SLOPING HILL IN FRONT OF ME, IT ROSE UP TO ITS HIGHEST POINT ABOUT A HUNDRED YARDS AWAY, AND I LOOKED UP TOWARD THE TOP OF THE HILL, AND THERE WAS A HOUSE, TOTALLY DARKENED. AND IT WAS ALMOST NOTHING MORE THAN WRECKAGE. IT HAD BEEN BURNED, DESTROYED, PROBABLY YEARS BEFORE. THE WINDOWS HAD BEEN BOARDED UP, AND EVEN IN THE DARK FROM A HUNDRED YARDS AWAY I COULD SEE HOLES IN THE SIDE OF IT. THE PORCH HAD BEEN RIPPED APART, THE FRONT DOOR WAS MISSING ENTIRELY, THE ONE WINDOW THAT WAS LEFT ON THE FRONT WAS BROKEN. IT WAS A CONDEMNED HOUSE, SITTING IN THE CLEARING AT THE TOP OF THE HILL. EVEN THE PAINT HAD ROTTED AWAY. AND I KNEW RIGHT THEN, WITHOUT A DOUBT, THAT SOMETHING TERRIBLE WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME IF I WENT UP THAT HILL. I WAS GOING TO BE HARMED IN SOME WAY, SOMETHING THEY HAD CONCEIVED OF NIGHTS BEFORE. I HEARD THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE OTHERS IN THE LEAVES WELL BEHIND ME. AND I BEGAN TO RUN, I RAN TO MY RIGHT, AS FAST AS I COULD, UP THE HILL, OVER THE FIELD, GOING PAST THE HOUSE ON A DIAGONAL, AND OVER THE TOP OF THE HILL THE FIELD SLOPED DOWN AGAIN, AND IN THE DISTANCE I SAW A RADIO TOWER, BEYOND MORE WOODS. IT WAS A TWO HUNDRED YARD RUN JUST TO GET TO THE WOODS, AND I WAS BREATHING HARD. I HAD A SHARP PAIN IN MY CHEST, I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW IF I COULD MAKE IT THERE. I TURNED MY HEAD TO LOOK BACK FOR A SPLIT SECOND, AND THEY WERE ALL FOLLOWING ME. THEY WERE RUNNING TOO, AND I WAS WAY AHEAD OF THEM, BUT I COULD SEE ALL OF THEM WERE COMING. AND IF I FELL DOWN, I THOUGHT, I WOULD DIE. SO I NEVER LOOKED BACK, AND I LEFT THE FIELD AND I BROKE INTO THE WOODS. IT FELT LIKE I WAS HAVING A HEART ATTACK, THAT COLD AIR RUSHING INTO MY LUNGS, AND THERE WAS NO TRAIL, SO I WAS RUNNING THROUGH THE TREES, AND ALL OF A SUDDEN THE TREES BROKE AGAIN AND I WAS SUDDENLY COMING OUT BETWEEN TWO HOUSES IN A NEIGHBORHOOD SOMEWHERE. I RAN THROUGH A BACK YARD AND CAME OUT IN A CUL DE SAC, AND I FELL RIGHT THERE ON THE PAVEMENT. I COULDN'T RUN ANY LONGER, I DIDN'T CARE WHAT HAPPENED. I LAY THERE FOR TEN MINUTES, NEVER LOOKING BACK. FINALLY I GOT UP, AND I HAD NO IDEA WHERE I WAS. I WALKED DOWN THE STREET, TAKING EVERY TURN THAT CAME ALONG, TOO SHAKEN TO ESTABLISH ANY SENSE OF DIRECTION. ALL I WANTED WAS TO STUMBLE ACROSS A MAIN ROAD. THERE WAS A SEVEN-ELEVEN RIGHT ON THE MAIN ROAD, FACING THE ENTRANCE TO THE COMMUNITY, AND CARS WERE GOING PAST. I WENT INTO THE SEVEN-ELEVEN AND I BOUGHT SOMETHING SO I COULD HAVE CHANGE FOR THE PAY PHONE. I CALLED A CAB, AND I WAITED INSIDE THE STORE UNTIL IT CAME. I THINK I LOOKED THROUGH MAGAZINES BUT I HAD NO SENSE OF WHAT I WAS LOOKING AT. I WAS STILL IN SHOCK. WHEN THE CAB SHOWED UP, I TOOK IT NOT BACK TO MY ROOM, BUT TO THE HOLIDAY INN A MILE AWAY FROM IT. I CHECKED IN, I GOT A ROOM, I PUT IT ON MY CREDIT CARD. I WENT UPSTAIRS AND FELL ASLEEP RIGHT AWAY. I OPENED THE CURTAINS ALL THE WAY BEFORE I DID, SO I WOULD WAKE UP WITH LOTS OF LIGHT FALLING ON ME.

CONTINUE