When I saw the red men for the first time I was about eight years old. They’d just finished killing Brent Yardley.
Back then I was living in the country. This old farmer named Ned Sawyer had a big grass field next to his house, zipped up along the middle like a coat by a muddy canal about four feet wide. The grass came up to a little boy’s nose, making the canal hard to see and easy to fall into, so parents forbade their children from going there. The water’s only ankle-deep, but there’d been two drownings that year. Accidents, they called them.
I used to chase grasshoppers there. Caught them, took them home to put in jars, fed them leaves and showed them to my friends. I was scavenging for a nice plump one that had given me the slip when I fell into the canal. Skinned my elbow and got my new shoes all wet and muddy. Dad would pummel me for sure.
Five yards ahead of me Brent Yardley’s yellow windbreaker peeked out of the muddy water. He wore it to school every day and I imagined he would be happy to have it back, but when I got closer I realized Brent was still in it. He laid still as stone facedown in the water and I saw no bubbles on the surface to indicate breathing.
I wasn’t startled when the red man appeared, and I don’t know why. Nobody could expect to see a thing like that. It climbed ghost-like out of his body in a way reminiscent of a tank commander climbing out of the turret hatch, and stood with its feet inside the middle of his back. I can recall the thing’s ghastly details as clearly as if I were looking at a photograph. It wore no clothes and had no genitals. Its limbs were impossibly thin like tree branches and its ribs stuck out like a radiator grill: it reminded me of those deathly skinny Ethiopian children I’d seen in National Geographic, except seven feet tall and with cherry-red skin instead of Hershey’s brown. It had no lips, only crooked gritting teeth the color of metal. Two tiny black marbles nested in the front corners of its head. It was staring right at me.
We stood staring at each other for a long time, frozen like a scene in a painting. Then it was gone.
I told the police where to find Brent’s body. They said he’d fallen in and drowned. Mr. and Mrs. Yardley used to send Christmas cards to everyone they knew; when Brent died the cards stopped coming. Brent was their only child.
My father was so happy it’d been Brent and not me he crushed me in his arms and cried like a frightened bear. Then he beat the living daylights out of me for going into the field in the first place. He went back and forth like that many times. I stopped believing in accidents.
The sighting never left my lips for a long time. I even began to think that there was something wrong with my brain and I hadn’t actually seen it. I was scared that if I said anything my dad would send me away. Then in junior high my classmate Chandler told me he had nightmares about a tall, thin, blood-red thing he called the Bloody Devil — his description was dead-on with the appearance of the red man that killed Brent. I still didn’t say anything, but I always listened to Chandler attentively.
I didn’t see or hear of the red men again until I was twenty-six. My cousin Joe, his wife Emily and I met up at the Italian bistro on the corner of 49th and Berger for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in months and had a lot of catching up to do. A glass or three of wine later it was three o’clock and we decided it was about time to head home. Emily and I were having the check split while Joe had a cigarette outside.
An obnoxious bellow tore my attention from my half of the bill to a heavyset woman who’d just come in and begun loudly explaining that she’d like a table for six. I glanced at Joe through the glass doors to see if he heard the lady and my pen slipped from my fingers.
The thing was there, tall and impossibly thin and red as a birthday balloon, standing beside Joe as if they were having friendly conversation. The red man stepped into him like he wasn’t there, like he was just a hologram or something — it put on Joe like a brand new suit.
Joe flashed me the smile of a boy about to pull some awful mischief, turned and strolled right into the path of an oncoming bus. Rubber screeched in agony on the street. Pedestrians screamed.
Emily was clinging to his corpse at the hospital, brushing his hair, talking sweetly in his ear about all the people who loved him, asking how she was going to raise their daughters without him. She asked him what ugly thing it was that took him from her that evening: I hadn’t realized she’d seen the red man as clearly as I did.
“What was it took you from me, Baby?” she said as soft as snow. “What was it took you from me? What did they want from you so bad they had to take you from your children?”
For a while Emily babbled to herself about the “alien” that killed her husband when she was alone. I caught her occasionally, but she was always quick to notice when people were listening and just as quick to shut up. She won’t even mention it now, even when I tell her direct that I’ve seen them, too.
I never told anyone about these incidents except my son David, and only after his mother died, bless her soul. We talk about it almost every time I see him. Sometimes he’s a hospital orderly humoring a crazy old man on his second stroke. Others he’s a psychologist, suggests that the “demon” represents some trauma I’ve buried in my subconscious, or that maybe bad dreams of Brent’s and Joe’s deaths had merged with my memories of the events themselves. There is of course an unspoken third suggestion involving severe mental illness. He ends these conversations with, “I don’t think you’re crazy, Dad, really. I just think talking with a professional would help you understand this thing better.”
“Thing” is more polite than “delusion” I suppose.
I see them often nowadays, but not in the places I’d expect to see harbingers of death, like hospitals and graveyards. They never go to those places. I see them lurking in the places no one cares to notice: the blackest corners of the city’s filthy alleys where the vagrants drink themselves to sleep, or in the doorways of run-down shops that have been closed for years, or in empty hallways no one has passed through all day. Some evenings when the streets are all but deserted I see them standing in the open, watching me. Two or three of them huddled close together like whispering conspirators, always staring in my direction. Then I blink and they’re gone, and I find myself running in terror until my throat is raw and my legs are burning, never sure where I’m running to.
I don’t know what the hell they are or what they want. It seems they just take sick pleasure in destroying people’s families: they sit in waiting, watching for opportunities to get away with murder. I started a small forum on the web encouraging visitors to post their sightings of the red men, but no one bit. It’s impossible. I can’t be the only one who’s seen them. I know I’m not. Emily saw them the day Joe died. Chandler saw them in junior high. He claimed he saw the Bloody Devil possess his sister and walk her off the pier during a thunderstorm. He raved about it and got violent when no one listened. His mom pumped him full of meds and sent him to a shrink and that was the last we saw of him.
Research bore no fruit. The only thing I found was something called “cacodemonia”, a psychological condition where the patient believes he’s been possessed by an evil spirit — “cacodemon” in Greek or Latin, I forget. Nothing about conditions where the patient sees spirits possessing loved ones and sending them to their deaths. Mythology held no more answers than psychology: there must be a billion different kinds of “cacodemons” and none of them match what I saw kill Brent Yardley and my cousin Joe.
In the end it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I see my son as much as possible before they come for me. He says he works a lot and doesn’t have time to visit. How can he make excuses like that? He’s my only son and the only family I have left and I want to spend time with him. I’ve told him this. I’ve told him about the red man who stares at me through my window — staring with those empty black marbles even now as I write. I’ve told him I don’t have much time left. Whether he really believes it or not…
It’s silly to worry so much over something I can’t do anything about. If the red men want to come, they’ll come as sure as hunger or sleep. Until then all I can do is enjoy whatever time I’ve still got. I’ve taken up painting and it’s very liberating. It drains the cyst that festers in my soul, even if no one else ever sees what I paint.
Writing isn’t so bad either.
Written by Mike MacDee