There was that sound again. That terrifying, growling noise. What was it? I whipped around and almost got heart failure. Not because there was a dog growling at me. Not because a bear had found me in the woods. But because there was nothing there. How could it be? It just was not possible. I had sensed a hand creeping down my back, its touch icy cold like the winter snow, and the growl had reached my ears from behind. But when I turned around, there was nothing.
“Hey Morty Get back to work!” my friend, John, yelled. “We need loads of wood for the fire tonight!”
I grabbed the axe that I had dropped on the ground and swung it at the tree with all my might, slicing into the trunk. With a few swings, all that was left of the tree was a small stump on the ground. Then it came again. The touch on his back.
The growl sounded human, like someone was really, really angry, but he was trying his best to keep it calm. I almost dropped the axe on my legs and screamed with terror, but I decided to find the person playing the practical joke on me and give him a good smack in the face.
“Shut up, John, it’s not funny!” I shouted. But it was stupid, because John was cutting another tree right next to me. But at the moment my mind was not functioning.
“What? What did I do?” John frowned at me, letting his arms hang on his sides.
“Dude, stop caressing my back and whispering my freaking name in my ear. You wanna be a ghost? I’ll kill you and you’ll get your wish!” I yelled.
“You shut up, or I'll stick this axe up your nose!"
I decided to let it pass. No way to argue with a moron.
That night, we started a campfire. The atmosphere was really cold out in the woods. Our shack wasn’t that warm either, and if we started a fire in it, the whole shack would burn down, because it was the most makeshift shack you could ever build. We decided to have the campfire behind the shack. We roasted some fish that we caught and ate happily. Me…I wasn't really happy. The growling had stopped but I still had that feeling that someone else was watching.
“Morty, it’s probably the wind or something, because far as I know, there’s no one in this area except for us. We’re just doing our job and cutting wood to earn a living, anyway, so just focus on the job for the next few days and get it done fast! Maybe you haven’t been getting enough sleep too, so you’re probably hallucinating. Hard to sleep in this place. Just don’t worry, dude. We’ll get out of here soon enough…” John said.
His reassurances didn't console me.
Something was going to happen that night. I knew it. I felt it. I smelled it. I heard it. I saw it. I saw it happening, but I didn’t know what it was. It was going to hurt us. It had latched onto us. It was going to enjoy watching us suffer.
“Morty, something wrong? Is it that voice again? You look pale, man.”
“Nothing’s wrong, John! It’s all fine…”
It wasn’t. Nope. Tonight. Tonight, Morty, tonight. The voice I had heard. The growling. It was all in my head. But it was real. Someone was there. Hiding. Waiting. Tonight, tonight. Yes…tonight something would happen. Something that would bring him happiness beyond imagination. Oh, yes, tonight. It would happen. I suddenly felt a longing for blood. I looked into the night sky. The moon was blood red. It seemed as though the devil was staring down at me, grinning at me wickedly, making me choose. Tonight, you die. Tonight, he dies. Which one?
And so I chose.
“Tonight, John, tonight.”
“Tonight. It will happen.”
“What will happen?”
He looked really scared. He should have been. The last thing I remembered was him dragging me into the shack and dumping me on the sofa to sleep with the blanket covering me. Then he went to another room and shut the door, locking it too.
Hopeless. It’s impossible to evade me forever.
With that, I, too, went to sleep.
I woke up with a terrible headache, but I felt like all my life I was carrying a 10kg sack of rice on my back and now it had finally been lifted off of me.
“John?” I called. “John, you there?”
Not a single sound. Probably deep asleep. Outside the sky flashed with lightning, and the rain droplets were slamming into the windows and the main door, as though trying to break through. I noticed the John’s room door was ajar. The light was off. I crept forward and opened the door fully. Everything was perfectly clean. A dent in the mattress showed that someone had been sleeping on the bed, but he was gone. A creak. There was no mistake. It was the sound of a door opening slightly. I whipped around instantly and grabbed a loose wooden plank beside me.
“Who is it?” my voice trembled as I spoke. Someone unwelcome was in our shack. I was almost certain. “Morty, oh, Morty…” someone caressed my back and whispered in my ear.
“What is it? Who are you? What do you want?” I was almost screaming now. Scrambling away from my bedroom, I stood in the middle of the living room, randomly swinging the wooden plank around, guarding myself from an invisible person.
“Who are you...?” the voice whispered in my ear and laughed its raspy laugh. I felt a sudden urge to laugh maniacally. I confidently strolled over to my bedroom door and pushed it open. There was a hole in the ceiling where the rain was pouring through. A ladder was propped against the wall underneath the hole. I climbed it without knowing who had blasted the hole in the ceiling or put the ladder there. At the moment, all I wanted was the truth. What was going on?
“The truth could be very powerful…” it whispered in my ear again.
“I don’t care,” I said loudly. “It doesn't matter! Nothing matters! Where’s John, eh? Where’s my friend?”
“You don’t want to know…” I was standing on the roof. It was unusually red. The wood was wet. I touched it and licked it. It had a metallic taste.
And on the roof? The voice was right. I didn't want to know the truth. The truth was a very powerful thing. It could kill someone. Even worse, it could spare you, but destroy you emotionally, so that living was much worse than dying. The truth made me feel that way now. The truth made living worse than dying. But the secret to defeating the truth was to embrace it and accept it. That’s what I did. And that choice made my life better—or my death. There the body laid, on the roof, a terrified expression on its face. John never looked more scared in life. But now he was as scared as he could be. There was a bloody hole in his chest. That weight in my pocket…why hadn’t I felt it before? I reached into my right pocket, closed my fingers around the object and pulled it out. It was a dagger. Then the laughter came. It never ended. Maybe I would die this way, unable to breathe because the laughter kept coming. But the laughter turned into screams soon enough, as a loose wooden plank burst out of the roof and shot into my neck, instantly killing me.
I could feel, smell, touch and hear. I heard screams of agony and I felt my skin blistering. I could smell something burning. Opening my eyes, I realized that I was still alive.
“No, my dear boy. Not alive at all. You are perfectly dead…”
I turned around and stared. The devil stared back. It was grinning, like the moon that night. That night… I had killed John. I had murdered him. And then I had died. But how did I die?
“You don’t understand, do you? Perhaps I should show you who you really are, and what happened…perhaps a glimpse is in order.”
There they were, the two of them innocently sitting in front of the campfire. There I sat, looking terrified. Had I really that scared? Scared of myself? I had no idea. Laughing at my own stupidity, I floated over to him, or rather, I floated over to myself.
"Tonight, Morty," I whispered in his ear, "Tonight..."