“Do you wish to peer into the unknown?”
Nathan had barely registered the hooded figure in the alleyway, even as it spoke to him. Startled by the voice coming from the dark, he stepped toward it in the dwindling light for a better look, and discovered it was a man, maybe a woman, it was difficult to tell, but elderly. His or her face was shrouded in a hooded garment of some kind.
The person repeated the question, a little more urgently than the first time.
Nathan was late coming home, and knew he would hear about it from his girlfriend, so not wanting to incur any more wrath than was necessary, he said to the strange person in the hood, “Uh… no, thanks, friend. I’ve gotta get going.”
“Suit yourself,” the response came, cold and disconnected. Then Nathan felt a hand grasping his arm, keeping him from leaving. Was the old hobo so close before?
“Hey, wha - get off of me!” Nathan tried to shake the hand off his arm but the grip remained surprisingly tight.
“If you won’t,” the hooded figure hissed, not looking up, “someone else will…” It released Nathan’s arm, walking away. A deep sinister chuckle shook the canvas-draped stranger’s shoulders as “it” began to walk away.
Nathan shuddered and brushed the sleeve of his coat, and looked around to see if anyone else had seen that weirdness. He looked back at the vagrant but strangely there was nobody there. A few deep breaths and Nathan was close to calming down. Just a weird old dude, or woman, or something. Nothing to stress out about, he told himself.
He glanced at his watch and saw that nearly 20 minutes had passed. Letting out an audible expletive, he began sprinting down the street in the direction of his apartment building.
After about 10 minutes, Nathan was out of breath and at the door of his apartment, where he knew his girlfriend would be standing, tapping her foot, about to scold him for his lateness. He opened the door gingerly, expecting to see her standing there, but to his surprise, she wasn’t.
He called to her.
He checked the bedroom, the bathroom.
As he moved through the kitchen, he thought of the countless jokes about women and how they belong in the kitchen, and chuckled to himself. Still, his disquiet rose upon discovering that his girlfriend was nowhere to be found. Walking to the living room sofa, he retrieved his phone from his pocket and dialed her number, thinking she must have gone out somewhere.
He felt his stomach wrench as he heard her phone ring no more than two feet next to him, sitting on the arm of the sofa.
He picked up her phone and examined it, uncomprehending.
Why would she have left without telling me?
Why wouldn’t she have taken her phone with her?
Where the hell is she?
His mind raced, trying to come up with an explanation. He stood to place his phone back in his pocket, and began to sit back down, but stopped himself when he heard a sound coming from the kitchen.
He waited, and listened for what it could be. It came again, clearer this time. It was something akin to creaking of wood.
Muscles tense, scarcely daring to breathe too heavily, Nathan started walking slowly toward the kitchen, not knowing what he would find.
Rounding the corner, he saw a figure standing in the middle of the dark kitchen, and was startled for an instant before he realized it was his girlfriend.
“Oh, baby,” he said, flipping the light on. "You scared me there for a second. Where were you?”
She was facing away from him and didn’t answer. She was moaning faintly, not moving. Nathan approached her, and as he did, he noticed a small spot of something red on her shoulder. Blood. It was coming from her ear. He grabbed her shoulder, turning her to face him, he said, “What’s wrong? What happ-”
He was cut off by the intense feeling of dread that swept over him as he looked upon her face. His stomach twisted into a knot tighter than that tied by the most experienced sailor, and he tasted bile in his throat.
Her face was twisted in an expression of horror and pain, her skin pale and hair matted. Both her ears were bleeding, but the worst thing was her eyes, or where they used to be. Two black holes had replaced her eyes as if they had been burned out of her head.
Ever wanted to peer into the unknown? Don’t do that.