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Jack stared at his pale hands, the fingertips wrinkled under the stream of water which poured from the gaping silver mouth of the tap. How long had he been here now?
It felt like it had been half an hour, maybe longer. He should really get back to the car. But his hands weren't clean yet. They would never be clean. Never again.
"For Christ's sake Jack," came the female voice from behind the restroom door. "Please would you just get out of there already?"
Jack sighed. He'd better get back to the car - Sarah may just leave him stranded at the service station and get the job done herself. To be honest, Jack would much prefer it that way.
"Fine, jeez." Jack turned off the tap and shook his hands dry, opening the door to discover a very impatient looking Sarah. They walked back the car, neither of them uttering a word. It was only until they were on the road again that Sarah spoke.
"Look, Jack. I'm sorry I snapped it's just... You've got to stop with this hand washing thing, it's..." She paused. "Maybe we should go back to the therapi-"
"No!" Jack glared at Sarah. "We're short on money as it is, I don't wanna waste it talking to some shrink who doesn't know shit about what I've been through."
"I'm just saying that -"
"They'd just tell me the same crap all over again. They don't understand."
Sarah sighed. Sometimes she wondered why she was still with Jack. She'd known about his experience early in the relationship, but recently, after they got the news, he'd been acting so much worse than usual. She just hoped that after today things would calm down a bit. She just prayed that he wouldn't suddenly have a mental breakdown or something.
About an hour passed, without much conversation. The car exited the motorway, drove through deserted streets towards the forests until eventually there was no civilization around them at all.
The only 'road' was a brown stony path crudely drawn into the lush landscape. The car drove deeper and deeper into the woods, through the towering trees, until finally -
"We're here," Sarah said, pulling the car to a stop and cutting the engine. "Finally. I never remembered the journey to be this long, did you Jack?"
"No." Jack's voice was almost unhearable. He was staring at the house. The old, crooked, three-floored house with arched windows and the sinister oak door. The house with the washed grey bricks and almost tile-less roof. The house that stood at the very bottom of a vast dark green hill. Jack's old home.
Sarah patted her pockets for the set of keys, and for a moment Jack thought that she may have lost them. His hope was soon crushed when she produced them from the glove compartment.
"Right," she said, "Let's get this over with, shall we?"
"Yeah," said Jack, hesitantly exiting the car. "Let's."
They walked down a second, thinner gray path which led the front door. This place really gave Sarah the creeps. Of course, she would never dream of telling Jack that. She didn't know if she fully believed his story about what happened here, but that was yet another thing she dare not mention to him. It was ironic really. Stereotypical, the male was meant to be the strong one, protecting the female as they entered the haunted mansion. This was certainly not the case with her and Jack.
Upon reaching the door, Sarah shuffled through the messy bunch of grey and brown keys. As she did, Jack scanned the environment. He hadn't been here since he was a child. It seemed so much... darker than he remembered. The grass, the tree bark, everything. It just made it a more terrifying place than it had already been. Why couldn't the men who had taken the dead body of his mother have taken all her shit with them too?
It wasn't like they were going to find any use of his mothers old jewelry and paintings. If she wasn't regularly visited by a nurse, her body could still be in there - rotting. The bitch. Jack had never really loved his mother, as truthfully she never really loved him. But Sarah had insisted on going, saying the possessions had 'sentimental value' or some crap like that. Jack continued to scan the scenery, his eyes shifting to the top of the hill. Wait... what was that? Something in the mist. Something moving.
Jack screamed and fell to the floor, scrambling away from the door as fast as he could.
"Jack!" Sarah cried, dropping the keys and grabbing him, pulling him to his feet.
"I... I saw..."
"No, you didn't Jack. It was your imagination playing tricks on you."
"No! I saw... I saw... I... him -"
"Shhh..." Sarah comforted Jack. "The sooner we get in, the sooner we get out, ok?"
Jack sighed, closing his eyes. He still remembered that evening as if it had been yesterday. He was eight years of age...
Jack had an amazing imagination. Living in the middle of nowhere did have this one advantage. There was no internet, no friends or anybody that lived nearby. No TV, no computer games. So Jack had to make his own fun.
Every day, Jack would get on his bike and begin the long trek into town, where his school was. He had to leave ridiculously early. Not only because of the distance he had to cover, but because every day, without fail, he would stop just before he exited the woodland and dismount his bike by a large oak tree. And he would sit there, for about an hour, and just... imagine. He never got a chance to properly do this at school, it was too noisy. And at home his mother was always shouting at him for one reason or another.
In all honesty, Jack's childhood was pretty terrible, as far as childhoods go. Jack's father had left when he discovered that his mother was expecting him. Jack guessed that, somehow, his mother blamed him for the divorce. At school, he was ruthlessly bullied. He was beaten up before, after and sometimes even during school. His teachers never really did anything to stop it. Most of the time Jack would come home with multiple grazes, sometimes even a black eye. The pain didn't stop there. Jack's mother was very strict. Whenever Jack just slightly stepped out of line, she would fetch a long, wooden stick she kept in the cupboard... and beat him with it, until his backside was numb and bleeding. There was no place where Jack really felt safe, except... here. Here, he could be alone. Just him, and his endless imagination.
Jack would create whole worlds in his mind, using the fresh forest air and woodland noises as inspiration. The worlds he would create were so vivid, with sounds and even smells. He would conjure up endless mountains, floating the the middle if space, surrounded my stars. Strange alien deserts, where the sand was green and the sky was purple, three moons resting on its surface. Impossible shapes, beings and cities.
It was a beautiful morning. The sun had just risen. Jack was sitting by his tree, his eyes closed. In his head was a castle, spherical in shape with bricks made of a glossy black material. This image was disrupted by a large rustling sound. The sound was way too loud to have been the largest woodland creature, so Jack opened his eyes. Nobody ever came to this part of the woods. A policeman maybe? Jack was never too sure how long he had been imagining for, maybe he'd missed school, his mother had gotten worried and called the police. But there was nobody anywhere. This was strange.
The rustling sound had sounded so... close. Jack decided to ignore it, and closed his eyes again, reconstructing the castle in his mind. After only 10 seconds or so, Jack heard another noise. This time, it did scare him. It were as if it had gone off right next to his ear. A horrific, gurgling scream - so low pitched it may as well have come from the devil himself. It sounded as if it were someone drowning - and screaming their lungs out whilst doing so. Jack jolted up to his feet, spinning around to see who, or what had made the noise.
But there was still nothing to be seen.
He decided to get back on his bike and head for school. He was probably already late. He turned to find the vehicle.
And then he saw it.
It was a man. Standing just a few feet away from him. The man was at least 7ft tall, but the hunched posture made him seem about 5ft. The man was bald, completely naked, and his whole body was red. Not a bright shade of red, but a bloody, sickening shade. He didn't really have skin. It looked like someone had razored his entire body. His knuckles were almost reaching the floor - long, dirty, black nails sprouting from the end of its bony fingers. He was desperately thin, his ribcage was easily visible, as was his curling, bumpy spine. It seemed almost impossible for its legs to be able to support anything. But what really got Jack was the man's face. It was frozen in the most unimaginable expression of pain. The mouth was open so far that the jaw must've snapped. It was filled with long, thin pus-yellow teeth and black gums. Its entire face was scrunched up as it were constantly experiencing the most painful death possible for a human to experience. From what the rest of his face was like, his eyes should have been tightly shut. But they weren't. They were wide open. It didn't seem like the man had eyelids. They were piercing eyes that stared right into Jack. Right into his mind.
The man let out the gurgling scream again, its face not changing at all. As it did, a thick black liquid spurted from the depths of its throat, dribbling down the pale red chin.
Jack's feet were frozen to the ground, but he used all of his will power to force himself to turn around and RUN. He didn't look back, but he could tell that the man was following him at an alarming speed, away from town, into the woods. It was again emitting the gurgling-screaming noise, this time much louder and more intense. Eventually, Jack couldn't help it. He glanced back, to see how far away the man was.
He ended up facing one of the swiping, black talons.
Jack fell to the wet forest floor, his face cut and bleeding. He rolled over to see the man lunging towards him, its arms preparing to strike a second time, the black liquid dripping from the gaping mouth. Jack placed his hands in front of him in an attempt to push the thing away from his body. They contacted with its chest. Jack cried in pain as a terrible burning sensation occurred. He tried to pull his hands away, but they were stuck to the thing's chest. Panicking, Jack violently tugged his hands off. The skin from the bottom of his hands stayed, however. Jack screamed as he looked at his bleeding, red palms. He rolled over again, narrowly missing the second swipe. Quickly, Jack ran into the woods again. This time, he was not followed by a figure. Only a voice. One word...
"Jack!" Sarah shook him out of his trance. "Come on! Pull yourself together. You ok?"
Jack breathed heavily, before answering, "Yeah. I'm sorry..."
"Don't be. Are you sure you're ok to go in?" She knew it was a stupid question.
"Let's just get this done as quickly as possible."
They headed back towards the door. Sarah had found the right key, and after a but of struggling, managed to open the heavy door.
The hallway was dark, and already memories of his angry, red-faced mother flooded Jack's mind. He shuddered at the thought of her grabbing his bare arm, swinging him over her lap, raising that horrible wooden stick...
"Jack?" Sarah said a second time. "Come on, let's start in the living room. It's the closest one."
They entered the cramped room. The sickly green carpet and large, beige armchair. The curtains were drawn. Sarah headed to the mantle piece, and started putting photos into the large bag. Jack sighed. He'd better help. He didn't want to piss Sarah off even more.
As they collected dusty old items and books off shelves, Jack started to recall more and more events from his childhood. The bullying. The endless bullying. That sickening feeling of not being able to tell anyone about it. That no one, not even your own mother, was on your side.
Jack's hands. He looked at the palms, squinting. Was that... red? No, they were fine. He needed to wash them. He needed to get rid of the red. The blood. It had to be washed away.
"I've got to go to the bathroom."
"No, Jack." Sarah had noticed Jack staring at his hands. "You just washed them. Come on, we'll -"
"NO!" Jack's bellowing roar made Sarah flinch backwards. "They're not clean. I have to clean them. I have to get the red off."
"Jack... Remember what the therapist said. Th-There is no red."
"YES THERE FUCKING IS!" Jack's eyes were filled with rage. "You bitch. You pretend to understand me but you're just the same as the fucking shrink. You pretend to believe what happened to me, but deep down - you think I'm a fucking nutcase."
"No, Jack, I.. I don't. I be-believe what happened. I honestly do, I -"
"Shut up." Jack's voice was now scarily quiet. "I'm going to wash them now."
Jack left the room. Sarah was almost in tears. Was this it? Had he finally snapped? She knew that taking him was a bad idea. She sighed. Maybe the washing, however long it took, would calm him down a bit. Fuck this. She was taking him home as soon as he was done. This place obviously wasn't giving off a good vibe.
Jack was surprised to find that the tap in the kitchen still worked. Still, the water wasn't really working. The water came from this house. This dirty house. It was dirty water. Dirty. Dirty was red. The water was red. His hands were red. He needed to get the red off.
"Sarah!" Jack shouted as he walked back to the living room. "I'm going outside, to find a stream or something. Don't think even think about stopping me -"
Jack froze in horror as he saw what was in the room.
It looked exactly the same as it had that fateful morning. The arched back. The black gums with yellow teeth. The long, black talons. And that same, screaming expression of utter pain. Sarah was huddled in a corner of the room, pale and shaking with fear, unable to unfix her gaze from the man.
"N-No..." was the only word Jack could utter. Sarah, screaming in terror, ran towards him and the door. With alarming speed, the man grabbed the back of her jumper, and swiveled her around to face him. Before Jack could do anything, it had placed its large hand on her face, covering it almost completely. Sarah screamed as a disgusting hissing sound was emitted. Jack dare not go near the horrific murder he was witnessing. The man made the noise again. The noise that Jack had heard in dreams for years, but oh, it sounded so much worse in real life. The man tore the front of Sarah's face completely off, leaving only a bloody skull showing. Sarah was still screaming as sheets of blood poured down the front of her body. She tumbled to the fireplace, and her head hit the stove with a sickening crack.
Jack, choking on his own vomit, staggered back to the kitchen. The red. The red man. The red hands. His red hands. It was coming for him. It would make him red. It would make him dirty. He can never get rid of the red. He had to... He had to...
"AAAAAAAH!" Jack's scream echoed throughout the house. He grabbed the largest knife he could find and stabbed his left palm again and again. Red flowed out of the wounds. Disgusting red. It hurt. The pain. Red was pain. Jack's ring finger hit the cold bathroom tiles. Red flew from the end of it. Pain flew from it. Red. Pain. Red. Pain.
Jack, sobbing, stopped stabbing to look up at the man, staring down at his crumpled body.
"Wh... wha.. what d-d-do you w-want?" he sobbed. "Wh..Who a-are you."
And then, for the second time, the man spoke. No liquid came from its mouth when it did.
"I am pain. I am your pain, Jack. You made me."
Jack was speechless. "I... I m-made..."
"Hardly anyone realises how thin the line between imagination and reality really is. You had so much pain stored in that skull of yours, Jack. You needed it out. But your imagination, so powerful, it was. You created me. From the depths of your own mind. You made me real."
"P...please." Jack's voice was growing softer, blood still pouring from his wounds. "Take it away. Take all my pain away."
The man placed a hand on Jack's shoulder. It did not burn.
"Close your eyes."
Jack closed his eyes.
AUTHOURS NOTE: This is my second ever pasta, so please consider that when writing criticism! Have checked through for mistakes multiple times, but if you still find any, I'm sorry.