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The Polished Man

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I’ve never really been one for sociality – it all seemed a little too superficial, a little too fake. Especially when it’s with someone you’ve just met – they’ll give you a shiny smile and a prolonged handshake that leaves you wondering what they are after.

Perhaps this is why I disliked my new job at the post office; people there always talking to you and asking for favours - normally stupid things like helping to reorganize the paper stack or checking if the new shipment had arrived yet. I would do such things without complaint, but for some reason people still didn’t like me. Occasionally someone made a remark about going down to the pub later that week and would ask me if I wanted to go.

I just declined. I could tell they were only offering out of politeness – it was no secret that everyone who worked in the shop were friends with each other apart from me. That type of politeness and pity was exactly what I hated about people being communal.

I had recently graduated from a high school in the eastern part of the city, in a proverbial blaze of glory – all straight A’s, apart from a slight blip in my French exam which cost me the highest mark. I had everything ahead of me – the chance to be accepted into a respectable university, the promise of a good job and maybe even the chance to make some proper friends. Ones who would understand me more. Things honestly felt as though things couldn’t get better.

Then reality set in. I was simply too much of a loner to be accepted into any good higher education institution. As ridiculous as this sounds, they refused me in place of more sociable, ‘better’ candidates. The high school reports portrayed me as a solitary student, quiet and darkly spiteful of anyone more popular than myself. I took me mere moments to realize why they hadn’t accepted me, and when I did, I burnt the letter and refused to give them the satisfaction of recommending me to someplace else.

And that was what led me to work in such a place – a derelict newsagent that provided meager pay, hardly enough to live on. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so bitter about the whole affair. I probably would have been able to leave one day. But it wasn’t to be.

It happened late one night – it must have been near twelve o’clock. As per usual, I had been left to look after the place until it was closing time, in the early hours of the morning. The shop was unkempt and dirty – moths circled the grime coated bulbs, while cheap fishing nets and chocolate bars arranged themselves haphazardly along the counter. It was disgusting. The shelves were just as bad, too; great white things, smeared with decades of dust, rising high above my head like a maze of plastic.

I cleaned the counter with a grubby cloth, persevering to get rid of the small coffee stains and pieces of dried chewing gum, before emptying the till. After setting aside the fixed revenue of money that was to be saved, I noticed a fiver lying on the ground. It was old, and looked slightly ragged, but I barely hesitated in picking it up. I held it for a few seconds, debating on what I should do with it, before sliding it in a charity bucket. It paid to be nice.

I put down the sweeping brush against the counter and walked towards the back of the shop. Then I caught something out of the corner of my eye, as I passed the glass door that led out to the dark street; something quite apart from the black, flaky looking bins, orange sodium lights or even the occasional car that passed by.

It had been a man - well, or at least something humanoid. But I had definitely seen him, even if it was for only a moment - up on the roof of the parking lot, opposite the street from me. But as I looked now, he was gone. There was nothing there anymore.

I thought about more as I drove home in my silver Vauxhall, wondering about his identity. From what I remembered from that almost inconceivably brief glimpse, the man had been almost unnoticeable, half-hidden behind the building that housed the elevator. Also, he seemed to have been wearing all white – at least, that was what I caught from the sight. Perhaps he was a foreman, or an electrician working late. But, as I thought when I turned off the ignition outside my house, what kind of foreman or electrician dresses in white?

The thing that unnerved me the most about that encounter wasn’t that he was in white, or that he had been out late. What it was is that, in that moment when I saw him…he had already been looking back.

***

About a week after the event, I had very nearly forgotten about it. Things like that happen all the time – such as when you are near a forest at night and think that something is looking at you, only to find that it is something like a rabbit or another form of wildlife. More often than not, it is nothing at all, and you just leave without checking. More interesting things were happening anyway – I had been contacted by an estate agent a few days before I took this recording on my computer. My uncle had died.

To be honest, I didn’t really care that much – my dad had died when he was young, and his brother never contacted me. I never really had any communications with that side of the family, apart from seeing them at the odd christening. But it turned out that I was his only living relative and his home was, to my surprise, an ancestral one. He owned the rights to it, and it had no mortgage. It seemed perfect to me so, after receiving it, I almost immediately quit my job and left for the house.

Th-2-

The house. I took a picture before entering. It looks smaller from this angle.

It was on the east side of the city – in a rather isolated area, next to the countryside. I actually thought that it was a good thing, until I arrived there on a bus. It looked a little run down to be honest, with greying wood and a creaky looking structure. It did have windows, but even then they were dusty and covered in grime. That’s when I started to have second thoughts about this whole idea, but by the time I had turned around, the bus had sped off. I was alone, with only my cloths and personal belongings with me.

The house was of a relatively large size – in my estimation, it could be described as vast, though that could be attributed to the fact that for most of life I lived in a cramped, bare flat.

Neglecting to mention its poor condition, an average sized family could have probably lived in it without a problem, never mind a single twenty-four year old man. It had a picket fence surrounding it in a haphazardly fashion, the aged wood joined together by intertwined wires that were badly rusting.

I tentatively pushed open the gate, which screeched slightly on its hinges, causing me to wince. As I walked towards the front porch, I had to step carefully over the badly cemented concrete slabs which made up the pathway. Out beyond the house, there was a large, dark forest that looked quite intimidating in the dying light of the sky.

I pushed open the first door, which opened easily, before inserting a key into the lock of the second, far sturdier one. It took me a few turns to get it to open – I had never been very strong, and the lock was old and rusting – but when I did, it slid open almost soundlessly, and with a lack of effort that I thought to be odd.

The interior was slightly better than the outside, with a sounder structure and a better quality of wood. Not to say that it was good; but better, at least. There was a small entranceway, disproportionate to the size of the house, which was sparsely decorated – there was a rusty, battered, empty coat hanger fixed onto the left wall, looking ready to fall. The wallpaper was grey and peeling, unveiling the thin, rotted plaster underneath. There were several large holes in the right wall – jagged, black expanses that led inside the walls. I could probably have fit my head in a few of them.

Beyond the entrance was a set of stairs that led upwards into the rest the house. I couldn’t make out anything after the top step – beyond that point, light seemed to have receded into darkness.

Not wanting to go up there, I decided to take a closer look at the bottom floor – the hall split into two doorways, opposite each other. The one on the left didn’t even have a proper door; it seemed to have been torn off its wooden frame, and not carefully either. I could see the top of it on the floor, surrounded by splinters, fragments of glass and discarded lamp shades, before the rest sank into the absolute black of the room. So I cautiously walked towards the one on the right, keeping an effort to be silent.

But it was difficult – the floorboards seemed to creak and squeal no matter how little pressure I put on them. Reaching it, I turned the tarnished metal knob and pushed open the door.

It was a dark, murky room – like everything else in the house I had seen so far, to be honest. The fireplace immediately caught my attention, being the centerpiece of the room. It held a slight of air of antiquity to it, enhanced by the ornate wooden carvings. But soon my appreciation for it was disabused – like everything else, it was falling apart.

Above it hung a large oil painting. It seemed a little discoloured, and covered in dust, but I decided to take a closer look at it. Who knows, it could be worth something. As I crossed over to it, I noticed that – apart from the lone carpet and the chandelier – it wasn’t decorated. Discarded wooden furniture, chairs and even a table, lay around the room. It looked as though it had been wrecked by a hurricane.

There was another door, at the far side of the room, but I ignored it. It could be looked at later. I twisted the painting in its hanging, maneuvering it for several moments until it was safely back in its frame. Then I took a look at it.

The first thing I realized about it was that it was old. And I mean really old – maybe one or two hundred years since it was illustrated. Painted with oils, it seemed to show a family – one that was obviously wealthy – sitting in a living room and facing towards the painter. The affluence they had was shown through their cloths – the frilly collars, leather slacks, gentleman-style jackets on the boys and the father…in that age, all symbols of someone who had succeeded in life.

The mother was calm, serene and stared out of the painting with a sort of detached tranquility. All the girls mirrored her. The father looked content. They were all placed close together, as if to show their closeness and fraternity. I ignored their apparent happiness and studied the painting more. Out of the living room window, which was shut in the painting, I could see a murky field leading up to a thick, dark forest, further shadowed by the dying light of the sky. It was clouded, darkly, and the silver slice of light that was the moon didn’t show.

I frowned. The painting appeared innocent enough, just a happy family in a picture, but as I looked at it more, I began to feel a distinct sense of…unease. My frown deepened, and I leaned in to study the illustration further. There was something about it…something that was not quite right…

Then, in a single moment, I made the connection. No wonder I had found it a little disturbing. When I looked at it in greater detail, the truth dawned upon me that this painting, this family portrait, had been illustrated in this house. In fact, in this room. A barely imperceptible shiver ran through my body - born of a sense of remembrance.

But it wasn’t it. Not completely. Something was still nagging at me – an uncomfortable, primal feeling of warning that would not go away. For the sake of eliminating it, I looked even more closely at it. The rational part of my mind was urging me to go on – to leave. I had better things to do than to stare at a portrait in a creepy old house. I needed to hire a repairman to fix the holes, the wood and the probably unstable stairs.

And besides…it was getting dark. The sun had very nearly dropped below the horizon, its rays briefly splitting the sky, illuminating it. That light wouldn’t last for long.

Despite this, I continued to look. It wasn’t like I had anything to fear.

After a moment of looking, something directed me towards the left side of the portrait. Something directed me towards the girl…and something directed me towards the window behind her.

The window was split into eight segments, each dusty square of glass separated from the other by lead panes. I had to lean very closely to see. In the third segment, I noticed it. And the feeling in my body, the feeling that had been telling me to search…stopped.

There was something in the forest. Beyond the well-painted window, out past the darkened field, into the shadowed woodland…something was set upright, at its very edge. It was so small that I could barely make anything out…other than that it was white.

I felt a chill in my bones. That white colour had plagued my mind for the past few days, for no apparent reason. Now I knew why. It seemed completely illogical, but I felt as though that shade of white and the one I had seen very recently…were uncannily similar.

Then I had a thought. One that I immediately wished had never crossed my mind. It was stupid. It was undoubtedly impossible. And it terrified me…so I needed to know. Just to put my mind to rest.

I crossed over the room to the window. I pushed aside the fluttering curtain, into the open air. There was no window anymore – no lead. I looked forward, past the field and into the forest.

Then I saw it. Then I screamed.

And then the light died.

I scrambled backwards, pushing chairs over in my haste to get away. My breathing had suddenly grown heavier and impossible to control. It had been there. There was no doubt; no illusion. Whatever I had seen late that night, and in that portrait…I had glimpsed right there.

My instinct was telling me to run. So I did.

I dashed towards the door of the living room and wrenched it open, flying into the hallway. A spike of fright went through me as I saw the darkness of the drawing room, but I paid it no heed, grabbing the front door knob and pulling.

It didn’t budge.

I stared at it in disbelief, and tugged it again. It didn’t open. Even though it moved slightly, it didn’t open. I pulled harder, certain that if I put in a sufficient effort, and if I had enough time, I could open it. Opening the way to my car; opening the way to safety.

If I had enough time.

Then I heard a creak from the living room behind me. And realized I didn’t.

In a moment I made my choice. I turned around and, with a speed spurned by terror, I rushed up the stairs. It was dark, but that seemed far less intimidating choice than it had moments ago. It was a big house, a manor, so I probably could have hid well. But in my panic I chose the closest route to safety – directly around the first corner, in what appeared to be a large restroom.

Ignoring the furniture and decorations, I slammed the door behind me and quickly moved under the bed at the far left, which was shielded by a big armchair and the remains of a desk. I had to pull out a bed chest to get in, but I managed to tug it back in before I stopped moving.

Suddenly everything seemed quiet. In the absolute darkness I lay there, terrified beyond measure. It had actually been their – in the house. That noise I had heard from the living room could not have been anything else. The only thing I could think about was that it must have been incredibly fast to have covered the distance in that time.

The floor did squeak easily, but I had been notified that, days before my arrival, an exterminator had removed all rodents from the house. It had to have been something else other than a rat… perhaps an animal. But I was deluding myself – it had to have been it. I had seen it.

Then the door opened.

My heart froze – but my breath, inexplicably, quickened. To hide my breathing, I shoved my face into my jacket. How could it have known I was here?

I listened in angst, to catch any sign that it was approaching my hiding place. The thing was quiet – unnaturally so. I only caught a few sounds – slight creaks on the floorboards. Nothing beyond that. I couldn’t even hear it breath…if it could.

Then, after what I dreamed of as an eternity, the door shut.

I still lay there, silently. Had it really gone? I waited there in the darkness for what was probably hours because, despite the fact that this might be the only chance I got to escape, my body did not allow me to move – I couldn’t risk the chance that somehow it would catch me.

It took me hours to gather the courage to move. Straight after each movement, I stopped, straining to hear anything. Absolute silence.

Slowly but surely I managed to quietly maneuver my way out from the bed, scratching myself multiple times on the greyed floorboards. But that seemed like a good price to pay for discretion.

When I found myself out of the bed, exposed, I suddenly felt another wave of dread. If it had walked in at that moment, I would have been spotted. But it didn’t.

I soon began to look for a way out. After a brief moment, I noticed the door on the far side of the room. It was flat and unadorned, save for the tarnished sign near the top. It read – Laundry Transfer.

That was it – my route out. The Laundry Transfer was, I knew, a device which transferred laundry from one floor to another by a pulley. It could easily fit me – I wasn’t very tall or bulky (much the opposite, in fact), so it shouldn’t be difficult. After that, it would be a short stretch to freedom.

As I put my hand on the knob, the door to the restroom opened.

And something stepped through.

The thing was tall – taller than me. Taller than the average man. Its skin was white – a bald, pasty white, that somehow, to me, seemed more dangerous than any shade of black, however deep. Its skin was blemished, indented and its hands crooked, hooked and sharp. I took in all of this in a moment, unconsciously, before looking at its eyes. They were pallid, whitish, with red veins snaking up them like creepers – and brimming with malice.

I stepped backwards, fear lancing through my heart, telling me that what I was seeing was wrong, was fundamentally not right. Its mouth opened, slowly peeling back to reveal an uneven row of needle-like teeth – like the picket fence outside. Its expression seemed… manic. Like a rat that has cornered something smaller than it.

Then I took another step backwards. And it moved. At an impossible speed. Within a second it had closed the distance between it and me by half in a haze of bleached motion, arms outstretched towards me, face contorted. I turned around, desperately running. I could hear it gaining on me, furniture pushing out of its way, feet slapping against the ground.

I leapt. The rotten wood of the window frame gave way to me easily, long-broken glass shattering again. The world spun, cascading in a grim spectrum of black and grey before, with a sickening thud, light left me.

***

I was later picked up by a woman – of around fifty years in age, with slightly greying hair and an almost perpetually sunny disposition. She took me to her house, a few miles away, and waited until I had woke up, kindly allowing me to stay there for a few days until I got better. On the second day, in the kitchen, she told me the story.

That thing had been around for centuries – at least, that’s what she stated. It had come from somewhere far away – probably Eastern Europe, in the deeply forested regions were few people lived in, even traversed. During the middle ages a man, an inquisitor for the Catholic Church, was found guilty of heresy. He was burned, skinned, stoned, drowned…all to purify him from sin. To polish him; to make him better.

But this man, unlike many others, had survived. And he now found others, and “polished” them. Hence the name – “The Polished Man.”

But something had happened to it - something the woman didn't entirely make clear. A family, with enough power and influence, tried to stop it. To contain it. And, to an extent, they succeeded. Whatever was done, perhaps through devout means, it caused the secular creature to become...contained. Isolated within a certain area. And the family paid the price for it - my family.

My uncle's death made sense now.

It wasn't just us, though - it prayed on others, sustaining itself, while constantly searching for those who wronged it. Until it found them. And exacted retribution.

I reflected over this for several moments, eyeing the toolbox on the table as she prepared a meal. Then I picked up a hammer and, after a moment of deliberation, smashed her over the head with it.

She crumpled to the floor almost instantly, landing with a resounding thud – much like the one I had made earlier. Blood fountained from the gaping wound on her head and, after a close examination, I realized that she had been instantly killed. Good – she had been nice to me. It would have been a shame for her to have suffered.

Now, before you begin to think that this incident with the thing has psychologically damaged me, I have killed people before. Not because I hate them – well, sometimes – but because I get a real, pure thrill from doing it. Holding life in your hands, having control over it and snatching it away…it is truly exhilarating.

But, and this is a thing that very few of you will understand, going from that feeling of dictating life to being the one on the receiving end of it is something profoundly…disturbing. Going from the hunter to the hunted. That creature, The Polished Man, caused me to feel fear – something which is usually evoked by me. I don’t know what it is, and I don't really believe the story, but I know this – it, unlike I, is indiscriminate. A crying woman, a feeble old man, a young child…it doesn’t care. And it is relentless – searching for hours, picking the right target at the right place. It will probably keep going, continuing its bloody work, until all are gone.

Mass murderers are notorious in popular culture for being cold-blooded, ruthless psychopaths that butcher people as though they were slabs of meat - lined up and ready for slaughter. And while this approximation is partially correct, the reality is quite different. Despite their, well, our, urge to kill people, most are more human than you would think.

And unlike in Dexter or other shows, were inept maggots attempt to recreate the moment of the crime, the truth of what happens is usually worse, and would probably horrify you beyond all imagination.

All of us are human - no matter what the police or media would have you believe. We eat, we sleep, we live, we die. We have our joys, our hopes and, yes, our fears. Apart from the need to kill, we are not very different. Ever wondered why some don't get caught for a long time, or why some disappear entirely? They are so human that even the sloppy ones can evade capture by blending in.

There is a reason that I haven’t mentioned where this all happened, or put this into a video. I don’t want to be caught. I would prefer to remain anonymous – I didn’t do it for recognition. But, in case you are having thoughts about calling the police, don’t waste your time. I’m going to end my life. Tonight.

I can’t stomach the thought of it reaching me again. Rest is no longer a possibility - black words whisper to me in my sleep, of promises of horror and oblivion, evaporating as sleep flees and before I can grasp the implications.

It’s terrifying…but if I haven’t got that point across to you by now, then we've both wasted our time. I'm not particularly caring, so to speak, but for your sake I hope this has conveyed to you how real the danger is. Don't look for it, or him, or whatever it is.

I’m going to do it soon – within the next hour, if possible. But this is one last word of warning.

If I, with the bloodlust of a serial killer, couldn’t even begin to fight it, if it had frightened me, if it had caused me to flee, if it had almost caught me…then what chance does that leave you?...

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