I’ll start off by saying that this story contains very little actual scares, but it’s a tale that will never leave me, as it has rooted itself deep within my life and soul. Lots of people have something like that, an event that stirs within them from the past and goes with them until they themselves pass on. I guess my story is just another one of those, but really that takes away none of the impact it had and still has on me today. Here goes:
When I was in primary school, from grades one to four, I had zero friends. I was just one of those kids who had a rough time making friends, didn’t connect with people etc. So those four schoolyears I spent basically alone. Then a new kid came in at the beginning of year five. I’ll give him a fake name. Syd will do. As in Syd Barrett. Anyway, whatever social problems I had at school, this kid Syd had at least, like, fifty-fold. He would absolutely not talk to any kids, no matter who approached him. Teachers had it almost as bad when approaching him. If he was ever called on to answer a question, he would just mumble something, more to himself than anyone else, at which point the teacher would just move on. He was also absent for at least a third of the time he was at school.
One thing he did do, however, was draw. And his drawings, at least to me, were like nothing I’d ever seen before, nor have seen since. They weren’t like violent images or disturbing scenes or anything, but just depictions of… I guess chaos is the best word. Essentially things that couldn’t quite exist. A little bit like those pictures you see like M.C. Escher where the objects don’t really make sense to the eye. This was how he drew people, animals, places, everything. It was astounding. And the details in the pictures were just off. Like, it didn’t make sense to have certain things in certain areas. I’m not talking random stuff like a cow with a cactus for a leg or something, but just shapes and lines and forms where they normally are not in real life. All done in pen, too.
Anyway he had a real knack for the pen and paper. A lot of these illustrations of Syd’s went unnoticed by teachers, as do most things. But I took note, and I attempted to make it known to him. See, I used to be, well I still am, an avid sketch-addict myself. So one day I sat next to him, did my own little drawing and passed it to him. Without making eye contact. I felt him stir for a moment, then two or three minutes and a flurry of drags of the pen later, I received a reply sliding towards me. Looking down, I saw the same thing I had drawn except in his quasi-signature style. I’d made first contact.
So we started talking. I was almost proud of myself not only for having made my first connection to another kid after four years, but also being the first person to reach out and receive a response from this clearly non-social kid. We talked a lot about music, and he was really into Pink Floyd. Like, sometimes he would draw visual representations of some of their songs, e.g. echoes of time moving across sand from the twenty-three minute song, "Echoes". Like, this ten year old kid had a music-connoisseur level of interest and knowledge of a thirty-something year old band. It was mind-blowing.
So by the time mid semester came around he and I were close. It was amazing, to have this likeminded and like-skilled individual. We became each other’s second halves. I actually felt bad whenever I had to stay home sick, because Syd would be all by himself, as he was in the beginning of the year. If he turned up on those days, that is. I can’t imagine what is previous school life was like. It really seemed like I was his first friend, so he and I had that kind of kindred spirit thing going on. Pretty sure that’s one of the main reasons we grew so close.
By now, third term, Syd had started to come out of his shell. He was starting to respond to other students, he was answering teacher’s questions, and he was absent a lot less. Not to put myself up on a pedestal, but I think his new interaction with the world was stemming from the fact that now he had someone. His previous aching loneliness was glaringly obvious in the way he would treat our relationship. But one thing that remained weird was his parents.
Rather, the way he’d talk about his parents. Granted, the subject rarely ever came up between us. There was a kind of, almost fear, or maybe resentment Syd had for his parents; he’d always go really quiet when they were brought up. For example, whenever I brought up the notion of one of us visiting another at their house he’d just say something along the lines of “My parents don’t like me being out of the house very much.” Or “My mum and dad really don’t want anyone else at our house.” He’d never know why this was, and quite frankly, neither did anyone else. I never met them, and no one ever saw them around school. They never turned up to any parent/teacher meetings, nor any school productions. Syd walked to and from school. I had begun to guess that Syd’s parents had played a significant part in his personal problems. So it was because of this that I could never visit Syd or vice versa during the holidays inbetween years five and six.
Something happened to Syd during those months.
I never found out what happened during that time. But it was fucking bad. In the start of year six, Syd would turn up, maybe, once a month. And when he did, he was a wreck. I mean he was worse than when I first met him. He would be extremely anxious and hyped up, constantly looking out the windows and, when we were outside, looking into the distance. I don’t mean gazing off into space, I mean literally scanning his surroundings for as far as he could humanly see. Other times he would be the opposite; he would sit there and not budge, to a point where he’d stop blinking for several minutes. Other times he would stare intently at some random student in the class, as if there was something underneath their skin he was trying to get a glimpse of. He was back to his mumbling to himself incoherently. Naturally it was highly concerning to me, his best and only friend. But no matter who I went to, my parents, the teacher, even the principal, nobody could do anything without permission from Syd’s parents, who we’ve already established were hard enough to contact, let alone work with.
Then one day, towards the end of first semester, something happened that set it all in motion. This was the event where I developed a feeling in my heart and soul that there would not be a happy ending for my dear friend Syd. We were outside during recess or lunch break or whatever. He was sitting, leaning against a tree, his head in his lap. I was sitting to the side of him, attempting to make idle conversation. As usual for that year, I received no signs of comprehension. Then something sparked within me, all the pent up curiosity, all the questions I had about Syd’s own personal life, coupled with my intense frustration at his essential disconnection with reality. I let him have it, scolding him and telling him he can’t go through life like he was, that all our time together and the progress he had made as a person in this world was all for nothing.
As soon as my rant was over, despite him barely even acknowledging my presence, I instantly regretted it. A few minutes later, he tensed up. I mean it was so tight several veins were showing in his face and neck. Then his head snapped up from its resting position. It was then I got a good proper look at his face. He was pale as a ghost. I mean, I’d seen blankets that weren’t as white as his face right then and there. He had bags under his eyes, the purplish-grey contrasting against his skin. His face was gaunt, and his cheekbones, jawline and eye sockets where significantly more visible than they used to be. He remained in that position for several seconds. Right before I could begin an apology for my explosion, he took off and bolted towards the exit of the school. It was faster than I think anyone had ever seen him move.
To this day I don’t know why Syd looked the way he did, what was making him so goddamn erratic or where he went when he disappeared or why. At that point in time it was never apparent to me, although it should have been, that those scolding words to him would be the last thing I’d ever say to him.
So I became determined to visit Syd at his home to confront both him and his parents. I decided that, on the coming Monday, I would have my parents drop me off early at school under the guise of rehearsals for a production, find Syd’s designated school diary (assuming it would still be in his desk; hardly anyone took their diaries home like we were supposed to) and get his home address. I surprisingly got all that done successfully and made my way to his house before school began. It took me at least forty minutes to reach his house; Syd had to make that trip twice a day whenever he’d come to school. The door was conveniently unlocked—almost suspiciously convenient. But I figured parents of a kid like Syd would do something like that. I didn’t bother exploring the house. I just made a direct beeline to wherever Syd’s room would be. If he even had a room. Which he did. Which I found on the first try.
You know the scenes in a movie where a character discovers the body of another character? How there’ll be either solemn or suspenseful music, with close ups of the live character and often obscure, tricky shots that hint at the body but don’t quite fully reveal it? I didn’t have that option. Syd’s room was a barren excuse for a sufficient living environment for an eleven-year old. And there, splayed on the mattress in the corner of the room, was Syd. A thin, jagged red line running from one side of his throat to the other. A rusty old straight razor in one hand, barely being held onto. His facial expression the same as right before he took off that afternoon at school. Most people I tell this story to, which is few in number as it is, assume that an eleven-year-old mind wouldn’t be developed enough to quite fully understand the situation. And, from what I remember, they’re right. I just stared at what used to be Syd, my one and only friend, now an inanimate amalgamation of organs and limbs. I remember being both physically and mentally numb. Not comfortably, as Syd would have had it. I knew he would not be coming back, as I knew there would be no happy ending, no redemption nor cure for dear Syd.
You know, they always get the colour of blood wrong in the movies.
What happened between me exiting Syd’s room and being interviewed by a detective was really a blur, as clichéd as that sounds. A year later my mother would tell me that the parents had taken off, untraced and untraceable. She would tell me of the strange, unidentifiable equipment that was found by police upon visiting the residence. She would tell me of the chains and assorted ropes that were found in a concealed storage room. She would tell me of the scratch marks, dents, holes and other damage marks underneath the layers of wallpaper on Syd’s bedroom walls.
There was no funeral for Syd.
Upon some further research of mine propelled by that (not all of which is entirely excusable, nor legal so don’t tell), I would discover some deep, disturbing shit. Unforgivable, unbelievable and abhorrent shit. The authorities did, in fact, have Syd’s parents in custody for about a day and a half. During this time, a team of detectives, interrogators, forensics and chemists worked to deduce the situation regarding Syd’s family.
His parents were members of an extremely obscure and secretive cult. Considerably highly ranking, at that; they were the group’s “alchemists”.
The cult’s primary objective was to make contact with what the parents called “It Which Resides Between Spaces”. They gave a real name for it, but trying to pronounce it would give me a stroke. Lot of apostrophes, very few vowels.
The parents were determined to make contact using their skills in “alchemy”. A lot of traces of inexplicable chemicals and agents were discovered throughout the household. Naturally, experiments are meaningless without a test subject.
That’s where Syd came in.