Tim had always seen things that others had not. He’d wake up most nights, screaming in terror from the nightmares his daytime visions brought only to be greeted by the same while awake. Terrible creatures with white faces lurching in the shadows of his room or the sickly breathing coming from under the bed. His parents worried for him, took him to the best doctors, gave him all the help they could afford, but none of it helped. They all had the same advice: ‘The visions aren’t real. They can’t hurt him. He’ll grow out of it,’ but still his parents worried.
Every night, he’d go to bed fearful of the hands that used to reach for him from the walls or the dead man that lived in his closet who occasionally crawled out to give Tim a toothless, rotten grin, his one eye filled with dark intent and mischief. He’d scream and cry at his parents to let him sleep in their bed, for with them he felt safe, safe from the denizens of his mind. But his parents would tell him, ‘They can’t hurt you. They’re only imaginary.’ But the things in the corners that danced on their hideously long limbs seemed real enough to Tim, real enough to reach out and touch him if they wanted to. Real enough to pull him out of bed and make him dance their dance of the dead right alongside them.
‘Imagine that,’ he’d think. ‘My skeleton dancing,’ and he’d shudder at the thought.
The creatures would call his name at night. ‘Tiiiiimmmmm, come play with us.’ He always ignored them, but they were insistent. Would they leave him alone if he got up and played with them one night? Would the hideous freaks with sunken cheeks finally stop haunting him? He didn’t want to play with them, though. He wanted to stay in bed, rolled against the wall so he couldn’t see them standing around his bed leering at him, hungrily. Every night they seemed to get closer, more insistent that he come and play with them.
They didn’t just haunt him in the night, though. Not at all. Tim would see them in the day, pushing their way up from the ground, or squatting in the shadows, waiting. Always watching, watching for when Tim let his guard down, for when he finally doesn’t notice the hand creeping along the floor, making a beeline for his ankle, or hear the door creaking open behind him, and hands reaching out, waiting to tug on his shirt, to pull him back into the darkness and whatever else waited within.
His parents never believed him, never believed that the creatures were real. That the visions he saw day and night, that plagued his every moment, were really there. If they had, they might’ve understood him, understood that he needed help, needed something to ward away the nightmarish imitations of people that stalked him through his dreams. To take away the endless paranoia that any second he might be taken away to wherever it was such creatures take children. ‘Don’t worry,’ they’d say. ‘You’ll grow out of it,’ but Tim never did. Through the years, he began to become a recluse. He could never have any friends, for any that he did make were soon scared away by the endless terrors he could describe, in great detail, at any time. The grotesque puppets that hung from strings made of human skin, the way they danced and jived as if playing with them would be the most fun thing in the world, like they just wanted a friend. Tim just wanted a friend.
The monsters never gave him a reprieve, even in the bathroom; they’d always be there, looking through the glass while he showered or waiting to sit up out of the bath while he brushed his teeth. The noises became worse than the sights, eventually. To Tim, there were only so many times a leering face, mouth cut from ear to ear, could surprise him. The sounds never stopped giving moments of heart racing terror. The thumps and bumps at night, while the house was meant to be silent, with everyone resting their weary heads. The heavy footsteps outside in the hall or doors creaking open and shut in the depths of the darkness. ‘Don’t worry,’ they’d tell him. ‘You’ll grow out of it.’
Something always slept on the bunk above Tim, rapping on the wall with its bony knuckles, putting a decayed hand down the crack between the wall and the bed, long fingers grasping for him. He never got much sleep due to this. He’d always find a way to fall asleep, though, to drown out the sounds of drowned boys walking down the hallway, their wet shoes squelching and clothes dripping. Somehow he slept and his dreams were never much better.
Then, as Tim grew older, the monsters began to speak to him, no longer asking him to play, but demanding. Telling him that if he didn’t get up and dance with them, they’d make him. ‘Everybody dances the dance of the dead, Tim, you must know that by now.’ They’d insist, trying to make him climb out into the floor space of his room where sewn patchwork men somersaulted, their limbs twisting and contorting in ways that no physical creatures could. They’d tell him that they were getting lonely, that they needed him to come and dance with them. ‘It’s a lot of fun, Timmy, just come dannncccee.’ ‘We promise you’ll have fun.’ But Tim always told himself that they weren’t real, told himself that he’d grow out of it like his parents always said.
The creatures grew bolder as Tim got older. They came closer, insisted that he come and play more forcefully until one day, one grabbed him. A door quietly scraped open next to him and a hand grabbed a fistful of his shirt, but not an old or decayed hand, just a child’s. A normal child’s, creamy white skin and small perfect fingers, holding onto his t-shirt, just holding it, not pulling or grappling, trying to pull him into a world of darkness and dancing corpses, just holding onto him as if scared.
‘I’m lost, Tim, can you help me find my Mummy?’ a child’s voice whispered from the darkness. ‘I need you to come in here and help me find her.’ The voice lisped a little bit, as a child’s would, and for a moment Tim nearly did walk into that doorway into the darkness. When he refused, the voice turned deeper, screamed at him, screamed his name, shouted hateful things at him, full of anger and resentment, as if it had lost its prize.
Tim only grew more hateful and despairing toward the monsters that haunted him throughout his whole life. He hated them, hated himself for being able to see them. Hated everyone around him for not believing him, for not helping him, for not stopping it and eventually he grew sick of it, sick of everything. He found himself a gun and loaded it, ready to take himself away from everything from the monsters and creatures that caper and cavort in excited circles around him, their white faces strained in smiles for the first time. 'Like they’re happy that I’m ready to go; to leave them, to finally dance their dance, the dance of the dead right alongside them, to finally play with them. They’re finally getting what they want, but will I be giving them what they want? Another hideous creature to dance with them, another friend. Or will I be ending my own torment? I guess I’m only the pull of a trigger from finding out.'