Don't Eat My Face! (Complete Story)

While I get my next book ready, I'm reprinting stories here in their entirety -- for FREE! Here's a story that first appeared in the Harvest Hill anthology, available from Graveside Tales.

(You can get my first collection of short horror stories, The Scariest Things, You CAN'T Imagine on the Kindle or in hard copy through Lulu.)

Don't want to read online? Download it here for free off Scribd & take it with you!



My face

A short story by Briane f. pagel, jr.

It would have been nice to have an excuse for how he ended up there.

It would have been better, he felt, as he hung there upside down, to be able to curse himself. To say Why was I going so fast? Or Why did I have that last drink? Or even Maybe I should have just pulled over and napped for a while.

Any of those would have helped him deal with this, he felt, because he could have placed some blame for this, or felt that what was going on was punishment for his stupidity or cruelty.

Maybe it would have been enough if he had been coming from someplace wrong, or going to someplace wrong. Why didn’t I end the affair earlier, he could have berated himself, as his head felt like it would explode from the blood slowly pooling in it. Why was I going off to buy drugs he could moan silently, quietly, while he tried to swallow and wet his throat but could not do so because as it turns out, gravity plays quite an important role in swallowing, or plays an important role in preventing one from swallowing when one is hanging upside down in a twisted car wreck, held in place and pinned back by a seatbelt that has locked, with one’s right arm pinned awkwardly and probably broken, certainly numb, and long past the part of numbness or injury where it hurt, having gone through the flaring searing bolts-of-agony-shooting through one’s mind hours (days? Certainly not days? Days?) earlier.

Was it days?

He squinted in the dark. He watched where he knew the cellphone was, on the ceiling of the car, to his right. If his right arm was free, had movement and was free, he could have picked up the cellphone and called. It was laying on its side, in the dark, and unless someone called and caused the panel to light up, he would not see the time and date display that would tell him whether it was hours or days that he’d hung here.

If it was days, they probably would have eaten him by now.

But he had not been at fault. He was not coming from a whorehouse, or even a night so late at work that his wife and children would be honestly and justifiably irate. He was not heading to or from any place where he’d used illicit drugs. He was not engaged in any pursuit more dangerous or unwholesome than his trip to the grocery store to get some milk, and, as it turned out, some doughnuts. They’d been out of milk, and it had been just past seven, and Jana had asked if he would mind going to get some milk, and he’d said of course not, and he’d driven to the store to get the milk, and had decided to get some doughnuts as well, a treat for the girls when they woke up in the morning. He’d even picked out a selection so that no matter what their tastes had become – 11 and 13 year-olds who overnight could develop an aversion to powdered sugar or jelly or to a doughnut without both – they could have gotten a doughnut they liked in the morning.

That was it, of course! It wasn’t days after all, it wasn’t even hours, it was probably not long at all because Jana would have missed him and notified someone and they were looking for him and they’d find him on this road because even though not many people lived down it, this road was the most likely way to take to the most likely grocery store to go to and so they’d find him because they’d see the wreck, he must be hallucinating or disoriented from the blood in his head, maybe he hit his head in the accident, maybe it was all just some sort of nightmare.

The cellphone buzzed. It was on vibrate, he always left it on vibrate so that it did not annoy people if he were to forget to turn it off in movies or restaurants. The cellphone buzzed and he spun his head to look at it, winced and his vision blurred. Hanging upside down meant that blood was not getting to the rest of his body, it was slowly filling up the inside of his head, draining from his feet and legs and hands and chest down to his head where his heart could not muster enough pressure to push it back out. His head was filling with blood that had no oxygen in it, and the new blood joining it with oxygen was quickly depleted and made the situation worse. When he turned his head so rapidly, it hurt. It more than hurt. It pummeled his mind. But he turned to look at the cellphone, which had rung – buzzed – at least four times before. It was buzzing and slowly turning on its axis.

As his vision cleared he realized that he could see the panel that would show time and date, but it showed now the number that was calling. Home. Jana was calling him.

“Jana,” he croaked. It was all he could do. The cellphone buzzed more, its panel slowly turning. The light it cast was bright, a miniature spotlight aiming out from the silver flipphone. As it buzzed again, it spun a little more, and the light silhouetted something.

He turned his head to see what was outlined in the light, but too quickly and his vision blurred again. All he saw was all he’d seen so far. It looked like a foot-tall silhouette of a manlike creature, standing there. It was pitchblack, had arms and legs and a body and a head but he could not make out detail, could never make out detail. It stood on the ceiling of the car that rested on the ground.

And it smiled at him and he saw sharp pointy white teeth as his vision cleared. Then the light from the cellphone shut off and he could not see the thing or the teeth or whether it had friends and he clenched his eyes shut.

With his eyes clenched shut, he sat there, willing the phone to ring again. He wrenched his body back and forth, back and forth, trying to wriggle free of the seatbelt that trapped him, trying to pull his dead right arm out of the restraint, to reach the cellphone. He pulled his left arm up lugubriously, slowly, because it felt like it was asleep. He put his hand over his face.

His hand was not, of course, big enough to cover his face. He spread his fingers out, splayed them, kept his eyes shut. He knew what it would do.

Then he felt it. On his right eyelid. Hot breath, something panting in front of his right eye.

It had been doing that for hours. Days? Hours, at least, maybe days. He suddenly realized that had he not been distracted by the thing in the light of the phone, then he would have just before the light went off seen the date and time and known how long he had been hanging here, but was drawn back to this moment by the hot breath on his eyelid.

“Don’t touch me,” he said. “Please.”

No answer. It had not yet answered. But it went away again. Maybe it could not answer.

What had gone wrong, if he had not been on an illicit errand, or acting recklessly, or being moronic? He’d been driving along, he’d had his seatbelt on, he had the radio off and was not even distracted by that. The headlights worked. The tires were relatively new. He drove out along the road that led from their relatively new subdivision out in the farms outside the city, had gone to the little urban-center mall that had a grocery store there, the grocery store that was somewhat more expensive than the big warehouse store 10 minutes further, but 10 minutes one way meant 20 extra total for the trip, and the savings on milk was minimal, so 20 minutes to save thirty cents? And he’d told himself that the newer, more upscale grocery store had the in-store bakery and he could get doughnuts as a surprise for the girls. They really were not even for him. He didn’t like doughnuts. He preferred muffins, had thought about buying some, had decided not to do so because he already was getting milk and doughnuts and did not want to spend too much, maybe feeling guilty about spending the extra money at the upscale store instead of driving twenty minutes more to spend less, was that the sin that had landed him in this predicament, greed, or conspicuous consumption?

The milk had been put in the back seat, on the floor, behind the driver’s seat. He did not know where it was now. The doughnuts had been on the passenger seat next to him, in the bakery box, and he could guess what had happened to them because there was jelly and sugar on the dashboard and he thought, when he craned his neck, that he could see them on the ceiling of the car off and behind to his right.

He didn’t like doughnuts, but he would have eaten the whole box now. He also wanted something to drink. He did not know how he’d drink it, upside down, but he wished he could have something to drink. He was terribly thirsty. Hours-later thirsty or days-later thirsty he wondered and then tried to put that thought out of his mind, it was not helpful, not now, but maybe it was because if he knew if it was hours or days then he would know whether he should expect help soon or whether there was no help coming.

Because if it was days, there was no help coming.

Take inventory. That might help him. He could catalog things that helped mark the passage of time. He thought for a second.

Was it lighter out? No. He had seen no evidence that it was darker or lighter out. It was late fall, so the sun had been down and it had been night when he left. What were the odds that he had blacked out or slept through an entire night and day or more, so that he’d woken again only at night? Not much chance of that, he thought.

And he felt that he had not been there long because his head had only recently begun pounding. If he’d been there a day, or two, or more – how had two or more days become an option he wondered—wouldn’t all the blood have already rushed to his head? He thought he’d read, once, that you couldn’t hang upside down for an entire day because your leg muscles can pump blood back up to your heart but your arms and shoulders and head can’t, so the blood doesn’t circulate when you’re upside down…

He moved on.

He was thirsty, but not dehydrated yet, right? A person dies of thirst in two or three or four days…

He moved on.

He did not have to urinate. He’d eaten and drank a regular amount of food and water the day of the accident. Surely if it had been more than a few hours, he would have a full bladder, at least. Would hanging upside down help that? He suddenly panicked and wondered if he was paralyzed, and wiggled his feet. He could not see them, up above his head, but he felt his foot tap the floor of the car putt putt putt that faced the ceiling, felt that, he was sure.

How many times had it come? He wasn’t sure. He had only become aware of it gradually, a scurrying at the edge of his vision, a flitter here and a poke there. Then it had touched his head, and he hadn’t been sure what that had been, had turned towards it and not seen anything at first. It had become more bold as time passed, coming closer, letting him see it, just barely, against the ambient light that seeped in the car, some of which he thought was reflecting from a headlight of the car.

At first, he’d thought it was a squirrel or bird or mouse. Then he’d worried that it was a rat or raccoon, but it did not sound large enough. Then he’d felt it poking him. Then he’d seen it.

A few times it had approached him, and he thought he was hallucinating, and it had breathed on him while he tried to focus his eyes, which grew swimmy and runny when he tried to move to quickly.

Thinking about it scared him. He did not know what it was, but knew that the thing had not tried to help him.

He looked at the phone again. Had it vibrated closer?

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and readied himself. Then he did what he’d tried a few times before.

First, he reached with his left hand, as far as he could, towards the cell phone. Why hadn’t he kept it in his pants pocket? He wondered. He took it out in the car because it was always on vibrate, and he missed calls by leaving it in his pocket in the car. It didn’t rest against his leg in the pocket while he sat. So he set it on the console between seats. And now it was two inches away from his left hand. Just two inches… just two inches.

He reached and stretched, squinting and gasping as he strained against the seatbelt. He reached further, trying to figure out how to brace himself or twist to give himself the extra two inches, the phone just out of his reach.

He almost had it when he saw the thing. Standing just on the other side of the phone. It stood on two legs. It was silhouetted in the dark, of course, just like each time. He wondered if it was pitchblack like that or if it was the lighting. How could a thing have no features? It was like a human-shaped inkblot. Its arms hung down to where its knees would be, almost, and its legs appeared to be made of one long limb, no knee. It had a head that was too small and weirdly shaped. He reached for the phone, and thrust his chest forward frantically as he realized why it was standing there.

It smiled.

It smiled its white-tooth smile, and his two smallest fingers splayed apart, leaving the other two pointing towards the phone, as though by spreading his hand farther apart he could lengthen the reach of those two. He leaned more, and his right arm pinched harder and he gasped with pain, but he almost had it and then the thing pulled the phone an inch further away.

He stopped and stared in shock. It had pulled the phone – but just far enough that he could conceivably still reach it. It was taunting him.

It still smiled.

He lunged forward again, trying to grasp the phone, arm across his body, and at his farthest reach, felt something thin and white-hot touch him and pulled his hand back and saw that his index finger and middle finger were missing the portion beyond the last joint and were bleeding profusely. He screamed then, as the pain hit him. It had bitten him so fast and so cleanly that his hand had pulled back before the agony hit his brain. He watched the blood spurt out of them, and jammed the severed finger tips against his shirt to try to staunch the blood flow. His howl died down hoarsely.

Through eyes gummed with tears and pain, he saw the thing step over the phone and over the two fingertips it had bitten off onto the ceiling of the car, and walk closer. He closed his eyes. He felt its breath on his face but he could not move his left hand because he did not want to bleed to death.

Its breath stopped and he opened his eyes. It was gone. His hand hurt. He pressed the fingers harder into his chest and thought. He could still see the phone. He thought about what he was wearing.

His left sleeve. It was slightly torn. He was wearing an old Bears sweatshirt, with a frayed cuff on the left sleeve. He pulled his hand away, felt the blood flow, and pushed it back against his chest again. Slowly, he dragged his hand up his chest until it passed his shoulders and he was pressing his pulled-up sweatshirt against his neck, still feeling the blood seep into the fabric but slowly. He bent his wrist, caught the cuff in his mouth, and worked it until he could grip the cuff firmly in his teeth. When he had it as tightly as he could, he yanked his hand back, quickly, and heard a tearing sound. The cuff came free, a shred of sweatshirt pulling off and hanging from his mouth. His hand felt like it was filled with fire, and he could feel his pulse coursing through his forearm and shooting blood out the two fingertips. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he brought his hand up, blood pumping onto his face briefly, and grasped the end of the torn cuff in between his two middle fingers. He wound it around the two fingers as tightly as he could. Lacking any way to tie a knot, he just clenched the fingers together to hold the fabric twist that way, and was relieved to see the blood stop pumping out. His fingers began to numb almost instantly. But he was not losing blood anymore.

He looked at the phone again.

If Jana was still calling, it could not have been too long, right? Just long enough to worry her.

“Jana,” he mumbled.

He tried to swallow and could not and looked at the phone.

It buzzed and began to vibrate again. He watched it. The first buzz. It would ring 4 times before going to voice mail. When the thing had pulled it, it had turned the phone so he could not see the screen that showed time and date or the phone number. Instead, the phone was pointed away from him and sent a flare of blue light out and in that blue light he saw the thing standing on the ceiling of the car back by the windshield.

The phone buzzed a second time. The thing watched it, he thought, but he could not see eyes or features. Just smooth black skin or hide. It was a three-dimensional shadows.

The phone buzzed a third time. He kept his hand pressed against his chest, clutching the fabric that kept his blood in, and tried to gauge his move, watch the thing. As the third buzz ended, without even taking a breath, he shot his wounded hand out and twisted his body, pain arcing through his right side and a flaring spot of red incendiary pain blooming behind his eyes, but he tried to ignore that and threw himself as well as he could towards the phone and grabbed it, he grabbed it and flipped it open and yelled “JANA!”

And it was on him, it rushed at him and was biting his hand and grabbing the phone and pulling it away and he screamed as the feeling of the bite sunk in, and he felt new bleeding start, plus his hand opened up and the sweatshirt cuff fell away and his fingers throbbed into horrifying feeling as blood pumped through them.

The phone lay between him and it, then, the thing backing off, the phone still flipped open, his hand bleeding and torn and blood flowing out, and he stopped screaming as he realized that it was still open. In the light the phone cast, he saw the thing, standing back on the other side of the phone.

He stared at it, standing stock still, and he would have thought it was staring at him but it did not have eyes he could see.

In the light of the phone, in that second, he saw its head move or rotate, and the thought chewing fluttered into his mind. Chewing me.

In that second or two, he also realized that it did not know what the phone was or how it worked. He realized that because it jumped back when a voice, Jana’s voice came through the phone.

“Steven?” she asked. “Steve?”

It was another heartbeat while he looked at it and then the phone and it looked at the phone and then it rushed forward towards him and he yelled as fast as he could and as loud as he could “Jana I’ve been in an accident and they’re after me and help Jana God I love you” and that last part seemed important to say because it had grabbed the phone and ran, and he lunged for the phone again, tried to grab it or the phone because Jana was talking on the phone and he yelled and screamed nothing coherent and thrashed, his right arm still twistingly pinned on his side and firing bolts of pain through him and he heard the phone clatter against the glass of the window and heard again:

“Steven? What’s going on?” and when Jana said that he howled again and said

“Help me send help” and then thought he’d heard Jana say are you okay but it was all quiet and dark and it was gone again and had taken the phone.

He sat there, upside down, panting, and feeling blood spurt from his hand, the pain of the bites and missing fingertips. He wondered where it had gone, and whether the phone was gone out of the car or just out of his sight. He wondered if it would know to close it.

“Jana! Jana if you can hear me I was coming from the grocery store and there was an accident and I need help! Send help!” He yelled that several times until his voice gave out and he had to rest.

In the silence, he heard his pulse and his breathing and nothing else. He thought the phone was gone.

But she’d heard him. He didn’t know what she’d heard, but he knew she’d heard him. An accident, and them, and help, he was sure he’d gotten those points across and she’d be calling 911 right now, telling them where he’d been headed and they’d send people out looking for him.

His whole right side felt like it was being torn apart. He could feel the blood flowing freely from his hand, but he was happy now, as happy as he could be. Someone was coming. Someone would be coming. All he had to do was hang in a little longer, ignore his spinning aching head and the numbness and pain and someone would come and the thing would be scared and not come back.

He suddenly jerked and looked around. It was too dark. He could not see anything. Had the headlight he thought was still burning gone out? Was it getting darker outside? The moon setting?

He just had to wait until someone came. What would it be, 20 minutes, tops?

Twenty minutes, tops. That’s all he had to wait.

He kept trying to look around, see if the thing was coming back, as he tried to figure out how to count down the time. Twenty minutes was 1,200 seconds. Count to 1,200, slowly. That would keep his mind off of things.

He began.

One… two… three… four…

Something bit him on the left shoulder. He turned his head that way, stopped counting and turned and felt a jolt through his neck and shoulder as he did so and thought he felt movement or saw movement but it was so dark. There was no doubt, though, the thing had bitten him, through the sweatshirt, and gouged out a piece of flesh. He heard the blood drip just above his head, falling onto the ceiling of the car.

Twenty minutes. He could hold on until then.

Five… six… seven…and he heard something. He opened his eyes as wide as he could. What did he hear? He could not see anything.

He felt warmth near his cheek and did not dare turn his head, both because it hurt to do so and because he did not want to touch the thing.

He listened.

It was sniffing.

It was sniffing him.

He sat still. In his mind he picked up again. Eight… nine… ten…The sniffing continued but it moved a little. Then he felt a poke on his right shoulder, felt the pain claw through the dull dense numbness that had set in there. Eleven… twelve… thirteen… and it bit him. It sunk its teeth into him and pulled and tore the sweatshirt and flesh off and then having done that, he could feel the skin torn, it lapped at the bloody pulp underneath.

It lapped at his blood and skin and then tore off the rest of the skin and he could not hear it anymore.

He tried to swallow. He couldn’t. He started up his count. Fourteen… fifteen… sixteen.

He heard movement. He heard steps, little skittering steps. They were going back and forth in front of him. Steps to the right. Then back to the left, then to the right. Never going as far as they could.

He thought it sounded like someone pacing. Then he saw. There was light coming in, and he saw. There was the thing, in front of him, about a foot in front of him. It stood in front of him, silhouetted by the light, and beckoned to its side. It waved its arm. In its other arm, it held something. He watched as it carried its bundle a little to his right, and held it up. Then it moved back left. That was the sound he’d heard, this lone figure pacing with its parcel.

The light grew closer, and he realized that there was light and wanted to see where it was coming from but as it grew closer he saw the thing open its mouth, those white white teeth all pointy, and saw it hold its bundle up and realized it was holding his skin, and saw it tear off a piece and eat it, and then beckon again.

He looked to his right, then, not to see the light but to see what it was calling to. He did see the light, though, it was his cellphone, still open, and he heard Jana’s voice.

“… if you can hear me, I’ve called someone on my cellphone, I don’t want to hang up, listen to me Steven just keep listening, someone’s on their way I’ve called 911…”

and Jana kept talking but Steven did not hear her for a moment because the phone was set down and more things began walking past it, one two three ten twenty more and more and more until they almost completely blocked out the light from the phone and he was facing a crowd of them, dozens, maybe, budging in and jostling and elbowing each other and the one that had beckoned them in was in front of them. He still could not make out any detail, but he saw the one beckoning hold up the piece of his skin again and tear off another piece and gesture with it.

Gesturing towards him with it. It waved the skin at him, at them, at him again, and then ate another bite.

In the background, he heard Jana talking still, trying to keep it going somehow, to maintain contact with him from home:

“… just try to take deep breaths they said that they’d send a bunch of people looking for you so it won’t be very long now and I love you Steven and the girls love you and it’ll all be fine…”

He watched as the front thing took a final bite and waved the piece of his flesh over its head. Jana’s voice went on but his throat went dry before he could try to respond to her. He was glad, then, that he’d said earlier that he loved her because as Jana’s voice continued coming from the phone, he saw mouth after mouth after mouth open up, smile, all those white white teeth opened up and pointed at him and moved forward as they understood what the beckoning one had shown them.

The Window (Complete Story)

A rock thrown through a window in an abandoned shed let something out... something that's beyond the ability of one young boy to cope with.

Click here to read

The Window

(complete story) for free.

Here's an excerpt:

The shed was not even used anymore. Dan and Jared were not sure when it had ever been used.

They weren't supposed to go near it.

"Rusty, rotten thing," Jared's mom called it. "Hunk of crap," Jared's dad called it.
Dan's parents did not talk about it much ever since Dan a year or two ago had
reported to Jared that his parents had suggested getting a petition to get Jared's
parents to get rid of it and Jared's parents had stopped talking to Dan's for two

The shed stood near the back of Jared's yard and had been there for as long as he
could remember, which at 12 was not that much in reality but was an infinite
amount of time as far as Jared was concerned. Jared's parents had not built the
shed, which was locked shut and had been for a long time because teenagers had
snuck in there, long ago, and used it to drink and do drugs, and Jared's parents
had been worried about that. Jared remembered that. It was about his earliest
memory of the shed.

He wondered then, and later, why his parents had locked the door but not
removed the shed.


Click here to read The Window for free.

Ghosts. There Are Ghosts. (Complete Story)

Father Wentley is surrounded by ghosts. They've come to his church, and they're trying to tell him something. What is it they want from him?

Here's the introduction: Click here to download this entire story on Scribd.


That’s what I said,” Father Albert Wentley said into the phone. “There are ghosts.”

There was a pause while he listened to the voice on the other end of the line. He looked at the door to his office. He looked at the window, shades drawn. He looked at the desk.

“Don’t tell me it sounds crazy. First of all, I know it sounds crazy. Second of all,why does it sound crazy? It shouldn’t. We believe in spirits, after all. We believe in souls. We believe in an afterlife, and ghosts are part of what comes… after… life.” He deliberately slowed down his words for the last part, emphasizing what comes next.

Another pause.

He looked at the pen that he tapped in his hand. He looked at the door again. He didn’t turn his eyes forward to look in front of his desk. “I know that it’s not traditional doctrine. But they are here.”

Pause. Looking around.

Then he spoke again: “I won’t go to a doctor.”


Read this and more on Scribd.

Check out other things I've written

You Know What Happens After Dark (Complete Story)

Freddy was a little to close to her friend when she died... and now that friend has to help Freddy fight off a fate worse than death. The complete story is available to read on this site (page down or click here) or you can download it on Scribd by clicking here.

You Know What Happens After Dark (Complete Story)

Freddy was a little to close to her friend when she died... and now that friend has to help Freddy fight off a fate worse than death. The complete story is available to read on this site (page down or click here) or you can download it on Scribd by clicking here.

You Know

What Happens After Dark

Freddy felt the dead people the most at night.

That was the only way she could put it.

When she understood what was happening, that is.

Like most stories about dead people and their re-entry into this world, Freddy’s story begins with the usual: It wasn’t always that way.

Part One: When it began…

Freddy was 20 years old, and newly out on her own. She’d moved out of her parents house at 19 and ½, and moved out of her ex-boyfriend’s house just three weeks after that. Too proud to tell her parents they’d been right (or even let them think it if she’d gone back to them and said she needed her old room back) she’d spent two nights on the street before finding a small apartment near the restaurant she worked second shift at.

“So at least I got a place to go home to tonight,” she said to Lois, who had an old-lady name but was Freddy’s age. The two usually worked together at the restaurant, which tried very hard to recall the spirit of a 1950’s diner while trying not at all to use the prices set back then. They were standing in the entryway under the overhanging awning, with Lois lighting a cigarette and eyeing the misty rain that was falling.

“You sure you don’t want a ride?” she asked Freddy. Freddy pulled her hood up and shook her head back and forth once.

“Uh uh. I’ll be fine. It’s not far. I don’t get cold that easy.” She waved to Lois and began walking into the rain. Lois called back, “Just lemme finish my smoke. I’m going that way anyway!”

But Freddy waved her off and kept walking. It was almost midnight and the streets were quiet. The streetlights fuzzed in the misted sky and didn’t quite cast enough light to show her where she was going. They looked to her like larger, closer stars. She thought they were pretty like that.

She tucked her hands into the pocket in the front of her sweatshirt, just under the UCLA across the chest. She hummed a little, tunelessly, as she walked, head down.

A horn honked, right next to her, causing her to jump. She turned to her left and saw Lois, in her parents’ car, pulling alongside her.

“C’mon, get in here,” Lois said. “You’ll get soaked.”

“I don’t mind walking, really,” said Jenny. She didn’t like to ride with Lois. Lois was not a good driver. Plus she thought Lois might be a little high tonight. She’d seemed unusually happy and jumpy.

“Suit yourself,” said Lois, and turned the volume on the CD player up to where Freddy could hear the thump-thump-thump of the bass in the song but nothing else. Lois waved through the passenger window as it rolled up. She floored it and sped off, turning the corner a block up almost on two wheels already.

Freddy, later, would think that she was lucky to have not gotten into the car with Lois that night.

Not long after that, Freddy would wish that she had gotten into the car.

Freddy walked slowly home that night, underneath the starlike lamps along the curb, lost in her own thoughts, many of them just the mundane thoughts any twenty year old girl would have, and many of them skirting around the subject of her only-recently-ex boyfriend and many more of them fluttering past the question of when she would tell Mom that they’d broken up. It hadn’t even been anything big that broke them up. She thought maybe that it was just that she didn’t want to live with anyone.

She was almost at her apartment building when she heard the thump-thump-thump of that song again. Lois’ song, whatever it was she’d been playing. She looked up and saw the back end of Lois’ car, its brake lights shining at her like two sleepy eyes.

The front was engulfed in smoke, or steam, something white anyway, that billowed from the crumpled hood and rose up into the tree Lois had driven into. Freddy rushed up, pushing her hood back off of her face.

“Lois! Lois!” she screamed. “Somebody call 911! Help!” She got to the door and peered into the driver’s window. Lois was slumped against the steering wheel. Her arms hung limply on her lap. She wasn’t moving. Freddy pulled at the door handle. It stuck but she kept tugging and got the door open.

Don’t move her she thought, but how could you not? How were you supposed to check if she’s okay if you couldn’t move her? And why don’t I have a cell phone? She leaned in. “Lois?” she said. Then louder. Off in the distance she thought she heard a siren. She touched Lois’ shoulder. It was warm but there was no movement. The CD Lois had been listening too kept playing, driving that insistent beat into Freddy’s mind.

“Lois, are you, can you move?” Freddy knelt down on the wet ground, water soaking into her knees. She smelt gas and wondered if the car would blow up. She reached for Lois’ face and felt something wet. And warm. She touched Lois’ face, or tried to, but her hand went in and then she saw blood running down her arm.

She jerked her hand back, hissing her breath in, and as she did she bumped Lois – Don’t move her – and Lois leaned back in the driver’s seat. Her face was smashed in, like a doll’s face when it’s stepped on. Blood pooled in the concave cheek. Freddy couldn’t breathe at first, and thought she might throw up. She felt faint.

“Freddy,” Lois said, the word gurgling through the broken jaw and shards of teeth that tumbled out of her mouth. Freddy fell back on her legs and stared. How could she be alive? She almost said it out loud. She didn’t say anything. “Freddy, help me,” Lois said.

“I don’t know how,” Freddy said. Lois tried to lift a hand. Freddy saw her arm tense and her shoulder jerk, and saw the flash of pain through Lois’ eyes, which were growing cloudy. The only result of all that effort on Lois’ part was a slight flutter of one finger. Freddy saw it, though, and reached out her own hand, slowly. Lois just stared at her as Freddy took Lois’ hand in hers, and interlocked her fingers.

“I heard sirens, Lois. Someone’s coming,” she said. “Are you okay?” Such a stupid question! Lois tried to shake her head and instead gurgled up more blood. “Don’t move,” Freddy hurried to say. “Don’t move.” She couldn’t think what else to say.

“Freddy?” A question. Freddy leaned in.


“Freddy…” Freddy leaned closer. She felt her hand gripped only a little tighter by Lois. “I know … I can see how…” she trailed off and choked on her blood. More pieces of teeth dropped out of her mouth. Her chest convulsed.

“Don’t talk,” Freddy said. She was starting to cry. Lois just stared at her. “Don’t talk. It’ll be okay. Just rest.”

“Don’t…,” Lois said, and clenched Freddy’s hand tightly. Freddy felt that, but watched Lois’ eyes, which seemed to flash briefly.

“Look,” said Lois. Her eyes went dull. There was no more gurgling. Her chest, which had only slightly been moving, did not even do that anymore. The hand still held Freddy’s tightly, but it felt different. Like cardboard. The life was gone.

The dead don’t close their eyes when they die. We have to do that for them. Freddy didn’t know that. She didn’t know to do that, and didn’t know why that ever started.

Even though, in most cases, it is too late for the dead to do anything, even though in most cases it has been some time before someone closes their eyes, the person who finds a dead body always closes the eyes. And nobody ever looks a dying man, woman, or child, in the eyes.

Freddy didn’t know that. She held Lois’ hand in hers, and cried, and waited for the ambulance. And when the drivers pulled her away and put Lois’ body on the stretcher and closed her eyes, it was too late by far.

Part Two: The sound of paper tearing…

woke Freddy up. And just in time. Her dreams were not something she would have wanted to continue that night.

Newsprint does not rip cleanly in both directions. It can be ripped straight up and down in one direction, but cannot be torn precisely in a horizontal line.

There were no images in her dreams. No people, no guns, no scary trees or gravestones. There were colors, flowing like rivers and dripping like blood. Dripping from where, she didn’t know. And the colors… she could not identify the colors. When she woke she knew they were colors, but could not have told anyone what colors they were. If the purple and greens of a bruise were eaten and regurgitated by the dull blue of a vein under the skin, and then mixed with the pallid yellow of old grease, the pallet might have shown the shades of her dream.

She woke to the sound of tearing paper, the sound of a page being ripped in two. She sat up in her room.

“Lois,” she said, and then was quiet again. Her heart beat, but only slowly. She was aware of her pulse in her ears. She heard it, and waited… waited… waited too long, and there it was again. She was scared. She felt scared. Her hands were clenched, she was sweaty, she was breathing in gasps, but her pulse was slowed down?

She thought something was moving in the corner of the room and turned to look. There was nothing there. Her apartment was as yet to empty to even have a chair or pile of clothing that could make her start with fear until she realized what it was. There was also enough light from the window that she was not fooled by shadows.

Then she thought something was moving in the other corner of the room, and looked back to her left. Again, there was simply nothing there. It was not that she was neat, but she had not unpacked yet and all that stood in that corner was the box in which she’d moved her clothes.

Again, off to her right. She turned her head and then felt her pulse again.

Did my heart not beat for that long? That was impossible. It had been too long. She sat there, waiting for the next beat, trying to ignore whatever shadow was dancing at the corner of her vision, just off to her periphery, now on the right, now on the left. It jumped around in her eyesight, in her head. She tried to ignore it, waited, waited, waited, how long had it been? And finally it came.

She didn’t know how long it had actually been. It couldn’t have been more than a second or two, right?

A flash of light outside.

She looked to her left where there was something again, and realized it was starting over. There’s nothing there. I’m just shaken up. That was what people always told themselves in situations like this. It’s just your imagination, there’s nothing there, there’s nothing wrong. And they told themselves that because it was true.

Those colors.

She thought about the colors in her dreams. She shuddered. She felt another heartbeat.

If she was shaken up, nobody had told her heart, which continued languidly beating when it felt like it. She stood up and walked towards the bedroom door. A shadow flitted across her eyesight, from left to right, and she turned her head almost involuntarily to watch it as it passed out of her peripheral vision. She reached out for the doorknob.

Yes! Something said that. Something thought that. She wasn’t sure what it was. She felt it like a push in the back, heard it like a shout in her head. It made her pull her hand back.

There was no movement now. There were no sounds now. Her heart beat again. She looked at the door. It sat there, waiting.

“This is …” she began, but did not know what this was. She reached out and opened the door.

She heard the ripping sound again and turned around. Then her head hurt like someone had kicked it and she fell over.

“Lois,” she said as she put her hands to her face.

Part Three: She did not wake again…

Until the late afternoon. When she did, she at first wondered why she was laying on the floor in front of her bedroom door.

She remembered the colors. She remembered the pain in her head, which was gone now, entirely gone without even the dull ache that sometimes was left after a sickness or hangover. She remembered someone saying “yes.”

She sat up sharply and looked at her bedroom door. It was open just a tiny sliver. She knelt, carefully, and looked at the space between the door and the jamb. She looked through it. She held her breath and peered through the tiny crack into the other room in her apartment. The only other room in her apartment.

She felt like someone was out there. She could see the stove. It sat there, like it had the whole short time she’d rented the apartment.

She could see the edge of the refrigerator. There was nothing there.

She could not see the front door.

As she sat there peering through the doorway, she realized that she had not yet felt her heartbeat. She pressed her fingers to her neck and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And there it was. How long had that been?

Suddenly she gasped and drew in a breath, breathing in and in and in until she felt like her lungs would burst. Then she blew it all out.

Her ears clogged up. She felt like there was cotton in them.

Then she exhaled and her ears were fine.

And she felt another heartbeat.

When she’d exhaled, her breath had pushed the bedroom door shut a little. She couldn’t see through the crack in the doorway anymore. The light coming in through the window was growing more orange and the outline of the window painted in the sunset-light was climbing ever higher on her wall.

She didn’t want to go through the door into the other room.

But she didn’t want to sit in this room, either.

Should I close the door?

She had been asleep – unconscious – for most of the night next to the bedroom door, which was neither locked nor lockable. If something (why something? Why’d I think it’s a thing? She wondered) if something was out there, it could have just come into the bedroom, right?

Or it could have left?


“Who said that?” she asked.

There was no answer. She sat back and waited. She felt her heartbeat again. Was it slowing down?

She sat there long enough to grow thirsty, and hungry. She had been sitting there just staring at the door until she realized that the light from the window had reached nearly the ceiling and that it would soon be dark. She did not want to have to face whatever was in the next room in the dark. And she did not want to have to sit here all night wondering what was in the other room.

And she’d been trying to time her heartbeats with no clock and no watch here, her watch lying on the counter next to the stove, probably, where she usually left it. She was sure they were slowing down. She’d been counting between them, one Mississippi two Mississippi and they’d been getting slower, or her counting had been getting faster. But she’d spent most of the day sitting here and trying to think whether she should go through the door.

She’d had other things to occupy her mind, too, like the shadows appearing on the edge of her vision. And once she’d begun smelling popcorn, for no reason. She heard snatches of music and her muscles twitched.

She thought I should just open the door and go into that room and see what’s there.

And with that her heart beat three times in a row and a thrill ran up her spine, the shudder almost throwing her into the door.

And that scared her because she was not excited about going out there but something was.

She put her hand on the door. There was a lump in her throat. She put her fingers on the doorknob. Her lips grew dry. Her heart beat again, but she didn’t let that distract her. She twisted the knob and held it, ready to pull open, but not open, for a second, a minute, long enough for her pulse to throb in her ear again, and with that she ripped the door open and threw it back and threw herself into the next room.

It was empty.

She sat up and looked around. It was empty. The window was closed, the front door was closed (and, she saw, chained shut so nobody had left while she’d been in the other room), her kitchen was clean, her keys and her watch were, in fact, on the counter. Next to the stove. Where she’d put them… last night.

Last night.

“Who said that, now?” she said, and stood up. She looked around. She’d heard a voice. She knew she’d heard a voice. She’d heard it and felt it, again.

Unbidden, an image of Lois in her car came into her mind.

Freddy was not a stupid girl. She was not superstitious. She did not believe in voodoo or curses and probably not in an afterlife of any kind, but she was not stupid.

“Lois?” she said. She turned around once more.

Despite not believing in an afterlife, she called Lois’ name again. She heard nothing.

She was growing ravenous. The light outside was growing more orange and more pink, and the thought popped into her head that she should eat. She walked towards the refrigerator and opened it, but that helped her not at all. She had not put anything in it lately, and was not the best at grocery shopping anyway. Working in a restaurant, she tended to eat her meals there and not do much cooking when away from there.

“I could go out, get something,” she said to herself. And with that her heart began beating thumpthumpthumpthump and her legs actually spasmed, bent themselves towards the door and her hands fluttered. Her vision was momentarily overcome by a flash of light, light that did not come from her kitchen overhead lamp or the sunset, light that came from somewhere else entirely.


“Lois?” She turned around again. And she felt a shove. Or thought she felt a shove. Or thought about a shove. She was not clear. But she fell to her knees and her brain felt sore.

As she stood up again, she felt different. She felt nauseous. A few moments before she had been ready to eat. Now she felt as though she was going to throw up.

Her eyes felt heavy.

Her hands felt heavy.

Her head hurt.

She stood there and swayed back and forth. She heard a rushing of blood in her head, in her ears, and felt her heart beat faster and faster, then slowed back down to something resembling a normal rhythm. Her skin tingled and then went cold and clammy.

“Lois?” she asked.

Lois isn’t here.

She had not heard that. She was sure of that. She …saw it, in her mind. That was not quite right. The sentence, Lois isn’t here was in her mind, in her memory, as though she had once heard someone say it long ago and only now just thought of it.

“Who is that?”

Go outside.

“Who is that?” Her stomach crumpled and she bent double. Stars filled her vision and tears forced themselves out of her eyes and she fell to her knees.

She lay there, shuddering, and felt her skin grown warm again, warming slowly. Her heartbeat slowed back down.

Part Four: Not wanting to think

About what was happening to her, Freddy lay there for a long time. Her skin made its way slowly back to room temperature. Her heartbeat slowed down, and down, and down.

After a while, she was warm and lethargic and felt like she would not be able to stand up.

She lay on her back and looked over her shoulder at the door. She was still hungry. The door was upside down in her sight, locked and chained.

Don’t go.

The memory of a voice again. Her heart beat. Once. She waited for it to beat again, gave up.

Who was talking? She wondered. Who had been talking?

She remembered the night before, Lois’ face, and Lois’ words.

“Don’t,” she’d said. Her eyes were still alive then.

What else had she said?

Freddy’s head began to ache. Her heart beat once… twice. Then not again for a while. Freddy waited.

What else had Lois said?

“Look,” Freddy said aloud. “Don’t. Look.”

What did that mean?

Her heart beat three times in a row, fast, then not again. Her eyes fluttered. She looked at the door again, felt as though it was calling to her. Her legs pushed against the carpet, and she skidded on her back a few inches closer to the door.



The words sounded in her head like the tones she heard when she was little, and her parents argued in the kitchen below her bedroom. She could hear the words, then, only if she wanted to. Otherwise she heard the tone of voices. These were like that.


That was Lois!

Her legs convulsed again and her heart raced. She felt clammy. The heat was sucked away from the room. She inched closer to the door. Her right arm flung up over her head and towards the door. It landed on the floor and she stared at it.

Her heart was beating again.


“Lois?” Freddy wanted to look around the room but she couldn’t. Her eyes stayed locked on the door. But she knew Lois wasn’t there anyway.

A flicker out of the corner of her eye. The sound of paper tearing. Her heart beat and beat and beat and hurt in her chest. More paper tearing. Her eyes teared up. The room grew so cold she thought she would see her breath, only it wasn’t the room. It was her. The cold came from inside her, in her head.

Fight Freddy Fight

Her vision blurred. Her legs tensed up. Her heels dug into the ground. She pushed forward. Her heart pushed even harder and then the world went black.

(While she was unconscious, while she slept, had she been awake, had she been able to see, she would have seen her body shake, like someone trying to wake it up. She would have seen her legs flop like they were being jolted with electricity. She would have seen her eyes flutter open and her mouth work itself and her eyes closed.)

(Freddy did not see that. She was unaware of that.)

It was dark when she woke up again. It was nearly pitch black. She was lying on her side. It was the darkest part of the night. Her lips were dry and she was warm. She listened for her pulse. She didn’t hear it. She looked around the room and sat up. She was dizzy and thirsty and starving.

She looked at the door, and then at the window. Both still locked. Am I sick? She wondered. She must be sick. She must have had a seizure.

She wondered how long she’d been in her apartment. It had been at least a day, because it had been light when she was last awake, and it had been dark when she’d come home. Lois! She remembered. Lois was dead.

The world spun around her.


She looked around in the dark. This time it was almost as though she’d heard the voice, almost as though it was there. Could a person hallucinate noises?

Her hands trembled.

I don’t have much time. I can’t do much. Freddy listen.

Both hands were trembling. She felt her heart beat twice in a row and then not again. She shivered.

It’s easier at night.

It was Lois. Lois was talking to her. Freddy grew dizzy.

Don’t faint.

Freddy tried to sit up. Her arms lurched towards the door.

STOP IT! Lois yelled, but Freddy only knew that she yelled. She didn’t hear her, and the voice, Lois’ voice or thoughts weren’t as clear as they’d been. It was like Lois had backed away, or was on the other side of a door.

She’s ours.

She’s mine.

Freddy’s heart beat rapidly. Her arms threw themselves at the door again. Her eyes closed and her back arched and she fell over and hit her head on the floor, hard. She saw stars.

Then it grew warm again and her eyes closed. Her heart slowed down and was almost imperceptible again.

It’s easer if they can’t see out.



“Where are you?”

I’m here.


I can’t do much Freddy don’t waste time you have to help me.

“Help you what?”

Kill you.

Freddy sucked in her breath. That couldn’t be Lois.

It’s not said another voice. She felt her chest tighten. She heard a rush of air in her ears. Her eyes snapped open and she saw shadows flit away from her sight.

It’s easier if you can see us she heard.

Get away she recognized Lois, the feel of Lois. The thought of her. It was the same person who’d said she wanted to kill her.

A flick of darkness went across her vision. She sat up suddenly, but not because she wanted to. Her back muscles clenched and held her upright. Her head slowly turned to look at the door, or where the door would be if it weren’t too dark to see it.

She watched as her body leaned forward. Her hands had been laying in her lap. They lifted up limply on the ends of her arms as she leaned towards the door. She leaned more and more until she fell forward onto her hands. She wanted to yelp in pain, her wrists jamming into her arms. But her mouth would not work.

Leaning there she rose to her knees. Her jaw clenched and unclenched. Her eyes blinked over and over. Then they closed and she felt a warmth wash over her.


She felt herself flung to the side and then grew cold again. Laying on her side, her arms flopped in front of her, she felt her stomach wrench and she rolled over onto her chest. Her arms pulled back slowly and she rose onto her hands again, and she could only watch as her body moved like a marionette.

Her heart beat like an alarm clock hammer in her chest. She thought it would push right through her ribs. She was on her hands and knees now. Her head looked up, pulled back slowly as though someone was clenching the back of her skull. Her eyes watered with the tension of her muscles, her body rigid like rigor mortis.

She crawled slowly forward, stiffly, lurching. Her eyes misted over and the tears down her cheeks felt icy. She could hear the sound of rushing water in her ears. Two three four inches forward. Her hands were bent underneath her arms; she was walking on the backs of her hands, her wrists. She could feel pain shooting up through them. Her knees did not lift off of the ground but scraped over the thin threadbare carpet. Her head was pulled back at a ninety degree angle to her spine. Her eyes fluttered and then were pulled open. Her jaw hurt from being held tightly shut.

She bumped her nose into the door. She hadn’t seen it, couldn’t have seen it in the dark and her tears which were leaving dry, cold tracks on her face. Her face pushed into the wood of the door, scraping the end of her nose. Her body finally stopped pushing forward.

She sat there motionless. She breathed in small gasps and did not breathe out as often as in. She felt full of stale air. Resting on her knees and wrists, she sat back suddenly. She saw the flickering shadows around her eyes now, more and more flitting back and forth at the edge of her mind.

Her left hand swung up over her head, then down to the floor again. Mentally, she winced when her hand hit the floor, hard, and she thought it might be broken. Her arm lifted up more slowly, shaking with effort, and stopped at shoulder level. She felt her fingers clench into a fist, then spread out in a splay, and she felt her arm slowly swing around.

She felt the doorknob, metal against her hand. Her arm stopped.

The rushing in her ears grew louder. The flickering around her eyes grew quicker, closer, giving her tunnel vision. She saw spots and a small glimmer of streetlight off the doorknob and then her hand closed on it. She clenched it in her fist.

Her heart beat and beat and beat and she gasped in air and filled her lungs and her heart stopped. Her vision swum and her mind screamed. She fell over and her hand came off the doorknob.

Part Five: It wasn’t so bad

During the day, and when the dead weren’t talking to her or trying to use her.

Sometimes Lois had enough strength to talk to her.

Freddy had made it back to her bed. She’d laid in her bed the rest of the morning, that first morning after the night she’d almost opened the door. She thought that had been a day or two after Lois’ car crash, but wasn’t sure anymore.

She’d crawled back to her bed, feeling warm and drowsy and sick to her stomach, and laid on her bed for a few minutes. Just about ready to fall asleep, as the sun rose outside her bedroom window, she’d opened her eyes slightly and saw, through her bedroom doorway, the door to the outside. She’d seen the chain on it, and the doorknob. And she saw her palm print on the doorknob, a smudge.

That’s not enough she heard. She got up. She could barely walk. She’d pushed her bedroom door closed. She’d dragged her suitcase and a small chair and then her bed over in front of the bedroom door, barricading herself in, and flopped onto the bed.

That first day, while she’d slept, she’d done something. She woke up to find the mattress pushed away from her bedroom door and a bruise on her leg. She couldn’t move her hand, the one she was sure she’d broken, and her lip was split.

She’d pushed the mattress back against the door and gone to the other side of the room, lay down on the floor and stared at the wall.

That was what, two days ago? She wasn’t sure. She was so hungry. So thirsty.

It won’t be long now she felt Lois tell her. Her heart beat once, weakly, an acknowledgment.

“Do I really have to?” she asked. That was all she’d asked Lois the last few days.

Yes Lois told her.

She knew she had to. She knew what Lois was doing and why she had to stay here.

During the day, Freddy could understand that. During the day, she knew that if she ever managed to open the outer door, they would get out, all of them. Lois would get out, and others like her, maybe, helpful, but the rest of them would, too, all of them who were inside her or tried to get inside her and tried to use her to open that door.

They could never stay long. They had a hard enough time getting into someone in the first place. They had to wait, just wait, until the barrier between the living and the dead was opened, when it opened just enough to let a soul slide through. When it did, if there was something there, something close enough, someone close enough, the spirit that was supposed to leave might cling, just long enough, just hard enough, to leave a hole there, a hole they all could get through.

And if that hole was taken where there were no walls, no barriers, no impediments, then more and more could come.

During the day, Freddy understood that. During the day, she understood, and could sometimes feel, just how hard it was for them to be near the living. As painful as it was for her, when they came, it was worse for them. However much it hurt when one slithered through the tear and took her and flung her against the wall, or the door, or pulled at her hair in frustration or even the time one poked her own hand into her own eye and blinded her, however painful that was for her, she knew it was worse for them and knew that she had to wait it out and not leave.

During the day, Freddy could tolerate the hunger. She didn’t even dare go get what little food was in her refrigerator, taking advantage of the second barrier, flimsy though it was, that her bedroom door represented. It was hard for them to move her, and every impediment counted.

During the day, she could tolerate the thirst. She knew why Lois was slowing down her heartbeat.

During the day, she hoped that Lois would be there when she died. And that they would not.

And she hoped she would not die at night. She felt the dead most at night.