It was daytime when the house first spoke to me.
I ignored it, thinking it was a figment of my imagination. After all, I’d stopped taking the cuckoo pills the doc gave me weeks ago. I just didn’t feel like myself anymore, my head in a constant fog like the top of a smoke stack. So I took those pills, dumped them in the toilet, and sprinkled a nice stream of piss on them before I flushed it. Not long after that I started hearing the voices.
They would ask me to do things. Plead with me. Not the usual son-of-sam-my-dog-is-talking-to-me types of requests, but more like mischievous tasks. Cut the branches off of Mrs. Connor’s weeping willow. Stomp on Harold Kramer’s newly planted flower bed. Scratch up the Allen family’s brand new SUV. I’d go to sleep with these voices begging me to do things and sometimes when I’d wake up my sneakers were on in bed, fresh topsoil stuck to the soles and all over the sheets.
I started to see things out of the corner of my eyes, too. A massive black shadow shot past me in the bathroom and out into the hallway, but when I turned, of course, there was nothing there. Things moved in the house. Things just disappeared. I continued to ignore it, but I could sense it getting stronger, growing bolder, the air in the room as thick as a bowl of New England clam chowder.
I was brushing my teeth one morning and I could sense the shadow just out of view. I spun like a drunk on a bar stool, trying to catch a glimpse of it head on. And to my horror, it stood in the hallway, watching me, ready to pounce. Before it sprung at me like a cornered alley cat, I saw nothing but faces all swarmed together in the shadow, a sea of eyes staring hungrily at me. It leaped at my head and I could feel the shadow coursing through my hair, the impact of it so hard it knocked me off my feet and into the toilet, cracking my head on the porcelain on the way down and splitting me open a bit at the front of my hairline.
I stood up, woozy as a beat to shit boxer in the twelfth round, and looked at myself in the mirror. I could just make out the hazy blackness of the shadow infesting my hair follicles. The voices spoke now and they were coming from the top of my head.
“Burn the houses. All of them. Burn them to the ground,” it said.
Instead, I took my electric razor and shaved myself until I resembled Lex Luthor. I could feel the presence move down to my eyebrows and I shaved them boys off, too. Same with my goatee and my arm and leg hairs. Almost immediately I felt pressure in the cut on my head. It felt like something was digging into me and it got to burning like a son-of-a-bitch. Sure enough, when I looked in the mirror I could see the tail end of the shadow burrowing into my cut and then, like that, it was gone, the burning sensation growing, as if I had face planted into a fire ant hill. I tore at the cut with my fingers, ripping the gash open wider.
I punched the wall and felt something give way in my hand. I was pretty sure I broke the damn thing; the loud crunch was a dead giveaway. I screamed at the top of my lungs and got some ice from the freezer, wrapping it up in an old dishcloth and duct taping it on my injured paw. I got some coffee going. I wanted to stay awake, afraid of what might happen should I fall asleep with this bad influence quite literally in my head. I just kept pounding the cups back, the caffeine keeping my head buzzing. Or maybe it was the shadow.
The voices spoke from my teeth next. I could hear their words echo in my mouth, like a voice in a cave. “Don’t fight it. Just do it. You’ll feel better.”
“I’ll show you, ya shadowy bastard,” I told it. I looked for my pliers, but they weren’t in the drawer. It had probably made me hide them while I was on one of my sleep missions. No matter. I improvised.
I went down to the basement and kicked open the toolbox, digging around in there till I found the vice grips. I cleared my work bench and sat down on the leather seat, bracing myself for what had to be done. I tightened the vice grips and squeezed the handles, the jaws clamping over my front tooth. I took a deep breath and gave it a tug with everything I had, the pain in my hand keeping me in the moment. I heard a sucking sound and my head shot backward, a stream of blood dribbling over my bottom lip. I stared at the tooth between the jaws of the vice grip and tongued the empty hole where it used to live. It didn’t hurt half as bad as I thought it would.
I got to tugging all of my teeth out after that, using a ratty old work shirt stuffed in my mouth between extractions until it was too soaked to do any good. I took the teeth to the workbench and smashed them all to bits with my hammer, the red and white of em’ reminded me of pieces of crushed up candy canes. I looked in the full sized mirror in front of the workbench and I gasped. I was as hairless as an egg, a white T-shirt, now soaked red, jammed into my bleeding mouth. I spit the shirt out and it hit the ground with a wet splat. My mouth was empty, my sunken lips looked like a vacuum cleaner was in my throat sucking them inwards. The shadow peeked out of the hole where my front tooth used to be as if to say, “Still here, shithead!”
There was only so many places it could hide now. A ringing in my ears started, like my skull was a bell tower, and I covered my ears with my hands. The voices said, “Are you finished with all of this yet? Are you ready to do what needs to be done?”
They wanted me to do their bidding and I decided right then and there that I was most certainly ready to do what needed to be done. I grabbed a box cutter from the bench and started to laugh, my mouth dripping with saliva and blood as thick as chocolate syrup.
“You wiw neber win,” I said defiantly. I put the box cutter to my neck. I imagined there was a dotted line running from ear to ear. I dug the blade into my flesh and slashed it across, the warm stream of blood running down my chest. I laughed and the blood bubbled from my wound. The buzzing stopped. So did the voices.
Dropping to my knees, my vision went dark and I thought I was passing out, but it was the shadow seeping out of my open neck in front of my eyes. It stood before me and I could see the thousands of faces that made up its roiling blackness much clearer now. They smiled at me. The shadow extended its arm and that feeling of cresting a giant drop on a roller-coaster hit me in the pit of my stomach. A brilliant light was coming from my chest and into the shadow’s arm until nothing hurt any longer and I was now looking out at my own ragged, hairless body; the shell that I used to call my home.
We, who are now one, left the house, mingling with the shadows, and went next door to the Allen’s home. There are four of them and a dog. Families are good. It’s much more fun to pit them against each other. It’s easier, too. It’ll start tonight when the youngest one goes to bed.
Once we have them with us, we’ll be stronger, moving to the next house and the next house until this street is finished. Then we’ll keep moving, always moving, until there’s nothing left. We wont stop until they’re all with us.
Until there is only us.
John Teel is a union ironworker from Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared in Playwithdeath.com’s anthology, The Nightmare Collective, Dark Moon Digest and Pulp Modern. When he’s not working he’s spending time with his wife Rae, their son Charlie and their insane dog Gizmo, who they never feed after midnight.
Betty Rocksteady is a Canadian author and illustrator. Learn more at www.bettyrocksteady.com.