It began with a nightmare.
I was alone, and surrounded by darkness. I couldn’t see or sense anything. I couldn’t even see my own body.
At first all I could hear was a tapping, like the steps of a tap dancer. It was a low and quiet noise, so faint I wasn’t certain I had heard anything at all. They came through the pitch darkness from a source I could not see. They sounded hollow and distant, far too distant for such a quiet noise to travel, and echoed despite not having anything visible to make them echo.
Stranger still was the rhythm. The steps bounced and clicked like a tap dancers, but seemed to follow no pattern at all. They came in bursts of inhuman speed then paused at random intervals, following no structure or cadence.
Most unsettling of all, however, was the strange feeling I got when I heard them. The second I noticed the taps everything in me warned me of danger. Though I could never tell you why, I felt disturbed and nervous to a degree I had never felt before. There was a lot that was clearly wrong that I could explain with words. The irregularity of the rhythm, the inexplicable echo, the distant hollowness, the inhuman bursts of speed were all recognizably wrong. But there was something else that was far worse.
It made me think of something I had been told a long time ago. Sometimes our minds can know of things we can’t consciously notice. We may not hear the predetor stalking us, or see the glares in a room of men about too fight, but the sutle cues are enough to give us the vauge sense of danger. Many horrible superstitions stem from these ancient instincts warning us of invisible dangers. We know there is something wrong, but we don’t know why.
And there was something wrong with those steps.
I woke to the sound of my alarm. I looked at my clock, which told me it was 7 am. For a moment I lay in my bed. What could have caused such an odd dream? The sounds in it were strange. I had never seen tap dancing before, and the rhythm was impossible for a human to maintain anyway. I looked around my room for something that may have caused it. My bed was normal. The same blue walls, single window and bookshelf as before. Perhaps something else in my apartment caused it, but I couldn’t think of what. I had never had a dream like that before and didn’t know why I had, or why it stayed so firmly in my mind.
I shrugged my shoulders. A dream was a dream, and nothing more. I needed to get to work, and strange dreams wouldn’t be an excuse for being late. I got up slowly, exhausted from a night broken by the unsettling nightmares. I checked myself in the mirror, and the signs of a rough night were clear. My eyes were blood shot with dark circles underneath them, and my skin was haggard, hanging as if it was loosely attached to my bones. Nevertheless, I got dressed, and headed to work.
For the most part my day was normal. I took the bus, paid the fair and said hello to the bus driver. I showed my card at the reception desk and went into the office. I sat at my desk, got down to work, took my breaks, and finished at 4:00 just liked any other day. People smiled and asked how I was doing, work was done, and all went well.
However, something was not right.
It took me a while to notice what it was. Like with the tapping, there was simply a general feeling of unease which I couldn’t identify.
It became clear when I was talking to Carla, a middle aged and brown haired woman. We shared a cubical where we both worked at our computer.
“Jerald,” she asked, “did you see where my coffee went?”
I looked around. It was right beside her, within reach of her right arm.
“Yes Carla, it’s right there? Can’t you see it?” I replied.
“Oh, oh jeeze excuse me. I guess I am just a bit out of it today. Didn’t sleep well last night.”
I took in the words slowly, but something about them struck me. Then I realized what it was.
Everyone, from the bus driver to the receptionist to the people at my office, had the same haggard, exhausted look that I had. They all had bloodshot eyes with bags under them. They all moved slowly and spoke in low voices. Not a single person that I saw that day had slept well.
I began to notice small changes in the way people behaved. Things moved slower, people’s voices sounded slightly different. I tried to tell myself that it was all in my head, that I just needed more sleep, but the feeling persisted.
There could be a thousand explanations, I knew. Something on the highway had made too much noise, interrupting peoples sleep. Perhaps there was a storm I missed. Maybe people were kept up by a news report of some violent activity in someplace I had never heard of. Most likely of all, was that it was just a coincidence, and I was tricking myself by making it seem significant.
But the thought still stayed in my head. The more I looked around me, the more I was sure it was true. Something was keeping people from sleeping, and I had to know what it was.
I returned to my apartment and ate a quick supper. I packed everything for the next day, and got ready for bed.
I tried to make sure nothing would disturb me that night. Perhaps it was some outside factor, like a broken pipe or extra traffic that created the dreams and left me awake. I closed my door, and double checked the lock. I shut the window and closed my blinds. Finally, I got a pair of earplugs and put them in. I set my alarm, turning it up so I could hear it with the plugs, and lay down to sleep.
I was in the dream again. The tapping was back, far louder then before. While before all I heard was a faint noise, so quiet I was barely sure I heard it, now it was louder then thunder.
And something had changed.
At first it was just a light. That may not be the right word for it, however, because like everything else in this dream it didn’t behave as it should.
Everything around me was still pitch black. If the dream had allowed me to have a hand and I had held it in front of me, I would not have seen it.
However, what I could see was a tiny dot in front of me, seemingly coming over a horizon that was far closer than it should have been. There was just enough light to see it and nothing else. It bounced up in down in time with the same rhythm of the taps, and was quickly growing larger. The thing was coming closer to me, and I had no way to run.
I watched the dot in horrid fascination. It was clear to me that it, somehow, was the origin of the tapping noise. It gave me the same chills and sense of unease as the sound had, but far stronger now that I could see it. I was sure that I was just seeing the edge of a creature that would soon be in full view, and I had no desire to see it.
I woke up to the alarm again, feeling more tiered then I did when I went to sleep. I got ready, and left my bedroom.
I wandered down the street towards my bus stop. The faces around me were more haggard and weary then the day before. People stared at the ground and walked in unsteady paces, not having the energy to straighten up. A traffic cop wandered by rows of cars without checking for proofs of payment. A homeless man with a hat in front of himself slapped his legs and the ground lazily as his eyes rolled back, possibly in a drugged or drunken stupor. The bus driver didn’t check the number of tickets and dollar bills that were handed to him, and I am not certain if I paid the right amount.
I got to work, and did my best to make it through the day. I moved slowly and barely got anything done, but it didn’t seem anyone noticed. All the people around me were absorbed in their own worlds, struggling too hard to complete their own work to pay attention to me.
Carla and I forced some chat between ourselves. However, for the most part we barely had enough energy to even acknowledge each other’s existence. Between to two of us we finished nearly a dozen cups of coffee, which lay piled up in and around the garbage can as the janitor didn’t seem to notice the mess.
There was something else bothering me. If I had been more awake and aware, I may have been able to figure out what it was more easily. As it was, it stayed at the edge of my mind, like a name on the tip of my tongue or a few seconds of a song which was stuck in my head but I couldn’t identify. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Something about that morning had disturbed me greatly.
I took the bus back and went through my nightly routine, still mulling over what it could be. I lay down, still thinking about it. I was at the edge of sleep when the idea hit me, bringing me fully away and conscious for the first time in two days. My heart beat so loudly and quickly I could hear it in my ears and my breathing came in great gasping pants. Instantly sweat poured off my forehead and soaked my bed sheets. I knew exactly what was bothering me.
It was the homeless man I had passed by that morning, the one I thought was drunk. He had been tapping the same rhythm I heard in my dreams.
If he existed, the Dancer was everywhere.
At first I didn’t notice that I was in the dream
I had tried to stay awake. The second I realized what it was I had heard that morning, I had gotten out of my bed and walked into the kitchen. I remember making coffee to keep myself awake.
However, here I was again. The thought that I must be asleep on the ground somewhere, or perhaps passed out on my couch, passed briefly through my mind.
But none of that mattered now.
I was here, and here I stayed.
The dot was infront of me again. It slowly grew and grew, until I realized it was the shape of a head. As it moved towards me it also came higher, clearing the horizon until the thing’s entire body was visible.
It was at that point I realized that all my fear and feelings of something wrong horribly wrong were justified.
It took my mind a moment to comprehend what I saw. I almost wanted to laugh, break down and fall into insanity rather than accept that this was in front of me. This thing broke all the laws of nature I had lived with. It was something that, from what I knew, could not have existed in the same world I did.
But there it was.
I had no idea what it was, but it was not human. It had the shape and outline of a man, but only as a bizzare mockery of the form.
If it had been a man it would have been a tall man with light brown hair and a face I couldn’t yet see. It wore a bright red and white suit, with tight leggings and a chest split down to the belly button. If it were standing still, everything about it would mark it as human.
The way it moved, however, was distinctly inhuman.
The limbs moved randomly about, flailing as it stepped. They bent at odd angles, impossible for any living creature. The spine twisted and twirled into bizarre knots and shapes. The joints would bend all the way forward and continue on past the natural point, looping around in circles they shouldn’t have been able to make. Then they would twist back and in entirely the wrong direction. At times it would bend where no man had joints to bend, with twists occurring halfway up the fore arm or on the shin.
This grotesque, disfigured thing moved toward me at a slow but unending pace. The tapping of its feet continued along with the cracking of its own limbs, still making that disturbing rhythm. The sound was off from what I saw, like hearing gunfire seconds after seeing it happen miles away. Everything about what I saw was wrong.
The being was close to me now. It was close enough that, if it had been facing me, I should have seen its face in detail, down to the pupils in its eyes.
However, it had its back turned.
It swayed from side to side in its regular inhuman manner, coming close to letting me see its face. Each time, however, it turned away at the last moment. It was still moving toward me, and if I could have moved away, I would have. However, I could not control my own body, and was stuck in place.
Finally, it began to turn toward me.
First it stopped its horrid dance like movement. Then its feet twisted around, facing a full one hundred and eighty degrees from its body. Then its knees cranked backwards, and slowly its entire body twisted, rattling as it did, toward me.
And I saw its face.
I awoke in complete panic. The alarm hadn’t gone off, but my own breathing was louder then it could have been. I stared into the darkness around me, almost in tears from the fright. Everything from the clothes I wore to the carpet beneath me was soaked with sweat. I didn’t know what was worse-the image of the face, or the vague feeling that it was somehow familiar.
In the pale light of an early morning sun I could make out that I had collapsed in my living room. I got up and ran to the nearest light switch and flicked it on. Light flooded my room, only relieving my fright slightly.
I looked at my clock. It was 5:45, and on a normal day I would have gone back to sleep. Today, however, the thought of even maybe seeing that thing and its awful face again kept me awake.
I got ready slowly. I was grateful for the extra time, as every movement took twice as long as it normally did. I fumbled with my buttons, and cut myself twice while shaving. Every time I paused for even a moment, I slipped slightly towards unconsciousness and the horrible, inhuman rhythm filled my ears.
I drank as much coffee as I could and headed outside.
The air on the bus was thick with anxiety.
Everywhere around me exhausted eyes were kept awake only by terror. People were jittery, glancing around nervously and tapping themselves to stay away, fearful of what would happen if they slipped back into sleep. I swore that every so often someone, in their sleepless absentmindedness, would begin to tap the same irregular rhythm that had haunted my dreams. Though it may have been the exhaustion that clouded my own mind, I am certain that eyes would dart towards them, filled with fearful recognition, until they had stopped the awful sound.
People tried to maintain a semblance of normality. Conversations continued in broken and winding sentences, drifting off into the gibberish of a sleepless mind. All around me was the constant noise of a city. The whine of the bus’s engine, the squeak of tires, and the conversation of countless faceless people in the crowds continued.
But something was different.
Every so often, a noise would come through the endless moan of the city. It was like hearing your name while in a noisy crowd or the phone ring when in the shower- the sounds would meld together to make something they were not.
And that sound was a tapping. But not just any tapping, the tapping from my dreams.
I tried to tell myself it was my own imagination, that a lack of sleep was making me hallucinate. But there was a moment of silence that always occurred after it, and people’s eyes darted in every direction when it happened. People had heard it, and were reacting to it. I was certain of it.
The bus driver, just as exhausted as everyone else, could barely work. He swerved left and right, and almost collided with a tree. Finally I hit the button and got off, deciding, as many had, to walk the rest of the way.
The first thing I noticed was an artist, offering sketches for five dollars. He had a customer, but seemed to be struggling to make the face look right. He kept trying over and over again, and finally threw the paper down on the ground in front of himself. I saw the edges of the half drawn face, and tried to tell myself they didn’t look like the disgusting creature I had seen the night before. The artist, as well as his customer, stared at it in horror.
The second one came from a group of children playing by the road. They ran around and flailed their arms, playing and kicking dirt to make lines on the ground. I watched, knowing I would regret seeing what I saw but unable to turn away. It wasn’t long before my horrible suspicions were confirmed, and the lines took shape. Slowly, it became the rough outline of the same face from the dreams. The children didn’t seem to notice, and continued playing, still jumping around and flailing their arms. I became nauseous watching, and for a moment I was certain one of the children was imitating the inhuman dancing that I had seen.
I made it to my office building and headed for the door. I ignored the street musicians who, despite having music in front of them, lost track of their place and broke into an all too familiar rhythm.
I got to the office, and did everything I could not to pay attention to anyone around me.
They seemed thankful for my efforts. Everyone around me was too exhausted, and too frightened, to talk. It was on the tip of our tongs and no one wanted to say it. There was something wrong, and we all knew it.
At the time I still wasn’t convinced it was real. It seemed like all the signs were there, but it may have been my imagination. Perhaps I was looking too far into things. Perhaps I was even going insane. That was almost a welcome thought at this point. Even telling myself this was all a hallucination, and that soon I would be tied in a madhouse until it stopped, was better than accepting it.
But all thoughts in that direction ended that afternoon.
I was working at my desk when I felt something hit me from behind.
I looked over to see Carla leaning over me.
“Oh jeeze, I’m sorry Jerald” she said.
“What? Did you trip?” I asked.
“No, I think I just fell. I’m sorry, I’ve had trouble sleeping. Its that god damn dan…..” she stopped as if she suddenly realized she was saying the wrong thing, and looked away.
I sat up straighter and looked toward her. “The dancer,” I said in a calm voice.
She turned toward me, a look of horror in her eyes. Every hand in the office stopped talking and everyone stopped working. Faces in the office turned toward me, filled with fright and exhausted helplessness.
“The dancer,” she replied.
“You’ve seen it took. That… that thing from the dreams.”
“Yes,” she said, and others around the office nodded.
“Do you… did you see what it looked like? What its face was?” I asked.
“Yes, just last night. I… I’m not sure if I remember it clearly.”
“Maybe we can figure this out. Get out paper, let’s see if we can draw it.”
Right now I can’t tell you why I said this. Looking back it was ridiculous, even insane to try something like that. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep. Perhaps I just know now because of hindsight. Or perhaps it made me do it. But at the time, no one seemed to object. We took out a piece of paper, and someone from the office I hadn’t seen much before but claimed to be able to draw started working on it.
We all started describing what we remembered, like witnesses describing a criminal to a police artist. None of us could remember it exactly, but we recognized parts of it. And image began to form, and it was one we all knew.
On the piece of paper was the most terrifying face I had ever seen. Its features were sharp and clear. Its cheekbones poked out of its skin and its cheeks were sunken in like a skeleton. Its hair was parted on the right side, with a long lick of it extending halfway down to its left eye. Its eyes were narrow and deep in its skull, but blazed with the look of mischievousness and malicious intent. Its ears were thin and pointed, almost to the point of being inhuman. But worse of all was the cruel, toothy grin that it flashed as if baring its teeth to bite. The grin was far too wide, with its lips extending too high for any human.
We all backed away from drawing.
It was a face we had never really see before, but all recognized. It came in a thousand names that repeated again and again throughout history and in the subconscious of every human. Children today were afraid of the boogey man. Earlier it had been Spring Heeled Jack, the Black Horseman, the Wendigo, Beelzebub, Loki, Prometheus the Titan, Shaitan, Angra Mainyu, Lucifer. Its limbs were shattered and tortured, as if it was flung from the heavens onto the ground or tied to a rock to be tortured over and over again, immortal but unable to repair its devastated bones. If it was the origin of the old names, or had taken them afterwards to feed on the fear on the fear of its victims, was unclear.
But every man knew it. Madmen knew it better, it was what haunted their visions and nightmares. It was the face of fright that every man knew in the deepest reaches of his mind but couldn’t bring out clearly. It was a face scrawled on the walls of madhouses, and painted into scenes of torture. Something we all told ourselves didn’t exist and created a thousand explanations for throughout history.
And it was here now, in our dreams.
I began to hear a noise.
We heard it, though at first we all denied to ourselves that we had. No one wanted to acknowledge the sound, but we all knew it was there
I prayed for a moment that I had slipped into a dream again, but I knew the truth. This wasn’t coming from a dream. This wasn’t random noise combining into a bizarre semi-hallucination. This was real.
All around me was dead silence, except for that tapping of that thing.
It was clear and precise. Gone was the hollowness or semblance of an echo. Whatever was making the noise was in the hallway outside the front door of the office.
And it was getting closer.
I began to back away slowly. Others did the same, staring toward the door and the origin of the noise.
It was getting louder and louder. From the sound, it should have been just outside the door.
The doorknob turned, and I screamed. I turn and ran as fast as I could along with everyone else in the room.
I didn’t dare to look behind me. I ran out the back door of the office, down the stairs and toward the parking lot. Behind me I could hear the screams and cries for help of people who knew they faced death. I didn’t turn back. There was nothing I could do, and I knew it.
I ran as fast as I could. The streets were empty. No cars were moving on the road, and nobody was walking on the side walk.
Miraculously, there was a bus waiting for me at the stop. Though there was no one waiting beside it, the door was open, inviting me forward.
I ran toward the bus, then stopped.
The driver was exactly the same as always, except for a horrid, impossibly long grin on his face. He extended an arm forward. The limb twisted and creaked in impossible angles and beckoned me inside. I shook my head, and kept running.
I ran as fast as I could. I passed by the same field I had seen the children in earlier. They were still there. Or, what had once been them was there. They were all staring at me with the same expression as the driver. None of them moved from the spot they stood on, but all of them extended their arms towards me, beckoning me with broken joints. I looked away, and kept running.
Everywhere I went it was the same. No one moved, at least not enough to leave the spot they stood on. They all stood staring at me with horrifying grins and waving me towards themselves with arms that twisted in wrong directions. I did everything I could to ignore them, and finally made it home.
I had no idea what to think, or what to do. I wasn’t sure if I was safe. Something had happened to all those people out there. That, or it had happened to me. It occurred to me that it was still entirely possible that I was insane. This could all have been a hallucination, or a horrid dream. What a welcome thought it was, and one I vainly wished was true.
But as much as I tried, I couldn’t convince myself it was.
It was long before I heard the tapping again. Trembling, I looked out my window.
There, in the distance, I could see the unmistakable dancing of that horrendous figure.
I bolted for the door. I ran out of the now empty apartment building and toward my car, which I kept stored for long trips and emergencies. I dared not look up as I ran through the parking lot, as I feared what I would see. However, as I steped inside the car, I saw a shadow that could only come from one thing. I drove away as fast as I could. I had no idea where I was going, as long as it was away. That thing was moving fast, and it was after me.
I sped down as fast as I could. The streets were completely empty, as nothing moved. I ignored all the faces on the side of the road, knowing full well what they would look like and what expression they would have. Once I had left the city, I saw no one and passed no vehicle.
I drove all day, siphoning fuel from a side of the road gas station that was as empty as everything else I passed, then kept driving.
The world began to seem different. I am not sure if it really looked different, or if it was more of a sense. Things were darker. Light wasn’t as light as before, and the sun wasn’t as bright. Even in the middle of the day, when the sun was right on top of me, everything seemed dim and cold. The little light I did see appeared a more reddish colour, like rust.
Or, though I fear to say it, like blood. When I looked strait at the sky, it was normal, blue with white clouds. But if I caught a glimpse of it in a mirror or saw it out of the corner of my eye, the clouds would be darker, almost black, and the sky would be the same deep red as the light I saw around me.
Soon it was nightfall, and once again it was different. Even the dark was darker than normal, and the black was blacker. There are no other words for it. It was more of a sense, an inexplicable feeling rather than outright site. But I knew it was true.
I began to feel my eyelids grow heavy. I knew that if I kept driving, I would fall asleep at the wheel, just like I had collapsed on the ground the nights before.
I pulled over. I had put a few hundred miles between myself and that thing, hopefully that was enough.
Reluctantly, I fell asleep.
I awoke again in the morning. At first I thought I had survived. I looked at the road, and considered what to do.
Then I heard a tapping.
Right outside my window was the grinning face of that horrid thing. It was tapping a finger on my window in the same irregular pattern I had heard in my dreams. It danced toward me, never breaking eye contact, never releasing its smile. It reached toward the handle of my car door.
I drove away.
Every day and every night it was the same. I moves as quickly as possible, siphoning gas and pushing my car to its limits.
And every time I checked the mirror, it was there in the distance.
Every time I stopped, it was closer than before.
Every time I fell asleep, I woke up after a shorter interval to see it standing there and hear its awful sound. I tried to stay awake every night, but somehow sleep always overcame me, and I would pass out without realizing it.
I became more and more exhausted as my intervals of sleep became shorter and shorter. My car, too, began to wear down. I had gotten lucky in the first few days, always finding gas stations when I needed them. Gradually they became further apart and harder to find.
Finally the engine huffed, and it ran out, the final fumes burning out of my car’s engine. I sobbed hopelessly. Night was drawing in, and I knew that no matter what I did, the unwanted sleep would come again.
This time I barely slept a minute when I woke up.
I felt something on my cheek.
Its finger was running down my face, caressing it.
I looked over. That thing was sitting in the seat beside me, grinning at me. I didn’t have the energy to scream, but I felt the tears run down my cheeks.
I got out the door and ran. After weeks of barely any sleep my body could barely move and objected to my commands, but I did what I could. There are few better motivators then mortal fear.
I ran as fast and as far as my body would allow. I didn’t bother looking back. The entire time I ran, I could hear the tapping of that thing’s feet coming up behind me. No matter how fast I moved, they never seemed to get further way. However, every time I stopped, they got closer with frightening speed.
Finally I found what seemed to be an abandoned house. It was a small, single story building, with only one window and one door. It was more of a shack then a house really, or maybe a hunting lodge. It had come out of nowhere, the only building after miles of road and forest.
For a second I doubted if I should go in. This could easily be a trap of some kind, set up by that being, whatever it was. But I had no other option. I was out of breath, and my legs ached and could barely move.
I stepped inside, and locked the door.
There was only one room, which contained inside it a bed, dining table, kitchen, and desk.
I locked every window and covered them with furniture and objects I found around the house. The footsteps were getting louder, and I would put anything I could between myself and them. I grabbed a knife, from the kitchen, not knowing what I would do with it when the time came. I am not certain if it will even work against whatever that thing is.
It is outside my door now, hammering at it. The pounding is ringing in my ears, and I can hear the door begin to crack.
I found the pen and paper for this inside the desk. I do not know if anyone will read this, or even if there is anyone alive to read it. However, I can only hope and pray that someone will come across it and know my story. Maybe, then, someone can find a way to stop this thing before it’s too late.
When I grabbed the knife, I told myself that I would use it on the thing. However, I know that this was wishful thinking. I doubt that there is anything that can stop this creature. However, there is a way the knife can save me from it. I know what I must do. Someone told me that suicide is a sin, but at this point I doubt there is any kind god watching over me. Anyway, there is no reason to fear hell when evil itself is outside your door.