Lucy ran, knowing she could never escape but refusing to give up hope. Her torch flickered, its’ batteries failing; soon she would be alone in the dark – no, not alone. He was still after her. He would always be chasing her. He had never really let her go, even though she had somehow managed to find her way out of that place and got back home, back to the friends that had grown old and forgotten her, family who had died long since… Trees flashed past her eyes, every branch seeming to reach out for her, twigs catching in her hair as she ran. The torch dimmed and finally went out; Lucy stopped dead, pitch blackness pressing in around her.
“No!” she screamed, thrashing around before falling out of bed with a soft thump. She struggled out of the covers and flicked the light on. Her heart raced as she looked around, expecting Him to appear and seize her. Several moments passed, and she began to calm herself. Cool it, Lucy, she told herself. It’s been years; He won’t just show up and take you. You know how He works. He kept you for long enough.
She stood slowly, tossed the sheets back on to the bed, and headed for the bathroom. It was only three am, but she knew she’d never get back to sleep now. She ran the tap, watching the water spiral down the plughole for a moment before splashing cold water on her face. It felt good, refreshing and soothing. She dried herself, avoiding the mirror as she always did after a dream like that, and wrapped a robe around herself before going to the kitchen for coffee. She flicked the TV on, some twenty-four hour news channel. It was just so the flat wasn’t quiet; silence had always made her uncomfortable, ever since she was a child. Lucy sat at the table, sipping her coffee and gazing blankly at the screen.
The woman reading the news looked ridiculous, bright pink hairpiece deliberately askew and garish makeup all over her face. She was talking about the so-called ‘aliens’ that children all over the world had been dreaming about for the last eight months. Lucy hadn’t really been following the story, but from what she’d heard these ‘aliens’ had been talking to the kids, making friends with them through their dreams for some reason, but they didn’t want to speak to the adults. Something about ‘befriending the innocent’, one reporter had said last week. Lucy hadn’t been convinced from the start; it all sounded a bit odd to her, but then who was she to object? The rest of the world seemed to be okay with it for some reason, and the children had supposedly been communicating with the ‘aliens’ on a regular basis. But this morning the woman was saying that the ‘aliens’ were ready to speak to the rest of humanity, sometime later in the week. More details to follow.
Sick of hearing about aliens, Lucy switched to a music channel. ‘Starman’ was playing. “Oh for god’s sake,” she exclaimed, hitting the off button and booting up her laptop. Email waiting from ‘MrDoctor’, someone she’d found in an online forum a few weeks ago, who she had been discussing her dreams and experiences with. He had replied to Lucy’s message from the other day:
'Lucy, I understand your concerns but the Tulpa Effect is simply a theory. Nothing has ever been proved, let alone what you’ve suggested. I very much doubt there is any chance of your nightmares becoming reality, however terrifying and real they may seem at the time. I’d like to suggest, again, that you speak to a professional therapist about it; clearly you have been through something traumatic which has triggered your delusions. Though I must admit, the birth certificate you sent struck me as most unusual. The date would fit with what you told me about your childhood memories, growing up in a multi-level house with both parents around. You really are quite the historian, coming up with all those details.
I would strongly recommend you stop worrying about this, anyway. The more you think about it, the worse it will get. Particularly if you are correct about the Tulpa theory. Take a holiday, maybe; go somewhere sunny with a friend. Staying in and studying obsessively never has good results, especially if the thing you’re studying is that weird.'
Lucy stared at the screen for a moment. Of course, the guy thought she was crazy. It was a fairly crazy story. That was why she hadn’t spoken to anyone about it; not that she’d bothered getting to know many people again. There was no point, if He was coming back for her. She only spoke to the people who shared her building when she had to, and rarely spent time with her sort-of boyfriend. She wasn’t that interested in him, but he had nobody else, and she had stumbled across him when she had first come back. Lost in a forest, and out of her mind with fear, he had calmed her and brought her back to civilization. For the first few weeks, she had stayed in his flat, huddled in a corner shaking and refusing to speak to anyone. Yet he had looked after her, left his lights on all night for her, and helped her register for her own flat when she felt ready to cope by herself. Lucy felt she owed him something, so had agreed to go on a date with him. She hadn’t had the heart to dump him since then.
She leant forwards to type out a reply to ‘MrDoctor’:
'MrDoctor, first let me assure you I am not in need of any therapy. The only trauma I have been through is that which He inflicted on me, and I am dealing with that in my own way. No therapist would believe me anyway. Everything I told you about my childhood is true; in fact I think I have a cousin somewhere who could tell you about it all. Did you try searching for me in any old newspapers? There should be a few articles about me going missing, vanishing without trace. I’ll attach a couple of things I found when I searched myself, four years ago.
I know I’m right about this. The Tulpa Effect is real, I’ve seen it at work, and I know we could all be in real danger. He’s not satisfied with taking random individuals anymore. He wants this world, and once He’s here there won’t be anything we can do about it. I just need to work out how He’s planning to get here, and I’m sure it’s something to do with the Tulpa theory. So are you going to help me or not?'
Lucy attached the old articles and pressed ‘send’. She needed to know if MrDoctor was actually going to help her figure it out, and she needed to know soon. Something was telling her that there wasn’t much time left. She heard a faint dripping sound and glanced down at the keyboard – damn, another nosebleed. She wiped the red blotches off the keys with her sleeve and went back to the bathroom for tissue, pinching her nose on the way. Grabbing a couple of sheets out of the dispenser, she held her head over the sink and waited for it to stop. The bright red drops looked unreal against the stark white enamel of the sink; Lucy felt that they didn’t belong to her, but to someone else. When the flow finally stopped, she wiped her face clean and ran the tap, red droplets fading to pink before they cleared.
Straightening up, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. What a state. She hadn’t brushed her hair for days, there were bags under her bloodshot eyes, and a smear of blood she’d missed was still under her nose. She raised a hand to the tangled mess on top of her head to assess the damage. Brushing it probably wouldn’t make much difference; she’d have to cut most of it off … weird shadow in the corner. She froze, hoping it was just the way the shower curtain had fallen, but scared to look any closer what the hell, it just moved … Lucy span round, stumbling backwards while grabbing the first thing she could.
A moth flitted across the room, landing on the window next to where Lucy stood, shaking and clutching her toothbrush. She stared at the moth, watching it slowly fold its’ wings. “Pull yourself together, Lucy,” she scolded herself. “And what exactly were you going to do with a toothbrush?” She shoved it back into the holder and left the bathroom, shutting the door without bothering to switch off the light. Another hour won’t make any difference. They cut the lights at four anyway. She sank to the floor, head in her hands, trying not to scream, or cry. She wasn’t sure which she wanted to do more. You’re being paranoid again. One tiny moth and you’re ready to crack up. MrDoctor might be right; maybe I do need therapy.
Hello again, Lucy.
The voice came suddenly, quiet and cold. Lucy screwed her eyes shut, hoping she was imagining it, trying to ignore the prickling, creepy feeling in her head and repeating to herself this isn’t happening this isn’t happening this isn’t happening…
You know that isn’t going to work. Open your eyes.
Slowly, reluctantly, dreading what she would see, Lucy obeyed. She had to; He never gave a command twice. Lifting her head by the smallest degree possible, she looked up ...
... and saw blackness beyond anything imaginable, impossibly long hands and a blank face staring without eyes.
Lucy shut her eyes and screamed, louder than she had in years, the sound tearing at her throat as a frozen vice clamped around her heart … the floor vibrated slightly under her, a repetitive banging noise coming through under her scream, and another voice shouted, muffled by layers of wood and carpet.
“Keep it down up there, people are trying to sleep!”
She stopped, gasping for breath, staring frantically around at the empty room. She was the only thing moving, but the shadows under the furniture seemed to reach out, trying to envelop her in their darkness. She almost ran to the bedroom, turning on every light in the flat as she went, eliminating all but the tiniest shadows in the deepest corners. There was something in the wardrobe, something old; the man who had lived in her flat before had collected antiques, and she had found several items hidden at the back of cupboards, forgotten about. She found what she was looking for, and pulled it out. A record player, and small collection of old vinyl albums. It had been old technology when she was young, but she found the slight crackling sound underlying the music relaxing, somehow. Especially since she had found herself out of her depth, almost half a century out of time. And she needed sound, noise, anything to break the silence, it only made it easier for His voice to get through.
As the smooth voice of some long-forgotten old crooner flowed out of the speaker, Lucy ran a hand over her face. She’d cried, of course she’d cried, and her nose had bled again. She curled up on the floor, next to the old turntable, one arm under her head and the other draped across her knees. Staring into space, she tried not to think. She knew what she’d seen, even though nobody else would ever believe her; she had been right, there wasn’t much time left. He was coming.
Bzzzzzzt. Bzzz bzzzzzt. Tap tap tap. Bzzzzt.
“Hang on, I’m coming,” Lucy called, wondering who was at her door. It had been a couple of days since the nightmare figure had appeared, and she hadn’t seen or heard anything else; a tiny, overly optimistic part of her was beginning to think it had only been a paranoid continuation of her dreams. Dropping her cup in the sink, she headed to the door. “Oh, hi Josh. Come in,” she said, standing back to let her sort-of boyfriend through.
He walked straight through to the kitchen, slight and twitchy as usual. He’d dyed his hair again, bleached it almost white, matching the frames of his large plastic specs. He stood next to the table, blinking rapidly and rubbing his nose on his sleeve. “Hey Lucy, can’t stop for long but I heard you were having some trouble, bad dreams again? Anyway, how are you? Okay?” He watched her closely, his bright green eyes taking in every part of her.
Lucy nodded. “Fine. Just… the same old nightmares again. You know the ones. Want a coffee? I’ve got spare credits,” she said, heading for the machine in the corner. She didn’t want to explain it all to him; he was sweet and kind, but a bit slow, and she couldn’t even define her feelings to herself, let alone anyone else.
“Yeah, great. Hey, did you hear about the aliens?” he asked, sitting down. “It said in the news they wanted to send everyone a message, this weekend. They’re having a big thing in town, massive screens and a funfair and mini doughnuts and everything. You want to go along? It sounds like fun, and you look like you need a rest.”
Lucy sat opposite Josh, pushing his cup across to him. She really couldn’t care less what the ‘aliens’ were up to, it all sounded like a massive practical joke to her. She had better things to do with her time than go to some funfair and watch a fake alien on a screen. “Thanks Josh, but I’m fine. You go if you like, have fun; I’ve got things I need to study.” MrDoctor had replied to her message, he wasn’t going to help her, so she’d have to work it out alone. That was fine, probably for the best really. Lucy rubbed her eyes, trying to shift the dull ache that had settled yesterday why won’t this headache go away? Is it Him, is He doing this, no it can’t be, please no, I don’t want this again don’t make me please don’t make me.
“Not that Tulpa thing again, is it? You spend way too much time on that nonsense. Come on, come out and enjoy yourself. I know you don’t believe in the aliens, but who cares? Even if it is fake, there’ll still be rides and things. I’ll pick you up at four, we can eat there. Saturday, don’t forget,” Josh said, draining his mug and setting it back on the table as his watch beeped. “Oooh, I gotta get to work. Boss says if I’m late one more time I’m fired; sucks, right? Well, if you have any more weird dreams, ring me. See you Saturday, Lucy,” he called as he left.
Oh look, once again I have no choice about where I go. Lucy sighed heavily, staring down at her coffee. He did have a point, though. It might do her good to get out for a few hours, throw some balls at a target or ride the teacups. Aliens or not, the funfair might be worth a look. She’d enjoyed things like that, before, in what felt like a different life. She’d loved the really massive roller coasters at the big theme parks, the ones where you looped and plunged, zooming along a rail at god-knows-how-many miles an hour. She smiled, remembering her fourteenth birthday party. Her parents had taken her and a few friends to Alton Towers, and she’d been the only one not too scared to ride the new one, Nemesis Sub-Terra. She’d had to wait for almost two hours, and stand on tiptoe to get through the height requirement, but it had been worth it.
Her smile slipped as her memory rolled on, past her birthday to the week after, when she had first seen Him. It was nothing at first, just an oddly tall man at the end of the street, a few half-glimpsed shadows in the night. Then He got closer, more invasive, appearing at her bedroom window and whispering in her head. She lost hours of memory, days sometimes, waking up in places with no idea how she had got there. Abandoned buildings, occasionally, but most often the forest. After the first few times, she got used to the disorientation; she eventually looked forward to coming round on the leafy forest floor, where it was peaceful and quiet. Until … no, I don’t want to remember that, I don’t want to, please no don’t make me don’t make me … her headache built, dull pounding behind her eyes becoming a thunderous drum drowning out everything else, except one memory, of when she finally realised what had been happening in her blank spots:
Lucy stirred, leaves rustling under her, she must be in the forest again. Her eyes flickered open, fixing on a spot of sunlight on a tree in front of her. She pushed herself up from the ground, wondering how long it had been this time … her hand came across something warm and sticky. Pulling a face, she looked at what she had just stuck her hand in, something disgusting probably, slick and red oh god that’s blood. She checked herself, nothing there; something dripped onto her from above, she looked up to see a girl stuck in the tree -
- no, on the tree, on a branch bleeding, wait that’s Mads from school, what the hell’s going on here?
“Mads, you okay? Hang on, I’m calling an ambulance,” Lucy said, pulling her phone out and dialling 999. A crackling, screeching noise came out of it, half deafening her and making her drop the thing. It landed screen up, still screeching and static all across the screen. She looked back up at Mads, wondering if she could climb up and check her, maybe she had her phone on her too.
Lucy was at the base of the tree before she realised something wasn’t right. Mads never shut up for more than five seconds, even during class. Surely she would have made some kind of noise, unless… She looked up again, directly underneath Mads now, and saw tangled stuff spilling out of a huge gash down her front. Her eyes were wide open, almost surprised, and blood dripped from her open mouth. Lucy stumbled back, horrified. But why did they leave me alone, whoever did that to Mads just left me lying there, surely they would have killed both of us, oh god are they coming back, are they watching me, why am I just standing here run you stupid girl run and get help …
Walking backwards another few paces, paying no attention to anything except the gruesome spectacle in front of her, she found herself backed up to a tree. It jolted her back to reality; she turned to go around it, run back home and call the police, except she couldn’t. She hadn’t backed into a tree at all. He stood there, the tall man who had been following her; and he was very tall, more than twice her height, wearing a suit too dark to be simply black, and when she tilted her head back far enough to see his face, he didn’t have one, just a featureless stretch of white skin. She turned to run the other way, but there he was, in front of her again, and His voice echoed loudly in her mind, making her flinch.
You can’t run away this time. I’ve been patient enough.
Lucy trembled, expecting to end up like Mads as she pleaded. “Don’t hurt me, please, just let me go, I won’t say anything, I haven’t even said about you following me, please let me go I won’t tell please…” Her sentence was cut off as something tightened around her throat, enough to stop her speaking without constricting her airway.
Quiet. If you are obedient you will not be harmed.
Lucy stared, only able to think one thing; you killed Mads, you killed her you killed her …
No Lucy, you killed her on my instruction. You belong to me.
Something shattered, and Lucy was thrown back into the present, released from her memories. A dark brown mess was pooling on the tiled floor, shards of white sticking up from it like pieces of bone. She had obviously nudged her coffee cup off the table, and it had broken. Glad to have something practical and mundane to lose herself in, Lucy gathered the bits of cup and started mopping up coffee. At least her headache had gone, that was something. She hated having to relive that incident; after the scene in the forest He had taken her completely, away from everything she knew. Luckily she had very few memories of what He had made her do. She thought if she ever did remember, it would probably make her go crazy.
People crowded the square, laughing behind rubber alien masks and rushing between stands. Lucy kept her eyes on the ground, trying to make herself as small as possible. She hadn’t really wanted to come out in the first place, and she was getting annoyed at the amount of people who kept bashing into her. Nobody was looking where they were going, and Josh had been dragging her around the square for the past hour looking for mini doughnuts. Why he seemed obsessed with mini doughnuts she couldn’t fathom.
“Josh, we’ve been here already and they didn’t have any,” she shouted as they approached a food stall. “They won’t have got any in the last ten minutes, will they?”
Josh looked back at her. “They might have, or they might know where we can get some,” he called back, and pulled her forwards again.
Lucy dug her heels in. “Josh, let go of my wrist, you’re hurting me!” He’d had a vice grip on her arm ever since they arrived, and she was sick of being pulled around.
He stopped, turning back with a surprised expression. “Sorry Lucy, I didn’t realise … are you okay?”
Lucy nodded, rubbing her wrist. “Yeah, just a bit sore, you’ve been holding me pretty tightly.”
“No, your nose is bleeding. Did you catch your face on something?” Josh looked at her, worried. “Come on, there’s probably a first aid station somewhere,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders and leading her out of the throng.
Lucy went with him, dabbing at her nose with her sleeve and staring at the red stain it left. No, not now, not here, please …
So many people. Where shall I have you start … that one, walking next to you?
“No!” she cried, pulling away from Josh, stepping backwards. People stared, wondering what was going on, but Lucy didn’t care. “Get away, get away from me!”
Josh looked confused, and slightly hurt. “Lucy … what’s …”
“I can’t explain, I’m sorry, just go!” She turned and ran through the multitude of people, ignoring Josh calling her name. She ran until the crowd thinned, slowing down slightly when she reached an empty space. I have to get out of here; I have to get somewhere quieter … She kept going, past an attendant who was absorbed in a magazine, into a building, only stopping when she ran straight into herself. She stared for a second, panicking, looking left and right at more copies of herself wait they’re reflections; I must be in the mirror maze. Damn it, of all the places I could have run into… She closed her eyes, shutting out the multiple Lucys around her, and sank to the floor. At least there’s nobody in here, nobody to hurt, so long as I stay here He can’t make me…
I can make you do anything I want, Lucy. You know that. But having you run around here now would be a wasted effort.
What do you mean? Lucy thought, frozen in place on the floor. What are you doing?
You ought to know. After all, you gave me the idea, little one.
She shuddered at His touch, His long fingers in her hair; she wanted to pull away but couldn’t move, unsure if it was fear or Him paralysing her, or even if there was a difference …
Glass shattered all around her, breaking the spell; she threw her arms over her head to protect herself as falling shards tinkled to the floor. Lucy opened her eyes, blinking away red tears. Every mirror had broken but the one in front of her; she stared at the girl inside it, feeling no connection with her own image as she reached out to it, hands and face shining with her own blood. But what idea, what does He mean I should know, how can I have given Him …
Lucy stared blankly at her own reflection. She could almost feel the clunk in her brain as everything finally connected. The Tulpa effect; enough people thinking about the same thing will make it real. Aliens dominating the world’s press for months; millions of people all over the world, anticipating their appearance tonight. This funfair wasn’t the only thing happening, there were hundreds of thousands of similar events going on around the globe, as everyone got excited about the aliens’ first message. She stood, moving far too slowly in her dazed state. I have to try. I’m probably too late, but … oh why didn’t I see it before, it’s been right in front of me this whole time!
The stories and videos had given Him enough of a hold before to affect a handful of people; either the most imaginative or the most gullible, depending how you looked at it. Lucy had been one of them, and He had taken her, used her … she had eventually accepted it, accepted Him willingly … but she had changed her mind and ran when I realised what He was going to do …
Oh god I did tell Him, I did give Him the idea, He must have made me forget when I ran off; but then why did He let me out? He could have kept me there, or just killed me, why …?
Keep running Lucy; you’ll find out.
She stopped, looking around; apparently she had been running full pelt without paying attention to where she was going. She was back outside, in the middle of the crowd. A few people looked her way, but most were concentrating on the huge screens that lined the square, which had flickered into life. Someone was speaking on the PA system, it sounded like the mayor giving a speech. Turn the screens off. It might not help much but it’s all I can do from here… Lucy pushed through the crowd, looking for the generator running the screens.
She had just passed a bunch of little kids when they started screaming. Wondering why, she turned around.
“That’s not what I saw, it’s not, it’s not!” a young girl with pigtails was saying, tears running down her face.
A boy kept shaking his head. “The aliens are green and spotty, that’s not them!”
"They’re not green, they’re purple!” another boy shouted.
The pigtailed girl turned and saw Lucy watching them. “No, the aliens are orange and fluffy. That’s scary, I don’t like it!”
Lucy crouched down next to the kids. “Don’t look at it, look at me. All of you,” she said, determinedly ignoring the screens. “You all saw different aliens, then?”
The children nodded; the girl with pigtails still crying. “What is that?” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter; the important thing is not to look, or think about it. Try and think about other things, okay?” They all nodded again, and Lucy turned to the girl. “What’s your name?”
“Ellie,” she said, sniffling.
Lucy took a deep breath. “Okay Ellie, we need to tell everyone that that thing isn’t what you saw. Can you be really brave, and come with me to talk to everyone?”
“Okay.” Ellie rubbed her eyes and nose dry and followed Lucy.
Lucy picked the girl up and carried her to the podium where the mayor still stood, silently gawping at the screens like the rest of them. She pushed him out of the way and spoke into the microphone, her voice shaking almost as much as her legs.
“Listen, everyone; this isn’t what you think it is. What’s on the screen isn’t an alien, it’s something very dangerous, you need to stop looking right now!” The crowd just kept staring, hypnotised by the entity that had appeared on the screens. “I’m serious, listen to me; I can explain everything if you’ll just listen… Ellie, tell them, tell them it’s not what you saw,” Lucy said, lifting the girl’s head off her shoulder.
Ellie flopped lifelessly, a red streak showing where her nose had bled. Lucy stared at her no no no, she’s not, she can’t be, why would you, she’s what, six? Seven? What did killing her achieve?
She died for the same reason the others have. They can’t take me being in their minds for too long; unlike you. And that’s why I let you live. Most of them can’t hear me; the ones who can usually die quickly, or go insane. So you’re going to be my voice, Lucy.
No I’m not, I won’t… As she thought it, she felt something turn her around –
He stood there, exactly as she remembered; twice her height, no face, twisting blackness that defied the senses, and that dreadful feeling that He could stare into your mind and you’d be powerless to stop Him tearing it apart…
You will, little one. Whether you want to or not. Now drop the child and speak for me.
shook, trying to resist, but she had never been able to; she was vaguely aware
of Ellie falling from her arms before the swirling darkness swallowed her.