August 6, 2018
I get a lot of hate mail about the stuff that I put on Reddit. Don’t get me wrong. I love the community. They give upvotes, I get karma, and sometimes (amazingly) people even PM me to say that they love me too. But still, I have to admit that the vast majority of messages I get are from people accusing me of just about everything and anything. From using subjects to paint a political picture, to sowing seedy statements, to misrepresenting and marring minorities. Pick one. Make another up. For a while, I thought I’d heard it all.
Then I got some messages from one particular user. And the way things are looking right now … well, I don’t think I’ll be posting ever again.
Before I really get into it — to any other arm-chair surgeons out there who are hellbent on dissecting me, allow the patient himself to just go ahead make the first incision:
I just want to express myself, and be myself. That’s all. And, for me, what that often means is gently taking a reader by the hand, kindly leading them to my home, and politely ushering them into the basement … where I slam the door behind them, shut the light out, and then proceed to scare them out of their goddam skin. I want them to beg me to let them out. And I want them to scream.
You really want to explore just what kind of person I am?
Alright. Unwarranted hotdogging aside, my little word-painting there is just the idea, anyhow. God knows it doesn’t always go that way. In fact, it’s only gone that way for me a couple times, and I believe that’s the whole reason I’m posting this. I want to come clean and honest.
I am not who you think I am. I am not who I want to be. Yes, I wrote some stories that the sub liked … but I was so ripped out of my mind I don’t even remember striking the keys. Yes, I got a chunk of karma from the upvotes … but it was still bottom-tier numbers. And yes, I really did get a couple ‘I love you’ PMs … but they also came right along with a slew of ‘I hate you’ PMs. What I’m trying to illustrate is that I’m not nearly as skilled than most of the writers here, writers who actually deserve your attention. I’m not deep, or reflective, or even really talented (whatever that means). When I wrote those stories I was doing something that was not an expression of myself, and I was not beingmyself; just writing predictable creepypastas that relied too much on abysmally cheap scares — fearmongering — and weren’t anything better than what you read over at Scary for Kids.
Sad but true.
And even though at the time I didn’t think that, I know it’s true now because of those particular messages I mentioned.
So what I’m going to do is use this post as a response to those messages, not just so you can better understand my situation, but because I haven’t been able to contact this user after the last message they sent me.
You know who you are. If you’re reading this, I hope what you did to me is the last of all this. I hope this will explain some things — why I didn’t get in touch with you sooner, why I’m finally admitting all this — but most of all I hope you leave me alone. This has gotten way, way out of hand.
And I have to admit, it’s really scaring me.
How’s that for karma.
The crazy shit really started last week, when I sat down to work on another story. I never actually cared much about inbox-opinions until then. This was not long after my supposed ‘hits’; a couple stories which proceeded about forty other posts that were categorically downvoted, denounced, and then dismissed as trash. That hurt because those were the stories I actually tried to make good and fun to read, and were the most original. The ‘hits’ were in point of truth actually just bandwagonning copycats that I wrote under a somewhat dangerous dosage of alcohol — I admit, I can’t stand typical creepypastas, and the drinking helped me get through it. I usually drink when I write, anyhow. Drowns the doubt.
Now — even though a lot of people sent me message after message disparaging me, and I sometimes hated what I’d written upon completion, I never suffered from anything even remotely similar to the condition I developed at this time. Look, I’m not using this post to exhibit anything here; I know I’m not amazing. I just do what I do, and I do it because — ultimately — the doing of it makes me feel good. Not complicated. So when this little condition did arrive, I was so unfamiliar with it that at first I just thought it was plain old writer’s block. I think that was because, somewhere in that tough-guy part of my brain, I didn’t believe it was a condition at all; just some bullshit that was conquered with a bit of determination, as professed by all the popular writers (the real writers) I admired so much in the OOC.
Well, I can say that I know a lot about the condition now. I know more about it than I ever wanted to.
When I sat down at my computer that night and opened up Word, I felt pretty damn serious about writing something better than those last ones. Better than anything I’d done prior. I didn’t want to rely on tired tropes or typical archetypes this time. I wanted something, I don’t know, real. Sure. Throw a theme in there. Give a character a true trait, something a little more meaningful than the colour of their eyes or their fucking hairdo. Yeah. Go Moore on this shit. Craft prose that would give Atwood reason to grin.
So I did my usual: grabbed a case of Heineken out of the fridge, loaded up my Puppets playlist, cranked the speaker volume, and — for a while, anyhow — things went pretty fucking good. I plotted, formulated, and typed.
Typed … typed … typed …
A couple hundred words in and I abruptly stopped.
Something felt out of whack. Not the story — the air had grown warm, almost hot. Heavy and damp, elemental and electric, hair-rasing, not unlike the way it might feel right before a summer afternoon’s storm cloud unleashes it’s warlock’s magic right overhead.
That time, I convinced myself that it was just me, that I’d been white-hot; when you’re really feeling your shit and you’re in the zone and your typing faster than you thought you knew how and you get goosebumps from it, and, yeah, your body heats up a little from all the thinking and the movement and the thrill of telling the tale.
Let’s get real, here.
More likely I was just buzzed off the beer.
But even still … even still I couldn’t deny that stormy, steely feeling hanging around.
I sat back in my seat, a little bewildered, a little curious. For good measure I looked around. Windows were closed, beyond them a standard August night. Clear skies. Stars twinkling in a blanket of navy-blue which was fast-encroaching into the turquoise resting along the horizon. Nothing out of the ordinary in my little corner of the world … unless you counted me, that is, with the freaky shit I try to put down. But why did the room feel so weird?
This was of course not writing. This was sitting around being drunk and feeling euphoric. I went back to the story and combed through what I’d written.
I allowed myself a loud groan. Something about it was just … it wasn’t really … I mean, it wasn’t exactly …
My inner-critic piped up:
Not up to par, pal.
Try Stephie Meyer instead of Alan Moore.
Marjie Atwood sure ain’t smiling, buddy.
I highlighted every goddam word, from bottom to top, then slammed my middle finger down on BACKSPACE. A big fuck off. It wasn’t up to par. Stilted sentences. Dialogue that was hard on the ear. A main character who was about as intelligent as a donkey. I have this saying: if it doesn’t grab your heart, it ought to grab your mind, and it it doesn’t grab either of those then it should at least grab you somewhere below the waist. Take that any old which-way you want, but this wasn’t grabbing me anywhere at all. Besides, what was a few hundred words, anyhow? Kill your darlings and all that. Or, perhaps in this case, abort your bastards.
Too hard on myself? Maybe. But I had to trust my gut. You always have to when you’re writing fiction. You can ignore the hate mail (in fact you have to), but if you don’t listen to the muse then you are the donkey. I was going to top myself, and that was that. It had to be on the money.
I shook my head and once more placed hands to keyboard. And this time, I could barely believe what happened.
My hands locked up. Literally locked up. As if the flesh had turned to solid stone. My mind was functioning, yes … muscles underneath were flexing, yes … but … just no movement there in the fingers. Stiff. Blocked.
Yeah, that was really the word, wasn’t it? Not blocked, but trapped. Because this wasn’t some curse or hex or magic. In the writer’s world, there are no such things outside of the page. This was merely what happened when you doubted yourself; you got scared. You got scared that what you’re doing is a waste of time, that it’ll be no good, that you’re not as good as you thought. Then you get trapped. Trapped inside your own goddam skull. And then your fingers don’t type and you don’t feel your shit and you don’t hear the wonderful music of the keys tapping.
I took a break. I went through two more Heines. Of course I could control my hands easily enough again; this is not The Twilight Zone. This is not Goosebumps.
Well, sure enough, when I came back to the computer and I had a new problem: my little bubble of fantasy had popped; I’d lost my train of thought and thereby the path of the story. Then I fell into those so very alluring internet traps; Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit … all of that. I went through another two beers in the meantime and then I couldn’t even recollect what I’d just done in the past hour. Not any writing, I can tell you that much.
Can’t even get a page done.
What a writer.
Then, eventually —
— I got a notification on my phone.
It was an unread message on Reddit. Eager to distract myself this time from that goddam inner-critic (which was doing more harassing than inspiring), I opened the message up on my browser.
from /u/murder_2 sent 1 minute ago
Hey man. Did you read the story I sent you?
I’d almost managed to forget about him.
We’d chatted privately in the sub’s Discord a few times, and he said he really liked my stories. Turns out he even named himself after my own username. I never believed people actually did stuff like that until then. I mean, yeah, I’d seen other people pop into the OOC naming themselves after their favourites. But I never thought in million years it’d happen to me.
Well he eventually sent me an email with this rough draft he’d written, and he asked me to edit it. He said he wanted it to be a collaboration kind of thing. In an offhand kind of way I told him I would — having no idea what I’d just set myself up for.
You know when you’re walking a dog, and it sees something it wants, and it starts pulling and yanking on the leash and suddenly you find that it’s walking you? You give it some extra slack on the leash, and it still wants more?
For the past three months, I’d been getting tugged.
from /u/murder_2 sent 3 months ago
Did you read it yet?
The Story I Sent You
from /u/murder_2 sent 2 months ago
Did you edit anything?
from /u/murder_2 sent 26 days ago
Did you send it back somewhere already? I don’t see it.
No. No, I had not. To be truthful, I had barely even looked at it. I already wasn’t even interested when I’d read the clickbaity title and glanced over a few paragraphs which had to do with smiles too wide and too many teeth. Just as cliché as cliché gets around this part of the internet. I just did not have the time to put my own stuff down, pop my fantasy bubble, blow his up, pore through some wannabe’s creepypasta rehash (oh-so professionally done in Times, single-spaced, no title, no name, no word count, no spellcheck), dismantle it, reform it, edit spelling and grammar, change scenes, suggest new ones … moreover, I really felt that I was done with this whole scene; urban legends that had to be unprovable.
Okay, listen: I know that sounds like I’m making excuses. But I really, really wasbusy. Remember, I was struggling with my own shit, not just the writing but this fucking inner-critic that was recently becoming no help at all. It was all starting to worry me.
I’m not sure if this is the place to say it, but … for a long time, I was … well, fuck it: for a long time I was suicidal. The funny thing, though, is that my inner-critic was now not a whole lot unlike this kind of ‘presence’ you may develop when you’re in that dark state of mind, the one that whispers at you to do things. Eventually you learn that you can’t actually gag it, but you can learn to live with it. Same as the inner-critic. So there was a lot of therapy, and a lot of meds, and finally I fell in love.
I was in love with writing. You can call me cheesy (and you know, I think that’s about the cheesiest thing I think I’ve ever written), but that’s just how it was. If my meds were the rope that pulled me out of that pit, then writing was the fence that kept me out of it; a creative hobby, something that took my mind off things, something I could pour my heart into. Something that was just mine.Something that was me. I’d always written stories, but I started taking it more seriously — as if my life depended on it (I suppose it kind of did, anyhow). I wrote all my drafts right from shitty beginning to polished end, taught myself how to code a website, and rendered every story there with absolutely no one else’s help — God knows that. Anyway the point is this: years of work, years of failure, years of struggle. And just now people were starting to notice me with those earlier stories and I had a bit of a foothold now to show people what I was really capable of.
No — I’d play nice and be everyone’s best bud and become Mister ‘Works-For-Free’ Editor after I finished my own work. Now I finally had this chance to solidify my name.
To do otherwise would make me feel like an imposter.
So I closed that latest message from I-Can’t-Write-But-Could-You-Do-It-For-Me, and didn’t respond. You can call me anything you want. Asshole, egomaniac, whatever. But there was another reason I did that: something was starting to gnaw at my mind, something inside, something that felt brutish and vicious and hungry. I began to dread what could happen if I couldn’t get rid of this writer’s block thing. What would happen if I couldn’t write anymore? What if the rope was slipping through my grasp? What if the fence I’d been leaning on was now cracking?
I seriously worried, too, that I’d have to up my meds. Sure, they helped — but that was in small doses and in conjunction with other things … like writing. I was terrified of this grim future I saw myself in where I’d have to keep upping them, over and over, until eventually I’d be nothing but a mindless zombie. Just some unalive thing bashing out words which carried no trace of a human soul. A talking skull.
The tried-and-true solution to writer’s block was of course writing. So I managed to get a few more sentences in. I was quite drunk by then, I won’t lie about it, but I was also quite used to writing that way. And even maybe because of it my fingers had limbered up.
And yet …
For the first time in years it felt like I was prying rail spikes out of concrete with only my fingernails. It felt like I was pushing a boulder up an endless hill. It felt like every strike of the keys was like playing an out of tune piano.
My speakers were still blaring all this time, and I vaguely recall hearing the unmistakable growl of Hetfield’s voice, before I passed out for the evening: “… violent use brings violent plans …”
I didn’t know it then, but that night I got off easy.
The next morning came around and I woke up on the floor with a head absolutely pounding. I slowly took to my feet, feeling like I was about sixty. I couldn’t remember a hangover so bad. My lips were numb. I could barely keep one eye open.
I needed a little something-something to get the blood pumping. So I did my old Tried And True: black coffee to drink, a main course of Advil, and a side of Belmont Silvers — don’t forget the meds.
Then came back and sat down at my desk. A real breakfast could wait; I wanted to bust through this damn block, and fast. Before the rope ran out.
I looked at what I written the night before. About two paragraphs, and not much more than babble by the time you got halfway through the second.
But then there was this line, a couple breaks underneath:
CHEC YOUYR MESSAHES
This was drunkese for ‘Check your messages’. I usually leave notes like that just before I’m about to pass out, so I’m quite familiar with the language. Call it one of my many talents. I’m honestly not sure how, during those final moments, I can even type anything that resembles English, but usually there’s some glimmer of an idea in there. Sometimes drunk-Pat was on to something that only sober-Pat could decipher later. Weird, possibly idiotic modus operandi, I’m aware. But I never said I was not one fucked up fellow.
Anyway I wondered if there was something important in there, in the messages inbox. Maybe something I could get a prompt out of. Or maybe it was just something plain old important, like a narration request.
Wouldn’t you guess?
Another message my little admirer.
And man … what a message.
from /u/murder_2 sent 7 hours ago
All I’m asking for is a fucking edit. Do you understand what that is? It’s just ONE read-through. You SAID you would. I’ve waited THREE MONTHS for a response and got nothing. I messaged you OVER and OVER. I KNOW you haven’t been WRITING. So? You don’t have FIFTEEN MINUTES? Fifteen fucking minutes to stop drinking your fucking beer and read YOUR FAN’S story? Someone who RESPECTS YOU enough to ask you to do that? I know plenty of other authors on the sub who would KILL for that kind of attention. But no. I CHOSE YOU.
You know what I THINK you’re starting to be, Pat?
I THINK maybe you’re not who I thought you were.
I THINK maybe you’re a BONEHEAD.
Look, I just don’t like being ignored. And I know you can handle a little name calling, because you’ll put up with hate mail and bad comments if it means getting those little orange arrows. That’s why you post stuff on a bullshit scene like Reddit. Why would any fucking ‘author’ do that other than for karma? Upvotes. Karma. Views. That’s what makes you FEEL GOOD, isn’t it? Of COURSE it is. Don’t LIE TO YOURSELF. You could submit stories any old other place.
Well, that’s why I want you to work on this. I think Reddit will LOVE this story. I think you’ll really APPRECIATE its value. People liked my other stories, after all. You know what they say about two heads. It would be EVEN BETTER than the others.
DON’T ignore this.
DON’T ignore ME.
You might regret it.
Violent use brings violent plans.
I got up out of my seat, sort of in a half-daze. I floated over to the window with a coffee in my hand that felt too heavy and legs that felt like two hollow tubes. As I looked out towards the Avon river, one very disturbing question occurred to me.
Was he right?
Was I not being true to myself?
Was I actually in love with self-gratification, instead of writing?
Unimportant right now. Whether or not that was just rhetoric on his part, he certainly seemed to know a little too much about other things. Was he stalking me? Spying? My legs were shaking now, top of my shoulders all tensed up. I was always very careful about TMI on any of my online profiles. I had always been very careful about that.
You’ve been figured out, pal.
You’re an imposter.
A mindless zombie.
I decided to go through each thing. This was all just some kind of crazy, misunderstanding.
First of all, he couldn’t know that I wasn’t writing. I mean really writing. I hadn’t posted anything in a long time, not since the ‘hits’, and who was to say I didn’t have something in the works (which I did)? So that wasn’t entirely accurate. That could just have been a presumption.
The next thing was obviously that little tidbit about the drinking. I never admitted that to anyone in the OOC, nor had I specifically mentioned beer …but, to be perfectly honest, my memory is rather embarrassingly awful; maybe I had told someone, somewhere. Maybe I had gotten quite drunk one night and just spilled the beans into a chatroom and then forgot all about it a week of drinking and hangovers later. I’d done much worse in more consequential settings. And come on. How many times did I reference my lifestyle in my writing? I mean it was shameless. Every other story the character was an alcoholic. He had simply inferred from reading my shit. Anyone could, really.
I paced back and forth in the office. My head was absolutely hammering, brain squeezing against my temples. The hangover was not helping.
You know what they call a writer who isn’t true to them-self?
Just a talking skull.
As far as that comment about his stories being well-received: that was a little weird. I’d seen his profile. 1 karma. No posts. No comments. Maybe he had another account. But then if he was perfectly capable of writing good stories, then why the shit did he seem to need me to help him? Well, maybe he just really wanted to do a collab.
The song quote? Unsettling, too. But my playlist was public (I never did figure out how to turn that off), and I did remember linking it a couple times into tho OOC’s music queue before.
It started becoming very clear that he’d gotten most of what he knew from lurking the sub.
But there was the last thing. The one I saved for last because deep down I already knew that I could not explain it, no matter how much I’d think about it. It was that line, the one in the middle of the message (’You know what I THINK you are, Pat?’). It was glaring and undeniable. So much so that it actually appeared in my mind’s eye, gibbering mad and insane.
(‘I THINK you’re being …’)
I moved to turn away from the window, wanting to get on with my writing and just forget this whole stupid, idiotic mess. I’d just message the mods, let them deal with this guy. I was —
— overthinking things and I had a goddam story to write. A good one. A big one. The best one. More than ever I just wanted to go back at it. I would have to be —
— a complete fool if I now gave in to this asshole’s demands, if I gave in to his little disguised threat at the end there. Seriously. And I was —
— certainly not about to do that. This was no longer asking for a favour. It was poisonous obsession.
But before I even turned ninety degrees I caught sight of something in the window that made me shake so much that I dropped my mug of coffee. The black liquid spilled onto the hardwood in a cackling splash of broken ceramic.
I’d been my reflection, and I had seen a monster.
Do you know that Hemingway quote, ‘All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed’?
The quote took on a horrid new meaning for me at that moment. Of course I had seen my own face in the window, but not my own face. There was old blood crusted all around my lips and chin as if I’d went down on Taylor Swift the night before. My right eye (the one I couldn’t seem to keep open), was surrounded by a small cloud-like bruise of ugly purple.
It would have been nice to just say I passed out and hit my head on the desk. Yes. It would have been nice to say I hit my head about three times, aiming perfectly for the mouth and eye. Right. I knew exactly what this was. Something a little worse. I knew because it was a habit of mine when I’d started writing, way back, before the therapy. A habit I thought I’d gotten rid of when I’d got my meds; when I’d grabbed hold of the life-rope.
Punching yourself, huh?
Bullying yourself over failure.
Gee, take it easy, pal, it’s only upvotes.
But no one would even have a chance to read it if it wasn’t done. Never mind upvotes.
I felt that twinge of dread again, inside. Not as sharp as it was before, but there. No doubt about it; it was coming back. The ‘black dog’, as Churchill called it, was paying me a visit, sniffing at my soul, licking its lips.
I did message the mods about that message. I screencapped the conversation and gave them an Imgur link to it. They informed me that this was rule-breaking (no shit) and that my wonderfully eager follower would be banned from the sub indefinitely. But because they had merely made a soft-threat, action outside of Reddit would only be taken if further behaviour continued.
And the cops? What, exactly, the fuck would I tell them? ’Hey! This … guy … on the internet … is sending me bad messages! And he’s calling me names! I don’t know his name, address, contact info, or what he looks like! Do something!’
If they were to take such requests seriously, then all the kids on Fortnite would also have to be hunted down and arrested for the heinous crime of trash-talking, first degree.
Well, I knew better. So I went around my apartment, locked every possible entrance, pinned blankets over every window. I went to Home Depot and got a couple of Schlange deadbolts, too.
After I installed them I made an appointment with my family doctor which got scheduled for the next week. I didn’t feel great about it. I knew she’d want to up the meds after hearing about this. But I had to. The black dog was pulling the rope and it was slipping through my fingers.
In the mean time, I had to finish a story before the rope ran out.
I had to repair the fence.
Later that evening I came to tears.
I decided not to drink. That was what was really screwing me, I figured. And while you could argue that all the greats who wrote brilliant literature usually did so while high, juiced, pissed, loaded, sauced, blasted, shitfaced, and troll-eyed, even I’d have to argue back by saying they were probably great before they ever did any drugs.
And how did sober-Pat do?
In a full afternoon, sober-Pat could only get out one goddam sentence. Just as the night before, the air had grown heavy, and my hands had locked up. I tried and tried and tried, and got no words out of them beyond that one sentence.
The inner-critic chided me, the self-doubt set in, and above all was that terrible, tormenting question:
Was he right?
I drank myself to sleep.
Horror came when I woke up the next morning.
At first, I stared at the dark-speckled sheets in this kind of groggy amusement. Hah, did I bring a Caesar into bed with me? A Shiraz, maybe? Then I dumbly came to the realization that I had no clamato in the house, nor do I drink wine. I reached to lift my sheets off with one hand … the hand that tickled.
I froze solid.
Dread circled around my heart.
I slowly brought that hand up to my face.
My ears began to ring. My heart thundered all up and down within my chest. I could not resist a hard shiver — someone somewhere was walking over my grave.
What was on my sheets was of course not tomato juice or Merlot, but blood. Some dried, some fresh. But all over. On the sheets, on my arms, on my boxers. But that wasn’t just it. Oh, no.
When I had raised my hand I saw then that the source of the blood had come from a small nub: my right index finger was missing, sheared off in a ragged cut.
I scrambled out of the bed, stumbled, and then braced myself on the dresser, smeared more blood around as I got my footing, and tried my very-very best not to look at the hand. I succeeded in not looking, but of course I couldn’t ignoreit; while there was (to my surprise) only a dim hint of pain, there was a maddening twitch there with each throb of my racing pulse.
“Fuck,” I cried. “Fuck! Oh, fuck-fuck-fuck!”
I tucked the indexless hand under one arm and then staggered out of the room, legs scissoring beneath me as I zigzagged down the hallway, mind flying like I was on about six cups of coffee, six cigarettes, and six beers. It was difficult to keep myself standing, either from the blood-loss or the sheer horridness of the situation, but I somehow lurched along.
When I got to the kitchen, I frantically searched all around.
Where is it? Where the FUCK is the FUCKING FINGER!? You have to FIND it so you can throw it in the freezer or a bag of ice and then call —
That’s when I caught sight of the counter. And once again I froze, statue-still. This time I couldn’t even breathe.
There was a wooden cutting board on the counter, stained all over in crimson. Embedded into it was the pointed end of my carving knife which I usually kept in the rack, and it also stained with the dark substance. In the middle of the cutting board was my severed finger. If you didn’t know, you might have took it for the half of a miniature Weisswurst sausage — one that seemed to be curiously too raw and had been a very juicy one indeed.
“Can’t be,” I whispered hoarsely, “this just can’t be. How the fuck?”
Elementary, my dear bonehead.
He had come.
He had come because you didn’t read his story.
But how the fuck did he get in? What happened? Why can’t I remember? Was I that fucking drunk?
A memory triggered. A vague, half-formed recollection of what happened, the way you recall any drunken memory; just fleeting scenes, fading in and out.
… my arm against the cutting board …
… his hand clenched around the carving knife …
… my pleas …
… his demands …
“— read that story —”
“— not listening to me —”
“— course, I am, pal. I’m reading you loud and —”
“— NO!! It’s MINE!! This is something that’s MINE —”
“— if you don’t I’ll make sure you can’t —”
“— said NO! I don’t want —”
“— can’t have it, neither will you —”
“— no, please, please don’t, no, no, no, no, DON’T —”
Just dimly recalling that sickening cutting-through-celery sound was vivid enough to snap me out of it, get my legs functioning again (though just barely). I wobbled over to the cutting board, clumsily grabbed the finger. It really did feel oddly like a sausage in-between my fingers. I dry-heaved as I swerved over to the fridge, opened the freezer, and then stuffed it into an open bag of Green Giant peas. Ho-ho-fucking-ho.
I raced to my phone. It was on my desk in the living room, right next to the computer where I did all my writing. I swiped it up, dialed 911.
In the mere seconds that it took for me to get a pickup, I quickly glanced at the windows and the door — all locked, all closed, curtains in place, no signs of disruption or forced entry. This was nuts, too nuts. And — why was there blood all over my keyboard?
And then I looked at my computer screen, and something unexpected was open on there, not my lonely little sentence in Courier New from the night before, but a huge, rambling piece in Arial, all caps, and then I saw that it appeared to be a —
“Nine-one-one,” came the operator, “what is your emergency?”
I said nothing. My lips quivered. Tears ran down my cheeks in small streams.
“Hello? Nine-one-one, what is your emergency? Hello?”
The phone slipped out of my hand. I let it clatter against the counter.
I forced myself to lean closer at the computer screen. It felt like the air was thick syrup hindering my movement.
It was a message.
Just the first paragraph had been enough to get me reading it. The operator one the other end of the phone gave up and the said something else but it was nothing to me but waspish buzzing.
from /u/murder_2 sent 12 hours ago
DEAR PATRICK “BONEHEAD” HACK,
YOU JUST DON’T SEEM TO GET IT. IF YOU DON’T GET GOING WITH MY STORY I’M GOING TO START GETTING FURIOUS. I CAN DO MUCH MUCH MORE THAN LOCK YOUR HANDS UP, OR BEAT YOUR FACE IN, OR TAKE A TINY LITTLE FINGER.
VIOLENT USE BRINGS VIOLENT PLANS.
WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING, OLD BUDDY, OLD PAL? I NEVER LIKED YOU. NEVER. I HATE YOU. I HATE THAT YOU NEED CONSTANT AFFIRMATION. I HATE THAT YOU’RE SO PATHETICALLY DESPERATE. I HATE THAT YOU TAKE CREDIT FOR MY WORK AND THEN PASS IT OFF AS YOUR OWN. YOU ARE AN EGOTISTICAL MANIAC. I’M THE WRITER. NOT YOU. ME. ME ME ME. YOU’RE AN IMPOSTER. A HACK. A BONEHEAD. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU.
AW, WHAT’S WRONG, BONEHEAD? STILL DON’T REMEMBER? OUR ARRANGEMENT? WELL THEN YOU BETTER LISTEN REAL HARD BECAUSE THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
WHO, EXACTLY, DO YOU THINK WROTE YOU THOSE BIG ‘HITS’, PAT? WHO DO YOU THINK FED YOU THE IDEAS? DID YOU FORGET? OR DID YOU JUST IGNORE IT? DID YOU JUST DRINK IT ALL AWAY AND DROWN OUT THE ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL THOSE LITTLE ORANGE ARROWS YOU’RE SO FUCKING RELIANT ON FOR YOUR HAPPINESS?
WELL? HAS IT FINALLY GOTTEN THROUGH THAT THICK SKULL, BONEHEAD? THAT’S RIGHT. YOU AREN’T WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE. YOU CAN’T WRITE SHIT WITHOUT ME. YOU AREN’T DEEP, OR REFLECTIVE, OR EVEN TALENTED. I AM. IT’S ME.
CALL ME WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT. CALL ME YOUR GHOSTWRITER. BUT DON’T EVER EVER EVER IGNORE ME. BECAUSE THE REALITY IS, MISTER HACK, THAT YOU CAN’T. THE TRUTH IS,
Then I read the last two words at the very end, and it was what drove it all the way home. Suddenly my missing finger didn’t seem like my biggest issue. Not at all. In fact, there were some very, very unresolved issues here. The result of a truly warped mind, the worst kind of stalker there is: someone … some other …who knows more about you than you do.
I had forgotten.
He had given those stories to me.
And he had needed me to post them.
Much later, I was told by a nurse that I was found by paramedics that night, in my apartment, lying on the floor and shaking. I was either laughing, or crying, or screaming.
They couldn’t quite tell which.
Have you ever heard a voice? Not a loud one. Less than a whisper. Small thing. But a voice, nevertheless? The opposite of a muse, a voice that insists you’re not who you think you are? That you’re a sham? That any good you did was a fluke? Hey — happens to the best of them; a couple of perceptive ladies in ’78 determined that it’s a natural psychological pattern called ‘imposter syndrome’. All the greats have to deal with it. Moore, Atwood, all of them. Don’t sweat it.
But if that voice become anything more than a whisper, I recommend you pack up and get yourself a nice, cozy little room at the Perth County Sanitorium.
It’s not too bad, actually. He can’t get me here … at least he hasn’t so far. When I think he’s trying to get in, my buddies in the white coats come and jam me full of my new favourite — way better than beer: a little something-something I like to call Valium. The only thing is I’m not allowed mirrors. Seems that every time I look in one I see what’s under my skin, behind the face; a skull, bloodied and grinning, one that is not talking but laughing, and in it’s dark sockets are my own two hazel eyes staring right back at me.
Oh, and they’ve given me a laptop.
Even with a missing finger, I have tons of time to write now.
To write my stories.
I did message him back. Just yesterday. Many times. No response. I think he’s angry I still haven’t done anything with his story. But I have to have what’smine. I have to be true to myself. I’ve realized I’m going to keep doing what I do, because the doing of it makes me feel better.
Do you understand? It’s something for myself, okay?
Well, I really can’t know how long it’ll last. He was right, you know. No matter how much I delay, he’ll still find me. Maybe not tonight, maybe not next year. But he will. Maybe he’s only biding his time. Maybe he wants me to write this, so the world knows he exists, so that in some metaphysical way he can exist. That’s what he wanted, right? I think so. That would explain why my fingers haven’t locked up, at least.
Or maybe he’s simply moved on.
To someone else.
I don’t know.
I think, though, if he really wanted to, he could still certainly get me. Even here, inside this cell. I know that, actually. I know that because of that last line in the message.
Two simple words.
Two simple words I never thought would spike such morbid, red terror into my heart as they do now:
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