Rubbing my freezing hands nervously, I tucked them inside the pockets of my oversized sweater, clenching the soft wool in my whitening knuckles, holding them close to my dropping stomach before taking them out once again to wrap them around my profusely shivering self. A cool gust of early winter wind suddenly swooshed past me, fluffing through the fabric of my clothes, making me clench the flesh on my arm with an even tighter grip. My jabbing fingers were close to cracking open my skin, drawing blood to mar the white of my sweater in an ominous scarlet tinge.
“It’s okay. It’s fine.”
Mumbling to myself in a low voice, I slowly let go of my reddening arm, trying my best to keep my eyes cast down on the firm concrete that I had felt under my sole after a whole year. The familiar site in front of my eyes was much more unwelcoming than any other place I had ever been to before. I could hear hushed voices, pointing fingers, wandering gazes, all directed at me; some subtle, some not so subtle. They were talking about me, I knew it and I knew what they were talking about as well.
The crazy girl had returned to her hometown.
The word left a bitter inside my mouth. This was no home of mine. It was my personal living hell. There was no spot on earth that I despised more than this town, Delights.
A sour look washed over my face followed closely by a mocking smile as I started laughing silently to myself at the irony of the situation.
The town’s existence in my life was in complete opposite to its name. It was anything but delightful in my memories. All this town had ever given me was raw pain. Its mere name was enough to send shivers down my spine yet here I was roaming the streets of the most hated place on my list, Delights, on the most hated night in my calendar, Halloween.
Suddenly a small herd of children dressed in a colorful variety of ghouls, skeletons and blanket ghosts ran past me, the chain from one of their costumes lightly hitting my jeans clad knee, halting my thoughts as I flinched impulsively from the unexpected impact,
I was barely able to suppress my scream, but covering it up with a cuss word didn’t seem like a wise choice in the heat of the moment as a mother passing by me hurriedly placed her hands on her little boy’s ears while throwing dirty looks at me at the same time.
Murmuring a half-hearted sorry, I started taking longer strides, trying to put as much distance between me and the angry mother as possible. I was in no mood for a lecture or confrontation. Something much bigger was awaiting me, something much more sinister.
As soon as I turned the corner, out of that woman’s hearing range, I leaned my back against a tree, sliding slowly down the rough bark while letting out a loud groan,
“Why do I have to apologize for something I had no control over?!”
Lifting one of my trembling hands, I pulled the hair-tie out of my raven locks, letting several wavy tendrils frame my oval face, forming a temporary shield between me and the world I had no desire to face at the moment.
The street I had stopped in was rather less populated, small number of houses and even lesser people were present there yet those few visages, some familiar some unfamiliar, who had witnessed my mini breakdown didn’t forget to give me weird looks as they passed by my heaving, crouched figure. None of them asked me whether I was doing fine or not, they never did. They just looked, and judged.
In their minds, the reason behind my panicking seemed to be a very minor one. At first, they had ignored it as a child’s attempts at seeking attention, but as more and more time passed, the expression in their eyes changed from indifference to revulsion. They considered me as the crazy girl who had episodes of hysteria on every Halloween, the crazy girl who even after graduating and leaving them all behind for good kept returning to them on the thirty first of every October—the crazy girl who instead of going home to visit her parents, ran across the streets of the town at midnight.
God knows how much time passed before I lifted my head, passing a hand through my wild hair to swipe them away from hindering my vision. I had randomly settled down in the corner of the desolate street but now that I looked closely, I found myself blocking the path to the house in front of me. A trail of wickedly smiling pumpkins was lining both side of the track leading to their fancy porch. An abrupt urge to kick and tear every pumpkin appearing in my sight hit me out of nowhere making me take a step back.
I wanted to laugh out loud at my helplessness but that would’ve only resulted in strengthening the onlookers’ belief in the tale behind my madness.
I hated this. I hated their stares, I hated their guts. They thought they knew it all when in reality, they knew nothing. They hadn’t encountered once what I had been encountering on this ominous night, every single year. They hadn’t seen what I had. They hadn’t seen him.
Just his name was enough to tear the strings of my sanity into a tattered tangled mess.
I remembered seeing him for the first time when I, a six year old, went trick-o-treating with the neighborhood kids. I wished I could call them friends but I couldn’t, they changed, everything did after he appeared in my life, turning it upside down with his mere presence that could only be felt and seen by me—a curse in of the worst kind.
I remembered those amber eyes staring at me, following me as I went from door to door, too engulfed in my bag full of candies to be aware of the dangers lurking in the dimly lit streets of this dreadful town. I remembered being left behind by the other kids while I searched for my favorite chocolate bar that I had accidentally dropped somewhere on my way. I remembered crying in the middle of a deserted street after the relentless search for my little companions had left my small body tired to the bone.
That is when I first saw him, a head full of jet black locks appearing suddenly in my vision, head hung low as a pair of awfully pale yet big slender hands tied my dirtied shoelaces that had somehow gotten undone during my aimless wandering.
“Good girls shouldn’t cry.”
Those were his first words to me; a beautiful melody, fluttering its way through the thick foggy air surrounding us to reach my small ears concealed by the red hood hanging over my head.
Yes, I was little red riding hood and I had just met my big bad wolf.
My mother had drilled a fair share of information regarding talking to uncanny strangers inside my head, but one look at those amber eyes had caused all the reasoning, my little brain possessed, to abandon me immediately,
“Because big bad wolves love it.”
Even though he had lifted his head to stare directly into my eyes, I couldn’t see his face. His skin was concealed by a combination of black and white paint. The base was provided by a chalky white color on top of which black markings were used quite intricately to cover the area around his eyes, the tip of his straight nose and the hollow portion of his cheeks to give them a sunken appearance. Moreover, similar inky lines were smeared across his lips to illustrate a set of straight pearly white teeth on them, much like that of a skull’s.
It was one thick layer of paint but it could do nothing to hide the man’s beauty. He was a looker. Especially his eyes, the black paint surrounding them had made the amber pop out more in contrast. I couldn’t move my gaze away from those glimmering amber even if I tried.
“Are you a big bad wolf, too?”
A small chuckle followed my innocent question, soon turning into a full-blown laughter that should’ve sent cold chills through my body yet I remained unaffected, staring expectantly at him, awaiting his response,
“Oh, darling, I’m the worst of them all.”
Pouting slightly, I looked down at my black shoes, gazing longingly at the neatly tied pair of shoelaces,
“But you just tied my laces. You helped me.”
His uncontrolled laughter was suddenly brought to a halt as my meek voice found its way out of lips, hanging in the air between us.
“Maybe I was just helping myself.”
In a blink, the man’s face had come dangerously close to me, turning my little self’s doe eyes to widen than they already were as I let go of the wicker basket unintentionally regretting it the moment it happened. I was going to lose more of my candies, but to my surprise, the thudding sound never came.
He had stopped it from falling in time.
If possible, my eyes seemed to have increased twice in size, looking at the small basket barely able to hold the overflowing candies. My ogling stopped as my stunned gaze landed on the similar shiny red packet of my favorite chocolate along with all these new delicacies that hadn’t been there previously.
“They left you, darling. But I never will.”
And he had kept his word.
That night, he had crept his way inside my childish heart. I had become fairly comfortable around the strange man, letting him take me back home and he did that too but the trance eventually shattered when I stood there waving enthusiastically and my mother asked who I was waving off.
“Mommy, can’t you see the nice man with yellow eyes?”
Imagine my surprise when my mother hurriedly grabbed my arm, tugging me inside the door as she frantically stared around the empty patio,
“Sweetie, there’s no man there.”
She couldn’t see what I was seeing.
Peeking my head out from the warm stuff of her wool sweater, I rubbed my eyes before squinting them again, but the scene before my eyes still hadn’t changed. I was clearly able to see the man standing right in front of our door, staring down at me with devilish amber eyes as a snake like voice found its way towards my huddled figure,
Everything following that night was a big dark blur, a black-hole in which I was still trapped, hopelessly trying to find a way out but the more I tried to crawl out, the more it sucked me right back into it.
The next day, there were rumors of me talking to an invisible person in the neighborhood. They had seen me talking to thin air, walking hand in hand with nothing but space. Parents started murmuring about me, their children began to avoid me. Nothing remained the same, nothing except for him.
Just as he had said, he came to visit me on every Halloween. At first, he’d just remain in the shadows; a silhouette sitting in the rocking chair of our lounge, a dark shadow lying behind me on the bed, amber eyes staring at me through the half parted doors of my closet. He never said anything, he just stared. He knew no one believed me, he knew I was all alone, he knew I was scared senseless of him and he enjoyed every bit of it. He fed on it; fed on my hysteria.
As the years passed, his tactics became more severe as well. He’d take forms, forms of several other creatures that had been added to my ‘scares me to death’ list over the time. He loved scaring me. Sometimes, I could hear him laugh through the blur of my ear-piercing shrieks. Bastard relished my torment.
I had thought that once I left the town, this would all stop yet it didn’t. After graduation, I had moved out to the city, I had mustered courage to go to my first Halloween party yet all my efforts to socialize went straight down the drain when I witnessed the boy sitting next to me on the table decomposing like a freaking corpse right before my eyes. A patch of skin from his left cheek falling straight down my blouse broke down the last piece of my resolve, making me throw a glass of punch at him as I ran out of there screaming like my tail was on fire.
I had once again become the outcast, everyone had left me yet he didn’t.
Hysteria stayed with me.
Two years had passed since then, two years since I started coming back to Delights every Halloween. People here had already labelled me as the crazy chick. It was better wandering here than making breaking news on different local news channels every year.
I was well familiar with these streets. I knew my way around. I preferred roaming here to staying locked in my small apartment where there was never much room to escape or hide. I liked it this way. I felt free and I knew for a fact that he preferred things in the similar manner. Hunt thrilled him more than the hunted.
Rubbing my arms furiously in a failed attempt to calm my jittery nerves, I turned another corner, reaching a bustling street swarmed with several groups of grotesquely dressed people.
I was scared of crowds more than the desolate areas. Contrary to the old believe that evil things become more active in an inhabited place, Hysteria loved tormenting me in throng. It was his way of telling me that there was no escaping him. Nothing was going to stand between me and him.
“Hey, pretty lady! How about coming to our carnival? I’ll even let you take a picture with the killer clown.”
A hideously dressed man halted my train of thoughts by suddenly appearing in front of me, thrusting a colorful pamphlet in my hands, the force of it making me almost fall back down on my butt.
Letting the strange paper fall out of my hold, my hands immediately extended themselves in front of me in a defending position as I stared at the man with a guarded look in my grey hunted eyes, traveling up and down his built, scrutinizing him from head to toe.
Clad in a colorful attire consisting of a red and blue silk shirt over a bright yellow pair of baggy pants, the clown stood smiling in front of me, adjusting the smeared fake blood on his chalk white cheek while his scarlet tinged wig was threatening to fall down his head any moment.
‘Not a clown. Please.’
Abruptly, the man lifted the polaroid camera that he had been gripping in his other hand, almost shoving it in front of my face,
“How about a picture ma’am?”
‘Is he kidding me?’
“No, thank you.”
Getting the words out of my gritted teeth, I tried side stepping the clown only for him to block my way yet again,
“Just one picture, ma’am.”
I wanted to hit the man for annoying me in such a critical situation, but at the same time I couldn’t find it in myself to lash out at him for something he wasn’t even responsible for.
‘I can’t behave in the same unfair manner with him that I myself have been experiencing for years.’
Peering over his shoulder, I could see that more and more people had started looking our way, most of them waiting for me to provide them with an interesting show, something to gossip about on dinner table for the upcoming nights.
“Great, just let me do a test take first.”
‘Please, just get it over with.’
Huffing out a frustrated sigh, I wrapped my arms in front of myself, glaring daggers straight at the camera’s lens until my eyes got blinded momentarily by a flashing light followed closely by the soft click of the shutter.
Pausing midway while rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand, I let a frown take over my expressions as I walked closer to the phony killer clown. He was holding out a polaroid picture in front of me.
Looking at him distrustfully, I carefully took the picture out of the man’s hand but as soon as I looked at the picture, my tight grip on its crumpled corner suddenly faltered, letting it slowly fall down to the ground, on top of the radiant leaflet already lying down on the pavement.
“Y-You aren’t in the picture!”
He was right. The dirt ridden picture lying silently on the asphalt near my feet was mocking me while displaying the scenario of a bustling street painted across its white surface devoid of any raven haired girl glaring through it.
I was nowhere to be seen in it.
“What the hell!”
I had no idea why, but the clown had suddenly taken out his phone and had flipped open its front camera, pointing it towards both of us. His frenzied voice had urged me to look up at him first and then follow his eyes to see what had gotten him this terrified. My breath got caught in my throat the moment my eyes settled on the illuminated screen of the phone.
The clown could be seen standing at the same point, right next to me, yet I was not present at the scene being shown in his camera.
There was only him in the video, not me.
‘Is this a part of Hysteria’s sick games?’
I could feel my throat tightening once my brain processed what was happening around me. My jittery nerves had turned into a big blob of nervous wreck, making my heart sink into a pit of dark bottomless pit. My trembling hands had left my sides, crawling over my shoulders to reach my neck, scratching at my throat to somehow help it let the trapped air out yet only gasping sounds came out of my semi-parted lips. I was scared beyond words, with only one thought in my mind,
‘It has started.’
“Hey, are you alright? Ma’am I was just pranking you. It was only a harmless publicity stunt. See, the video is prerecorded. Look,”
The clown’s worried face covered my whole vision as he leaned down in front of my hunched figure before practically thrusting his phone in my face. He was hastily tapping the screen of his phone, showing me the continuously appearing and disappearing sign of a big round pause button occupying the bottom of the screen.
Like the cool autumn breeze sweeping the dead leaves off of the ground, the clown’s panic stricken voice slowly brushed my hysteria away, revealing the reality of the situation to me.
“You… you’re unbelievable!”
The first thing I did after finding my voice back was loudly scream in his face as I pushed him back with both of my hands, crawling back, away from him, on all fours.
“Relax, ma’am. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’ve done this prank to others as well.”
Holding up his hands in air, the clown looked around at the small crowd that had formed around us, drawing my attention to the herd of furiously whispering people as well.
‘Looks like they’ve got their dinner table gossip.’
Tears were threatening to spill from my brimming eyes as I placed my grazed hands on the asphalt, making them hurt more in the process as I used them to support my weight while I stood up. No one else came forward to help me.
Dusting the dirt clinging to my clothes, I turned my back to the stiff clown busy frowning at me as if he were berating me with his eyes for my overreacting.
I could see something snap inside of him the moment I said, but I couldn’t care less.
Leaving him and the crowd gawking behind me at my audacious behavior, I started taking large strides, my feet lightly padding against the firm concrete, trying to hurriedly reach the other side of the road. Just as I was about to about to enter a new street, I looked back once again at the dispersing crowd. None of them had stayed around to look at the lone tear leaking out of the corner of my eye.
‘Why do I create these scenes everywhere I go? Why do I have to get scared of every little thing? Why can’t I just have a normal life like everybody else?’
Numerous questions were swarming my throbbing head, making me crouch against the wall of the deserted street I had been occupying previously. Drawing my knees close to my heaving chest, I wrapped both of my arms around my weak legs, burying my head in it to muffle the sobs wracking through my body.
I couldn’t help shouting out my frustration, making my voice resound through the empty alleyway.
“Darling, didn’t I tell you this before? Good girls shouldn’t cry.”
The familiar voice joining after me in the desolate place seemed to have knocked the breath out of me, causing my head to shot up immediately in the pursuit of the speaker.
‘It’s not him. He hasn’t talked to me for almost fifteen years.’
I could vaguely see a tall imposing silhouette standing at the end of the alleyway, his head was hanging low towards the ground, but after a moment or two, he slowly raised his head to face my crouched figure on the other side of the street. I couldn’t see his face but the pair of ambers set on me in that moment clearly told me that my worst fear had, no doubt, come to life.
“Big bad wolves love it.”
My name is Gia Wilson, and this is the story of my Hysteria.