Special thanks to Elise, James, Phoenix, Katie, Livi and Freddy. And to Ryan, you know why.
This novelette is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, are used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
Copyright © 2017, by Allen White
All rights reserved.
Cover art by Allen White
Sighted logo by Stephanie Mindzak
Photo of Allen White by Sean Mahoney
By Allen White
The music and voices merged into an incoherent mess. The bartender slid me a glass of beer from across the bar; I sulked back to my chair, attempting to avoid contact with dancing monsters and fumbling-drunken-superheroes. When I sat down, beer spilled over the lip of my glass, making a fresh stain on my vest. I grabbed for a napkin and cleaned myself up as best as I could. After a few sips of my beer, I decided to stick it out a bit longer.
It occurred to me that I fit in well with the crowd, something I could rarely say. It was a costume party at a local bar, in Lake Ridge, Virginia. Halloween had been on Monday, so it must have been a late celebration. I was wearing black dress pants, brown dress shoes, and a vest and violet scarf that was probably out of fashion. All I needed was a deerstalker hat, a cob pipe, and a magnifying glass, and I was sure to be mistaken for literature and TV’s most famous detective.
I peered down at my phone, trying to ignore the sight of sex-crazed twenty-somethings rubbing against each other to the awful sounds of today’s most popular, and least talented, “artists.” I pretended to scroll through messages, and even pretended to reply to a few of them.
“Seriously?” A soft hand found my arm. “You’re pretending to text? That’s so sad!”
A brown-haired cat, with a chocolate complexion and straightened hair, took the seat across from me; I struggled to keep the beer from spraying out from my mouth.
“You okay?” She asked.
I nodded, and wiped my mouth with my sleeve.
“Don’t talk much, huh?” She crossed her legs; her cat suit pulsed with the music and the strobe lights.
“Most people talk too much,” I said.
“I like your costume, what are you supposed to be?” She asked.
“It’s not a costume,” I said.
She raised an eyebrow at me, revealing a Celtic looking piercing. “What’s your name, guy, what do you do?”
“Lucas. I’m a paranormal investigator.”
“Like a Ghost Buster?” She slapped the table and laughed. “You’re funny!”
It wasn’t a joke. “No, not like a Ghost Buster. I investigate stories and individuals involved in paranormal events, and report on them in my books.”
“What are you doing here then? You don’t look like you’re having fun!”
I smiled wryly. “I guess I’m not really sure.”
“Let me guess.” She waved her hand in the air and hiccupped. “You’ve got writer’s block!”
I nodded and sipped at my beer. Drunk or not, she was surprisingly perceptive. “Guilty as charged.”
“I kind of made a huge mistake.”
“What kind of mistake?”
“I announced that my book would be out by the end of the month.”
She slapped both hands on the table and almost toppled my drink. “That’s great!”
I shook my head. “Not when you don’t have it finished.”
I let out an exaggerated sigh and stared down at my half-finished drink. An awkward silence passed between us and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Normal conversations were outside my comfort zone.
“Well, tell me what the book is about,” she said. “Maybe I can help!”
“I really don’t think-”
“Do it! I’m good at this stuff, I swear!”
I finished my drink in a large gulp and set the empty glass on the table. “It’s a collection of stories from individuals who are the alleged victims of violent hauntings. I’ve interviewed over fifty witnesses and have collected extensive notes surrounding each event that I planned to report on. But, I’ve been stuck re-writing the same paragraph for the last three months and haven’t been able to finish the manuscript.”
“You should order another drink!” She raised hers and laughed hysterically.
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, because I’m sure that’ll solve it.”
Some obnoxious racket came from the dance floor; I turned around to see a group of women waving at the girl who’d decided to sit with me, and turned back to her in time to see her raise a middle finger and stick her tongue out at them.
“Well, listen,” she said. “My friends are being assholes, so I gotta get back to them before they come over here and embarrass the hell out of me. It was nice talking to you.”
She got up, and stumbled back to her friends.
I let my back sink into the chair and propped my feet up where the cat lady had just been sitting. The waitress passed, and I ordered another beer, but when it arrived, I just sat and stared at it, watching the bubbles rise to the top. I wasn’t even sure why I’d decided to stay in the first place; the noise and the beer weren’t helping alleviate my writer’s block at all; the music, and the smell from the fog machines, had given me a serious headache. I quickly finished my beer and grabbed my ash gray trench coat from the back of the chair, paid my tab, left a less than generous tip, and darted through the door before guilt could set in.
A bitter wind stabbed needles into my face; I buttoned up my coat, my fingers numb and fumbling, and raised my scarf to cover my face. Even that couldn’t keep the cold from sinking into my bones.
I didn’t want to spend money on an Uber, so I shoved my bare hands in my coat pockets and took the opportunity to walk home and organize my thoughts.
I stopped at the edge of the street, and peered up at the full moon; clouds were reaching out to strangle what little light there was left in the night. The wind swept out and grabbed at my clothes, and the pressure changed. I checked the temperature on my phone, barely above freezing. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing, walking home drunk, when it was sure to start raining ice and sleet, but I did it anyway.
Three hours passed before I arrived at Clipper Dr, and began the final uphill trek up to my basement apartment. A violent ache had spread through my legs, and my head was swimming with fatigue. It finally started to rain, and I tried to shield myself with my arms for the final length of the journey. I started down the hill that led to my basement apartment, and almost slipped on wet grass. Bells tolled from my phone as I fumbled for my keys, stumbled through the sliding glass door, and tracked mud into my living room/kitchen. I sat my phone down on the table, turned on a light, and peeled my wet clothes off. It was a cold start to November, so I didn’t want to catch pneumonia and die; my health insurance wasn’t going to cover that. I put on a pair of pajama bottoms and found a hoodie to wear, then searched for something to eat in my, mostly empty, fridge.
I settled for a potpie and some leftover box Mac N’ Cheese that probably hadn’t spoiled; sat down on my couch, began to nibble away at my dinner and turned on the TV. I scrolled through several channels and found a show I could get into. The bells tolled again. I cleared a few TV dinner boxes off the coffee table and sat my plate down, then stood up and fetched my phone from across the room.
There were two messages, one from my landlord, demanding that I pay him for the rent that I’d owed him from last month, or face eviction, within forty-eight hours, and one from a friend I’d collaborated with once on a book about shadow people. It was an image… I opened the image in my gallery, and the blood rushed from my face. There was a man in a black suit, tie, and a fedora, standing next to a street lamp in the middle of the night. His face was featureless, with soulless dark eyes like two black holes that could swallow stars, and no other discernible facial features. Escalated heart rate aside, my better senses told me that the grainy image could have been photoshopped.
I immediately replied to Caden’s message.
Lucas: Umm, what is that?
I didn’t get a reply, so I sat back in my chair, pressed play on my remote, and tried to forget about it. Several minutes later, I got another message.
Caden: They’re here.
A chill passed through me; my skin prickled.
Lucas: Who’s there?
Caden: He came to my door, asked me if I’d seen anything strange lately, and asked me if he could come in… Why’d I let him in?
Lucas: What are you talking about, Caden?
Caden: He sat down on my couch and stared at me. I still feel that weird buzzing, it’s like a pressure building up in my head – and those eyes…
They couldn’t have been human. He said that if I knew what was good for me, I’d find a new career.
What he was describing – it sounded like a man in black. We’d talked about them while working on the shadow person book. He always seemed convinced that men in black were just a shadow arm of the government.
I’d researched a few stories, where someone would witness a UFO, over a military base, or on the way home from work, and then immediately get an ominous phone call, or a knock at the door, and there they’d be, black suit, fedora, and all, ready to threaten the individual into remaining silent about what they saw.
Lucas: You’re telling me you got visited by a man in black?
Caden: I’m not really sure, it all seems like a blur.
Lucas: Did you notice anything else? Any visual cues, smells, sounds?
Caden: There was a smell…
Lucas: Go on.
Caden: You’re going to laugh.
Lucas: I won’t, I promise.
Caden: He smelled like sulfur.
Lucas: Very much like the stories you told me about.
Caden: Except for his face, he didn’t seem to have a nose or mouth, and his eyes, they’re black! Nothing like that’s ever been reported!
Spiders crawled down my back, I almost tried to shake them off.
Lucas: Okay, what did you tell him when he told you to stop your research?
Caden: I told him I’d sooner give up the bottle than that. He seemed to snake away… I wanted to follow him, but my legs wouldn’t let me.
Caden: Before I knew it, he – it – was gone.
I made my way over to my computer, booted it, and sat down, waiting for the OS to load.
Lucas: How long ago did this happen?
Caden: Hold on…
Lucas: Did he come back? What’s going on?
There was no reply. My OS loaded, and I immediately downloaded the image he’d sent me to my desktop. I cross referenced it with several search engines to see if it was a stock image. It wasn’t. I suspected that Caden had taken the image himself.
Caden was a known Ufologist, and had several fairly popular books on the subject, so it wasn’t such a stretch that something like this could happen to him. I opened up several tabs on my browser and began researching any events with parallels to what Caden had claimed to experience.
My eyes scanned over several articles. The first was about a man – one the article called an “obvious crackpot” – who claimed that these men in black erased his memory. The next was about an older woman who got a visit in the middle of the night by a man who smelled like brimstone. He, apparently, told her that she should find something else to do with her time – much like Caden. She told him to go to hell, and he vanished, never bothering her again. Then there was another story, about a man who claimed he was abducted by little green men – technically, gray – and swore that the little guys told him that the men in black were agents of another race of dimension-hopping aliens who wanted to take this world for themselves, all while they sat him in a large white room and had tea and biscuits with him. The last story was hard to swallow, but I saved the other two as bookmarks for later reference.
Hours passed, and the storm finally let up outside. I was beginning to grow worried.
Lucas: You okay? Want me to stop by?
Several minutes and no reply, again. My Uber app was loading when-
Caden: I am fine.
Lucas: Are you sure? I can still come by…
Caden: I am fine.
Lucas: Seriously? I’m going to call for an Uber.
Caden: No. I am going to sleep.
I stared at the message for a few minutes; something seemed off. I set my pickup location, and was just about to call a driver, when the thought hit me… I couldn’t afford it, not if I wanted to pay my rent in forty-eight hours like my landlord demanded.
I sat the phone down on my desk, and just stared blankly through my monitor. I kept checking over my shoulder, through my window, across my landlord’s lawn and beyond the gate, where the forest loomed; tree branches swung and shadows danced with the force of the storm wind. My imagination ran wild, placing shadowy figures among the things out in the night, vile, long armed, and evil things – the ones that tormented me as a child. I cursed Caden’s name, locked the door, and closed the blinds. Sleep was an elusive bastard that night, and Caden didn’t reply again.
I decided to sleep with the lights on, and to call him in the morning.
An irritating chirping dragged my eyes open. I sat up, turned the alarm off, and immediately checked my messages. Nothing new from Caden. It was only ten in the morning. I stumbled into my kitchen area, prepped a batch of coffee that would probably give any normal human being caffeine poisoning, and stuffed my face with a toaster pastry.
I sat on the couch, turned on some music, and scrolled through news sites with my phone as I slowly sipped my coffee. I resisted the urge to call Caden… as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. My more rational self tried to pass it off as a prank, but the part of me that had seen shadow people and full body apparitions as a child was terrified. I found myself looking at the image and over thinking the whole thing; even with daylight creeping through the blinds, the photo sent cold shivers snaking down my spine.
My thumb hovered over Caden’s contact information. It was almost noon. I finished my coffee, poured myself another cup.
I pressed call; the phone rang.
“Hey!” Caden said. “How’s it going, Lucas?”
I didn’t know whether to be relieved by his energy, or extremely angry. “You must be real amused with yourself.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The conversation we had last night? You scared the crap out of me!”
My heart drummed against my ribs. “You don’t remember?”
“Lucas, the last time we talked was over a month ago.”
I opened up my recent messages, and scrolled over the ones Caden sent me the night before. “I’m looking right at them, Caden. You sent me an image of a man in a Fedora and a black suit without a face! You said he visited you, asked you if you’d seen anything strange, threatened you to stop investigating ufology and then left. Then you told me to hold on-”
“-are you fucking with me, Lucas?”
“No, I’m not fucking with you, damn it!” I rubbed my temple. “You came back an hour later, and said that you were fine. But you didn’t sound like you.”
Caden sighed. “Text doesn’t have sound.”
“Not what I meant. You didn’t use contractions, you said, I am fine, twice, and then said you were going to bed. Here, I’ll send it to you.” I took screenshots of the whole conversation and began sending them to him.
I heard the sound of multiple dings and beeps on Caden’s end, and waited for his response. His breathing got heavier.
“This has to be some kind of prank,” he said.
“I’m telling you-”
“I don’t remember sending you a single text last night… I came home from an investigation and went straight to bed.”
“Check your messages, maybe they’re still there?”
I waited for him to look.
“Nothing,” he said.
My gut felt heavy; I let my head bang against the back of the couch.
“Either you’re doing a convincing job of messing with my head,” I said. “Or, you’re missing time.”
“Are you serious?” he said.
“Well, you have been in Ufology for nearly ten years.” I got up and started to pace the length of my apartment. “If aliens did exist, it’s not such a stretch that you’d get a visit eventually. God damn it, now I sound crazy.”
He fell silent for a while.
“Caden,” I said. “If you are missing time-”
“I don’t remember any of this shit-”
“-you should go to the doctor.”
“And tell them what, exactly? I’m fairly certain telling them that I just got abducted would go over amazingly.”
“I’m coming over.”
“No, you’re not. I have a very important set of interviews to conduct for my book, I have no time to spend on…”
“I don’t care! This is important, and something you can’t just ignore.”
He went quiet again. “Fine, come over.”
The conversation devolved into the usual formalities before hanging up. I decided the rent could be short again and called for an Uber. I got dressed and bolted out the door. The remnants of last night’s storm loomed to the east, stealing the sun’s fire and casting a shadow across the city. I took a deep breath of petrichor through my nostrils and came to the top of the hill. There’s something special about the way the air smells after a storm, something that always puts me at ease.
I stood on the curb waiting for the driver for a cold and uncomfortable thirty minutes. At any moment, my landlord could have come dashing out the door to badger me about the missing rent, hurtling insults and threats of eviction. Thankfully, he didn’t.
I felt the constant gaze on my back, though, even as my Uber rolled up and came to a stop with a piercing shriek from the brakes. I was sure someone was watching me from the windows, hidden behind the safety of a drawn curtain. I climbed into the backseat. The driver had a patchy beard and a man bun. The car started moving, and I watched the block of townhouses I called home fall away behind us.
I usually spend my mornings checking my notes, writing, editing manuscripts, and following up on contacts. Hell, sometimes, that process extends into the late afternoon. Most of my interviews took place at night – something about the cover of night makes people far more likely to divulge the details of their paranormal experiences – so, it was very unusual for me to be out in the world in the middle of the afternoon. My body lurched forward, I heard the brakes shriek again, and I felt the car come to a stop.
The driver turned around. “Here we are, dude.”
“I know you guys usually get a tip,” I said, while I dug around in my pockets for loose change.
“Don’t worry, tip’s already worked into your fare.”
“But, can you give me a good review?”
“For sure, man.”
The air was extremely crisp; I should have brought a damned jacket! I cursed under my breath, and walked up to Caden’s door. Caden lived in a fairly nice suburban neighborhood, in a two-story town house, though in recent years it’d fallen into disrepair; the grass was uneven and overgrown in spots, there were old tires in the front yard, and the paint was beginning to strip from the front of the house. Still, it was his, which was more than I could say at the moment. I had to admit that I was a bit envious of his success, even if he had lost everything but that house in the divorce.
I rang the doorbell. A few seconds later, Caden opened the door and waved me on in. The air was stuffy inside, and I could tell that he hadn’t dusted in a very long time. I smiled wryly at how similar we were, despite his successes.
“Well, let’s have this out.” He stopped at his bar – which was also covered in a thick layer of dust – and grabbed for a bottle of Scotch. “As I said before, I don’t have all day.”
He poured us both a drink and handed one to me. “No thanks, it’s too early.”
“You’re not a Scotsman if you turn down twelve-year-old Scotch.”
“Fine.” He seemed to be challenging my manhood; I wasn’t Scottish, as he knew damn well, but I took the glass anyway. “Have you remembered anything since we spoke on the phone?”
“No,” he said. “But since then I’ve had a splitting fucking headache.”
“From trying to remember?” I asked.
“No… I just sat at my computer and started to work on the current chapter, and my head started to hurt. I don’t know why.”
“Maybe Scotch isn’t the best remedy?”
He swallowed the whole thing in one gulp, then wiped his mouth. “To hell with that.”
I paced around his den, eying the pictures he had framed on the wall of his ex-wife and son, the trophies he had kept from his childhood, and the pile of documents on his coffee table, knocked askew in no identifiable pattern. I picked up a manila folder and scanned over the document it held inside. It was a rough report on an object spotted over the Roanoke Air Force Base.
“Let’s start with your work,” I said. “Is there anything that you might have seen, or learned, that could have led to an encounter with them?”
Caden grabbed the file out of my hand and closed it up. “Maybe. The report contained in this folder is mine.”
He nodded. “I spotted two glowing orbs over Roanoke. I just wrote this for the book, couldn’t find my original.”
“I can only imagine why.” I grinned, gesturing at the mess of documents.
“Fuck you. I’ve seen your apartment, you’ve got no room to talk.”
I chuckled and leaned against the dusty shelf above his fireplace. “Was it a fireball, or an energy orb?”
“Energy. Based on my research, it seemed to be emanating a plasma like aura around its hull.” He paused and walked over to his laptop, started poring through his files. “I caught a video of it from my cell…”
He searched through his files for a few minutes, scratched his head, and moved to his desktop to begin the search again.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
He turned around in his chair, his face twisted, fingers digging in his beard. “I can’t find it…”
He shook his head, and looked through his cell. “It’s not in my phone, either.”
The air felt cold and heavy; goosebumps spread across my arms. Could that have been the reason for the visitation? Did the man in black return to erase the video as well as Caden’s memory? If that was the case, would they be after me too?
“From the look on your face, you’d think you were the one who just got visited by the MIB,” Caden said.
“Sorry,” I said.
He leaned forward and extended his hand. “Let me see your cell phone.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You’ve got my attention with this,” he said. “I want to make sure those messages are from me.”
I nodded, fetched my phone from my pocket, unlocked it, and handed it over. He took a few minutes to read the messages, and handed the phone back to me.
“Damn,” he said. “I was really hoping that this was all just an elaborate prank.”
“Seriously? You know me better than that.”
He stood up and paced back to his dusty bar, poured himself another glass of Scotch, this time a double, and downed it even faster than the first one – then poured himself another. I was about to remind him why Connie left him, but stifled it. His brow was furrowed, his back hunched, and his forehead was covered in a thick sheen of sweat. In all the time I’ve known him, I’d never seen him so shaken.
“I think I need to be alone,” he said.
I nodded. “You have my number.”
“I’ll let you know if anything else happens.”
He showed me to the door, we exchanged goodbyes; there was an agitated quality to his voice. I called for another Uber. He arrived within five minutes of placing the order.
I reached the car door, my shaky hand around the door handle.
I turned around. “Yeah?”
“Shadow People Memoirs,” he said. “You recall the chapter you wrote on them being fragments of repressed memories?”
“Yeah? What about it?”
He stared down at his drink. “It’s probably nothing.”
“Did you see one?”
He seemed far away, glassy-eyed.
“What?” He shook his head. “No, seeing you just got me thinking about the book, that’s all.”
I nodded; it was true for me as well.
“Hey, bro,” the driver said. “We staying or we going?”
“Right.” I turned back to Caden. “I gotta go, man, we’ll talk more about this later!”
He waved. I climbed into the back seat of the car and shut the door. I watched him close the door to his house as we started to drift down the street.
I was lost in thought; the rain started to fall again, drumming against the roof of the car and creating rivulets on my window. I could barely feel the car’s movement, or hear the squeaking from the windshield wipers. It was an odd thing Caden had brought up, not so much our book, but the specific chapter. Caden used to laugh at the idea that shadow people were ghosts, or demons. He had no taste for the occult, and most of his chapters were devoted to the idea that they were time travelers, or dimensional travelers, if anything at all.
I leaned against the glass to ease my nausea; butterflies attacked the walls of my gut.
“Yo?” The driver said. “You awake, dude?”
“You wanna stop somewhere, or we just gonna keep driving till you pay my tuition?”
I hadn’t even realized we’d arrived back in Lake Ridge. I didn’t really want to go home, but I also didn’t feel like taking another chance on a potentially rambunctious club.
“Yeah,” I said. “Do you know of any quiet bars?”
He nodded. “It’s two in the afternoon, they’re all quiet.”
“Ah, then any will do…”
The driver dropped me off on the next corner, at a dive bar with blacked out windows. I said goodbye to him, apologized for zoning out, and entered the establishment before I could get drenched by the rain. The smell of cigarette smoke burned my nostrils almost instantly; I wasn’t aware there were any bars left in the state that still had indoor smoking sections. It was practically empty, save for a few older men sitting at the bar, watching a football game. The two older men gave me a strange, almost suspicious look, before a middle-aged woman with a streak of gray running through her hair came out to greet me. I asked to be seated in the non-smoking area. She nodded, and guided me to a more secluded part of the building. I sat down and ordered a beer.
The men at the bar kept tossing me looks. I tried to distract myself from my thoughts by watching people through the bar’s windows, and failed. All I could think about was Caden’s predicament, and possibly my own. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact that I had read a story the night before about someone claiming to have lost their memory after an MIB encounter. The parallels to Caden’s story made it feel as if a cephalopod had taken residence inside my stomach. I accessed my bookmarks, and went back to that story, started reading. The waitress came by to deliver my drink. I thanked her, and went back to reading.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” She asked, her hands on her hips.
I looked up at a rather attractive ebony skinned woman with straightened hair; her face was twisted into a scowl. “I did say thank you… that wasn’t just in my head, right?”
“You don’t recognize me at all?”
She did look familiar. “I guess…”
She busted out in hysterical laughter. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. The look on your face!”
Her smile brought it all back. “Ah! I met you last night, you were the one in the cat costume!”
She took a seat at my table, and took out a pack of cigarettes. “Yeah, that’s me. Guess, with the lack of whiskers, I can’t blame ya for not recognizing me.”
“It did throw me off,” I said. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Zoe.” She lit her cigarette.
“This is the non-smoking section.”
“It’s cool, the owner doesn’t give a shit.”
She exhaled a large puff of smoke, and I leaned back in my seat in an attempt to avoid it. She laughed, took another puff, then blew it in my face. Normally, I’d be more irritated, but I was far too on edge to chastise her.
“What are you looking for?” She grabbed my phone and laughed when she saw the article I’d stumbled on. “Men in Black stories, Top Ten Scariest Men in Black Stories, Rick Nedfern’s The True Men in Black. Man Claims MIB Erased His Memory! You actually believe this crap?”
“It’s my job,” I said.
“So, what, were you visited by aliens?” She grinned, and thumbed through the article.
“Not me, a colleague of mine.”
“You must be really gullible.”
I managed a nervous grin. “I’m actually known as a skeptic in my field.”
“Uh-huh.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s written all over your face, you believe it.”
I took my phone back from her. “Is it?”
She nodded, and an awkward silence passed between us. I ordered another beer, she didn’t leave though, just passed the order off to another waitress at the bar.
“So,” she said. “It must be fun.”
“What?” I asked.
“Being a Ghost Buster? I bet you get to see all kinds of cool places, people, touring around doing research for your books?”
“Paranormal Investigator, and, yeah, it can be.”
“Okay. I’ll do it.”
“Be a Ghost Buster!”
I chuckled. “Just like that?”
“Yeah, why the hell not? It sounds like fun.”
“Well, do you have a degree in journalism?”
“It’s the paranormal, Lucas, not exactly shooting for a Pulitzer.”
Ouch, that one hurt more than a little bit, but I felt emboldened, and grinned. “Well, I might be able to take you under my wing, if you give me your number.”
She laughed, and stole my phone again, then handed it back to me. “There, now you’ve got my info.”
She finished her cigarette, got up, winked, and got back to work. I asked for the check shortly after that, and used my GPS to figure out how to get home. I bore the rain and walked, of course; my bank account would be pretty dry if I took another Uber.
I returned home to find a note taped to my sliding glass door, basically reminding me that I had twenty-four hours to get last month’s rent together. I slammed the door closed and immediately collapsed on my couch, without bothering to change into dry clothes. I sat silently for a while: listening to the rain, feeling my wet clothes soak into the fabric of the couch, contemplating how I might be able to come up with the money to pay my landlord. Even if I could somehow get my book finished by the deadline, I wouldn’t see a dime of profit for at least a month. Even with impending eviction looming, I found myself thinking over Caden’s predicament. Almost as if on cue, the bells tolled; I opened my phone, and the message. It was an image taken from Caden’s phone; an ambulance and several other emergency-response vehicles were lined up around one of the houses in his neighborhood.
Caden: Headaches are getting worse, and now this.
Lucas: What happened?
Caden: One of my neighbors just got rushed off to the hospital. It might be connected.
Lucas: That’s crazy, don’t do that to yourself.
Caden: People in other MIB reports sometimes have tragedies strike all around them, I can’t ignore it. What if it’s all my fault? My neighbors already hate me.
Lucas: You’re going to drive yourself insane with questions you can’t possibly find answers to.
Caden: Maybe you’re right…
Lucas: Are you experiencing any other symptoms, other than headaches?
Lucas: Caden, tell me.
Caden: No, I’m not.
Caden: The ambulance just drove off. My neighbors are staring.
Lucas: For what? They can’t possibly think there’s a connection.
Caden: Probably think I’m some sort of devil worshiper. Bunch of Bible-thumping jackasses.
Caden was a very outspoken atheist. There was one particular scandal I remembered well; Caden was invited to speak at a UFO conference in Seattle, and one of the audience members told him that UFOs weren’t real. That they were some sort of satanic illusion. Caden lost it, he lit into the poor bastard until he was ready to climb onstage and try to physically fight him. Security had to break things up and escort the guy out of the conference. Caden still received hate mail and death threats for that. He reveled in it.
I had to try to get him focused on the MIB.
Lucas: Is there anything else that you can tell me? Why would the man in black have wanted the video files themselves?
Caden: You can’t repeat anything I’m about to tell you. It’s supposed to go in my book.
Lucas: This is a little more important than a book, but okay, I’ll keep quiet.
Caden: It’s just my personal theory, but I think there’s a war going on between our boys and theirs.
Lucas: A war? Wouldn’t we know?
Caden: Not necessarily, especially not if it’s not really being fought here.
Lucas: Not sure I follow.
Caden: The UFOs I filmed seemed to be different from each other, one of them had a blue aura and moved at sharp right angles, while the other one had an orange aura and seemed to move more gracefully. Then the orange one vanished. Just. Gone. The blue one hovered for several moments, almost like it was confused, before descending into the hills. I think the aliens, maybe the ones these MIB work for, are dimensional travelers.
Lucas: You think they’re trying to invade?
Caden: I think they already have. Think about the stories, they come from all over the globe, man. Humanoids that almost pass for normal, who seem to come and go as they please.
Lucas: Not this guy, you said he had no face.
Caden: Could have been a mask?
Lucas: Maybe he’s an enforcer, or one of the aliens?
Caden: I don’t know. But, maybe I was onto something, maybe that video could have blown the whole thing wide open?
Lucas: Lots of people have claimed to have a smoking gun before.
Caden: Yeah, but they weren’t visited like I was.
Lucas: Or, maybe they were, and they just don’t remember…
Caden: I need to lay down, try to get rid of this headache.
Lucas: Keep me updated.
Caden: Will do.
I turned on some music, and laid back down on the couch. It wasn’t long before the entire couch was soaked, but, somehow, I didn’t mind. In a way, it was almost soothing.
My eyes snapped open, but took in only darkness. I’d fallen asleep while trying to relax. Breathing was difficult; there was something heavy in the air. My hair stood on end, and I felt a tingling numbness wash over my shoulders and spread down to my toes. I had the sense that I wasn’t the only one in the room, like there was a pair of eyes focused directly on me. I remained still, pretending to still be asleep; a million paranoid thoughts ran through my head. My landlord and his wife were the only ones with a key to the basement apartment. Maybe he’d had enough?
A dim light cascaded through the dark, coming from my TV; I felt compelled to look in that direction. There was a tall, slender, dark, figure there, silhouetted against the static that danced on the screen. It was not my landlord, or even human. Memories of shadows and hovering apparitions from my childhood came flooding back to me. My heart began to throb, and I struggled to speak, but could only seem to make unintelligible noises. My eyes found its formless head. It seemed to notice me then; two crimson sharp oval eyes opened. I’d written about them in books, and spoken to dozens of eyewitnesses, but I tried to forget them all the same. I had hoped that I would never see one again.
I could feel my heart rate increase; chills ran from head to toe. It began to move, snake its way across the carpet, and stand over the edge of the couch. It had an aura, like molten rubber, which curled and twisted toward the ceiling.
Why me, why was it here? Why, after all these years?
I screamed, and it was on top of me, sitting on my chest. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream, all I could do was watch as its hands wrapped around my throat, sucking the life out of me.
Maybe it was here to kill me? Maybe I didn’t mind so much.
I let myself get drowned in its eyes, its hypnotic, frightening eyes, and let darkness take me…
Sunlight warmed my skin and forced me awake. I gripped my chest, and drew in a large, deep breath. The room felt like it was filled with static; my head throbbed violently. I shook my head, reached for my phone, and saw that Caden had sent me a picture message.
I opened it; another ambulance, this time in the middle of the night.
Caden: Another one. Still think it’s a coincidence?
A deep and powerful sickness settled in the pit of my stomach; I had to check on him.
My phone rang, and I saw that it was my agent.
“Hi, Jade,” I said.
“Where the hell have you been?” She said. “I’ve been dodging calls from the publisher all week, they say they need your final draft within the week!”
Right, the book. Damn it. “Sorry, Jade, I’ve been a little distracted. I promise, I’m working on it.”
“I certainly hope so, because if you flake out on this contract, it won’t be easy for you to land another book deal, Luke.”
I hated when she called me Luke.
“I gotta go, Jade,” I said.
“Get that manuscript done, damn it!”
She hung up before I could respond. I rolled out of bed, limped into the kitchen, and tossed a cup of day old coffee in the microwave, ordered another Uber, and rushed out the door. This time the driver found me much quicker. I sank into the seat and held my head; the nightmare seemed so real. If it was a nightmare at all.
The car began to move.
“You okay, sir?” The driver asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, just a little tired.”
I was far from “fine.” In my mind’s eye, I was ten again, cowering beneath the covers in the middle of the night. A figure with elongated arms stood at the foot of my bed, unmoving, static. I remember being unable to move, breathe, or scream, each time it appeared. It had been the same the night before, and the night before that too. In the morning I would wake up on the floor with a sore neck, and the figure would be gone. I tried to tell my Dad, but, instead of answers and reassurance, I got a Bible lecture and a spanking for fibbing. He, and every psychologist I saw through the years, claimed that my pain was only in my head. I quickly learned not to trust my fears or paranormal experiences with him.
The experiences with the long-armed man didn’t stop till we moved later that year. At first, I slept quietly, but that didn’t last long. I still remember the first time I saw it, standing outside my window at three in the morning. It seemed to be wearing an old-fashioned top hat. It sat there, every night, unmoving, while I cowered beneath my covers. It all culminated when I woke up and found the window shattered, glass strewn about the floor, sparkling in the light of the full moon. I was so scared that I snuck down stairs to get a drink of water, turning all the lights on as I walked. Monsters are scared of the light; such a childish thought.
I dropped the glass and it shattered on the linoleum when I saw it, standing over me in the kitchen. I remember its crimson eyes opening for the first time, round, with sharp ends. I bolted up the stairs, screaming so hard my throat ran hoarse. When I reached the top, I glanced behind me; it stood still at the bottom, staring up at me, taunting me. My dad came out with the belt in hand, complaining about all the noise I was making. I tried to point to the hat-man as the culprit, but it was gone. I got ten lashes for breaking the window and the glass, even though I swore I didn’t know how it had happened.
The problem persisted until we moved again. My dad forced me to see a therapist, and somehow the shadow people stopped bothering me. Still, those experiences had inspired me to become a paranormal investigator. In some ways, it was a way of facing my darkest fears. But, even now, I couldn’t lie to myself—the resurgence of the phenomenon was something I’d prayed would never happen.
“We’re here, boss,” the driver said.
I stepped out of the car, and found myself in front of Caden’s front door, pounding on it like a madman. There was no answer. He couldn’t have been gone, his dirty Mercedes was still parked in the driveway.
Bells tolled from my phone. I rushed to open the text, but it wasn’t from Caden; eels swam and warred amongst themselves within the confines of my gut.
Landlord: Your extension is over, rent was due yesterday!
It wasn’t fair, it seemed like he was making thing up to justify kicking me to the curb.
Lucas: You can’t just make things up, I still have today to get the rent together!
In my frustration, I deleted the text. Even if I did have today to get the rent together, how could I? I pushed my rent troubles from my mind and focused on Caden’s house. The front door was locked. I tried calling his cell. No answer.
I found myself at a neighbor’s door, ringing their doorbell.
“Can I help you?” An old woman in a mumu and hair curlers answered the door.
“Yeah,” I said. “My friend lives next door to you. I was wondering where he might be?”
“I haven’t seen him,” she said. “And tell him to stop making all that goddamned racket!”
She slammed the door in my face before I could reply. I turned back to Caden’s house, and gave it a long look. The queasiness in the pit of my stomach grew worse. Something was wrong. What if he was gone, hurt, or worse? I had to know.
I found myself climbing over his fence, and at the back door. That act alone had me out of breath; I’m not as limber as I used to be. The shades weren’t drawn, and I could see through the sliding glass door into his living room. The coffee table was standing on its side, and there were papers and bits of splintered wood scattered across the oak floor in the living room. The door was locked… but the window wasn’t. I dug the screen out, tossed it behind me; I placed my hands against the bottom section of the window and pushed it up, then crawled through the opening.
There was no reply, and no sign of him down stairs. I climbed the staircase and checked every room, leaving the master bedroom for last. It was eerily empty as the rest of the place. I paced the room to see if I could find anything to tell me where he’d gone. The bedsheets were cast on the floor in a lump, and there were clothes everywhere. Then they caught my eye, a series of drawings, both pinned to the wall and resting on his study. I picked one up to confirm what I was seeing.
It was a black, slender, figure, with crimson sharp oval eyes… just like the one I saw in my dream. The rest of the drawings were the same, each in different positions. One of the drawings featured a shadowy figure standing next to a light pole outside, just like the photo that Caden had sent me. My eyes began to water, and I could feel the room getting colder. Had he been seeing them this entire time? why didn’t he tell me? And if so, what did it mean? What do shadow people have to do with these men in black?
I heard three loud thumps on the wall behind me and I jumped around, holding a pencil as if it were a knife – but there was nothing there. Then… three more thumps, this time, they seemed to be coming from above me. I walked around the room, and it persisted. Maybe something was in the attic? Cautiously, I located the entrance to the attic and found a chair to help me reach the latch. I opened it, and the stench of urine and body odor caused me to vomit in my mouth. I toughed the smell out long enough to throw the trap door up and get a look inside. I slowly opened my eyes to see Caden, sitting in the corner of his attic, twitching, and kicking at the wall next to him. I cursed, and ran to find a ladder.
When I got back up there, he was still in the same spot, kicking away at the wall, empty bottle of Scotch clutched tight in his hand. There was a pile of empty bottles next to him and shards of broken glass, gleaming in the scattered light that I’d created by opening the trap door. I found myself next to him, bearing the smell, and touching his shoulder. His eyes were open, but he paid me almost no attention.
“Caden,” I said. “It’s me, Lucas!”
He looked at me; dark circles hung heavy beneath glossy eyes. He resumed kicking the wall. How had he gotten so bad over one night?
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“They keep coming for me,” he said. “I was right. They tried to erase it… but… I put it back together.”
“Did they hurt you?”
“The shadows, they —” He started to laugh. “They’re the key.”
“The shadow people?” I showed him the drawing I’d taken from his study. “Why did you draw this?”
His brow furrowed, slobber dripping down his mouth and catching in his beard. “They’re not really there, you know —no—you were wrong about that —we both were. They’re like, fragments, living nightmares that we’re forced to relive again and again, like our brains are trying to tell us that something went missing.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Lost bits of data that have no form, but tell a piece of the story.
“They’ve been coming for us all these years, because we keep stumbling upon their little war, their little plot. But now I know what the fragments mean, what they’re trying to tell me!
“It starts when you’re young, you don’t even suspect, you see something you shouldn’t in the sky, or in the woods, and they come for you, leaving you unaware, thoughtless, and scared! You tell your friends, your parents, and they don’t believe you, they just beat you for telling lies, or worse, send you to a shrink that tells you that you’re mad, that you’re seeing things. You’re made to believe that the things you experience are nothing but ghosts, or that you’re imagining them… but, they’re only half right…”
My skin prickled, and I saw my ten-year-old self standing before my dad, belt in hand after just having told him about my experiences with the long-arm man. Saw myself desperately trying to explain the broken window in my room as the hat-man’s fault.
Was it, though? I never actually saw the glass shatter…
His kicking intensified, and he grabbed my arm tight enough to bruise. “You’re next. I know you’re next! They’re coming for you, and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do!”
I broke his grip and fell away from him. I rushed back down the ladder, and found myself on his lawn, breathing the frigid air and fumbling for my phone. I dialed 911, and told the operator that I believed my friend was suffering from alcohol poisoning. Thirty minutes later, I watched them pull him out on a stretcher and load him into an ambulance.
I watched it drive away, lights flashing, red and white. I couldn’t help but just sit there on his lawn, watching my breath swirl away in the wind and wonder what the fuck I was going to do next.
“Tell me, Zoe, have you ever seen a shadow person?” I asked.
“Nope,” she said.
I leaned back on my couch and tried not to seem as awkward as I felt. It’d been some time since I’d had a woman in my living room, and even longer since I’d had one in bed. I couldn’t allow myself to get distracted with that, though. My friend was in the hospital, suffering from a nervous breakdown, just days after having contact with the men in black. I was still trying to wrap my head around everything he’d said before they carted him off. I’d called the hospital earlier, but they told me he was heavily medicated and not to be disturbed while he was under observation.
I fanned a few of the drawings Caden had made on the couch next to her. She picked one of them up, but didn’t seem to have a strong reaction one way or another.
“Caden has been seeing these figures ever since he was visited by the man in black.” I showed her the image on my phone, and she lurched.
“Jeez, that is just full of nope,” she said.
“You’re telling me.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
“I’m not even really sure.” I leaned forward, clasped my hands together, and eyed the beer I had poured myself. “On one hand, it’s possible that the pressure got to Caden, and he just snapped. But, on the other hand, it’s also possible that everything he said was true. Maybe he has really been seeing these things.”
“Is that why you called me? Part of me was beginning to wonder if you’d ever call, it’s been so long since we met.”
“Honestly, don’t have an answer for you there, either.” My face flushed with warmth. “I panicked, called the first number I saw, and you answered.”
“Z is at the end of the alphabet.” She laughed.
“There was something he said, something about the shadow people being fragments of the whole.”
“You totally dodged what I said, but okay, fragments of what whole?”
I stood up, grabbed my drink, and began pacing around my living room. “Maybe the shadow people aren’t really ghosts, like I thought they were, and maybe they’re not even time travelers, like Caden believed. Maybe they’re fragments of memories from erased men in black experiences? Like, the worst damned night terrors you’ve ever experienced…”
“Or, they’re repressed memories returning to the surface.”
“That, that’s actually not a bad theory.” I was glad I had called her.
“Wait,” I said. “What do you mean it’s been so long since we’ve met?”
“I gave you my number a week ago?” Her eyes were wide, she was leaning away from me.
“No, that can’t be right…”
It hit me; I almost dropped my beer. The answer was right in front of me, and I’d been too damned blind to see it. They tormented my childhood, and recently… I had hoped it was just a nightmare brought on by the stress I was facing in my life, but the answer was clear now.
If Caden and Zoe were right, what did that mean for me? How many times had I been visited by them, and what did Caden and I know that was so crucial that it had to be erased?
“You black out,” I said, “start seeing these figures, you imagine them breaking things, standing over you, stalking you, or-” I raised a hand to feel where I’d felt the shadow person’s hands wrap about my throat. “-Choking you.”
“Lucas?” She stood up, reached for my arm.
“I could have sworn that I met you only a few days ago, Zoe…”
There was a chill between Zoe and me now, an eerie quiet.
“Are you okay?” She asked, quietly.
“No,” I said. “I’m really not.”
Maybe everything was a lie.
“Okay, so, I have an idea,” Zoe said, “and you’re probably gonna think it’s stupid, but here it is.”
“Let’s go to that military base where your friend saw that UFO, maybe we’ll see something that’ll point us in the right direction?”
“Roanoke is a three hour drive, Zoe… and my bank account is pretty much dry as it is.”
“I’ll cover it.” She looked at her phone. “Besides, it’s only five in the afternoon right now, so we could get back before sun-up for sure.”
“You don’t have to…”
She started digging for her phone. “Yeah, you owe me.”
“How do I not sound like a mental patient to you?”
“I won’t lie, you sound like a nut job.” Her lips twisted into a smile. “But a fun nut job. I’m not so much interested in seeing UFOs as I’m interested in getting to know you.”
“Wow, I’m not sure how to respond to that.”
“You could say, ‘Fuck yeah, let’s do it!’”
I laughed, almost spit out my beer. “You’re right, that’s what I should say.”
“And who the hell knows, maybe you’ll convince me that all of this is real at some point?”
She dangled her car keys and motioned toward my sliding glass door. I followed, grabbing my hoodie and my own keys. Locking the door behind us, we rushed up the hill and I followed her to her car. It was a white, beat up, four-door Sedan. I climbed into the passenger seat and we were off.
To say Zoe was a safe driver would be a lie. The GPS had told us that the trip would take two hours and thirty minutes, but with her vehicle averaging ninety, we cut that down to just two hours. I was certain we’d end up getting pulled over, but we managed to arrive at our destination without getting into an accident, a feat that Zoe seemed very proud of. I had her take a dirt road, that would take us into a campground overlooking the base. Her lights gave the normally still forest a strange, almost surreal, quality. I felt my stomach tighten, and I found it difficult to breathe. I half expected to see my childhood horrors come to life among the shadows, hiding and waiting for us in the unknown.
I saw it first, a small clearing in the pine trees on a hill that overlooked the base below. I told Zoe to park on the hill, and she shut the car off. With the lights off, and our breath beginning to fog in the cold, the pitch darkness was not a comfort to us.
It was below thirty; Zoe grabbed my arm and snuggled up to my chest. “It’s so cold.”
My cheeks flushed.
There we were, huddled up together, watching over Roanoke Air Force Base from the top of a large hill. It was the closest thing that I’d had to a date in a very long time, and yet, it was also the most nerve-racking experience I’d ever had. We watched the skies for almost an hour, but all we saw was a clear view of the Milky Way arm, cutting a path diagonally through the night sky.
Then, while Zoe was about to fall asleep in the crook of my arm, I saw it, and was greeted by the strangest feeling, a feeling that was neither joy nor dread. I nudged her, and her eyes lit up bright, beautiful, under the light of two blue and orange orbs. Just like Caden had described them. They traveled at speeds that I found hard to track, and believed to be impossible by terrestrial means. Plasma seemed to emanate from their hulls. Their hulls twisting, spiraling about, and darting at hard right angles. After each daring maneuver, there seemed to be a bright burst of light around each object.
I grabbed for my phone and began recording the event. Zoe did the same.
Now, if we were visited, they’d have to come for both of us. I looked at Zoe; I didn’t want to lose her. Did she feel the same way?
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
“Should you be doing that?” I asked.
“Yeah…” My words felt like they were catching in my throat. “But, what if they come for you too?”
“I’m a big girl.” She gave me a bright, almost devious, smile.
I nodded, swallowing my words.
“What?” She asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
What was there to say? I couldn’t stop her, and we’d find out soon enough, either way.
The orange orb was far more graceful than the blue one, again, just like Caden had described. There were no weapons fired between the two craft, at least not yet, but there was a tension, like they were baiting each other back and forth, testing their capabilities.
Caden had mentioned that when he saw the orbs, the orange one vanished, but the display that the two made went on for almost an hour.
Suddenly, the sky brightened, like a crack of lightning splitting the heavens, then immediately darkened again. The orange orb was the only thing left in the sky.
“Holy hell,” I said.
Zoe was speechless, her smile had twisted into a disbelieving frown. I had a strange sense of déjà vu.
Have I done this before? I thought.
Had that been the first shots of an interstellar war, or just another casualty of an ongoing secret war for our home? Was that what Caden wasn’t supposed to know? Either way, this changed everything, and if it got out, that our government was withholding information on a hostile species that had attacked our forces, the world would fall into chaos.
Perhaps the orange orb Caden saw was just a scout, sent to check on our progress, our level of technology, and the blue had been the result of years of reverse engineering and secret government testing? It could have been any number of things.
Roanoke Air Force Base lit up below us, sirens wailed through the darkness, and the orange orb spiraled off into the distance and vanished before reaching the hills, as if it was never there at all.
“What the hell just happened?” Zoe asked.
I shook my head. “We better get out of here, before someone notices us.”
She nodded, and started the car, making sure to keep the headlights off until we were off the dirt path and on the main road.
The ride back was filled with a tense silence, and I could tell that we were both thinking the same thing.
We made it back to my place still several hours before sunrise. It was hell trying to find a parking space, one of the many cons to living in a basement apartment in a neighborhood with limited visitor parking.
Zoe yawned. “Oy.”
“Tired?” I said.
“Yeah.” She pawed at her eyes, rubbing them. “Mind if I stay with you tonight? I don’t think I should drive anymore.”
“I mean, you don’t have to let me, if you don’t want…”
“No, no.” I tried to think of something clever, and failed. Her intentions were obvious, but, I guess subconsciously, I was still finding reasons to push her away. “I don’t want you to get in a wreck or anything.”
I fumbled for my keys, and let us both back into my apartment. I dropped my phone down on the table and turned the lights on. I wondered if she could see how much I was shaking.
“I can take the couch,” she said. “Unless you have a better idea?”
“A better idea?” She looked at me like I was an idiot, and I just stood there like one, unsure what to say, or how to accept the offer. I could have kicked myself.
“Shit, I’m sorry… I thought-”
I had to act then and there; without thinking, I took her in my arms and kissed her.
“You’re a bit dense,” she said.
“Not exactly” I said. “But we’ll run with that for now.”
“They might come for us now,” she said.
“I know.” I frowned, running a hand across her brow, brushing her straightened bangs off to the side.
“I just want you to know.” Her eyes were wide and beautiful “I don’t do things like this often.”
She took my hand, and led me to the bedroom. I closed the door behind me, bathing us in darkness. Now there was only the dim light from the moon, cascading from my window through my bedroom; it felt almost surreal. We took turns sliding our clothes off and throwing them to the floor. We embraced, our lips met, dancing in the dark; her lips were passionate and soft, while mine were methodical and rough. We tumbled onto the mattress. She bit at my lower lip, and I returned the gesture by sinking my teeth into her neck. Her moans filled my bedroom like a siren’s call.
Our bodies came together, moving to create a single creature, one that was both graceful and methodical. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the dance that I’d seen earlier between the two orbs. If that were the case, would she lead me to my destruction?
When neither of us could keep the dance up, we collapsed into a heap of glistening sweat.
There, on my bare mattress, in the clarity of my post-orgasmic guilt, I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. She’d seen all my flaws, the poor housekeeping, the less than acceptable job outlook, and every other negative thing that could possibly be floating in my head. I hoped that this wouldn’t simply be a fleeting encounter, like the few that I’d had years ago.
I wondered when they’d come for us. Would it be days, weeks, hours? How long did we have to get the word out, and who would believe us?
I sat up and looked over Zoe’s naked form. She had passed out already. I smiled. Would I remember her if they came for us tonight? How much time would they erase?
The better question, if it’s all so inevitable, was, could there be a way to reclaim that lost memory? I looked at Zoe one last time. The moonlight trickling in through the window gave her ebony skin an otherworldly blue glow.
I’ll find a way, I thought.
I pulled on my boxers and found my pajama bottoms, then shuffled out to my computer.
I downloaded the video file to my computer, and uploaded it to my personal cloud. I was about to do something that Caden never would have done. If they were going to come for me, I was going to remain one step ahead of them. The cost, however, might be my career.
I opened up my browser, and found one of the most popular conspiracy forums on the net. I’d lurked there for years, but never once posted, fearing that my image as a serious paranormal investigator would be damaged. It was easy to be ridiculed; the line between tin-foil wacko and serious journalist was thin in the eyes of the traditional media.
It was a bit of advice that had always served Caden well. He knew it better than I did, being in Ufology, but my field drew similar kinds of crazy. That’s why he was waiting to reveal the video and report from Roanoke till his book was ready. I imagined that he’d use the video file as a means of marketing his book.
My thoughts turned to Caden. I wondered if he’d ever be the same. I hadn’t had a chance to check on him tonight, but told myself I’d go and see him in the morning.
I started outlining my post. It was going to be a long one, but I hoped it might go viral. It needed to reach the right people, get the attention it deserved, but something told me there wasn’t much time to do it.
I started writing.
My name is Lucas Taylor. I’m a good friend of Caden Wilson, a well-known investigator and author in the field of Ufology, and I have been witness to something that may change the world…
It took me nearly an hour to write the post, to relay my version of the story that had unfolded, and once it was ready, I attached the video file to the post and sent it. There was a certain amount of relief in that.
I returned to Zoe’s side, kissed her shoulder, and fell asleep.
I woke an hour later to knocking sounds. I looked over at Zoe, still lying naked next to me, and then at the clock, which said that it was 4:39 in the morning. I slipped my pajama bottoms on, and cautiously walked out into the living room. In the darkness, I found the light switch for the kitchen and flipped it. The florescent bulbs buzzed. I looked around for the source of the knocking, but it was gone. Then, as I was about to head back to Zoe’s side, I heard it again.
Six knocks came from the sliding glass door behind me. I turned around, and I felt like the air around me had become charged with some kind of static that caused the hair on my neck and arms to stand on end. Part of me wanted to hide, and wait for the daylight to return, but another part of me seemed compelled to open the door and see what was there. I couldn’t resist, no matter how terrified I was.
I opened the sliding glass door and then the blinds. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but, then I saw him. Those black eyes took me, like wells of darkness that reflected no light at all. I couldn’t move, my throat closing to become tight and rough.
He was the same, just like Caden’s photo. Black suit and tie, fedora, and pale, splotchy skin where a face should have been. My heart rumbled and slammed against my ribs repeatedly. He just seemed to stare at me and tilt his head.
“Have you seen anything strange tonight?” His voice seemed to echo through my mind, a sensation that caused tears to pool beneath my eyelids.
I tried to turn, to run, but I couldn’t look away.
“May I come in?”
I nodded. Why the hell did I nod?
He —it —walked past me, and into my kitchen. The sudden odor of sulfur permeated the air. Its steps were uneven, like it was walking with two left feet. It stopped at my kitchen sink and picked up a fork that had been sitting there for over a month, stared at it like it’d never seen one before in its life, then stuffed it in its pocket.
I fought to speak but it felt like every mental faculty, aside from my own thoughts, was failing.
“You want to ask why,” it said. “But. You know.”
It approached me, and I managed to back up.
“You saw it tonight. You should have never seen. You will not reveal it to anyone, not if there is nothing to reveal.”
I shook my head, and, with a surge of willpower, I cleared my throat and said: “And who’s to say that I haven’t already?”
“We would know.”
They didn’t know about the post. They didn’t know everything.
“Just, who… “ I shook my head. “No, what the hell do you think you are?”
It chuckled; and there was a buzzing in my brain that left me feeling numb and weakened.
“If you’re going to take my memories again,” I said. “Then at least give me that.”
“We exist to ensure war goes on. You are not important. Lower life forms.”
“We’ll show you… we’ll fight…”
“Homo sapiens all say the same thing. You have failed to understand. Victory already is decided.”
It reached its hand out, and my thoughts reached out to Zoe…
The music and voices merged into an incoherent mess. I sulked back to my chair, beer in hand, and told myself to stick it out at least till the ball dropped. It was a New Year’s party at a local bar. I was tired of spending time alone at my soon-to-be-vacant basement apartment, and seemed to be drawn to this place.
I didn’t know why.
I peered down at my phone, trying to ignore the sight of sex crazed twenty-somethings rubbing against each other to the awful sounds of today’s most popular, and least talented, “artists.” I pretended to scroll through messages, and even pretended to reply to a few of them.
“Seriously?” A soft hand found my arm. “You’re pretending to text? That’s so sad!”
A beautiful brunette with a chocolate complexion and straightened hair in a sparkling outfit that read 2017, took the liberty of sitting across from me. I struggled to keep my beer from spraying out of my mouth.
“You okay?” She crossed her legs.
I nodded, wiping my mouth with my sleeve.
“Don’t talk much, huh?” She asked.
“I’m sorry,” I felt like I was having déjà vu. “But, have we met?”
“No?” She looked around, and then looked back at me. “Do I look familiar?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I guess not.”
She laughed. “My name’s Zoe, what’s yours?”
Zoe? I thought. No, has to be a coincidence.
One of her friends found her, and grabbed her arm. “Come on, Zoe, you’re missing everything!”
I watched her wave goodbye and stumble back to her friends on the dance floor. I felt a great pang of regret settle and twist in the pit of my stomach, and I wondered why. The waiter found me, and I ordered another beer just to dull my senses a bit more. After all, I had just two weeks to find a new place to live, and an unfinished book past due for nearly a month. My Agent had already stopped returning my calls, and, while I could self-publish it, the delay had already caused significant damage to my already small reader base.
There was also the matter of a video circling around the Internet; someone claiming to be me was passing off some UFO video and a bizarre story involving men in black sightings, and, ironically, a girl named Zoe. That too was hurting my reputation, even though I’d denied the whole thing.
Then there were the dreams… I rubbed my temples and took a drink.
It was shaping up to be a crappy New Year, to say the least. Maybe if I got myself completely obliterated I’d stop seeing the shadow people in my nightmares. I finished my drink and ordered another; the buzz was almost enough to keep my mind off the circumstances.
My phone started to ring. It was an unlisted number. Normally, I’d just ignore it, but I had a gut feeling that I should answer. I walked to the back of the building, found an employee at the back door who was smoking, and he let me through.
Sobbing sounds echoed over the phone. “You’re Lucas, right?”
“Yeah, who is this?”
“It’s Connie, Caden’s ex. You two worked on a book together a few years ago, right?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“I just…” More sobbing, my heart was beginning to throb. “I just thought I’d let you know that Caden had a heart attack last night while being kept for observation… they’re not sure what caused it, but, as you know, Cade had a drinking problem. He passed last night.”
I sat down and wiped the tears away with my sleeve. I hadn’t talked to Caden in months, and to find out that he’d just passed away like that… my head started to hurt when I thought about him.
“Can I call you at this number when I’ve got the funeral arrangements made?” She asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said. “Good night, Lucas.”
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her Happy New Year, considering everything. Caden and Connie were divorced, and I hadn’t known her very well when they were married, but I got the sense that she still cared for him, which made his passing much worse. There was no hope for redemption, or recovery.
Sitting there in that back alley in the frigid air, a numbness began to fill me, and my tears turned to icicles. I stared up at the constellations; the clouds were gathering, inviting the darkness to take hold of the moonless night.
Allen White was born in San Bernardino California. His father worked at Cal Tech, and was an avid consumer of science fiction film and television. Allen was influenced early on by this, and exhibited a very active imagination. He went on to study illustration and graphic design, but dropped the arts to pursue a career in writing.
White is most influenced by Roger Zelazny, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury. He is an avid reader of the genre, and dreams of a time when human kind might finally reach the stars.
[+ Call of the Harbinger+]
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I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Sighted, and I look forward to your continued readership!
Paranormal Investigator and struggling author Lucas Taylor finally has hard evidence in the palm of his hand. What began as a series of surreal text messages punctuated by a damning photo ends with a feverish obsession for the truth. In the soft light of a dying cell phone screen, a man stares back at Lucas with soulless eyes of drowning pitch, classically attired in a suit and fedora that seem out of place in the modern era. His close friend and collaborator Caden Wilson believes that he’s been visited by this haunting figure after having been witness to a UFO. Fearing both for his friend’s health and sanity he makes the trip out to him, the revelations that follow leave him stunned.