By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds
Scare Rating: 4 of 5 Ghosts
The man perfectly matched the description called into police dispatch: he sat curled up in a ball against the building, rocking and mumbling to himself, just as the 911 caller had said.
He was of a medium build, with greasy, clumped hair matted to his scalp and falling into his face, although some rather large patches were missing, and raw, open flesh was visible in its place. He clearly had not shaved for days, and his body and his clothing were filthy with the grime of the street, and also with blood from hundreds of cuts and scratches across his body — self-inflicted, the officers suspected. Even through the dirt and stains, it was clear that the man’s clothes — what had once been a business suit — were of the highest quality and cut. The fall from grace had been recent, and clearly had also been hard.
But what stood out to the officers immediately were his eyes. Both lids were firmly propped open by dozens of tiny sticks, twigs, coffee stirrers and other similar pieces of natural and man-made trash. The eyes behind this protective fence were dark — the pupils were darkly dilated, and any white was covered over by the deep red of a thousand broken blood vessels. There was no shine to the eyeballs; there was no moisture to them at all, although the man’s cheeks were stained with the tears that had fallen previously. The ducts were clearly now exhausted.
“What’s going on here, mister,” said the officer. He approached slowly and lowered himself to the man’s level. He spoke in a comforting voice. He’d seen cases like this, and he knew that a relatively calm scene could quickly escalate into something dangerous, if not managed appropriately.
“Them, them, them,” he muttered in response, over and over again: “them, them, them, them, them!”. As he spoke, his voice rose in volume and pitch, and he pointed frantically at different dark corners on the street around him “they want me! Them! They want me!”
Clearly a mental health case, the officer decided. He knew that sleep deprivation or mis-aligned wake-sleep cycles could trigger bad psychotic events, so he tried a re-direct.
“When was the last time you got any shut-eye?” he asked. “Let’s pull those splinters out of your eyelids and we can get you home or get you a cot at the shelter so you can sleep.”
“Noooo!” the man screamed emphatically. This time, he focused his vacant, catatonic stare and pointed his dark expression at the officer. “That’s what THEY want! They’ll take me away if I close my eyes. They’ll consume me, all the way to my soul, if I sleep. THEY can’t have me unless I shut my eyes!”
The officer backed away and turned to his partner and to the EMTs who were also dispatched to the incident. As the man returned to a less violent state of agitation, the first responders decided to sedate the man so they could get him the treatment he so clearly needed.
The officer approached again. He got the man’s attention and started to talk to him again, using a soothing tone of voice. Armed with a syringe and protected only by thin rubber gloves, the lead EMT crept slowly, innocuously, nearer to the man from the side. Being discrete was difficult against someone who never blinked.
“Tell me about ‘them,’ said the officer, trying his hardest to not sound patronizing. “Where are they now? What are they?”
“They’re demons! They want to devour my soul! They won’t wait until I die to have it; they want to rip it from my still-alive body! They want it FRESH!” The man continued to ramble in his hyper-active cadence. “I know that I’ve been wicked, but I can get better, I can do better. Help me keep my eyes open. Help me keep them at bay!”
“Sure, yes, we’re going to help you,” said the officer. As he spoke these words, the needle plunged into the man’s arm and the liquid sedative entered his body. Horrified, the man scrambled to his feet, clawing and swinging at the EMT and the officer. He knocked the syringe from his arm and started clawing at his sleeve, trying to tear through and dig the calming agent from his body physically.
It was too late. The man’s legs buckled, and it was all that the assembled rescuers could to catch him before he landed face-first on the hard pavement.
They laid him on his back, and one EMT went for a stretcher. The man’s eyes were still open, but he was no longer there with them. The EMT placed eyedrops into the man’s eyes, and together, he and the officer began to remove the shards that held the eyelids apart.
As the eyes closed, a dark storm erupted around them. A black fog rolled in from the alleys, and thick, smog-like clouds obscured the sun, rendering it almost dark on the open street.
Then they heard them. Shrieks, howls, and the fast scampering of thousands of claws against pavement and brick and stone. The officer felt a sharp bite in his back, and swung in pain so hard that whatever it was broke free, but not without taking a piece of flesh with it.
Other things scampered from the dark recesses of the street to the scene; they clambered on and over the heroes, but any terror they caused them was incidental to their main objective: the now-unconscious businessman. As they got to him, they tore at his clothes and his body, trying to get deeper into his being.
The officer drew his weapon and took aim at a large thing — a demoniac of some kind — that was tearing at the man’s ear. He let the round fly, and the beast flew back, incapacitated if not destroyed. But in its place, three new monsters appeared, and the man was wholly covered by the time the officer had emptied his clip into the massed horde.
The officer reloaded, but it was too late. Pieces of the man’s body were now being dragged away in different directions, into the dark shadows. As they went, the fog and acrid smoke lifted and was broken up by a gentle breeze. A bright sun shone on the dark blood-stained pavement. The man was gone.
For the officer, if not for the man’s eternal soul, the ordeal was over.