It does not matter who I am or what I am for I am not really a “who” or a “what” but something in between. I possess thought and intelligence but operate entirely on instinct, without morality or intent. I am predatory and so appear malignant—but only to my prey. I am no more evil than a spider cradled in its web of silk—unless, of course, you are a fly.
This house and these people are my web and my flies. Chosen by chance but guided by instinct, they are mine to feed upon without enjoyment and without remorse. When they are gone, others will come to live here just as others lived here before. Memory is meaningless to me since I live in an eternal present. All that has ever happened to me or by me is happening at the same time in my mind’s eye. I am the only constant and my need to survive the only law.
My existence is a cycle of hunger, hunt, capture and rest and it is enough for me. My hunger is intense, my hunt swift, capture sure and rest, brief. When I have fed for a long time and my usual prey weakens, I will kill….and hunt anew.
Now I rest, with lidded eyes but fully awake. I am absorbed in my internal watch for the first sign of hunger’s return, alerting my senses at the same time to the location of prey. I will know I am hungry when I see you, old woman, in my mind’s eye, and know that I must feed when you are lying before me, terrified and helpless. But not now.
Tonight, for I love darkness, will be soon enough. Then I will stir and roll like smoke over the wooden floor of this attic, pour down the stairwell and through the half-open door into the kitchen. Silence around me, I will be silent, too, unseen as I enter her bedroom and pause at the door. A moment or two of stillness and then a slow, determined approach along the wall next to her bed. She will be asleep, but her whole being will tense at the threat of my touch. She will awake—too late! I will be upon her and escape will be impossible.
For now I rest in this battered old trunk, my cradle, my ship, my tomb. The rafters caress its damascened lid guaranteeing my beloved privacy. I have no knowledge of or need for others of my kind since my sole concern is satisfying my hunger. As for the people in this narrow, cramped old house, they do not interest or disturb me. Now and then, the old woman climbs the darkened stairs, full of fear (of me!), to sort through the pitiful debris locked in the trunk. Old lace, cards and letters from friends and relatives long dead (one at my hands unknown to her), pictures—a precious hoard accumulated over her 70 odd years to no particular end.
My hunger stirs at the recollection of those furtive visits to my trunk. I see her now standing at the attic door, her wrinkled skin covered with gooseflesh, every hair on end because she KNOWS I am waiting, listening for her step, poised for her approach. Her terror is sweet to me and I ache with an almost sexual pleasure while she blesses herself and starts up the stairs. Often her nerve will fail at the last step and then she scurries back into the kitchen, muttering prayers and reaching for the light even during the day. Now and again, however, her courage holds and she comes to the trunk with her peculiar dragging step. Moving the trunk from its nest under the rafters, she opens it and kneels down just in front. She may stay that way for an hour if her arthritic knee allows and disturb my repose with her tears and conversation with lost loves. No matter, one night, she will join that motley crew of memories. She will come to the trunk no more.
I awake from my daily hibernation to taste again the sweet darkness settling around the floorboards of the attic where I dwell. Night has come and stirred some nameless passion within my being that brings me once again to life. No eye opens but I recover sight. No breath clears sleep-stale air from lungs but I feel a resurgence of life. As always, that life is recognizable from the long familiar combination of despair and raging hunger that must be satisfied before the night is burned away in dawn’s light.
I take stock of my surroundings like the expert hunter I know myself to be. Without moving, I locate myself within the house and send out sensors to track down each of the other inhabitants within this house. All but one lies sleeping and I must decide now the best approach to the night’s hunt.
I leave the trunk without opening it and move across the floor without a sound. The old wooden floor and roof creak in the wind but not by my footstep. I choose not to appear at this particular moment and yet I am totally self-aware. One of those in the house is suddenly frightened, sensing my awakening but nothing more. I feel the pull of the terror I inspire and sigh with pleasure in my mind. The terror is a kind of fragrance to me, almost a pheromone, attracting me and guiding my attack. But not yet.
I move past the old cedar chest, coffin-like in its wooden rectangle and decide that it might serve as a nest for me if the trunk is ever lost. It sits beneath a window that opens to the street and I feel the presence of other souls in other houses beyond the streetlight’s glow. A chestnut falls in the alley making a soft sound as it hits the weeds along the roadway. I pause to savor the moment, rich darkness swathing my presence but the entire world around me visible to my mind’s eye. I sense rather than hear the mice in the attic and move past their hiding places without disturbing their nighttime foraging.
Now I come to the stairs leading to the kitchen and will myself upon my victim-to-be’s soul. I am here! I will seize you and drain you! A delicious wave of terror flows from my prey and I can barely contain myself, the effect is so intoxicating, so energizing, so all absorbing to my being. I fill the house with my presence and watch as the others grimace and twitch in their now fitful sleep. I am everywhere and nowhere at the same time, in their house, in their dreams, in their very souls. Rooms grow icy cold by turns but that is a feint. I am not there in those cold rooms. I, in my own mind, still stand at the head of the stairs in the attic, waiting.
The door to the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs is slowly moving open. The wind perhaps or my will perhaps or for no reason other than it is old and the latch is old and they sometimes combine to move on their own. I will my victim for the night to feel and fear that tiny change in the cosmos as if it were a sign of impending doom. Feel it! Fear it! Feel me and fear me! I am coming for you! Once again I am overcome by a kind of rapture and wait, like any other experienced lover or torturer (for in an odd way I feel I am both), to clear my palate before the real feast begins.
I will myself down a single stair. It has the desired butterfly effect and now the whole household is on alert, even those sleeping. They toss but I do not let them wake. I know mine and mine know me and tonight’s chosen one now feels me fully and moves, oh the sweetness of it!, from fear to terror. I literally cannot move from ecstasy. I have all night to complete the hunt. No need to rush. Nothing and no one can interfere with the final result (some exceptions we can discuss later) but not now. No exceptions will arise this night and I know that. I am well aware of them after all of these centuries and none are present now. That is why I have bestirred myself this particular night. I move down another stair…
Odd. I feel a disturbance in the night air and it distracts my reverie. What has changed? Who dares to come between my will and my prey? I have no competitor here and no companion. My kind lives and hunts alone—always. I have no predator of my own to fear so the kill will be all mine and I leave no carrion for others to strip and fight over. I return to my internal zero point for calibration and find—nothing. But I am aware of change and stop on this stair for as long as it will take to reset and continue. I never second-guess myself and, once stirred, cannot return to my beloved trunk unfed. Patience. Patience. And then it comes to me. The change comes from the bond I have with my prey. Something has interfered with that bond and, for a nanosecond, removed the terror I am so ardently willing into my chosen prey.
I move down another stair. Three more and I will be in the kitchen. Now I will with full force to restore the terror I so relish and need. It is the old woman’s fault, I decide. She is old but she has a very powerful soul and I will save her for the last. Terrified herself, she checks on the others and my victim feels reassured. Ridiculous creatures! Like apes grooming each other and taking some pitiful comfort from pulling vermin from one another. I am not a random flea to be plucked out and dispatched so easily. This is not a battle for I always win. It is an irrelevancy to me. The old woman’s presence at my victim’s bedside will evaporate soon enough and the wobble in my force will disappear with her.
Closer now to the kitchen door. The old woman shuts it defiantly and then lies down again, staring at the ceiling but now she herself in a panic at my presence. Wait, hag, for your turn will come and you know it but not tonight. I always save the strongest for last to enjoy the slowly building terror as, one by one, the others are lost and the certainty builds that, as the last in an empty old house, they must certainly be next.
Now I am just behind the door. I do a rapid sweep of the house, attic to basement, every room by turn and then, all of the house at once and back again. Everything and everyone in the house is now frozen in fear. Oh but not yet, my dears, not yet and not for some time. This is the sweet part to me and I want to make it last. I sweep the house again and again and then hold it fast in my will. They all know I am now just behind the door and I can feel the collective focus on –me! My victim now discovers that he or she cannot move. I feel my prey struggle to twitch a finger or scream but even the most extreme physical effort results only in terror at being literally paralyzed with fear. Oh the prayers and promises that pour out of their terrified hearts when I have my way with them! Unable to save themselves, they suddenly become believers. No atheists in foxholes, eh? Useless thoughts and useless prayers at this point! I wait and drink in what is now collective terror, a veritable buffet for my hunger. I will the door to open just a crack, as if I need an opening, to descend upon them. A breeze from the window over the sink sweeps up the attic stair through the newly created opening. I do not feel it, of course, but it does make the sun-heated roof and wooden floor in the attic creak and groan like a chorus announcing my entrance.
No one dares to come and close the door a second time. This is more a case of inability than surrender. We have been at this point many times before and they all know what must happen over the next minutes and hours. The breeze swells into a wind and the door swings wide open. The new rush of cool night air causes apples to fall from the old trees in the abandoned yard next up on the hill. The mice stir and scurry into darkened corners and old cardboard boxes full of carefully wrapped china and decorations for their inane holidays. I take a moment to will terror on the mice as a kind of aperitif. They flee the attic in a mad rush down the stairs, blind with terror as they feel me with their animal instinct and choose flight rather than fight on this occasion.
Led in by the terrified mice, I enter the kitchen, pause, and then sweep the whole house again to lay down a kind of protective camouflage. I am in the dining room, I am in the living room where one window remains permanently stuck after a coffin was taken away through it after a family wake for a child that died of pneumonia decades ago. I move through all three bedrooms that lie past the kitchen and almost think of taking two or more tonight. Inspiration will come at the right moment as my instincts kick in. A predator’s instinct to time the kill and make the final fatal bite.
I am in full force now and will an actual appearance but out of their sight. I choose the living room wall and will a face. This takes extra effort and it will deplete some of my bond with my intended prey but it is good practice, if nothing else. Once formed, I can replicate it at will and so leave a calling card when they discuss me over the years. I choose a woman’s face with an open, moving mouth, framed with an ectoplasmic ring, ragged and moving itself like a living Venetian mirror. I will the eyes to be well-formed, intense and lifelike; the occasional blink as the mouth moves in horror and anger by turns and that will sometimes cause the viewer’s heart to stop. Tonight, I will move that face from wall to wall, from the roof of the attic to the ceiling of the basement, and leave it behind me when my work is done and I have fed to remind them all, I am here!
Back to the kitchen door to complete my calibration. The mice respond by racing madly through the kitchen, desperate to escape my presence but unable to find any place to hide where I cannot be felt. They freeze, mimicking their human companions’ immobilized terror. And I wait.
And now what? The mice frozen in fear and my chosen prey on full alert. I myself almost fed in anticipation of what may yet be. Even in hell, with the Devil in rehab, instinct overrules repentance. The mice twitch their whiskers and wait for the next move. Silent and still, because their very lives depend upon it, they wait and my prey waits.
Now I am in. Not in a particular place but in their collective and particular space. Oh how sad. The old woman is praying to long dead saints and imaginary angels. If I had a soul, and I resolutely do not, I might hesitate. Pity means nothing to me. Sympathy is a tactic to create a bond that allows me to feed. There can be no soul to soul feeling because I am without a soul. Pray on, old woman, I can silence you with a single blow but it would spoil my end game and that I will not allow. I will confess to a certain annoyance that you interfere with what even you know must be. I will three sharp raps above your bed and that settles that. I drink from your simple terror at so simple an effect. Who are you to me when I am so much to you, old woman? You are a pebble in my shoe as I race to the kill.
Your interference has incited my hunger to drink deep and long from my prey. If you would challenge me so, it will be to the death tonight. I have fasted long and a kill will not be so much as too much as just enough with a clap from the back of my hand to remind you that you overreach tonight. Do you hope to give me hives by invoking the archangel? Ignorant! If he exists, I am his equal and more. Go back, unknowingly, to the Old Religion of those who hunted and gathered and you will still find me, waiting like a cave bear or saber toothed tiger to strip your bones for a meal. Enough, old woman, you are strong for one of my prey but no match for me. Only because you protect my beloved trunk do I spare you this night. Richer prey, and more easily taken, draws my attack tonight. But I will enjoy taking you one night, all the more. Punishment enough, I should think, because it will incite creativity in my attack and, oh my dear, you have all the reason in the world to fear that.
Focus now. One of the mice has climbed unto a kitchen chair because the very floor, the very earth itself is no protection from me. Suspended between heaven and earth, it has gone as far as it can to save its grey little soul. Its heart is beating as if it was staring down a snake and yet I am nowhere to be seen. Every animal fiber of its being dreads me as an angel of death even though I have no real interest except to acknowledge the effect. Mice, pit bulls, rogue elephants, a pack of dingoes or wolves mean nothing to me. You, old woman, achieve more because you are potential prey. What you feel means more because, frankly, you are on the menu but not just yet. I now decide that you, too, must have a special moment from me for your insolence, and that gives me a sweet, momentary sense of a hunter’s art.
I regain myself (my only metric) through a happenstance. A wet wind and dry lightning flare up to provide a change of scene in this simple play. Chestnuts and apples fall across and behind this old house while towering elms on the dimly lit street wave their branches to make a most improbable sound. Percussion and a soft whisper combine at the same time to encourage me to take another step, to show myself a tiny bit more. Now there is a choice, an audience of sorts, and I stand before my artist’s easel, brush poised above my palette.
I decide to undecide. I will kill and eat all of you or none of you or some of you or only one of you. Guess! Now comes that rich moment where it is clear that I and only I have the initiative. Wait and pray and hope that it is anyone but you! It will be anyone but you, old woman. Tough as leather when I am looking for soft, sweet, terror. I will not abide a challenge this night. Not with wind and thunder provided by your god as a backdrop. I am in fine form and you, withered crone, are no match for me.
I sweep the house once and again and again and send the horrified mirror from hell from room to room. An excusable bit of chest thumping but it works, even though only the old woman knows it. I am done with her like I am done with the mice. Focus now. The hour is late and it is time to feed. Watching the herd at the waterhole, I must now make my selection. Healthy but wounded—the ultimate prize in the hunt. Sleek, muscled but bleeding. Is such a rich prize to be found tonight? In their world, it is indeed, in every bar, every alley, every bus or truck stop. But here, but now? Little matter; however much or little, it will be enough and we will hunt and feed again another night.
Back to my trunk for an internal consultation. I am everywhere but here, in the trunk, I am uniquely alone. Oh the sweetness of my own company! Having no soul, I am never conflicted. I decide to be undecided. I will appear everywhere and then decide. Have no fear, mice, you were never more than a prop. Stay still and terrified and I will acknowledge your tiny animal surrender. Your animal instincts, so much in so many ways like my own, have spared you this night.
But you, old woman, you are another matter. If I believed in curses, I would heap them on you. Already too much and I must hold myself back. If I had emotions, you would anger me. You---interfere. Enough. You have no real power here. I tighten the sheets around you and sigh a spectral sigh in your ear and you fall silent, unable to think or pray or move. Not terror, yet, but a nameless fear, unfocused and universal. You are nothing and can do nothing. I thought so.
What to do, whom to choose. This night it is not a case of pick one. Easy prey is for other times, other places. This has, unexpectedly, become a matter of honor, if you will. I could solve it all by going back to my trunk, fasting for a single day and then leaping upon you all tomorrow night when you are not so attuned. I stirred your terror and have had great benefit from it. Having fed a little, I want more-- a kind of addiction, I suppose.
In the trunk, I retrace my steps and repeat all that I have accomplished so far. Now I stand at every bed, including yours, old woman, and make my choice. Which berry to pick? I wait, while an angel passes, to gauge the effect. Tell me, oh tell me, who should it be?
Insolent to answer what was essentially a question to myself. How dare you offer another victim to buy time to argue with a god I do not believe exists! How ridiculous to suggest I might, at this point, at this time, be reasoned with much less taken for a fool! I sweep the house again in a fury. This is me and what are you?!! Now I am determined to take the risk and kill. Your fault—I might have been content with the mice at another time. I will my full form to appear and walk through your narrow, limited wooden universe, composed as it is of tiny rooms and odd accretions. I have suddenly devised a new terror, unique in its attack. I will now come to you not in this time and this place but in this place at another time known to you and me alone. Aaah! Only a stalker would know these details and that is never good. Pray now, to a god you think knows your soul and then explain to me how an evil such as I am would also know. Memory for memory, exact experience for each hidden, personal instant treasured in your storehouse of remembrances; there, like the lace and cards in the trunk, am I. Now I have my moment of terror. I have embedded my horror in each of those cards and every bit of that old lace, aching for you to grab them to yourself one day and carry me off with you to break from—me! Not a baited hook, not a mousetrap laden with bacon and cheese, like the mice. I am in your very self. Leave here and you will not yet leave me. You see my power…
I am now that hideous face on the wall in the smoky mirror and I start below. This is my most elaborate effort but not the end. Nature, my only accomplice, stirs my imagination with a bravado effect. Rain and lightning rise up, not at my command, but simply opportunely for me. My brush at the easel, I have what you would call an inspiration. Not in the earthquake or the whirlwind but in the still small voice I now come to walk among you. I will begin my kill with a whisper. Do you hear it? Soft, soft, an anguished sigh. Unmistakable, a whisper from Purgatory, the Island of Lost Souls, the Evening Lands. Broken, anguished, lost, lost, lost. I now have my prey’s full attention.
Now, just before the strike, I taste the moment. Wait, wait for the killing bite. It must come just at the right moment. Not now, I tell myself, although I can barely contain myself. It is my choice and my moment and I will not surrender any of it to such inconsequential irrelevancies as those who live here. My kill is my signature, my very being, my own self and that is all that matters to me now. I am in full battle array, both David and Goliath in a battle between bronze armor and slingshot. What if David had too small a stone in his slingshot? What if Samuel’s horn had a bit too little oil so that his blessing meant—nothing?
Here is what it would mean. It means that now I stand at the foot of your bed in this old house at this minute, now, now, now. The sheets are tight around you, your torso, your chest, your neck. You know, for certain, that I am here and no one can help you. None around you hear your screams. None around you are able, even if willing, to move a muscle any more than the mice can rise against me. All are lost because I will it. How sweet this moment! This is what I live for, this very sense of total possession. I have come to you and for you and I will kill you this very night, for no reason other than because I can. And I must kill you, without a cause and without a justification other than my hunger and my need to survive.
How to appear—my god, stage directions. Even so, it is a matter of art and skill and I must choose well. It affects the quality of what I will draw from the dying soul and I do have some experience in this matter.
Late, so late, but even now I hold the mice in suspense for the attack. I feel the need to rise to my full strength and the smoky mirror will not carry me there. Decades ago, in this very house, I willed a form that I choose again now. I leave the house and stand in the narrow alley facing the apple trees. I glide, slowly, gently, across the broken gravel and find my rightful place at the window of the bedroom of the old woman’s son. From afar, I will a whisper in his ear, a groan, a sigh, a half heard phrase rushed as if it were a last minute warning. Save yourself! He wakes and is instantly frozen in fear. He is on his back, eyes wide open. I will myself to appear as a star, nestled in the sky among the apple leaves. Then the star grows larger and is recognized by his terrified mind as a moving beam of light. Closer. Closer. The beam moves silently up to the window pane and then through it. The sight holds his eyes open, unblinking, while I move through the glass and down, down to the floor. The beam then pools into a circle of white light, milky and thick. And then, oh, and then, I rise from that pool of light. Now I will a tall figure to form with a spectral face, feminine, old, cadaverous. I do not give it eyes for I need none to find my prey this terrible moment. I turn and look around as if to gather myself but I am really simply drinking in his terror. It washes over me and through me in the most incredible richness. Already I am drawing your life away from you to me, I whisper. I draw the breath from your lungs and the light from your eyes. Not even yet upon you, I am weakening your life force, your very will to live.
I must have more. I move to the bed and will my prey to feel my weight on the foot of the bed, as if I had substance, actual weight and I make the weight feel heavy to let my prey know that I am powerful and will not be denied. On his back and unable to breathe, there is no hope of resistance. Screams, not prayers, fill my prey’s mind. I have earned those screams and so keep them silent, for me alone to hear and savor. Now I shift the weight to the chest and will hands to grip the throat. I draw wave after wave of life from the torrent of fear and desperation. I drink, I feast, and I revel in the warm waves of light and strength that fill me. More. I must have more...
On other nights, I would pull back and relish the aftertaste of terror so great life seemed impossible after it had been experienced. But I made a vow to myself to kill and that moment is now. I will the hands on my prey’s throat to tighten and lock them in for the final struggle. I increase the sense of weight to that of a crushing heaviness that disallows the smallest breath. My victim is losing consciousness and I regret that response because it means that my feast is ending. A moment more and all I will feel is the warm blackness of a coma and then the cool release of the dying. Dying, dying—dead. No one witnesses this moment, no priest to bless, no family member to weep. Just my sense of a blind hunger satisfied, for now. I rise up and disappear as a form. No need to sweep the house in triumph, no need to release the mice (they already know it is over and they are safe for the night). No need to do anything but return to my trunk but I will make one quick stop. I will visit the old woman.
She lies in her pitiful bed with her rosary in her hands and tears on her face. She knows.
She will lie there until dawn and then get up, knowing what she must find when she goes to his room to wake him. There will be wailing and then the priest and then the neighbors. The coroner will declare heart failure. So sad in one so relatively young, don’t you think? Such a hard worker, such a good son, and unmarried, too. What a pity.
As for me, I will rest in my trunk and digest, in a way, what I gathered in so greedily last night. A week, a month, a year, and I will repeat this exercise. That time will come as it always has. Until then, I will sleep without eyes to close and dream only the blank black darkness that defines my inner life. I am withdrawn into myself until the next awakening. As the hunger was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be…