Killing a Vampire

The heavy smell of earth and copper pulsates in the darkened room. She lies on the black sheets, her jugular ripped out. Blood soaking the mattress, dripping on the spotted floor with a hollow plik-plik-plik. The floor, the walls – everything spotted with crimson and brown. A scene of slaughter.

She looks taken aback – her mouth and eyes open in an expression of fake astonishment, like she entered a surprise party she already knew about. Her face only lit by a buzzing light bulb. I know her face but I am not sure.

The shadows around the corner of my eyes flicker and spiral around us as if her mutilated body is a vortex, while the buzzing of the light bulb roars painfully in my ears and the stench of blood makes me choke and gasp. In a feverish moment of terror, she sits up on the bed, moving choppily like an animatronic and grins at me with lifeless eyes. Her voice rattles through the hole in her neck. I recognise her voice but it seems heavily distorted. “Did you buy my favourite coffee?” she asks me, while tilting her head puppet-like to the side. Darkness swirls around me and presses on my chest with force, while I try to scream.
The lady from the DIY superstore looks up from her computer. She’s about 50 and with her strict glasses, she looks more like an English teacher. She wears big golden rings on her plumb fingers and her friendly impossibly wrinkly face smiles at me patiently. Years on tanning beds gave her a complexion that seems so unnatural that it’s almost cartoonish.

“What can I do for you, young man?”

Her voice sounds like four packets of cigarettes a day. Hoarse and raspy, but very nice. She probably reads amazingly husky bedtime stories to her grandchildren.

“I am looking for stakes.”

“Well, do you want to build a fence? What do you have in mind?”

“I want to kill a vampire.”

She looks at me over the rims of her glasses with her brown eyes.

“Hmmm, we’ve got stakes that are used for building backyard ponds. They should have the right size, I suppose. Would you follow me, please?”

She waddles next to me, leading me through a canyon of shelves under the cold superstore light. Her steps make noises on the greyish linoleum floor. Some jingle is playing. Then the voice of a cashier, requesting a colleague. The distorted voice reminds me of something. Something I have heard in a dream, maybe.

She bows down and rummages around in a shelf in the gardening section, while I stare at her auburn hair, wondering if it’s coloured or a wig. With a satisfied smile, she hands me a packet of stakes. Long, solid, wooden stakes, light but sharp in the end. Nice feeling in my hand. Simply hold it over the ribcage and one hard strike. It should be enough to crack the ribs open with a snapping sound and puncture a dead black heart, while blood sprays in fountains from the screaming fanged hole of a mouth.

I look at her.

“That is exactly what I’m looking for. Thanks.”

“That’s just great.” She smiles warmly at me. I fight the impulse to hug her, she reminds me of my grandmother, I realise.

“I’ll take these right away. Thank you very much.”

I turn around to walk to the checkout (maybe also to look for detergent), while another jingle echoes through the store.

“Good luck!” I hear her yelling behind me. I turn around and wave at her and she waves back, saying “take care of yourself.”


Aaron and Daniel’s faces look like masks in the orange light of the bar. I close my eyes and breathe in the thick air, a blend of cigarette smoke, perfume and anticipation. Noises of people talking, laughing, glasses clinking, Self Control by Laura Branigan is blasting from the speakers, some drunken girls sing along with it.
Daniel nudges Aaron with his elbow and nods in my direction.

“Are you alright?” He asks me.

“It’s a sign” I say.

Aaron and Daniel look at each other with that “here we go again” look on their faces but I pretend I don’t see it.

“What do you mean?” Daniel asks with that I-am-here-for-you-inflection that makes me want to smash his beer glass on his forehead.

“The song” I say.

They look at me with sad orange faces.

I sigh and explain it to them.

“The song is a sign from the vampire. It plays it to torment me. To tell me that it is coming for me. Listen to the lyrics. Through the wall something’s breaking.”

“Don’t think that has anything to do with your vampire” Aaron says smirking, Daniel probably kicking him under the table.

“Listen. I live among the creatures of the night.” It wants to tell me that it has its spies everywhere. Its children.”

“I am sure no one is spying on you” Daniel says tenderly but the rest of his assurances drown out as I am already scanning the room.

I let my eyes fly from the tipsy blonde flirting with a tall guy to the woman with the tattoo on her underarm to the bald guy with glasses laughing about something with his friend. The girls are still singing. I don’t feel a presence though.

“Listen, guys. I am going for a piss. Be right back.”

My friends look at me with an expression I can’t quite read.

A numb migraine is starting to build in my skull and I wash my face with cold water.

As I return my friends have put their jackets on. “Let’s call it a night. I’ll bring you home” Daniel says. Aaron has already left.

On our silent way through the warm summer night I carefully look behind me every few meters and check the black edges of the street lights.

“We’re worried about you” Daniel finally says.

“What do you mean?”

“Your talk about being hunted by ... you know. It freaks me the fuck out. You sound paranoid.”

 “I know” I say and it sounds more desperate that I want it to sound. “but it’s just this overwhelming feeling ... like everybody is in on it, you know. When I saw the vampire for the first time I knew it would come back for me. For Mia.”

“Look I know you’ve been through a lot. And I know you want to protect your girlfriend but you obsess about stuff ... things that aren’t there anymore. Maybe it’s all in your head.”

“Yeah I know” I say while watching the empty street corners. “I think Mia can protect herself pretty good ... I just want to be prepared in case it happens again. I am having these bad dreams. And this feeling. I see people staring at me from the windows of cars and buses. They ... know. I feel their stares. They all work for the vampire.”

To my own surprise I feel tears welling in my eyes. I feel tremendously sad and to my surprise, for Daniel because he can not possibly understand what I am talking about. He has not seen what Mia and I have seen. At the same time I envy his ignorance.

“Hey, man” Daniel says softly. “Just try to relax, okay?”

We sit down on a bench and he hands me a cigarette.

“You’re right” I say.

Daniel smiles. “Exactly. And now let’s talk about something else.”

“I’m sorry for freaking you out in the bar.”

Daniel laughs “you should feel sorry for Aaron, he really was pissed off.”

It’s good to hear him laughing and I laugh along, wiping the tears from my eyes.

Daniel turns around. “Oh look, we’ve got company.”

It’s one of the drunk girls from the bar. I can smell her perfume from here. She awkwardly stumbles through the light cones of the street lights. Her feet are bare.

“Are you alright?” Daniel shouts.

“Yeaah, lost my shoes.” She yells back. She’s probably ten metres away from us.

“Well, have a good night, then.” He waves at her.

She stops and turns to us. She smiles and waves back. She doesn’t stop though. About twelve seconds must have passed and she still smiles and waves like a gif that endlessly repeats itself.

“I don’t like this” I say more to myself than to Daniel and I realise that I have stood up.

As she is standing in the middle of the dim cone of light, still smiling and waving, her posture changes. For a second it seems like her silhouette blurs and resharpens. Her hair floats around her head like she’s underwater. Her body is shaking in weird spasms.

“Let’s get the fuck outta here” Daniel says and I can hear fear making his voice shake. His cigarette dangles from his lower lip.

The girl or the thing posing as a girl is now closer to us and just stares at me. Her eyes make my heart pound frantically against my ribs. Her eyes are not human.

Daniel grabs me by the shoulder and just like that she has disappeared from sight. Vanished like smoke. But her voice is floating through the night air. She’s softly whispering. Her singing whisper turns into screaming. Her voice is distorted.                                       
I arrive at Mia’s place and I ring the doorbell, hands still shaking. Daniel ran off in blind panic. She opens the door and her surprised smile turns into a worried frown when she registers the immensity of my fear.

“Jesus Christ, what’s going on with you?”

I hold her close to me, arms and legs still shaking like crazy.

“We have protect ourselves,” I suddenly say and run off into her kitchen to get a knife or something.

She screams “Will you relax for fuck’s sake? What is going on with you? You’re scaring me.”

“I saw one of its children” I say. Mia stumbles back and anxiously clutches her sleeve, tears forming in her eyes.

I breathe out. “We. Have. To. Go. Now.” Every word like a gunshot echoing through the room.

Slumping down on a chair in the kitchen, holding my head in my hands, migraine feverishly pounding in my skull, Mia walks towards me and hugs me. “What will we do now?” I say nothing.

“First I will turn this music off,” she says and walks over to the kitchen radio. The beat of Laura Branigan’s Self Control  starts playing.

“Turn that fucking thing off!” I scream and hysteria makes my voice crack.

As I wake up, Mia’s head is pressed against my chest and my arm that is wrapped around her neck has gone dead. I try to move it slightly, she stirs and mumbles and as the blood rushes back, a tingling sensation creeps through it. I had nightmares about blood splattered rooms again.

Dim morning light and chirping birds outside her window. I get up and grab a kitchen knife and wrap a dishcloth around its blade, the wooden stakes, a hammer, a flashlight and put it all in my backpack. As I rummage around the room, Mia wakes up and sits up in bed alertly, her Bambi eyes wide open.

“Where are you going?” 

“Killing a vampire.”

“Don’t leave me here by myself.”

I grab her by the shoulders and say: “Stay at home. Do not open the door. For nobody. I’ll be right back.”

She kisses me on the lips.

With very final click, her door closes behind me and I look around.

Everything’s quiet. No sound at all. No one to be seen.

I slowly step outside and look around while the deafening silence swallows my steps.
A crow croaks on a roof and looks at me, tilting its head.

The streets are deserted as if a virus wiped out humanity and electricity hangs in the air like right before a thunderstorm. As plastic bags swirl and dance around me in the empty streets I realise that leaving Mia alone was a mistake but I press on. Dream logic. I pass the local supermarket and an empty shopping cart rolls around on the parking lot, but only when I walk past it.

The feeling of being watched is palpable and my teeth clench so hard that my jaw hurts.

From afar I see a figure shambling towards me. A giant. His head is cropped short on the sides but he has a ponytail. His muscly arms are covered in old and washed out prison tattoos and he wears a biker jacket with the logo of a local outlaw motorcycle gang on its back.

So, this is who it’s sending me to finish me off, I think.

As he sees me he, his steps fasten and my legs twitch and spasm in the adrenaline rush. I don’t want to die, I think and prepare for a cold blade to puncture my lungs.

He approaches me and I see that teardrops are running down his face and cling to his beard.

“Please,” he begs me.

He smells like ammonia and I see that he pissed his pants.

“Please, don’t leave me,” he whispers and his huge hand painfully grabs my shoulder.
He blubbers and stammers like a child.

“Don’t let me be alone with it. Please.”

He collapses right in front of me and sobs uncontrolled.

Undoubtedly, he has met the vampire, so I must be close.

I leave him there sobbing and march on.

The streets are deserted but a couple of meters into the city centre I see the first smashed cars. Their windshields are silver spider webs of cracks, the hood of one Mercedes is completely torn off. A tram is lying on the rails, pushed-over like some toy. Sparks of electricity fizz and pop and fly around, where the cable is torn in two. Not a soul in sight. I observe the scene of destruction and check anxiously for the stakes in my backpack.

I notice a perfectly white parking ticket flapping being crammed under a wiper. I walk towards it with a queasy feeling in my gut because I already know. I tug it very carefully between index finger and thumb as if it was radioactive or poisonous. I recognise its handwriting immediately. In accurate sharp black letters the vampire wrote:

Immediately a phone starts ringing to the left of me with some old school ringing sound. I turn my head and it’s coming from an empty coffee shop the front window of which had been smashed to pieces. I walk towards it, the shrill ringing angrily piercing the absolute quiet. Exactly in the center of a table to the left sits a red rotary dial telephone and rings so loud that I almost imagine it jumping up annoyedly and down like in those cartoons that were broadcast before the vampire took over all stations of my television, showing me my death.

I take a deep breath and pick up the cool plastic handle. There’s silence on the other end. Not even breathing.

“Are you there?” I hear myself say with a shaking voice but from far away.

“Yes.” Its distorted voice is nightmare made audible. Seeping through the holes of the handle like black ooze hissing with cold electricity. The hair on my back raises. It’s the voice of murder.

“Are you coming to kill me?” The voice asks, not a hint of amusement in it because amusement would make it sound human.

“Yes. Where are you?”

“Buying your gilfriend’s favourite coffee.”

I choke back tears. I don’t want it to see that it gets to me but I just can’t handle it anymore. The words remind me of something terrible but I don’t know what.

“How do you want to kill me?” The voice drones on heavily distorted. Like some malfunctioning asthmatic robot.

“I bought stakes.”

The sound coming from the telephone that has turned into a rift between worlds could be identified as laughter or some perverse mutation of it.

“Like in the movies?” it asks after a pause.

“That’s how you kill vampires, right?”

“I am not a vampire. Vampire is just a human concept that you’ve chosen to make me comprehensible. I am entirely something else.”

“I don’t give a fuck. I want this to end. Show yourself” I say with some very badly faked courage.

“Meet me at Mia’s house,” the voice says.

There’s a sharp crack in the line and then a cold but friendly female voice is saying:
“Please hold the line” and Self Control starts playing.

I slam the phone down and run run run as fas as I can back to Mia’s house. Running along the smashed cars, tilted street lamps, claw marks on concrete. Panic is flaring through my veins. I pass the supermarket and the biker guy whose head is now separated from his body. No, it sits on his shoulders. Reality flickers and blurs as I follow the vampire’s trail.

I arrive at Mia’s house and the door is still locked. As I enter her darkened room, it smells heavy. Like earth and copper.


Ouija Session

Tea lights flicker in the darkness and paint moving shadows on the walls. Fake cobwebs and paper spiders hang from lamp shades. A very unscary ghost dangles from the ceiling, slowly turning. Empty beer cans are standing on the massive wooden table and the air – it smells of cigarette smoke and cheap cologne and anticipation.
David places the planchette on the shiny lacquered surface and smiles mischievously. He’s a skinny guy with a massive Adam’s apple. His red locks are close-cropped and hundreds of freckles adorn his pale face. He’s undoubtedly the one who brought the Quija board.
“Are you guys ready for this?” He asks, putting on his best villain-in-a-movie smile.
“Dude, bring it on,” says Jeffrey gulping down his beer and belching loudly. The room erupts in laughter.
“You’re disgusting” the gorgeous blonde girl next to him pokes him with her elbow. I don’t know her name yet. Angélica, small with beautiful short black hair sits across and rolls her eyes. Next to her sits a chubby Korean guy with glasses, Hyun-Wook.
“Okay, we need to place our fingers on the planchette. Are you ready?” Adam says.
“Hold on, isn’t there some kind of opening ritual?” Hyun-Wook asks laughingly. Jeffrey places his fingers on his temples and closes his eyes, dramatically saying: “Yes, we need to clear our miiiiiinds.”
“You guys are idiots” Angélica rolls her eyes again.
“No, we need to move the planchette a little and then ask a question” David say all-serious. “But apparently it’s very important to move the planchette to GOODBYE in the end – or the ghost will escape from the board,” he smiles his mischievous little smile at the blonde girl and I realise two things immediately: firstly, he tries to impress her because he has a huge crush on her and secondly, she is not alright with this situation. I can see that she’s scared but doesn’t want to show it.
“Alright, let’s go” Jeffrey says and slightly touches the planchette.
We all join in and the planchette moves in smooth circles across the board.
“There it goes” David laughs.
“Who should ask the first question?” Angélica asks. She seems intrigued.
“I’ll do that” David says, focused and hell-bent on being the center of attention. He’s the kind of guy who gets up and leaves when he loses at Monopoly, I think. This is not Monopoly.
“Are there any ghosts present in this room?” He asks loudly and I am the only one that catches his side-glimpse to the blonde girl. The planchette moves in a circle and finally stops at YES.
“This is fucking crazy,” Jeffrey says.
Like a very light cold breeze turning a pinwheel in the other direction, the atmosphere in the room changes. Drunkenness and silliness fade dimly into the background what stays is a subtle – very subtle uneasiness. Smiles become faker, laughter shorter and louder.
“You guys aren’t moving this, right?” Hyun-Wook asks, “because I didn’t move push it at all.”
The small circle of young people agrees. No one’s pushing it.
“I don’t like this” the blonde girl says. She’s drop-dead beautiful.
“There’s nothing going to happen to you, Sarah” Adam says reassuringly, the jerk wants to scare her deliberately to be all protective later, when it’s over, I think.
“Can you tell us your name?” Angélica asks, she’s obviously having fun.
The room falls silent and again the planchette glides over the board, alle eyes following it.
“That’s a terrible name” Hyun-Wook says drily and Jeffrey laughs out loud. Adam looks at them angrily, he doesn’t want his great event to be ridiculed.
“Let’s try again” Angélica says and adds “we did not understand. Can you tell us your name, please?”
The planchette spells out: Z-A-K
“Zac, here we go” Jeffrey smiles.
“We just have to be nice to him, I guess” Angélica smiles.
“Yeah” I say laughingly but nobody hears me, they are too absorbed in the board.
Sarah shifts uneasily in her seat.
The small group of people has slowly gained a conspirative quality, like children who know they are doing something Mom and Dad haven’t allowed. Conspirational glances are shared all around.
“How have you died?” Jeffrey blurts out and before they can really react the planchette already starts moving and this time a lot faster. It circles the board a while and then the word C-R-A-S is spelled out.
“Poor guy was run-over by a car” Hyun-Wook says into a room as silent as a mortuary.
Sarah has stood up and says “I don’t want to do this anymore. This is stupid.” It’s obvious that she’s frightened. He Bambi eyes are widened in terror. Poor Sarah.
“Yeah, we should probably leave it at that,” Jeffrey says all-sober all of a sudden and making it painfully obvious to the others that he’s just as scared as Sarah. I smile but they don’t see it.
Of course, this is David’s time to shine.
“Come on, you guys. This isn’t serious. Don’t be such a pussy, Jeffrey.”
Jeffrey crosses his muscular arms and sits there silently with a pouty face and a hurt ego.
“Come on guys, this is fun” Angélica says and laughs at Sarah, “What do you think will happen, Sarah? A ghost will appear in this living room?”
“I don’t care. You guys are all in on this. And you ... and you ... and you try to scare me and that’s fucked up!” He voice is breaking and she’s close to tears.
“Sarah, no one’s trying to scare you, okay?” Jeffrey says soothingly, holding her shoulder. “Right, guys?”
Everyone tries to calm her down.
“All I know is, this fucking thing is moving on its own. And if nobody is pushing it, who is?!” She yells.
“Zac,” Angélica is giggling.
“This is not funny” Sarah says giving her the death stare.
“I’m sorry” Angélica says with a false I-won’t-do-it-again look on her sharp face.
“Come one, guys. She’s really scared” Hyun-Wook says, fidgeting nervously around on his beer can.
“Yeah, let’s do that. Then I’ll take her home, alright?” Jeffrey is saying in a vain attempt to save his face and boy, I can feel David’s anger without even looking at him.
Sarah slumps back into her chair, defeated and this time really sobbing a little.
We all place our fingers on the planchette.
Adam has to be play alpha male again and bluntly aks the ultimate Ouija board question: “How will I die?”
He seems surprised by himself and the others look at him in terror.
“Jesus Christ, dude” Hyun-Wook whispers.
Before any kind of interference can occur the planchette races along the board.
The small group of accomplices sits there stunned like they are actually sitting at Adam’s funeral. Sarah starts to cry pressing her face against Jeffrey’s broad shoulder.
In the flash of a moment I can see Adam lying in a clean hospital room, still skinny, still full of freckles, passing away, while rain beats upon the window pane.
Jeffrey is pissed-off and scared. All colour drained from his face.
“You’re happy now?!” He asks David, still holding the crying Sarah.
“Guys, let’s stop this” Hyun-Wook, the voice of reason, says. Angélica also looks like she wants to give up, whispering “Coño.”
David looks Jeffrey straight into the eyes and asks coldly: “How will Jeffrey die?”
“Fuck you, dude!” Jeffrey screams, his head beaming with redness and he lets go of the planchette.
Too late, the planchette has already started and gently glides beneath our fingertips.
An old and still muscular but also plumber Jeffrey lies on the floor in a hardware store, shaking in spasms. A trucker cap on his greying black hair. An image comes and goes.
All energy is sucked out of the room. I look at them sitting around me. They are not goofy or silly or tipsy anymore. Their faces look sad and tired. Orange deathmaks swimming in a dark room. Adam looks sad too and I know he actually feels bad. They sit around, scared, not sure what to do with themselves. A minute in absolute silence passes.
I look at them in all their vitality and youth and I feel jealous because of it. A group of people, now friends, with their short and insignificant but beautiful lives still ahead of them. They taste and touch and feel and love and laugh and cry until the inevitable but gentle darkness swallows them all.
“I guess we should say Goodbye to Zac” Angélica finally says.
I like her the most, so I lean over to her and gently whisper in her ear “Goodbye, Angélica” and as the goosebumbs creep across her neck and she convulses in her chair, Hyun-Wook pushes the planchette to GOODBYE and I disappear into oblivion and gentle darkness once again.


They exchanged him. I knew right away. I could read it in the sorrowful face of my father and the lonely sobbing of my mother in the dark candlelit room of our old house even though they pretended that nothing had changed. That boy. That thing that lay in my brother’s crib it wasn’t meant to lie there. It wasn’t even meant to be.
The babe that was clutching to my mother’s breast had gone. Disappeared. Instead it was lying there. The eyes as black as night. A face as pale and beautiful as a waning moon.

When the villagers came to welcome the babe the old Lena knew as soon as she laid her eyes on him just like I did. Her huge gnarly hands grabbed me tenderly by the shoulders and a sharp sigh escaped from her mouth. A hiss escaping between her crooked yellow teeth. I saw fear crawling over her wrinkly, coarse face. Old Lena knew the old ways. The ways of the earth and the trees and the mountains. The people in the village despised her, shunned her but they came to her when illness befell them, when they needed advice or help that our good pastor couldn’t give. I can still hear feel her breath reeking of wine close to my ear and her voice, like the trickling of sand: “He’s not your brother, girl. The hidden folk took ‘em.”

He grew up fast. Unusually fast. A frail sickly boy. The people spoke of such matters but they said that the devil’s children or the children of the ‘little people’ were malformed and ugly but he wasn’t, his black eyes staring beneath long black eyelashes, glowing like rubies when the light fell upon them. The villagers turned their heads, when he walked through town holding my mother’s hand greeting him with a strange veneration, unfit for a little boy. He never answered. He was as mute as a fish. A silent as a grave.

When he sat in our yard the animals came to him like he called them to keep him company. He was especially fond of cats and spent hours stroking their fur. Even little birds, sparrows and finches landed on his shoulders and hands, twittering. Unmoving like a stone he sat there. Peering into the dark woods, seeing things not meant to see.

He grew mischievous. Things happened to me. Misfortunes. Small at first but getting worse. The milking stool collapsed when I sat on it. The hot pan that burned my hand. The horse kicking but missing me. The ice that cracked beneath me when we skated on the frozen lake. The accident with the sickle. I could feel his eyes on the back of my head every time those things happened and when I turned around I could see his smile as cold and sharp as a knife. He knew that I knew. He wanted me gone. 
Nobody believed me.

I searched for old Lena and found her. Her voice like the trickling of sand answered me: “Girl, when you get home pretend to boil water in hollow eggshells. The changeling will reveal itself. But beware! Whatever it does, do not look into its eyes.”
When I got home he was sitting there, expecting me. His black eyes staring right into mine. He hit the table with the palm of his little hand. Rhythmically. Like a slow drum but he never ceased staring. I pretended not to notice, cracking open the eggs. When I had laid the hollow eggshells in front of me the drumming stopped. Every muscle in my body was tense as I still felt his eyes peering at me. I made belief that there was water boiling in the eggshells and heard his steps approaching me. I turned around and with a feeble voice I told him to be careful, because the water was hot while trying not to look into his eyes. I could see his mouth though, twisting into a smile that somehow reminded me of a gutted cat I had seen years before. My heart pounded so hard that its beating drowned out all other sounds in the rooms. I noticed that his teeth were long and sharp. Made to tear bloody flesh from bones. Made to snap bones in two.

A voice emerged from this mouth. A voice as old as trees. As old as wind. A murmur like an animal trying to sound like a human. Every hair on my body stood up as the voice spoke:

“Sister, I saw the egg before the hen. I saw the acorn before the oak. But never have I seen someone boiling water in eggshells.”

With a shrill laugh that I can still hear in my dreams he was gone.

Feeling sick, I lay unto the floor shaking and trembling until I heard a babe crying in the other room. I approached the crib and held my baby brother against me and sang to him to calm him, to calm us both. 

A whisper from the woods - PART II

17th of October, 1996

I remember that Carl and me were playing in the woods on a late afternoon. We were walking along the forest path, lost in a conversation I do not remember. We had our swords, that Carl carved from sticks with his beloved knife. His grandfather had given it to him as a birthday present to the horror of his mother. First, his parents had forbidden him to have it but finally allowed him to carry it with him on our trips through the nearby forest. Carl was a strangely responsible-minded child. When games got out of hand, he simply stopped and walked away without saying a word to draw his orcs. He avoided violence and despised schoolyard fights. Naturally this made him the target of bullies and older boys but Carl refused to care and simply stayed his goofy and dreamy self. The memory that stands out to me the most is when we were on a school trip to a farm and he was holding a rabbit tenderly in his arms. It nuzzles his face and he laughs his unique explosive laugh while the other children stand around him and can’t help but laugh along with him.

Even today I can smell the autumnal forest. I see the place in my mind’s eye but not as clear as in my dreams with the crying children. The grey autumn sky shines pale through the branches that are not yet leafless. A thick root coils snake-like before us into the forest path, which is covered in yellow leaves.

We want to turn around and go home and then it happens. Suddenly it is deathly silent. No bird is chirping. No woodpecker is drumming. Absolute silence. I know immediately that something is wrong and Carl knows it too.

A nauseating feeling creeps into me. It is hard to describe. I have felt something similar watching the solar eclipse three years later. The same silence, the same feeling but a hundred times worse.

Then it happens. The thing flies towards us. It is enormous. In a stomach-turning way, it is both human and animal. It has gigantic back wings which rush over our heads – it is the same rushing noise that haunts my dreams.

Big red eyes glow down on me. It whispers to me in a language that sounds long forgotten. In a short moment, only for the fraction of a second, I know that it knows that I can see it, although I am not supposed to see it. A thought that rises to the surface like a fish snapping at an insect only to descend into the darkness below again. For a split second, the thought breaks through the surface like an image that appears in your mind’s eye the second before you fall asleep.

I start crying and it is over. The whole event takes a few seconds. It flies away above us and the obnoxious feeling disappears. Carl and me are standing on the forest path with open mouths and listen how the birds are starting to chirp in the sombre woods around us.

Without losing words, we run home as fast as we can. Drenched in sweat and with red faces we collapse in front of the door of Carl’s parents. The days after, we are busy drawing the “monster” and telling our parents and eye-rolling classmates.
Carl can’t let this thing go. He waits for our biology teacher, Mr Hofmann, after class and shows him our pictures of the thing in the woods. Mr Hofmann is someone who takes children seriously which is why we turn to him. He listens with an amused smile and takes a thick book from the shelf and shows us an illustration of a barn owl.

“Boys, I think you have startled a barn owl. Look, it has big eyes, wings and can be found in our forest. You see, sometimes when it’s dark our imagination can play us tricks. Especially when it’s a dark afternoon out in the woods”, Mr Hofmann says smilingly.

 Carl and me feel reassured. The memories fade and we never lose a word about the afternoon in the woods. A silent pact is made that we agree on having seen a barn owl, although in a secret dark corner of my mind I know that what we saw was definitely not a barn owl.

When Carl dissappears months later the images return. With a paralysing dread I know that the owlman took Carl. Screaming and crying I fall into the arms of my mother and tell her that I know who took Carl away, the monster in the woods. Still today I can hear my mother console me:

“Oh Jacob, my Jacob. Don’t be afraid.“

My mother knew that I searched for a reason of the disappearance of my best friend. My childish psyche was unable to cope with the grief and pain of losing Carl, so I tried to explain what happened and eventually suppress feelings of guilt with my imagination. She told me the same thing as Mr Hofmann, if you imagine something very hard, you start to believe it although it maybe never happened.

I started to block out the event in the woods and a possible link to Carl’s disappearance.

Then the dreams came. The fire. The screams. The crying. And the man. His clean-shaven ordinary face looking at me motionlessly.

November 2015

On the 13th of November, 2015 I the recognise his face. It stares at me with an unhinged expression from a police file.

It belongs to the man that is arrested for arson and the murder of three children over the course of 20 years. One of his victims was Carl de Ruiter.

The police officer tells me that the murderer was sexually abused as a child and responsible for several acts of animal cruelty, his need to relieve his aggression and re-enactment of his own abuse lead him to set fire to a barn the night before his arrest. Animals in the fire pulsates through my head as the police officer lights his cigarette and mine. The evidence, that was found after his house has been searched, is clear.

He was found in a panic-stricken state, confessing everything and begging not to be left alone because the “thing” would take him with it to the crying children, he had murdered. He murmured absurd things about red eyes and that it would whisper to him from the woods. “Possibly a manifestation of his guilt” is what is said to me while my stomach sinks deeper and deeper.

With his arrest the dreams stop. My nights are peaceful and I feel like I could sleep for a thousand years. The dreams I now have vanish with the morning light but one dream stands out to me. I have it the night of the arrest.

I am standing in the woods again. The root coils into the path like a wooden serpent. The October sky shines gloomy through the branches. Carl’s laughter rings out behind me. I turn around and call for him. “Carl! Carl! I can’t see you!” I follow his laughter and look behind the trees.

Suddenly, for the first time, Carl is standing in front of me. He’s a child and I am an adult know and I realize how small he is. I start crying. “Carl, you are not alive. You are dead“, I sob with a tearful voice. Carl smiles sadly and reaches for my hand. As I try to take it, he turns into a barn owl. With a few flaps of his wings he rises completely silent into the air and flies away.