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Author's Note: This story is the prequel to the story "Dementophobia", and so for the sake of continuity and overall understanding, this story is best read after having read the original.

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Autophobia Cover

5 days, 3 hours, 54 minutes, and 13 seconds.

I'm not one to remember my victims. In the end they're all the same: nameless, faceless bodies whose only reason for existence is for me to feed. Though as I stood there, watching the body swing lifelessly from the rafters, I couldn't help but feel the slightest bit guilty for the fate that befell them.

It only took 5 days, 3 hours, 54 minutes, and 13 seconds for my host to finally snap and kill themself.

There's no point in lingering on the dead. I've made no connection with this human. I couldn't care less if they were dead. This I tell myself, though I could still feel the pain that came with their loss, same as every one of my victims whom met the same fate. The warmth of their lives, the beat of their hearts, and the pulse of their emotions... that is what's kept me alive and sane all these millennia. But now with this life gone I should move on as well. And so I turned, claws silently scraping against the hard wood floor, and I let myself out through the wall to the front of the building.

Outside the world was still turning, living, and breathing all around me. Even at the dead of night cars quietly rushed down the streets and couples gossiped and laughed as they walked down the pavements. Life still hung like a plague in the air, and all still lived their lives blissfully unaware of what unfolded just a few feet behind me. All still remained ignorant to my existence in this world.

Against the frost-slick sidewalk a couple of humans walked together down the street. The woman slipped through my ghostly form and I watch her shudder from doing so. “What's up?” The man asked. She just smiled, “Just a random shudder,” she said. Their warmth is intoxicating. I turn and follow them down the street.

They walked for a while, talking about nothing like all humans do. They stopped at a bus stop, continuing to chat, and I stopped too. The bus came, and I followed them aboard. The couple road on for a while, then eventually got off. I stayed aboard, and the bus rolled on into the night.

What is it that made him die so fast? What did I do wrong this time? Are my methods losing their touch, or was he more unstable than I had thought? These are thoughts I pondered as the bus continued on its circuit, passengers coming and going all through the night.

Normally when I select my victims I look for some sort of fear or phobia in each of them. I've found that when they possess at least one of these they tend to live longer than those without, as this fear helps drive them away from taking their own lives, even if it doesn't always work in the end. This last victim had a few phobias that were less common, and they sounded like fun tools to play with against them. And yet, they continued the with the same trend of suicide that all my previous few victims had met. It's not a coincidence, this I already know. But was my host a fluke or was it something I've just done wrong? Why did he die so fast?

I stopped in my thoughts as the bus engine died with a soft and tired sigh. Turning my head up, I watched as the bus driver stretched her arms up above her head, let out a yawn, and stepped off the bus. This place was less alluring without people aboard, so I followed her out. She got into her car and began to drive home, and I clutched to the roof as she drove.

I don't have the drive to possess her. I'm too uncertain and lost in my thoughts to find my next host. For now I'll let myself drift. Along the wind and winding roads I'll find my path as I always do, I just need a bit more time to clear out my head.



Oh, how I wished I had decided otherwise.

There's only so long I can live off the secondhand emotional smoke that ghosts off the body of a person.

Days passed. Weeks. Months. I could never fully regain confidence in myself, but now the hunger pains are too strong to bear.

My arms hung lower. My steps grew heavier. My breath grew thicker.

This city is much more active than the last I'd stayed, and the streets buzzed with excitement all around me. People were drinking, laughing, and partying far into the night. I stared as they passed, bloodshot eyes clouded with hunger and the smoke of my breath. A group of men walked arm in arm singing as they drunkenly danced down the street.

Sweet.

A person won a prize in the bar's evening lottery. A man glared with envy.

Sour.

A young child dropped their smoothie on the ground. They started crying.

Bitter.

I'm sick of watching these swarms of people. I'm sick of watching them smile and laugh and cry with one another as they pass through me along the street. I'm sick of being ignored.

I growled, swinging a hand down and smacking the dropped smoothie cup up off the ground. It flew up and slapped one of the drunkards square in the face, pink and yellow mush splattering all around. The men stopped singing. The child stopped crying. The man in the bar tore his eyes off the prize. They all stopped and stared. Then, all at once, they started to laugh. The drunkard grabbed a handful of smoothie and lobbed it at his brothers in arms, the others laughing and shielding themselves from the onslaught. The two bystanders laughed at the sight of the fools playing in the fruity mush.

Too sweet. Far too sweet.

I can't take anymore of this. Muscles twisted and lurched out as my wings took form on my back, and in a flash I was up in the air, far away from the laughter. Far away from it all.

Don't be hasty, remember you still need them. Don't be reckless, remember what you're after.

Yes... I know what I need. I need a new host, someone I can properly feed from. I need someone young, emotional, full of life and fear. I need someone afraid of death... someone too afraid of death and the life beyond to ever dare to take their own life.

Yes... I'll start with that.

I swooped down from the night sky and dove down into the suburbs outside that busy town. The first house I visited was home to an old couple. Too old to fear the end now. And so I left. The next house had a young single mother asleep with her many children. Death would be a blessing in your eyes, wouldn't it? And so I left.

House after house I stopped and examined my prey. I slipped myself into their minds, peering into their souls. I learned in an instant all their deepest thoughts: what they loved, what they hated, what they longed for, and what they feared. On and on I pushed, and yet no matter how close I flew to finding the perfect victim, they all fell short of what I was looking for.

I stopped before I left the last house on the street. I stood in the bedroom of young woman, asleep with her significant other.

It hurts... It all hurts... I'm so hungry I can barely think... I breathed out a heavy sigh, letting my wings furl back into my body, and I rested myself against the wall of the dark-lit bedroom. Am I being too picky? Am I being too hasty? When I'm this starved the last thing I need is to be hasty... I  just... need to take a minute... Recollect myself... Just remember what you're after. Remember what you're looking for...

Someone young, emotional, and full of life. Someone weak and yet strong enough to stay alive. Someone with fear brimming in their heart, ripe for the harvest, ripe for the picking...

“M...Mom?”

A soft voice broke through the silence of the room. Slowly, I turned my head up from the floor and towards the door. A young child stood there amid the light streaming softly into the room. Soft black hair framed his face, and a pale blue nightshirt fluttered just above his knees. “Nnh... What is it?” The mother asked, turning over in her bed to face him. “I-I had a bad dream...” He whimpered. The mother sighed, taking a moment before getting up from her bed and following the child back to his room.

Could it be...? The thing I've been searching for...? In my haste I had completely forgotten to check if there were any children in the house. I followed the mother out of the room.

She stayed with him for a bit, helping ease his worries. Then, after he had calmed down, she returned back to her own room. He laid there staring at the golden nightlight at the end of the bed, hesitant still to fall asleep. I hung by the head of his bed, watching as he struggled to keep himself awake. I haven't worked with a human this young in a very long time. If I'm going to do this right, I need to have a look inside that head of yours first... Slowly I reached out and placed a palm to his forehead. He shuddered and closed his eyes at the chill, but his mental defenses were weak enough to let me in without a fight.

...Venephobia: The fear of veins. Trypanophobia: the fear of syringes. Asthenophobia: the fear of fainting and weakness. Dementophobia: the fear of insanity...

Not quite what I was looking for, but this is... interesting. So very interesting... Yes, I think he'll do just fine. And because he's so young I will have many opportunities to mold him to my needs as he ages.

I had finally found my next victim. With no further hesitation I had bound myself to him, and my hunger had begun to satiate once again.

There were many benefits to having a younger host, this could not be denied; younger victims had much weaker mental defenses, giving me easier opportunities to extract fear from their minds as well as having lower likeliness of rejecting my influences. With their ignorant, immature minds still growing they were also the least likely to commit suicide from any other host.

Though even more than all that, they are certainly much more entertaining to be around. Adults are boring little creatures, living lives on constant repeat with hardly a change of pace. Dreams are written and shared between friends, yet they always remained boringly out of reach. Children have so many more freedoms to indulge in and adventures they embark upon, with the toils, troubles, and anxieties of adulthood far from their adorable little minds. A few years had passed since I had first bound myself to this young host, and watching him grow and form new memories was an undeniably intimate and satisfying experience to share.

He was more cowardly of a child than other children surrounding him, and he preferred spending his time at the local arcade and playing at his friends' homes than going on adventures or causing mischief around town. His life was peaceful, and yet somehow not completely boring, a welcome change in my own usual pace.

Fresh silver quarters jingling in his pocket, I followed behind as my host happily strode down the sidewalk toward the local arcade. The promise of yet another warm, lazy day hung in the air, but that promise was shattered as a rock knocked across the back of his head and clattered noisily to the ground. “Hey, pansy! Where ya think YOU'RE goin', huh?!” I was more surprised than he at the sudden attack, and the both of us turned at once to make contact with the perpetrators of the crime: the local bullies from the school playground. Five young boys, perhaps a year or two older than him at most, sneered in sadistic glee as their prey turned to face him. My host trembled in a mix of confusion and fear, and I cringed at the sudden wash of bitterness invading my senses. Children truly were the worst enemy of other children.

“M-Me?” My host stuttered out, “I-I'm not- I mean- I think you've got the wrong guy?” The eldest of the group blurted out a laugh and crossed his arms across his chest, “Hah! You wish, freak! Everyone in school can pick your wimpy butt out from a mile away!” I felt my host's heart begin to quicken in panic, and the bitterness grew sharp in my mouth. “Well... What do you want?” He hesitantly asked. He moved to take a step back as the boys slowly began to descend upon him, but I could feel his muscles betray him, freezing him in his place. “I got a ton of things I want from you, wimp. I seen you hangin' around the arcade, you're on your way over right now, huh? How 'bout you shell out all the cash you got on ya?” The eldest boy ordered.

I narrowed my eyes as I watched my poor host shakily reach a hand into his pocket and grab out the precious silver coins, handing them out to the bully without a word. I wanted to help him, but what could I do? To anyone other than my host I'm completely intangible, and I can only conjure illusions for the person I'm immediately possessing. I was just as helpless as my host as I watched him hand over the cash and the other boys all roared up in laughter around him. “You were right, Bill! What a cute little pushover, hahahaha!” The second eldest said, giving my host a rough shove from behind and causing him to stumble just slightly.

A soft jingle caused the boys to stop in their laughter. My host's heart nearly stopped in his chest.

“Hey! He didn't fork over all of it!” One of the other boys accused. My host stepped back a bit in terror, suddenly turning heel and tearing himself away from the group. “What the-?! Hey!! Don't just stand there you idiots, get him!!” The eldest roared, racing after him down the street.

Anxiety. Panic. Humiliation. It was crude oil pooling in my mouth. I wanted to vomit, yet I couldn't leave my host now. I was far too invested to leave him now. I reluctantly followed, wings beating as I soared off right beside him.

Shoes crunched against gravel while screams and whoops of sadistic thrill rang through the air. The boys' cries were a siren of demise as they chased my host all the way down the street. Stones flew through the air, clattering against the road and landing with hollow thuds against his backpack. Down and down we went, skidding hard around the corner and ducking down an alleyway behind a gas station at the end of the block. Further and further we ran, air burning our lungs as we fled past the building over, and over, and even further over. Yet despite all our efforts, our chase came to a halt in the form of a dead end.

My host pressed himself back against the fence, breath heaving through his chest, ragged and heavy, as the boys cornered him back against the splintering wood. He was trapped. We were trapped. They grinned and sneered, cackling amongst themselves like wild jackals cornering a defenseless rabbit. Grubby hands reached into the dirt, clawing out the biggest rocks they could find. Hands reared back... And the hail began.

My host cowered, putting his arms up to protect his face and flinched as the rocks pelted him mercilessly. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something. But I couldn't... do anything. I could only stand back and watch as they tore my host down stone by stone.

It will pass... It always does. They'll grow tired and leave, they always will.

That thought was one of hope, but it was crushed soon after it was conjured. The biggest boy of the group crouched down and grunted, pulling up in both hands a large chunk of broken concrete buried in the dirt. His friends stopped in their assault, giddy with excitement as he hurled it forth and it landed with a sickening crack against my host's head.

He was knocked down instantly. A thick, jagged slice tore open my host's brow, and his hands left smears of blood all across the dirt. The boys whooped and hollered with glee and the slaps of high-fives echoed through the air. But they weren't done yet. There was blood in the water, and they were hungry for more. All at once the boys charged on their prey, wailing war cries into the air as they violently kicked him down into the dirt. There was nothing he could do to stop them. He tried to curl in on himself, but a swift kick in the gut broke his hold, and shortly after a kick to the jaw greeted him.

They're... not going to stop.

They wanted to leave a message. They wanted vengeance. I could feel it, even without being attached to them. Bitter bile bubbled in my throat, and a throb of heat burned in my gut. I'm not going through this again. I'm not going to be a helpless bystander as my dearest host is kicked ten feet under.

You vile monsters... You disgusting stains on this earth...

“Get... your filthy hands... OFF OF MY PREY!”


...


All at once they stopped, feet reared back and stomping down into the dirt. I coughed raggedly, dust choking me as it hung thick in the air. The bullies turned back toward where the voice broke out from behind them. The world was spinning, and everything was a blur... but I could still make him out in the light.

He was just another kid, no older than me, standing in the entrance of the alley. Dirty, sun-bleached jeans were tucked into big clunky boots, and a long black and white striped shirt billowed out like a cape around him. “Who the hell are you?!” One of the bullies barked out. “This ain't none of your business! Buzz off!” The eldest shouted to him. The kid just grinned, puffing his chest out and crossing his arms out in front of him. “And I said, get ya filthy hands offa my friend!” He shouted back, eyes glinting from beneath his bright red bangs, “Or I'll take 'em off myself!”

The smallest and scrappiest of the group had heard enough. He charged out at him, guns blazing and swung a haymaker out square for his jaw. The kid just... ducked. He ducked, and the second the bully had his guard down, he let loose an elbow straight for his gut. The kid crumpled, falling down into the dirt, and the bullies above me were stunned. Then, they all roared out as they fell back from me and charged at their new prey.

The kid bobbed and weaved through each of their strikes. Kicks and fists whizzed through the air, and he just ducked and jumped past them all. Then, he swerved out of the crowd and back to me. His shadow fell over me like a warm, thick blanket, and he grabbed up the crumbled remains of the concrete that pelted me before. “'Ey tough guys! Think fast!” In an instant he flung the rocks out and the bullies yelped as they slammed against them, knocking one in the knee and another square in the jaw. He didn't let up, grabbing the heaviest rocks buried around me and swinging them out to the bullies. They took the hint, grabbing more of their own and hurling them back. All the biggest stones were laying around me from when they were attacking me, and now they were just left with pebbles and dirt. The new kid had all the good stuff, and took every hit they gave right back at them even harder.

The scrappy kid crumpled on the ground had enough, and skittered away from the group back out the alleyway. “What the-?! Hey!! Get back here!” Their leader barked out right before taking another thick stone right in the center of his chest. It wasn't the same when someone fought back, and it didn't take long for the others to realize that. One by one they followed suite, falling back and leaving their so-called leader all alone in the dust. “You pussies get back here! I'll... I'll get you for this!!” He shouted out to them, turning and throwing his stones to them instead.

“Hey buddy, ya want a shot?” I perked up at the voice, and looked up to the redhead kid above me. He crouched down and held out a hand with a big, smooth stone pressed in his palm. He flashed me a big, cheeky grin, “It feels a lot better on the other foot, trust me,” he said, reassuring me before I could find the words to reply. Shakily, I reached out, grabbing the rock out of his hand and started to push myself up from the dirt. “Wha-! Hey! I didn't say you could get up!” the big bully leader shouted out to me. He chucked another rock at my head, but the kid in front shifted over and took the hit for me instead. He winced, but grinned even wider when I started to stand up.

He was right, it did feel better on the other foot. Watching the bully shrink back and cower when I chucked the stone right at him was the best feeling ever. The redheaded kid laughed and grabbed up more stones, handing some to me and flinging out the rest out alongside me. “Ow- ow- OW! Screw this and screw you too!! Y-You're gonna get it, ya freaks-! Ow! J-Just you wait!!” And with that, the last of the bullies skittered back and took off back down the alley.

“Yeh-yah! Ya run on back ta momma, ya chicken-spunk skunk! And don't ya forget it!!” The kid hollered out down the alleyway. He turned to me with a grin, one that quickly shrank away, “Aww shucks, wish I'd found ya sooner. You're a real mess,” he said sadly. He pulled a small bundle of napkins out from his back pocket and reached up to rub some the blood off of my face. I winced, everything was starting hurting a lot more now that I wasn't being kicked to pieces. “T...Thanks...” I said with a sniffle, reaching up and rubbing off a dribble of blood dripping from my nose. “Hey, so who are ya, anyway?” he asked me. “Huh?” Was all I managed in response. He just smiled as he wiped away at my brow with the napkin, “I mean I did just save ya butt. And I'm in ya class an' all, but I guess we nevah really met 'til now... So what's your name?”

“Oh... W-Well, uh... I'm Marcus,” I said sheepishly, “What about you?” He seemed a bit surprised at the question and pulled the napkin back momentarily, “Me? Well, I'm Matt!” He replied after a moment's thought. I sniffled again and couldn't help but smile, “What was that? Did you forget your name or something for a second there?” He snorted a little laugh, “Shaddup! I ain't all that popular, I'm not used ta people askin' for my name, either!” he shouted with a grin, playfully rubbing the dirty napkin all across my face. I spluttered and put up my hands in protest, though I couldn't help but laugh a bit too.

“Hey, ya still got any change left from those bullies?” Matt asked. I paused, reaching into my pocket and pulling out a few dusty coins. “Mmh... Only a dollar left...” I mumbled sadly. Matt frowned, but then perked right back up, “Hey, I bet them big babies are cryin' back home ta momma, ya wanna go play 'em at the arcade?” He asked, reaching down into his pocket and grabbing out a few shiny coins of his own, “I bet I can get us some soda too! Whatdaya say?” I was stunned at the idea, but man if it didn't sound fun. It was hard to stay blue with his attitude. “Y-Yeah, alright...! And if they come back we'll just beat 'em up again, right?” “Heck yeah! You 'n me can take 'em anytime!” He said with a laugh.

It started as a horrible afternoon, and I'm sure mom would be worried sick when I finally got home, but it's hard to stay upset when Matt's around. He gave me a few of his spare napkins to help stop the cut on my face from bleeding. After that, we just... hung out. We walked together to the arcade down the way, and we just hung out and played what with what change I had left. It was... nice. I'm glad he came when he did.



That was way too close.

Too often do I foolishly underestimate the cruel nature of man. It is this once I am thankful that my host is still so young and immature, for if he was any older I'm sure I would never have been able to do what I have just done.

It takes far too much energy to take direct control of a human's body, but just then, taking those brats into my own hands... was absolutely worth the cost. The broken bones, the blood, the tears, and the ever so delicious screams and begs for mercy will ensure they think twice before daring to touch my dearest host again. His cowardly alibi is fantastic, with it I doubt anyone would believe he could perpetrate such a crime even if they turn him in. And with my little illusion downplaying the damage in his mind, he'll be none the wiser and his memories all the more innocent.

Matt... It was a spur of the moment decision, as it's simply a shortened version of my true name, but I suppose it'll do. And my new form... as silly as it is, it truly is the perfect appearance for this host: distinct, recognizable, and easy to pick out in a crowd; he'll always be sure it's me, and always know he's not alone whenever I'm in the room. So I shall be “Matt” in this new life of mine, and now I have a new friend... With a new role and a new life I can expect things to get much more interesting from here on out.

I've never gotten so deeply involved in a host's life before, though I suppose it's to be expected that it would come with a few inconveniences. Many years have passed since that day, and my alibi has remained secure since day one. Marcus's mother believes I'm simply an imaginary friend, at the most having been invented to help him cope with the trauma of that day. She tells any of his friends this theory when they ask, even though the psychiatrists say otherwise. They believe I'm just a hallucination, just another part of the "schizophrenic symptoms" he's been experiencing since I first came along. Well... whatever explanation satisfies everyone, I suppose.

Even as he grows older and wiser, and even as he gains a few other, “real” friends, Matt continues to remain the most important person in his life. By day I'm just another teen involved in his life, while at night I feed off his mind with my illusions and nightmares. And so through the years I stay, growing as he grows and changing as he changes until the time comes... when I think he may be ready.

I've never made a pact with a human before, as all my previous hosts never interested me enough to do so. But these disgusting medications that Marcus is given hinder my abilities, making it harder for me to do my job. My powers have become almost completely useless during the day, and only during the night while he sleeps am I now able to properly use them... Keeping this human form requires too much energy for my powers to be weakened. I cannot allow them to cut me off any further, lest our connection be severed completely.

“Here, son. This is a slightly higher dosage than before but I'm certain it will help. Take two a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and let me know if you experience any side effects.”

I've come too far to be locked out now. I've spent too much time, made too many attachments, and felt too many emotions... I'm not going to lose him now.

“Shit-! Wait, no! My pills!!”

I'll make sure nobody dares to destroy what I've worked so hard to build. I'll make sure nobody separates us. I'll make him the perfect host. And I'll see to it all...

One way or another.

“So let's make a deal... Marcus Tomford.

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