James was an average young man. He lived in a small house in a medium-sized city with two roommates. He worked at a cheap restaurant as what was basically a burger flipper. He lived a modest life and the main reason he was working such a crappy job was because little else was available. His parents were putting aside money to send him through college, as he intended on being an attorney, but for some time, he was just learning to live on his own, paying rent and bills with the help of his roommates. The two of them, as they happened to be a couple, were on vacation when things in the sleepy town of Lancaster got a little strange.

Tuesday, September 12th

That house… James passed by that house many times on his way to a nearby friend’s place, on his way to school, and on quick little shopping trips, like when he needed to just get milk or bread. He remembered that there was always piece of paper taped to the door. “Unfit for human occupancy,” it read. There were so many houses like that in town. Why didn’t they just get someone to tear them down and build new ones or something? Wouldn’t that be better for the place in general? New homes could be built, more people would move in, and the city would prosper from it. Needless to say, that house started to take on a new feeling, a strange feeling. It felt like someone was inside, or…

It felt like the house, or something inside of it, was watching. But that was impossible! Nobody had lived there for years. It was just on the corner of the block. He could see it from his living room window. It was getting dark and he decided to plop down and have a snack before bed. It was one of those nights, again… You know, the kind where drowsiness didn’t seem as though it would pay you a visit. A standup comedian was on the television set, but his act wasn’t all that interesting to him. Mindlessly staring into the screen, he caught something out of the corner of his eye. A light flickered. Snapping his head around, he stared. The condemned house was lit up like a fucking Christmas tree.

Someone was staring out the window. They were staring at him, clearly. It was difficult to distinguish any features, but judging by the body shape, it seems to be a girl. A hand was pressed up against the dusty window and he could feel her gaze locked on him. It was a little unnerving. After a minute that felt like at least five, she turned away and drew the curtains.

How unusual…

Friday, September 15th

A couple of days passed. Thoughts of that girl had completely left his mind. That is, until he passed that condemned house. It looked just as ratty as ever. He had spoken to one of his friends, Alex, about what he had seen and they laughed at him and simply said that it was late and he was probably just seeing things because he was tired and, as they mockingly said, “so lonely”. They went on and teased him about how he probably wanted a “lady friend”. James laughed along, but he still had this feeling in his gut that something was strange. Someone was in that house, and he knew it. He had to prove it. Curiously enough, the piece of paper that was on the door was gone. Stepping on the termite-ridden steps of the porch, the sound still echoes in his memory. He gave a firm “knock, knock, knock”.

A lump built in his throat. His heart raced. He didn’t even dare to blink, in fear that he might miss something incredible, in fact, he was hoping for something that would prove him right. He’d have loved to see his friend laugh then. Did he hear footsteps approaching? He held his breath in anticipation. This was it! This had to be it. It all played out in his head. A girl was going to answer the door and give him a friendly greeting. He patiently waited and knocked once more.

Nothing happened. Those footsteps and the sound of the creaking floor he swore he heard had to just be his imagination. Maybe he was right to laugh? James found himself trying to laugh it off as well, though what would be a hearty chuckle came out sounding far more nervous than he had hoped. He swallowed that lump in his throat and gave the door one last nervous glance. He carefully left the porch; warily eying the steps that he could swear would crumble under his weight. Whoever might be here had to be light as a feather. Walking away, he convinced himself that nothing, or no one, was there. Nope! Not a soul was here. It was just his imagination and lack of sleep. He wasn’t sleeping well, anyway. He continued down the sidewalk, humming a song that happened to be stuck in his head. He’d better get home; he had work to do the next day.

James paused and his hair stood on end. Somewhat distantly, the door creaked and then he heard it slam, as if someone had just checked to see who was outside, only to angrily slam it closed when no one was spotted. He ran the rest of the way home.

Saturday, September 16th

James didn’t tell anyone what happened. At work in that miserable little greasy spoon restaurant job, he got distracted thinking about it. Was it all in his head? He accidentally scalded himself as he put some frozen French fries in the deep fryer, letting out a pained hiss. He continued working throughout the day, only finding himself to lose focus every now and then. He decided that taking tomorrow off might be the best idea. He had to get to the bottom of this. He KNEW someone moved in over there, and for some reason, that just bothered the hell out of him. When he got home, after eating a horribly unhealthy helping of ramen (ah, bachelor chow), he dozed off on the couch.

He was shaken from his slumber by a light rapping at the door. He sat up, still in the daze of his waking sleep. The rapping became a loud pounding, low onto the door, as if someone was kicking it. Odd, he wasn't expecting anyone. He unlatched the deadbolt and opened the door, only to stare.

Before him, there stood a fairly short young woman dressed in a long black trench coat. Her coppery-brown hair was somewhat (stylishly) messy and her dark eyes just stared to him. She was rather cute. Instead of the typical jeans that most girls wore, long striped stockings covered her legs. A wide, friendly (almost creepy) smile stretched over her faintly painted lips. Then it dawned on him. The silhouette he saw in the window a few days ago was definitely her. “Hii!” Her voice was high and young, and clearly enthusiastic. She kept her hands tucked into her pockets, swaying from side to side. He groggily just waved back.

“Um, I’m your new kinda-sorta neighbor. I hope that the lights didn’t scare you… I saw you looking, and… And… And like… I didn’t want you to see the inside of my house until it was all ready and stuff, yanno?”

She sounded like one of those valley girl types. Didn’t that go out of style in the nineties, if not sooner? Nonetheless, she was pretty cute. She tapped her foot, which was turned in a little. She didn’t make eye contact. She seemed a little nervous and somewhat ponderous as well. She paused and raised a finger, as if she had a stroke of genius. “OH! That’s right. Like, nice to meet you! My name is Madeline!” She gave an enthusiastic nod. “You can drop by whenever you want to, I guess.”

“Yeah. And I’m James Bishop. Welcome to Lancaster. Enjoy it, it’s boring here.”

She seemed nice enough, but he just had to ask. “How did you get that house?” She scanned his every move as he asked that question, as if attempting to analyze his intentions.

“Oh! Well, my dad restores houses for a living, yanno? He fixed that one up a few years back, but it was deemed unfit for occupation because of like, a nasty black mold problem. We got that cleared up, though. It’s still kind of rickety on the outside, but it’ll be fixed over time. It’s not as bad as it looks.”

Her lack of eye contact made it seem as though she could’ve been lying, but what would she have to gain from that?

“I can get in and out just fine and that’s all that matters, yanno?” Her enthusiasm seemed somewhat forced. Not only that, but he’s tempted to rudely say, “Yes, I know,” just about every time that “yanno” deal came up. Really, the way she talked makes her sound like sort of a ditz, and no ditz he’d ever known made a good liar. She fell silent, aside from the idle tapping of her in-turned foot. She seemed to notice his obvious tiredness.

“Um, like… I guess that’s all!” She batted her eyelashes before shifting her glance in a nervous fashion. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?” She waved. “Buh-bye, James!” She pranced off as if such a thing had never happened. Yes. Pranced. She seemed sweet, if not just a bit on the dumb side. Her taste in fashion was certainly questionable. Well, never judge a book by its cover…

Sunday, September 17th

The next day that he had already sacrificed in order for his own well-being started out normally enough. He just pretty much decided to chill out. The smell of oily fried foods wasn’t around to fill his nostrils and make his stomach do a series of 180s, so he ate better than he usually did. At least now the strange girl that moved in next door was the least of his worries. Madeline, was it? Anyway, that wasn’t any of his concern anymore. His phone rang loudly, only making him jump a bit and nearly spill his bowl of soup. It was that smartass friend of his. James wanted to tell him all about Madeline and whatnot, but before he could, he started rattling off a shocking story.

“James! You’re not going to believe this! You remember Chris, right? You know, Chris we went to school with, the bully? The one that gave you a wedgie that was so bad I didn’t think you’d shit right for at least a week?” He groaned in response. How could he forget? “You’re not going to believe it, but… Oh my GOD, dude! He’s dead. The fucker is dead.”

He was stunned. He paused and repeated that word. “Dead?”

“Yeah, man. Dead as a doornail. Apparently, his mom went totally berserk and killed him and the rest of the family before she offed herself.” He could spin a good story, but he was pretty sure that Alex wasn’t making this one up.

“Damn. When did this happen?”

“Four days ago.”

That was the same night he saw lights on at Madeline’s house.

“Oh, hey, do you remember when I said I saw lights on in that old house?”

“Was it a ghost?” His friend sarcastically mocked him once again.

“No. Someone DOES live there, now. She came by and said hello last night. She seems kind of loopy.”

“Like drugs loopy?” Alex asked.

“No, but… She seems kind of dumb.”

“Yeah, so? Is she hot?”

“I guess.”

He laughed at him again. “What, is she or not?”

“It was dark; I couldn’t see her so well. She said I could come visit whenever I felt like it, though.”

He stopped, seeming to think. His curiosity was getting the best of him. “Hey. I’ll be over there in a few minutes, okay? I want to see what the hell all of this is about.”

He didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. He just rudely hung up.

About half an hour later, Alex showed up. He was dressed to impress, which was rare for him. Not to mention, he was wearing enough cologne to make a French whore gag. He wasn’t impressed. His most recent girlfriend dumped him two weeks ago, and clearly, he was on the rebound, probably hoping to snag a date with Madeline, who he hadn’t even met yet. Hell, he BARELY even knew her at all. A twinge of regret nagged at him. He found himself wishing he didn’t say anything about her at all. He would NEVER wish Alex on some poor girl.

“So how about paying that chicky a visit?”

Disagreeing with Alex was pointless. He simply agreed to it. Heading to his room, James got dressed (in a far less extravagant fashion than Alex) and prepared to go see Madeline. Maybe this was a good chance to get to know her a little better. Maybe she’d prove that she wasn’t a total ditz.

As luck would have it, as the two of them arrived, Madeline was already outside, plucking a newspaper off of her front step. Again, she was wearing striped stockings and what appeared to be a shirt that was far too big for her, possibly belonging to a much larger boyfriend or something of the like. It was long-sleeved and a faded gray color. It was obviously darker at one point in time, as the darker gray was still seen where the sleeves were sewn together. It was tattered around the bottom and where the collar must’ve been. It seemed like that part was crudely cut off. She spotted him, flashed a smile and waved.

“Damn,” Alex mumbled. One could only imagine what was going through his head at that point. Just like in that cheesy space shooter game he liked, he imagined what two words he had to be thinking. “Target acquired.”

Madeline pranced over to the both of them. “Oh! Hi, James. This guy is like… Your buddy, right?” Her feet had a funny way of turning in. He didn’t notice this earlier, but both of them did. As if on cue, Alex introduced himself. He could be a charmer when he set his mind to it. Alex took her hand and held it in both of his, feeding her a silver-tongued story about how “his friend told him about a nice young lady who moved in nearby”. The look on her face suggested she wasn’t buying a single word, but she continued to smile anyhow. This made the chance of her possible naiveté seem much slimmer. After he was done attempting to woo her, she played the part of an oblivious young woman, or she was simply doing her best to ignore Alex’s attempted advances.

She spoke up, finally, “Oh! How rude of me, I should let you two in, shouldn’t I?” She opened the door, allowing James and Alex to enter first. Memories of peeking into the window as a child flooded into his mind. Yes, it was certainly the same house, but if he hadn’t seen it before, he would’ve never believed it. It was definitely fixed up into something quite nice on the inside. Alex was still taking his time on the steps, seeming to be afraid that the lumber would crumble beneath his feet.

The house was lit by what was assumed to be its original lighting sources. An old chandelier, though it wasn’t too fancy, hung from the ceiling and gave the home a subtle air of class. In fact, even her furnishings were rather lavish. Her couch was a black leather piece with unusual metal clawed feet supporting it on each corner. Spread across her already carpeted floor was a Persian rug. The home itself was quite stuffy on the inside, but seeing the girl plopping down like a tossed rag doll on the couch gave the entire place an element of comfort. Now Alex, the bold son of a bitch, sat right next to her, only causing her to sit up and move over some. Her large brown doe eyes shot him an almost accusing look.

The next hour or so passed in what felt like a matter of minutes. Instead of encroaching on her space like Alex did, he simply sat down on the Persian rug, declining her offering of her spot on the leather couch. Proper introductions were made. “I’m Madeline Evelyn Rustborough,” she spoke, giving a little curtsy with her oversized shirt, “And these are my stripy socks.” She wiggled her toes inside the striped stockings, causing Alex to utter a chuckle. After a few minutes of casual conversation, she spoke of the disturbing subject of the murder-suicide caused by Carol Green, the same one that Alex had spoken of earlier. She looked a little scared. With an uncomfortable shift in her weight, she switched back to lighthearted chatter. She was full of great conversation, completely eliminating the ditz factor once and for all. She eventually moved on to include terrible puns in move of her speech, though a common “like” and “yanno” would come up, as expected. It was one of those things about her that would be either endearing or annoying, depending on personal taste. In mid-sentence, she abruptly paused. “Oh, I’m sorry, I like… Have things to do. I forgot all about them! I still have boxes to unpack and all.” Alex offered to help, but she shook her head.

“No, Alex. I need to do this stuff myself. I know where I want to put everything, already,” her sight shifted to him. It was almost a pleading look that said, “Just get him out of here, please.”

She rather boldly led both of them to the door as if they couldn’t find that way out on their own. “It was nice to see you, come again!” She stood with her arms open expectantly. She must’ve been the affectionate type. As her stance suggested, she expected a hug, for only Alex to respond. James was already on his way. He was damn hungry and he wasn’t about to raid her fridge. She was awfully skinny, anyway, so she probably only had salad and water. With one uncovered hand, Madeline moved some of Alex’s hair as he departed from the hug. He waved as he took the stairs, only tripping and making a fool of himself. Madeline laughed and shook her head, disappearing behind her door shortly after.

James popped a frozen pizza into the oven when he got home, and of course Alex just could not stop going on about how “perfect” Madeline was. He only begrudgingly listened. He went on for about a week like this about one other girl, and of course, she turned him down in a humiliating fashion, and suddenly instead of being “perfect”, Amanda Roberts was “the world’s biggest bitch” as well as a “stuck up slut”. But this time he insisted it would be different. The two of them shared the pizza. After Alex drove home in his little piece-of-shit Neon, it was already dark outside. He decided to just flip on the TV, as he always did when there was nothing better to do. With Jake and Jessica on vacation, he enjoyed the peace. Jessica was usually on the phone, talking up a storm, and Jake, her boyfriend, was usually hogging the television playing some first-person-shooter game, cursing every time someone got a kill on him. Jake had been his friend previously anyhow, and he didn’t mind Jessica. After all, she was a good cook and she was more than happy to make dinner. They would be back on Tuesday. The two of them went camping and were probably doing something “shameful” right now. Taking his mind off of it, he just stared vacantly into the idiot box while he could. Action movies were always good for keeping him entertained. He just loved the explosions, really, despite all of the cheesy clichés that were present in each and every one of them. Heading to bed later, he set the alarm clock to prepare for another tedious day at work.

Monday, September 18th

The abrasive screech of the alarm clock woke James from his sleep. He was pretty sure he was dreaming, but the alarm clock had a way of tearing his dreams from him and reminding him that the most important and most disdained thing on his agenda was work. And he just HAD to go. He called Alex hoping for ride. The rain was really pouring that morning. He called and called, but there was no answer. He might’ve just been sleeping through the call, or he left his phone somewhere stupid again. He called a taxi instead, not too pleased. Anything was better than being late and getting fired. Finding a new job was hard enough out here.

Work went as usual. A few customers were impatient assholes that expecting their order to be ready in less than five minutes and some kid threw up on the walkway. Thank god he wasn't the one who had to clean it. The day was uneventful as usual, and now that the rain had cleared, he decided to walk home, only stopping to stare at the apartment complex Alex lived in. The door to Apartment 8, his, was left wide open. An ambulance is parked outside. He saw him loaded onto a stretcher, but he was stiff and unmoving. He’s dead. James didn’t stop to check out the situation. He choked back tears, only trying to mull this over in his head. Why would he be dead? He was having a great time with him, just yesterday. He had to tell Madeline about this. This was too crazy. He walked away a little further, calling a taxi. First Chris and now him? What the hell was going on here?

He dropped by to see Madeline. He told her of Alex’s death, only to result in her looking uncomfortable. She started to cry, only shaking her head. “I’m scared,” she murmured quietly. “That’s two in one week. I’m worried that one of us might be next.” She curled up in a little ball and started weeping. He stuck around to comfort her. At about 11 PM, she fell asleep. He spotted a stack of books that he assumed were from college. Judging by her décor and whatnot, her family was clearly filthy rich. The book on the top of the stack was on forensic studies. Why would such a nice girl want to do autopsies? It seemed really out of character for a cheerful girl like her, but then again, he didn’t know her so well, and maybe he never would. He decided to head back home and got some rest.

Tuesday, September 19th

He woke up to the sound of clattering downstairs. It was 2:23 AM. Jessica’s familiar stifled giggle suggested that she and Jake had made it home and were getting resituated. Wanting to roll back over and go to sleep, he found himself standing instead. What the hell was going on here? His body was working against him! He kept trying to go back to his bed, only to proceed towards the door, one foot falling before the other. Still attempting to fight, his body continued to carry him towards the stairs. He wanted to open his mouth to scream for help, but even that much wouldn’t happen. Jake and Jessica stared at him.

“James? What’s wrong?” Jake asked, concerned.

“Stop it, James! You’re scaring me!” Jessica cried, backing away into the living room.

He opened his mouth. Tears were welling up in his eyes. He wanted to tell them he didn’t know, but instead, a foreign voice escaped him.

“You’re going to die tonight,” the vicious growl to the voice wasn’t like him at all. His manipulated body reached for the crowbar that waited by the stairs in case of burglary. Oh god, he wanted to stop. He wanted to stop so badly. But just like his mother always told him, all the wanting in the world doesn’t change anything. His hands gripped the bar. Jake stood defensively in front of Jessica, ready to fight him, but his senses… They wouldn’t let him do anything but exactly that “puppet master” told him to. He swung, denting his skull. He fell to the ground bleeding, twitching. He started bashing his head in with that crowbar, leaving a sickening mess of brain matter and bloodstained chunks of his broken skull. He could do nothing. It was if he was on a sick ride he couldn’t stop. It’s only a dream. It’s only a dream, he kept repeating to himself. Jessica was whimpering and crying, running to grab the telephone and call the police. He grabbed her by her ponytail and threw her to the floor. She rolled over, looking up to him. “Please don’t. Please don’t!” She screamed hysterically. “Please, don-..” Her final plea was cut off by the swing of the crowbar to her windpipe. He dropped the crowbar, only shuddering at what he had done.

His two roommates lie dead in the living room. He did this. Finally, he regained control of his body. What was wrong with him, was he mentally ill? He couldn’t just go to work like this. His feeling of guilt was overwhelming.

James picked up the phone Jessica was reaching for minutes before her untimely death. He dialed a familiar number. It was one he had known since childhood. “911. I just killed my roommates.” After giving his address, he found himself sobbing. This was so unlike him. What made him do that? He just wanted to go back to sleep. Oh god, go back to sleep or wake up from this nightmare, either would be fine. And then he found himself thinking about Madeline. What would she say about all of this? Something in this town was killing people. What if that THING that controlled him was the same thing that forced Carol Green to kill her family and herself? What if it also took control of Alex and caused his suicide? He mulled this over, shaking his head.

The police and ambulance arrived, the ambulance placing the lifeless bodies of Jake and Jessica in body bags. He didn’t argue as they placed the handcuffs on him. “Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law.” They ran over what his rights and whatnot were, and as he had originally intended on going to law school, knew them as Miranda rights. He knew them as well as the back of his hand.

Wednesday, September 20th

“You have a visitor,” an officer announced. In this prison cell, he knew what he was in for. Fortunately, a psychiatrist would see if he had any mental issues, after all, if he were insane, he’d at least be placed in an asylum instead of this cage. What was the difference? The walls might be a little softer and he might not get pounded in the ass, but if it was the best that could be done, why complain?

He was hoping it was Dr. Lambert, but what he saw surprised him. Madeline.

“I heard what happened,” she said quietly. Her almost black eyes scanned his face in a rather cold fashion. “I think you’re innocent, but… With all of the deaths in town, how would I know that?” She reached in through the bars and cupped his face in an almost affectionate manner. Her voice lowered to a whisper as her thumb gently traced over his cheek.

“I’m so sorry, James,” she whispered, but there was no sincerity behind it at all. “I only did what I had to.”

James stared at her. What the fuck was she talking about? She motioned towards him to come closer. He only nodded and put his ear closer to the bars. What she silently told him next completely blew his mind.

“Have you ever heard of body jacking?”

His jaw dropped. Her response was a cruel little smile. One more whisper escaped. "Oh, you had no idea, did you? You had no idea what I was? The whole time?" That silly valley girl mannerism was completely gone.

“Goodbye. I hope you’re found insane. I totally think an asylum would be much nicer than prison!” Her friendly, and certainly fake, little giggle escaped. Every little bit of her that he had grown to like was but a ruse. She had him fooled the whole time. He was seething with anger.

That bitch. She was behind all of this.

Days Later

James Bishop was seen in court. He spoke of Madeline and how she was “puppeting him”.

“I suppose that means that her fingerprints are on the crowbar?” He was laughed at and ridiculed. Even his own attorney was laughing. After a long trial, he was found to be mentally insane. He would be sent to an institution. There was so much he wanted to ask. Why in hell did she let him live, anyway? There were so many questions he wanted to ask... Madeline... What the fuck was she?

Written and illustrated by Shinigami.Eyes

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