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She was beautiful.

She and I would sit with my laptop for hours on end, looking for the scariest things we could find. It was an odd relationship, but it worked. Something just clicked when I was with her. She was the love of my life and my best friend. Nowadays, I would give anything to have her back.

She knew of the things I had seen.

She dismissed it. "Ah, Jordan, it's just your mind playing tricks on you." I wonder if she still thinks it was just my mind.

Really, she was always worried about me. I suppose that when you look at it from her perspective - the perspective of one who hadn't lived the way I had, who hadn't seen what I had seen - it would rationalize her train of thought. Sometimes, I wonder if she thought I was insane. I know there were times when she did.

The love in her eyes when we lay together, when we made love, and when we scared ourselves silly... I just knew that it was because of that love that I would never lose her. She was mine 'till death did us part.

I really don't know how to describe the things I see - beautiful, lumbering, graceful, damned, hateful, loving... I wouldn't be wrong in saying slender and that's no illusion. Just as damned as the drunk that walks down the street from the bar each night, scratching his sickly face and adjusting the old worn hat on his head, only to have it fall on its slant once more moments later.

Just as loving as a mother to her kin.

They are us, essentially, with long, cracked-looking limbs and expressions that can be both grotesque and beautiful. They are young and old, just as we are, and they are all varied greatly. They are the walking souls that never lived, not unborn and not undead.

I've been seeing them for three years now, in numbers just as great as humans. They are their own society, treating us as though we do not exist. They do not behave as we do, however, and I told her and saw fear in her eyes... not of the beings of which I spoke, but for myself and my mental state of being. She loved me but, alas, she couldn't see. Seeing was believing.

There was a day, about two months ago, when I walked with her. The same walk we'd walked a thousand times before. We lived on a circular road and often made the loop together while talking. I'd noted that, although the loop was our usual route, there'd only been one route we'd completely avoided in all those months we were lovers. It was the road the mayor lived on: Bowater.

This particular day, I suggested to her that we walk up through Bowater, as I'd never gone far enough to reach the end of the street in question. She devoutly refused and explained that there was a night long ago when she was followed down the road by a large, black, burly figure of insurmountable height. Knowing what I've seen, she also dismissed any nothing of paranormality. I was unconvinced, but I left well enough alone and we continued on our usual trek.

I really should have seen it coming, but we were so vulnerable.

Julia called me one night... er, morning. Around 3:00 AM, to be precise. She told me she was scared, that she was seeing and hearing things. That she needed to talk. I stayed on the phone with her for two hours, just trying to calm her down as much as I possibly could. I did my best to calm her down. It almost worked.

She was dozing off and I was happy to hear it. I was really tired too. Then...a thump. It was almost like a footstep, but not quite. I couldn't hear it really well over the phone, but I could tell it wasn't a footstep. Wait. Julia. Back to that.

After the thump, I heard her stop breathing. I panicked and said her name twice. She cut me off the third time with a scream. I heard a commotion. I heard her running. I heard a door slam and lock, then I heard more running and curtains moving. I spoke her name a couple more times.

"Julia? Julia?" I said.

"Jordan, don't go. Please don't go." came the reply.

"It's okay. What's wrong?"

"She's out there. In the hallway."

"Who's in the hallway, Julia?"

"I don't KNOW who's in the hallway, Jordan? It's just a SHE. It's white. It smiles with its eyes... SHE smiles. SHE."

"Julia, calm down. Calm down. What is she?"

"I don't want to talk about it, Jordan. I can't describe it. I just want to forget. Talk to me, Jordan. Talk to me, please, about anything. Just not that."

There was a reason I wanted to know. I wanted to know because I've never ever seen one in a house...until the night before that. What I'd seen was unlike everything else.

Everything else had remained very humanoid to an extent. This... this was like a mafia murder gone wrong. Like someone had stuffed her body in a suitcase and left her alive to grow that way. Her face... her face was smiling. It was a sickly black, toothless grin with wide, white bloodshot eyes. A black object that looked to be a horn with a ball end extended slightly from where her nose would have been.

What sickened me was that her face was hanging. LITERALLY hanging from this ball-ended horn. It was like a child's Halloween mask. The gap between her face and head was held together loosely by blood-soaked skin, stretched to purple like tiny little slimy rope ligaments. Her face wriggled and spun loosely, hanging by the ball end and ligaments...making small squelching noises as she moved.

Her arms stretched under her legs and bent with four joints each to become hind legs of some sort. It was like some kind of sick, disfigured child was trying to play leap frog. Her legs were relatively normal, though I couldn't see them well under the pure white dress she wore.

The last defining feature of this thing were the three grotesque humps protruding from her back.

It was on my porch. I'd gone to use the washroom and decided to turn the kitchen light on so I could find the bathroom light switch (our bathroom connects to the kitchen for some reason). I turned on the light and there was nothing.

I went to the bathroom, finished what I had to do, and walked to the porch to turn the kitchen light off. I was greeted by the sight of that THING as I entered the porch. It looked up, its head lulled sickly to the side, and it smiled at me.

At that point, I was used to seeing things, but the sight of this creature sickened me so badly I felt that, instead of hitting the switch and making a run for my bedroom, I'd have to say "To hell with it," and run to the toilet to puke. I followed through with the former and kept my bedroom door locked for the rest of the night. I did eventually manage to sleep, but it was light and restless.

Now, I was sure that Julia was seeing exactly what I'd seen the night before. I couldn't pressure her about it, however, or I'd scare her even more. I talked gently to her and calmed her down. Soon, sleep was unavoidable and she drifted, allowing me to finally sleep myself.

The days went by and Julia now refused to go near Bowater road. There was also a new path she was staying clear of: a trail we'd always used to use to cut through to the park. She was hiding something and I resolved to find out what.

Soon after, I spent most of the days with her. The sweet summer air was a welcome change from the rain we'd been experiencing for the last week. I tried to ask her about that night, but she refused to talk. She just wouldn't say a word about it.

We walked and soon went to my place. She wasn't so excited about our scary hour any more, so we just cuddled. I swear to God there was never a moment that day that I doubted she was the love of my life.

We went our separate ways that night, parting with a long, lingering kiss. It was another reminder of our promise to one another. I told her to tell me if anything happened and that I'd be over in a second if she needed me. She did, after all, only live across the street.

That night, she never said much online. I tried to elicit conversation, but was met with a bunch of nondescript oohs, ahhs, and cools. Around 1:30 AM, she went offline. At 2:00 AM, I got a text and sighed with relief upon seeing it was her. The content of the text, however, set my stomach to unrest once more.

"I'm going for a walk, sorry."

I looked out the window to her house and saw not a single light on. Not even in her bedroom. I noticed her front door open and she walked - or at least stumbled - out, cloaked in her long, pink jacket that was far too large to be wearing on a semi-cool summer's night. I couldn't see her face very well.

I tossed some shoes on and ran outside just in time to see her nearly disappear on the loop of Circular road. I walked fast, keeping my distance and keeping quiet. When she stopped, I got scared.

She was standing in front of the trail. The one she'd avoided so heavily.

She stood there for a good five minutes and I almost moved to go with her before noticing she was no longer alone.

One of the things walked out of the trail. This one was different, as well, but nowhere near as grotesque as the ones I'd seen before. This one wore a wooden mask. It was what I would have called a Plague Doctor mask. The long 'nose' of the mask descended to its chest and it was, otherwise, cloaked in black. A long, skinny arm reached out of the cloak towards Julia and she reached toward it, holding something in her hand.


No no.

It wasn't a hand she held outwards.

It was a foot.

My heart stopped. I knew. I just knew. I'd never bothered to question the way she walked, as though drunken. I'd never even bothered to look at her feet. Or her hands.

I looked down and, sure enough, there were two hands with spindly, long fingers stretched over the road in the street light's midst. My heart stopped and broke at the same time, for I knew that the face I looked at was that of my beloved.

My beloved. My Julia.

I yelled. I yelled with so much force and anger that the Plague Doctor himself flinched. Julia turned and I got my first clear look at her face - scared, regretful. Dead.

The Plague Doctor walked up behind her, grabbing the jacket from the front, as if hugging her, and tore it open. I was greeted by the girl thing from the night before, her body cozily hugged by my Julia's hollowed rib cage... for that a spine, a neck, and a head were all that was left of my beloved.

I cried. I cried out, to myself and to the things that killed her. I cried with rage and heartbreak, loudly and angrily, and began to run. I ran toward them, glaring at that detached face and waiting for its stupid fucking grin to fade. I glared, waiting for the satisfaction I'd get at seeing the fear in its bloodshot eyes before I bashed its fucking skull in.

It smiled widely.

I made it under the street light, merely ten feet away from the thing, sickeningly cradled by Julia's body, when I was grabbed. I spun around to see nothing, but when I looked to my side there was a bony, blue hand holding onto my shoulder.

I looked up and there was another one of them. It was hanging from the street light, a noose tightened around its neck. Its face was blue and old, like the rest of it, and it was smiling.

Unlike the girl thing, this being had no eyes. Rather, it had a crazy, wise glint in its empty sockets. Its feet were suspended three feet above my head, but its arms were disgustingly long - long enough to grab me.

I tried to run, to continue towards the killer, but those fragile looking limbs held me tightly in place.

I looked up again and cursed that stupid fucking thing for keeping me from killing the killer. It merely smiled a smile that would have looked encouraging on a normal old man and, for the first time, I heard the voice of one of them.

It spoke as it smiled, in an old man's soft voice. It spoke but one word before tossing me a good five feet back. I landed on my side and a sharp pain shot through my body, temporarily paralyzing me.

I got up and they were gone. All that was left was the hollow body of my beloved, on the ground and staring up at me sadly.

I ran. By god, I ran. I ran home, snuck inside, and went straight to my room. I soberly reflected on everything I'd ever done with Julia. I reflected on all of it and smiled. That morning, I awoke with the firm belief that my beloved was alive and it was all a bad dream.

I phoned her, to let her know how much I loved her and how thankful I was that I'd met her in the first place.

Her father picked up. He told me her body was found two hours ago by the park trail. I hung up and proceeded to break down. It's been a month since she died and I still think of what the hanged creature told me that night.

One word.