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Iatalapilela

When I was little, I was afraid of my parents. I dreaded making them mad, and their screams would always awaken something in me. I don't know why, but to me they always seemed to transform right before my eyes whenever they got angry. One moment, they were the source of joy and love I always knew them to be. The next moment, they'd become monsters.

For quite a long time, I used to have nightmares about them. They didn't look like themselves, but I could recognize them anyway. Shadows with yellow eyes and skeletal faces would chase me through my house, chanting strange sounds that I still remember to this day:

Iatalapilela, iatalapilela...

I don't know exactly what that meant to this day, but back then, that's what I called the nightmare versions of my parents. It would take me a lot of time before they'd vanish.

Last night, I remembered one nightmare in particular. I was lying in my bed, sweat covering my brow. I felt wet, and heard a hissing sound. My mom came into the room. She asked me if I was wet. I looked at her eyes.

At those yellow eyes.

Anyway, I'm deviating from the subject. There was a lot of anxiety around that time. My father had lost his job at the oil refinery after 20 years. I didn't get it back then, but maybe that was the reason my mother yelled at me and my brother so much. My brother, who isn't here anymore, got into a lot of fights with her. He used to play videogames and read. My mom apparently hated that, but I think I get it now.

But I didn't understand it back then. I was afraid of everything. Afraid of the yelling, the bruises, and the dark look in my mother's eyes whenever I had an accident. One night, I woke up. I'd just had another nightmare. Iata, or whatever it was, chased me to the basement. It bit me hard, its jaws leaving marks on my ribs. When I opened my eyes, I could still feel the teeth sinking into my bones.

That, and the warm, wet feeling between my legs.

When I noticed that, my breath started to get heavier. They couldn't know. No one could know. I knew what they'd do if they found out I'd been a pig again. I wasn't a pig, I wasn't. I had to do something.

At first, I went to the bathroom. Don't know why, since my pants were already dirty. I tried washing them off in the sink, but the stench didn't go away. I still remember sitting naked on the floor, trying to avoid crying too loudly so my mom wouldn't wake up and yell at me.

My brother was at the end of the hall. Maybe he would know what to do. If I could exit the bathroom and walk all the way to his room, maybe he would help me. But I knew that was out of the question. He always slept with the door closed. They were going to find out.

I stared at the dark hallway. From my parents' bedroom, I swore I could see something. A dark pair of hands slowly placing themselves on the doorframe. The guttural moan began to accost my ears, and a cold breeze licked my naked legs. It felt as if the creature was already tasting me. Maybe it wasn't my mother in disguise, but the other way around. Maybe it had been living inside the house, wearing my mother's skin at night, so as to better fool me.

What if... It had been biding its time, waiting for the right moment? Nobody would come help me at this point. My habit of waking up screaming had become a routine. The fact that I was afraid of my parents was a joke to them. Perhaps, this was what the creature had wanted, to become an invisible threat.

It shambled its way towards me. It was going to get me.

Unless I climbed out of the window.

You see, the kitchen had a small window near the back. It was normally left open in order to let the stench leave the room. There was hardly any danger, as no adult could actually get in through there.

But I could use it, and that's what I did. For some unexplained reason, I climbed on top of the old washing machine, the droning sound of the fridge reverberating like an ancient ogre in the shadows. My head almost got stuck that time, but I managed. I didn't look back, fearing the monster was still there, slowly walking through the darkened kitchen. The grass felt cold to my bare feet, and the cold breeze chilled my naked legs. Don't know what I was thinking back then. I ran and I ran, only wearing a small shirt, not really knowing what to do.

It was not a wise idea for any little girl, but back then I wasn't a girl. I was a pig.

The forested area near my house looked big enough for me. Maybe I could lose the monster in the woods. It had started to rain, but I didn't care. The cold drops fell on my skin, and soon, I started to get cold. Clutching my dirty underwear in my right hand, I went deeper into the trees.

Iatalapilela, Iatalapilela...

It was after me. It wouldn't let go. Perhaps... Perhaps if I hid this dirty thing away from everyone, it would let me go.

So I threw my last semblance of beasthood in the dirt near the heart of the forested area. I'd gone there with my parents a few times, but I'd never gone there alone. Much less in the middle of the night. I started making my way back. The moaning had stopped, but the rain had gotten much worse.

To tell you the truth, I almost got lost on the way back. My house looked a lot like other houses. Fortunately, my dear sweet parents taught me to be very wary of my surroundings and to pay attention to details. I think it took me a full hour to get back. I was covered in mud, chilled to the bone, naked, and tears running down my face.

But I did come back. I got through the window, and it was still dark. I cleaned my feet, they didn't have a stench. I got a towel to dry myself with. I took some new panties from my drawer and put them on. Nobody found out. I wasn't a pig anymore.

This is something I haven't told anyone ever. I don't even know if I'm going to post it. But there's a reason why I wrote it. There's more story behind this, more than just a dream. Not a ghost story, but maybe worse than that.

The story I want to actually tell you guys is a lot like the one I just told you. You could say it all started that night, with me running naked through the woods. I've changed the names, and a lot of it could be construed as something akin to a nightmare you can't wake up from. I'm choosing to write it anonymously, because it still scares me to this day. I'm not a coward, because I have seen a lot of things by now. But this is something that I cannot comprehend, so I'm going to write about it.

This is not a ghost story, but there is a monster at the end.


II

Apprentice

Anna was a good friend of mine, but right now I can't really call her that. I think I'd say I've done some harm to her, or at the very least, I'm going to do some harm to her in the future. Nevertheless, she's a really sweet person, and I'm sorry for everything that's happened to her.

But this isn't the time to talk about her future. At least, not yet. For the moment, all that matters is the fact that I met her 5 years ago. Back then, I was starting to like girls. It was harrowing. Something inside me made me feel ill whenever I couldn't refuse my attraction. Made me feel like a pig. But in the end, I got over the anxieties running through my head, finally admitting to myself that I liked people like Anna.

For the sake of brevity, let's say I met her at a friend's house. We chatted a bit. Daniel, my friend in question, introduced us. She was gorgeous. I couldn't help but feel as if maybe this was a sign for me. I wanted her, and I didn't care what any voice in my head would say. It all seemed perfectly fine to me. I looked her up on social media and kept talking to her. She was a very wild person, quite different from me. She showed me pictures of all the parties and concerts she attended, and all of her beach trips. There was nothing going on between us, but we were getting there. Even though it had been a month since I met her, I hadn't actually hung out with her. My plan, of course, was to take her out for some coffee or something. It was a simple enough plan. She seemed to like girls and boys, so it was all good.

Let's say this all came crashing down a few months later.

I never talked with Anna in person after the night I met her at Daniel's.

One night, I came back to his house. He was having a small party. It had been a few months since my brother's accident. I had finally managed to stop thinking about it, but I still felt adrift. To this day, I believe Daniel was a source of relief for me. His parties were loud, and everybody laughed. Not once did I feel as if I was alone. So it should be of no surprise to anyone that I spent a lot of nights there. Even though my house was near a forested area, our houses were 20 minutes or so apart from each other. If I wanted to go home, he would always drive me back, no matter the hour.

Daniel was lying next to me. Believe me, there's never been anything between me and him. I'm two years his senior, and I just knew him because of our parents being old classmates. He was always more of a rockstar type, he had a band and everything. Even though he was the main drummer, he looked more like a frontman. His hair was long, and he was easily the most outspoken of the group. If you actually managed to guess my country of origin, you'd probably guess his real name, and his real band. There's probably a good chance you'll know where I come from by the end of this story, so there's that.

In any case.

Daniel was lying next to me. He'd been kissing all night with his then-girlfriend, Estella. He looked at me for a moment, and smiled.

"Everything ok?"

"Yeah, man. You?"

"I was just thinking of hitting the sack. I'd love to get nasty with Stella before she passes out completely and is not in the mood. She likes that."

"Man, you're nasty."

"You should see me in private. It's a bloodbath." He said this while moving his tongue like a reptile.

He was weird that way. We joked around a bit after that. Mentioned his sex life a lot. He was always trying to project this fuckboy image, this rockstar type who's into bdsm or whatever. Eventually, we started talking about our experiences. I knew he had a side girl, but I wasn't one to snoop. Never got to meet her, anyway. He then tried to pry me for info about my own sex life. I was always trying to find a good lie, since I had no boyfriend nor side-boyfriend, or whatever they're supposed to be called. It seemed like the perfect moment to ask about the one person who was on my mind.

"Daniel, I was wondering. What do you know about Anna?"

"Anna? Who?"

"The girl that came the other night."

"Oh."

"She was nice."

"I don't know her much. She's in high school, part of our groupies, that sort of thing."

"She's in high school?"

"Yeah? Don't you know? She and her friends always come to our concerts. Probably trying to sleep with the main singer of any underground band, or whatever. The things teenagers get away with these days, man."

I stopped messaging Anna for a few months. I was 23, Anna was 16. I still thought about her pictures. I could not delete them for quite some time. I'd like to say I feel guilty, but deep down I know I don't feel guilty enough.

At the very least, you could say I had the courage to stop messaging her. Truth is, had it not been for my stupidity, we wouldn't have talked ever again. Maybe it would have been for the better, but I don't know.

Just past midnight, I decided to check Anna's social media. I was so lonely. Her pictures were still familiar to me. First, I checked out her pictures from her family trip, dressed in a cashmere sweater. Then, I looked for the ones she took when she attended one of Daniel's concerts: She was wearing a dark, brown shirt, with El Cinema's (the band's name) logo visible in the back. It managed to dampen the mood a bit. I recognized Daniel's drum set and his black shirt. Seeing her at a concert of his made me think of her as a real person. Made me think if her parents were attentive or not. I mean, she was 16, and going to concerts. My parents never allowed me to go unsupervised. But then again, what did I know about safety?

I continued looking at her pictures. I know I shouldn't have stalked her, but it's important for you guys to know that I'm trying to be completely honest about everything, even the less savory parts of my life. I guess I was subconsciously trying to see whether I was going to lose control or not.

And so I did. In the most stupid way possible.

My finger twitched involuntarily, accidentally clicking the "like" button on one of her pictures. My phone slipped between my fingers from the shock, hitting the ground.

Panicking, I got up from the bed. The phone was still intact, but it had turned itself off. It was an old phone, so I was used to this. At the moment, I remember being fraught with worry, trying to turn on the phone so that I could unlike the picture before Anna noticed. The picture in question was six months old. She couldn't know I'd been stalking her online like a creep.

I finally turned on my phone, having decided within the span of two minutes that I was being a creep, and that I needed to control myself. I would stop looking at her pictures and back away. The phone finally managed to load the app once more.

There was a new message in the chatbox.

There was just one word: "Hey".

Sweat trickled down my throat. There was no way I was going to engage in the same banter from a few months back. Even if I didn't know how old she was, it was still wrong of me. However, I couldn't just ignore her either. I wrote back.

"Hey."

"I need help."

"What do you mean?"

I was going to write an apology for stalking her after basically disappearing without a word, when she sent me a response. It was in audio form.

"She was hiding behind the glass, Deb. I knew it was wrong but they told me it was ok, so I did it. I'm so sorry, I know I fucked up."

What she did next, I don't understand. She sent a picture. It was a selfie. She was crying, and her mouth was full of blood. It might seem weird to you, but Anna wore braces at that time, and seeing them covered in blood made it all worse. Her cheeks were red, as if someone had hit her. You could tell she had been in a physical fight just by looking at the scratch marks on her shoulders. From what I could tell, there was a mirror behind her, like the one you put in a bathroom. Her reflection showed she was naked, but I paid no attention to that.

Most of the picture looked blurry. Her flash had been activated, and it was hard to make out anything aside from her face.

"Anna, what the fuck happened?"

"Gotta go." That was her last text. No more answers, no texts, nothing. I stayed awake for a few hours, trying to call her, but she didn't pick up. By the next morning, she had already deleted her account.

What did she mean by all that? Who was hiding behind the glass? I didn't get a single response afterwards, and I didn't see her for years. By the time it all clicked, it was already too late. The damage was done, and I felt so stupid for not getting it back then.


III

Sister

Was I wrong for telling you guys all this? Maybe. So far, you probably don't know what the hell is going on. In fact, it would probably be the best outcome. The thing is, I owe you guys some clarity.

I'm Deb. At the moment, I'm 28 years old. I feel bad for telling you about all this, but I need to do it. It's disgusting and confusing, but it has a point. Right now, I happen to know a very particular piece of information, but I can't do anything about it. The damage is not only done, it's way past that. In a way, I contributed to things becoming much worse. Why? Well, there's a number of reasons why. But most of them could be traced to the night Anna sent me that horrifying picture. It was extremely obvious, and I'm sure if you guys had been in my shoes that night, you would have seen it in plain sight.

I, being the idiot that I was, realized what I saw 5 years after the fact.

For the moment, suffice to say I wanted to know what had happened. I'd experienced loss after the accident, and I didn't want to experience it again.

My friends think I should tell you about that. Maybe it would help. Truth be told, I don't think it will, but let's just say it would help to explain my guilt to you. You see, Anna's little tragedy didn't begin that fateful night. You need to see what happened six months earlier to understand.

It had been a fun night. Frank, my boyfriend at the time, left me at Daniel's while he said he was going to pick up some stuff. I knew what that meant.

"Don't do acid here. Daniel's sister will notice, and she'll tell her mom."

"I'll be careful, relax."

"Wait--

With that, he left in his car. Before I knew it, the Rodriguez household was facing me, my boyfriend having sped off into the night to look for some drugs.

Half hoping he wouldn't dare to come back, I rang the bell. Estella, cheerful as always, opened the door.

"Hi, Deb! How are you? Where's Frank?"

"He said he had to pick up some stuff first. He'll be back."

"Well, tell him to bring some booze."

We crossed the ample garden before heading inside the household. It's quite luxurious, let me tell you. It only makes sense, after all. Most kids in this country don't have the capital to have a band. Even if I dislike most of the national talent, I really liked Daniel's band. They sounded a bit more prog-rock than the rest. But who knows, maybe I'm just biased.

The rest of the night went by like a breeze. I drank quite a bit, and Frank didn't show up. To be honest, I got really anxious about him coming. The Rodriguez family was quite civil and polite, and the last thing I needed on my plate was a disaster. As the hours went by, I kept on drinking, expecting Frank to call me at any point.

By ten o'clock, I was drunk. I liked the feeling, made me feel at ease. No more stupid Frank. No drama. He was always getting high, it was such a bother. And the smell. Every time I went to his house, there was that rancid smell coming from the walls, as if no one had cleaned the structure in years.

In the midst of all these thoughts, I didn't notice Daniel sitting on a chair beside me, a beer in his hand. We were in the patio, away from the music and the noise. He had that smile on his face, the kind you have when you're not drunk yet, but you're on your way.

"Man, you're so drunk, Deb."

"You're one to talk, sonny."

"Maybe. Hey, I'm just trying to cheer myself up. Stella's in a bad mood."

"How come?" I laughed.

"I think she found out about lisp girl."

"Oh shit. She knows?"

(Lisp girl was his side piece. She had this affected accent, and he always made fun of the way she talked)

"Well, not quite. I think she's just suspicious. Still, I don't know what to do."

"Don't you always solve everything with sex?"

"What? No! I'm not an animal." He laughed.

"Well, I think you could solve everything that way."

"You must be really drunk."

"Maybe, but just in case I pass out, there's something I wanted to confess, Daniel."

"What is it?" His expression perked up a bit, alarmed by my tone.

"I've always envied your house. I'd love to have sex in it."

"You're an idiot, Deb."

"I'm serious! I'd love to have this big house to myself. Your parents are never home, and you get to do all kinds of freaky shit."

"Well, my sister's usually home too, you know? But I guess you're right. If she wasn't home, I could play cat and mouse with Stella all over the house."

"What? Like running around naked?"

"Yeah, surprising each other. Haven't you tried it?"

"Nah. You're weird as hell, Rodriguez."

We laughed a bit. Maybe it wasn't that funny, but I sure as hell remember it as being funny. Alcohol does a lot of strange stuff to your mind.

It was then that my phone rang. Frank was outside.

I still remember the anxious feeling in my gut I felt when I crossed the garden to open the door for him. I remember praying to all the gods on this earth for allowing me one fun night without any dramatic scenes with my boyfriend.

Damn. In a way, I was also just a kid.

At first, he acted normal. Said hi to everyone, grabbed me by the hand. Stood around making small talk, laughed at our dumb jokes. It only lasted for 10 minutes, though. He started acting a bit weird, and then brought up the subject he clearly wanted to talk about: he was high, and he brought some acid to share with us.

People soon started looking at him (and me) as if we had just said a really bad joke. They had these half smiles, and no one knew how to react. Frank, the defining genius of our generation, didn't get the hint. Daniel and his bandmates might try some stuff every now and then, but this wasn't his house. People in my country don't really move out of their parents' homes until a bit later in life,  mostly due to economic upheaval. You're expected to behave a bit, even in college. If you want to do something wild, you do it away from your folks' home. Not to mention, Daniel invited a lot of people to his gatherings, not just his groupies. His sister's friends were there, and they were still in high school.

In other words, it looked bad. I needed to do something.

Grabbing him by the hand, I led him away from the crowd.

"Hey, you wanna try this with me?"

"No, Frank. I think you should leave."

"What?"

"I think you should go home and rest a bit. I don't want to see you get high anymore."

"You don't tell me what to do."

"I'm your girlfriend! Why do you have to make everything so hard for me all the time?"

"You don't tell me what to do, ever. You don't like me getting high? I'm not good enough for your fancy friends? I'll do more drugs, then. See if you like that."

Tearing his hand away from mine, he grabbed his bag and went for the bathroom. I don't know what came over me, but I followed him. To this day, I wish I hadn't.

Daniel's bathroom was surprisingly small. Frank was against one of the walls, with me right in front of him. We struggled in the dark, trying to get the bag. Of course, with Frank being twice my size and being really strong, he easily overpowered me. He cornered me against the wall.

Then, he put LSD into my mouth.

I'd like to tell you nothing happened, but it would be a lie. I'd like to tell you I know exactly what happened, but I'm not sure. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning, having dreamt about that night. Cold hands gripping my shoulders. My fingernails growing into these yellow things. It hurt. There was something in my mouth, a black liquid coming out and dripping from my chin.

On my knees, Frank looked tall. His slim dark figure seemed familiar. It was then I heard that voice again.

"Iatalapilela... Iatalapilela..."

I felt a warm liquid trickling down my leg. I was a pig once again. And this time, everyone would know.

The bathroom was already dark, but something seemed to make it stretch out into an infinite expanse. Long, unending corridors within corridors appeared before me. Was I still in Daniel's house? A pair of doors appeared before me, one of them was half open. Inside, I could see a small TV screen. I knew what it was. I never entered that room much, but it was hard to not recognize my brother's room.

There was a figure sitting on the bed. It raised its head, looking at me from across the hallway. Sick and wild yellow eyes locked on to mine, recognizing their long-lost prey.

I turned around and started to run. The hallways seemed to multiply, but the creature wouldn't stop running. Somehow, it seemed to be able to crawl on the walls and ceiling. Soon enough, it managed to intercept me. It's eyes looked at me with its decrepit, vacant expression. I yelled.

Something seemed to happen to the creature. Its skin turned transparent, and the entire hallway slowly melted away. There was a knock on the door. I heard Estella's voice. Frank suddenly got very afraid, said we would only take a minute. My eyes were still trying to get used to the room. I could barely see him, but I could hear his voice.

He helped me stand up. He looked me in the eyes.

"Shit. You're so brain dead."

"I want to go home."

"Can't take you home. I need to hide this stash. Your friends will probably want to accuse me of some bs. I'll call your brother."

"No, don't call him."

"Relax, you're ok. The effect will pass after a few hours."

More knocking.

I don't know how much time elapsed since then, but I do remember finally leaving the bathroom. Everyone was looking at me with a worried expression. I didn't know where Frank was.

"Deb, what happened?" That was Estella. She looked pale.

"Guys, relax. They were just fooling around. Don't make this awkward, jeez." Daniel said, putting an arm around my shoulder. He looked so convinced about this.

"Daniel, look at her. She's drugged. We need to call someone."

"My brother's coming." I said. "Please, don't worry. It's as Daniel says."

I looked him in the eye. "We were just playing cat and mouse. We got a bit rough, but it was all good. He got a little happy with the acid. Well, we both did."

Daniel looked relieved. "You see? What did I tell you?" Estella didn't look so convinced.

"I think. I'm going to lie down until my brother comes."

Sil arrived eventually. I didn't know what time it was, but it was clearly very late. Sil had this stern on look on his face. While Daniel was very reassuring while walking me to the front door, Sil grabbed me by the arm and led me to his car in a very brusque manner. He slammed the door and started the engine without even breaking a sweat.

I remember the rain. The cold, numb feeling I felt on my skin. I still couldn't believe this had happened to me. I still couldn't believe my brother found out.

"I'm going to kill Frank."

"What?" I looked at him, suddenly very aware of my surroundings.

"I know he's behind this. I'm tired of your piece-of-shit boyfriend. He crossed a line. I'm going over to his house after dropping you off. I'm going to kill him."

"No, Sil, please."

"Please?"

"Nothing happened!!"

"What do you mean, nothing happened? Jesus Christ, it's obvious. This guy is dead."

"Please, Sil, no. Don't do this. Don't let mom and dad know. Please..." I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks.

"Deb, listen to me. I know this seems horrible. But you need to learn that this sort of thing doesn't go away like that. You can't sweep that of--

That's when the crash happened.

I know I said I was going to tell you about the accident, but this is as far as I can go. You can imagine the rest. The broken bones. My ribs. Blood everywhere. Sil choking, unable to pronounce words correctly. Glass everywhere.

I lost so much that night.

Worse part is, I changed Anna's life during that fateful moment. I ended one life I'd known since birth, and altered another one's without having met her. The very same monster that had been chasing her that night had been after me, too. Had I been a little more attentive, maybe I could've stopped it in time.


IV

Imago

Sixteen months later, I had done my best to forget about the night of the accident. Let's just say I had not done so well. Between Sil's death and Anna's disappearance, my mood had just been at an all time low. It's probably what pushed me to do what I did during those three weeks, the next part of my ongoing search.

Now, I'm going to be frank: like I said, I've been changing the names of a few people, just to be safe. However, I think that this is the one part of the story where I'm going to alter a few details. It's still going to be the truth, but you'll have to deal with a bit of imagination on my part. Hell, if you're still smart enough, you might even know what I'm talking about.

Let's start with Anna.

After she sent me that picture, I lost track of her. She deleted her social media, and her phone seemed to have been disconnected. The only thing that I had kept was her frantic voice note.

"She was hiding behind the glass, Deb. I knew it was wrong but they told me it was ok, so I did it. I'm so sorry, I know I fucked up."

Something about this message still gave me chills. Not just in the sense of it being creepy, no. I always got the feeling that I had just run down a set of stairs, only to miss the last one before hitting the floor. I would like to say I kept the picture she sent that night, too, but I would be lying. I'd deleted it the week after the fact, it was too much. The worst part is that nowadays I think I could have understood just what was so creepy about the message if I'd only kept that picture of Anna and her bleeding mouth.

Anyway.

The months passed. I got behind in college, as you can probably imagine. I could tell you about how the days only seemed to go any faster when I was busy. Strangely enough, studying became such a difficult task. There was nothing that made me feel like I needed to get my shit together. It was simply the worst. But you guys are not here to deal with my depressive episode. You guys came here for the juicy parts, right? Well, I'm here to deliver.

Like I said, nothing felt urgent or necessary. Every task felt meaningless. It all felt so... Bothersome. Eventually, it came to a point where the only things keeping me interested were works of fiction that dealt with the lack of meaning in everything. It didn't matter if it was a book, a show, or a movie. Just feeling like I wasn't alone in my realization was enough. While I did enjoy European films, there was something about American cinema that simply resonated with me. Maybe it was the fact that they always deal with such heavy subjects in a more rudimentary way. I love when normal people encounter this huge void and they don't have the tools for handling it.

Just after my semester ended, I was at home, looking for another piece of media I could consume. There was nothing on TV, and I'd bought and read a lot of books already. I was broke, and nobody wanted to hang out with me. Daniel was on tour with the rest of El Cinema. My parents were out at work. The only place that brought me any interest was Sil's room.

I had entered Sil's room before. I mean, after he died, that is. But as you can imagine, it wasn't something I did regularly. Something about the atmosphere felt so heavy. But today was as good as any to try something new. I went through his comic books, his music, everything. He'd always been such a nerd. We both were introverts, but he'd always been more of a geek than I was. It was in the middle of all this reminiscence that I found one of his old games, Notes from Elsewhere.

It's not what you think.

Being perfectly honest, I'm not much of a gamer, myself. Sure, I played some racing games every now and then, and some of my boyfriends have always tried to hook me on their fantasy adventures. They're not for me. This one, however, I remember quite well. Notes from Elsewhere was a curious little game from the early 2000s. It was in first person (I'm not a complete newbie), with a focus on mystery rather than action. Sil was always going on about how it had been such an underrated game, a hidden gem. From what I understood, it was supposed to be this artsy, postmodern masterpiece made by an American studio that was later absorbed. The old development team had gone on to make generic action games that sold quite well, and no one ever talked about Notes ever again.

Sure, you could go online and find a few forums here and there, but there wasn't much. I did find a YouTube channel reviewing the game, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Seeing as the game wasn't that action oriented, I thought to myself that maybe I could try it. It would probably be something memorable.

Needless to say, it was.

The story it told was outstanding. The game's plot was centered on a lone detective on a more futuristic society, his main objective being solving a case related to a corrupt corporation. It seemed simple enough, but it soon devolved into a meta-narrative mess, assaulting the player with assumptions about the genre, and how games were supposed to be played. By the end of the week, I had completed it, having learned about every plot twist and all the paranoia-induced setpieces that only the early 2000s could bring.

Of course, like I said, I'm not a gamer. To me, an uninitiated mind, the story started out as a simple detective tale about Max Beckett, the lone investigator, and his colleague Jason Roivas finding out conspiracies brought about by a corporation known as Imago Industries. By the end of the game, poor Jason was dead (or was he?) and I was being monologued at by the supposed main villain about my naive and narrow-minded viewpoints as a gamer.

It didn't quite register, to be honest. The twists were very catered towards a certain type of person, and I just didn't fit the criteria. Nevertheless, I felt intrigued, and a bit creeped out. There was a lot to digest, and the game had good mechanics. It was obviously a shooter, divided into 5 chapters. Being a detective game, though, you needed to use your wits, explosives and other gadgets to proceed. I liked it enough to try to find out more about the game.

Well, let's just say I got what I wanted.

A bit late into the night, I was in my brother's room. Staring into the white light provided by the laptop, I looked up a few forums. They all said the same things I've already said, no need to repeat them. There wasn't a lot of info out there. One thing I have enjoyed since very little is understanding exactly how a thing was made. I need to understand just what went into the production of a certain film, the inspiration behind a famous book, or the exact components of a watch. This game was no exception. It frustrated me to no end the fact that there just wasn't that much info about it.

That is, until I found this video. It was one of those weird review videos Sil used to watch, the kind that last over half an hour explaining everything about a game you have already played. Normally, I didn't get why he would watch those types of videos, but here I was, watching the whole thing at 2 in the morning.

The guy had done the research for me. He explained everything about gamer culture, the expectations behind a product, how gamers typically process stories and all that. It was all very interesting. He also explained the reason behind the studio's dissolve. Apparently the team had been broken up, the lead designer heading up north to work in the game industry, the main writer staying behind to work on movie scripts. It soon came to my attention how the game's main characters looked a lot like the real people behind the project. Max was identical to the main writer, while Jason was identical to the main designer. I found it a little funny that he would kill off his co-worker in the game, it sounded like something I would do.

The reviewer was a bit curious about the sudden split, of course. Apparently, something huge had gone on between both of them, something dark. They chose to never work together again, and that was that. He found out about a suicide in the writer's family, so he theorized that maybe the grief process had affected the whole thing.

I paused the video for a moment, reflecting on how alone I was. All the people I had pushed away. I continued watching.

Seeing as there was not much to find as proper evidence, the reviewer gave it a rest. However, he said he had saved the best for last. He was going to talk about the infamous Easter Egg hunt Notes from Elsewhere was most famous for. I can't really describe what I felt at that moment, but something resembling recognition suddenly sparked within me.

According to rumors, there was a hidden easter egg somewhere in the game. No one knew what it was, but it supposedly explained a lot of the game's messy ending. Some people claimed to have found it but none had provided any evidence.

That's when it clicked for me. Yes, Sil had mentioned the rumor relating to Notes from Elsewhere's secret. He had mentioned that, in the middle of the game, you could hear certain voices, something similar to crying, coming from somewhere. He and his high school friends had theorized endlessly about that back when it came out. Of course, like everything from our past, it got left behind.

However, the reviewer had managed to find out the missing piece. He did give a warning that it seemed to be a dead end, but at least it was something. The lead designer had given an interview for an old gaming magazine back in 2005. It wasn't one of the big magazines you guys probably know. It was a foreign one. The interview was actually related to one the new games the designer was making, a generic shoot 'em up. The interviewer was very suave and confident. He seemed to strike a chord with the designer, leading him along with his questions. Near the end of the interview, he asked the about the easter egg. Of course, since the whole thing was in a foreign language, it was subtitled. The lead designer's wife was from the same nationality as the interviewer (which would explain why he bothered to do this in the first place), so he spoke directly to his host without any translators:

"So, you're famous for putting in a lot of secrets in your games, correct?"

"Well, not quite!" He laughed. "If you want to know, we want to create a more streamlined experience for gamers out there with this next project." I seriously didn't get gamer terminology.

"Oh, that's disappointing. We were hoping to see another mystery similar to Notes from Elsewhere!"

The designer suddenly got very awkward. "Well, that easter egg wasn't my idea. Our main writing team came up with that, and some people snuck that under my nose. Or so the story goes."

"You mean you've never found it?"

"No, I haven't." Given what I found out later, I think he was lying.

"So you can't give us a clue?"

"Well," he now seemed angry. He shuffled in his seat, and spoke with a more restrained tone. "If you must now, the writer said it had something to do with the beginning of the game."

"The beginning? What of it?"

"Can we talk about my new game? That's why we're here for, isn't it?"

And with that, the interview switched subject. The reviewer had taken a lot of pains to find out about this piece of information, given that the magazine was now defunct and their TV show had only lasted 3 years. He joked around a bit, noting the useless and almost nihilistic tone of the whole ordeal, given the fact that even this final clue seemed to be bogus. There was nothing related to the beginning of the game that gave out any clarity related to the easter egg. He continued on with the video, and that was all I heard about the mystery.

He had been close, he had been so close.

As you may have guessed by now, I'm not an American. I'm fluent in English, but it's not my first language. In fact, I recognized that gaming magazine, because my brother Sil had stacks of them piled inside his closet. It was our only connection to the gaming world. Hell, the only reason why he bought Notes From Elsewhere was because they advertised it so much in the months leading up to its release. No wonder they did, they probably knew the lead designer due to his wife being sort of famous here.

It's easy to see why this reviewer didn't find anything. He had a wrong translation.

The interview didn't mention the beginning of the game.

It mentioned the beginnings.

The game was divided into chapters.

It was still the middle of the night, and I was sleepy. I didn't care. The game was actually quite short if you knew your way around it. If I skipped every cutscene, if I didn't do any additional tasks, I could probably complete it in an hour. It was doable, given the main difficulty came from the obtuse puzzles, not the action or length.

And so I did. I played through the whole thing, writing down the first line of dialogue in every chapter. By three in the morning, I had completed the game again. I still wasn't sure if I got it right.

There were the first lines of dialogue in every chapter:

- "Check it out, Max. I think you haven't seen one like this before."

- "Behind you. That's where I normally hide the records."

-"Jason Roiva's house was three blocks down the road. He was my only hope if I planned on surviving the night."

- "Bathroom. Now. I need to clean myself up."

- "Wall to wall, ear to ear. I've always been there, Max."

I looked at the piece of paper where I wrote the lines. My eyes were stinging, and my whole body was shivering. It didn't make sense. I hoped I hadn't wasted a good night's sleep on a futile quest. Of course, I knew I had done something right when I looked at the first word of every chapter.

"Check behind Jason Roivas' bathroom wall."

It had to be Jason Roivas' wall, since there were two Jasons in the game. One was just a side character, and he had no apartment. It couldn't be a coincidence that the chapter began with his full name. In fact, there was something off about Jason's character. Right near the end of the game, he was supposedly murdered, never to be seen again. I thought it was a joke on the writer's part, but it didn't mesh well with the themes of the game at all. He disappeared from the story, and it didn't seem to have anything to do with Imago Industries. In fact, by the time Max killed him, he seemed almost relieved to see him dead.

There was something creepy about his apartment too.

I decided to once again replay the whole thing, this time skipping to the fourth chapter. It was the one that started on his apartment before switching to another location. Sil's room was cold, and the breeze licked my legs like a snake looking for prey. By the time I reached the bathroom, I was shivering.

There was something different about this place. It was small, cramped, with the only notable things about it being the fact that the mirror reflected a very bad rendering of the main character, and a hidden cache of munitions near the bathtub. Rain was pouring in through the window, a hint of the storm that would envelop the whole city during the surreal climax. No music was playing, only the raindrops and the thunder accompanying me.

That, and a faint voice, just loud enough for me to hear if I spent more than thirty seconds inside the room.

It sounded like crying.

I turned Max around. The sound was coming from the wall. I checked my inventory. I had saved a few C4s just in case. The game was sneaky enough to actually make me waste them right near the end of the previous chapter, almost as if it didn't want me to see this.

I planted them on the wall, and something new occurred. Jason was now banging against the door.

"Hey Max, are you coming out or what?"

"Just a minute."

Weird. That never did happen before. Maybe just a coincidence. I backed away as much as I could, and detonated the charge.

A hole in the wall.

"Max?? What the hell is going on in there?"

"Just wait outside, Jason!"

The panic theme the game blared when something bad occurred was playing now. I ran into the hole, and faced the darkness.

The game had a flashlight for occasions like these, so I turned it on.

Imagine my surprise.

There was a body, a girl's body. She was pale, her only clothing being some night gown stuck to her skin. The rendering was bad, but you could tell she was supposed to be skinnier than the other characters. It creeped me out, knowing that this... thing had been hidden all along behind the walls of the house.

"Melissa?" I heard Max say.

"Max??" She said.

Melissa was Max's lost sister. She was part of his backstory, and I'd wondered what exactly became of her. The game never mentioned her.

It was then the game's cinematic mode activated. My character turned around after hearing a few footsteps. Jason climbed in through the hole in the wall, gun in hand.

"You shouldn't have seen this. She would have escaped anyway."

"Jason, you--

A bang. The screen went black. After a few seconds or so, the title screen appeared. My save file was still in the same chapter, just before entering the bathroom.

I remembered the story. The fallout between them. The suicide in the writer's family. His sister? Was this...?

The lead designer said he did not know about the easter egg. But he probably found out. He probably found out too late, though.

I turned off the TV. I lied down in the bean bag, rattled by my discovery. You probably think that this is the part where I document this finding into a different story altogether, go to the press and become famous. I'm sure that writer's family would be glad to know someone found out the truth.

Problem was, I wasn't thinking about the game anymore. I was thinking about why did this story about the girl behind the wall in the bathroom resonated so much with me.

Like I said before, it's not what you think it is.

It's much worse.


V

Friend

"Daniel Rodriguez, drummer extraordinaire."

"Eh, I wouldn't go that far."

I had gone to see Daniel a few weeks after the Notes From Elsewhere episode. He had returned from his tour, which could be best described as a booze-fueled romp. I was a bit envious, but I recognized he was the one with the talent. He deserved it. I rang his doorbell and he received me with his usual warm smile. It was the middle of summer, and the grass in his garden had grown to such an extent, it was hard to actually see much.

"You should probably cut the grass. It's turning into a jungle."

"Yeah, I haven't called the gardener in months. My parents told me to take care of that, seeing as I'm earning enough money to help support the house."

"Makes sense."

I've been trying to condense the most relevant aspects of this whole mess for everyone around here. In the five years since Anna's disappearance, this was probably the most notorious incident. It had started out as a normal afternoon. Summer was in, and the heat was driving me crazy. I've always been more of a rainy weather kind of girl, but I do enjoy the beach. Of course, I wasn't going to the beach since I had no cash. I needed to get my mind straight. I was thinking of going to therapy, getting everything sorted out, and enjoying a few days with my friends before returning to my studies. Even at that age, I was sufficiently self aware to understand that this type of erratic behavior would lead me nowhere.

The afternoon proceeded as normal. I shot the shit with Daniel, talking about his tour while drinking a few beers. I even told him that I was starting to like girls. He was super nice about it, of course. When he asked if that meant I was no longer into boys, I wasn't sure.

"I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. Last guy I was with was Frank, and I just... I don't know."

"I get it."

"Yeah."

"So when did you... You know, realize you liked girls?"

There's a very good reason I've been wary of saying too much whenever I write. Every time I've told this story, bad things happen. To be honest, the only reason why I'm doing this is because I'm sick of all the guilt, and because I know deep down that if I don't do this now, I'll never get the chance.

I told Daniel my story about Anna. I told him it had gotten a bit intimate, even if it amounted to nothing in the end. However, I did focus my attention on the one thing that had been kept in my brain for such a long time: the message and that weird photo. Daniel seemed to be as creeped out as I was, but he also seemed curious.

"So, what do you think happened?"

"I have no idea."

"She was hiding behind the glass... That's odd as hell, don't you think?"

"Yeah, for sure. I lost contact with her after that. I never asked you because I was too afraid of what I'd done."

"Hey, relax. You didn't know her age and it was just pictures. Don't sweat it."

It didn't seem ok to me, but I think I got his point.

"Do you know what happened to her? I mean, she was part of your groupies and everything."

"Well, I had a lot groupies, to be honest." He was correct. They came and went quite quickly.

"... But I do know what happened to her. At least a bit." He turned serious for a moment. "Her family moved out, or so my sister said. She was the one who knew her first, after all. They were a rich family, her father being a lawyer and all that. Apparently, something weird happened, since she was seen running that night, covered in blood. I don't think the family wanted anyone to know, since that thing got shot down fast. They moved out and no one heard from Anna. At least, my sister didn't."

"So... Maybe something happened at her house. Maybe that's what she was talking about. The glass. Was there a mirror, there?"

Daniel's eyes seemed to perk up. "You mean you don't know how her house looks?"

"No, I never saw her after the night I met her. I'd only been texting with her."

"So that bathroom could probably be hers."

"Beats me. I never go to other people's bathrooms. Even if we had gotten physical, I would probably have avoided hers like the plague."

"What do you plan on doing when you finally get a partner?"

"It's different. I'm going to buy my own house, and the only one's using it will be me and my partner."

"Weirdo. Anyway, I was thinking that we could maybe check out her old house and see what's up."

This caught me by surprise. "What? Like, do you want to go and see?"

"Yeah. I mean, I know where it is. I drove my sister there on a couple of occasions. I never entered it, though. Last time I cruised by, the place was abandoned."

"You mean, like haunted house, abandoned."

"Like haunted house, abandoned."

I'd been wondering about that. I'd never even seen where Anna lived. I didn't know her friends, and I didn't know anything about her life. Maybe this was the key. Daniel was always getting me into trouble, since he loved sneaking into abandoned places ever since we were kids. But maybe, just maybe, this was the correct approach. Call it my insidious necessity to know everything, but something about his suggestion clicked.

"Well, I'd like to go. As long as we don't get into any trouble."

"You wanna go? I tell you, the place is abandoned. Nothing's going to happen."

"This is so stupid."

"But you want to go, don't you?"


Let me give you a little context about my city. It's a very crowded city, like every other, with some suburbs near the east. Most of my circle belongs to a middle-upper class, with some variations. Of course, if you actually came to my country you would soon realize that what is considered middle class in here would be actually low class in every first world country.

There's an area known as the Upper Gardens that is a bit secluded from the rest of the city. Normally, you need to be in the upper echelons of society to live there. It's a bunch of suburbs, isolated from the rest of the city due to the elevated terrain it was built on. However, not every family that lives there is actually rich. Some houses are quite dilapidated, having been constructed decades ago, now a shadow of their former shelf. Since there's no such thing as a public service that renovates houses, you can find these old ghosts roaming about the streets, a specter of the dreaded life most of the families leaving nearby seek to avoid.

Daniel drove us that night to the house. He seemed determined to show me.

"Let's see if I can remember where it is."

We drove on through a few curves, going towards the top. Nightfall had come, and there weren't many sources of light to let us know where we were. Of course, since we had our GPS, I wasn't worried about getting lost. The signal was only useless near my house, since I lived in a forested area. This was fine.

"Ah, right there."

He was pointing out a lone, three story house right by a mango tree. The leaves obscured most of the visage, but I could still make out the stone structure. It didn't seem to have a roof, the upper floor being a terrace.

"Wow, it's big."

"Yeah, that's what they all say to me."

"You pig."

We got out of the car. It was chilly around these parts. Quiet, too.

"Well, the place looks abandoned. It certainly looks like the type of street that no one would want to come near."

"For sure." Daniel walked to the nearby wall. There was no electrified fence. "Wanna go in?"

"Oh come on."

"I'll boost you up."

I sighed. We had come all the way up here, and obviously, I wanted to come inside. I didn't know what I would find, but I really did want to see.

"All right. Let's go."

Daniel kneeled down, giving me the boost I needed. I struggled a bit on the wall, my previous few weeks having been spent playing decades-old videogames. However, I managed to climb on top. To be honest, I was more nervous about the police or any neighbor seeing us.

"All right, I need you to catch me, Deb." He backed up a bit, and ran towards me. He jumped up high in the air, and I grabbed his hand. Somehow, I managed to pull him up.

Too bad about my footing, though.

I fell backwards, into the garden below. The grass was even taller than at Daniel's. He jumped in right after me.

"Deb! You all right?"

"I think." My back hurt a lot, and it took me a while before I could get up. Daniel looked a bit worried. I looked at him, then at the house.

"As long as we don't have to run too much, I'll be fine. Just get me some pills when I get back."

"For sure."

"Shall we?"

The house had two entrances, one through the porch, and one on the side. The side-entrance was locked behind a gate. It's customary for houses to have good security around here. I was expecting this, but I was still disappointed. The one on the porch, however, was different. It had a glass window and a little gate. The former was broken, and the other one had been left open.

"Thieves, most likely."

We entered the deep darkness, the moonlight barely illuminating the old remains of a living room. Whoever Anna's parents had been, they were rich. They'd left behind old leather seats, and some old marble tables too. There was an old, empty wall where a TV probably had been.

Switching on my phone's flashlight, I tried looking for any mirrors. All I could see where dust covered walls, with the imprints of what seemed to have been paintings left upon the surfaces. To my left side, an old studio remained untouched. Books upon books, overturned chairs and tables, and a hallway leading into the master bedrooms.

Even though Daniel was with me, I felt a twinge of fear in my spine. The pain was already unbearable, but something was wrong.

"So this is what months of abandonment does to your house."

We went into the hallway. It looked quite a lot like mine, actually.

"Do you think we should go this way?" Daniel said. "Maybe we should go upstairs."

"No, I want to check this out."

I went in alone. The shadows on the hallway seemed to absorb any light whatsoever. I remembered my nightmares. I could still see the dark hands coming out from the doorframes, the creature from my dreams slowly making its way towards me, yelling that strange name in a deep voice. In my mind's eye, it was as if it had never left, forever stalking the hallways of my inner palace.

The bedrooms were deserted. No clothes, no beds. There was nothing, except for a faint light coming in from the windows.

However, there was also a bathroom.

I entered it. I tried closing the door behind me, in order to get my bearings. Was this the same bathroom I had seen that night? It was hard to tell. The picture was very dark, and I had deleted the damn thing, stupid as I was. There had to be an easier way to this.

I looked at my phone. Of course there was.

Positioning myself correctly, I took a picture with my back facing the mirror. Even with the flash, it seemed way too dark for me. My face was barely visible, and I could barely look at my reflection in the mirror.

This wasn't the correct bathroom.

I exited the hallway, slowly making my way into the living room. I looked for Daniel, but I couldn't see him.

"Boo".

A hand gripped my shoulder. I quickly turned around and twisted the arm it belonged to.

"Ow! It's me!"

"Don't. Do. That. Ok?"

"I know, I'm sorry! It was just-

"Cat and mouse? I know. I don't like that shit."

"Sorry."

"Let's go."

"Did you find anything?" He was still holding his hand. I think I was a little rough on him.

"No. I tried checking the bathroom, but it was a dud. Maybe there's something on the other floors."

To our right, there was a hole set of stairs. In fact, the eastern gate was right there, almost telling us to go outside instead of insisting on looking further.

Too bad, really.

The first thing I noticed was the fact that this set of stairs didn't lead only upwards. Like many other places, this one had a basement. I looked at Daniel again, because I sure as hell wasn't going to go there alone. Daniel's face was more stern now, and he nodded silently. Something about him seemed off, as if he really didn't want to see what was in there, as if he had bitten more than he could chew.

Still, he followed me. We both were trembling as we headed down the stairs, lighting our way with our cellphones. The basement was at the end, its maw opening wide to welcome us.

There was a lot to take in. It seemed like a whole different house altogether. You could make your own living room here, and you could also install a couple of bedrooms too. The smell was not bad, either. A couple of windows had been installed, keeping the whole place fresh.

Of course, the floor was dirty. Loads of webs, insects and who knows what else filled the entire basement. Part of me wanted to go back partly to avoid having to touch any more spiders in the dark. It was disgusting. I just needed to find something important down here.

"Bathroom."

Daniel was pointing to a lone, narrow bathroom right on the opposite side. I almost didn't notice it. Thankfully, he seemed to have a sharp eye. Walking slowly, I made my way towards the end of the basement.

It was narrow, indeed. You could barely sit or stand, and the shower was compromised by the fact that there was a small window overlooking the house's main parking lot. I would have hated living down here. Then again, it would have been the perfect place to have some privacy.

"How is it?" Daniel said.

"Narrow."

"Well, I don't get that a lot."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"Yeah, not one of my best."

I took the picture, comparing it to my previous selfie. It didn't seem to remind me of the one Anna sent me. Or did it? Maybe I could adjust the angle.

Just then, I caught a glimpse of something. A shadow skirting across the parking lot. Peeking out the window, I tried to see if it had been my imagination. Of course, the whole place was so dark, I couldn't see more than two feet in front of me.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. I think I saw something. Must be my nerves."

"Do you think we should go?"

"No, for God's sake. What is it with you all of a sudden? You're the one who wanted to come."

"Yeah, I know. I just thought we would check out the main floor, and that would be it. Don't you remember the time we got in trouble trying to break in at school?"

"Yes."

"Whose fault was it? Yours! I wanted to maybe see professor Echeverría's office, but you wanted to go all the way. You needed to see the gym, the labs, even if it got us into trouble with the security guard."

"Well, that's how I am, Daniel. I like knowing things. And this... Thing has been gnawing at me for the past semester at the very least. I need to understand what the hell happened. So, you better put on that rockstar bravado you put on at your little shows, or else--

"Or else what? I could leave."

"You would leave?"

We stared at each other in the bathroom. It took me a lot of strength not to shake a bit, given the pain I was in. Finally, he relented.

"Five minutes and we leave."

"Awesome. Thanks."

I ran towards the stairs, leaving him behind. I needed to see this house. It was big enough to warrant a hole night looking at stuff. Of course, Daniel was going to make me rush. It didn't matter. Something told me I would find what I was looking for.

One thing I noticed was the fact that not all doors were open. Some of them were locked, making it impossible for me to check. In fact, the second floor was completely locked up for me. Funnily enough, one of the doors seemed to lead into a small alcove. I wondered if maybe this was the place I was looking for.

It didn't matter, of course. I still needed to check the terrace at the top of the house. Turning my walk into a light jog, I went up the remaining steps until I entered the third floor. The cold air hit my face at once. It seemed to be in complete disarray, too. There were loads of crates, but none of them seemed to have anything useful. To my right, I could see a set of separate rooms leading into somewhere.

I swore I could hear something, but the breeze was still very loud. At the time, I tried ignoring it, pushing my worries to the back of my head.

Heading inside, I had to push open a small metallic door. Clearly, this wasn't the prettiest area inside the house. It mostly seemed to be a storage room. To my right, there was another bathroom. This house seemed incredibly big, to be honest. However, I did not head towards the bathroom this time.

The large mirror in the middle of the room caught my attention.

It wasn't something unusual. It seemed to be strangely decorated, as if it was very old. It probably had been left along the rest of the things in this storage room. Lots of toys had been left in here too. Dolls, ducks, and bicycles were scattered across the room, along with loads of boxes stacked upon each other. Most likely, they'd left a lot of their personal things, only to never look for them once they moved.

I walked towards the mirror. Was... Was something behind it?

Trembling, I looked at the backside. Nothing. Just more boxes. There was a dollhouse, the kind that your dad builds for you when you're little so you and your friends could have tea time. I always envied girls that had these.

Pushing those thoughts away, I backed up. Since Daniel was going to probably come barging in, telling me that we should go, I decided to take a picture. I stood in the doorframe, activated the flash, and pressed the button.

Satisfied, I hurried to the bathroom. Knowing what I knew so far, this probably wasn't the last one. But seeing as I didn't know any locksmiths willing to search an abandoned house with me, this was probably the last stop. Opening the door with a slight apprehension, I peeked a bit.

It seemed different. To be honest, I couldn't tell which from which at that moment. I was terrified, in pain, and frankly exhilarated at the prospect of finding out the truth. I really wanted to see if this one would be it, so I decided to take out my phone again. Perhaps, in the middle of the day, I could look at the pictures and decide for myself. I needed more clarity.

I was opening up my camera, when something caught my eye. The last picture I took had been blurred out. I opened it.

Of course, the flash. It had reflected off of the mirror's surface and washed out a lot the surrounding room. It was practically useless.

But something else was off.

I looked behind the mirror.

I looked at the doll house.

And the doll house looked back at me.

There was someone inside it, staring straight into the camera.

Feeling the color drain from my cheeks, I screamed. I screamed as loudly as I could and ran. I ran towards the stairs, not bothering to see if anyone was behind me. I hollered Daniel's name as I ran into him on the stairs.

"What's going on??" He yelled.

"THERE'S SOMEONE INSIDE THE HOUSE. MOVE."

Hoping he had understood my words, I jumped the last set of stairs. We headed through the broken window in the living room, feeling as if the shadows from the nearby hallway would come and get us.

Stepping off of the porch and into the garden, I looked at the wall.

"Daniel, you need to jump."

"Why don't you do it?"

"It's too high, and my back's hurt! Please, help me, we need to get out!" I could feel the tears streaming down my face out of desperation as I saw my friend trembling and sweating.

"Ok, all right. Let me try this." He backed up a bit, inhaled deeply, and ran towards the wall. He caught the edge by the tip of his fingers and almost fell. I went after him, pulling him up by his feet. With some effort, he stood up.

"All right, give me your hand."

I doubted I could make it. My back hurt really bad. I gave the weakest jump I've ever given in my entire life and held on to his hand for dear life. He struggled to pulled me, as I could barely make any effort.

"Come on, Deb, help me out!"

I planted my feet on the wall, and slowly scaled the thing. By the time we were on top, my arm was tense and my legs were trembling.

"Ok, don't fall down." He looked at me. "I'll catch you."

Even if it only took a few seconds, it felt like an eternity. I thought that someone was going to grab me and drag me into the garden with the high grass again, just like in a movie. I barely managed to jump down, and Daniel hit his car as he caught me.

He separated himself from me. "Let's go."

We got into the car and drove away into the night. As the curves of the Upper Gardens got left behind, I started to cry a bit. Not out of desperation, but out of relief.

"I'm sorry Daniel, I should have been more careful."

He didn't answer.

" There was someone in there. I caught them in the camera." I took out my phone.

"I don't want to look at the pictures, Deb."

"I'm sorry. Maybe... Maybe it was a homeless person. The place looked broken into. Maybe we disturbed them while they were sleeping."

"I don't care, Deb."

I cleaned the tears off my face. "Ok." I whispered. "Sorry..."

The rest of the ride was silent. Daniel didn't bother looking at me, and I just looked at the road ahead, glad to be safe with him. By the time we reached his house, I was surprised he kept on riding. He was taking me to my house.

"Oh..." I said.

He stopped just outside my house, the little rotten house near the forest. For a moment, he didn't look at me, but before I got out, he turned.

"I don't want to see you anymore, Deb."

"What?" I blubbered.

"Every time we see each other, there's something weird going on. Frank, your brother's accident, the whole mess with Anna..."

"What are you saying? This trip was you idea!"

"I know. I wanted to see the house a bit, see if you recognized the bathrooms or anything. But this is too much. I've... I've grown. I'm trying to set up new projects, El Cinema's going good and... I just can't deal with any scandals like these."

"Daniel... We've known each other since second grade." Tears and snot were running down my face. I looked pathetic.

"Friendships don't last forever, Deb. How many of our friends actually remain? They went their separate ways. It's all a momentary pleasure. Look, I like you, but until you get your shit together... This... This cannot be."

I was frozen. He didn't say another word to me. I couldn't believe it. My back pain didn't bother me anymore. It stung before, but now it didn't I stepped out of the car, closed the door, and watched him head back to his house, 20 minutes down the road.

And that was it. Even if we lived close to each other, he never contacted me again. I'd lost all my closest connections during the past year. I locked myself in my room and cried for hours. I was so done.

I'd like to say the next five years were easy. That I decided, over the course of that summer, that I was going to transform myself into someone new. But that didn't happen. I struggled a lot, I failed a lot of classes, and met a lot people I'd rather have avoided.

That year was the worst year of my life. It was the end of so many things. But, the one good things about endings is that they allow you some closure. Even if I didn't know all of the truth, at least I knew I had put everything behind me.

That is, of course, until someone sent me the following message four weeks ago:

"Hi Deb, it's Anna. Long time no see."


VI

Monster

"Raped, tortured and slain." That's what the headline of the latest newspaper read, detailing a massacre on the border. I set the newspaper down this morning, thinking about the past few weeks.

A month earlier, I thought I had left this all behind. I'd gone and forgotten all about Anna, my friends from back then, and the incident at that house. Only the memory of my brother remained with me, but I chose to ignore what he had said to me just before he died.

Turn out, he was right. I just can't sweep everything under the rug. Especially if we're talking about the monster in the story.

Anna had contacted me in the middle of the day. I'm glad to tell you guys I managed to complete my studies. In fact, I've been doing pretty well. I have a boyfriend, even if we're only starting out. Got a job. It doesn't pay much, but I'm not broke. My past no longer haunts me.

Well.

Needless to say, when I got her message, an electrical shock pulsed through me. I dropped what I was doing.

"Hey Anna! How have you been?"

She waited a bit before responding.

"I'm all right! Good to see you're doing ok."

And that was it. That's all she wrote.

Over the next few days, she posted some pictures. I commented on them, testing the waters. She seemed to be doing very good for herself. She was dating a drummer, funnily enough. It was yet another national band, but they were a lot more popular than El Cinema ever was. To be honest, I didn't like them as much, and I laughed at the fact that they even had a drummer (let's just say their songs were a little on the acoustic side of things). However, she looked like she was doing fine, so I was glad. I was happy for her.

Her pictures showed she had moved to another state. She was living near the beach. Of course, she wasn't in one of those poor fishing villages. She'd moved to a rich neighborhood, the one where most of us couldn't go.

Yes, of course I was a bit envious.

I'd suffered a lot, I'd tried my best to move on from that year of torment while she... Just went on with her life. She hadn't lost a single thing, while I'd worried myself and others to death about her whereabouts. How could this happen? What in the hell had happened?

Obviously, I was a bit tempted to find out more. I wanted to text her, demanding to know what had happened that night. But something told me not to do it. Daniel's reprimand from five years earlier still resonated within the confines of my skull, telling me to simply give it a rest.

So I left it alone.

Another week passed, and I was doing ok. I'd just come home from work, and I was tired. This whole ordeal of wearing masks that has been going on in the past year is terrifying to me, but I am always extra careful. After washing my hands thoroughly, I took off my clothes, and lied down in my bed. Charles, my boyfriend, had told me to facecam that night, and I was briefly considering surprising him in my underwear.

Absentmindedly, I looked through my social media. It was then I noticed Anna had added me to her close circle of friends. Something in my gut told me not to look. I didn't want to. But this was maybe the only chance I would get.

I wish I hadn't.

The first picture was a black screen, full of text. Here's a little transcript of what it said:

"I know I've been away from you for a long time. Years ago, I disappeared from social media after having worried a lot of people. To be honest, it's still difficult for me to talk about that period in my life. It's honestly the worst thing I've ever had to endure, but I'm sure all of you already know that. To those that suffered with me, I'm sorry if I'm bringing up horrible memories.

I just want you to know I'm coming out with the truth."

What the hell was this?

The text was already bad enough. But it was the pictures that did the trick for me.


They were close up shots of her. I clearly recognized that they had been shot that night. She was wearing the same clothes. Some of them were in the bathroom, although I could only see the tiles on the wall. They had some text saying things like "It's horrible talking about this, but I need to vent." "These pictures are my ace in the hole." Something inside me made me feel like I was going to barf. But I kept going.

There it was. The penultimate picture was the same one she had sent me all those years ago. Something about the wall and the mirror seemed to click, but I was too busy looking at her braces. They were full of blood. I never noticed how much she had been crying that night.

Another picture. This one showed her in her bed, crying. You could see a few bruises on her left eye. I tried to look for signs that pointed out to me anything wrong in her house, but all the pictures were blurry or badly shot. Like the one I had shot back then in their storage room, the flash made everything look like shit.

However, there was one last picture.

The photo was a selfie too, but it seemed to be one of her running. She was outside. It was blurry as hell, but you could tell by the grass. The only text accompanying the picture was "I'll never forget having to run that much." It would have been a horrible enough picture, but there was one little detail that paralyzed me.

That picture hadn't been taken outside her house. Her street didn't have any forested areas.

Mine did.

Looking at the picture, it showed me a clear view of the forested area near my house. I recognized her well enough.

Years ago, I had ran naked through there too, running from a monster.

I closed my eyes for a moment. I tried to breathe calmly, but I couldn't. This didn't make sense. There was so much going on. Everything seemed wrong.

Before long, I found myself writing to two different people.

The first one was Charles. "Hey, can we do facetime tomorrow? I'm seriously not feeling well." I felt guilty, but I knew he'd understand. Hell, with any luck, I'd tell him the truth tomorrow.

The second one of course, was Anna. "We need to talk. Call me asap."

I got dressed, and headed for my car. Yes, it was late at night. I didn't care.

It was starting to rain.

It took me only fifteen minutes to reach the side of the road where I had lost myself all those years ago. By comparing it, it looked just about right. I still couldn't believe how far away it had seemed back then.

The rain was starting to slip by through the leaves, but it didn't matter. I was looking for a sign, anything. I walked through the forest, getting deeper and deeper. Something had been hidden here, I just knew it.

There was movement in the grass.

An animal?

I saw him, deep in the woods. I swear I saw him.

Dark, elongated. Yellow eyes, muscular body. Something calling out in the rain, echoing through the forest.

"Iatalapilela, Iatalapilela..."

I swear I saw it run at me, and from the shock, I fell down on the grass. I curled up into a ball, crying. I pleaded with anyone out there to help me. I had never prayed before, not once in my entire life, but I was praying now.

"I'm going to gut you, little pig. You're just a dirty pig."

"Shut up."

"It will be all right. It will be nice and easy."

"Shut up."

"I know you feel cold. I just want to make you feel warm."

"SHUT UP."

I stood up, punching the air. Nothing was there. Only the rain.

My phone was ringing.

It was Anna.

"Hey."

"Deb? You told me to call you."

"Hi Anna. I... I'm so sorry. It's been so long, but I saw the pictures and..."

"I know, I'm sorry too. I've been meaning to talk to you about all this. I think I dropped a bombshell on you, but I meant to call you soon. I know I'm not the only victim."

"What?"

"You know, a fellow victim. I know this isn't only my fight. Not after all the damage he's caused."

The world dropped at my feet.

"H-he?"

"Yeah. Wait, you do know what I'm talking about, right?"

"Sure... Listen Anna, I gotta go. Let's call each other in the morning. Maybe tomorrow. I gotta do something."

"Oh, ok, then. Listen, I'm really sorry for putting you through all this."

"I'm the one who should be sorry. I..." Raindrops fell on my skin as I swallowed. "I did things with you that I shouldn't have done. You were young, and it wasn't right. I didn't know, but it doesn't mean it was ok."

"Hey, don't worry about, it. Ok? I know what you mean, but you didn't screw up my life. It's ok. Maybe, in another world where things had gone further, you could have done me some harm. I understand why you backed away."

"Thank you Anna. Talk to you soon."

"See ya around."

My heart was leaping out of my chest. I think I finally understood something. I felt the water dripping down my skin, the grass brushing against my legs.

The grass.

It couldn't be.

I ran towards my car. The rain was getting worse, but I knew I had to end this. I needed to find out if I was correct. My feet got soaked in the mud, and every muscle in my body was tense. Charles was probably wondering what had happened, but I was pretty sure I'd need to call him later. I couldn't return home just yet.

With my car in sight, I reached for my keys. I turned around one last time to look at the forest from my childhood. I looked for any signs of the shadow man, but I couldn't see him.

Maybe, we'd meet again in another lifetime.

Once inside my car, I looked at my phone. I was looking at the pictures, trying to piece together something. Something that had been buried inside all these years. I hadn't been naive, I hadn't been stupid.

I just didn't want to see it.

"She was hiding behind the glass, Deb. I knew it was wrong but they told me it was ok, so I did it. I'm so sorry, I know I fucked up."

They told her it was ok. Yeah, I'm sure they did.

The picture in the bathroom. I looked at the braces, covered in blood.

Those damn braces.

Now I knew why they unnerved me.

I had been hearing the whole thing wrong.

The word wasn't "she".

And she wasn't talking about glass.

I turned on my car. It was time to meet the monster.


VII

End

Her voice was now clear in my ears. I'd never felt this. Through all my years of doubt, fear and dread, I'd never felt so much clarity. There was one thing I needed to do. It was the most stupid, idiotic thing I could have done, but I didn't give a shit. If the past wanted to rear its head, I was going to stare back.

My car was racing along the street, with the rain pouring in. I wanted to go faster, but I knew what could happen if I did. Sil's voice was still ringing in my ears. The story was not going to repeat itself. This time, it was different.

Carefully taking the curve which took my brother's life, I sped up as fast as I could through the main street. No one was stopping me.

Well, except for a few trashcans.

I pushed the brakes too late, knocking them over. They caused a ruckus, and I'm quite sure they dented my car. I don't know, never bothered to check. In any case, I had reached my destination. Every single neighbor seemed to hear the noise, which was good. I wanted witnesses just in case.

I pushed open my car's door and turned around, heading for the house. I rang the doorbell and screamed my lungs out.

The noise reverberated through the Rodriguez household.

It didn't take long. As soon as I started yelling, I could hear motion inside the house. It was funny. I hadn't been there in over five years, but I already knew who was going to open the door.

Daniel's familiar face appeared before me.

"Deb? What the hell are you doing?"

"Let me in."

"What?"

"Let me in or I'll cause a fucking scandal. You'd better believe me."

He didn't seem to understand, but he left the door open. I struggled to avoid shivering, but I waited until he had closed the door.

"Are your parents home? Anyone"

"What? No. What the hell are you talking about? Why did you come her--

I punched him. I had never punched someone so hard in my life. I wanted to keep going, but of course he grabbed me. Pushing me away, I fell on the grass.

"What the hell is going on with you?" A trickle of blood was dripping from his lip. "Have you gone crazy? Do I need to call the police?"

"I know, Daniel."

"What?"

"I know everything that happened with Anna."

This seemed to shock him.

"You're such a pig."

"What are you talking about? Are you still obsessed with Anna? Jesus Christ, get out of my house. I'm going to call the cops."

"Oh, really? Do it." I was trying to call his bluff. I managed to stand up, the rain falling hard on us.

Slowly but surely, he took out his phone. He was dialing a number. He put the phone to his face.

"Anna was Lisp Girl, wasn't she?"

His eyes perked up in that familiar way. He ended the call.

"You... How do you know?"

"The braces. The fucking braces, Daniel! They didn't let her speak correctly. She was always mispronouncing stuff, I'm sure.

The only problem was that I never noticed that. It's a bit hard to notice if you mostly communicate via text and images."

He was still staring at me. Something resembling shame was beginning to flare up on his face. Rage, as well.

"That night, she told me that someone was hiding behind... The grass. Not glass, grass."

"And you think that was me?"

"I know it was you. Don't you see, you little shit? I caught you. It all makes sense. This is why Estella never bothered to talk to any of us again. She didn't break up with you, she was disgusted. Anna was...

Anna was a child, Daniel. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"It didn't happen. Not the way you think it did."

"Yeah, I'm sure. I'm sure it was only teasing. I'm sure your bandmates probably made her feel very safe and very secure in all this. They told her it was ok, made her think like she had any real responsibility in the whole act."

"Deb, just go home. There's nothing to talk about here." He headed for the door.

"What did you do that night, Daniel? Did you try to take things up a notch?" He stopped. "That night, you were trying to do something different. I'm sure you had the house to yourself."

Cat and mouse.

Maybe I had a bit of responsibility. I had joked with him about all this. I didn't bother to see the signs because I didn't want to.

"Deb, just leave. Last warning."

"All right."

I got out of the house. I knew I shouldn't push my luck. Even if I managed to convince him that Anna had photographic proof, this wasn't a movie. This wasn't a thriller were the killer chases the final girl through the gigantic house in a climactic confrontation.

"Just one last thing," I said, getting into my car. I made sure to start the engine before saying my piece. Oddly enough, looking at him, wet and desperate under the rain, felt like an exact mirror opposite of the last time we had seen each other.

"I think I know why you wanted to come with me to Anna's household that night. You wanted to make sure I was telling the truth that day. You needed to see for yourself that I hadn't ever been inside Anna's house. That way, we could maybe check the first floor, have a spook or two, call it a night, and be done with it.

But you had always planned on letting that be the end of our friendship, no? Right from the start." His lip started trembling. He knew what I was about to say.

"You had to make sure I never got inside your house again. You knew that even if I never used another bathroom that wasn't my own, it was a huge risk.

You knew the only reason why I didn't recognize the bathroom Anna was in that night... Was because the only time I had visited it had been during the night I'd been drugged."

I didn't give him time to react. I drove on and on. Two weeks later, I still don't know how I managed to avoid making the same mistake Sil did. I drove as fast I could, trying to create as much distance between Daniel's house and mine. I left my car in the parking garage, and locked myself in. Told my parents what had been going on. I called Charles, told him to come because I was feeling unsafe.

I had a small panic attack, and I retreated into my room. I swore I could hear him. I thought Daniel was going to reach out from the hallway, and into my room. I'd made him think I was the only one who knew.

Of course, he never came. This wasn't a movie.

What did happen is that the very next day, Anna accused him on social media. Turns out, she had a picture of someone following her through a house, a bite mark on his lip. You couldn't make out his face, but he had a familiar shirt.

I'd recognize El Cinema's logo anywhere.

Problem is, this doesn't usually go away. Daniel's band was cancelled on the internet, and he's facing a lot of public outcry here in my country. However, he's the one who decided to take things into a more legal matter. Obviously, he's denying any of this happened. The pictures Anna has posted have only been made to her private, best friend's list. I'm sure they'll come in handy when the time comes.

He's saying right now that he's facing defamation without fact. I just can't abide by that. He ruined so many lives, I just simply can't accept that.

To be perfectly clear, I plan on making everyone know about him. Maybe I can't prove it, maybe it's already too late to do anything useful. But I'm going to try.

I'm sorry, Anna. I know you would like for this to remain private. In a way, I'm hurting you too. It's not like she hasn't already gone public about this. But maybe telling the whole story in such a broad way is a bit too much. Like I've said many times before, I'm not sure if this is the right thing.

Now, of course the details have been changed. Of course some names have been changed too.

But not all of them. You can read about the important ones on the news. It's just a quick Google search.

Do you want confirmation? Do you want to know what's real and what's made up? Read on.

One thing that's absolutely made up is of course Notes from Elsewhere, the old game. I wish it was real. It would have helped. But no, there was no game.

That easter egg? About the truth hidden in the beginnings of each chapter? I wasn't talking about a game.

I was talking about this story.



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