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When was the first time you saw a familiar face? No, I’m not mad – I know that sounds like a stupid thing to ask, an illogical thing to ask. It’s a somewhat paradoxical question, but one that I have been left to ponder every day. This question has rooted itself at the core of my existence, the core of my very being. When was the first time I saw that face? His face?

I have settled on it being around the time I was 8 or 9 years old. As a child, you tend to take the world at face value – some would call that trust. I call it blindness, blindness to what is really out there, and a naivety that those around you can protect you from it. It’s hard to place exactly when I started to realise that the Everyman wasn’t a normal thing to be seeing – he’s not really the kind of thing that a kid talks to a parent or friend about. I’d probably been seeing him for a while too – again, the paradox of the familiar face. Had he been there since I was born? Was it really 9 whole years into my cursed existence when I finally recognised him?

You’re probably wondering what the fuck an Everyman is. Honestly, I am too, and have been for years now. I saw him everywhere, in places that he couldn’t and shouldn’t possibly be. Always the same person, the same face, no matter how far I travelled or how quickly I travelled there. I could see the Everyman sitting by himself in a café as I walked past the windows. He would then appear briefly as a passenger on a train travelling the opposite direction to mine, before somehow beating me home and delivering mail to my next-door neighbour. He was anywhere and everywhere at once, and his purpose appeared to be me. I knew that the Everyman was not supposed to be a thing. As a young child, and especially into my early teen years, I fully understood that someone cannot be everywhere at the same time. I fully understood that many characters in the periphery of my life could not share the same face, the same mannerisms. The knowledge that, despite these physical constraints, the Everyman very much was a thing perturbed me in a most peculiar way. He only existed on the fringes of my experiences in life, but the effect he had on me was profound – I wasn’t sure if I should be wary, afraid, or absolutely terrified. Kind of like being approached by an unfamiliar dog on the street – despite the fact that the tail is wagging and the tongue is hanging out, you can’t shake the uneasy feeling that beneath that benign façade, there is something animalistic and unpredictable lurking. Something that at the flick of an evolutionary switch, could devour you.

It was no surprise that at some point, this predicament was answered for me. The ‘absolutely terrified’ option is exactly what I should have been feeling – I should have been bolting the other direction when that metaphorical dog wandered up to me on the street. The day that answered my conundrum was in my late years of primary school, and I was catching the bus home like I had every day for the past four years. As I stepped onto the bus, my heart caught in my throat as I realised who my driver was. It was him, staring down at me as I boarded, his auburn eyes burning into mine. He had never directly intervened in my life before – always a face on a train, in a crowd walking the other way, or walking his Everydog at the park. As I mentioned, I was aware of how he shouldn’t exist by this age – 12 was old enough to understand that countless people cannot share the same face. 12 was also old enough to have noticed that he only hung around the edges of my life, like some malevolent vignette on my experiences. But on this day, as the rain streamed down, the Everyman made his first move closer to me.

“I… I’ll walk,” I stuttered, almost falling back off the bus. The Everyman smiled, an awful expression that I could never forget. Forty-three muscles are required to smile, and in the Everyman’s case, I could see each one of them moving individually, robotically, one after the other. It only took him maybe two seconds to smile properly, but it felt like all the time in the world. Each muscle contracting in turn, his awful features slowly transforming into a socially acceptable construct, one frame at a time. His teeth were too perfectly white, slightly too pointed at the tips to be properly human. His ears were slightly too small for his head, and one was ever so slightly higher than the other. His hair was matted, damp, and looked like it had been applied haphazardly. His whole awful appearance looked like some demon from the darkest recesses of hell had hastily assembled a human, with the intent of blending in, despite not having seen many humans before. It was slightly wrong, but entirely, consumingly, terrifying.

I ran.

Feet slapping the wet pavement, trying to put as much distance between myself and that wretched demon. I knew it was in vain; he was anywhere he needed to be. He smiled at me from a passing Toyota Avalon as I ran, his expression completely unchanged from how he was on the bus. I caught another glimpse as he adjusted his raincoat as he walked, something tucked under his arm. He wasn’t smiling anymore, just staring intently at me. Like he was looking beyond my flesh, and into my soul. His Everydog, its hair matted in the same distinctly incorrect way as the beast walking it, stared at me too, its head rotating to a bizarre angle as I sprinted past. I didn’t dare look behind me to witness the degree of rotation that their necks could achieve, I didn’t want to know. But I know that those eyes were fixed on me, even as I became obscured by the driving sheets of rain. I burst through the front door, collapsed and cried. I felt defeated – he was no longer some peripheral character in my life, and I couldn’t reconcile the thought that he was trying to be closer to me. How much closer did he need to get? What would he do when he finally got the opportunity to touch me?

I didn’t leave the house for a few days – I didn’t even have to feign being ill. My pale complexion, constant sweating, and inability to hold down solid food as a result of my consuming anxiety were strong enough motivators to my parents to keep me home. When I did eventually need to re-engage with the real world, I could feel the sweat trickling down from my armpits, and feel my hands quivering in my pockets. My eyes would dart around the streets, snapping back and forward from one living thing to the next, looking for those hideous features. Like watching a horror movie, I didn’t really want to see him – but I had to watch regardless, had to make sure the coast was clear. He didn’t show. Not in any meaningful way, at least. He would drive past on occasion, eyes more fixated on me than the road, yet managing to navigate the traffic regardless. He would sit in cafés, pretending to drink our human beverages while he stared through the glass at me outside.

But he didn’t engage, didn’t attempt to approach me again. I was thankful, but not complacent. For a few years, he seemed to keep his distance from me, again retreating to the periphery of my life. As I grew older, and gained more freedom in my life, I also developed a set of rules for when I saw him, to keep my options for escape if need be. I would stick to well populated areas, and if I saw him, would make sure I moved with the crowd until he was out of sight. I reasoned that if he had the means to harm me in a crowd, he would have done so that day on the bus. It was up to me to deny him the opportunity to get me alone. I would always memorise my exit routes as I walked through new places, much like how flight attendants ask you to count the number of rows between your seat and the exit row, in the event you need to escape through smoke and debris. In the heat of the moment, I needed the awareness to navigate away without running into a dead end. Never run into a dead end. I also carried a small Leatherman Multi-tool, with a 4 inch S40V stainless steel blade, that I convinced myself would somehow pierce the demon. Good, in theory, but I was always going to let my guard down eventually.

I’d had a few beers and was relaxed for the first time in months. High School grades had been released, and I had scored highly enough to study Science at University. Strolling home from the pub in the summer night air, I let my defences go. Cutting through the shopping precinct would save me about 10 minutes, and on this night I didn’t hesitate. I’d made it most the way thorough the largely abandoned building when I saw him. Mopping the floor as the last retailers closed up for the day, his movements as mechanical as they had been all those years ago on the bus. The mop juddered across the same section of clean floor again and again, as he swivelled his head a near 180 degrees to lock eyes with me. Those hateful, auburn eyes.

Schlop schlop.

The mop still moving, its rhythm unbroken, while its user’s head faced directly away.

Clatter.

The mop dropped to the tiled floor, released by its demonic user. This is the part where you run away. I bolted. Where are my exits?? I sprinted passed the bakery and swung left down a corridor. I could hear footsteps behind me; heavy and awkward, like a beast just learning to walk. I dared not look back to see how close he was. I swung right, retracing my steps from before. Wasn’t there a café there? I was going the wrong way. The dead-end way, toward the bathrooms and the loading dock. The loading dock would be locked at this time of night, and I couldn’t backtrack. He was there.

Fuck.

My only option was the bathrooms, which I barged into and practically dove into the final stall. I slid the bolt into the door, as if that miserable scrap of steel would resist him if he tried.

Fuck fuck fuck.

I tried to slow my breathing, tried to reduce my racing heartbeat so it couldn’t be heard. Surely he won’t come in here. He hasn’t tried to get close to me for years. The door to the bathroom opened, slowly, mechanically. My heart sank. He was here, and he wanted me. I fumbled in my pocket, extracting my trusty Leatherman, and flicking the tiny blade out. It dawned on me in that moment that four inches of mass-produced carbon steel was probably not a suitable weapon for defending myself against an omnipresent threat, but it was all I had. I gripped the body of the multi-tool hard, trying to keep the sweat of my palms from causing it to slip. I heard him enter the room, feet falling heavily on the tiled floor. His awkward gait was magnified by the otherwise silent bathroom, his erratic footfalls echoing off the walls.

Raaakkk-tssskk-tssskk-tssskkk.

A nasal, ferocious sound.

Raaakkk-tssskk-tssskk-tssskkk.

I whimpered, struggling to contain my fear. I had never actually heard the Everyman before, I realised. He had never spoken to me, and I had never overheard him in a crowd. Now I knew why he kept his mouth shut around others. That was not a noise of this world. The Everyman wandered closer to the stall I was in, and I could hear his rasping breath.

Raaakkk-tssskk-tssskk-tssskkk.

I slumped down in the stall, cowering away from the door. It sounded like he was metres from me, and in moments he would be bashing down that door. There was nowhere to go. Nothing but obnoxiously white tiles. I had finally failed. It dawned on me that I was quite genuinely about to die, and the thought terrified me beyond comprehension. I felt warm urine dribble down the inside of my leg.

Kibbet! Carron! Raaacccckkk!

Short, sharp, horrible words. Some gibberish alien language, presumably relating to killing or eating.

Farret! Arrcckk! Tarit!

He sounded angry, confused almost. Like he was arguing with himself. The footsteps had stopped, and besides the awful, guttural words that he spat out, there was silence. It sounded like he was fighting with his own tongue to get words out. Each one sounded almost painful for him to utter, like it was a genuine effort to make noise.

Lakik! Spreettt!

He spat more of his awful gibberish, and I heard a gob of his saliva hit the floor. I had to do something here, this was my chance. I refused to cower and die in that horrible stall. I could hear his awful rasping right outside my stall door now, only centimetres from the wood. I eyed off the miserable little steel bolt holding the door shut, slightly askew from years of abuse. It wouldn’t keep the Everyman out, but it also wouldn’t keep me in. It wouldn’t restrain 80kg of 19-year-old male fighting for his life. I braced myself, gripping the Leatherman tight in my right hand. Ram the door, swivel right, stab. Keep stabbing. Keep stabbing until he stops moving or you die. I closed my eyes, steeling myself. I dropped my shoulder and threw my entire body weight into the door. The lock splintered, pieces of plywood spraying everywhere. I raised the knife up in my feeble attempt to harm the Everyman, swinging with fury, hoping to connect. I connected with air. Nothing.

I crashed through the door, stumbled, and hit the tile floor hard. The Leatherman clattered from my hand, bouncing across the tiles, horribly loud in the confined space. There was nobody there. No Everyman waiting to devour me. No sign of anyone else in the bathroom at all. I lay there for a moment, taking in the silence, before shakily getting to my feet. For the first time in years, I went home and cried. Something had changed that night. He no longer wanted to wait on the sidelines, observing. He was more than capable of approaching me, and he had shown me his voice. He was getting bolder, closer to his purpose, and that was terrifying. Despite this, he was happy to wait. Happy to play with his food, torture my psyche and pervade the little freedom I had left. He had all the time in the world, but I didn’t. Because something had changed inside of me that night as well. It was time that I stopped running, crying, pissing myself like a helpless child. It was the night that an awful, beautiful thought dawned in my mind. I should kill the Everyman.

***

If I move, he moves. If I don’t move, he doesn’t. That was my first realisation about the Everyman. Once I made my decision to stop running, I could see it all so much clearer. I had never actually seen the Everyman swap between people – he always changed when I moved around, to a new environment or a new crowd. I had no idea what he did with the people he overtook – but I do know that I never saw them again. It took me weeks to get on the bus again way back in Primary School, but the driver was new. I wandered past the shops again on occasion too, and the night janitor is now an older woman. When I could see him, he would always remain in the person he had chosen – able to see me, able to follow me, but not able to change. When he did change, they were gone. This was his weakness, if a demon could have a weakness. I made the assumption that his physical prowess would be related to the body that he was in – I had never seen him perform feats of strength beyond what would be manageable by the one he possessed. The plan forming in my mind was simple – I had to wait until he made a mistake. Wait until he chose someone vulnerable.

I threw what possessions I had in my car and left town, stopping here and there at quiet little spots, waiting to see who he would take. In one town it was the bakery assistant, a skinny young kid whose wiry frame really exaggerated the Everyman’s awkward nature. I tried to follow him, but he lived in an apartment block which means I lost sight of him for hours at a time. The Everyman had become a taxi driver by then, patrolling the streets for a ride or a meal. He lived out of town; after his shift, he and his taxi disappeared. I didn’t wait around to confirm that he never came back the next day. I was already on the road to my next stop, where the Everyman owned a café, then a bookstore, and was then a police officer with a 9mm handgun strapped to his waist. They all stared at me as I drove through, but he never made a move. Neither did I. Did he know that he was no longer the predator? Did he care? Was my hunt of him part of his game, part of his plan to finally claim me for whatever purpose? I left town again, this time for somewhere quieter again.

It was after days of this that he finally slipped up. Finally made his mistake in his hunt of me. How it would turn out for me, I didn’t know, but I felt sure that this was it. My chance. The town was a backwater little place, and the Everyman had chosen from his limited selection. A small, thin, middle-aged man that lived in a house on the edge of a pine forest. He was easy to follow from the town’s solitary pub back to his house, and I kept my eye on him all evening. Lying in the grass under my heavy coat, I watched him as he watched TV, and brewed pots of tea. Each movement was mechanical, laboured. Frequently, his horrible eyes would dart around in the darkness, hunting for something in the inky night. Hunting for me. For once, those horrid eyes couldn’t see their prey. But mine could.

I lay there on that freezing knoll all night, making sure I didn’t lay eyes on another human. I could take no chances. He could take nobody else. When first light broke and the back door of the meagre house opened, I was for once excited to see his terrible complexion. Those ugly, beady eyes. The cheekbones that were slightly too pronounced, not so much as to raise attention, but enough to be hauntingly familiar to me. The oily greying hair, just starting to lose a bit of thickness on the top, starting to expose the slightest glimpse of a grey scalp. The pointed nose, always with a couple of noticeable acne scars on the left-hand side. That horrible face that I had spent years running from, hiding from.

I gingerly got up from my uncomfortable camp and followed him into the woods. He moved slowly in his current body, his mechanical limp amplified by the limitations of the meat suit that he chose. His error. I could hear the horrible rasp of his breath in the still morning air, the same awful noise that had made me wet myself months ago in that bathroom stall, and that has haunted my dreams since. I caught up to him quickly, but he didn’t seem to notice me until I was close. He turned, his head swivelling faster than his body, each one of his core muscles seeming to engage separately to rotate his mass around to face me. I was metres away now and closing the gap. His face began to break into that godawful smile, the one that made me weak at the knees as a kid, and still haunts me as an adult. Each one of those forty-three muscles, straining against their unholy nature to portray a socially appropriate façade. I swung the wood splitter quickly, with a force that even surprised me. I think the Everyman saw it moments before impact, the dim light of the forest combining with the sun behind me to hide it from view until it was almost overhead. Those horrible muscles began, I think, to re-arrange into an expression of surprise, but they were too slow. My axe was faster to reach his face, and it made a shuddering connection with the bridge of that ugly, pointed nose. I don’t know what I expected to happen. The axe to harmlessly bounce off the demon, for him to laugh with that awful voice of his before eviscerating me in those lonely woods? For the axe to pass straight through him like a ghost?

Thwwaaacckkk

Instead, kilograms of steel thundered into his awful face, crumpling flesh and bone as if it was made of paper. The axe head lodged awfully in his ruined skull, the Everyman swayed momentarily. A terrible, mechanical swaying, as each of his dying muscles tried to pretend one last time to be human. The Everyman slumped to the ground, motionless and quiet. Thick blood oozed from what used to be his face, soaking into the soil at my feet. He hadn’t managed to swap or change. His horrible features were all still there, soaked in blood and increasingly lifeless, but still there. I had done it. I started digging.

***

More than a week later, I still hadn’t seen him. I started off slowly, wandering quiet streets and examining small cafes and stores. He was nowhere to be seen, and no one. My bus and train drivers were all real, unique humans. I ventured to the city, immersed myself in crowds, and he did not make an appearance. Once or twice, I thought that I had maybe caught him in a reflection, but it always turned out to be an unfortunate soul, cursed with one of his ugly features. It wasn’t him, though. He was gone. After two weeks had passed, I had to convince myself that I had really done it. That’s why, this morning, I drove back out to that backwater town at the crack of dawn and took a walk into those woods. I traced my steps carefully; years of paranoia had made me very good at seeing landmarks in what others might not. I found the patch of slightly disturbed soil where I had left the Everyman and got to digging for the second time. I’m not sure what I expected. Was I expecting his shallow grave to be empty? Was I expected him to look as I had left him, as if still almost alive? As I dug into the soil, the putrid smell of rot invaded my nose, making me dry retch. As the final layer of topsoil was removed, his shattered skull came into view, pieces of putrefying flesh hanging off shards of bone. The smell was overwhelming. I urged myself not to throw up – he wasn’t human, wasn’t worth losing my breakfast over. I hastily covered the putrescent remains and left those woods for good – left the Everyman to rot in the dirt, where demons and monsters belong.

As I drove back out of town, posters labelled “Missing Person” were visible, plastered to almost every surface. The posters had a picture of an ordinary, middle aged man of slight build, with the name “Lex Davis” in massive font underneath. Maybe that’s what the people of the town used to call him. A man in an orange puffer jacket was busy taping another poster to the pub’s front windows as I trundled by. He turned to me and waved, a friendly, if not slightly mechanical gesture. I went to wave back but caught myself. I knew I’d seen his face somewhere before.

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