She couldn't stop staring at his eyes. They were cold, dead. Two black slits in a pale face. She couldn't even tell what color they had been. Something about them sent a chill up her spine.
On many a night, her morbid curiosity had sent her to "that part" of the internet. John and Jane Does were among her favorite research topics: the lost, forgotten dead, nameless and claimed by no one. The tingle of fear that came with each story was delicious to her. She reveled in it, relishing the ability to create her own little slice of Halloween, no matter the time of year. That was, until tonight.
They had found him on a beach in a far off country, dead of an apparent suicide, though by what means had never been discovered. She imagined him resting there, his head against the rocky sea wall, his arm outstretched, his body unnaturally still. His mystery enveloped her. Whom had he been? A dancer? A criminal? A spy? The handful of disconnected clues swirled through her brain.
And then she saw his picture.
Her mind went totally blank at the sight of that lifeless face filling her computer screen. She was no stranger to the horrors the internet had to offer. At times, she deliberately went forth in search of the sickest, most disturbing things to be found on the surface web. Accidents, beheadings, suicides. She had seen a little bit of everything. Gruesome and disgusting though it all was, it was manageable. Why, then, did this simple black and white photograph of a middle-aged man's face fill her with such terror?
Her desire to find the answer waned with each passing second. At last, finding the strength that had previously drained from her arms, she reached up and closed her laptop with a hard slap. Even so, that face remained before her mind's eye, the one screen she could never turn off.
To busy herself was the only solution. A glance at the clock revealed the time to be half past eleven at night. It was still a long way off from her usual bedtime, but she needed noise. She needed movement. A moment later, she stood at her bathroom sink, furiously brushing the enamel from her teeth. The mixture of coolness and pain was welcome. It soothed her and, with a distinct spring in her step, she hurried off to bed with a clear mind.
As soon as her head hit the pillow, she fell into a deep sleep, leaving all memory of that ghastly, dead face far behind her. There she stayed, never stirring a limb until some time later when a strange and foreign sound filled the darkness of her room. It was very soft at first, but decidedly present. A kind of percussive swishing. As the noise grew in volume, she realized she had heard it before. It was the crashing of waves on the shore. What the hell? she wondered, sleepily. She lived nowhere near a beach, and even in her groggy state, she knew nothing in her bedroom was capable of making such a sound.
She rolled over onto her back with the intention of sitting up and surveying the room, but the sight that met her eyes prevented her from getting that far. Hovering directly above her, seemingly pressed against the ceiling, was a dark shape. It was unmistakably human, a man judging by the frame. It somehow stuck out among the darkness, as if it were humming and vibrating with some kind of indescribable energy. The sight of it shook her. She wanted to run, but found herself paralyzed. Not even her eyelids would obey her command to close.
As she watched against her will, the figure began a slow descent toward her. As it inched ever closer, the light from the nearby window landed on its features. Her horror only intensified. It was him. The dead man whose picture had disturbed her so much. Now, that dead face was floating above her, coming nearer and nearer. She tried to scream, but no sound escaped her throat. Only the sound of the waves pounding the sand could be heard, growing louder and louder as the dead man descended.
Soon, he was within arms' reach of her, his face plainly visible, lifeless and tilted at the same angle as in the photograph she'd seen. For a moment, he hung there, as still as he must have been that morning on the beach where they found him. Suddenly, the man's head jerked forward. Those black slits seemed to train themselves on her. She watched as the muscles in that face slowly tensed and tightened. The eyes grew wide, seeing her just as she saw him. The mouth opened wide in a silent scream. If the face had been terrifying before, now with its mask of fear, it was unbearable.
Just as she felt herself on the brink of losing sanity, the man fell the final distance. The sudden impact and full weight of his body combined with the deafening crash of the ocean to overwhelm her senses. After a split second of excruciation, her world went black.
The first sense to return was hearing. Once again, it was the ocean she heard, though the roaring and crashing had subsided. Now, the sound of the surf could be heard, rhythmic and calm, intermixed with the caw of a faraway seagull. A gust of cool air tingled her skin. At last, she opened her eyes.
She found herself on an empty beach. The sun hung low in the sky. Morning? she wondered. Up and down, she scanned the shoreline, but there was not a single other person to be found. At the same time, she realized she was sitting, leaning up against something. A quick glance behind her revealed a crudely build and slightly battered sea wall. What the hell? she asked herself for the second time in a short while. Where was she? How did she get here?
Her heart began to pound as the sights and sounds she'd endured only moments before came flooding back to her. They paved the way for an absurd, but shattering conclusion. "No, no, no, no, no!" she cried out. She felt the words leave her throat, but the voice was completely foreign. Slowly, she raised her hands into her field of vision. It took less than a second to confirm that they were not her own.
Panic gripped her. "No!" she shouted once more. "This cannot be happening!" But every test of reality she conducted led her back to the same truth. She discovered the clothing she wore was a suit. The skin on her face was rough, her bone structure unfamiliar. Even a check between her legs revealed more than was previously there. Despair set in as she added all the signs together. She knew whom she had become.
She sobbed loudly, her pitiful wails flying off in the wind and falling on the ears of no one. Utterly at a loss, she balled her hands into fists and beat at her flattened chest. As she did so, something small and hard could be felt in the front pocket of her suit jacket. Her instinctive curiosity took over, and she fished it out to see what it might be. There, in her hand, was a small glass bottle, filled about halfway with a clear liquid. No label could be found to shed any light on its contents, but then perhaps she didn't need one. She had a feeling she knew what the bottle contained.
She took one more look around the beach. How quiet it seemed now, as if nature itself knew something profound was about to take place. After a moment, she brought her attention back to the bottle. She took a deep breath, pulled the stopper, and swallowed all she could of the bitter liquid. Once the bottle was empty, she threw it as hard as she could into the encroaching waves.
A strange peace overtook her. Exhaustion set in, though whether from her ordeal or the bottle, she couldn't tell. Calmly, silently, she laid her head against the sea wall and closed her eyes, letting the rhythm of the waves carry her off.
Written by Jdeschene