At the time I had no idea how close I had come to dying. The rain was belting into the windscreen of my Subaru Impreza as I flew along the rural highway, with Flume blaring through my mediocre speakers. The sun would have been low in the sky if it were it not for the thick cumulous that completely obscured it. I was probably going too fast, thinking back to it. The water was pooling on the uneven surface of the road, and I could feel each puddle tugging at my tyres as I flew along.
I never even saw the Commodore Ute start to pull out from a T-intersection fifty metres ahead of me, and didn’t react at all. Maybe the wet road caused his wheels to skid as he tried to take off, preventing him from entering my lane. Maybe he looked up and saw my aftermarket rally-style lights bearing down on him at the last second. Regardless of why, we didn’t crash. The side of my Subaru rocketed past his front bumper at 130km/h, with maybe one inch separating us. One inch that meant the difference between me continuing on my way, and being flung off the side of the road in a cataclysmic accident that would no doubt have left me dead. The strange thing is I had no idea that it had happened until that night, when I had the most realistic dream of my entire life. It was so impossibly close to being the end of it all, close enough that I really reconsidered my driving habits. It was too close, though, for the Whispering Man. Too close to him getting what he felt he deserved.
I woke up crying the first time he showed it to me. The dream was frighteningly real; every aspect of my car was exactly as it was in real life. It was like an out of body experience of sorts; me viewing my car tearing along the road from the outside. I could see myself in the driver’s seat, staring blankly out of my rain-obscured windshield. I remember wondering why I was watching myself drive this featureless piece of road, until I saw the Ute arrive at the intersection. In slow motion, I watched as the Ute driver went to pull onto the road, right in front of my speeding Impreza. I saw his vehicle hesitate, either a slight loss of traction or the driver reducing the throttle, providing the measly one inch of spacing between life and death.
Two things then happened at once, like two videos being played side by side. In one, my Impreza kept speeding along the road, the driver blissfully unaware of the near accident. In the other, the Ute moved another inch, the bumper catching under my left-rear guard. At nearly 130km/h, my car skewed un-recoverably to the left. I applied full right steering in a vain attempt to keep my car on the road, but couldn't stop my front right tyre from digging into the soft shoulder of the road, collapsing the steering rack and suspension. My car lifted fully off the ground, fragments of my shattered sub-frame fanning out in all directions. I braced myself uselessly against the B-pillar and closed my eyes. Still travelling at around 100km/h, the car ploughed into the ground roof first, collapsing like a tin can. The windows all blew out, and the thin sheet metal was physically torn from the chassis by the rough ground. I lost sight of myself but I was confident that I had died in that enormous initial impact. The Impreza rolled another three times before coming to a rest inverted, completely unrecognisable.
I didn’t want to look in the cabin, but my viewing position approached the car regardless. The smell was what I noticed first; a hideous combination of hydraulic fluid, petrol, blood and shit. I didn’t even think you could smell in a dream, but this odour was horrific enough that I almost threw up. My body was held in place by the dashboard and steering wheel, with about 3 inches between the wheel and my seat. All my ribs were obviously crushed, and bloody pulp was drooling from my mouth. My head was twisted at an angle that meant my neck was shattered, and the right side of my face was simply gone. A grotesque combination of tendons and skin held cracked pieces of my skull in mid-air, and a small amount of my brain seemed to be on what was left of the B-pillar. My right arm was fifty metres behind the car, where it first rolled. The dream made me stare at the monstrosity that I had become for what felt like eternity before it allowed me to exit the cabin. As I stood up next to the mangled wreck, I noticed someone else standing nearby, observing. It was a man, I guessed, dressed head to toe in a black robe. I could just make out a large amulet of sorts hanging around his neck, but there was no face. He just stood there, motionless, while I stared at him.
What the fuck did he want? I could faintly hear words, too, as if he were trying to talk to me incredibly softly. I strained to make them out, but woke with a start, crying and physically sick. I knew right then that the near crash really happened, it was just far too real to be a figment of my imagination. I could have sworn too, that just for a second after I woke up, I could still hear the whispering.
For the next three weeks, I got shown the same horrific dream every night. It was always exactly the same, and there was nothing I could do to stop myself spending an age staring at my own hideously mangled corpse. I tried with all my might to move anywhere but where the dream took me, but to no avail. It was like some omnipotent force was drawing me along; forcing me to see what I had almost become. I didn’t know if it was trying to teach me a lesson, the man in the cape that is. He never said anything intelligible, and every night simply stood on the side of the road observing my eviscerated car. I yelled at him, screamed at him even, trying to understand why he was subjecting me to this horror, but he never reacted. Every night I woke crying, and every night I swore I could hear the unintelligible whispering for a second longer.
I obviously tried everything to get rid of the terrible dreams. I drank myself into a stupor, only to find myself perfectly conscious as I was shown my corpse in that wreckage. I took pills to prevent me from sleeping, but when I eventually gave in to the demands of rest, I was at the crash site once more. I even went to see a psychologist, and got the whole thing off my chest in a desperate attempt to make the robed figure and my mangled corpse leave me alone. To my genuine surprise, it was actually the psychologist who mentioned a “Whispering Man” first.
I had just got to explain the figure that stood by the road side when he interjected “Was the figure whispering to you?” I must have looked at the psychologist with an incredulous expression because he went on to explain (in limited detail, of course) that a previous patient had complained of similar recurring nightmares of their own death. They had described a hooded figure in their dreams too, one that stood near the site of their death and whispered unintelligible words at them. The psychologist had suggested that it might be a subconscious representation of Death, and encouragingly continued that the patient in question stopped needing to see him a few weeks after starting on some heavier medication. I was relieved to hear that there was medication that could apparently rid me of my current ailment, but found the similarities between my hooded figure and the other patient’s to be concerning. I had never really actively imagined what Death would look like, but if I had to I would go for a skeleton on a black steed, carrying his stereotypical scythe. How could someone else, who I presume I’d never met, imagine the same hooded figure with the same amulet? I don’t know how I managed to even get to sleep that night, but when I did, it was beautiful, dreamless sleep for the first time in nearly a month. I woke up at dawn thinking about how wonderful it was to not dream, until I heard it. Not trailing off, like normal when I woke up, but starting. The whispering.
My blood ran cold as I realised the noise was not stopping like usual. I could still hear it, extremely faint, but there. I wondered how I could possibly hear the noise in my waking life; the hooded figure was only in my dreams. Wasn’t it?
I looked out my bedroom window, half expecting to see the brooding cloaked figure motionless in my front yard, but there was nothing. The noise trailed off, which surprisingly gave me little comfort. I had this horrible, creeping feeling that whatever it was that had been manifesting in my dream was now not a figment of my imagination at all.
The next few days passed in much the same way. Each day, I heard the whispering noise for slightly longer, and the volume was slightly higher. I can’t really explain, but it was as if the noise existed apart from all other noise. Even with a background of cars and people, I could hear the whispering. It was as if it was being spoken directly into my ear, while being too indistinct for me to hear what the words were. Occasionally I would catch a single word that seemed to be in English, but I could never grasp any meaning. I couldn’t tell if it was trying to communicate with me, or if it was, why. I was genuinely starting to wonder if I was losing my mind due to the heavy drugs I was on, so decided I would try to do a little bit of digging into whether anybody else had experienced acute psychosis as a side effect of what I was taking. There were plenty of reports of the usual psychotic episodes, but nothing that really sounded like what I was suffering. I tried searching for “hooded figure” and “whispering man” on the Internet but nothing of any substance came up there either. I was close to giving up when something slowly dawned on me. I don’t really know where the idea came from, but like a terrible seed it blossomed in the back of my mind. My fingers hovered over the keyboard as I hesitated.
I bit my lip as I scrolled through the results, mostly cliché Biblical interpretations of a skeleton riding a dark horse. I finally came across something more disturbing titled “The Reaper”; an article of some sort on a paranormal website. My heart jumped to my mouth as I saw the artist’s impression of this “Reaper”; a hooded figure with no face and a large golden amulet around his neck. My pulse quickened and I wanted to do anything but keep reading, but out of morbid fascination I couldn’t tear my eyes from the article. It was translated from French, so some sections made little sense, but from what I gathered, the first reports of this Reaper were from rural France in the early 1800s.
Apparently, a husband and wife were set to be executed for the murder of their young children, but much to the disgust of the townspeople, they were spared at the last minute by what most believed to be a false alibi. Enraged at this lack of justice, a few people from the town who had dabbled in the occult arts set about finding a spell or curse to bring the duo to justice. Nobody knows whether any spell was performed or not, but there are records to suggest that two small bodies were exhumed and burned, and that the alleged murderers went insane and were exiled from the village.
In the years that followed though, a few people who narrowly escaped serious accidents reported seeing a figure following them everywhere in the weeks following their near miss. They also claim to have been subjected to horrific dreams where they witness their own deaths, which subsequently seemed to drive many insane. I swallowed hard at this point. This was all too real; everything that was being described by this webpage had actually happened to me, and at least one other person that I was aware of. It wasn't possible, was it??
The article finished by saying that years later, one of the townspeople confessed to performing an occult ritual to summon an entity called a Reaper, tasked with claiming the souls of the two murderers. The legend goes that the Reaper was unsatisfied with claiming only those he was instructed to, and set about claiming the souls of any person he felt should not have avoided death. An image of my ruined Impreza flashed before my eyes, and I felt sick to the stomach.
According to the article, the claiming of someone’s soul was not meant to kill them, but rather leave them a shell of who they used to be. Still capable of living and existing in society, but often institutionalised due to their fevered ranting and vacant expressions. Their soul, on the other hand, was said to spend eternity in the amulet around the figure’s neck, and can be heard by anyone that the hooded figure approaches. The article concluded: “He who the Reaper seeks to claim will know true fear.”
I closed the computer hard, my heart rate at an all-time high. This was all too much. The thing that I had been seeing in my nightmares was not a figment of my imagination at all, but an entity convinced that I had cheated death. The whispering that I had been hearing was not the entity at all, but the souls of those he had claimed previously. What were they saying? Were they trying to warn me, tell me to run? Were they ranting feverishly, like the empty shells of people they left behind? As the dark shape entered the room behind me, I froze where I sat. I could hear exactly what those souls were saying; an almost infinite number of distinctly individual voices, and they weren’t whispering warnings to me.
They were screaming.