My right hand shakes slightly as I take the bottle of aspirin out of the medicine cabinet. I stare at it for a long moment as the tremor causes the pills to clink against one another inside of the plastic casing. This is the worst that it’s been so far, and I have no doubt that it will continue to become more pronounced.
I sigh and open the bottle. I tap two of the white tablets out into my palm before quickly swallowing them and chasing them down with a drink of water. Experience has taught me that the aspirin won’t do much, but every little bit helps.
Closing the medicine cabinet, I hold up my hands and examine them closely. I try not to look at them very often these days. They’re extremely pale, and the fingers are gnarled. I can no longer fully open them or curl them into fists without a struggle. I have the hands of a person thirty years my senior.
I’m inspecting them now because the shaking has me worried. I don’t know what will happen if they become unusable. If I can’t physically continue to write, will that break the deal?
I sigh and shake my head. There’s no point in dwelling on it now. Being careful not to touch the tips of my fingers as much as possible, I slowly begin to unwrap the bandages. They cover the space between the knuckle and the edge of the nail on each finger, and undoing them with my hands being so damaged is more difficult than it normally would be. I finish the task and toss the bandages into the wastebasket.
I rub my palms together in an effort to warm up my hands. Because of how tightly I need to wind up the bandages each time I apply them, my hands now have very poor circulation. That leaves them constantly cold. Just one more, shall we say, perk of my situation.
From downstairs comes the sound of a knock at the front door. I jump at the noise before loudly cursing myself for doing so. I hate that I’ve become so skittish. Leaving the bathroom, I go into the bedroom and retrieve a pair of soft black gloves from the dresser. I slip them on and head down the stairs.
As I descend the steps, I notice the sound of rain clanking off of the house’s tin roof. A stray memory of Amanda and I sitting on the porch together during a storm comes to mind. I allow it to linger for a few seconds before forcing it out. There will be time to dwell on the things I’ve lost later.
Reaching the entryway, I unlock the front door and open it. The visitor barges into the house the moment that I do, not bothering to observe any of the usual pleasantries before doing so. She is tall and thin, with her blonde hair cut short. Her face is angular, almost as if it was chiseled out of stone. She is wearing a black suit with the matching tie undone and top button of her shirt open. She smiles at me as I close the door behind her.
“Good evening, Timmy my boy,” she says merrily. “How are you this fine evening?”
I don’t answer her. I want to tell her to get the hell out of my house, to go back out into the rain and never step foot near me again. I know better than to act on that impulse.
Seeming not to notice my disdain for her, she smoothly slips out of her overcoat and tosses it to me. I catch it out of the air instinctively. Although the rain continues to pour down outside, the coat is completely dry. I hang it up inside the entryway closet while continuing my silence.
“How are the wife and kids?” she asks as she looks around. “Still staying with her sister out west? That’s a shame, Timmy. You really should work things out with the old ball and chain. You two make such a cute couple.”
I bristle but still manage to choke down a retort. She knows that I hate being called Timmy, and she is very much aware that my separation from my family is a sore spot. That’s exactly why she’s saying what she is. I might not be able to be free of her, but I can at least take away any satisfaction she might get from my reaction to this particular game she likes to play.
“Enough of the small talk,” she says, clapping her hands together. “Let’s go take a look at what you’ve been working on.”
Without waiting for an invitation, she turns on her heel and heads towards my office. I follow reluctantly. She isn’t really here to inspect my work like a grade school teacher reading a student’s book report. She already knows exactly what I’ve written. These little visits are to keep me intimidated and to make sure that I’m towing the line. I know that, and she absolutely knows that I know. Yet another game.
I don’t know much about her. When she first introduced herself to me, she had used the name Lydia. No last name. Just Lydia. I highly doubt that’s her real name, but there’s no way for me to know for certain. At the time I hadn’t had any reason to doubt the authenticity of her name, but even if I had it wouldn’t have mattered. She had been promising me the world at the time, and in my hubris I had thought that was all that mattered.
My office is barely large enough to qualify as one. It was originally a small sunroom that my wife and I had converted into a combination office and craft room. The crafting portion is currently boxed up in the garage and waiting to be picked up next week. Amanda wants the supplies for the children.
Lydia walks around the side of the desk and runs her fingers over the large black typewriter sitting on it. She smiles and closes her eyes as she does so. I try not to let anything show on my face or in my body language, but the moment is profoundly disturbing to me in a way that I can’t quite explain.
“I see that you’ve been keeping it well fed,” she says as she raises one finger, displaying a smear of red on the tip. “Good, good. We wouldn’t want a repeat of what happened the last time that you didn’t.”
I look away. I had tried to break the cycle a few months prior by refusing to write. Everything had been fine until the nausea had started around the twelve hour mark. Within eighteen hours it had felt like every nerve in my body was on fire. I had finally had to accept defeat and do as I was supposed to, and the pain had gone away almost immediately. I have no doubt that I would have been driven mad if I had let things go on much longer.
“So what is it that you’ve been working on, exactly?” she asks as she turns her attention to the stack of papers on the desk. “Where the Light Fades Away. The caligodemon, I take it?”
I don’t reply. Instead of simply moving on this time, though, she stands up straight and looks directly at me. As much as I try to avoid her gaze, my eyes lock with hers. The look she is giving me is no longer one of amusement.
“This is the part where you answer me,” she says, her voice hard and cold.
“It is,” I reply immediately, my own voice betraying the fear that’s running through me. “The caligodemon, yes. Asguzol.”
“I’ve always liked his style.” She’s back to her light and mocking tone again. “He’s like a trapdoor spider. He moves the door to that house of his whenever he believes he’ll catch a victim, then when they enter he makes the person wait until it’s dark and he comes out of his dormant state to feed on them. You have to respect that kind of cruelty. Which victim is it about?”
“Huh, never heard of her. Must not be anyone important.”
“She was a-”
“Do I look like I care? I assume not, because I really don’t. You… things are all interchangeable.” She smiles at me. “Well, almost all of you. Some of you manage to get a bit further up the Who Gives a Shit scale. A bit.”
Lydia looks over my shoulder at the far corner of the room. I don’t bother to turn to see what she’s looking at. I know exactly what has her attention, and I don’t want to look at it any more than I have to.
“That is not Asguzol,” she points out.
“No,” I confirm. “I finished that story two nights ago.”
“So this is a new one. Interesting. Have you done your writing for tonight yet?”
I hesitate. “Not yet. I was getting ready to start when you knocked.”
“Well then, don’t let me keep you. Go to it.”
I go over to my desk and sit down in the chair. As carefully as I can, I slip off the gloves and place them on the corner of the desktop. I open a fresh ream of paper and flex my fingers for a few moments to get them working as much as I can. Now isn’t the time to show any weakness, not with Lydia watching.
“Something on your mind?” she asks as I glance over at her.
“No,” I answer quickly. “Well, um, actually, I was wondering if I could ask a question about our… deal.”
“Our deal. What about it?”
“I was wondering… How much longer do I have to do this?”
She doesn’t answer right away. Instead, she sits down in the chair on the other side of the desk and folders her arms over her chest. She watches me silently with an expression that conveys no hint of what she’s thinking.
I start to worry that I might have angered her. The torture that I had gone through when I had refused to ‘feed’ the typewriter was nothing compared to what she can do to me if she wants to. I have no doubt about that.
“You remember the agreement we made, correct?” Lydia asks.
“I do,” I reassure her.
“What is it?”
“Tell me the agreement. Now.”
I nod. “Yeah, of course. You told me that you would open doors for me. You’d make it so that I could support my family with my writing, make it so that I could provide them with a better life.”
“You wouldn’t have to work that asinine job that you were stuck in anymore,” she interjected. “Instead of being a nobody in a sea of nobodies, you would be somebody. You’d have the recognition that you craved so badly.”
I look down at the floor as I feel a twinge of shame. “Yes.”
“And have I done that, Timmy?”
I sigh. “Yes, you have, but-”
“But what?” Lydia waves her hand dismissively. “Everything didn’t work out the way you thought it would? I did everything that I said that I would. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s not on me that the sudden recognition and financial benefits went to your head. You’re the one that let your ego puff up. You’re the one that let his family slip through his fingers when he wasn’t watching. None of that is on me.”
I close my eyes. “I know that. I blamed you for a long time, but I know now that my mistakes were my own. I’m just wondering when our deal will be completed so that I can try to clean up the pile of shit I’ve created.”
“You’ve only stated half the bargain,” she points out. “My half. What was your part of the deal?”
I open my eyes and turn my attention to the typewriter. “Fine. My part of the bargain was that I agreed to write stories for you. I would start to get these… You called them visions, but they feel more like waking nightmares. I have to write the story that I’m seeing play out in my head, and I have to do it on this.”
I wave my hand over the typewriter. When it had first been presented to me, I had thought that I was looking at a beautiful relic of a time long ago. I had even been excited about using it. It hadn’t been long before I had come to hate it, and even now I fear it.
“Very good,” Lydia says sarcastically. “Now then, tell me, at any time did we discuss a termination date for the bargain?”
Deep down I had known that this was going to be the answer that she gave me. I’m going to be held to our agreement until she sees fit to release me, and I don’t see her ever doing that. I had allowed myself to feel hope. That just makes it feel more hopeless now.
“Breaking our deal wouldn’t just take away what you’ve been given,” she continues. “There would have to be other consequences for such a violation of my trust.”
“I understand,” I assure her.
“I’m glad to hear you say that. I would hate to have to give you a real life example of what I’m talking about. Something like, say, a few hundred malignant tumors instantly spawning in the brain stem of that little boy of yours.”
A shiver runs down my spine. “I won’t break our deal. I promise.”
“Good. I believe you were about to start writing?”
I turn my attention back to the typewriter, grateful that the conversation is over. It’s a fleeting feeling. As it always does, the mere sight of the typewriter causes my stomach to tighten and my temples to throb.
On a very surface level, there’s nothing all that different about this typewriter than any other. It’s definitely older than most, its design harkening back to at least the late 1800s, but it can easily be mistaken as a normal machine found at a thrift shop or flea market. It stands on four metal posts, its keys extending outward on a slanted tray. The metal type bars are exposed above them in a half circle. The paper feeds in behind them so that they can strike it as the attached keys are pushed. Everything is constructed of the same black metal that seems to absorb rather than reflect light.
It’s not a machine, though. It’s a monster. Or maybe it’s both, a combination of iron and animalistic hunger.
I feed a piece of paper into the roller and take a moment to compose myself. There’s nothing that I want more than to stand up and walk out the front door, leaving both Lydia and this damned typewriter behind forever. Placing my fingers lightly on the keys, I begin to type.
The pain comes immediately. Each time a key is pressed, the circular top is pushed inward slightly and a razor-sharp needle in the center is exposed. It pierces into my finger, causing tiny drops of blood to spill out over the metal.
The first page is always the most difficult to write. That’s when I feel the pain of the needles the most. Over time that pain goes from a stabbing sensation to a less pronounced throbbing as my fingers go partially numb. It never goes away entirely, but it becomes more bearable.
I notice that it isn’t as uncomfortable this time as it has been in the past. This lack of sensation worries me rather than comforts me. My fingers have become more damaged from the constant bloodletting than I had thought.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the thing in the corner moving. I purposely avoid looking directly at it. I already know what it looks like because it’s what they all look like in the beginning. They start off as a shapeless mass of black oil, only it isn’t oil. I don’t know how to describe it exactly. It’s like smoke made solid, which I realize doesn’t make any sense.
That’s how they start off. How they end up is different for each one. That’s completely determined by the story.
I don’t just write horror stories. I create them. My words give them form, and this unholy machine masquerading as a typewriter gives them life. Together, we birth nightmares.
“There’s a little more to it than that,” Lydia says in a voice barely above a whisper, seemingly reading my thoughts.
She watches me type for a few moments longer before she continues.
“You give them form. The typewriter gives that form life. The part that you don’t know is that the people reading the stories give them power.”
“I don’t understand,” I admit as I continue writing.
“It isn’t enough just to be alive. Babies are living beings, but they are fragile and weak. When you bring these creatures into the world, they are weak and without purpose. They lack a certain spark. You might call it a soul.”
She taps the pile of papers on the desk. “When someone reads the story, however, something happens. The person begins to consider it. The person begins to mentally create images of the events being described. The person begins to believe, maybe not in the story itself but in the themes behind it. Belief gives power to the subject.”
I stop typing and look over at her. “How is that possible?”
Lydia shakes her head in annoyance. “You humans have such a limited concept of what is possible. There’s a very thin line between the mental and physical realms. They aren’t these completely different concepts like humans seem to think. Under the right conditions, that barrier can be pierced and torn. Belief can become reality. Conditions such as, say, hundreds or thousands of people reading the same scary story.”
I start to ask another question, but she cuts me off.
“People are always going on and on about how the world is becoming worse. They ramble on about how things were safer and brighter and all sunshine and rainbows when they were kids. It’s these younger generations that are fucking everything up. Guess what, though? You’re all making it worse without even realizing it. All this technology that allows you to connect with everyone else around the world is spreading terrible things at a rate that no one could have dreamed of even thirty years ago. New evils are being spawned every second of every day. Everyone in this entire fucking is not only connected, but also complicit.”
I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t know that there is anything that is an adequate response to what I’ve just been told.
“I think you’ve done enough writing for tonight,” she says as she suddenly stands up. “You have yourself a good evening, Timmy. I’ll see myself out.”
She’s changed the subject so quickly that it takes me a few seconds to catch up. Sitting on the desk next to the typewriter is a small pile of papers that weren’t there when I started writing. I can’t remember writing that much, but apparently I did. An extremely quick glance at the creature in the corner confirms that it is much farther along. I shudder and look away.
“I’ve left you a gift in the kitchen,” Lydia says as she passes through the doorway. “Think of it as a reminder of your own small part in the ruination of your species. Take good care of it.”
A moment later I hear the front door open and shut. I close my eyes and force myself to breathe slowly to bring my rapidly beating heart under control. This happens every time she visits. Every single fucking time.
I stand up and leave the office. Across the entryway is the doorway leading into the kitchen. After a brief hesitation, I go through it and look around.
Sitting on the counter is a black metal cage. Inside of the cage is a wheel, and standing inside of that wheel and staring back at me with large brown eyes is a small white mouse. We simply look at each other for what seems like minutes before I notice the envelope in front of the cage. I pick it up and struggle to open it with my poorly working fingers. I finally manage to pull out the slip of paper inside.
I couldn’t fit the Rotten Man inside of the cage, the note reads.
The Rotten Man…
“I guess that means you’re Randy,” I say to the mouse.
It chitters back at me as it bobs up and down inside of the wheel.