He glanced behind him, hearing a branch snap. What a fool, he said to himself when he turned his attention back to the narrow pathway through the small forest patch. He had stepped on a fallen twig, which snapped half in the middle. He shook his head and continued his way home. The street lights of his street shone behind the dark trees. It was just that the forest felt bigger and darker at this time of night. Sometimes he was sure he would stop taking the night shifts just because of not having to go home in the dark. But how could he explain it to his boss? The man would laugh at him. But this was like being transported back to his childhood—the time when he was afraid of even his own shadow. Back then, he had let his imagination run wild. Not every shadow is a boogeyman trapped under the bed. If he shut his eyes, he could see those long fingers coming at him, tugging the blanket. He shook his head and hurried his steps.
The wind caught in his jacket, making it hit against his legs and the leather messenger bag. He tied his hands around his chest to keep the jacket from fluttering. He glanced over his shoulder once more; sure he had heard something. It was the wind; he reminded himself and turned back to face the narrow path. But he couldn’t shake away the feeling he wasn’t alone. It was the heavy pressure on his back, insisting if he didn’t look, it would get him. Whatever it was, was watching him, clocking his every move. Just as it had been when he was just a boy, he remembered those figures in his doorway. He hadn’t been able to move. He had only stared at the dark man with no face, horned and with disfigured long fingers. The moments back then had stretched until all time was gone, and morning had come. He was never sure what had happened. He didn’t want to know. All that mattered was he was alive and had escaped somehow.
He took a deep breath in to calm his nerves. None of this was real. Just the imagination, the trick of the brain, creating it there behind the trees to his left. The doctor had said to his parents it was night terrors; that they were common in children. It wasn’t there. That was what he told himself now. The eyeless face wasn’t following him. It moved. He was sure it did. He hurried his steps, but it moved again. Every part of him told him to run, but he froze. The childhood flooded back, and the door leading to the back room next to his was open. It had come for him.
It moved again. He shut his eyes. He couldn’t look. Looking was worse than not seeing. The branches cracked, and the wind got lesser. He heard his name. He squeezed his hands into fists, waiting for the release to come, and he could run. But he couldn’t. The leather messenger bag dropped off his shoulder on the ground. Then it was there, in front of him. He could smell it. The sweet rotten flesh. It leaned forward. He was sure of it, repeating his name.
Not real, not real…
But the words didn’t take the sensation away. Its warm, moist breath pulsed against his face.
Run, he wanted to scream. His voice caught in his throat. He needed to do something. He opened his eyes, and there was nothing. It, the faceless man, was gone. His heart bounded as he stood there, still unable to move. He glanced around, but there was nothing but the trees and the yellow light end of the pathway. He lowered to pick up his messenger bag and walked away into his home street. The streetlamp flickered as he got underneath it. He thought nothing of it.
He sighed as he saw the front door of his apartment building. Just another night terror after a long day at work. That was it. He pushed the key into the lock and found his hand trembling. The older man living at the street level sat in front of his TV-set. Behind him stood a faceless horned figure.
He screamed, and the man and the figure turned to face him—the figure staring at him through the man’s eyes.
Thank you for reading, have a great day ❤
P.S. When I was a child, I used to have night terrors. One time it was an enormous spider scurrying across my wall behind the radiator. Then there were eyes upon me, and I couldn’t move. But worst was the faceless horned figure I described in the short story. I just can shake its image off my head. I know it was because of night terrors and normal, but the feeling of fear doesn’t go away. Not when the figure is so well portrayed in our stories across the world. Back then, I was afraid to go to sleep or stay alone at home after the dark, but now I have learned to appreciate the horror. It can inspire.
© K.A. Ashcomb