Prologue

What am I afraid of?

cryaotic:

That’s a common question I have heard throughout my days. What truly scares me?

This is what scares me.

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There Is a Man Behind You

My name is Robert Krandall, and I play a marginal part in the following story. I am attempting to post on this site for scary stories on behalf of the author, my friend Jonathan Tally. Jon is currently serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. I hope that seeing this published in a public forum will help ease his mind. His mental state has deteriorated considerably, as you’ll see. I am not a superstitious person, so I have no trouble seeing it as the hallucinations of a mentally disturbed individual. If you are superstitious, I recommend not reading it.

So here it is, reproduced, word for word, from Jon’s letters he wrote while in solitary confinement. He has pleaded repeatedly, almost desperately, to post it on some internet site where it will be read. As of last week, he has been threatening to kill himself if he is not able to see it published on the web. For the record, I did NOT do what Jon accuses me of at the beginning of the story. To Jon: you will see this soon, and I hope it brings you some measure of relief.

**********

I should tell you now, dear reader, I’m writing this story from prison. Solitary confinement. I have been in solitary confinement for a few days now, and it is for the best. I only hope that this reaches as many people as possible. These are the events that happened to me leading up to the murder and my incarceration. Whether you believe me or not is your business, but it is the truth.

This is New York City. I’m getting back home late at night after a fine evening of friends and drinking. It starts to rain really heavily, but luckily I’ve just made it to the subway station. So I go down into the subway. I get into the car, it’s empty. One stop later, one person gets on and sits in the middle of the car, on my side. A young guy, early twenties. He is sitting with strangely straight posture, staring at nothing. Head slightly tilted. A kind of wild look in his hair and eyes, like he hasn’t slept in a long time. I put my earbuds in to listen to music on my phone. Led Zeppelin, nice!

Two or three stops later, I happen to glance up and notice strangely that the distance between this guy and myself seems to have lessened. He’s still sitting the same way, back completely straight, head tilted, eyes wide and staring at nothing. This is weird, but maybe I misjudged the distance before. I turn back to my phone. One stop later I look up and he is three seats away from me. Ok, now it’s getting creepy, and I know this guy was getting closer to me for some reason.

“What the hell?” I say. “Look dude, there’s plenty of seats on the train, I don’t want any trouble.” He turns to look at me briefly, there’s a wildness in his eyes, but he turns back, facing forward. I’m watching this guy closely now. Suddenly, I notice that his clothes are completely dry. He got on three stops after me, after it had started raining, and yet he had no umbrella and was completely dry. I could only conclude that he had not come from above — he had been down in the subway tunnels the whole time. At first I’m thinking he may be homeless, but his jacket looks too new, and he isn’t dirty. Oh well, it’s New York. Sometimes there are weirdos on the train. He is kind of thin and pale, and I’m confident I could take him in a fight, but man I don’t want this shit tonight, and I’m still a little dizzy from the booze.

Suddenly I hear a loud gasp, the guy turns, and stares at me with a horrified look on his face. “What?” I shout. Part of me is getting pissed off at this asshole, yet I feel a shiver down my spine. His face is locked in a tableau of fear, like the exact instant when something terrifying surprises you. This guy is not acting, he’s afraid. Seconds go by, feeling like hours. The guy’s face is still completely frozen in fear, and by now I’m sure he has some kind of mental issue. And then he whispers something hurriedly.

“This embind do.”

“What?” I say again.

“This embind do, this embind do, this embind you.”

His whispering is fast and insistent, but I still can’t make out what he’s saying. “Speak slower.”

He gets slightly closer and leans in, still looking afraid. “This embind you, this men bind you, this a man bind you.”

“Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you!” I’m shouting now.

He grabs me by the shoulders, and my body shakes from an adrenaline rush.

“There is a man behind you.” The guy whispers in my ear and let’s go, leaning back. His face is still wild, but now it’s different. Like he’s no longer scared for himself, he’s scared for me.

I can’t help it. The incident is so weird, so creepy. I turn and look over my shoulder. Of course, there is nothing there.

And then I turn back, seeing nothing. The guy is gone! Completely! There is no one in the subway car but me, I am utterly alone. Somehow in the time I looked back, the guy must have ran into the next car. I hurry over and look, but all I see are two elderly ladies who give me a weird look. Shivering, I sit down and think.

Now, dear reader, I am a logical man. I’m not religious, I really need to see something to believe it. I don’t believe in the supernatural, in fact I’m sure most “supernatural” incidents have perfectly logical explanations based in reality, even if they have not yet been discovered. The problem is that people want to believe, and so they do. There is only one logical explanation for this vanishing wild-eyed person — someone spiked my drink. It was a hallucination, had to be. As soon as I get out of the subway and above ground, I call my friend Rob on the phone. He was at the bar with me, and he’s been known to be a joker. I wouldn’t have put it past him to slip me something.

“Dude, Rob, what the fuck?” I said as he answered. Rob pretends like he had no idea what was going on. “You give me some acid shit? I was fuckin hallucinating all the way back home!”

“Jon, man, I really have no idea what you’re talking about. I swear.”

Finally I consider the possibility that he’s telling the truth. There were other people at the bar tonight. “Fine, man, but if I find out you’re fucking with me, I’m gonna kill you.” And I hung up. I called everyone I knew who had been at the bar that evening. Finally, I call Dave. Of course, same old, deny deny.

“Are you sure? Dude, I trust you, but I don’t trust everyone else. What about what’s-her-name? Jessie’s girlfriend, she was there by herself, which was weird. Maybe they just broke up and she was looking to date rape some guy like me by slipping lsd into their drink.”

No luck. No one poisoned my drink, and there was no reason to suspect anyone did. Yet what explanation was there for a disappearing crazy guy?

For the next few days I didn’t think anything of it. Life slowly got back to normal. I didn’t really think of the creepy incident on the train. I hung out with friends, went to work, drank at some bars. I even was able to take the subway without remembering what happened just a few days prior.

And then the weird stuff started happening. Just a light brush against my body here, a soft whisper there, an occasional breath. It felt like there was someone behind me. But whenever I turned to look, there was no one. Each time it happened, I was reminded of the subway man’s declaration: “There is a man behind you.”

A few days later I’m walking home after buying some cigarettes. I not only feel a breath, but hear it, directly behind me, like someone’s face is only a few inches away from my neck. My arms jerk backward, expecting to push away some horrible creeper, but I find only thin air, and I whirl around to face an empty street. Terrified, I run straight home and get right to bed, too scared to think about showering or brushing my teeth. Thankfully the feeling is gone. I’m lying face up, and the mattress feels soft and safe against my back. I don’t dare turn on my side or back for fear that the man will come back, hovering over me like some ghastly, evil apparition you always see in horror movies.

For a few weeks after nothing happened, and I started to feel better. Annoyingly, I became the butt of some jokes, people thinking I’m doing acid again. I keep telling people, I don’t do that shit anymore. I took the stuff years and years ago, but only a couple times. And there’s no way it’s a fucking flashback, people ask me that so many times and it pisses me off. No one came forward saying they drugged my drink, so I assume it was some desperate lonely girl in the bar, hoping I’d become woozy and she’d be able to swoop in and “save” me. Bitch.

But then, I began getting this weird feeling that someone was watching me. Behind me, just staring at me. A man behind me. I would be walking down the street and swear that the man was following me, only to turn back and see nothing. The worst of these incidents was in a restaurant, with my date, Julie. Immediately after sitting down, I get that feeling again. I sense him sitting at the table behind me and feel his eyes burning holes in the back of my head. The man is here, in the restaurant, watching me with that cold, obsessive stare. That terrifying expression, half a grin, half a growl. He has bloodshot eyes, wide open and staring, and crazy, untamed white hair. He is wearing a disheveled vintage wool coat. Don’t ask me now I know this, for some reason I just do. Julie starts complaining about how I keep turning backward, and she “wonders aloud” why she isn’t entertaining enough to keep my attention. Finally, I whisper to her, “There is someone watching me. Some man, behind me that is staring at me. Do you see him?” And she frowns at me, and looks over my shoulder behind me. Looks directly into what I am sure is the man’s face, that horrible face. I nearly expect her to scream out in terror. Instead: “I don’t see anything.” She looks at me strangely. She thinks I’m crazy, and maybe I am, but I know the man is there. After this night, Julie never called me or sent me another message. Bitch.

Up to this point I had thankfully never encountered the man inside my apartment. It had always been on the street or in some public place. I began to avoid leaving my apartment, and this gave me some small measure of respite. I took off from work and went for days without leaving my apartment, and those blissful days I never felt the man’s presence. I began telling everyone that I was sick as an excuse to stay in the apartment. If people asked to stop by, I obliged but pretended I had a cough and runny nose.

Dear reader, everyone has a weakness. Some trait that becomes his or her undoing, the one thing that friends and foes alike know and can use to their advantage. For me, this weakness is beautiful women. Hot chicks. I am smitten, always. I’m not terribly ugly, I have good hygiene and a decent paying job, and I try not to be an asshole, so I’ve done relatively well in the dating game. But I am currently single, and most of my friends know this. So my friend Jimmy sends me a text and a picture (asshole, I won’t forgive you for this). The text reads:

“Dude, this hot girl wants to meet you.”

The picture, sure enough, is a smoking hot Italian chick, college age, my absolute fave. I text back: “She wants to meet me or she wants to fuck me? :)”

“Keep it in your pants, dude. She said ‘meet’. But maybe more, I dunno? I sent her your picture and she seemed really into you.”

“Ok, sounds good. Where should I meet her?”

“Come to my party! You’re both invited! 7pm tonight my place. :P ”

As it turns out, there is no fucking girl. Jimmy took the pic from some dating site and baited me into coming to his lame-ass house party in Queens. He tells me everyone has been asking why I’ve been so anti-social lately, but I’m too pissed off to care. I just want to go home. And as I turn to leave, that’s when I feel it. It hits me like a brick, oh so familiar and yet still so terrifying. The man is here. The man is behind me, somewhere, staring.

I turn, and I SEE him! Or, rather, I half saw him for an instant before someone passed in front of him. By the time the person moved, he was gone. But I swear I saw him, and I knew him instantly, even though I had never actually seen him before. Crazed, wild white hair, a head that was slightly too large and bloodshot red eyes, wide and insane. And his grin. An expression that could either be a grin or a growl, impossible to tell. He was of average height. Probably as tall as me.

Jimmy has been insisting for several minutes that I tell him about my problems, completely oblivious to the horror on my face. Finally, I say to him, “Fine, Jimmy, the reason is … I’ve been avoiding someone. And … and he’s here, at your party.”

Jimmy gives me a weird look and starts looking around, confused. “Dude, you know everyone here. WHo are you talking about?”

“A man. A crazy, white-haired man that just stares at me with this horrible grin on his face, I think he’s stalking me.”

Jimmy laughs. “Is it, like, some gay guy or something?”

This pisses me off. “No, Jimmy, it’s not some gay guy. I wouldn’t care if it were some gay guy. In fact, I’d love it if it were just some gay guy. No, this guy is like some psycho serial killer, man. He just looks at me like he’s hunting me, like he knows I can’t get away and all I have to do is leave the house and he’ll find me.”

“Ok,” Jimmy says, humoring me. “Let’s go find this psycho killer and at the very least kick him the fuck out of my party. He leads the way, room by room, noting every person we pass. I don’t feel the man anywhere, but I’m sure he is in the house somewhere. All of a sudden, I get the same overwhelming sense of dread. He’s behind me, I’m sure of it. I turn around, and I see a closed door.

“Dude, what’s in there?” I whisper, pointing at the door.

“That’s a fucking closet, Jon,” Jimmy answers.

“He’s in there, I’m sure of it.”

I look at Jimmy, and I can tell he knows I’m not messing with him. I’m genuinely terrified, and it’s making him really uneasy. He asks the people in the room if they saw anybody go in the closet, and everyone answers either no or they weren’t paying attention. Jimmy slowly creeps up to the door. As he gets closer, the rest of the party around me seems to fall away, as if there is nothing but me and Jimmy and the door. And the man. Jimmy gets within five steps, and I can’t help it. I freak out, I know that the man is behind the door and that he’s coming for me. He seems almost gleeful, like he’s been toying with me this whole time, but now he’s ready to come for me. For real.

I turn, and I run as fast as I can out of the house. I vaguely hear Jimmy screaming at me that there’s no one there, that the closet is empty, but it doesn’t matter. I know the man is there, and I know he’s coming for me. My lungs are nearly bursting as I reach the subway entrance. I hop over the entrance rail and just barely make it onto the train as the doors close a second behind me. I turn back, exhausted. The man has stopped. He’s above the steps, at the subway entrance, standing just out of sight. But he knows, and, more importantly, I know, I’ve escaped. For now, at least. I sigh, letting the fear drain from my body.

There was only one person on the train with me. A big burly guy, dark brown beard, mid 30s, probably had been to the gym every day since he was 15. Just on a whim, I went up next to him and said, “Dude, there’s a man behind you.”

He looked at me and his face scrunched up. For a second I felt like I was going to get punched, then he bellowed, “Fuck off, you crazy bastard.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Yeah, it sounded so stupid. I threw my hands up defensively. “Sorry, man, I’m just drunk. Don’t beat me up.” I didn’t have a drop of liquor in me. Hadn’t had a single drink since that other night on the train with the other guy the night this whole fucking nightmare started.

When I get out of the train, a gust of cold wind blows past me as the door to the train closes. My brain screams in terror. The man is here. Somehow, he is here, and we both know that now I’m alone. I bolt up the stairs and into the night. I don’t dare look behind me for fear of what I see, but I know what’s happening. The man has given me a slight head start, but he is now running, sprinting down the street at an unnaturally fast pace. He is going to catch me, I can feel it!

I have my keys in hand as I make it to my apartment building and jam the key into the lock. I sneak a glance back. The street is dark, but I can see the hazy outline of his shape as he runs toward me. His white hair flapping up and down with each step. I finally get the door open, hurry in, and slam the door behind me. Relief washes over me so quickly that I almost black out. My heart is pumping a mile and a minute, and I’m gasping like a madman, but I can’t help but laugh. I feel safe. Looking out the window, I see him. Or, I don’t see him, but I know he is there. He is standing in the darkness, just slightly beyond the range of the nearest street lamp. If I focus hard, I can barely see the outline of his white hair.

After this incident I stopped pretending to be sick. I didn’t go out, and when people asked why, I gave them no reason. I took some phone calls, but I did not let people into my apartment, even if they visited and knocked on my door. Other people came and went, so I couldn’t prevent the man from getting into the building, but I sure as hell wasn’t about to let him into my apartment. If my friends insisted that I open up, I just got angry with them until they left.

Slowly but surely, the inevitable happened. I made it through everything in my fridge. Then all the canned goods I had stocked up. Then everything in the freezer. The last day before my hell really started, I had nothing but a bottle of whiskey. Whiskey is made from grain, right? It’s like eating a loaf of bread. I downed half of it. Didn’t help. I was still hungry as all hell.

I can’t help it, I cave. I order take out. After about half an hour, the Chinese delivery guy arrives, and I press the button to let him in the door. In less than a minute, I hear his footsteps. My stomach is grumbling in anticipation of getting some real, actual food. As my doorbell rings, I stare out through the peephole.

It’s an Asian kid. Either late high school or early college age. As I open the door, he gets a look at me, and gives a start. Suddenly I become self-conscious. I probably look like a mess, I haven’t really been taking care of myself. “Ten dollars and thirty cents,” he says.

I get a ten and five dollar bill and thrust it into his hand, and snatch my food. “Thanks, I don’t need change,” I say, eager to just close the door.

“Thanks, mister!” the kid says, smiling, and I smile back briefly and start to close the door. But then, just before it closes completely, I notice it. His smile. His grin. His growl. The man, he’s the man! I stare out the peephole, and my breath catches in my throat. There is no one there. I look down. I stare at my open hands. There is no food. Suddenly, my apartment is chilly.

The man is not here, but something still feels terribly wrong. Like some protective barrier has been broken, and I’m now at the mercy of the man. Like the lighting has changed. The sunset colors outside my window seem more pale and foreboding than usual. Cold and hungry, I lock both the locks on my front door and hurry into my bedroom. Under my covers, I sigh as a feeling of safety returns. I try to reassure myself. Even if the young delivery guy was the horrible man, he is still outside.

My sleep that evening is dreamless, but I still wake up with a start, drenched in cold sweat. It is now completely dark outside. I look at my clock, it’s 4:17 AM. And my bladder is completely full, like a tight water balloon that could burst at any moment. When I can’t stand it any longer, I leap out of the covers and hurry into the bathroom. I start peeing, and it is the most glorious pee I’ve ever had in my life. I stand there for nearly a minute even after I finish, sighing with relief. Finally I wash my hands, deciding I’m just going to go back to bed, screw the fact that I haven’t eaten anything today. I’m feeling slightly nauseous, and I realize it’s because I’m hungover from the whiskey. As I leave the bathroom, I notice that there is a weird light in my apartment, and that’s when I see — MY FRONT DOOR IS FUCKING WIDE OPEN. With a strangled yell I rush over and slam it shut with a ferocity that surprises even me. It’s no use. He’s here. The man is here, he is behind me. I turn on the light, but the man is … nowhere. He is behind me. No matter where I turn. He is always behind me!

Finally I catch my reflection in a mirror. I stare at myself. I can see the wild terror in my eyes, and my heaving chest as my breath rushes in and out. But I see behind me, and he is not there. Not there. For a moment my mind can’t resolve this conflict. I flip flop between this overwhelming mental sensation that the man is behind me, and the visual proof from the mirror that he is not. First the mirror is truth, then a lie. Then truth, then a lie.

This conflict is strangely comforting. I go right up to the mirror and look past my reflection into the room behind me. He’s not anywhere in the room, and yet, I know in my mind that he is there. That the man exists. If I can just make it to my bed, I know I’ll be safe. I dash away from the mirror into my bedroom and crawl under the covers. The relief I feel is short-lived. Even lying on my back, I know he is there. HE IS BURIED, UNDER THE MATTRESS, JUST UNDERNEATH ME, AND I FEEL HIS ARMS COILING AROUND MY RIB CAGE. Even though my head is against the pillow, I can feel his breath against the back of my neck.

I scream and jump out of my bed and into the corner of my room. The man stays buried in my mattress. Suddenly he sits up, staring at me with those same intense, angry eyes, and his mouth locked in a grinning growl. I can’t look up, I’m too scared, but I know what he looks like and what he is doing. He cocks his head slightly, and whispers:

“No escape.”

Dear reader, you may have felt fear before, but you don’t know fear the way I knew it in that instant. To have the man staring at you, and you knowing you can’t escape. Frozen in fear. I sat like that, literally, feeling like that for hours, but it might as well have been days. The man never moved, never said anything else, just sat there, half buried in my bed, head cocked, and bloodshot, angry eyes staring at me. There I sat, in the corner, my head down, completely paralyzed, cold sweat dripping from my forehead.

The sun came up. Something was weird about him, though. Like the light was different for him than it was for everything else in the room. As if the sunlight was not reflecting off him properly. Feeling overwhelming fear for so long, other thoughts finally started to creep through into my mind.

He is feeding off of my fear. Yet, he hasn’t really done anything. He has looked at me creepily, he has chased me down, but he hasn’t actually done anything physically to me. Somehow I find the courage to stand up and rush out of the room. As I do, I feel him behind me. Every step I take, he takes one too, in perfect lock step, always close enough that he could wrap his arms around me if he wanted.

I figure if I can just get my mind off him. Maybe if I can just ease this feeling that he is behind me. My phone is nearly dead, but not quite. Grabbing ear buds, I thrust them in my ears and turn the sound up as high as it can go. And I play a song. Anything, anything just to take my mind off the man behind me. Nothin’ But a Good Time by Poison starts blaring in my ear drums. By the time the lyrics start, it’s starting to take the edge off my fear.

Now listen
Not a dime, I can’t pay my rent
I can barely make it through the week.

By the time the chorus starts, I’m thinking this might work. I might actually just be able to take my mind off my fear. I start to become delusional, that I might be able to break the man’s hold on me with the power of rock and roll!

Don’t need nothin’ but a good time
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time
And it don’t get better than this.

And right as that line ends, my arm twists violently behind me, and I feel his clammy, dead hands on my wrist, and cold breath on my neck. “You think you can shut me out?!” comes a cold, reptilian voice. I scream as I feel the skin on my back splitting open. I whirl around, seeing a bloodied butcher knife on the table. To this day, dear reader, I try to argue that the slash on my back could not possibly be self-inflicted due to its angle. But physicians noted that my arm was twisted as well, allowing for the possibly that I slashed my own back myself. They don’t believe me, dear reader, that the arm twist and slash on my back were both inflicted by the man.

Still feeling the man directly behind me, I grab the bloody knife and whirl around, expecting the knife to cut into the man’s face. Instead I find air. Of course. Still holding the knife, I dash out of my apartment, not bothering to lock the door. I fly down the stairs and out the building. The man is right on my tail. I run out into the street, but he is right behind me. Every time I turn, he rotates with me, like some horrifying cartoon character that you can’t shake. I turn around fast, but he is faster, and still behind. I turn again, but he is still behind me. I turn one more time and stab downward – one of these times, I will catch him … and my knife sinks six or seven inches into an elderly lady’s eyeball.

So that is the story. I committed manslaughter. To this day, that is the part I regret the most. I regret that my fear of this man, whether or not he is a hallucination, caused the unintended death of another person. I am sorry beyond what any words can express …

DO NOT LOOK NOW, DO NOT MOVE

… and I would like to once again convey my condolences to Mrs. Carpenter’s husband, and her son, and her son’s family. She did not deserve this, and if I could go back in time …

THERE IS A MAN BEHIND YOU, RIGHT NOW

… I would turn the knife on myself instead of her. If it had been my death there instead of hers, it would have been better for all parties.

Now, dear reader, here I make an apology. Did you look? Or even if you didn’t, did you want to? Any slight doubt, any pang of anxiety? If so, then, like the young guy at the beginning of the story, I have probably disappeared from my cell. I am sorry for what you will go through, but please believe me when I say I just desperately need relief from the man behind me, even if it means passing him on to a stranger such as yourself. Remember that it starts with a brush here, and a whisper there. A slight sound, a footstep, passing breath. A rustling you can’t explain, a sudden prickle on your back. My only advice: DO NOT IGNORE HIM, IT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE. Good luck!

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So I need a gasmask to get a boyfriend?…I see!

So I need a gasmask to get a boyfriend?…I see!

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