I’m not sure why I’m writing this right now. I’m not even sure if I am writing this now or, if I am, whether the words I’m seeing in my mind’s eye are the same as the words my hands are typing. I suppose the only way to find out is to check tomorrow and see if this is still here. If it is, and it still looks like this, then I’ll know it wasn’t some dream I was having with my eyes open.
‘Dream’. Even looking at that word right now makes some guttural part of me tense up. I’m not surprised though. After all, my dreams are the reason I’m even awake at this hour. Everyone else in the house is asleep right now. Well, except for my mum, but she always wakes up at 4 AM like clockwork. Hell, she doesn’t even need an alarm.
I’m looking back at what I’ve written so far and I realise I’ve been rambling. I tend to do that, simply because my thoughts just get scattered like dandelion seeds when I don’t completely concentrate. There’s only so much concentration you can give something when you keep getting flashes of terror every time you blink. It might just be that I’m doing it so that I can stay awake as long as possible by writing. Either way, I should probably at least explain what I’m babbling about some time before my parents find me awake like this.
I’ve been a student at London University for a year now, studying psychology. I would be in my second year, but I had to stop mid-way through, so this year is a resit. I was hoping at some point to be a counselling psychologist, to help people get past their problems without being the guy who forces a prescription down their throats.
It went fine for the first semester; I even managed to make a few friends, which is an achievement for someone as socially awkward as me.
For the first few months I would hang out with a small group of people, all of whom shared my weird interests: we’d talk about the usual nerdy pop-culture we’d digested that week, about how we all threw our shoes at the television when a certain character from one of our shared favourite TV shows was killed off very ignobly and needlessly by a bear, that kind of shit. Of course, as close as we got we never saw each other outside of lecture days, which suited me just fine.
I remember exactly the day that my current “predicament” started. I only call it that because even now, six months later, I still don’t know what the Hell it is.
It was February 2nd when we received a foreign exchange student from Canada. I’m not going to name him here, partly because he wouldn’t want me to and partly because I don’t want this to come back to him. It was clear on his first day that he wasn’t the talkative type, so it wasn’t surprising when he started gravitating towards our little clique. He seemed enthused about what we were saying, sure, and he even managed to get some of the references we flung out about some of the TV shows that was more localised to Britain, but none of our geeky bullshit would ever stimulate a reaction with him quite like his extensive knowledge of urban legends. I’m not talking “Sewer alligators of New York” kind of legends either: I’m talking about the kind you see on the darker underbelly of the internet; the ones that make your palms sweat and give you a nervous tick while you read about them.
The first time he ever mentioned his . . . “hobby” was after a lecture we’d been given on the neurotransmitters involved with fear. Our lecturer, on one of his slides, put up a rather disturbing image of a dog with a malicious grin across its muzzle in an effort to demonstrate one of the technical variations of fear. Needless to say, it worked.
After we left, our new Canadian friend told me and the group that he knew where that image came from, and then went into great length on the mythos surrounding what he called “Smile.jpg”. At one point, I remember him using the word “Creepypasta” and one of my friends, who we’ll call “Michael”, inquired, after the obvious quip about haunted ravioli, what he meant. After a quick explanation on what he meant, our friend continued on to say that, according to the Smile Dog myth, everyone who saw that image and didn’t pass it on to someone else would be plagued with nightmares from the creature in the picture.
After joking away the macabre subject and going our separate ways, I took the Canadian aside, curious about where I could find the original story. At that point, I thought it might give me a good laugh, and when he told me to listen to a narration on YouTube for the best effect, it didn’t take long to find what I was looking for.
Of course, being the cynical asshole I was back then, it did make me giggle a little to think that something as simple as a photoshopped picture of a husky could inspire such fear in people, but ever more curious, I kept going into the topic of Creepypastas to see what else I could find. Most of it was the same shtick about being stalked by creatures with no face or eyes as big as dinner plates with claws the size of your arm, or the trope about some kid picking up a bootleg copy of a nostalgic game only to find out that the main character had been warped into some sadistic shadow of its original self, but some of them actually sent a real, visceral chill down my spine, which really surprised me.
I think by about 2AM the next morning, I’d watched about twenty different videos of narrated Creepypastas and I was about ready for bed. I didn’t have anything resembling an early morning lecture the next day, but I knew I’d have to be up and about by around ten o’clock.
Now, I always considered myself a rational human being, not prone to believing in boggarts and the sort, but for the life of me I swear I couldn’t keep my eyes closed for five seconds without flinching from some gut feeling that there was another presence in my room, and in my mind’s eye it kept metamorphosing from one form to another, and after around half an hour of my futile attempt at sleep I decided that enough was enough and that I should go into the kitchen and get something to calm myself down.
As soon as I put my hand on the wood of the kitchen door on my way back to my room, a sense of danger jabbed at me inside my stomach, just like it had before in my room. I got that same irrational feeling that I wasn’t alone, and I spun around, my eyes scanning every facet of the brightly lit kitchen, even checking the doors of some of the cabinets, and saw nothing. I sighed, knowing that my binge on horror stories was getting to me, and that it was my own fault for listening to so many of them, especially so late at night, so I went down the corridor and back to my room.
As I opened the door, I did my best to swallow down the feeling of dread that was accumulating in my gullet like a stone, and when it was open all the way, I had to take a step back for a second. My breathing picked up as I stared wide eyed at the empty space where my bed once sat. Everything was gone, from the crates underneath to the posters on the wall, leaving a barren, white-walled corner.
As I stared in disbelief I heard a soft, muffled whisper of a chuckle from one of the nearby rooms.
Thinking that maybe one of my roommates was playing a prank on me, I smiled and looked back at the door behind me that led to Jenna’s room. Jenna was the only person I got along with on my corridor, and she even showed up in some of my lectures as her sociology course sometimes overlapped with my own.
I quietly knocked on the door, and when I heard the lock click I came in ready to confront her. “Alright, Jenna, I know you took my bed, so. . . .” my words died in my throat as I looked into Jenna’s room, or what should have been Jenna’s room. As I gaped blankly through the doorway, I saw my room exactly as it was, right down to the last detail, and sat on the bed was a young man with bedraggled red hair, exactly the same as mine, looking down at the floor. He was making some sort of sound as he held his face in his hands, and to this day I still don’t know whether it was laughing or crying, but it was a wheezy, choked noise that ran through me like a cold breeze.
I dared not move. I didn’t even blink, though my eyes were becoming itchy and irritated.
I blinked once, and in that short time between closing my eyes and opening them, something flashed against the inside of my eyelids too quickly for me to figure out what it was, and when my eyes opened again, I was face-down against the keyboard of my computer, which had grown tired of waiting for me to turn it off and gone into standby.
I let out a haggard, relieved breath. It was only a dream. Just a bad dream.
I was reassured the next night when my dreams returned to normal. Hell, I don’t even remember what I was even dreaming about that night. All I remember is waking up the morning after like I always did and getting on with my day. It was a long lecture day, though, and I remember being almost completely wiped out when I left the lecture hall at 6PM, cursing my allergy to caffeine. I would’ve killed for an espresso right then.
I remember feeling slightly on edge as I walked the path back to my hall of residence. I put it down to the cold winds and the darkness at the time, but I couldn’t shake that ominous feeling I held in my gut as my eyes darted around the darkened campus grounds. It was that same feeling as in my dream, that feeling of being watched.
I heard a sound against the wind buffering my ears. It wasn’t quite a giggle, but it wasn’t quite a sob, and it seemed choked and gargling, as if both had been stuck in the throat of whatever had made it and formed some odd chimera of the two.
The hairs raised on the back of my neck. I knew that noise.
The sound was getting closer with every quickening step I took, and no matter how hurried my stride it gained on me. I knew I’d look like a pussy to whoever was watching, but I had to run.
The sound was right in my ear by the time I touched the front door of my hall.
I jerked awake and looked around at the emptying lecture hall. I’d dozed off again.
I was, as you can guess, as unnerved as they come when I left the lecture hall. My hurried pace was brought into question several times by my friends but, unwilling to talk, I brushed off their questions. Placated by my repeated insistence of “It’s nothing, really: I’m just being silly”, they decided to leave me be and go off, disgruntled, in another direction.
It was about quarter-past -six when my hall was in sight again. That was when I heard that noise, that goddamn choking laugh again echoing in the distance. This time I knew not to take my chances. I bolted, and as my legs pounded and my body lurched forward from abject fear, I heard the giggle slowly ascend into a mangled cackle that grew louder and more fervent as I ran.
I didn’t even make the door before I felt a hand clutch my throat.
I awoke again in my room and looked at the clock, which had long since abandoned trying to wake me up, I recoiled in surprise: I’d woken up at 8:30 PM. I had to check twice to make sure it was in fact evening time and not just early in the morning, but it was.
I’d slept through an entire lecture day. Up until that point I’d never done that before in my life. Hell, I didn’t even take sick days when I was a kid, but now I’d missed a whole day for no reason.
But still, from the dream, I would’ve sworn I was in the lecture
The worst part was that that was the pebble that set off a snowball.
My dreams became worse and worse for the next few weeks. I’d awaken several times every night in a hard sweat and have to gnaw a little at the same spot on one of my fingers just to make doubly sure I was awake. If it drew blood, real blood that I could taste, and I felt real pain from it, only then would I calm down. I had a bandage on my finger for weeks, and people were starting to notice.
That man . . . creature . . . thing that I saw sitting on my bed was there in every single one of my dreams. It would always just appear in random places in my dream environments, always keeping its face obscured in its hair and always laughing that wheezy, throaty laugh, sometimes approaching me, other just keeping its distance and watching.
It was almost as if it was toying with me, playing on my subconscious irrational fears for sport.
Thanks to those dreams, my sleep patterns were getting so erratic that it even got to the point where I was awoken by security after having slept for five days straight. Jenna had called them after having missed me at a lecture and not seen me enter or leave my room at all that week, not even to eat or go to the toilet.
Missing lectures was starting to become a habit, and my grades were beginning to suffer from it. That only served to aggravate the problem, it seemed.
My coursework and assignments were beginning to suffer as well, but in the most disturbing ways. I’ll give you an example: at the end of February, we were told to carry out an assignment essay on the relative effectiveness of talk therapy on alcoholics and other chemically addicted people. I remember specifically that I’d finished it right down to the references and saved it before putting it away for later submission.
Being a meticulous student, I had the urge the next day to check it again to make sure I hadn’t missed any key points or references.
It wasn’t there. I checked the recycle bin frantically, thinking that maybe I’d accidentally deleted it, but it wasn’t there either.
I did find something else in that folder, though. It was a gigantic, unpunctuated wall of rambling nonsense, as if someone had gotten jacked up on cocaine and decided to write an essay on whatever random word would pop into their head until they got bored. Interlaced with the text were several disturbing images of the corpses of small animals, ranging in size from mice to squirrels. In each picture, the animal’s eyes had been removed.
When I checked the timestamp, it read “27/02/13, 15:45”, the exact same date and time I saved my last draft of that coursework.
As time went on, it was as if my idea of reality was beginning to unravel around me. As my constant nightmares began to erode my fondness of sleep, it got more and more difficult to tell when my dreams stopped and my waking moments started. When I was in the middle of working on something, I’d begin to see hands reaching for me that vanished when I turned to look, and when my stubborn refusal to sleep faltered, I’d hear a low chuckle in my ear and bolt awake again, terrified that it was too late and it had already dragged me into another dream. Sometimes it really was.
At one point, I was getting so distressed by these dreams that I began entertaining the possibility, against my better judgement, that it could have been that fucking dog in the picture my lecturer used in his fear presentation. After all, the Canadian told me that it’s supposed to haunt your dreams, right? Looking back on it now, it seems stupid, but I was desperate enough at one point that I actually had an email ready with a random ‘Smile.jpg’ picture I’d lifted off Google Images just in case.
I didn’t need to, it seemed. It showed me its face a month into the “predicament”. It’s a face that still haunts me this very second, and I see it against the blackness of my eyelids every time I close them.
It happened when I awoke one day after a peculiarly dreamless sleep. I tried not to think about it too much in case I jinxed something, but I let myself feel a small sense of relief.
It was patently obvious that I was in dire need of a shower it seemed, as I’d been wrestling with my “predicament” for weeks now, leaving little time for hygiene. As I walked into the shower room, I caught a glimpse of myself in the small mirror and nearly jumped out of my skin.
Having simply mistaken my reflection for someone else, it didn’t take long for me to calm down and assess my appearance: my eyes had devolved to pinkish orbs of irritated veins hooded by purplish-black bags of skin that attested to my lack of proper sleep and the utter destruction of my body clock. I’d grown a thick, prickly beard of red hairs across my chin, and my hair now lay dishevelled and greasy across my shoulders in long curtains. I chuckled: this shower was a long time coming.
That shower got rid of aches I didn’t know I had. I felt like a new man after I stepped out of the steaming glass cubicle to towel myself off. By this point, the mirror had fogged up beyond being a mirror, so to help get my hair in some semblance of order I decided to wipe it off and sort my hair out then and there.
I froze. The blood in my veins screeched to a halt, and my breath caught in my throat like a vice.
The figure that stared back at me from the now cleared mirror was not my reflection. It wore my face, but I swear on my life it wasn’t me. Its mouth nearly touched its earlobes and was contorted into a horrible rictus grin filled with yellowing teeth. The skin of its face seemed stretched over, like a mask, and its hair stuck to its scalp with a layer of shining grease.
It didn’t have eyes. The sockets were just empty, featureless craters, made all the more haunting by the sagging black bags beneath them.
Despite this fact, it still managed to look at me in a way that made my windpipe tense up like it had hands squeezing it.
It laughed. It laughed that same gargling chuckle I’d heard countless times over, but this time it felt as if, between its maniacal giggles, it was forming words with its croaking wheeze, repeating the same fragmented sentence over and over.
“Missed . . . you.”
I blinked, and the words were scratched all over the walls. Missed you. Missed you. It covered every bare patch of wall, scrawled frantically.
It was then that I finally snapped. I punched the mirror as hard as I could, knowing it had trapped me in another nightmare, and kept punching until most of the glass was either on the floor or sticking out of my hand.
It was only after the last of my anger had given in to a crushing sense of defeat and I slumped down into the corner that it dawned on me.
My hand was hurting.
I flipped out. According to Jenna, when I asked her about it earlier this year, I was inconsolable for the rest of the day. I was just sat in the shower room next to the pile of broken mirror shards letting my hand bleed out as I held my head in my hands, trembling and muttering in tongues. I apparently wouldn’t even let the paramedics come near me when the ambulance Jenna had called finally arrived. Of course, I remember none of this.
My parents, being the insufferable worrywarts they are, have insisted I live at home while I resit my freshman year so they can keep an eye on me. They’ve thrown me into a therapy program too, for all the good it’ll do me. Kind of ironic, if you think about it: I was going to be a therapist, but now I’m sitting here on the other end of the stick.
I did have a mirror in my room, one of those old vanity mirrors you sometimes get on top of chests of drawers, but it’s been covered up at the request of my therapist.
After I told my parents what I saw in the mirror, they went white and looked at each other as if I’d just threatened them with a knife. Then, with great reluctance, they told me that when I was just turning four I’d had an imaginary friend that looked exactly like me with what I described as “a nice big toothy smile”.
I called him “Timmy-Tom”, and explained that he was born without eyes, so naturally the best thing to do was find him a pair that he liked. It started out with household objects like sequins, buttons and marbles, so my parents never paid much heed, but soon it became apparent that these weren’t what he was looking for.
That was when they found me cutting out the eyes of a squirrel, and fearing for my sanity they had me . . . as they put it, they had me corrected.
Even now, months into my therapy, I still have those dreams sometimes: sometimes I’ll wake up in my old bed back in the halls of residence, wondering if everything up to that point was just another twisted dream; sometimes I’ll wake up in a padded room, the screams of other broken souls ringing through the little viewing slot in the door, and wonder if I’ve always been there. That last one seems to be its favourite place to send me.
It doesn’t matter where I wake up though. It will be in there with me when I do, giggling that mind-curdling giggle just to let me know that I’m still at his mercy, that I’m still its plaything.
It’s here now, just sitting in the darkest corner of my room watching me write this with that distended grin spread across its face, across my face.
It’s wearing my face.
It’s not even giggling anymore, it’s just . . . it’s just sitting there.
It’s still wearing my face.
It won’t stop looking at me with that goddamn eyeless smile.
It’s STILL wearing my face.
Maybe it just wants my eyes. It has the rest of my face, so why doesn’t it have my eyes?
Either way, if I didn’t have eyes, I wouldn’t be able to see it anymore. Maybe it’d get bored and go find someone else to drive insane.
Now there’s a thought.