Take a look. No, over there... over where that man is getting into his car to leave for work. That ordinary man, who drives that ordinary car, going to his ordinary nine-to-five. He pets his ordinary dog before he closes the door, tells him to go to the back, and then pushes his garage door remote after he sees the tail pass over the sensor’s reach. He drives away after making sure the ordinary door fully closes. He doesn’t want someone to be able to just walk in now does he? If they did, they might find out he is not an ordinary man in an ordinary house after all. They might find out that there are secrets best left uncovered...
The ordinary man gets home at exactly 5:30 pm. He is a very punctual man. He has no wife or kids, only a dog. He pulls into the driveway, clicks the button, and watches as the garage door begins to rise. His dog is always there, too excited to wait, crawling under the door to welcome the master of the house. The dog gets out of the way as he drives forward, pulling all the way in, and closing the door behind him.
His routine is always the same. He gets out of his clothes into something more comfortable. He turns on the TV, and selects whatever microwaveable dinner he is going to partake in as he watches reruns of mundane sitcoms. Nothing too exciting, he likes it that way. The dog sits next to him, still and anticipatory, begging with his eyes for his owner to drop something, his nose not quite touching the folding tray.
The man watches TV until 8:00 pm. He then goes and takes a shower, brushes his teeth, and lays in bed by 8:30pm.
He doesn’t sleep right away. Oh no, he has too much to think about. Like that dreaded photo album. The one in the basement. The one he will pay a visit to in exactly five and a half hours.
He lays awake looking at the ceiling. Images form in the uneven texture, some pleasant, some far from it.
He looks over at his dog laying dutifully at the foot of his bed. He wonders what dogs dream of while he listens to the faint snoring, watching the rise and fall of the dog’s ribs. Do dogs know dread?…he wonders.
His eyes begin to feel heavy as his body sinks, being pushed deep into his bed.
He’s asleep now. If an intruder were to break in, walk up the stairs, enter his bedroom and look at him, he would be a rather boring sight. The silent screams and struggle beneath the man’s rapidly moving eyelids would go unnoticed by the unwelcome visitor.
It’s 2:00 am. The man’s eyes open instantly, and he finds himself staring at the ceiling again. It’s time.
He attempts to resist it for a moment, but he is pulled upward by an invisible string. I’m a puppet, he thinks. His feet are dragged to the side of the bed, both feet on the floor now, and the man is pushed from behind as he gains balance on his two feet.
Screaming and crying won’t help him.
As the man is being pushed from behind and pulled from the front, he begins his journey towards imminent death— well at least not yet, he still has more pages left. Each page brings him closer to his demise, his doom.
Down the stairs he goes. A single tear trickles down his cheek towards his quivering mouth. He continues his descent until he reaches the foot of the stairs.
He tries to resist but it is pointless. He is being dragged, his feet barely keeping up. He is dragged to the left and down the hall he never enters during the day-- the one that leads to the basement door.
He hears his dog behind him, letting out soft whimpers. The door flings open, inviting the man, the stairs are presented like a rolled out carpet. Pitch black is all he can see, except for a soft red glow emanating from the bottom of the stairwell.
No, no,no, no… the man weakly chants. His dog is now growling, the tone much more threatening.
He is forced to take one stair at a time, catching his left foot on a rusty nail poking through the old wood. A constricted scream lets out as a small trail of blood forms behind him. An entrance fee, he thinks.
He is almost to the bottom now, more tears rush to keep his quivering mouth company.
He reaches the bottom and sees the dreaded table, with the cursed book laying open. It appeared to glow red, it’s old pages shivering in excitement.
He collapses into the chair, and looks down at the book. Don’t open it. But he knows that isn’t an option. This is the price, this is what he bargained for.
His hands move on their own and rest on the corner of the smooth page. A picture of a couple, maybe in their thirties standing in front of two children, look back at him with recognition. A boy and a girl. Both children share common features, both wearing solemn looks and old clothes. The assumed parents didn’t appear much livelier, almost sinister and threatening.
He flips through the pages involuntarily. One by one. He has seen these before. The same people stare back at him in every picture, and when the man reaches halfway through the album, he notices the little girl is no longer present.
Page after page. Sweaty, trembling hands. The family--now of three-- almost appears less burdened. A faint smile reaches the mother’s eyes, the father leaning in close to the small boy.
More pages. More pictures.
The slight reprieve in the family’s features slowly dissipate with each new picture. The man notices a faint shadow forming in the background, as the pages start to flip on their own. The shadow gets closer, materializing into an almost humanoid form.
The family appears terrified, haunted, the man thinks. The tremble has moved from his hands to his full body. All he can do is just sit there and wait.
The ancient album slammed shut. The man is broken from his trance. Realizing his body will now obey his mind, he races up the creaky stairs and runs to his room, slamming the door behind him. The weight on his soul is too heavy, he falls into bed, and deeply sleeps. 3:00 am.
The alarm goes off at 7:30 am. The man wakes up and looks down. His dog is tending to his puncture wound on the bottom of his left foot, his tongue warm and scratchy. The man jerks his foot away from the dog and looks at his wound. A fresh, nail-sized hole mocks him, red around the edges-- red, like the book.
He cleans the wound the best he can and wraps it. He finishes getting ready for work and slowly walks to the kitchen. He brews coffee. Sitting at the small kitchen table he pages through the newspaper, the one that arrived at his front door while he was dead alseep.
8:30 am. The man stands up, lets his dog out, and grabs his keys off the table by the door, heading towards the garage. He leaves for work and arrives at exactly 9:00 am.
The same routine unfolds when the man gets home. His dog greets him, he changes, eats dinner in front of the tv, showers, brushes his teeth, and goes to bed by 8:30 pm. The only difference in his routine is the slight limp, and favoring of his left foot as he navigates around the house.
The man has trouble sleeping. There were only a few pages left.
His eyes jolted awake at 2:00 am. He begins his treacherous journey to his sinister destination. Is this the last time? He is almost ashamed at the relief he feels at the idea.
He is led once again from his bedroom to the basement door, his dog whimpering behind him, never going past the entrance, sitting in the doorway with his nose buried in his paws.
The man is sitting in front of the book, red light reflecting off the man’s face as the pages begin to turn under his cold, damp fingertips.
The same pictures, the same strange family. He is forced to turn the pages, faster and faster, in tune with his bounding heart.
Almost at the end. A cry comes out of the man as he attempts to hold the last pages down. I DON’T WANT TO SEE! He screams at the book. Drops of sweat from his forehead fall on the faces of the family. They peer back at him with looks of morbid expectation. He is still attempting to hold the pages down. The dog begins to bark as a large blast sends the man backwards, releasing his hands from the pages. The pages slowly turn, one by one. The family appears closer now, the dark figure front and center. There is only one more page.
NOOO! The man screams and fights against his invisible chains. The page flips, and the man slowly raises his head and opens his eyes. It’s no use fighting anymore.
Silence. The dog shuts up, the barks choked off suddenly.
The man still has no control over his body. He is shaking now, faint cries isolated in the back of his throat.
He looks at the picture. Small, icy fingers slowly wrap around the man's neck.
The man screams.
3:30 am. The basement door slams shut.
At 5:00 am the timely newspaper flies and hits the ordinary door to the ordinary house. The neighborhood is quiet and peaceful, as the paperboy drives off and continues his route before the world begins to wake.
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As I was reading this, it played in my mind like a stop-motion animated horror film directed by Henry Czernik (The Nightmare Before Christmas). Except that it's more terrifying than anything Czernik could have come up with. Thank you Jessie for providing me with my own nightmare before Christmas!
Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
I…don’t even have words for this story, Jessie. My first thought at the end is “that was absolutely terrifying,” and I loved it—I don’t find many stories that will make me shiver the way this one did. Your repetition of “ordinary man,” I think, is what did it for me; the knowledge that ordinary people are the ones that become extraordinary (for better or for worse) is the scariest of them all. Nice work, Jessie, and best of luck in the contest this week! —Tommie Michele
Thank you so much Tommie! This one was definitely very fun to write, I’m so glad you enjoyed the “ordinary” element. I’m definitely more frightened of the monsters that we don’t always see coming. Thank you for the comment!