You feel it, don't you? The tingling. A soft warmness sprouts in your heart at the thought of giving in. Though you lock it deep in your subconscious, you want it. The shadow gnaws rusting iron bars, eyeing its slit pupils at your school bullies down the street. Do what you must, help meowing kittens from trees, guide that old lady across the street. Whatever makes you feel like a good person. But you see it. The real you, your sharp nails rake into your cheeks, your teeth grind in frustration. Scan the mirror and tell yourself you're not a monster. I'll wait. You pinch your arm, trying to ignore the shiver running down your spine. You snuggle into your soft wool blankets, relieved your bible study saviour embraced you into false hope.
You wrap your cloak blanket around your newly awakened flesh, peering out the dim light between your curtain crease. Log brown brick houses stand identically in glum terraced rows. Each dusty window ledges filled with chipping paint, yellow singed colour covering outside door frames and drab. You see the sun suffocating behind grey rumbling clouds, wondering what the delicate warmth of sunlight feels against pale British skin. Eternal gusts and wintry showers pervert the Creek, flooding rain rivers down beeping streets, casting cold fevers and spreading mucky disease.
Living corpses deteriorate, slamming their car doors, their bony skin unfeeling to frosty gales of fall. Your skin tingles with goosebumps gazing at sour scowls plastered across townsfolk faces. Their black suits and work ties drain the light from you, identical in every way. Little six-year-old hands throw action figures and Raggedy Anne dolls in front gardens, kicking playmate's shins, forming blotchy purple bruises across young skin. Your breathing narrows as your fingers squeeze into your palm. This town brings out the worst in everything, a virus hijacking good cells and propagating corrupt coding into communities.
But you see them, don't you? Invisible puppeteering strings attached to friends and neighbours alike. Your fingertips flare, a burning irritancy swelling inside blisters pulsating beneath your skin. The shadow of the cross followed you, burrowing deep into your mind like a botfly. The smooth surface of the cross seared your flesh, corroding touch. Its venomous embrace marks you.
Your body trembles, remembering the opal carving numbing your fingers. Poor little child, you strayed far from home, chasing shadows, courting curiosity. Now you wrap yourself up into a burrito blanket, trying to warm the chill coursing through you. The creature's hot breath whispers in your ears, locked behind walls of restraint. You see the shadow, don't you? A formless shape follows an old woman along the pavement outside your window. Its two-dimensional movements mirror her hunched, brittle waddle on her walking stick. It follows her, unseen to scowling zombies driving twenty miles beside her. You rub your eyes, splashing cold water across your face, convincing yourself you didn't see red eyes blinking across the dark outline. Bright orange coals burn in the black mass' head outline, winking back at you as the elderly woman vanishes around the bend.
You enjoyed exploring late-night streets, didn't you? Pointing your little Stranger Things flashlight in moonlight alleys, illuminating blackened depths of the village woodlands. Go ahead, doodle in your Dipper Pines journal, play the paranormal investigator of Crow's Creek and find answers beyond your comprehension. You long for answers, yet your foot anxiously taps after seeing them. The shadow of the black cross hangs over you, over everyone. Friendly pigeons peck at streets to poke your eyes out. Do you believe your concealed curtains will save you from it? It isn't the bogeyman under your bed. The dark cloud in the corner of your eye is all around you, the urge to hurt, to maim. To kill…
You remember the low moan of woodland winds creating haunting melodies around the abandoned church. Your face flushed red and sweating as the ghoulish cries of low-pitched moans shook the earth beneath your toes. You dismissed the red flags, admiring spray-painted symbols of demonic origin and moth-eaten tapestries, flashing a flickering battery light in a realm of fungus and woodlice. You wish you had listened to your racing heart, ran away into the depths of the forests and fled Crow's Creek. But you didn't. You walked across broken church tables in shambles, admiring an alien-looking cross perched atop a slumped wooden alter. You swallowed the urge to vomit, recollecting the shrivelled body of the King of kings laying on an unnatural cross. His holy hands and feet were nailed to the opal carving, inked in black stone, the skull of a mountain goat in a place where the crown of thrones once laid. You feel lightheaded, recollecting its yellow molars grinning at you, your heart in your throat as rustling branches poked like skeleton fingers through empty windows.
The black sculpture stood unnaturally tall, absorbing all noon light from shattered stain glass. You inhaled the rotting aroma of a carcass head glued to a cracked stone neck, mesmerised by the mountain goat sieged to the shrivelled stone body of Christ. You felt a hot flush in your cheeks, your sins rising to the surface of your mind looking into its hollow eyes. The blood-pumping excitement of shoving your sibling onto the pavement fills your thoughts, and the grinning glee of egging your grumpy neighbour's house resurfaces through the monster's gaze. Its curved horns pierced its slanted jaw, a maddening high-pitched cackle escaping its stone throat. You fled the church, believing you could run. You couldn't.
You desperately search for the light in the valley of the shadow. You count to ten, naming at least one person in your life with a good heart. Miss Rose, your middle school teacher, comes to mind. As you reminisce her sweet pink smiles and adorable pictures of her fluffy Pomeranian across your class wall, an app notification pops up…You fight back the tears and find a familiar mugshot in the village news. A skinny-faced woman with sunken cheeks, black-rimmed eyelids and small dotted pupils staring menacingly from the picture. It is her. Miss Rose. You remember her sweet, caring gaze behind triangle glasses, giving out gold stickers, and to quiet to tell students off. Now she is 'Rose the ripper', 'Slayer of naughty children’ in the village headline. Her blue eyes turned ghostly grey in her prison picture. Her golden hair was covered in dried blood, and her red-stained fingers held her prison number. The black cross is cancer in crow's Creek, a festering tumour feasting off your essence. It wants you.
The shadow's cold finger caresses your neck. A spot of saliva snuffing out your last spark of hope. It nudges your gaze out the window as a group of the school ket wigs roll by on bikes. You see their lips smirk outside your window, clutching their silver vape pens, chucking crumpled cans in your driveway. The dark infection shines in their soulless pupils, the strings of the black cross dangling above them. The disease infests all around you, rising as a sharp pain turns to pleasure in your chest. You feel its slimy scales wrap around you. There is nothing you can do. You exhale, gripping your fingers over the kitchen blade on your window ledge. It doesn't matter. Everything is evil here…