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Horror Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I never liked pranks. Everyone seems to think it’s because I grew up with three older brothers but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Aside from the occasional teasing and name-calling they were actually quite protective of me. In reality my hatred of mean jokes has its roots less at home and more in classrooms and on playgrounds. 

I never fit in as a kid. The coldness and strictness of my eastern European upbringing has always clashed with my more soft and warm nature, and my overall shyness didn’t make finding friends any easier. I remember the first time I was pranked. I was four or maybe five years old, playing with the other children in preschool when a schoolmate of mine came up behind me and covered my eyes. She told me we would play a game of trust. She would guide me around the room and I’d have to trust that she was leading me on a safe path. It was only once I felt my class’ beloved toy train get crushed underneath my feet and heard the distressed voices of my peers that I realized what happened. I opened my eyes to find every child in the room pointing at me, screaming, some even crying. No matter how much I pleaded for mercy, how much I tried to explain to the teacher that it wasn’t my fault, it was no use. My knuckles bled for 3 days after she beat them with that hard wooden ruler. 

From that point on pranks became a part of my life. The children would push me off playsets, ruin my drawings or just tease me in any way they saw fit. Not even my brothers could protect me as they would always get in trouble instead of the bullies. Moving across the ocean helped for a little while, but the American dream was dead by then and even the west’s more progressive attitudes towards child abuse couldn’t protect me for long. My teenage years were spent getting joke Valentine’s day cards and being blamed for everything by teachers just so they could watch as I desperately tried to explain myself with tears streaming down my cheeks. I think that part was always the worst. Knowing I did nothing wrong but no one believing me. And knowing that even if someone did there was nothing they could do to make it stop. 

College was my saving grace. I finally felt like I could breathe. It took me a while to adjust to normal life without constant anxiety. I eventually had to start therapy after a teacher forgot about my essay one time and I collapsed on the floor crying when he tried to convince me I never submitted it. The medication I got helped a ton, even though I would still get paranoid when someone asked me out on a date, I was finally able to feel some form of peace. I did everything I could to earn myself a normal life. I made friends for the first time, real friends who cared about me and laughed with me rather than at me. I was doing great.

You know, I feel like a lot of people who come here talk a lot about how they regret not appreciating what they had in life before they eventually lost it. But honestly for me it’s the opposite. I was always so grateful for my new life and the friends I made. I even started praying again just to thank the Lord for helping me find the right path. I started going to church again. Every night I would take time to just sit in the feeling of happiness for a while and every time life got hard I reminded myself of everything I had. I did everything you’re supposed to. I did everything right. And yet here I am. Missing it all as if it never happened. As if I never had the chance to enjoy it. I’m sorry for all the ranting, I guess I just want you to have more context. Or maybe I just can’t figure out where to start. I’d say it’s too soon but I have the feeling it actually might already be too late.

Around four years ago my best friend Eddie inherited a massive house in Tennessee from his grandparents. He always wanted to have his own home but he wasn’t really the type of person who enjoyed living alone, so he offered me and 3 of his other friends a chance to move in with him after we graduate. Of course we said yes. My brother joked that we were starting an anarchist commune and even though I know he meant it in a demeaning way, it was kind of my dream come true. Living with my best friend in a beautiful old house with a backyard garden was perfect beyond my wildest dreams. I remember sitting in the little gazebo at the end of our garden for the first time, looking around at the trees and thinking: “It doesn’t get better from here”. God I wish I knew how right I was. 

Everything was going great at first. Aside from the occasional row about unwashed dishes or hair in the shower drain we were all quite content. Over the course of the first two months we all slowly found jobs, with me being the last one. Yes I know an anthropology degree is not exactly the most sought after in today's economy but working at one of the busiest coffee shops in town for close to minimum wage was not something i envisioned either. Eddie comforted me saying I was gonna find something better soon but as the months went by and the job market grew darker I started to slowly get used to it. Everything can’t be perfect, I thought to myself, as long as I was able to afford rent, food and gas, I was golden. Life was a little harder but we still had each other. At least until about a month ago.

It started with a small joke. A birthday present wrapped in 10 layers of gift wrap which ended up being just a small hand written note guiding me towards the real gift, also impossibly wrapped. I was a bit frustrated but honestly, it was actually quite fun. Still, I couldn’t help the feeling that something had changed. The looks on my friends’ faces when they laughed at me as I was desperately trying to open the box felt awfully familiar. I talked to them about it, told them they know I don’t like pranks and that although I was grateful for their present I would be even more grateful if there were no more such jokes in the future. They said it was just some mindless fun. I don’t know why that didn’t seem strange at the time. I guess I just didn’t want to make too much of a fuss about it. For a while things went back to normal but then it happened again. Two weeks later I was taking a shower and as I got out I noticed that the carpet below me turned blood red. I screamed at the top of my lungs and started inspecting my body for wounds, only to realize it was one of those color changing rugs that goes from white to red when wet. I could hear my housemates laughing from the other room. It was a cold, sharp laughter and as I stood there, hands firmly gripping the towel around my shaking chest, it seemed to get louder and louder. When I finally walked out everyone was staring at me, their smiles impossibly wide. I ran into my room and locked myself inside. I took my meds and hid under the covers, covering my ears and sobbing silently until I finally fell asleep. The next day the carpet was still there, but it no longer changed color, and when I asked Eddie about it he just smirked and said I must’ve just had a bad dream. I have to admit I almost screamed at him. Not once in the 3 years we’ve lived together had I considered moving out. Not until that day. I didn’t care how much of an overreaction it might’ve been in their eyes, I made a promise to myself: one more prank and I’m out. 

The final strike came 3 days ago. I was in the kitchen when Molly, one of my housemates, came up from behind me and asked me what I was doing. She had this strange look on her face, her eyes wide and the corners of her mouth tense, her nostrils shaking. I told her that I was cooking dinner and gestured towards the pot of boiling pasta on the stove. “No.” she said, “What are you doing?”. My gaze fell onto the chopping board in front of me. I shook my head and let out a nervous chuckle, “Oh just chopping some onions for the sauce.” I said. She tilted her head slightly and nodded. “I can help you with that.”. I don’t know why I gave her the knife. I’m still not sure whether it was even my choice. I just remember watching as she placed her right hand onto the cutting board and lifted the knife with her left. I knew what would follow, but I couldn’t look away. The knife fell hard on her fingers, slicing them open almost instantly. Blood started flowing out of the wounds but that didn’t stop her from pushing down further until her bones made an awful crunching noise. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream. But I was completely frozen. Molly turned her head slowly in my direction, her face malformed into an impossible smile. “Oh don’t be like that Hana. It’s just a joke!” she said as she lifted the knife from her mangled hand and stepped back. Slowly, her severed fingers started reforming. Broken bones rebuilt and re-cracked into place, lost blood making its way back from the cutting board and up into her open flesh, skin reweaving itself as if it was never damaged in the first place. I knew I could move again when I felt the vomit pool inside my throat. I ran outside and straight into my car, locking all doors and driving off as fast as possible. I didn’t know where I was going but I didn’t care. I just needed to get out of there. For a second I wondered how I would explain it to Eddie, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I really had no way to warn him without seeming insane. I decided to turn off my phone and drive as far away as possible, I’d sleep it off, then calm down and recollect. Make a plan, figure out what to do next, it can wait. I drove for hours and only stopped at a gas station once I was almost out of fuel. At first I thought they were on a break but the inside of the building seemed too dark. I decided I would stop at the next gas station, but when I tried to start my car again it died almost instantly. It didn’t make sense, I was low on fuel but not THAT low. I tried again and again, I cursed and prayed and cried. There was nothing I could do but wait until someone turned up. I sighed and fell back in my seat. Sleeping in my car wasn’t that bad. As long as I was far away from that house, I would be okay.

I woke up 2 hours later with pain in my stomach. I looked up, still half asleep, expecting the gas station to be open again. Instead I noticed a face pressed up against the passenger seat window. I screamed and bumped my head against the roof as I realized the face belonged to Eddie. “Hey Hana!” he laughed, “I got your message. You must’ve been here for a while. Don’t worry, I can give you a ride home, we can stop for fried chicken on the way if you want.”. I wanted to believe I was just imagining it, maybe all this had a rational explanation or maybe I was going crazy. But for some reason when I looked at him I was convinced that if I didn’t leave the car he would break through my window and take me by force. And so I went with him. I knew he wouldn’t be alone, but no one could’ve prepared me for the moment I sat down in his car and saw 3 pairs of bulging eyes stare at me from the back seats. I immediately felt my stomach growl and as if on cue all 4 of my once friends laughed that same cold, sharp laugh. And I knew I just made a terrible mistake.

Despite Eddie’s promises, it seemed none of the roads would lead us to food anytime soon. Every time we passed a restaurant I could hear all 4 of them laughing, making a joke about how I must’ve gotten my hopes up. Hours passed, maybe days. At first I was calm, accepting my fate and dissociating as much as I could before the sharp pain in my belly would force me back into reality. It made no difference whether I was silent or speaking or screaming or crying or pleading. No amount of anger and desperation could save me from the mockery. The car kept going strong, passing another restaurant and then another. What do they want from me? I thought. I asked. They didn’t reply. They just laughed.

I don’t know when I decided it was better to die than to continue this nightmare, I just know that at some point I managed to open the passenger seat door and leap out of it, falling to the hard concrete below. The car stopped a few yards away. My body writhed in pain, all i wanted was to run but i couldn't even get up. When I finally heard their laughter above me I no longer had any tears to cry. I stopped moving, even breathing, in hopes that a dead body couldn’t provide as much entertainment and they’d leave me be. But this only made their laughter grow as they pulled my limp body up from the road and dragged me back into the car. Every second felt like weeks and every painful breath I took made me wish I could just suffocate myself. I no longer believed freedom would come, in life or in death, but giving up wasn’t an option. It took all my strength and god knows how much time, but eventually I was able to distract Eddie just for a moment, long enough for me to leap out of my seat and tackle him. His head burst through the window but his hands stayed firm on the wheel. The back seats erupted in laughter and even Eddie, whose face was now filled with shards of glass, stared at me giggling. I looked into the eyes of this thing that was once my friend and started strangling it. I never before in my life had the courage for physical violence, not even in self defense, but I saw no other way. With his vocal chords obstructed he could no longer laugh, and I might’ve imagined it but just for a moment I swear I saw fear in his eyes. He lost control of the wheel as he forced my hands off his throat and in that split second I managed to grab it and steer us off the road and into a field.

I only noticed the crash as I was being ejected from the front of the car. I was thrown out and onto the ground once again and as I struggled to find my breath I glimpsed at the car, now completely destroyed, at the base of a massive tree. For a moment there was nothing. The night sky was clear and the soft wind chilled my wounds. I could breathe again. But as I slowly stood up I could see the smallest sign of movement from inside the destroyed vehicle. I stood there for a moment and watched as the mangled corpses of those monsters moved to the windows, their broken jaws hanging from their faces and their arms flailing desperately in search of a door to open. The one who had Eddie's face still had a few fingers attached to his hand. It pointed at me. And they all laughed and laughed.

The police didn’t believe me of course and neither did my family. Apparently I haven’t even been gone for more than 24 hours. The car was never found and neither were the bodies. My brothers promised to help me move but in the end there wasn’t really anything for them to help with. The house was empty, even my room was completely bare. Had it not been for the keys there would be no way of proving I ever lived there. Eddie is slowly disappearing from the few pictures I have left with him and it seems like my family has already forgotten who he was. I haven't slept since it happened. And I don't know how long I can hold on. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that if I do eventually fall asleep I won’t wake up ever again.

April 20, 2024 00:45

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1 comment

Felix Corbyn
22:54 May 07, 2024

This was very interesting, Lyra! I wonder, was the MC hallucinating her friends laughing/smiling at her, or was it truly happening? Either way, wonderful submission.


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