47 sharks, day 14
the withering man, part 5.
Knowledge is like a dry-aged filet mignon. For every juicy, succulent bite, something had to suffer.
The whole way home, tiny things scurried at the edges of my vision. Whenever I turned to look there was nothing there. Just the sounds of squelching, and crackling, and scuttling. Like rats. I hate rats. I caught a few glimpses, and I wished they had been rats. Rats would have made sense.
I passed by Mei’s house and almost went inside just to get off the street. Just to feel safe. But I knew that if I passed through her front door I would tell Mei everything. I would tell her about Briana. I would tell her about what just happened in the park. I would tell her about the withering man. Maybe she would believe me. Maybe she would think I was nuts.
Either way she would hug me and listen to everything I said. Maybe I would start to cry. She would look at me with those huge eyes and tell me she was there for me, because that’s the kind of girl Meizhan Lin is. And I would suck her down with me. Right into all this craziness. Maybe He would start to watch her, too.
I kept walking.
“That was fast,” said my mom when I got home.
“I wasn’t feeling it.” She turned to look at me.
“Jesus Jessy, you look terrible,” she walked up to me and moved the strands of hair from my face. “You’re so pale.”
“It’s windy out. Listen, I’m going to crash, okay? I’ve got a stomach ache.”
“Of course. You want some pie? It’s razzleberry.”
I shook my head. “I just want to sleep.”
“No razzleberry? It must be serious.”
I smiled weakly. “Oh, and I don’t think I’m up for school tomorrow.”
“That’s fine. We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?”
“Yeah. Thanks mom.” I walked up the stairs.
“I love you,” she said to me.
“Love you too.”
I went to my room but I didn’t sleep. I stayed up until almost 1 AM doing internet research and lurking on a couple of forums. I stared at the screen a lot and thought about Sofia. I finally drifted to sleep to the sound of angry music at low volume, pissed off that I wasn’t more more sad.
November 15th, 2013
When I woke up I found my stuffed bat, Sadi (short for Sadako), clutched tightly to my chest. I didn’t remember picking Sadi up, but it made sense. I had a text from my mom.
There’s oatmeal in the rice cooker, and some raspberries in the fridge. Call me at work if you need anything. I told the team I might have to leave to be with my daughter. So daughter, so don’t hesitate.
I had to give it to my mom. She was stepping up. She’d probably make me pay for it later.
I went downstairs. Adam was at work, too, so I had the house all to myself. I ate my oatmeal, watched an episode of Arrow on Netflix, and checked all my other 5,000 text messages from friends that offered me support or tried not to sound like they were asking if I knew anything about what had happened to Sofia. I answered a few of them. For the people that actually cared.
Then I went back upstairs, and spent the rest of the day on the same thing I did the night before: research. I am going to lay out all of what I found by category instead of just doing it chronologically, because it’ll be easier to write it that way and easier to read. Some of this might also have been from research I did over the weekend. I can’t entirely remember.
- Derrick and the Unhallowed
I got an email from Derrick of Notes from Beneath earlier in the day.
Re: A photograph at the Sofia Anastos Crime Scene
Sorry it took so long to get back to you. We’ve gotten 48 emails from people who “knew Sofia Anastos,” so we had to give your claim the fine-toothed-comb-of-truth treatment. Your story checks out. I’m glad you came to us first. If you haven’t been contacted by reporters yet, you will be. Don’t tell them anything. It’s too dangerous. I looked at that photograph you mentioned, and get this: I looked at the picture eight times before that, but I never saw the man you mentioned. Once you pointed it out he was right there staring me in the face. This is Genuine Freaky Shit™.
Ben and I will research this further, and keep you updated. It might even turn into a Investigation if our findings are significant. We did some quick preliminary research, and so far all we’ve been able to find is this. I think there is some truth there, buried under all the pretentious posing. You’ll have a better idea than I do. We’ll keep digging.
What I am going to say next is very, very important. Right now, I bet you are feeling The Itch. The Itch to dig into the smokey muck underneath your feet and uncover the truth. What happened to you changes you. I know. I’ve been there. So go ahead and do your Googling. Read web pages. But stop there. Don’t follow any leads, or do any field investigation. If this avenue is real, and I believe it is, it is Fucking Dangerous. Contact us, and we’ll do the dirty work and tell you everything every step of the way. We won’t keep you in the dark. Don’t step into the shadows yourself. Your friend was murdered by someone or something. You don’t want to end up the same way.
I almost replied “Don’t patronize me I can fucking take care of myself,” but I forced myself to read the pages he linked instead. By the time I was done I had calmed down. But I was still going to ignore his advice because it was stupid. Here’s my response, which I rewrote three times before sending.
I appreciate your concern for my safety, but Sofia was MY friend. And the withering man, if I’m not just a delusional psycho, is haunting ME. I saw him again last night, at the Flash Mob of Faces and Eyes. I might be a dumb and weak high school girl, but I’m going to follow this down the rabbit hole, even if the rabbit has glowing red eyes and sharpened teeth. I’ve never been afraid of the dark. I’m not going to start now.
The “been there” link led to a page on his blog called Why I Got Into this Game. He talked about how when he was 10 he saw his best friend disappear into a “ball of splintered light.” Ever since then he’d been obsessed with finding out the “truth behind the haze.”
The research link led to a page called Whispers of the Unhallowed. Here is the About section:
Dark and terrible things exist at the edge of sanity. Just outside our fragile shell of a safe and ordered world, the universe teems with screaming and horrible beings who care nothing for our lives and take small pleasure in our suffering. Ever since I was a child, I have been blessed and cursed to see glimpses of these dark masters. Now I serve as their medium. I do not know whether they use me to reveal their faces to the world, or if my soul will one day be rent asunder for daring to unveil their secrets. All I know is that I see things, and I must communicate them or be driven mad. Care to join me?\
Terribly cool. It gave me chills. I had no idea whether this guy was serious or not. I read practically the whole site, and he never broke character. The content itself turned out to be a series of drawings by the medium, who went by Kitherling. His art was really awesome. Mostly charcoal on paper, although some were made using a drawing tablet, and two of them were full-color acrylics.
As impressive and twisted at the pictures were, I got more disappointed the further I went. Among his “dark masters” were Nyarlathotep, Slender Man, a few of the Cenobites, and what looked like the guy in the creepy bunny suit from Donnie Darko. If these came to him in his dreams, I bet he often fell asleep watching YouTube videos.
Then I got to the withering man. I saw why Derrick directed me here. It was Him. He looked a little different than when I saw him, but the drawings were slightly stylized. But there he was. The dress, the freaky eyes, the withered face. It was labeled “The Withered Lady,” even though it definitely looked like a guy’s face. Kitherling even put in the streaks of red in the flowing gown with pastel. Underneath, the description read:
Little is known of the Withered Lady, save that she appears during moments of death and calamity. To see her is a terrible omen.
There were a bunch of comments, mostly inane things like, “Never heard of this one. Sounds kinda like slender, only a chick. Neat!” And “i’d still bang her.” One comment caught my eye, because it didn’t sound like the others.
If you see Him, it is because he has chosen you to see Him. The gathering of discarded flesh does not long survive His presence. If you watch Him wither, it is because His attention has gouged into you, like a rusted fishhook dug into the soft palate of your existence. Wriggle all you wish.
Creepy. For some reason, it made my stomach hurt. I looked up “The Withered Lady” on Google but I didn’t find anything interesting.
The other picture that caught my attention was one of the least interesting. It showed a man in a suit, looking all stodgy and English. He looked normal, except that his face was covered in scars, as were his hands, which held a book. The description said he was some kind of demon, who stole souls. It struck me because of the name. “The Man of Many Tongues.” I had heard it before.
- Jagged Darkness
I hadn’t looked at Jagged Darkness at the Screaming Edge of Sanity–the picture I drew and gave to Sofia that she carried around with her–since the day before. I took it out now. It was covered in notes, little doodles, a haiku, and other writing. Sofia did that on everything. It was easy to tell if she’d actually done the reading for a class. All the margins would be full.
At the top of the page, next to where I’d written the title, was Mr. Clarkson’s name in hearts. No surprise, there. Half the girls at school probably had that written on their books. At least Sofia’s heart had fangs on it. There was also a haiku about vampires.
My sharp teeth sink in
A taste, my love, for nothing
else makes me alive
Pretty cool. There were some quotes from Fields of the Nephilim, and one that I think was Emily Dickinson. Sofia had drawn a in the corner, which was labeled Jayda Dark. I laughed when I saw that. That was the name of the hero of our webcomic. Part of the reason we never got anywhere is because we couldn’t agree on the gender of the main character. I wanted Jayden Dark. It’s weird; I like reading about female characters, but whenever I come up with main characters they’re always boys. I guess we’d never settle that argument, now. I bit my lower lip.
On the bottom of the page was the thing I was looking for. It was written in small block letters.
THE MAN OF MANY TONGUES HAS YOU
It wasn’t Sofia’s handwriting.
- The Flash Mob of Faces and Eyes
Katim, a.k.a. cute tall guy from the freaky flash mob last night, emailed me early in the day. So I gave him my email address. So what?
Just checking in
Hi, Jessica. I wanted to email you to make sure you were okay. You looked pretty shaken up after everything. Ping me back and let me know.
It made my head a little swimmy. Apparently he was a college student. I emailed him back straight away.
Re: Just checking in
Thanks Katim! I’m fine. I was a little shaken up but I’m much better now. The drink you gave me really helped.
I have a confession to make. I wasn’t really at the park for the flash mob. Maybe you realized that when I flipped out 😉 I was just walking nearby and I saw the lights. So I have to ask: what was up with all that? It was crazy.
Re: Just checking in
You’re right, I did figure that out. But it’s cool. I’m glad you were there, because then I got to meet you. To answer your question it was just a flash mob, although I admit it did get a little weirder than I expected. My friends and I were there because we’re part of a school improv group. Our group facilitator found the ad on Craigslist and we decided to do it. There were a lot more people than us, though. I’m not sure who organized it.
We didn’t know what was going to happen in the center of the circle, only what to do once the eighth chime sounded. I admit it seems a little weird to do a flash mob at night in an empty park. I suppose it was designed to be filmed. The videos are already all over YouTube. And I had no idea it was happening at a crime scene. How crazy is that?
Also, you have really intense eyes. I thought you should know.
I read that last line a bunch of times. Just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
The Craigslist ad gave a time and place, and said to contact the poster for more details. I went back to it a couple of times throughout the day, because something about it bugged me. It wasn’t until that evening that I realized what it was. The ad gave the exactly location, and it was dated November 12th. Two days before Sofia’s murder.
Katim and I kept emailing each other. We didn’t talk about the flash mob any more, and I didn’t talk about Sofia’s murder or any of the recent weirdness. We just talked. He was an engineering student at Atherton College, which was in Firlund, a few towns over from Caldwell. He wanted to build planetary rovers. He did theater on the side and was a huge fan of classic horror. I told him I was a student at Caldwell High School, but I forgot to mention that I was only 16. I showed him the drawings on my website. He said they were really good. We found out we both loved calzones, and he casually mentioned there was a really good calzone place in Firlund. I realized I hadn’t been to Firlund in awhile. That was no good at all.
Confession time. I have a thing for serial killers. I guess that’s pretty common because serial killers are neat. I don’t want to be a serial killer, or anything. I don’t want to kill people. I mean, of course I want to kill some people, sometimes. Like Jenna. Or the guy who founded the Westboro Baptist Church. But that’s just normal wanting to kill people. It’s not some uncontrollable urge. I just find the whole thing fascinating.
This certainly looked like a serial killer. So I did some research.
It was really hard. The freaky stuff helped me not think about my dead friend. Looking at pictures of nightmare creatures gave me something else to see when I closed my eyes other than… My brain occupied this weird double head space. On one level, I thought there really was something spooky and supernatural going on here. There was too much crazy stuff to just be normal. But even though I kind of believed it, it was a game. A mystery to unravel that gave me the same tingling on the back of my neck I got reading Peter Straub or Robert McCammon.
The other half of my brain knew all of that was crazy. It just was. You want there to be vampires and ghosts but it always turns out it’s some guy whose mom kept him in a closet. If I wanted to find out what happened to Sofia I had to accept that it might just be some psycho.
I had to keep stopping my research because it messed me up. Normally gruesome images of real life murders didn’t bother me. I hoped it wouldn’t last. Then I got mad at myself for blaming Sofia for sensitizing me. It was a whole thing.
Sofia’s body showed signs of what might be piqeurism. That’s when a killer gets sexual pleasure from puncturing someone else’s skin. Ugh. There had been a few cases of bodies found with similar wounds to Sofia’s, but never tied to any particular serial killer or area or time.
I spent three hours reading about piquerists, and looking at pictures of their victims. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The screwed up thing is that sort of understood it. I hadn’t cut myself in a long time, but I could remember the intense release. I stopped when I noticed my fingernails were cutting into my palm, and I no idea how long they’d been like that.
- Three Digits
At some point fatigue and monotony took their toll. I started to nod off. My faced crashed into the keyboard a few times. I tried to slap myself awake, but that never works. I just think it’s funny. Eventually I lost the battle and passed out. I’m not sure how long I was under. I’m not sure when I started Sleep Googling.
Did I talk about my sleepwalking before? I did, a little. I don’t know what it’s like for other people. I always remember it, which I guess is pretty unusual. I see the world the way it is, but it’s also different. It’s hard to explain. I do specific things, and they have a meaning that doesn’t make sense in any other context. But it’s not psychic, or anything. I don’t have this grand plan guiding me. Things are just different.
This time, each letter I typed was connected to this network of black lines that stretched out and intersected all across the world. Like a huge spiderweb. As I typed I was tangled up the web into balls and shapes. I was trying to build something. I looked through my history later and saved some of the things I searched for, because they’re pretty weird and funny. Except the last one.
hairy badgers of glitterdoom (don’t look that up; it’s gross)
last train to jitterbug calaca
murder weapon cavity pain
red eyes blue eyes one eye through eyes
why are my bones all sparkly
left finger at bus-stop please contact
Something about the results of the last one caught my attention, and I slowly bloomed into wakefulness. One of the first hits was a random forum discussion where someone talked about the time they watched someone else lose their fingers in a bus accident. The forum was part of a page called “Three Digits.” I clicked over, and it blew my damn mind.
It was a community/support group specifically designed for people who had witnessed other people lose their fingers or hands on more than one occasion.
Never in my wildest imaginings did I think there’d be a group about it. The site had a section on testimonials, stories about famous people who had seen associates lose fingers, and even a webcomic about a one handed man in a world where everyone else had stumps. There was a shop that sold, among other things, fingerless gloves. “For all of your friends!”
Weird and weirder.
I spent awhile on the very active forum. Everyone told their stories. A lot of the people had logical reasons to have seen so many flying fingers. Some of them worked as cabinet makers under sub-par conditions, or in factories, or slaughterhouses. There were people with family histories of nerve disease. There were a couple of doctors who had amputated fingers and apparently just needed to talk about it. The forum had a huge sticky discussion thread started by a guy claiming to be a voodoo priest and offering to buy the fingers if they were no longer needed.
And there were people like me. People who had seen a lot of accidental amputations for no reason. They were just cursed. After way too much time reading other people’s stories, I opened an account and posted something.
Strange bald man in a dress
I just found this site today, but it’s really fascinating. I’ve seen six people lose fingers in my life (I’m 16), the most recent of which was last night when a police officer accidentally shot them off of someone in a flash mob. At least, I think it was an accident. He might have been aiming for his head, lol.
Anyway, the question I wanted to ask is pretty weird, and probably it won’t make sense to anyone. But I’ll feel stupid if I don’t ask. Have any of you ever seen a man in a black and red dress, with no hair, whose face kind of withers when you look at it? Then the man disappears? I saw him again last night, just after the guy’s hand got shot. It might mean nothing, but I am just curious.
I tried to upload the cropped photo I made of the withering man from the Notes from Beneath website, but apparently I hadn’t saved it because I couldn’t find the file. I went back to the blog to download it again, but the image wouldn’t load. So I gave up, went back to my forum post, and clicked submit. It said Your comment is awaiting moderation.
When I checked back later, the comment had been approved and had two replies.
NameGame: I am tired of repeating this to new people, but I will do it anyway. See, up at the top of the page, where it says GUIDELINES FOR POSTING, in big shiny letters? See where #4 says “Before you ask a question or start a new topic, make sure to search the archive to see if it’s already covered. The discussion you are interested in might already be in progress”? Yeah, go ahead and read that more carefully.
wheelgal7: @NameGame, you know under number 7 where it says “don’t be a cock mongler,” and has a picture of your avatar? Yeah, you might want to read that more carefully.
@Jessytheshrouded It’s not a weird question! There’s an older thread about this. (link) Just be warned. That thread is from before the forum was moderated, so there’s some weird trolling.
Welcome to 3D!!!
I thanked wheelgal7, and went over to the linked topic. It was called “has this hapened to anyone else? (spooky)”
The thread had 537 replies. I read every single one of them without getting out of my chair. Here is the first post. I cleaned it up because the grammar was so bad it was hard to read. You’re welcome.
Hi my name is Angela and I’ve had the finger thing happen to me too. But what I wanted to ask people is if you’ve also see a woman with no eyelids and a bald head in a pretty (but scary) dress that is only there over away from you and then disappears. Because I see that sometimes and my mom says I’m seeing things like an imaginary friend but I don’t think so.
What followed was a long discussion. Some people said “that’s spooky” or “so lame” and moved on. Plenty of people criticized the girl’s spelling and grammar. But others reacted the way I reacted as I read it.
Animalius Rex: I’ve seen him, but…I never had the balls to tell anyone.
MartianManslapper: Yeah, me too. Jesus. Does this have something to do with our finger curse? It has to, right?
thedudewiththebike: GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!
I think some of them were faking it. But I’m almost certain some of them weren’t. Then it got weirder.
Withertongue616: The skin, the bone, the flesh, clogs us like a clump greasy hair stuffed into our throats. We can spin neither truth nor lies until the obstruction is incised. When a limb is stunted, a doctor amputates so it will not rot. When a tool is buried beneath a wall of flesh, He tears away the flesh, so the new blood may blossom.
There he was. The person who had posted on the Withering Lady picture on Whispers of the Unhallowed. I felt sick. That wasn’t his only post.
Withertongue616: The madness stands next to you and screams in your ear. You feel the warmth on the small hairs of our skin. You feel the spittle flick against the side of your face. Your eardrums reverberate and bleed. You could step away, and spare yourself the pain. But you won’t. Because you know once the screaming stops, you’ll be able to hear the whispers.
I didn’t realize until the end of that post that my hands had snaked up to cover my ears.
To their credit, the 3Ders ignored him for awhile. But after five posts of his they started to respond.
NameGame: Ignore the troll.
MartianManslapper: @withertongue Dude, you’re not that creepy. Go away.
Danniboi: WTF is this guy’s problem?
Weirdly enough, it worked. For nearly 400 posts WitherTongue616 was silent. The 3Ders went back to trading stories about the withering man. Only, as far as I could tell none of them actually ever saw him wither. Or at least, they never said anything. They just saw him for a second. Some of them more than once. One person claimed to have seen him dozens of times, but I think he was lying. The discussion diverged a bit into gardening, or whether Dark Knight Rises was better than the Avengers, and a few other things.
As I reached the end of the discussion thread, I started to get nervous. A dull nausea spread over my gut. I winced every time I scrolled down to reveal a new post. Why was I doing this? Was I still asleep? A sharp pain bloomed in my chest. I dug my fingernails into my palm. Then I hit the bottom of the last page, and read the final post. It was dated five months ago.
WitherTongue616: She did not have to bleed, so very many times. Her sin was to be young and wet and succulent, and her scent was too strong when it ached with hunger. She did not have to bleed. But you do, my jagged little thing. Oh yes, you do.
I closed the browser window and turned off the monitor. I turned the computer off. I threw my phone on the bed, rushed out of my room, and shut the door.