This post was originally published through Patreon on February 27, 2019.

I see them flitting through the shadows and I try not to be afraid. They don’t know that I can see them, that I track their every move, and they mustn’t catch on. So I avert my eyes, and from the corner of my eye, I watch, taking mental notes as they stalk the Earth, unseen to all except myself.

They’re phantoms, abstract projections of the dark. They move through our homes, through our places of business, watching us as I watch them. For years, I pondered their intentions, and I noticed that whenever I was sad, depressed, angry, or afraid, they would hover closer, and in their presence, my negative emotions would deepen.

My conclusion is that they’re hungry, that they dine on our hardship and our pain. I’ve observed people at their worst, and in those terrible, rock-bottom moments, that’s when they come out of hiding and open their mouths to feed. To them we are livestock. They’re the reason humans are so violent, the reason humans are so angry and afraid, the reason humans are always on the brink of war. It’s because of them, I am certain, that we’ve never moved beyond the tribalistic ethos that binds us. They sow discord and darkness, then rejoice in the blooms of evil that sprout from our corrupted hearts.

They believe humanity is defenseless. But all the while I’ve observed their behavior, and I’ve learned how they can be destroyed.

In the act of feeding, they become like us. The greater the evil, the greater the despair, and the greater the despair, the more physical they become until they’re almost humanlike, with contorted, unnaturally proportioned bodies and long, razor-sharp claws. The more physical they become, the more susceptible they are to attack. So I venture into the world, allowing my darker emotions to surface, and when I’ve reached the apex of my suffering, when I’ve engorged myself with the emotional poison that sustains them, they come, attracted to my pain like fish to a baited hook. Then, when they assume solid form, I attack.

My theory is that they were once like us, and I sometimes consider the possibility that what they’ve become isn’t entirely their fault, that someone or something might have transformed them into what they are today against their will. But in the end, I always reach the same conclusion, that eliminating them is an act of self-defense, and that, when all is said and done, it’s us versus them.

So far, I’ve killed nine. I cannot hunt them in groups, lest some escape to warn the others. Instead, I prey on them as individuals, a task that is agonizingly, painstakingly slow. Nine is but a drop in the bucket—the world is full of such creatures—but as the only human who can see them, the burden is mine to do what I can, even if it means sacrificing my own emotional well-being. My life is one of unending despair, but I cannot allow these creatures to destroy my human family, and if my own suffering means the world as a whole suffers a little less, I’ll continue the hunt until my dying breath.

I believe in justice. I have faith that there’s an unseen judge watching over us, and that, with an appraising eye, he examines my work. It is for this mysterious cosmic entity I labor, always with the hope that if I must suffer in this life, then perhaps I’ll be allowed happiness in the next.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

The Door at the End of the Universe

Slava Gerj/Shutterstock.com

When the door at the end of the universe came into view, the old man dropped to his knees and cried. How long had it been since he’d first set out in search of it? Across countless places and ages, he’d journeyed, and now, at long last, the door lay within reach, embedded in the side of a barren world-sized mountain.

The old man could feel the wind on his face, whipping the cracked and blistered skin that stretched over his ancient skull like parchment. At that moment, he bore the full weight of his age and dreamed of how good it would feel to be young again. But that great cosmic clock in the sky turned in only one direction, and while death might have spared him, time most certainly had not.

There was little vigor left in those rheumatic joints, but somehow, the old man rose to his feet; somehow, the old man stepped forward across the grass and the rocks, keeping the long sought-after door within his sight.

“Hello,” he whispered in a voice like windswept reeds. “I’ve come to meet with you at last.”

And with a gnarled, unsteady hand, he reached for the door handle and listened for the voice that had called to him so long ago.

Welcome, came the reply, profound and immediate, a soundless ripple across space and time. Long have you fought for your place in the world beyond, and now you may open the door. Now you may step over the threshold, and in so doing receive new life.

The old man reflected on his journey and on all the adventures he’d had along the way, and though his path had been fraught with endless perils and suffering, he was grateful for the change wrought inside of him, for it was a necessary precursor to the life yet to come.

What sort of existence awaited him on the other side? He didn’t know, but he wished with all his heart to find out. And so, with the last of his strength, he pulled on the door’s handle, and when it swung open, when the stars of that other world revealed themselves at last, the old man smiled, ready to embrace his eternal reward.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

The Hammer

Ermolaev Alexander/Shuttestock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on February 19, 2019.

Only after opening the door did I discover Mr. Duncan’s body, and by then it was too late. He’d given me yesterday off, and when I returned, the smell was overpowering.

It was an old shop—older, even than Mr. Duncan himself—and not many like it were left. This wasn’t due only to the unusual wares Mr. Duncan sold, but also to the building’s Dutch Colonial architecture, which came straight out of the early 1800s. There wasn’t much in the way of legal paperwork, but that had never overly concerned its owner. The shop wasn’t easy to find, not unless you knew what you were looking for.

My first thought upon opening the door was that I’d see Mr. Duncan seated at the back in his antique rocking chair, whittling or smoking a pipe. Instead, my nostrils were assaulted by the stench of spoiled meat, and when I spotted Mr. Duncan’s cadaver, hunched over a narrow glass counter, purple and bloated like a corpse thrown overboard, I gagged.

“Mr. Duncan!”

For almost two years, the old man had prepared me for this possibility. It was one of the reasons he agreed to take me on as an employee—with an eye toward making me his apprentice—even though he had so little business nowadays that it was hardly worth the expense. But until the day I found his body, his warnings had amounted to little more than a theoretical complication, an uncomfortable curiosity that would sometimes pass between us the way dark clouds sometimes pass across an otherwise peaceful sky.

I raked my hands through my hair. Every instinct urged me to go to him, to check for signs of life even though it was clear nothing could be done. But the look of the body suggested that doing so would be dangerous, a fact that Mr. Duncan had drilled into my head over and over again. The body was not just a message but a trap, so instead I raced behind the counter, steering clear of the poisonous corpse, and located a small steel box hidden beneath a loose floorboard.

Tears stained my eyes as I removed a second key from my pocket, one we’d both prayed I’d never have to use. I unlocked the box, opened it, and blinked.

“If something were to happen to me,” Mr. Duncan had said on multiple occasions—his usual, not-so-subtle way of preparing me for the worst—”you open that box and protect whatever you find inside.” Many times, I’d asked him what that something was. His reply was always that I was better off not knowing.

I was honored to be trusted with the secret of the box’s existence, along with a copy of the key that opened it, and I returned the old man’s gesture by respecting his privacy and steering clear of his secret. But oh, how curiosity had chiseled away at me. I spent so much time imagining what I wasn’t allowed to see that when I finally laid eyes on the box’s contents for myself, I was more than a little underwhelmed.

The object in question was a tiny metal replica of a blacksmith’s hammer. Made of polished, untarnished silver, it flashed when I held it toward the light. It was nice, bordering on beautiful, but why had Mr. Duncan gone to such great lengths to protect it, and why had the people he’d warned me about come around at last to look for it?

I made to place it in my pocket, then paused.

Why so much trouble over a trinket?

Might it not be better to leave it behind and let it be someone else’s problem? The idea that those who’d murdered Mr. Duncan might come looking for it again terrified me, and without knowing what the object was or why it was important, what was the point of taking on such risk?

Then I glanced at Mr. Duncan’s corpse. The sight of his discolored, disfigured body brought back the smell, and a fresh wave of nausea made me wretch all over again.

“Trust me and do as I say,” the old man had said just a week before his untimely passing. “There is much I would teach you if only there was time.” It was as if he’d foreseen his own death—and for all I knew, he had.

What have you gotten me into? I wanted to ask, but I knew he couldn’t answer.

Not now, not ever again.

When I finally palmed the tiny hammer, there was no magic flash of light nor supernatural revelation. All I had to go on was a promise I’d made to a now-deceased friend. But that promise, along with the trust it represented, was all I needed, and when I stepped outside into the light once more, unsure what sort of power I possessed, I said a prayer for its protection and hoped that whoever had killed Mr. Duncan wouldn’t come searching for me next.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.