Running From the Dark


This post was originally published through Patreon on November 27, 2018.

Jared glanced over his shoulder, bit his lower lip, and fed his card into the ATM. The machine whirred, and a moment later, dispensed ten thousand Philippine pesos worth of canary yellow banknotes. He pocketed the cash, relief warring with the dread he’d tried and failed to shake all afternoon, and crossed Magsaysay Avenue toward his apartment.

Charcoal clouds bulged overhead, promising rain even as the tropical heat and humidity bore down on him. Not a combination Jared enjoyed. But then, his choice to settle in the Philippines had not been based on comfort.

It had been almost two years since he’d escaped their notice. Two years since he’d searched for a country with a low cost of living. Two years since he’d packed his suitcase with only the barest of essentials and flown halfway across the world to assume a new life and a new face.

Literally, a new face: a glamour that warped his features beyond recognition. It was a skill his father had taught him when he was seven—a skill he was told never to use unless it was absolutely necessary because the transformation, once complete, was irreversible.

Jared touched down on the steps to his apartment just as thick, fat drops began to beat down on the street like clubs. It was amazing how quickly the rain picked up during the rainy season. One moment, nothing. The next, torrential sheets of water cascading from the sky.

He waved to the guard, a young man in his early twenties, then climbed three flights of narrow concrete stairs, where he entered a dingy studio unit and closed the door behind him. The bulb overhead cast a dim orange light over the torn leather love seat that doubled as a fold-out bed, illuminating the moldy lump of tiles in the far corner that served as his kitchenette and the large blue plastic jug of water he hadn’t yet opened and was keeping on the floor beside the bathroom.

He sighed.

He’d had so much in the States to be thankful for—a nice house, a decent car, and a sizeable income—only he hadn’t appreciated any of it at the time, not until he’d been forced to leave everything behind and start all over again in a foreign country, one in which he wasn’t even authorized to reside, much less work.

There were nicer places to stay in the Philippines: BGC, Makati, and the more affluent parts of Cebu. In those regions, one could easily find a home that rivaled the coziest accommodations in California. But that only worked if you had money, and that was something Jared lacked in abundance.

His biggest mistake in fleeing to the Philippines was to assume that because it was a developing nation, he would somehow be able to make a life for himself despite not having the necessary paperwork. Indeed, even if he’d kept his passport—even if the face in the picture still matched the face he donned today—he would nevertheless be deported if caught given that he’d entered the country on a tourist visa and never left. The Bureau of Immigration took overstays seriously, and they were zealous in their work.

A colossally stupid decision, one he’d come to regret just three months into his new life. But it had been so easy to imagine when he was running that he could ditch his papers and start over the way so many people did in the movies. Unfortunately, the modern world and its digital ways were no place for a castaway like himself.

Anyway, he had a few months of savings left in his US-based checking account as long as he could stretch it. After that…

Jared sighed again. He pulled out the love seat’s fold-up mattress, set his head down on one of the worn-out cushions, and dozed.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he opened his eyes, only that when he regained awareness of his surroundings, something was wrong. The light was still on, but there was a dark corner of the room where it seemed to shy away like rain down a too-slick surface. He tried to focus on that corner, but whenever he glanced in that direction his eyes slipped over it like the light.

No, they couldn’t have found him. Not so soon. He’d been careful. For most of the day, something had felt off, but he’d hoped— Shit. He bolted from the mattress and sprinted toward the door.

Something flashed before his eyes just as the dark spot in the room moved. The air around him thickened and he found himself slowing, like one of those nightmares where someone chases you and it’s impossible to move your legs. And a nightmare was exactly what this creature was. Jared would have preferred to fall out of a ten-story window than to be captured by its kind.

“You should have never gotten involved with us,” the creature said in a voice like crumbling snake’s skin.

The room turned dark, and when that darkness took on substance and began to crawl down his nose and ears, Jared opened his mouth and screamed.

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