The Civil Army

The Geek

Fourteen-year-old Patrick ran through the woods as fast as he could, fearing the repercussions should he stop. Dry leaves crunched under his heavy, yet nimble steps as he hurried along. His backpack swung uncomfortably to the left and to the right from his shoulders as the books inside slammed around from the rapid movements. The neck of a Saxophone stuck out through a gap in the backpack’s zipper. Taking a brief moment to look behind himself as he ran, Patrick did not see the sudden steep decline in the landscape and ran right over the edge.

If Patrick had been lucky, he would’ve tumbled down the hill, maybe suffering some scrapes and bruises. Unfortunately, Patrick had not been lucky, at least not the good kind of lucky. The neck of his protruding Saxophone caught a stray tree branch and swung him out over the hill instead of down it. The musical instrument held firm in Patrick’s backpack and the sudden force of a teenage boy caused the branch to break with a loud crack that echoed a great distance. As previously stated, if Patrick had been lucky, he would have simply tumbled down the hill suffering nothing more than some scrapes and bruises. Instead, Patrick found himself going a distance through the air, the hill getting farther and farther away. Then, almost as quickly as he distanced from the decline, it rapidly grew closer.

About halfway down the slope, Patrick landed with his left arm between a rock and his chest. He then bounced back up into the air, rolling as he did, and landed on his back. The books in his backpack knocked the wind out of him. The neck of the Saxophone connected with the back of his head, dazing him before he could realize he had no breath. And the branch caught in the neck of the Saxophone shot up, ripping the flesh of his right earlobe and puncturing his right armpit. Patrick tumbled the rest of the way down, his body settling in a bed of dead leaves and sticks.

It was a few moments before Patrick regained his senses. He was lying on his back with blood trickling down his face. He started to lift himself up when he felt the piece of branch stuck in his armpit resist. Patrick attempted to reach for it with his left arm, only for it to flop over onto his chest in excruciating pain. His forearm was broken.

Lying on his back, Patrick tried to slide himself off of the branch by pushing his body upwards with his feet, but this was to no avail. The branch was still caught in the Saxophone neck which was still secured in his backpack and his backpack was looped perfectly over his shoulders. He couldn’t pull his left arm out because it was broken and he couldn’t pull his right arm out because a branch was impaled into its pit. Feeling helpless, he started to cry, but he soon heard voices in the distance that made him choke back his tears and stifle his whimpers.

“Hey, Patrick!” It was the voice of Thommy, one of the three boys that had been chasing him. “We know you’re out here! You better keep running if you know what’s good for you!”

Thommy, Beto, and Rourke were classmates of Patrick’s, and not of the friendly sort.

The Brains

Thommy and his lackeys, Beto and Rourke, marched through the forest looking for Patrick. They didn’t really have a plan on what they would do when the found him, but more than likely it would’ve been to push him around and break his Saxophone. They liked to act tough, but none of them had ever done any real harm to anyone. A broken window here. A bloody lip there. But nothing that would ever cause lasting damage. Just a couple of young teenagers trying to put on a show. For what reason, no one was sure, and neither were they. These three were driven by their insecurities more than anything.

“Patrick!” Thommy shouted. “You can’t hide forever! We will find you!”

Beto followed up Thommy’s calls by cupping his hands around his mouth and howling four or five times. Rourke laughed devilishly and smacked old dead trees with heavy sticks sending frightening cracks of sound through the woods.

Thommy grinned and looked around.

“Look!” Thommy said as he pointed to a path of disturbed leaves and twigs.

The three of them nodded and followed the path. Patrick had made no effort to hide his tracks as it was very clear which way he went. They followed the path until it came to a very steep slope. The boys peered over and saw nothing to indicate that Patrick had gone down the slope. No disturbed grass or leaves. The path just ended.

“Do you think he went down there?” Rourke asked.

“He must’ve,” Thommy replied. “There’s no other way he could’ve gone.”

Beto looked skeptical.

“Nuh-uh,” Beto muttered. “The ground going down this slope is undisturbed. There’s no way he went down. If he had, the grass would be matted or there would be fresh dirt or broken plants, but look, there’s none of that. He must have gone back the way he came.”

“Bullshit,” Thommy said as he cocked his head. “If he’d come back, we’d’ve seen him. No. He went down this hill.”

Beto stammered a bit.

“What if he walked around us, all quiet like and we didn’t know?”

“That geek?! Sneak?” Thommy couldn’t believe his ears. “No. It didn’t happen. He went down that slope and we’re going after him.”

Beto shook his head and took a step backward.

“I ain’t going,” he said.

Thommy was shocked. Beto had never told him no before.

“And just why not?” asked Thommy.

“I just ain’t and that’s all you need to know, alright.”

“No, that’s not alright. You better have a darn good reason for not going or I’m gonna push you down that hill myself.”

Beto stared at Thommy long and hard. Thommy had never done more than slap someone across the face, but there was a strange look in his eyes tonight. Something wild. Did he dare call Thommy’s bluff and risk a wrath he had never seen before, or did he fess up and tell him the truth? In the end. He decided to tell the truth. Thommy had always been a good friend to him; they were like brothers. He glanced over at Rourke who couldn’t seem to believe his eyes. Finally, he spoke.

“The Civil Army is down there.”

Rourke’s eyes widened with excitement.

“Oh shit!” he exclaimed. “That’s where it happened?”

Beto nodded. Thommy was visibly confused.

“That’s where what happened? What is the Civil Army?”

“Back during the Civil War, there was a group of musicians in these parts,” Beto explained. “They didn’t care much about the color of skin or even the war itself. They just liked to make music together. As the war continued on and weariness set in amongst the people, the music group somehow got it in their heads that the best way for everyone to get along was to unite them with music. To unite them in music, they figured they needed to show everyone that they were all brothers and sisters. To show everyone they were all brothers and sisters, they made Union and Confederate uniforms to wear while they played. The thought was, if the people saw Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers playing together, they’d realize how silly the war was and put an end to it. They called their troupe The Civil Army.”

“That’s really stupid,” Thommy interjected.

“Nobody ever accused them of sound decision making,” Beto responded. “Anyway, one evening after a show they went out to the woods below where they had set up camp for the night. The sun was setting and they still had their mock uniforms on when some Union soldiers showed up. Not sure what was going on, they approached slowly. At the same time, a group of Confederate soldiers showed up coming out of the other direction. The Confederates saw the Union soldiers approaching the camp and thinking the musicians dressed as Confederates were captives, they decided to act quickly. They drew their guns and shot the musicians dressed as Union soldiers dead.

“The musicians dressed as Confederates jumped to their feet in a panic. The actual Union soldiers had not yet seen the approaching Confederates. What they did see was what appeared to be a bunch of Union soldiers get shot and what appeared to be a bunch of Confederate soldiers stand up. Thinking the Confederates had just murdered Union soldiers in cold blood, the Union fired upon the remaining musicians, killing them all. The real Confederates had reloaded by this point and used the opportunity to kill the Union forces.”

“What happened to the Confederate soldiers?” Thommy asked.

“No one knows,” said Rourke.

Beto nodded.

“Apparently,” he said, “their fate was not tied to the legend. Anyway, as the story goes, The Civil Army now roams the area below where they died looking for musicians to add to their group.”

“So what?” Thommy asked. “We’re not musicians. What do we care about the ghosts of The Civil Army?”

“They also say that they look to seek vengeance on those who would harm their kind,” Rourke added.

A hushed calm overcame the trio and the only sounds that could be heard were that of leaves rustling in the howl of the wind as it picked up. Beto just lowered his head as Rourke looked down over the slope. Rourke shook his head slightly. Thommy just stared at them both for a few moments before finally breaking the silence.

“You two are both stupid! Get your butts down there and find that nerd or I’ll make you both lick my feet.”

Beto and Rourke glanced over at Thommy’s shoes. They’d seen the things Thommy had walked through and though he’d never done more than push either one of them around, this was not a risk either of them was willing to take. Somehow, taking their chances with an undead army seemed to have more desirable odds.

The Tracker

Rourke tested the slope. It was steep, but holding his arms out, he was able to maintain balance. He slid a bit on his feet here and there, but for the most part, he was able to take careful steps down the side. It was slow going, but eventually, he made it down to the rock Patrick impacted upon during his fall. The moss on the rock was peeled up on part of it from the impact of Patrick’s landing. Not far beyond the rock, Rourke could see distress in the rest of the slope from where Patrick had tumbled. Leaves and dirt were kicked up, broken twigs and branches lay about, and in some parts from where he could see, Rourke thought he saw spots of blood. He looked back up to the top of the slope towards Thommy and Beto.

“You see him?” Thommy shouted.

“No,” Rourke shouted back, “but he went this way.”

“Alright!” replied Thommy as he and Beto quickly shuffled down the hill. “Let’s go get him!”

Rourke looked worried as he stood by the rock until they caught up to him.

“It’s bad,” he said. “Really bad.”

Thommy and Beto looked around for a moment and then back at Rourke who continued.

“Patrick didn’t come down this hill. At least not completely.”

“What are you talking about?” Thommy demanded.

“Look,” Rourke said pointing at the moss-covered rock. “There was no indication that he even came down here until I came to this rock.”

“So?”

“So, that means that in all likelihood, he didn’t walk down here. Look at how the moss on top is peeled towards the bottom of the slope. That implies that something hit from above going in that direction.”

Thommy appeared skeptical.

“He leaped,” Rourke said flatly, “or something. Either way, he didn’t come down on foot and he certainly didn’t come down the way he had hoped. Look at the broken sticks and tussled dirt and leaves. He rolled down the rest of the way.”

“So let’s go after him,” Thommy pushed.

“He’s hurt,” protested Rourke as he pointed down the trail of broken twigs and tussled leaves. “Look! There are little spots of blood littered about. He’s not just scraped; he’s really injured.”

“Good,” grunted Thommy. “He’ll be easier to smack him around.”

“Are you listening to anything?” asked Beto. “If he’s as injured as Rourke believes, we have to find him and get him to a hospital, not add to his injuries.”

Rourke gulped and shook his head.

“What about The Civil Army?” he asked.

Beto hesitated. He had for a moment forgotten about the legend of The Civil Army.

“Well, uh….” Beto began. “Well, we can’t just leave him there to die if he really is hurt. Umm…..damn. I hate to say this, but we gotta go after him. We gotta.”

Thommy shook his head in disgust and stepped ahead of them before pausing to turn around.

“When did you two become such a couple of caring pusses?” he asked. “You’re going to get your butts down there and we’re going to find that little geek and give him what for. If you don’t, I’ll give you the business.”

The three goons soon made their way to the bottom of the slope where the found a Patrick sized patch of broken sticks and leaves. Large splotches of blood made their mark on the debris where he had been lying not long earlier. Rourke crouched down and got in close to carefully examined the scene. He found a small tuft of hair, threads from ripped clothing, and a reed from a saxophone. He glanced up at Beto, and then to Thommy.

“He was here,” he said.

“Alright,” said Thommy. “Which way did he go?”

Rourke stood up and took a hard look all around. A chill ran through his spine. He didn’t like what he saw.

“Which way did he go?” demanded Thommy.

After taking a heavy gulp, Rourke finally said, “He didn’t.”

Thommy got right in his face.

“What do you mean, ‘he didn’t’?”

“Just what I said,” Rourke proclaimed. “He didn’t. He didn’t go anywhere.”

“Bullshit!” shouted Thommy. “You said he was here. Now he’s not, which means he must have gone somewhere. Now you tell me which way he went.”

“You aren’t listening to me, Thommy. He’s not here, but he didn’t go anywhere. There is not a shred of evidence that he ever left this spot. Not one loose thread. Not one scrap of clothing. Not one drop of blood. No disturbed foliage and no freshly broken sticks. All the evidence says he stayed in this spot. If he had gotten up and left, there would be some indication that he had done so, but there isn’t. He landed here and then…” Rourke waved his hands above his head. “And then I dunno, but he didn’t go anywhere.”

Thommy spit on the ground in disgust.

“Some tracker you are.”

The Bully

Beto and Rourke followed Thommy through the woods, no idea of what direction they were actually going. Rourke did his best to leave markers indicating which way they came from; snapping branches and moving rocks when he could. If they were in a particularly difficult area to mark, Beto would try to stall Thommy long enough for Rourke to make an effective marker. It was difficult, however. At this point they had been walking for at least an hour as Thommy seemed totally blinded to their predicament, focused only on finding Patrick, becoming angrier with every moment.

“PATRICK!” Thommy yelled at the top of his lungs. “WHEN I FIND YOU, I’M GONNA BEAT SO MUCH SNOT OUT OF YOU THAT YOU WON’T NEED TO COLD MEDICINE FOR TWO YEARS!”

Rourke paused when he heard this and looked at Beto confused. Beto just shook his head and mouthed the word no. Rourke nodded. What started as some harmless shoving and teasing had morphed into something different. Rourke wasn’t sure at this point if he was on a rescue mission or a mission to inflict more pain. Thommy was a jerk, but he was crossing a line that Rourke and Beto just didn’t want to cross.

“Come on, you losers,” Thommy said as he trudged forward. “Stop holding me back.”

Beto mumbled something under his breath.

“You got somethin’ to say to me?” asked Thommy, not looking back.

“I said, you’re getting us lost,” Beto replied. “There is no way he went this way.”

Thommy stopped and inhaled deeply through his nose.

“Yes he did,” stated Thommy. “I can feel it. Now get in line.”

Rourke and Beto glared at each other. They knew they weren’t going to find Patrick out this way, but Thommy was so blinded by his need to bully that he couldn’t see what was right in front of his eyes. The let him continue to walk forward while they stood their ground. Beto spoke.

“No.”

Thommy stopped in his tracks and without looking back asked, “What did you just say to me?”

“I said, no. We’re going back. You’re not being sensible, Thommy. We have a much better chance of finding Patrick if we return to where he fell.”

Thommy bent down and picked up a large branch.

“You’re coming with me and you’re going to help.”

“You’re not thinking clearly, man,” Rourke said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but you’ve totally lost sight of the game. We’re going back whether you want to or not. I suggest you come with us.”

And with that, Beto and Rourke turned and began their trek back the way they came, following the markers that Rourke had made. Thommy turned and raised the branch above his head, but for some reason could not follow or say a thing. He just watched as they disappeared into the woods and lowered his arm, dropping the branch after a moment. When they were completely out of sight, he seemed to snap back to his task at hand.

“Losers,” he muttered under his breath.

Thommy continued his march through the woods, shouting for Patrick with threats of bodily harm, but his calls were never answered by anyone except for the birds fluttering out of trees when he startled them with his bellows. The sun was beginning to set and Thommy didn’t have a flashlight. It did not matter though, as Thommy seemed oblivious to everything around him. Single focused, he continued on deeper and deeper into the woods, shouting threats all the way.

The Civil Army

It was now dark. The only light that remained visible was that of the moon which escaped through the branches above. Thommy could barely see anything, but that didn’t seem to slow him down. In fact, it seemed to make him more persistent. His pace had hastened and there was a loud snap every time he stepped on an old stick.

The trees in this area of the woods were mostly dead. Very few leaves littered the ground. Instead, it was mostly lined with dead twigs and branches. Any branches that stuck out from the trees in Thommy’s path were easily snapped off by a push of the hand. Every crack and snap echoed through the woods. The fact that there was no other sound other than that of which Thommy made should’ve unsettled him, however, he had only one thing on his mind and nothing else would be able to distract him.

Without warning, a loud DOOT echoed through the dead woods. Thommy’s ears perked up and he looked around. A mischievous grin crept across his face.

“Patrick,” he yelled. “Is that you? Come on out and let’s have some fun.”

If Thommy had even the slightest knowledge of music, he would have known that the instrument that Patrick carries and plays in the school band is called a saxophone. If Thommy had subjected himself to more than artists such as Van Halen and Bon Jovi, he would have also known what a saxophone sounds like. Suffice to say, Thommy was mostly illiterate when it came to the arts, even when it came to the few arts he did enjoy. He could tell you that Van Halen was a band, but if you were to say to him that Van Halen was also the name of their guitarist, he’d likely call you a liar and an idiot and then punch you in the gut for being so stupid. All of this is to say that Thommy did not hear a saxophone in the woods and if he had known that what he heard was, in fact, a trumpet, he would’ve realized that whoever was playing it was not Patrick.

Thommy’s further movements were slow and deliberate in an effort to minimize the noise he made so that he could focus on the direction of where the sounds came. It was difficult as all of the brush below his feet were dead and offering no resistance to his steps. Each leaf made a soft, yet satisfying crunch. Every loose twig snapped loudly and echoed off the trees scattered about.

DOOT!

With a dart, Thommy snapped his gaze ahead and slightly to his right where there was something of a clearing. Few dead trees remained standing in this area and the ground was covered with the dried remains of those that had fallen many years before. His eyes scanned the desecrated landscape with slow and careful observance, making sure to take in everything, looking for what may be out of place.

At the farthest point away, Thommy noticed what appeared to be the beginnings of a footpath and emanating from this path was a faint orange glow. He watched it for a little while to see if anything would happen. At first, he thought nothing was happening, but then he realized that the glow was dimming as if the source was walking away. Gotcha, he thought and with haste made his way to the path.

As he approached, he could hear what sounded like more instruments. Not just the DOOT of the trumpet, but also drums and flutes among others that he did not recognize. Thommy’s pace slowed down as the many instruments confused him. Here he thought he had just been chasing Patrick, yet this sounded like a third of the school band. Was this why Patrick came this way? Was it a secret place that his band-mates hung out to get away? Thommy smiled to himself, thinking he had hit the nerd jackpot. Unfortunately for him, he was not thinking about the noise he made. Thommy stepped on and broke a large stick which made a loud crack that echoed through the woods. Off in the distance just before disappearing completely out of view, the light stopped moving. Thommy smiled.

“Come on out, you dorks!” he shouted. “I’ve got wedgies for each and every one of you!”

After a pause, the light began moving closer. Thommy smiled at first, smug in his certainty that he has stumbled across a nerd coven. But then the smile began to fade as he noticed that not only was the light returning at a pace much quicker than it had been moving away, but the music was considerably more energetic, more upbeat. He gulped slightly while trying to act tough, mostly for himself more than anything. The music grew louder and the light grew brighter. Soon it was close enough that Thommy could hear the sound of feet crunching the brush underneath.

He shook his head and arms, preparing himself for confrontation. This was it. The nerds were about to step out and Thommy was going to be ready for them.

And they did.

And he wasn’t.

Thommy stumbled back in fear and fell on his bottom as a skeletal army of Union and Confederate soldiers emerged from the footpath playing an assortment of instruments. It wasn’t entirely just Civil War uniforms either. One wore an early 20th-century tuxedo and played the violin. Neither were all were skeletons. One wearing army fatigues and playing an acoustic guitar still had much of its flesh and small patches of hair remaining, though it was visibly rotting away. However, there was one in the very front that shook Thommy to his core.

Marching towards him with more energy and vigor than the rest was Patrick, playing away on his saxophone. Blood oozed out of his right armpit where a broken piece of branch protruded from. From his left arm, a snapped ulna bone had ripped through his coat. And yet Patrick played and marched forward with unnatural dynamism. The movements were jerky and yet precise.

Thommy begged Patrick to stop, gasping as he did so. Unfortunately for Thommy, Patrick could not stop; he could only play. Perhaps in another life, Patrick would’ve been able to forgive Thommy for all of the torment he had put him through. But that other life had ended and Patrick was part of the Civil Army now and he could not forgive, even if he had wanted to.

Thommy screamed in terror and was then all at once silent.

Shadow Demon

Hi. My name’s Sammie. This is going to sound crazy, but I’m pretty sure that something is planning to kill me. I don’t know what it is, but he’s been toying with me for years. I say he because that’s what I can most assume from its shape, but honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that he’s terrifying and every time I see him, he’s somehow more intimidating.

I don’t really remember the first time he visited me, but I first recall his visitations shortly after my father died. I think I must have been five or six years old at the time. I woke up late in the night. It was an extremely peaceful night which is why I think I remember it so well. There was no wind or noise from traffic, no strange lights to cause unnatural shadows. It was so peaceful, I almost immediately fell back asleep. However, just as I was closing my eyes, I heard a brief creak from across the room. My eyes opened back up just enough to see that my closet door was open just a crack. I stared at it for a while, and then after nothing, began to close my eyes again. This time, however, just as my eyes began to close, I saw the door open just enough to see inside.

At first, I thought I saw nothing, just blackness as one would expect from a closet in the middle of the night. I stared at the blackness for a bit and after a time of seeing nothing, I started to roll over and saw him. Not instantly, mind you. What I noticed was that the darkness at the top of the closet was not as dark as the rest of the closet. I squinted a bit and realized that the darker darkness had a shape. I couldn’t make out all of it, but I could definitely make out the side of a head and part of a shoulder.

And I froze up. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t look away. I couldn’t do anything at all except for lie there and watch.

As I stared at the darkness in my closet, I could make out a faint red where an eye should be.

And I screamed.

My mother came rushing into my bedroom, flicking the light on, and slid onto my bed pulling me close. I don’t know for how long I continued screaming. I just know that it scared the hell out of my mother. She stayed with me in my bed that night. By the time I finally fell back to sleep, the sun was beginning to rise.

After that first incident, I didn’t see him for quite a long time, or at least, not that I can remember. In fact, it was such a long time that I had completely forgotten about him until I hit my early twenties when I saw him again.

I was living on my own then. I had a small studio apartment that was cheap and since I was single, it was large enough for me. It comprised of three rooms; a kitchen, a bedroom living room combo, and a bathroom. One room led right into the next. My bed was between the kitchen and bathroom doorways, the foot of it facing the kitchen.

Three or four years passed before I had my first incident in that apartment. It was summer as I recall and though warm weather was expected, that night when I woke up, it was unusually warm. I was sweating heavily and my mouth was parched. Groggy, I attempted to build some saliva to wet my mouth but I could move neither tongue nor lips. Thinking this strange, I attempted to push myself up to get a glass of water, but my arms would not work. Not just my arms but also my legs and fingers and head and neck. Not even my eyelids would bring me respite by closing. All that I could do was to look around by rolling my eyes towards the various corners of my room.

That’s when I saw him, standing in the middle of my kitchen, staring at me through his two dull red eyes.

He was immense in stature, his head nearly touching the ceiling. Though he was darker than the shadows themselves, I could strangely make out definition and form. Two very small horns protruded from his mostly smooth head. Sparse wiry hair seemed to hang from the sides of his head, crooked and bending in many directions before falling down. Had long teeth that kept his lips from closing that were as black as the rest of him. Each of his fingers ended in points like claws and though I could not see his feet, I image they were of a similar nature.

The creature’s body was very muscular and toned, as though an artist has sculpted it out of marble. I could tell that even if he did not have those terrible claws or teeth, it would be no great feat for him to rip me limb from limb, tearing me apart effortlessly. Don’t ask how I could see all these features. I, myself, do not know either for the creature was darker than the darkness and logically, I could not have seen anything except for the basic shape and eyes. It’s as though he communicated something to my subconscious, filling in the details that I could not actually see.

And he just stood there, staring at me, barely moving. He must have stared at me for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, though it felt like much longer, every second the terror becoming much more intense.

I do not know when he left, because as soon as I regained the function of my eyelids, I immediately closed them. And then, almost as soon as I closed them, I was asleep. When I opened my eyes again, it was mid-morning and I felt strangely refreshed. I must have expended so much energy in my terror that my body took all the time it needed to fully rest.

I told of the incident to my friend Tom. He seemed to immediately recognize it.

“Oh yeah!” he exclaimed. “Sleep paralysis. That sucks. I get that from time to time. The most frightening thing I’ve ever been through. Happens to me every now and then. For me, it’s generally a witch crouched over the side of my bed just watching me.”

“How do you deal with it?” I asked.

“Honestly, I just keep telling myself it’s all a dream and that it will pass. The effect is minimal and it generally helps divert the fear.”

“Generally?” I asked.

“Well, sometimes, it seems to intensify it. A lot. You know, it’s moments like those when I wish I was one of those Christian fuckers.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, you look up anything that has to do with Christians and sleep paralysis and they’re always so sure it’s demonic. So they pray to Jesus, with their mind I guess, and it immediately goes away and they’re filled with real comfort and peace. What I would give to be able to make those moments disappear just like that. It’s like some kind of Jedi mind trick.”

I took in what Tom had to say and spent some time at my computer researching. It certainly sounded like I experienced sleep paralysis. People waking up during the REM stage of sleep report seeing all sorts of things, demons, aliens, witches, shadow men, etc., often in relation to their culture. For example, in the fifties after reports of UFOs and became more mainstream, sleep paralysis incidents reported as alien abductions jumped up drastically. It was good to know that I was not alone and that the demon was not real. I thought I would be able to cope should it happen again. I was, unfortunately, quite mistaken.

It was roughly three or four months before my next incident and it was so much worse. I woke up in the night again, completely paralyzed. I told myself that it was simply sleep paralysis and that there was nothing to fear, that it was all in my head. I looked around as best I could and saw nothing but my small apartment. If I could’ve, I would’ve have smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. As the only thing I could do was move my eyes, I just stared ahead into my kitchen. And that’s when I saw him.

At first, he wasn’t completely visible. He was there but hiding, as though he were waiting for me to notice him. I noticed an odd shape at the edge of the kitchen doorway. It was a just a shoulder barely visible from behind the door frame. The moment I saw it, what I can now only refer to as the demon leaned in from behind the frame. As he emerged, my heart began to race. First his hair, then his head and horns, and finally his dull red eyes appeared. The doorway being so near to the foot of my bed, he was much closer than the previous visit. And nearly as quickly as he leaned in and made his presence known, he quickly and quietly leaned back behind the frame.

At once, I let out a deep gasp of air and regained control of my body. Daring not to go into the kitchen, I closed my eyes and pulled the covers over my head, whimpering quietly. Hoping he wouldn’t hear me. Hoping he wouldn’t come after me.

Exhausted, I fell asleep in my own tears.

I woke up to birds chirping. The sun was shining through my windows. I was exhausted and still frightened. Carefully, I got out of bed and made my way to the kitchen. It was exactly as I had left it. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing it was, in fact, another bout of sleep paralysis.

After this incident, I thought future episodes would be easier, eventually learning to ignore the demon and go back to sleep. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As time progressed, the shadow demon began appearing more and more frequently. First, he would appear once every few months, then every other month and then once a month. Soon the monthly visits would be every few weeks and then weekly, and so on and so on until it was every single night. He never did anything other than stare at me, so you would think that I would’ve grown used to it, but I didn’t. Somehow each night was more terrifying than the last. It got to the point where I could swear I was even seeing him before going to bed.

See, my bathroom mirror was right in line with the door to the bedroom which was right in line with the door to the kitchen. When I was brushing my teeth, if my eyes glanced up, I would often just stop and stare into the kitchen through the mirror. I would sometime stare for minutes, worried that he would be there. Climbing into bed wasn’t any easier. Even though he was always in the kitchen, I couldn’t bring myself to get close to the underside of my bed. I’d have to leap in so that the nothing that wasn’t there wouldn’t grab me.

All of this was taking its toll on me. I hadn’t had a goodnight’s sleep in months. It got to the point where I was trying to force myself to not go to sleep. I managed to stay up for nearly three days before I fell asleep on the couch in front of the TV. For better or worse, I fell asleep watching A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. I’m not really sure why I was watching that while being tormented nightly, but it seemed to help, at least for the moment. Perhaps it was to help me cope, perhaps it was simply a distraction. Either way, I fell asleep watching a horror move about a pedophile who murders children in their sleep.

The next morning I woke up shortly after seven-thirty; the sun shining through my windows. Good Morning America was on. Al Roker was giving the latest weather forecast. Sitting up, I scratched my head and looked around. I couldn’t believe it. I actually slept the entire night and I felt completely rested. For once, I had a glimmer of hope.

Though in the past, I’ve had difficulty getting to sleep if there was any light brighter than a dim VCR clock, I now kept the TV on every night. For the first few weeks, I still went to sleep on the couch. It did not face the kitchen and it put me directly in front of the TV. Once I had gotten comfortable with sleeping again, I moved back to my bed.

My bed felt so amazing. It was like reuniting with a good friend that hasn’t been seen in years. I just sunk into the mattress and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. Being able to sleep in my own bed again was true bliss. All was good for a few more weeks.

And then I woke up again.

I woke up on my side unable to move. The TV was still on; Austin City Limits was playing on PBS. It sounded like they had a country artist playing, a very lively country artist. As the credits began to roll, the glow of the TV cast shadows of a Coca-cola can and an empty box of crackers sitting on the coffee table onto the couch and opposite wall. Despite being paralyzed, I wasn’t immediately afraid. There was light in my room and though I could not see into the kitchen from the position I was in, there seemed to be no indication that my shadow demon was there. I wondered if perhaps my brain had finally come to accept my situation and relax. That is until my TV went dark for roughly half a second as it went to a commercial break between programs.

In that half-second of darkness, my shadow demon was revealed to me, not in the kitchen but instead standing in the corner of my room on the other side of the TV. He was still there when the glow of the screen resumed. He was standing just behind its reach, remaining firmly in the shadows. There was something different about him too. He looked mad. Very mad. And that terrified me.

Had I successfully kept him at bay for a short time while he figured out how to get back in? I don’t know, but whatever the situation, he seemed very displeased by it. I don’t know for sure if the glow of the TV was keeping him at bay, but he seemed like he was held back by it, so he just stared at me and I back at him. Though I can’t be sure, his chest seemed to be rising and falling, as though he were taking deep and heavy breaths, though I heard no sound except for that of PBS advertisements.

I’m not sure how long we stared at each other. I don’t even remember falling asleep. I just remember waking up again around ten in the morning feeling exhausted. I looked at the spot where the shadow demon stood and I realized something I perhaps should’ve realized when I woke up. The corner where he was standing was where my computer desk was. The monitors and desk would’ve been going right through him. He couldn’t possibly have been there.

I shook my head. What a stupid thought. There were so many reasons that didn’t make any sense, first and foremost being that if it was my brain causing hallucinations, then the desk and monitor never would’ve even been a factor. Secondly, if it was an actual demon, who am I to dictate how they do and do not operate. For all I know, the only thing they need is enough darkness. Material may be immaterial to them. The sheer absurdity of it all actually made me laugh for a moment.

Looking at my desk again though, I did get an idea.

That night before I went to bed, I turned on both computer monitors and made sure to set them to never go to sleep. I picked a nice white background with bouncing text for a screen-saver to keep that area bright. And it worked for a few months. I didn’t see my shadow demon except for once when my friend Tom crashed on my couch.

We had stayed up drinking and watching really dumb comedies. We actually fell asleep with all of the lights in the apartment on including the TV and monitors. The reason I know this is because I woke up on the floor half in the kitchen, half in the bed/living room with everything still on. Tom had gotten up to use the bathroom. I was still too out of it to get up off the floor and into my bed, so I closed my eyes and went back to sleep before Tom had finished. It was during this time that he must have turned everything off before going back to sleep on the couch.

I don’t know when I woke up again, but it was totally dark and I was on my back looking up. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or where I was, then I recalled waking up earlier with the lights on and realized I was still on the floor. The next thing I realized was that I couldn’t move. My heart began to race as panic set in. In the past, I had generally seen my shadow demon in the kitchen or the corner of my room. Now here I was on my back in total darkness; not knowing where my demon was or what he would do. And then I saw.

Out of the corner of my eye, in front of the couch, I could see a long, black leg right next to my head; mere inches away. I could feel my breath slipping away as my eyes followed the legs path up to the body and eventually the head. It was my shadow demon, just standing over Tom, staring down at him. Watching.

In all my time I had never been so close to him. He’d always stayed at distance. But now here he was, right next to me, fixated on my friend. I panicked, but couldn’t move as he just watched Tom. But then, after a time, he turned his head slightly and looked down, right into my eyes. He’d noticed me and I could almost see his terrible grin as I stared into his dull red eyes. He started to crouch down and I lost consciousness.

When I woke up again, Tom was eating Lucky Charms at the table. I didn’t tell him about what happened, but after that point, I wouldn’t let anyone sleep in my apartment again.

Over the next few years, I would take to increasingly drastic measures to keep from being visited as I slept. It wasn’t long before the computer monitors were no longer cutting it, so I turned on a desk lamp. That was all good for a few weeks and then I’d have to add another light. Then things would be fine for a while again until he found another shadow to hide in. This cycle continued until all of the lights in the apartment were on. I couldn’t sleep in all the light, so I would have to lie on my side and face the wall. I would often stay awake for a couple days at a time eventually falling asleep from exhaustion, but never because I just needed sleep. This was taking such a physical toll on my daily life that I eventually gave in and went back to sleeping with the lights out.

He would come every single night and so my remaining strategy was to lie physically against the wall, face in. I could always tell he was there, but thankfully I could not see him, usually. Eventually, I learned to fall back asleep knowing that if I couldn’t see him, he couldn’t hurt me. While I still awoke in terror every single night, things seemed to be getting better until one night when he broke me.

I was lying to the wall like I always did, but I must have shuffled at some point in my sleep as my face pointed downward somewhat when I woke up. There was a small gap between the bed and the wall, maybe an inch or two, so when I opened my eyes, I was peering down that little tiny space. There, looking back up from the space, was the shadow demon. He was under my bed.

I think I must have blacked out because the next thing I remember was waking up cold and very wet. It was raining hard and I had left the window open all night. The sounds of splashing as vehicles drove through puddles were not as comforting as it would’ve been during previous incidents. In the past when I’d wake up, there was always a new step I could learn or trick I could do to keep him just far enough away. Seeing him under my bed let me know that there was no safe place. I broke down after that.

I started going to therapy. I participated in sleep studies. I was even prescribed prescription medications to help me sleep. Nothing worked. The therapy uncovered nothing. The sleep studies showed that while I did enter sleep paralysis, they saw nothing out of the ordinary. The therapy and sleep study not being able to provide any sort of relief, they tried medications. Oh, that was so much worse. Most nights, the medications worked fairly well and allowed me to sleep through the night. The nights where I woke up, however, the shadow demon’s presence was so much more intense. Those nights, I could sometimes feel him put a hand on my shoulder or chest. The worst was when I’d feel him pat my hair with his hand, just letting me know he was there and I couldn’t escape.

The therapy and drugs not helping, I turned to alcohol hoping that I would pass out long enough to wake up in the day time. It got really bad, sometimes drinking an entire 30 pack of cheap beer or a whole fifth of whiskey in a night. It helped for a while. One of the beautiful things about drinking yourself to sleep was that you could easily fall asleep with all the lights on and so I did. It was great for a while. I’d wake up in the night and stumble into the bathroom to take a piss and then go back to sleep on the couch. I had long stopped sleeping in my bed since that time I saw the shadow demon peering up from the space between the bed and the wall. This became a boon to me. I thought, if I got drunk enough, I couldn’t fall into sleep paralysis and if there was no paralysis, there was no demon.

I had done it, I thought. I had found the trick. All that I needed to do was drink myself to sleep and make sure I leave on all the lights in my apartment.

It was good for a while, until one night when I woke up paralyzed on the couch. All the lights were on, so that was a good sign. My eyes looked around the room until they spotted him. I had left the bathroom door open and although the light in the bathroom was on, it couldn’t reach all the way into the bathroom closet which had no door. There he was, peering at me from behind some clothes hanging up in the closet. The closet had a shelf so he was crouched down. I could tell he was grinning, waiting for his time.

So the next night and from then on, I always remembered to close the bathroom door any time I wasn’t in it. Problem solved.

What I hadn’t considered, however, was how bad the constant stream of alcohol was affecting my sleep. I was passing out, yes. Losing consciousness, yes. But what I wasn’t getting was quality sleep. I soon learned that if your body doesn’t get the sleep it needs, then your body will find a way.

I woke up one night to take a piss. I opened the bathroom door and walked in to take a piss. When I finished with my business, I started washing my hands in the sink, then my face. As I wiped my face dry, I could see in the mirror that my kitchen light was out and in its darkness was my shadow demon.

The game had suddenly changed. Never before had I see him from a non-paralyzed state. His chest raised and lowered with heavy breaths. My heart pounded at my chest as I stared at him through the mirror. I was afraid to move, not knowing what to do. Do I keep my eye on him or turn to face him? Though it must have only been moments, it felt like an eternity. Finally, I decided to turn around with a bolt.

He wasn’t there. Thank God.

I breathed a sigh of relief before remembering that the bathroom closet was now behind me and the silent panic set in once more. Slowly, without turning to look, I stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door behind me. I then stared at the kitchen for some time before going to sit down on the couch. I pulled my knees up to my chin and held them close with my arms. I didn’t dare to go turn the kitchen light on; that would mean going through the darkness. I just waited until morning when the sun arose.

I later learned about micro-sleep. If your body doesn’t get the sleep it needs, it will snatch it where it can, in short half-second to thirty-second bursts. Perhaps that’s what happened when I saw him in the mirror. Perhaps, I was asleep. Perhaps I was paralyzed. Maybe it simply wasn’t long enough for me to know it. All this I tried to rationalize, but I couldn’t be sure. What the experience showed me, however, was that I couldn’t continue on the way I had been.

I got a job working overnight security at a mall thinking that maybe if I took a night job, I could sleep during the day when the number of shadows would be more limited. I hadn’t considered that in my current condition that walking all by myself through a big empty building full of shadows might be too much for me. The cameras apparently showed that I was way too nervous and jumpy to be considered reliable should an actual emergency arise. I was let go after a few weeks.

Unable to maintain a job or normal relationships or even help with sleep paralysis, I began looking down alternative paths. Specifically, I turned to ghost hunters and paranormal experts. None of them were able to find a thing and all concluded that it was all simply a figment of my imagination. That is until two people showed up at my door.

At first, I thought they were Mormons with their black pants, white t-shirts, and black neckties. One of them was tall and lanky with a small stack of books under his arm. The other was of more average height and build with glasses. Before they could speak, I almost told them I was not interested when I saw the van behind them. It was white with plain black lettering on the side: Deep Paranormal. I started to open my mouth, but before I could find the correct words, the average one spoke.

“You’ve become quite the anomaly of the ghost hunting world, Sammie,” he said. “I don’t know if we can help you, but I believe we can confirm?”

“Confirm?” I asked, perplexed.

“The shadow demon,” he said. “We can say with great certainty that they exist, but until now, no one has ever been able to get proof. May we come in?”

“Uh, sure,” I replied. “Right this…” They walked past me. “…way.”

They immediately began looking all around my apartment.

“Wow!” the average one exclaimed. “It’s smaller than I would’ve thought. This should be easy.”

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “How do you know about this?”

“We ghost hunters talk to each other. Well, us smaller ones anyhow. We generally don’t share anything with the television groups. They have a tendency to make us all look like idiots. We have secret forums that only the most trusted can access. It allows us to improve as a community while at the same time protecting the privacy of those we work for.”

“Really?” I asked. “Because you showing up here uninvited doesn’t make me feel like my privacy has been protected.”

“And under normal circumstances, we would never have come or been given your personal information. However, considering your situation and what we have to offer, it was felt that it may be in both of our best interests.”

“And what makes you think you can do what no one else has been able to?”

“Photon detection,” the lanky one finally said.

“Exactly,” the average one explained. “It’s not new technology by any means, but it is something that’s been out of our reach until recently. Your shadow demon will be our first attempt at capturing one on camera with this method. Using an algorithm by Ahmed Kirmani and his colleagues at MIT, we can take a picture of something in near-total darkness. And not just ordinary pictures either. Three-dimensional pictures. These photos will have depth. Theoretically, we should be able to confirm whether this is all in your head or not.”

“Wait,” I began, “if you’ve never caught one of these on camera before, how can you confirm it’s all in my head if you don’t catch one with me?”

“All other possibilities have been ruled out,” the lanky one replied.

“Precisely!” the average one exclaimed. “Though no one has been able to get photographic evidence of a shadow demon before, there is enough anecdotal evidence that they exist, something that no other ghost hunter has been able to find with you. If we can’t find any proof with this method, you might just be crazy.”

I shrugged, not knowing what else to do. “Great,” I surrendered. “What do we do?”

“Just let us set up our equipment and then carry about your night like you normally would. We only ask that you make sure every possible light source is either out or blocked.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Let’s get to this.”

The next few hours involved the setup of various equipment that I had no idea anything about. It all seemed specially designed for total darkness because there weren’t any little lights on any of the equipment to let you know it was working. They explained to me that they could read all of the instruments from their van, which is where they would be all night.

That night I went to bed around 11:30 after a few beers. When I woke up to the birds chirping at 7:30 the next morning, I realized I had a rare night of complete sleep. I felt fully rested. When the average-sized one knocked on my door, I expected him to tell me that because of my full night of sleep, they didn’t get anything and would need to run the tests for another night. As such, I was a little surprised to seem him looking deeply unsettled when I opened the door.

“Um…..could you please follow me to the van?” he asked. “We have something to show you.”

I grabbed a bathrobe and followed him out to the van parked in my yard. Climbing inside, the lanky one was preparing the footage for me to view. It was clear something bothered him too as he looked up at me briefly, shook his head slightly, and then back down at the screen.

The average one pointed at the monitor which was replaying the events of the night in an infrared night-vision at high speed from different cameras.

“This is you at night. The night-vision cameras are one of the tools others would have used. They detected nothing. None of our other instruments have either. However,” he began, “our photon detection camera……” He turned his attention to the lanky one. “Bring it up.”

The lanky one hesitated a few moments before ALT-TABing over to bring up a different screen. I became instantly paralyzed with fear.

The average one swallowed and then spoke.

“So, no one has ever found any evidence of any kind during times of complete sleep. In the past, it was believed that the Shadow Demons only appeared during the sleep paralysis state and the train of thought was that they caused it. Um…..this case has just upended centuries of belief and study. From this image as well as others we captured, we can presume that they can appear anytime and may always be watching the people they torment.”

I heard is words, but they seemed empty and hollow against what I saw on the screen. On a background that was mostly white, I could make out the shapes of some items in the distance. My desk, my television, etc. Things that were closer to the camera were much clearer. I could see myself lying in bed in black and white detail. It wasn’t the greatest image. My face looked like poorly done gray CGI, but you could make out details like my cheekbones, the depth of my lips, nose, and eyes. You could tell it was definitely me.

However, standing over my bed was a tall black mass that was very clearly defined. Despite looking like a terrible computer-generated image, it was clear that it was my Shadow Demon. You could make out every muscle, horn, and even wiry hair. From another camera, you could see white where his eyes would be and the shape of his teeth. He was real. He was real and he was there when I didn’t even know it. And now I know.

“Are you religious at all?” the average one asked.

“No,” I said vacantly. “Atheist.”

“That’s too bad,” he replied. “Listen. We’re going to continue monitoring you every night. There’s a lot of information we can gather that could potentially change the world as we know it. For now, I highly suggest you look for spiritual guidance. I would recommend Catholicism. I don’t much agree with it myself, but they seem to have the most experience with this sort of thing and are often the most willing to deal with it. I can put you in touch with some priests who deal with this sort of thing if you like, but it’s generally best to start local. It helps to have a connection with a congregation who can support you.”

“Thanks,” I said meekly as I continued to stare at the image on the screen.

Letters from Unsung Heroes: The Train – Franklin Millsborrow

Dearest Agatha,

I’ve had a most dreadful experience. As I’m sure you are aware by my lack of arrival, the train has failed. I have been trapped with the rest of the passengers for two seemingly whole days, though I cannot be sure. I, like most people here, have been sustaining myself on stale doughnuts and cheese. I have, thankfully, been nibbling on the beef jerky that I had brought with my in my luggage case. It’s been of great comfort and I’ve found that people have been willing to trade things for it; liquor, cigarettes, reading material, etc. It appears people will only consume stale pastries to sustain themselves for so long when other options present themselves. Suffice to say, I’ve been able to keep myself occupied.

My making the best of it could only last so long, however, before it turned to absolute horror. A few hours ago, I reached up and opened the overhead baggage compartment to get some more jerky. A young man had assisting with lighting and warmth for everyone and I felt he deserved some kind of payment, especially after setting up one of those oil lamps up right behind me. I had asked him to wait a moment while I get him the treat from my luggage, but when I open the compartment, the luggage case that I had been going in and out of for the past couple days was not there. Instead, to my horror, bundled up in the fetal position was a sickly looking man.

I screamed and fell backwards into the aisle, almost knocking over the poor young man bumping into a woman in the seat opposite mine. The man was terrifying; a pale, almost faint green, skin accentuated his bony frame. Knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs, twitching fingers clinging to his thighs. A full head of long wiry black hair seemed to stretch out in every direction. But most frightening were his eyes. All color seemed to be drained from them as though he had no iris, only pupil and sclera remained.

The woman seemed initially put off, but then herself screaming as she looked of at the frightening visage. The boy on the other hand, didn’t seem to notice. He instead jumped into action helping me up and placing me back in my seat. Though I could not physically resist, paralyzed with fear as I was, I managed to mutter the word “no” repeatedly, yet he paid no mind. He carefully put me back in my seat and left, returning moments later with another gentleman who took out a bottle and carefully poured some whiskey into my mouth. I was able to swallow, but other than move my eyes, that was about all.

Now, I don’t know if the man has left or not but he must no longer be there for the boy and the gentleman turned to the woman whom I had fallen into and she was still staring petrified into my overhead baggage compartment. Then, they turned, looked inside, shrugged and closed the door. Where the man went to, however, I do not know.

I have since regained my composure enough to write, probably thanks to the whiskey, but am afraid to open the compartment above my head for fear of that sickly man may have returned. I have tried to speak to the woman, but she will not even look in my direction. And if I mention the man, she just cups her face with her hands and bursts into tears. As such, I just sit here in silence, praying that help comes soon.

Prayerfully,

Franklin Millsborrow

Where We Put Our Faith

Matthew sat alone at his desk in the living room, the only light coming from the computer monitor in front of him and the kitchen through the doorway. Smoke rose up from the cigarette between his fingers as he stared at the bright screen. It had been a particularly miserable day and he felt completely drained. He scrolled down the screen until he found the numbers he was looking for and compared them to the piece of paper in his hand.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. Not a single number matched. He wouldn’t even be getting his two dollars back. Matthew crumpled up the lottery ticket and threw it into the small can by his desk.

Picking up the 24 oz can of Milwaukee’s Best Ice on his desk, he gave it a shake. Save for a few warm drops, it was empty. Matthew put his cigarette down and headed for the refrigerator. It was time for beer number three. He reached in, opened the next can and took a swig. Closing the door to the refrigerator, he nearly choked on the beer as turned around.

Standing outside the kitchen door was a somewhat short but slim Asian man. The porch light was off, so Matthew wouldn’t have seen him if he hadn’t been standing so close. The man was older, probably in his fifties, and sported a dark gray wiry goatee with streaks of silver running through it. A black bowler hat sat upon the man’s head as he simply grinned a thin smile at Matthew, just enough to show a row of perfectly straight and white teeth.

Matthew reluctantly opened the door part way to find out what the man wanted.

“Can I help y…?”

Before Matthew could finish, the Asian man took the opportunity to pull the door all the way open and push his way inside. He was very well dressed in a suit that looked custom-made in the fashion of 19th century attire. Black jacket, vest, tie, and shoes, with a white shirt. A silver pocket watch chain hung from the waist pocket and buttons of brass on his clothes. In his hand was a black briefcase which he promptly placed on the kitchen table.

“Let’s get down to business,” the Asian man said authoritatively as he opened the briefcase revealing a large stack of papers. “I’ll just need your signature on these forms and then I’ll be on my way.”

“Wait, what… who…” Matthew stumbled out the words. He didn’t know what was going on and was absolutely flabbergasted that this strange man just pushed his way into his house and basically started barking orders.

“Look,” the Asian man said, “I’m here to help you out, to give you a better life, but in order for me to do that, I need your signature. Legal documents to cover your ass and mine. Without this, there’s no deal.” The Asian man flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for and pulled out a pen. “Ah! Sign here please.”

Matthew looked at the outstretched document confused, then to the man holding the document.

“What are you talking about?”

The Asian man looked mildly annoyed, then sighed reluctantly. He had come on a bit strong. Couldn’t really fault Matthew for being confused.

“My apologies. To put it simply, what this document states is that in exchange for your immortal soul, you will live the perfect life you’ve always wanted. Everything you do will be incredibly fulfilling, you’ll live in good health, and you can fulfill your dreams. At the end of said contract, your soul is forfeit and shall descend into the pit of Hell where it will burn forever in eternal torment. At your time of death somewhere between seventy-one and one hundred and twenty-two years of age, dependent on when the most Holy One has deemed your time on Earth to be finished, your soul will be collected. Though we cannot control the exact date and time of death, we can push it into a roughly fifty year window. We also guarantee that your death will be peaceful and comfortable as every moment living from the time you sign this contract will be absolutely perfect.”

Matthew just stared at the Asian man in silence for a few moments as he let what he had heard sink in.

“Did you say my immortal soul?”

“Yes I did.”

“Uh-huh. And who is ‘we’?”

“That would be myself and the denizens of Hell.”

Matthew pursed his lips together and furrowed his brows somewhat as he continued to stare at the man. He took a sip of his beer, not once taking his eyes away.

“Wait. Are you telling me that you’re the Devil?”

“Bingo!” the Asian man said with a smile, swinging a pointed finger into the air. “Now you’ve got it. I’m sorry for not properly introducing myself earlier.” He began walking a circle around Matthew. “I sometimes get so caught up in the agreement that I forget the important stuff like introductions and terms of the agreement and what have you. By the way, you can call me Todd.”

“But I didn’t ask for you to come,” Matthew said as Todd continued to walk a circle around him.

“No. No you did not,” Todd replied, “but any salesman worth his salt will identify and seek out those in need of his services. One cannot just sit there and expect the clientele walk through one’s doors. Though in my line of work most people do anyways. Despite this, it is still important to be proactive. Besides, if someone is going to spend the rest of time itself in the lake of fire, shouldn’t they at least have a fantastic life? Shouldn’t they get some small pleasure and enjoyment while they can? Shouldn’t they…”

“Are you stupid?” Matthew cut him off.

Todd stopped in his tracks on Matthew’s left. He turned his head and looked him in the eyes.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m a Christian,” Matthew answered. “I’m not going to sell my soul to you. What makes you think I ever would?”

Todd made an uplifting sigh and continued his circle around Matthew.

“Well, yes, you are a Christian, that I know, but just being Christian doesn’t get you into Heaven. Matthew 7:21. Look, Matt. I know you. You’re a very depressed individual.” Todd looked at the 24 oz can of Milwaukee’s Best Ice in Matthew’s hand. “That’s what, beer number three for you tonight?” Todd glanced into the room with the computer. On the desk was a half empty pack of cigarettes with one almost burned out in the ashtray and then back at the beer in Matthew’s hand. “Let me guess, you’ve got three more in the fridge. I know you. You’re going to drink yourself miserable and drunkenly jack off to whatever pornography suits your fancy at the given moment. You’ll lie down with a cigarette in one hand and the final beer in the other crying about how sorry you are, begging for forgiveness. Eventually you’ll pass out naked somewhere in the house and wake up in the morning feeling horrible about yourself. The next day you’ll try to pass it off and feel renewed, all peachy keen and living for the Lord. And it’ll go great for a few days. Maybe even a few weeks or months. But you’ll fall again and repeat the same process over and over again.”

Matthew inhaled deeply through his nose, eyes closed and held his breath. The words stung. Todd was right. He was a miserable sinner. God wouldn’t want him. Every good thing he ever did was just one broken promise after another to God. Every vow he ever made had been broken. He often became so depressed about it he would sometimes plan to get messed up, not because he wanted to sin, but because he wanted to forget about his sin, even if it meant intentionally sinning in order to escape for only the briefest of times. He hated himself and he hated his life. Oh why couldn’t Jesus come and take him in one of the brief moments of grace he sometimes felt?

Matthew exhaled slowly and then took another deep breath before speaking.

“What of it?”

“What of it!?” Todd exclaimed. “What of it!? I’ll tell you what of it. Heaven doesn’t want you. You’ve rejected the grace of God all too often. You’ve burned your bridges. Your words are empty and hollow. Let’s face it, you’re coming to see me whether you like it or not. You might as well enjoy life while you can because your suffering is going to last forever. And the thing is, you know deep down you deserve it. No amount of continuing to go to church is going to change that.”

Matthew looked away and spoke through his teeth, ashamed of himself, but angry enough about it to fight back against the accusations.

“You’re right,” he said. “I do deserve death and Hell. But you know what? I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”

Todd froze where he stood. He was stunned, but only so briefly. An evil smile came back across his face and he started circling Matthew yet again.

“Quoting Luther will get you nowhere,” he said. “You Protestants think you’re so great, but you’re the most deluded of them all.” Todd’s clothes started to stretch and break at the seams as his body began to grow. “You don’t worship Yehoshuah. Your American culture won’t let you.” As the clothes fell off Todd’s body, horns began to grow from the sides of his head, his muscles increased, and his skin started turning to red. “Your independence is so ingrained in what you are that though you talk a big game, you rely entirely on yourself. So how about it? Would you like to enjoy your remaining years?”

Todd leaned in behind Matthew, stopping just over his shoulder. A large red hand with terrible claws held up the contract, another held up a blue ink pen. Matthew was sweating profusely and breathing hard. His life had been miserable. He’d always suspected he would burn in Hell for the terrible things he’s done. And here was Satan, offering him a chance to have some happiness before the end. If only he’d just sign.

And then something clicked in Matthew’s head.

If he’s going to Hell anyway, why is Satan trying so hard to get Matthew to sign? Being proactive is one thing, but this was resorting to scare tactics. Satan was supposed to be the most beautiful of angels, not this big red demon that shows up in the movies. This kind of effort is completely unnecessary unless…

Matthew took a deep breath and turned to look over his shoulder. There was the face of the devil staring back at him. A red dragon-like face with black beady eyes looked directly into his. Matthew gulped and then spoke softly, but forcefully.

“FUCK. OFF.”

Satan roared in outrage, throwing the contract and pen in the air. Reeling back, he lunged with his right arm and grasped Matthew firmly around the throat. Lifting him into the air, Satan slammed him down on the floor, squeezing tighter and tighter.

“Do not insult me boy or I will kill you right here where you stand!”

Matthew struggled with his hands to no avail in an attempt to pull Satan’s fingers from his neck.

“Go for it,” Matthew managed to gurgle out. “I hate this life anyway. I’ve got nothing to live for. You’ll just be sending me to Jesus early.”

Satan leaned in mere inches from Matthew’s face and scowled. There was no fear in his eyes. Satan squeezed his neck a little tighter. Matthew choked a bit, but managed to smile. He was telling the truth. He was ready to face death. With a snort in Matthew’s face, Satan released his grip and stepped away.

Matthew lay on the floor gasping for air. When he finally looked up, he saw the Asian man whom Satan had come into his house as stepping out the front door.

Todd stopped briefly and looked at Matthew who was still gasping. He smiled and said, “Just so you know, it is possible to lose your salvation.” With that, Todd tipped his hat and left, gently closing the door behind him.

The following Sunday, Matthew met with the pastor of his church after the service and told him all that had happened. The pastor quietly listened, not interrupting but making sure to absorb every detail. Though the pastor was skeptical about whether this really happened, he was deeply concerned.

“You said at the beginning of our conversation that you beat Satan,” the pastor said.

“Yes,” replied Matthew.

The pastor stood up and walked to the window. He looked outside to see the trees and birds. He felt the warmth of the sun on his face. Normally, he would marvel at God’s creation on the day like this, but not today. The pastor had dealt with tragedy many times over his career. Members abandoning the faith. Death in the congregation. But nothing had ever felt quite like this. Without looking back, he spoke to Matthew.

“If what you tell me is true, then I am afraid you did not beat the Devil. In fact, I fear he may have achieved exactly what he set out to do.”

Matthew was stunned. So much so that it took him a few moments to respond.

“What do you mean?” Matthew asked.

“Satan is the great deceiver and will do whatever it takes to bring us down with him. From what you describe, it sounds to me that his goal was not to get you to sign the contract, but to make you lose what faith you had.”

“What?” Matthew said as he stood up. “That doesn’t make any sense. It was my faith that saved me. That’s why he let me go. He knew if he killed me that I would go to Heaven.”

“In that moment, yes, perhaps.” The pastor turned around to face Matthew, a deep concern and worry for the member of his congregation showed on his face. “But despite your flaws and sinful ways, you still had faith in Jesus. You still hated your sin. But now, I fear, the Devil has turned your faith away from Jesus and onto itself.”

“I….I don’t understand,” Matthew stammered.

“Your faith is no longer in the one who saves but in your own ability to have strong faith. The switch was almost unnoticeable, but it happened. I heard it in the way you approached me. You said, ‘I beat the devil. My faith in Jesus saved me.’ The focus in your language was not on Jesus but on you. Don’t you see? You were already saved. You had your problems, but you were saved.”

Matthew dropped into the chair he had risen from, his face almost expressionless. The words Todd spoke at the end of their encounter rang through his mind. Just so you know, it is possible to lose your salvation.

The pastor carefully pulled a bible off the shelf and laid it open on his desk. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. And so the pastor began to read the Word and prayed that Matthew would hear.