“Honey! Kids! Get in here, hurry!”
In my sixteen years of life I’ve never heard my dad’s voice sound like that. He was afraid.
I had been reeling after the wifi gave out while I was in the middle of an online game, but the urgency in my dad’s voice drowned out my annoyance. I rushed downstairs and into the living room where I joined my parents and younger sister Jenna. Trailing behind me was our little brother Adam. Following my parent’s lead, I focused my attention on the television.
On the screen was a news reporter, one I’ve never seen on any of the news channels my parents watched, sitting in-studio with a graphic on the lower right hand of the screen reading Simon Barker. His tie was undone, his hair unkempt, his eyes filled with worry. Over his shoulder, on the top left of the screen, was an analogue clock reading the same time as the digital one on our cable box – 11:18pm.
”…inside your home. Close and cover your windows, and make sure they and your doors are locked. Do not look outside. Keep–keep the lights off and dim your television’s brightness.” The reporter looked off to his side for a moment and cleared his throat, then returned his attention to the camera. ”We will be keeping the studio operational for as long as we can, so we might, uh, might continue to help keep you and your loved ones safe. As more details emerge, I will be here to keep you informed. This is not a drill. For the sake of…”
I looked to my dad and asked what was happening, waiting with bated breath along with the rest of my family.
“I…I’m not sure.” Dad said, seemingly completely dumbfounded. “I was watching the game I DVR’d and this…this just took over the TV. Every channel. I must have missed what the problem is. Look on your phones, see if you can find anything out, mine’s on the charger upstairs.”
I looked at my phone – no bars. And with the wifi still down, it was now little more than a paperweight. Jenna and I informed our dad as much, and he finally broke his gaze from the TV and stood up.
“Well, you heard the man, let’s lock up. Kids, check all your windows. Make sure your lights are off. Check the bathroom, honey, you get our room. I”ll get the TV and down here. Everything should be off in the basement, but I’ll run down and check.” He took my mom’s hand. “After you take care of our room, get all the spare blankets and sheets and everything we have, I’ll start putting them up over the windows. Alex, you can help me with that.”
I nodded to my dad as I went upstairs. The fear on his and my mom’s faces sent a chill up my spine. Not knowing what was going on didn’t help either. I went to my room and turned off the TV and the light, leaving only the glow of my Alexa, which I unplugged just to be safe. I heard the closet door open and went into the hallway to help my mom, who was pulling linens and blankets from the closet.
”…be keeping the studio operational for as long as we can, so we might, uh, might continue to help keep…” The next loop of newsman Simon Barker’s voice came through the living room TV’s speakers and floated upstairs as I filled my arms with as many blankets as I could carry. While my mom brought her portion of the bedding downstairs, I got to work covering the windows in all the rooms upstairs under the illumination of my phone’s flashlight. My heart thumped in my ears, nearly overtaking my ability to hear Simon Barker on the news, to which I was listening for any new information.
I ran out of blankets and sheets in my parent’s room, which left the bathroom windows uncovered.
“Ahh!” a yelp from my mom sounded from downstairs, and I rushed down to see what was going on.
”…I will be here to keep you informed. This is not a drill. For the sake of your loved ones, please do not leave your home. I–Please, stay inside your home. Cover and close your…”
In the kitchen, my mom stood with her back against the wall, her hands over her mouth, staring across the room at the ground floor’s last uncovered window. In the living room, Jenna and Adam sat together, cowering on the couch, my sister’s arm around the youngest member of our family. Outside, screams rang out.
“Mom?!” I said, just as my dad burst through the basement door.
“What’s wrong?!” he yelled out, looking around.
My mom didn’t say anything, didn’t move, just took shaky breaths with her eyes fixed on the window. Dad rushed over, stepping on the blanket my mom had dropped, and looked out the window in all the directions it allowed him to see.
“What? Honey, what? What is it, what’s out there?”
She didn’t say anything; she simply stood there like a frightened statue, frozen in place by the fear of whatever she saw outside that kitchen window.
“Dad, put…put the blanket on.” I said, feeling the anxiety rise in my chest. My mom’s current state all but confirmed that there was something out there, something that we didn’t want seeing us…or that we didn’t want to see. The lack of any real information crippled our ability to do anything proactive beyond what Simon Barker on the news told us to.
As my dad fixed the blanket to hang over the last remaining window in the kitchen, I heard Jenna yell from the living room. While I ran to check on her, my dad initially followed but stopped where I’d just been standing, not wanting to leave my mom as she stood there trembling.
”…dim your television’s brightness…ahem…we will be keeping the studio operational for as long as we…”
Jenna was standing in the corner of the living room, as far away as she could be from the windows that lined the face of our house, with Adam behind her, keeping him safe from whatever she’d seen.
“What? What’s going on, what did you see?” I asked.
“S…” her voice came out in such a low whisper that I nearly didn’t realize she was saying anything at all. “Something is out there.”
I looked at the covered windows of our living room. The two windows on either end of the west wall had thick blankets hanging down over them, but the one in the middle was covered by a light tan sheet, with the street light outside making it nearly translucent. More screaming erupted outside, all suddenly ceasing.
I took a few hesitant steps toward the window, half-expecting some grotesque silhouette to suddenly come into view. I reached out a trembling hand, intent on pulling the sheet aside and seeing for myself what the women of our household had seen. I took a glance behind me at my horrified sister and our little brother, then even farther back at the kitchen, where my dad was trying to talk to my apparently catatonic mother.
“…home. Close and cover your windows, and make sure they and your doors are locked…”
My eyes drifted absently past the television, but as they did, I realized something that made me stop in my tracks.
Simon Barker. This news reporter I’d never seen but that was apparently a member of the team at our local, small town news station, sat behind the news desk, his brown hair a tangled mess, his tie gone, the top buttons of his shirt undone, with a clock over his right shoulder that read 11:27.
“…will be keeping the studio operational for as long as we can, so we might, uh, might continue to…”
His voice was thick with anxiety, and he stumbled over his words at certain times through his grave warning. The missteps were the same every time the loop played over, the clearing of his throat, saying ‘keep’ twice, the ‘uh’, the ‘I–please stay…’, all these imperfections in his delivery happened each time his short spiel played over.
But it wasn’t playing over and over.
Simon Barker sat behind the news desk, saying the same short speech, and for some reason he was, apparently intentionally, making the same mistakes each time he repeated it. I stood and listened to him repeat it in full two more times, and the second time, when clearing his throat and turning his head back after looking off to the side as he did every time, the skin under his eyes began to droop.
”…we will be keeping the studio operational for as long as we can…” His cheeks began to sag.
“D…Dad…?” I called into the kitchen. “Mom…?”
”…so we might, uh, might continue to help keep you and your loved ones safe…” Simon Barker’s eyeballs sunk deep into their sockets, so far in that only the white, red-veined undersides of them were barely visible.
“What the fuck?” my dad said from behind me, his eyes glued to the horror on our TV.
”…as more details…em…memerge, ah will be ha to kee you enfall…” Barker’s tongue hung out of his mouth as a deluge of blood poured out over and around it.
My sister sat on the couch behind us in silence, tears streaming down her face. Adam was curled up next to her, sobbing. Outside, the screaming stopped.
”…des es nahp a jill…” The top left side of Simon Barker’s skull collapsed, leaving a concave depression the size of a cantaloupe. His teeth began flowing out of his mouth amidst the blood like kayakers rushing down a river. Blood poured from his eye sockets, his nose, his ears.
“Jesus…Christ.” My dad was in a kind of trance.
I looked past him and saw my mom standing in the kitchen, in the same spot she’d been since she saw whatever she saw outside, her hands still cupped over her mouth.
My attention was pulled back to the TV when the sound of rustling came through its speakers. On the screen, a man’s torso was visible, his head above the top of the frame. He gripped the deformed, deconstructed Simon Barker by the shoulders and yanked him off the chair. The man unbuttoned the front of his suit jacket and pressed the sides down, and in all of a second I realized he was wearing the same suit and tie as Barker.
But then he sat down, and I realized he was Simon Barker. This Simon’s hair was carefully coiffed, his suit pressed, tie carefully fixed in a Van Wijk knot. He pulled the blue pocket square from the front breast pocket of his jacket and wiped his hands, then tossed it to the side, presumably onto the corpse of…him. He then looked into the camera and the side of his mouth curled ever-so-slightly into a smirk.
“My apologies,” he said. “He wasn’t supposed to…to fall apart so fast. I do wish I could have spared you from seeing that. Nasty stuff!”
I looked at my dad, but his terrified expression made me look back to the TV.
“Whew,” Barker continued. “I made a mess outside. Sorry about your wife…your mom…I must have given her quite a fright! That’s why I told you to put the blankets up! I would recommend not looking outside for a while. I’m sure the police will clean up the bodies, but it is remarkably difficult to wash blood off of concrete. Let it fade a little. Or–you know–or don’t. That’s up to you. Just know it was all necessary.
“But anyways, congratulations are in order! I had to put a lot of effort into tonight’s search. So many people didn’t take my advice, which made it much more difficult to skulk around and find what I needed. But you can’t stop the future! And lucky for you, the future lies with that lovely lady in your house. I know she saw me. Good eye, that one! I’ll be back someday, and on that day, the real work starts. She will join the rest, and then we will really be cooking with gas. Be well, I’ll be seeing you all very soon!”
The four of us in the living room were frozen in place. Simon Barker stared at the camera, expressionless.
“My apologies! He wasn’t supposed to…to fall apart so fast.” Simon began this monologue over again, but then deteriorated even quicker than his predecessor, eventually collapsing from the chair.
After about 30 seconds, the TV went black for a moment, and then came back to life with the baseball game my dad had been watching when this all started.
“Check on your brother and sister.” My dad said as he rushed back to the kitchen. My mom fell into his arms and sobbed.
I turned to Jenna and Adam and knelt down by the couch. “Are you guys okay? Jenna? Are you okay?”
She sniffled and nodded.
“Dad…” I said. “What the hell is going on? Is mom okay? Who was that?”
Our parents walked into the living room, my dad’s arm around my mom. He said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what the hell this was.”
“Did…did he mean mom or Jenna?” I asked.
My dad hung his head, then shook it. “I don’t know who he meant.”
I took a few steps over to the window. My dad told me not to look outside but I ignored him. I pulled the sheet that covered the middle window aside just enough to see outside, which was littered with the corpses of several women in our neighborhood. When applicable, their husbands or brothers or fathers wept over them. In the distance, sirens rang out.
We spend every day waiting for Simon Barker to return.
We don’t know who he is.
We don’t know what he is.
We don’t know if by “lovely lady” he meant my mom or my sister.
But when he said “this is not a drill”, we know he meant it.