Bogleech.com's 2013 Horror Write-off:
" The Good Doctor "
Submitted by Matthew Beyer
I’ve always loved Halloween. Well, that’s not entirely true. I used to love Halloween. I don’t really know why, but ever since I was a little kid Halloween’s been my absolute favorite holiday. I liked dressing up and getting to be someone else for one night, and hey, who doesn’t like free candy? Some of my fondest memories of being a kid were dressing up to go trick-or-treating with my older sister, whether I was Godzilla or Pikachu or Harry Potter.
As I got older, though, Halloween became more interesting. College for me was the zenith of Halloween festivities- the parties got a lot livelier, the costumes got scarier (or sexier, depending on the wearer) and trick-or-treating gave way to liq’or treating. It’s basically the same concept but with shots instead of candy and a giant party at the end, so it’s high on the list of things college kids like.
A couple of years back I got invited to go liq’or treating on Halloween. It was pretty simple. Get into costume, travel from house to house getting steadily drunker until you get to the last house and then party until you either can’t party any more or pass out, whichever comes first. It sounded like a great idea at the time, and since I was a young stupid college kid I didn’t expect anything bad to happen.
To my credit, nothing did at the first couple of houses. I ended up missing the first house entirely and I got to the second house a little late, since it took me a while to get into costume. It wasn’t really anything complicated, but I overestimated my ability to dress myself and paint my own face. I decided to go for “scary” instead of “sexy” since I’m able to pull off the former much easier than the latter. My costume wasn’t super elaborate, just a tattered old black hoodie and some ripped up jeans artfully splattered with fake blood, but for whatever reason I thought it would be fun to paint a skull on my face in black and white. It was fun and it looked damn creepy, but only after a solid hour of slaving away in front of a mirror. Not that it really mattered, since I was still one of the first people at the party.
The second house was pretty standard Halloween fare, cheap plastic decorations in the yard, a couple of poorly carved jack-o-lanterns, nothing but candles and cobwebs inside. Whoever owned the place was blaring Marilyn Manson for spooky music, but considering it was their cover of “This is Halloween” it was more charming than scary. The party, mostly, followed suit. There were some people in elaborate costumes, but most either had one really awesome feature and then a mediocre costume (like me) or didn’t try at all and passed it off as something stupid like a hipster or a punk. One guy was just wearing a bear hat and a sign that said “I’m BARELY wearing a costume” which gave me a good chuckle, but on the whole the costumes were pretty disappointing.
With one major exception. There was a guy dressed as a plague doctor- long black coat, creepy skull beak mask, floppy black hat and leather gloves that I swear looked clawed- who really went all out. His mask must have been one of the incredibly expensive latex ones custom made for Halloween, because it looked like it was made of real bone. Bleached white but with what looked like misshapen patches of skin with feathers poking out here and there, like the skin had melted off whatever bird’s head the skull had come from. The most disconcerting part of the mask were the eyes- I don’t know if this guy could see, but it certainly didn’t look like it. The eye holes held large glass orbs, which shimmered from a distance. I managed to get close enough to see that the eyes were actually covered in some kind of slimy film, which is what gave them their sheen. Needless to say, it wasn’t pleasant.
I tried put the good doctor out of my head and tried to enjoy the party, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that he didn’t belong there. I’m not saying that to be mean and exclusive, but he felt jarringly out of place. The rest of us were there to have a good time, drink dance and maybe get laid. He seemed to, well, just be there. I found myself drifting to look at the doctor periodically, because he never really moved. He just stood in a corner, one hand holding his coat and the other gripping his hat. I thought he might have been a prop but he moved his head every now and then to get a new view of the room, and he would shift ever so slightly when anyone came near him.
After a while I found myself completely unable to focus on anything other than the doctor. I understood that Halloween was supposed to be fun and creepy and all, but he was taking things too far. Plus, who the hell was he? Someone must have invited him.
I made my way around the house, getting around all the couples (most of which were kissing in a way that resembled two seals fighting over a grape) and asking anyone who could answer if they knew him.
Oddly enough, most people didn’t notice the doctor until I pointed him out, saying things like “Dude, I didn’t even see him. Sweet costume, though!” or “No, I don’t have a clue. Did you invite him?” Much to my annoyance, nobody seemed to know this guy. It seems silly but I felt absolutely indignant. I realized that he might be standing creepily in the corner because he didn’t know anyone, but if that was the case he should at least to make friends instead of sitting there observing like a freak!
I don’t quite know why, but I made my way over to beak-face and tried to strike up a conversation. “Hey man, that’s a pretty sick mask you got. Where’d you get it?”
He turned to face me with those dead glassy eyes and cocked his head to the side, as if he didn’t understand my question. I was a little put-off by his eyes. I couldn’t tell where he was looking, or even if he could see- all I saw were those slimy glass orbs. They were completely dull and lifeless, which is pretty normal in a costume, but they were the only eyes in the costume- I couldn’t tell where this guy’s real eyes were. It really creeped me out.
“Do you know anyone here? You’ve been standing by yourself for the past couple minutes.” Again, the doctor cocked his head in confusion. I’ve got to admit, I was just as confused. What was this guy’s deal? I know people get into character but this is a little extreme. Nevertheless, I was undeterred. I was getting to the bottom of this, before we went to the next house.
“Hey man, don’t be so quiet. Us skull-faced few have to stick together, you know? I’m Jack.” I laughed a little at my own joke, trying to get some reaction. Nothing. Just the same glassy dead stare. I extended my hand. Maybe he’d shake?
Much to my surprise, my new friend slowly took his hand off his hat and clasped it in mine, slowly shaking in a rhythmic, measured way. Two things about the handshake freaked me out. First, his hand felt… wrong. There’s really no concrete way to describe it, but his hand felt off. Like the bones weren’t in the right places. Second, every motion was accompanied by a harsh cracking sort of like cracking knuckles but not quite. The sound was drier, like the sound a wishbone makes when broken.
“Hey, that wasn’t so hard. What’s your name, buddy?” He moved his hand methodically back to its place on his hat and slowly shook his head.
“Come on, what is it?”
Still no answer. He continued to shake his head “no” more vigorously. Before I could press the issue, a shrill and more than slightly inebriated voice called out from somewhere else in the house.
“On to the next house, everybody!”
Everyone began to shuffle out. The doctor didn’t seem to register what was happening at first, turning his head deliberately to watch everyone leave. I started to walk out the door, to the next house.
I turned around, and my friend was staring at me. Staring at me with those damn glass eyes of his. I felt a chill run down my spine but I smiled anyway. I was regretting trying to talk to this freak, but I was curious about him.
“You coming to the next house? The party’s moving, man. You’ve got to keep up!” I laughed, trying to break eye contact. My friend stepped toward me slowly. He leaned down, leveling his glass eyes to mine, the end of his beak scraping my nose. I almost passed out. The beak felt like real bone and being that close I could see the patches of skin and the feathers poking out. I wasn’t even sure this was a costume anymore.
Then to my great surprise, he spoke. ”Walk… with… me?” He didn’t move at all, the words simply came out. His voice. My god. His voice was hollow and raspy, and dry as the grave. I felt my heart skip a couple of beats out of sheer dumbstruck terror from hearing him speak.
“S-s-sure man.” I felt my voice crack, and I nodded, trying to stay friendly. I could tell I was afraid, and I’m positive he could as well but he didn’t seem to mind. Though with his eyes and lack of motion I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was thinking.
“Lead… the… way.” He said, extending his hand from his hat to the door. I walked slowly to the door and walked out into the brisk October air. I had no idea where the rest of the party had gone. I was alone. Alone with the good doctor. I looked up and down in panic, but the only people I saw where children trick-or-treating with their parents. And I didn’t want to introduce them to my new friend.
The doctor slipped past me like a phantom, brushing me with his cloak and making that damn cracking sound. He stood expectantly on the sidewalk, cocking his head to the side. I slowly walked towards him, trying to think of a way out of this. Who- no, screw that, what was he? What did he want from me? Nothing I could think of was good. I was going to die. On Halloween night. He was going to kill me.
“Some… Thing… Wrong?” The doctor rasped. His voice almost sounded like grinding metal out in the open air.
“Just don’t know where the party went, man. We’ll be good. I’ll just call my friend and then-“ my friend made a harsh clicking sound. I froze. He beak had opened and closed in a snap to create the sound. He turned around, looking out to the street.
“No… Matter… Follow.” He extended his hand and beckoned for me to follow him. I really didn’t want to, but there was nothing I could do. The two of us strolled down the street in silence, me counting every second as if it could be my last and the doctor making no sound but looking at every trick-or-treater around with his dead eyes.
A few children came up to us and marveled at our costumes, but their parents quickly shooed them away. I was thankful for that. The doctor stopped and cocked his head. “Why… They… Scared?” He was either amused or sad- it was impossible to tell with his damn eerie voice.
“Well, we do look kinda scary, you know? Halloween and all?” I said, trying to figure out an avenue of escape. I didn’t see one, because the doctor kept me in his sight at all times. I might have been able to outrun him, but I wasn’t so sure.
“Just… Out… Walking.” He rasped, in his frightening taciturn way. He beckoned again and I followed, the big bad wolf leading a little sheep to the slaughter. We walked without any clear purpose or direction, but I noticed things began to get colder. It was gradual, but it seemed like it was much colder now than it had ever been before. I felt like the blood in my veins was freezing, the very air around me was ice. My breath was clearly visible in front of my face, clear as day.
My friend, in keeping with my expectations of him, didn’t appear to breathe. No air came from his beak, and he kept walking straight ahead oblivious to the cold. I noticed then that there was no sound. I mean no sound. Everything was silent. No cars, no children laughing, no doorbells, no wind, just my own breathing and the deafening sound of silence.
I began to grow more terrified now. I didn’t know where my friend was leading me, but I felt as though I would never come back. I stopped in my tracks, on the verge of tears. The doctor walked a few paces then turned abruptly to stare at me. “Do… Not… Stop.”
“Where the hell are you taking me?!” I screamed, my fear turning to rage. I was surprised I could muster that much anger in spite of the cold. My words echoed around me, only to become devoured again by the silence.
We stood in a tense standoff, neither party speaking a word. We stared at each other. I was so full of wrath I wanted to charge at the monster and tear those damn glass eyes clean out of his skull.
“Keep… Walking.” He said, slowly and quietly. I shook my head.
“Keep… Walking.” It said again, growing louder and more forceful now. It felt like the voice was coming from all directions now, now just in front of me.
“I’m not going anywhere, I want to go home! Take me back!”
The doctor looked genuinely surprised, or I think it did. It was hard to tell with him. “Soon.” Was all he said, and it was clearly an ultimatum. After speaking his piece, the doctor began to walk slowly forward once more. I refused to move. I sat down on the cold ground- was it even ground? At this point I wasn’t sure where we were- and curled up into a ball, burying my head in my knees and crying.
It was a painful, wracked crying. I felt lost and alone, out god-knows-where on Halloween with some kind of monster that was going to horribly eviscerate me if I kept walking. I felt like there was nothing I could do. I had never felt more hopeless, more desolate, more alone.
All I could hear was my own crying. There was no sound from the doctor, if he was even still there. After a few moments I composed myself enough to look up.
The doctor’s eyes were right at my face, and his skull beak was touching my skin. This close I could see bits of the film slipping off his glass eyes and falling to the ground, and I could see through cracks in the skull of his beak nothing but a sheer black void. This was the end. This was the end for me, I thought.
The doctor drew back, standing to his impressive height, towering over my cowering frame. “We… Walk… Together.” It said, softer. I think it was trying to be friendly.
I slowly stood up, resigned to my fate. I kept walking with the good doctor, in silence. As we walked, the scenery changed. We had left Chicago long ago, but now we were somewhere truly alien.
Everywhere we walked I caught glimpses of black dancing shadows out of the corner of my eye. I never saw them for more than a minute, but the things creeped in and out of my vision, gazing at me with baleful red eyes. My anger was gone now, replaced by pure, primal dread.
All light was gone. It was black as night, except for the glowing red eyes. I’m not sure when it happened, but I know the light slowly faded the more we walked. In the darkness, I couldn’t see the doctor. I hoped he was there, for the devil I knew was better than the devil I didn’t. I didn’t want to take my chances with the black shadows.
I could barely make them out amidst the darkness, black vaguely human forms with cruel red eyes fixed on me from every angle. I didn’t know what to think or how to react to these things, other than keep walking and try to keep them out of my mind. It seemed like they were drawing closer.
Then the whispers started. It might have been gradual had it not been completely silent beforehand, but the voices began to whisper. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I could hear them. Talking amongst themselves. Growing ever nearer.
I didn’t know what to do. I had no way out. Where was I? Where was my friend?
The whispers grew maddeningly louder. From every direction they came, audible but indistinct. I couldn’t make out a word. I felt oppressed, I felt opposed, I felt alien. I was a stranger in this place. I didn’t belong here. Not at all.
Soon I could hear them. They were calling to me. ”What’ssss he doing here?” “You don’t belong here.” “Ssssshe never loved you anyway.” “You dessssserve to die.” “What good issss living?” “Give in to the eternal night.” “Join ussss.” “Join ussss.” “Join ussss.” The shadows hissed, calling from every direction.
The whispers sounded as though they were coming from inside my own head, but I was too scared to do anything. All I could do was walk forward. Walk and hope for a light at the end of the darkness, though nothing ever came. A familiar voice echoed from somewhere nearby.
“Stop.” Was all the doctor said, and I did as he ordered. I felt a multitude of hands, cold dead hands touch and grasp and pull and tear at every part of me as the shadows embraced me. I felt cold. I felt afraid. I felt alone. In the night’s embrace, I felt as though I was going to die.
I felt myself being pulled down, though I didn’t try to protest or resist. I was pulled down to the ground and laid down on my back, as though I was going to sleep. A long sleep will do me wonders.
“Sleep… Now… Wake… Soon.” The doctor rasped from somewhere nearby. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him speak a full four words. Sleep came surprisingly quickly, now that I was unafraid. I wasn’t afraid of what was going to happen. I was resigned to it.
I woke up in a cold sweat, frightened and shivering. I hastily turned on my phone to look at the time- 9:00 am, November 1st. I had several text messages from friends asking where I’d gone at the party, and a few others asking for help getting home. I was shaken. Had anything actually happened last night? A quick survey found that I was wearing my regular sleeping clothes and didn’t have any makeup on my face. Nothing was out of place in my apartment. I wasn’t injured in any way. Other than how early it was, everything seemed right with my world.
Except one thing. There was a lone black feather resting on my pillow, with a card. All the card said was “Next year?”