's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by nico (email)

Sasha talks to angels. It's what he calls them. Though some of the other kids in his first grade class call him a liar, none of them can prove him wrong. Not since he told Holly her dog, a Labrador mix that died 2 months before school started, followed her that day. Sasha had been able to describe the white splotches on the dog's ears perfectly. Ever since that day, none of the other kids have known what to make of him.

At first, Sasha likes the attention, the same way he likes being the only boy named Sasha in the whole school. He has a small following of kids, not quite friends, who ask him questions as if he were a ouija board. Looking up at the angels, into their hollow, misty white faces, he answers as best he can. Eventually, as the years pass, the angels get sick of helping him. Sasha folds cootie catchers and saves up pocket change to buy paper horoscope scrolls from the grocery store to keep up.

By middle school, the novelty has worn off. Sasha sits alone in class, melding into the background hum of the angels he still sees. His dark hair tangles, his grades slip. The other kids avoid him. They make fun of the lilt in his voice, call him queer, call him a freak - but only behind his back. They all know about Holly's dog, even the ones that transferred to the school later. They all know the stories about Stef's parents and the girl in the basement and the bear. Sasha knows now that the things he sees aren't angels. They're ghosts.

Huddled in the corner of the school's cellar doorway, fingers ripping through a tangle in his hair, he wonders if he's still special. He wonders if he ever was. How can someone like him be special? He's not cute, like some other boys are. He's not a star on any sports team. He's nothing at all. From behind the door, he hears the whispery hum of a girl. White wisps like smoke curl out from under the door. My bones, she says, my bones are still here. Sasha tells her he knows. He can feel them even from here. But the door is locked and he's not special enough to know how to break in.

Later that night, at home, Sasha takes out the garbage. The white, translucent forms of roadkill possums hiss at him as he passes, as if their bite could still hurt him. In the dull, sickly light of the streetlights, wet red paint shines on the garage door. FAGGOT, the door of the garage says, FREAK. WITCH. He runs inside without looking back, as if whoever left the messages might be out there following him.

The other kids are getting bolder. Sasha doesn't know what changed. Did he do something wrong? Or was it as simple as pimple-faced Heather moving away, which made him the new target?

It doesn't matter. Either way, Sasha has the worst week of his life. The other kids don't treat him like they treated Heather, or like any of the other kids the bullies targeted. They hate Sasha. It went from name calling, which he could handle, to getting tripped in the hall. To having his lunch spit on. To having his clothes stolen out of his gym locker. By friday, he's running onto his bus from a group of bigger boys threatening to beat him up.

The weekend doesn't bring any peace. Sasha sees the same boys following him back from the store late Saturday night. He didn't even know they lived in his neighborhood. They walk behind him by about fifteen feet, laughing about something inaudible - until the sidewalk clears. Not much is open late in their small town and the glow of the corner shop only goes so far. With no one else around, they come at him.

Sasha runs. He's quick, he's always been quick, and he can keep just ahead of them. He knows where to go. The lights on the edge of the sidewalk stretch out back to his block, but instead he veers left. Down a dark residential block, with the laughing, ecstatic voices of the boys behind him, Sasha sees his target. An old clump of forest, never leveled for homes like what had happened to the rest of the neighborhood. Sasha disappears between the trees.

The boys stop there. Maybe they've gone too far. Despite everything, they're still scared of him. Who knows what he could be doing in there? He's a witch, isn't he?

But one of them, a skinny boy with a shaved head and something to prove, takes control. Sasha's only gonna get farther away if they keep acting like wimps, he says, so hurry up. He takes off through the trees, but only a couple of the kids follow him.

Sasha can hear them behind him. He's still running. In the night silence of the woods, every crunching leaf and every snapped branch echoes. White glowing owls stare down at him from the trees. They all startle at a noise to his right. Did the boys split up? Sasha runs, never tripping, over roots and brush, until he stops suddenly. Only one of the boys, the skinny one, Jason, kept up with him. They're both breathing hard. Jason, holding a baseball bat, is smiling, his teeth glinting like knives.

He lunges for Sasha. The bat smashes into his head with a crack. He falls, and there's another crack like lightning as the bat collides with his leg. Sasha, bleeding from his mouth, from his nose, his leg broken, scrambles back against a tree as Jason swings again, and--

White. Mist. Brighter than the moon.


Countless hands shoot up from the ground, white, glowing, filthy, reaching. They grab Jason by his ankles, pulling him down. They grab him by his legs, pulling him down, by his shirt, pulling him down. The ground undulates. He falls onto his back and the hands wrap around him from underneath, hugging him - and then he's gone. His screams turn to silence. A blanket of fall leaves cover the spot Jason disappeared, like they were always there. There's no sign of him. There never will be again.

A hundred eyes watch from the trees, from hollows in the trunks, from the grass, white like stars. The only sound is Sasha's heaving breaths. Slowly, with a grunt, he gets up, dragging his leg deeper into the woods.

The next morning, he's still there. On his back in a clearing, Sasha stares up. The spring blue sky is an invitation. He closes his eyes and waits.