's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Dustin Koski & Adam Koski (email)

I went for a walk on a familiar route for no better reason than I liked the modest scenery. The route goes around the campus sports arena, past the campus football field, into a park that snaked around a picturesque creek until crossing over onto the local campus, which has a number of interestingly designed buildings to pass around, through, or even under.  To me it was meditating with changing scenery. I always went alone, too, and I never minded it much. I didn't even bring a phone.   

I had gone about three quarters of the way through my usual route. I can't very well forget the place or how it looked. It was a bright, relatively warm late spring day with barely a breeze. Off to my right there was a row of evergreen trees which obscured a collection of tennis courts, which I had joked with one of my old roommates was put up so that the rich kids wouldn't have to worry about the poor people seeing them playing badly. On the right was a gym with plenty of large windows to let in natural light and creeper stares. Ahead of me the black pavement looped off to the right around the gateway that led to the football field. Yeah, a big ostentatious gateway to a football field. This is Wisconsin, after all. I lived in a small house in a pretty crowded neighborhood growing up, so the area where it happened on the route seemed much larger to me than it might have to most people.

I was looking at nothing in particular when I stopped being able to move. I swing my arms a little when I walk, so my left was leaning slightly back and my right was leaning slightly forward, and thankfully both of my feet were planted firmly on the ground. Seemingly the only exceptions to my immobility were that I could move my eyes in their sockets, blink, and breathe. Neither this nor anything remotely similar had ever happened to me before.

It might sound ridiculous, but I didn't fully understand what happened to me for a moment. I thought maybe on some subconscious level I had forgotten or dropped something and my brain had stopped me so that I remembered it and turned around. I thought for a moment, then tried to turn around to see if that helped. It was only after a few seconds of not being able to so much as turn around that the sensation that something was horribly wrong slid down my guts.

The first place my mind went when I accepted that this was actually, truly happening to me was worrying about what had happened to my nervous system. Did I have a stroke? What kind of paralysis left a person standing? I even considered rigor mortis. Why wouldn't I have? It made no less sense than anything else. I breathed so rapidly I must have come close to hyperventilating, and I just remained static. I clenched my eyes shut as if I would open them up back in bed. I opened them when I heard footsteps approaching on pavement. No, I had not been dreaming. It felt like hours of silent panicking mixed with denial before I sufficiently got ahold of myself to attempt to take stock of my situation. Even with the panic I was experiencing, I had an innate sense I wasn't getting out of this situation on my own.  

There were a few other people on the pathway walking in either direction. By far the closest one was a middle-aged woman looking at her phone. There was a group of what looked like high school wrestlers. None of them were even looking at me. It's unusual for someone to just stop and stand still while walking down a pathway, but not enough to draw anyone's attention. As I was mentally begging them for help their lack of interest in me seemed monstrously callous. It felt so unnatural for me to have a fixed angle from which I could look at the world, but I didn't feel disembodied or disconnected from the situation at all. I had never felt so firmly in the moment in my life.

Minutes crawled by, and eventually I was completely alone. There was nothing to hear but distant motor vehicles, nothing I could do but slightly alter my line of sight. As panic was slowly replaced by tedium, aches set in which were practically torture. There was nothing to take my mind off of them that I could see. Even speculating about why this was happening to me couldn't take my mind off the strain on my ankles. I tried to count increments of thirty seconds, just to have some sense that time was passing before enough people saw me stuck like this that one of them would help me.

Then there was something crawling on my shoulder. I felt a stabbing sensation, the familiar bite of a mosquito, but much more intense than I'd ever felt one before. It seemed to stay unbelievably long, sucking what felt an impossible amount of blood from me. I felt the itching even before I heard it buzzing away. If I could have grit my teeth, I imagined I would have chipped a tooth or made my gums bleed from the nagging, throbbing sensation that bite left in its wake.

Then, I felt another mosquito, which took an unnatural drink from me. Then, there was a third one. I don't know if mosquitoes have some way of discerning that a source of blood is safe, but anyone in my position would have believed it was the case. It took a little attention off the aches, but the new sensations were so agonizing that I found I had a small way to react I hadn't expected: My eyes began to water.

I felt a ridiculous pang of worry that someone would see me crying. It had been decades since anyone had seen me crying in public, and the last time had been because I had practically bitten the tip of my tongue off at recess in Kindergarten. It would be one thing for someone to come and help me. Strangers seeing tears in my eyes would have been an unbearable humiliation. As said, it was a nonsensical concern at a time when for all I knew I was experiencing an anomalous stroke. Well, I suppose even if we can't do something, there are still touches of our personality on the inside.     

Before I knew it, students began drifting out of the gym. I hoped my tears had dried, but I hoped even more that some of them had at least glanced out the window a time or two and had seen how strange it was for someone to stand completely motionless for the duration of a gym class. The first few were not promising, people chatting with each other or looking at their phones. It took at least ten people who passed by in either direction before someone so much as stole a glance at me. The few people who looked at me seemed to make a point of looking away a moment later. They weren't just not helping, they were seemingly disgusted with me or wanted to tell themselves that I was not their problem. I thought the tears were humiliating, but this was on another level. This was all the embarrassment a street beggar may endure in a year. The fear only intensified the humiliation.

It was near the end of when the main group of students passed that someone finally paid sustained attention to me. It was a beefy guy, the kind who looks fat at first glance, but at second glance you can tell there are muscles underneath. He was dressed in a hoodie despite the heat and had hair that was just long enough to be curly. He stopped and stared at me for a little while, then ambled up to me.

"So, what, this a prank?" He asked me, looking around. There was a hostility in his tone that surprised me. Why would my just standing there make him angry at me? When he evidently reached the conclusion that there was no plausible hiding spot for a hidden camera or a crew around, he looked me in the eyes again. "Is this one of those, what, human statue things?" The only thing I could think to do to try and communicate that it was nothing of the kind was look from side to side, as if to simulate shaking my head. He responded with a sneer.  

"Oh, I get it," he said with a little nod, "this is one of those stupid protests. Isn't it?" As he said those last two words, he managed to surprise me again when he gave me a schoolyard shove. It was hard, but hardly enough to push me over. The kind someone gives because they figure no one will report them for it. Then he pushed me again when I didn't answer, and that time it might have been just powerful enough to knock me over if my joints hadn't been so rigid.

There was nothing I could do except keep looking at him. If he was going to physically attack me for no reason that I could see, it seemed like there was nothing that he wouldn't do. Would he knock me over and then kick me while I was down? Really see just how bad he could hurt me before he got a reaction? Maybe do something I couldn't recover from? With how many people had blithely walked by me when I desperately needed help, I was in a headspace where I didn't expect any of them to lift a finger to stop him.

He either got frustrated or he got self-conscious, because he looked back at all the people walking by him and scoffed.

"Yeah, it's stupid," he said walking away. I saw no evidence anyone had been interested in this little confrontation, but that wasn't what was foremost on my mind at the time. I was so relieved that he hadn't really explored just what he could do to me that I didn't even feel animosity towards him. That feeling was very fleeting, though, and was replaced by a dread that someone passing me by would feel inclined to go farther than he had. It changed every passerby from someone I had hoped would help me into more potential threats, no matter how benign they looked.

The flow of students, educators, and employees trickled off and then came to an end as the sun very, very slowly set. Imagining almost all of them attacking me at least distracted me from the throbbing aches and agonizing itches. I scarcely noticed when another couple mosquitoes bit me. It wasn't until the sun was completely set and I'd gone minutes without seeing so much as a bird pass by that I cleared my head of imaginary attacks. I began to feel cold. It might have dropped only into the low sixties, but I had been sweating profusely and when I moved so little it generated little heat. I never imagined how necessary it was to shiver until I was no longer capable of it.

A dozen yards or so behind me there was the edge of the forest that stretched through campus. I had never been the sort of outdoors person who camps out in the woods in a tent overnight, and I didn't realize how active the woods really could get at night when animals thought it was safe. As the stars appeared in the sky, the thought of something that was sure to emerge and come take advantage of my defenselessness seemed to pass every handful of minutes. Foxes and bears had been known to wander through campus before. Even the smaller feet of a rodent scurrying through the undergrowth could mean a rat that was going to bite until it tore through my Achilles tendon. Even a light breeze shifting a leaf could be a predator.

The moon had entered my field of vision above the horizon when the noises of animals passing in the woods became something vastly more threatening. It was an animal emerging from the brush behind me. Its light footsteps came with agonizing slowness. I was certain it was because the animal was a hunter that didn't want to scare away its prey.

I tried harder just to turn and look at the creature approaching than I had tried to do anything in my life. I didn't even make such a desperate effort to move my body at any earlier point. I was sure I was going to lose my mind from just the primal need to see this animal. Hard as it might be to believe, I even thought for a second that I would have accepted it killing me if only I could see the attack coming.

At last it was right behind me. It seemed to pause. Then I felt it a cold, wet nose against the back of my left leg. That was surely it: That meant it was about to bite me and begin tearing in. I couldn't do anything to tense in anticipation. There was just forcing my eyes shut now that it was here.

Then it shifted around to in front of me, still sniffing my leg. Before long, I could look down and see it.

A fawn.

Relief was so overwhelming I'm sure if I could I would have sunk to the ground. I heard another animal beside me and knew it had to be the mother watching over the fawn even before I could see it. When it seemed convinced I was no threat, but also not very interesting, the fawn took off into a lawn area, bounding around like a cartoon lamb, and the mother ambled off after it. After so much time spent in fear with nothing but an unchanging stretch of walkway in front of me, the sight of a frolicking little animal was enough that I could have practically cried. The fact the mother had let the fawn come this way gave me the hope that there were no larger animals in the immediate woods behind me, a reassurance that made me practically euphoric under those circumstances. When the fawn ran back up to me before circling back around towards its mother, if I could have moved all of my body except my feet, I don't think I could have kept myself from bending down and hugging it. I even imagined that happening, which wouldn't have been the sort of thing I would ever envision myself wanting to do. I became briefly lost in that little vision of reaching out to that harmless creature.

I heard heavy footsteps close behind me, those of someone wearing boots who isn't worried about being heard. I saw the deer dart away out of my line of sight just before hands seized my arms.

"I knew you'd still be here," a deep, raspy voice I'd never heard before said behind me. "Just like the others." Before the implications of that sank in, a cloth bag was placed over my head. I was hoisted up onto the shoulder of someone whose face I didn't see. He had no trouble wrapping his arm around my leg and bending my arm so that he could hold them together. I felt us turn, and he began carrying me back the way I'd come down the trail hours ago.

There was a rundown apartment complex near campus that was maybe a couple hundred yards from where I'd been paralyzed. Even in the panic of the moment I knew that had to be where he was taking me if he thought that he could carry me with any hope of not being seen by witnesses or security cameras. I could barely breathe in that bag, especially with how his shoulder was pressing into my chest.

Abruptly, my feet were planted hard on pavement. The suddenness indicated to me that this action was done urgently. Seconds later, the bag was taken off my head, though my eyes were obscured, and an identification remained impossible. When the fingers uncovered my eyes, he had one arm wrapped around me and then used the other to put me in a tight embrace so that I could only see some hair on the back of his head. The lighting was so bad that I couldn't even see what color it was. I was facing into the darkness of the woods.

It became clear why I'd been set down and why he was putting his arms around me when I heard approaching footsteps. I didn't see who the person abducting me was fooling nor did I  know how many there were, but I heard that they passed us by without even breaking stride. I wouldn't be surprised if whoever it was never stopped looking at their phones. He kept holding me like a lover until the sound of their footsteps completely faded away. Then, he walked around behind me and slid the bag back over my head.

"That was close," he said under his breath. He picked me up again in the same way, though this time he had to shift me back and forth a few times before he seemed to be confident enough with his hold on me that he began walking forward again. My thin hope he would be caught by someone had been crushed by how effortless and effective his deception was. I lost track of time, and it was only after I felt his grip slipping on me that I had a vague sense that he'd been carrying me for a long time.

"Almost there," he said with a little grunt, sounding more like he was speaking to himself than to his two hundred pound burden. He shifted me slightly, letting go of my arm, and I heard him digging in his pocket for keys or something. In so doing, his grip on me weakened, and in a second I slid from his grasp. He cursed as my head collided with the pavement.

I lost consciousness for a second and was abruptly on the ground on my back. I groaned, and was surprised by the sound. I hadn't made a noise in hours aside from inhaling and exhaling. Just being able to move my chin at all felt so new I felt as if I had been placed in a human body for the first time. I felt his hands as he intended to hoist me again. I kicked and swung my arms pathetically because they had such severe aches and I was so disoriented. But most of all I screamed. Through the sounds of my screams I heard what had to be his footsteps running off before becoming much quieter as he left pavement. By the time I belatedly and awkwardly got the bag off my head, he was gone. I had been correct where he was taking me, because he left me in front of that very apartment building.

My scream drew an old lady in the apartment to her balcony, and I was able to beg her to call an ambulance, the fact my words were so slurred probably doing much of the work for me. I spent the night at the hospital while they checked me for brain bleeding and related injuries. Even before I was discharged from the hospital for the first time in what would be a long series of visits, I was pessimistic that the person who'd abducted me would ever be caught. It took me a long time to appreciate how lucky I was that being knocked briefly unconscious had let me regain my ability to move as if my nervous system had been, for want of a better term, rebooted.  

In the following weeks, none of the many tests indicated anything in my nervous system was amiss in a way that would induce full body paralysis, which was on some level a disappointment to me. My desire to go for walks was initially completely drained away and I languished at home while hoping there was something medical and natural that had paralyzed me. This was the sort of thing that I believe most people are expected to just pretend never happened so that I could get back to business as usual, but I couldn't. I began using some online communities to meet people so that when I went out I would be accompanied or there would be someone waiting for me. I would like to say I made some meaningful friendships as a result of this, but honestly, there's none of them I feel comfortable enough with that I could share this story with anyone in person. Perhaps some day.

I've never been able to go near that pathway again, let alone that particular stretch of it. If it's possible that being in that spot was a key component to what happened to me, I'm afraid I don't think I'd be able to prevent it happening to someone else. If my abductor induced it in me, I don't have the courage to even attempt to hunt him down or approach that apartment. If anything, I have periods of deep anxiety that he might try to get it right with me a second time. I'm almost glad I didn't see his face, or certainly he would have felt the need to silence me by now.

One last thing that I've been getting worried about: whether it's downtown, on a city street, in a store, or at someone's home, if I see someone standing too still for me to discern any movement, I feel an overwhelming need to make sure they can move on their own. At first I knew all I had to do was say a word, and if they were listening to music with earbuds I just needed to tap them on the shoulder at most. But, this compulsion to make sure people can still move has just grown stronger and stronger, and I don't think therapy or any such thing would help. After all, when I was trapped on in my body on that pathway, I didn't just learn that unnatural things can happen. I was shown that they can be happening while you're looking directly at them, and you won't be able to see them.