's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Paper & Doors

Submitted by Monkeysky

There is a presence...

To call it something else, like an "entity", would be too formal. That is, it would inaccurately imply that is possesses a form. The presence has no form, but it is present, at different locations and different times.

When she was a little girl, maybe six years old, she found a caterpillar under a shoebox in the corner of her closet. It was huge to her at the time, thicker than her thumb and longer than any of her fingers, and it was covered with ants. The caterpillar was still alive, or at least some of its tissue was, as its fat green bulges pulsed like some mutant, diseased lung even while a trail of ants carried tiny yellow bits in a line into a gap in the floorboards.

Decades later, she still lived in the same house. Although her parents and her younger brother were both long gone, she never felt alone in that house, especially not in her old bedroom. She never looked behind the closet door, but she certainly looked at it.

Every day as she left for her office, she would pick up the morning paper to carefully place it on a chair on the porch to protect it from the elements. It had been many years since a human had ever sat in that chair. When she returned from work, she would take the paper inside, and her work would begin in a specially reserved spot on her dining room table. Every day (except for Sundays) she would spread out the paper, open to page 12D, and spend at least an hour poring over the comic strips.

Even she wouldn't be able to say what exactly made any given strip catch her attention. Anything that produced an audible laugh would be immediately cut out with a familiar hobby knife to add to her collection, but she sometimes chose some that touched her in other ways, some too complex to describe. When she was finally confident that everything of value had been isolated with surgical precision, she would unceremoniously drop the remains in the recycling bin, take up a glue stick and go to the closet door.

The collage of comic strips on the door was dozens of layers thick. She would never cover a strip with one that she considered inferior, so a wavy topology had formed, valleys forming at the sites of particularly favourable findings, difficult to compete with. The occasional coloured Sunday strip peeked out between the mass of black and white lines like a vein of gemstone embedded in marble.

She had been maintaining this ritual for more than a decade now, ever since she had first won a free subscription to her local paper in a community raffle, but she could not recall her initial inspiration for getting out the knife and glue. For the first few days, she felt a strange unease, bordering on disgust, but it soon turned into a sense of satisfaction and security. Her housemate, living behind the door, was satisfied as well. Ever since she began, it had become as full and happy as the ants and the caterpillar once were.

There is a presence that feeds on fear...

It feeds on fear the same way a plant feeds on air and sunlight, fueling its metabolism while basking in its source without truly diminishing it.

One of his first memories was finding a seven-legged spider on his windowsill. His grandfather explained to him that some spiders can drop their legs to escape from predators. When he asked how long it took them to grow back, his grandfather told him that they never did. The spider would have one fewer leg for the rest of its life. For the first time, he realized that it was possible to not just lose something so fundamental to yourself, but to give it up while knowing it would never return.

His grandmother must have put that print over the doorway when he was too young to remember it, but he never asked her or anyone else about it. It was just propped up on the molding without any tape, nails or anything to hold it up, but it had been immobile for long enough to accumulate cobwebs, forming a fuzzy grey halo around it and a dense network in the narrow, dark gap between it and the wall. He rationally recognized it as a portrait of a young child, but nothing about it came across as human. Not that it looked like an animal or some inhuman monster, but to him all he could see was a piece of paper with some markings that happened to be coincidentally arranged along the same proportions to a human face.

The print was the first thing he saw every day when he woke up, the rising sun projecting a strange textured beam of light across it, every microscopic bump in the paper's surface stretched out in shadow. It had been there, looking as ancient and undisturbed as ever, when he first came to live there five years before, but it wasn't until he was twelve that he started hearing it. It only spoke at night, and its voice hovered around his ears like headphones. Still, he knew the source of the voice as instantly as if he had seen its lips move.

It had a voice like sour apple candy. Synthetic and grating, but still sweet. It never once threatened or insulted him, but showered him with praise as he fell asleep. It told him that he already knew that he was exceptional, and that he was right. It told him that he was different, and better, than anyone else, and that he deserved to do whatever pleased him, and then it described exactly what he deserved to do. In intricate detail, it spoke to him about acts of varying cruelty directed at his friends, family or random strangers he had seen during the preceding day. With the mechanical specificity of a technical manual, it explained the use of different sharp implements, and the deep physical and emotional satisfaction he'd gain from each act. Every night, it asked him questions or pathetically begged him to confirm the desires it spoke of. Every night, he would stay silent, even if he had to force his face into his pillow and bite his tongue until he tasted blood.

When he woke up the next morning, always staring at the yellowed rectangle above the door, he felt like a mythical hero returning from battle: triumphant, exhausted and wounded. He knew that no earplugs or any other effort would keep the voice from reaching his ears, but he couldn't imagine trying anyway. The same went for trying to explain the nightly occurrences to anyone else. Even if anyone took him at face value, they could never understand what really scared him about the print.

The print itself was no threat to him. No matter how much it spoke to him or what it said, he knew he could leave the room and it couldn't. If he ever asked the wrong person, though, and learned the source of the print, or even the year it was made, everything could change instant. If his worst fears were ever reaized, the promise of sleeping free would be gone forever. He would have no more silence, not outside of his room or in the light of day, ever again.

There is a presence that feeds on fear and excretes mania...

Its favourite flavour is the blend of opposing terrors: irreconcilable fears that complete each other, leaving no room for escape but into the presence's own path.

He couldn't remember the last time he had taken four steps out from the door of his apartment. The welcome mat had become the edge of his entire planet, and to go beyond it would be like stepping off the face of the Earth and braving the vacuum of space. Advancing beyond this invisible boundary was not just terrifying, but incomprehensible. Planted right at the precipice were the two most important spots in the world to him.

To the left of his door was where his deliveries arrived. Several times a week, like mana from heaven, volunteers would drop off boxes of pre-prepared food. Every month or two, he would get a package with toilet paper, soap or other essential supplies. Most essential at all were the bulk orders of papers, ink and envelopes. He wasted no time in taking packages inside to relative safety and securing the door behind them. With a rusted letter opener, he stripped the cardboard from each arrival, regardless of the specific contents, with the care of an archeologist exposing an ancient mummy. The isolated cardboard was then flattened and stacked by him with the remains of other deliveries, to be bound tightly in mildewed twine. It was only after the external shell was ritually handled that he could deal with the internals.

To the right of his door was his outbox. It wasn't a small numbered mail-cubby by the door of the complex, but a tall polished-wood box, the size of a toddler's coffin, with a birdhouse's sloped roof. A small slot by the top was open to letters, and a door at the front embossed with his name was meant to allow the postman to grab a stack of outgoing mail at once.

As horrifying the sinful world outside of his apartment was, the idea of being truly alone was just as sickening, and so for hours a day, every day, without fail, he would write letters. These would be directed toward anyone he could think of at the time: old friends from his time in school, long-dead family members, near-strangers he had given directions to in the time before his seclusion. His letters filled the paper with such tiny ornate script that the pages almost appeared a flat grey.

In sentences that dragged on for hundreds of words, he described the shameful and disgusting things he saw outside of his window, the petty disasters of his domestic universe and his many meditations on scripture. He had three bibles on the table beside where he wrote, but he never opened them. For any situation, he could retrieve a suitable verse as easily as repeating his own name. Many of the verses he fed into his letters couldn't be found in his three books, or any other holy book ever printed, but he treated them with no less reverence.

All of his letters were elegantly signed and sealed, but none were ever addressed or stamped. In contrast to the letters themselves, the outside of the envelopes remained as immaculate and unmarked as fresh snow. The front door of his mailbox had never been opened, and the wood's finish had long melted and sealed it completely shut, as if there was no door at all. The layers of paper in the box formed geological strata leading down to the core of his personal planet, telling the story of his life from bottom to top. Running out of space was not a concern that had ever entered his mind. As long as he tightly pressed the creases of the paper, they took up no space at all, and the bottomless stomach of his outbox would never be filled.

There is a presence that feeds on fear and excretes mania to infest the hearts and minds of humans...

Its preferred prey are artists, poets and other creative types. They're the easiest to pull into the presence's grasp, and once secured, their works can be used to spread its influence.

Her grandfather used to tell her stories whenever she was sick, which was often. When she burned with fever, he filled her mind with images of the desert. Sometimes he would tell her about his own time during the war, stories of figures from history like T E Lawrence and Cleopatra, or tales from the One Thousand and One Nights. She couldn't say why, even when she had the strength to speak, she never complained or asked him to stop. These stories, as much as she could comprehend them in her weakened state, filled her with hatred and disgust, perhaps the emotions she needed to pull through her illnesses.

Aside from these stories, or what remnants she couldn't make herself forget, the only thing she inherited from her grandfather was his writing table. It was an antique cylinder desk, with a door that rolled to open and close like a giant eyelid. He had only used it for business, but her use for it couldn't have been more different. When she rotated the cylinder up to reveal the blank white leaf of paper always waiting for her, it was as if her entire house had rolled over instead. Looking down at the empty square with her pen in hand, she felt like Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but she had nothing to do with saints, prophets or angels.

Along with ink, her fear and rage poured steadily from her pen like sand through the center of an hourglass. The moment the tip touched the paper, she no longer had any control of what came out, nor the slightest interest in resisting. The images in stark black and white formed as naturally as if she simply bled them out.

Men wearing rough grey robes trekked silently across white-hot dunes. Behind their hoods, their faces were the segmented, shining black heads of beetles. In their hands, the clever claws of rodents, they held blades of dark glass, rounded and curving into the shapes of stingers. On the wings of carrion birds, casting shadows as deep as tar on the sand below, they searched for tributes to their bright idols. Unwieldy stone towers like colossal termite mounds stood black against the cloudless sky, snakes and lizards dripping from the windows and dripping with venom. From the crown of the tower are the mandibles of a dragon worm, thick tendrils of smoke rising from between them in substitution of the unheard screams within.

The moment she'd finish a drawing, she would snatch the sheet from the table, slam the desk shut and practically topple from her chair. The exertion would leave her nearly anemic. All of the pages in her outbox were face down. She couldn't bear to look at them for another second.

No equilibrium can last forever. After all, nothing and no one can last forever. Even the most stable parasitism eventually falls out of balance.

At first, she thought the ink had come to life. Black lines stirred and bent before her eyes. She leaned forward to get a closer look and was immediately repulsed. Shiny black ants, crawling out from under the closet door in orderly lines, had begun working on the glue. As they pulled it away as little yellow clumps in their mandibles, the years of strips silently fell to the floor one by one. In just a few minutes, the door was completely bare, but the ants still swarmed across the fallen paper at the border between room and closet. Something inside had caught their attention.

He should have been more careful. If there's something you don't want to know, it's not enough just to not seek it out, you have to run and hide. In a moment of carelessness, he had overheard a discussion, and he didn't have the sense to run away. Now, the print was different. Its eyes were no longer just marks of ink. Instead, they were like holes, and something stared out from the shadows behind. The newly opened eyes followed him wherever he stood, like the Mona Lisa, except they didn't stop following him when he left the room. Whenever he spoke, its voice rang wordlessly in his ears. There was no longer any need for flattery, embellishment or even human syntax. What it said was as clear and compelling to him as if they were branded straight on his brain.

At the very least, he had no shortage of things to write about. He felt more lost in the apartment every day, and sometimes for a horrible moment he couldn't tell whether he was inside or outside. His drawers, once full of carefully organized rubber bands and twist ties, were now nests of hateful little rodents and reptiles that scurried out of sight just before he could lay eyes on them. The neatly stacked cardboard had become a forest of angular trees, stretching to an unseen canopy full of mocking birds, their shrieks calling out from the vents at all times of day. His three Bibles, when he could find them, were filled with a buzzing like a hive of bees that threatened him from between the pages whenever he drew near. His only comfort was the road of loose leaves of paper on the floor leading through his apartment to the doorway and his mailbox. With every letter, this path became more and more sparse.

People all over the world had seen her drawings, but not a single one understood what they truly meant to her. The very thought that someone could look at the world on her papers and find some sort of beauty or nobility in it made her feel physically ill. One night, when it was too much to take, she sat down at her desk, and bled her hatred and disgust through her pen without bothering to open her inkwell. The towers of bone and the creatures that lived within them burned red-hot against the white sand. As the pages piled up, one on top of the other, smearing and staining the desk with illegible broad strokes of reddish-brown, her pen eventually ran dry.