“We’ve distilled every fear into this pill. Consider it the closest you’ll get to Hell while you still have a heartbeat.” With a pitch like that, how could he resist? Perhaps it was the alpha male masculinity coursing his veins, or that dull plateau in life wedged between the racing 20s and the mellow 40s. Whatever the reason for placing the jet-black pill on his tongue, there was no hesitation. With the experienced swallow of a hedonist, he closed his eyes and waited. Perhaps this Halloween would bring back the terror he so craved after years of Fright Fests and haunted house sleepovers. At last, he hoped, he could meet with the primal dread that made man seek fire to fend off darkness, and flint to counter fangs.
Gnarled talons dug into his skin. The creature sitting on his chair was farcical, were it not for the explosion of chemicals in his brain. A small part knew that this was a hallucination, a Frankenstein-like horror mash-up of everything Hollywood had tried to tell him was scary. From the pointed goblin ears to rows of yellow fangs, from the reptilian yellow eyes to the banshee scream, the monstrosity was a cluster of clichés. But his overwhelming sensation was of fear. As his mind adjusted to the avalanche of scintillating terror, diluting to absorb the visual artistry of the beast, his heart settled in his chest. Like the ebb and flow of the sea by night, the darkness receded, and he took back control of his convulsing thoughts.
With a sneer, he moved to attack the beast cradling on his sternum. A flash of light, like a celestial shroud, covered the body of both man and monster. His hands, groping for leathery scales, struck soft skin. His head reared back in shock, slamming into the concrete floor. Dazed, with ragged breath, he looked once again at the figure seated on his chest. “No”, he whimpered. “Not you.”
“Daddy, why am I missing?”, the silhouette asked, the voice strained. “You know where I am. Please come help me.” The light dimmed, and his fear was confirmed. Her porcelain skin was peppered with welts, eyes raw and reddened. Her neck, which had so recently worn her father’s hands like a necklace, now carried purplish bruises. What lay between her legs, even this author dares not write, for the image haunts the beholder from the pen nib to the noose. Her once-combed hair was matted with mud (or was it dried blood?). “Daddy, please come find me. It’s cold, and I’m scared”. The words floated down from bloody lips, through his chest, and weighed heavy on his spine.
In that moment, the levees broke. This mountain of a man, a mass of muscle, began to weep. Not the laboured sobs of a panicked child, not even the wails of a bereft father. These tears wrenched the sanity from his mortal frame, harbingers of the agony of a soulless man.
Perhaps beasts do lurk in the dark moors of Victorian novels, or the morbid tales in the campfire glow. But the echoes of terror lie in the hearts of men, remnants of the horrors born in the mind.