A scary story for this Friday the 13th… Enjoy!
I don’t know how he lost his face, and I don’t want to know. I don’t even know his name.
That dark alley behind the coffee shop – that’s where I met him. He sat on a piece of greasy cardboard, leaned against a dumpster. Blood-soaked bandages wrapped his face and head. I could only see his eyes.
I’d just finished my shift at the rescue mission. I was walking to my car, and I saw his pleading eyes. It was my Christian duty to stop. To serve.
The story he told me: he was a veteran suffering from a debilitating facial deformity received from a malfunctioning landmine.
Never mind that a landmine would have blown off his legs instead of his face.
My duty to serve obviously hindered my reasoning ability. I didn’t care what had happened to him. I only wanted to help him.
He said he needed a place to sleep, a clean bathroom. I wanted to take him to the hospital, but he said Baptist just kicked him out because of insurance. I offered to contact friends or family. He had none.
Staring off blindly down the alley, he said something I’ll never forget. He said, I don’t want to stay here in the dark. I can feel him now, he said, tapping on my shoulder.
He’s insane, I thought, and that belief made me work harder to help him.
I asked if he could walk, and he stood from the shadows in response. This wounded man was a giant. Shirt buttons strained to contain his barrel chest. His thick, muscled neck reminded me of a race horse, and veins rippled across his meaty hands.
Was I afraid of him? For a moment, just then, electricity prickled across my shoulders and down my back, but those eyes… they never changed.
I drove him to that cockroach motel over on Fifth Avenue. I couldn’t stop glancing in the mirror at the mummy-headed colossus cramped in the backseat of my little Honda. Guilt gnawed at me for not taking him somewhere better, but I did as well as any broke college kid could. The going rate was only 13 dollars a night, so I rented the room for a week and bought a sandwich from the vending machine outside.
We walked to room 108, and I handed him the key and sandwich. Told him I’d be back to check on him the next day.
Will you sit with me awhile? he said with a raspy, wavering voice. ‘I hate being all alone.’ His dark eyes glistened in the orange streetlight.
I have to get home, I said. It’s late.
North, about 30 minutes or so.
Do you live alone?
I live with my mom.
Oh, I bet she’s a nice lady, like you. A pretty lady, he said.
His ragged breathing made me uncomfortable. I suggested finding something funny on television to watch, and said good night. My hands shook so badly that I had trouble getting the key into the ignition.
Mom waited up for me, like she always does. She asked me about my night. I told her about Marcus, the toothless, leather-skinned man who sings to the volunteers every week. I told her about the new family with the six-month-old baby named Blessing. I told her about the elderly woman who would only introduce herself as Bette Davis’ Granddaughter.
I did not tell her that I took a seven-foot former foot soldier with fingers like sausages to a cheap hotel. I did not tell her about those sad eyes.
I climbed into bed, the white canopy bed I’ve had since I was six. Porcelain dolls stared at me from atop the dresser. Their dark, unblinking eyes and paper white faces loomed like tiny skulls, their delicate features blurred, vanished in my peripheral vision. I couldn’t help but think of the bandaged man in room 108. I resolved to finish what I’d started, and see to it that the man had a good week of food, rest and healing.
That’s what Jesus would do.
The next morning, I called Jay, a friend in medical school. I explained what had happened the night before, and I asked if he’d be willing to check on the man. Jay was a big guy, and I figured he could take care of himself. He agreed to go by the motel.
My day went on as usual. I arrived late to Western Civ and early to my English and Communications Law classes. I ate my lunch in the law library, and I drank my midday energy drink while I studied under the big Oak outside the University Center. I expected Jay to call me with an update, and by late afternoon with no word, I began to worry. His cell phone went to voicemail every time I called.
I stopped by the market and picked up a few things – bread, peanut butter, chips, breakfast pastries, and soda – and headed to Fifth Avenue. A rough-looking group of men loitered outside the motel office, so I parked directly in front of room 108. I knocked on the door, propping the bag of groceries on my hip.
Who’s there? the man called out.
It’s me, I called back, the girl from last night.
He chuckled. I have a surprise for you. Don’t be alarmed… your doctor friend came by, and he really helped me, he said through the door.
Great, I said, pleased that things had worked out. I thought maybe this visit could be my last.
The door swung open.
I gasped. I wanted to scream, throw the grocery bag to the ground, and run to my car; in reality, my body turned rigid. The bloodied bandages were gone. In their place, a lopsided mask of flesh stretched across his forehead and cheeks, and hung loosely near his jawline and neck. The skin appeared shiny and moist around his eye sockets and his mouth. I realized the hideous face wore a smile.
Pretty good, huh? he asked, turning his head from side to side.
An element of familiarity appeared in his deformed face, but I couldn’t place it. He seemed so happy and in such better spirits than I’d left him, so I forced a smile.
You must be feeling better, I said. I’m glad my friend could help, I said, and I handed over the grocery bag. He waved a cheerful goodbye as I backed out the car.
I tried calling Jay again as soon as I’d cleared the parking lot. Another voicemail. I told myself Jay was probably really busy with school, and he’d call as soon as he could. I went home and tried to forget that horrific and pitiful man, forget what I’d seen.
A couple of days passed. I hadn’t returned to check on the man, and I didn’t intend to, but Jay’s mom called. She’d dropped by Jay’s apartment, and it looked like he hadn’t been home in a few days. She’d been calling all of his friends to find him.
I made some calls. No one had seen Jay. I checked with his professors. Turned out he’d even missed a lab exam. That wasn’t like him. I knew deep in my soul that something terrible had happened to Jay, and it was my fault. The last person to see my friend was the man in room 108. I had no choice but to visit him again.
The steering wheel slid free from my grip. I shifted the gear into park, then held my hands, one at a time, in front of the air conditioning in an attempt to stop the sweating. A lanky man with a scruffy beard stood outside a neighboring room. He stared at me and looked like he was about to speak until he realized where I was headed, and then he quickly stepped inside his own room.
I rapped politely on the door marked 108. No answer. I used the meatiest part of my fist and knocked harder. Still no answer. The shades were drawn in the adjacent window. I knocked again, harder still, until the window shook in its pane. Either he’s dead, or he’s gone, I thought.
The woman in the motel office fluffed her dishwater hair. Can I help you, doll? she said as smoke trickled from between her vermillion lips. Her musky perfume was quite overpowering.
Yes, can you tell me if the man in room 108 has turned in his key?
She sat to look through a guest register, and a dripping sound grabbed my attention. Condensation from the wall air unit dripped down onto a waterlogged shag carpet, just missing an overflowing kitty litter box.
You said 108?she called from below the counter. No, he’s not gone, but we did get some complaints about him, she said. She stood to look at me. You mean the man with the… the face?she said, and she gestured toward her own, her cigarette bobbing between two fingers.
I nodded. What kind of complaints?
Smell, mostly, she said.
How could he smell that badly? I said. He’s only been here four days.
I don’t know, doll, but people were complaining about rotting garbage and some noise.
Did you check out the room? Did you find the source of the smell?
No, I’m not going in there until that man leaves, she said, her eyes wide. How on earth do you know him?
It’s a long story, I said. I swallowed hard and asked if I could I go in. He’s not there, I said. I’ve knocked, and there’s no answer, I said.
Okay, sure, doll. Room’s in your name, so you can go in. She opened a drawer and fished out a key. Here you go, doll. If you’re not back in 15 minutes, I’ll send someone in after you.
I stared at the locked door for a few seconds, gathering up the courage to go on. I had to go in alone. I had no choice. The key slid into the lock and clicked it open.
The door creaked open a few inches. The room was dark. I called out, Hello? No answer. A cloying scent hit me, and I felt my throat contract. I clawed at the neck of my shirt and tucked my mouth and nose inside. I took a deep breath, pushed the door as far as it would open and stepped inside.
My eyes skimmed over the disheveled bed, the sheets and pillows blotched with red. Silver pastry wrappers littered the floor. The peanut butter and the bread were left open on top of the television. I slid open the nightstand drawer. A brown leather wallet. I flipped it open, and there’s my friend Jay on the driver’s license. I had the wallet in one hand, held my nose with the other, and I started toward the bathroom. I didn’t even need to open the door to know. I could already see the thick dried blood splattered across the fractured yellow wall.
I ran back to my car. Why. That’s all I was thinking. Why. Why Jay?
I don’t remember the drive home, but I made it, and sat in the driveway for a while. My shirt collar felt cold and wet. I didn’t even realize I’d been crying. Jay’s wallet in my lap. I’d brought it with me. My evidence. I would call the police, but I had to tell my mom first.
I tossed my book bag to the floor. My mom was talking, on the phone, I assumed. Her laughter jingled down the stairs. It was good to hear her laugh. And then a man spoke. His voice was familiar, low and graveled. He paused at odd times, like his breathing was uneven.
I stuffed Jay’s wallet into my pants and headed up to the kitchen. She sat at the head of the table across from a large man. She was flush-faced and nervous, but she wore a sympathetic smile, the same smile I wore a few nights ago.
Oh, here you are, Mom said, looking past our guest. I was just getting to know your friend. He told me how sweet you’ve been, helping him these past few days.
The man turned, and all the oxygen vanished from the room. The stolen face, the one I knew had belonged to my friend Jay, leered at me, gray and decaying. Clumps of Jay’s thick, dark hair had fallen out to reveal the man’s own bloody scalp.
I know this is a surprise, he said to me. I hadn’t heard from you in a few days, and I so wanted to thank you, and to meet your lovely mama.
How’d you find my address? I asked with the steadiest voice I could manage.
Your friend, Jay, he nodded, he told me.
I stared into the monster’s eyes. They were still dark, but no longer pleading. I saw cold death.
Mama, can I talk to you for a minute… privately? I said.
We walked back downstairs, but before we could get to the living room, my mom began gushing about how nice he was, how he offered to help us do some work around the house, how good it would be to have a man around again.
He’s not safe, Mama, I said. You don’t want him here. Aren’t you afraid of him? His face…
Nonsense, she said. He’s a good man with a horrible deformity. God loves him as much as He does anyone else.
But, I whispered, I believe he’s a bad person… I think he’s done something to Jay.
Oh, sweetie, I’m sure Jay is fine.
And that was that. Three days passed. She made him a bed in the guest room. He patched the leaky overhang. She baked him banana bread. He painted the dining room and hung new curtains. They watched movies and sipped cocoa.
One night, while Mom washed up the dinner dishes, he said to me, You know – you could call me Daddy. I wasn’t sure what to say, and I said nothing. Jay was still gone, and I was too scared to go to the cops, especially now that this creature was living in my house.
He mowed the yard that morning. Mom made sure most of his chores and projects were outside now, because his stench had become unbearable. She knocked on my bedroom door, and said she needed to talk.
I overheard him talking to himself last night, she said. I think he might be losing his mind. He was crying, and at first, I thought I should go to him and comfort him, but then he starting mumbling… it sounded like he was arguing with someone, but he was the only one there. He said, No, no, no… my family, not my family, not my pretty girls. And his room was an awful mess this morning… like he’d been fighting something or someone.
Her face pinched. He needs help, she said.
I said to her, Mama, we’ve got to get him out of here. I’ll call the police right now.
We didn’t know he could hear us, not until he called down the hallway, Did I do something wrong? Mom slammed my bedroom door, and turned the lock.
We are having a private conversation, a family meeting. Please go downstairs. We will be out to talk to you soon, she said through the door.
He was silent for a moment, but then, he growled, I AM part of this family! He thudded down the hall to my room and kicked open the door, bumping it hard into Mom’s temple. She fell unconscious.
A voice – and I believe it was the voice of God – spoke to me, inside my head. This voice said, Now is the time to let go of fear. So I looked straight at him. My heartbeat steadied. My hands relaxed.
You murderer, I said, wearing the face of a good and decent person does not make you anything besides what you are – a devil in disguise.
He stepped closer. You are right, he said, such a smart girl. You want to see what I really am? I’ll show you. He swiped a hand across his head, and Jay’s rotting face slid away and hit the hardwood with a fleshy smack. Bloody pulp surrounded familiar eyes, and scars grew thick overtop of more scars under his chin where he’d skinned himself time and time again. His ears were nothing more than shriveled stumps, and his nose, a thin, bony protrusion.
Adrenaline caused my hands to shake, but unwavering confidence steadied my mind. I stared into his eyes without a grimace. I said, I’m not afraid of you.
I don’t want you to be afraid of me, he said. I want us to be a, a family… you see?
He stepped closer.
I think of you and your mother as my loves. You are precious to me.
I want to show you how much I care about you.
I want you to call me Daddy, he said, and his hand reached out toward my shoulder. His other hand unbuckled his belt.
I glanced past him toward the doorway. One more step, and I could clear it, so I stood still and waited. He moved, and I bolted past, his fingertips grazing my sleeve. I jumped over my mother’s collapsed body, through the doorway.
At the hallway’s end, I noticed my dad’s old rusted toolbox on the floor, just beyond the last corner. I figured I could reach it faster than the kitchen to grab a knife. I scrambled to open it, rummaged through the bottom compartment until I found the biggest, heaviest screwdriver, then I dove into the nearest room, the bathroom. I flattened my body against the wall behind the open door and waited, my weapon ready at my side.
Slow, heavy steps echoed towards me then stopped outside the bathroom. He listened for my breath, I suppose, and I realized I was already holding it. He shuffled on inside; I gripped the screwdriver tighter. He passed me by and stopped in front of the shower. He waited a moment, then flung back the shower curtain, metal rings scraping, just as I burst out from my hiding spot, the screwdriver held up next to my face. He jumped toward me, and I punched the metal point upward into the side of his neck, a few inches below his ear. I shoved it all the way in, to the handle. Blood spewed, so much blood, and he clutched the wound. Within seconds, he fell to his knees, grasping at the shower curtain, and his body slammed against the floor.
I stood shaking, watching his foul blood spread across the clean, white tiles. I went back to my room to check on my mom, and I must have fainted, because that’s all I remember. I woke up on the floor later, and called the police.
“So – you killed him,” Detective Hopson said, his voice edged with sarcasm, “this faceless man.”
“Yes, I did,” the girl said. She wanted to swipe at a stray hair, but she was unable to move her arms. She looked away, and said, “I had no choice.” The cold metal seat made her shiver.
The detective nodded at the two-way mirror behind her. He tossed a manila file folder onto the table. “Here are crime scene photo taken the same day you say you killed your friend.”
She frowned. “He was not my friend.”
“Let me open this folder for you,” he said. “I forgot for a moment that you are… incapacitated.” He smirked. He reached for the folder, opened it an inch and closed it again. “Are you sure you don’t want to revise your statement? These pictures will be used in court.”
“Yes,” the girl hissed. “I’ve told you everything.”
Detective Hopson opened the folder, removed a pile of eight-by-ten prints and fanned them out across the table. The girl glanced at the one on top, but something caught her eye. She leaned in. “Wait –,” she began, and a tear slid down her cheek. She examined the next photo, then the next, and the next, until she became frantic. “What is this?” she spat, gasping for air. “What kind of sick joke are you playing?”
“I’m not playing jokes, Aileen.” His voice was quiet, serious.
“This is not the same man!” she shouted. “He… he was a, a monster… he was going to rape me!” She rocked back and forth, twisting as much as her straight jacket would allow. “What have you done?”
The detective sighed. “Aileen, you are under arrest for the murder of Jason Clark…”
“That’s Jay! Why is Jay in my bathroom?” Aileen cried. “I didn’t kill Jay, HE did!”
“… and will be held in custody at the State Hospital for the Insane until your case goes to trial.”
“Stop saying that! No! No, no, no… I just want my family back… I’m not crazy!”
Detective Hopson waved at the mirror. Behind it, two asylum workers and the D.A. exited the room to assist in collecting their insane prisoner. One man remained, a friend of the family. Aileen’s mother was still in the hospital from her head wound, and he wanted to be sure Aileen had someone she knew present for the proceedings.
“Do you feel that?” Aileen asked to no one in particular, her eyes wide with fear, as she was led from the interrogation room. “The tapping on my shoulder….”
The man’s dark eyes bore through the mirror into the back of Aileen’s head, listening to her desperate screams, and sucking in raspy, irregular breaths.