“A man in robes, a dark purple and deep orange,” Dylan repeated. “Big fella, hunched over like this…”
“Sir, I think I would remember somebody wearing robes,” the store clerk replied lazily. His lack of interest in Dylan’s search was clear, but he still wanted Dylan to leave him alone. “Have you tried the post office? Everyone who enters or leaves this town has to pass them by.”
Dylan sighed, not unhappy with the answer, but not happy either. The feeling was similar to returning to your home in the middle of the night to find it was broken in to. As you check room-by-room, you are happy when you find nobody, but grow increasingly anxious with each room, as you don’t know what you will find next one.
Leaving the small gas station, Dylan thought back to when he first encountered the strange, terrifying individual. Pedalling down the street back home, noticing an odd figure at the corner of a street. Hunched over, larger than life, clad in dirty purple robes. Dylan remembered being so distracted by the figure as he neared it that he didn’t notice the curve in the pavement. The front jerked, shocking him and causing him to tumble.
With scraped hands and knees, Dylan hissed in pain at the foot of the robed man. Dylan remembered looking up at the figure, its silent silhouette against a blinding sun. He remembered raising his hand to block the burning rays, only to be shocked by the monstrous face of the robed man.
Twisted, torn, with one eye and mouth too many, all mixed into a curved mass of flesh and teeth. It seemed so human and inhuman, so unreal. Dylan remembered it so clearly as if he saw it only moments ago. Seeing it the twisted man for the first time froze him to the spot. Staring as the largest mouth spread in a vertical smile.
“Don’t be afraid…,” the mouth spoke so clearly.
The words were whispered, calming, but the eyes didn’t blink, instead of staring at him, ravenous. Dylan found his feet and remembered how to use them at that moment, ignoring open wounds as he pushed off the asphalt and ran away. He didn’t have a destination in mind, fear wouldn’t allow such thinking. Like a terrified animal, Dylan simply ran.
It was closer to nightfall by the time Dylan reached home. Checking every corner, making his way home on foot, he finally stumbled towards his house on the block. As he neared it, he felt more secure, safe. The freshly cut lawn, the comforting blue of the walls, his mothers figure moving in the window.
Walking into the house, Dylan breathed a sigh of relief. He joined his mother in the kitchen, listened to her talk about her day. Observed his father and older brother staring transfixed by the television, a commentator relaying his excitement over each pass of the pigskin. By the time he finally looked back out the window, it was just to catch a glimpse of the tail of the twisted man’s robes. Dylan ran to the window, but the man had already left, leaving Dylan’s bicycle leaning against the mailbox.
“Hmm…” the post office clerk rubbed his chin.
Dylan waited, not expecting much.
“Yes, I recall such an individual,” the clerk announced. Dylan’s eyes widened. “Fancy looking robes, old. Had a cane...or some sort of stick.”
“Did he tell you anything?”
“He didn’t come in here, just saw him walk past couple days ago.”
“Coming. Must be a drifter and drifters like to eat, ask around the diner in town.”
“Thanks, thank you,” Dylan nodded already leaving, his eyes already frantic and darting.
Dylan was getting closer. It had been over twenty since the day he first saw the twisted man. It was from listening to the radio one night that he heard of the man again.
“I’m telling you, this man was wearing wizard robes, straight out of the movies,” one caller was telling the host. “Strangest thing I have ever seen and he was such a big guy too. I wanted to ask him what’s up with the getup, but I couldn’t get the words out. I just kept driving.”
“What if the poor guy needed a lift?” the host joked.
“Not this guy, definitely not a hitchhiker,” the caller replied. “You hear all these stories of people who seem so normal, but turn out to be serial killers or something. If normal people could be that bad, imagine strange lookin’ people!”
“Last thing you want the backseat of your car, right?”
“That’s right. I saw him on the road from Roxburg to Smithden. Stay safe out there folks!”
“Right, thanks, Tim, drive safe!”
“Yeah, yep, the odd one,” the waitress replied. “Kept his head down, cleaned his plate and didn’t pinch my ass. Probably the best customer I had through this place.”
The waitress laughed while Dylan read the nametag placed strategically on her chest.
“Listen, Nicole, did you see where he went?” Dylan asked.
“Why? What’s he to you?”
“I met him a long time ago, I heard he was coming through the town and I want...to see him again.”
“I don’t know, hun, it doesn’t work like that.”
Nicole made to walk away but stopped when Dylan took out his wallet and pull out a five-dollar bill. Through a not so subtle exchange, Dylan learnt that the twisted man actually spoke with her. He told her he was going home, a mile out of town. Nicole didn’t know why he told her this, but he seemed intent on making it clear to her.
Dylan noticed this, his mind thinking up darker reasons as to why he was so talkative.
Dylan had come too far, he had to see it through. Climbing into his car, he followed the directions the twisted man had left for him. Seeing as it was such a small time, Dylan was on the open road soon enough and later he was soon turning off it onto a dirt road that descended into a sparse forest. It made it easy to spot the cabin in the distance.
Feeling the pull, Dylan stopped the car, leaving it without hesitation and walking towards the cabin. He didn’t have fear in his heart anymore, he was transfixed by the cabin ahead. Had he kept his senses, he might have seen the several robed figures walking parallel to him in the distance. These figures faded into the trees as easily as they emerged and once more he was alone, standing outside the door.
Dylan made to knock, but the door simply creaked open, pushed by a gust of stray wind or pulled by sinister intent. For a brief moment, Dylan felt his mind clear and at that moment he wanted to run. That same terrifying instinct one feels when they are about to be bitten by a wild animal. He stood in front of the gaping maw of the cabin and felt the fear of being consumed by the darkness within.
He could have run.
Yet, his eyes adjusted and he saw an empty, single-room cabin. At its centre was the twisted man, standing, staring, waiting. Besides the twisted man, in the corner of the room, was a hatch, open and leading to some deeper darkness below. Dylan stepped through the doorway, unable to control himself.
“I...I don’t...what...I…” Dylan searched his mind, but couldn’t find the answer.
The twisted man’s hood bobbed up and down as he slowly studied Dylan. Dylan could make out his jagged smile, those gleaming eyes. The twisted man was happy to see him. Did he remember him? Dylan felt catatonic, his mind struggling to think and his body struggling to move.
That was until the twisted man moved quickly towards Dylan. The speed, the evil nature of this monster before him, it finally helped Dylan’s mind break the spell. He backout out the cabin, turning to run, but immediately fell as he didn’t watch where he stepped. Once more, Dylan found himself ignoring the pain as he scrambled to his feet.
Feeling once more like a child, a fear flooded his mind unlike any he ever felt. How could he have been so careless? It didn’t matter. The twisted man gave him a second chance at life long ago, there wouldn’t be another. Dylan had been chosen, he willingly stepped into the cabin and he would be dragged back inside, beneath its floor.
He felt the twisted man’s hands close around his ankles, he clung to the dirt, then the door and even tried to claw into the floorboards, but it was all for nought. He felt his lower half descend and he twisted to see the dark cellar that the twisted man slowly sank into. Dylan’s legs disappeared into the darkness and once more he struggled.
Only now, more hands shot from the darkness, stretch out to cling at this clothing and arms. Dylan didn’t scream, only cried.
Dylan’s mother shook him frantically. All Dylan could do was cry and scream as his friends and other school children gathered around him. Everyone could tell he wasn’t screaming over the scrapes on his arms and legs. He was screaming in fear, fear of his mother and all the people around him.
Dylan was carried by his father into the family car. He tried to escape, kicking and screaming, fighting his older brother and mother in the backseat. It was only when his eyes saw the robed figure walking away from the crowd, unnoticed by everyone, that Dylan fell silent.