It has been 6 years since Charlie went missing. I don’t think many people miss him.
I was interviewed by the police endlessly at the time, but when police busted in his dormitory door, and discovered two Glock 34s and a manifesto detailing his desire to end “all the bitches, whores, sluts and undesirables” who had made his life so difficult the day after he vanished was enough to mute any sympathy for the missing 21 year old.
I had had a hard time convincing the police that I knew nothing of the potential crimes, or of his disappearance, but as a search of my own room had turned up nothing in either case, and the weeks stretched to months with no sign of Charlie, I was let go, although I felt a particular sense of being watched for the next two years or so.
Maybe this document will vindicate those tireless, irritating cops who knew that I knew something else; that I had more to tell. Because of course I did. I couldn’t say with absolute certainty what had happened to him, but I knew enough to keep me awake and sweating at nights, and enough for the more perceptive investigators to sense it and shadow me.
Something else shadowed me through those long months. Readers may come away from this story thinking it little more than my own guilty dread, but I have seen the woman again, standing on the corner of Robie and Quinpool, and I know that she sees me too.
My hands sweat as I type this. Let me return for a moment to Charlie, and more mundane horrors.
I had known Charlie since I was six years old. We like to pretend that we choose our friends, and that certainly becomes easier as we age, but for children accidents of proximity take precedence over almost anything else.
He wasn’t repulsive then, not yet. Certainly as he grew into a teenager there was an arrogance there, born out of the fact that he was very clever, at least academically, but many would have said the same thing about me at the time – many still do – but the true ugliness emerged among the ravages of puberty.
There are obvious exceptions of course, but the poisonous chalice of hormones that ravage a small boy’s (and girl’s!) body do have some unpleasant side-effects. Myself, I could not stop squeaking for a solid two years, and frequent eruptions on my nose and chin plagued me well into my twenties. Charlie, however, was something else. There’s a kind of acne that looks almost diseased, turning the skin a darkish purple and mottled. I thank the stars every day that I was not affected as badly, but Charlie was not so lucky.
It was then we had our first rude awakening to how the world works. Every piece of media aimed towards children emphasises that it’s “what’s on the inside that counts”, but in the cruel, closed world of High School, that noble lie is trampled into the dust. We weren’t bullied, as such – there was no single perpetrators, but those who have been through a similar experience will know of that miasma of unfocused hate that teenagers direct towards their social inferiors. If you explained it to them, the caste system of pre-modern India would seem a perfectly reasonable analogue.
I have never thought of myself as a realist, but all of this seemed perfectly obvious to me, even at the time. Charlie, someone who approached the world as he thought it should be, lived in the semi-delusional belief that rather than being at the bottom, we were at the top. We certainly were academically, but by any other bar we ranked somewhere near the kids with learning disabilities. He even convinced himself that romantically there was no one at the school “worth bothering with”. The fact that this was a reaction to none of them bothering with him seemed to have been swept under the rug.
I had grown apart from him in my later school years, and by the time I graduated I seemed, by luck rather than by design, to have stripped most of the unnameable, undesirable qualities that I had apparently possessed. I even had a girlfriend, a sweet, timid girl who I loved spending time with.
Charlie, however, still seemed to be stuck in a holding pattern. Whatever had allowed me to break from the loop had not broken him, and I found him an increasingly bitter individual to be around. He had begun to rail, in a way that was to become familiar, against the women around him – abandoning his former position of aloof non-interest to an angry, cynical view of those he went to High School with. I wondered what had changed him, and eventually a girl we had both known for some time admitted that she had had to gently rebuff him and this hadn’t gone well.
I suppose, in our own ways, we had wanted university to be a fresh start. I had broken up with my girlfriend amicably, and was eager and excited to meet new people at Acadia. I had learned that I had to share a sink with another person in the next room, but was delighted to discover that I had my own space.
Charlie had jealously guarded his applications from me, despite the fact I didn’t care, and on the day I moved in I found out why. He was in the room next to me, and we had to share a sink. I friendship had fallen a long way – I felt a twinge of revulsion at the idea.
He acted like nothing had changed, and while he was a good guy to game with at other times he was extremely difficult to be around. He held forth long winded rants on any and every subject, ridiculing those of us who dared disagree with him. His ego grew to gigantic heights, as he declared himself a genius and started calling those of us who disagreed “poor, deluded fools”. He was a rampant conspiracy theorist.
Obviously this alienated anyone I brought back, and new guy friends I coached carefully or went and hung out at their place. With girls, there was no question of bringing them back. At best, he was a figure of fun among my friends and course mates, but for me there was less and less humour with every passing day. He was an active nuisance.
As his ego grew, his attention to his appearance and cleanliness fell away. He had never been a skinny kid, as opposed to me who had always looked like a recovering heroin addict, but a poor diet of kebabs and fried chicken swelled him to an enormous size over the course of a few months.
Worse though was the smell. An adolescence spent in a crowded school had taught me the value of deodorant and regular bathing, but the lesson had been lost on Charlie. A stale, rank odour hung in the air between our rooms, solidifying into a tangible taste in his room itself. After a few months I stopped going in there, and stopped inviting people around altogether. The ones who knew, understood.
People often wonder at my strange hobby of burning incense, assuming it’s an affectation with a whiff of cultural appropriation, but in truth I now work best with something burning nearby simply because there was no other way to work in my tiny dorm room.
He sometimes came out with us. Those occasions I dreaded the most, because he inevitably invited himself and covered himself in some foul-smelling cologne. The trouble was, this was the time that social media had only just taken off, so hiding events and parties from him was tricky.
He was rude, difficult, whiny, abrasive, offensive and unpleasant.
It was on one of these occasions, buoyed up by one too many beers, that I finally told Charlie to fuck off. I had endured him for over a decade and I was done with him.
He moved out a week after that.
I didn’t see Charlie for eighteen months.
It was the middle of finals week in my second year that I saw Charlie again. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was sharply dressed, and had shaved his head and beard. He had lost a ton of weight, and then seemed to have put some of it back on as muscle. He looked almost, well, normal. At least until he opened his mouth.
“Good morning! And how are you?”
He had caught me by surprise, and now held one of my hands in a death grip. He talked like a politician. I responded that I was fine. Something seemed off.
“Excellent, Excellent. Still skinny I see!”
With that he grabbed at my forearm, and I instinctively pulled away. What was going on here? There had been a harsh glimmer in his eyes as he’d spoken, followed by another faceless grin. As he’d said it his line of sight had momentarily flickered to a group of girls stood nearby. I had a sneaking suspicion that this conversation was for their benefit.
“Listen.” he put an arm around me, and there was that cologne again. “We’re friends. I want to help you out.”
I was still too shell-shocked from his barrage that I didn’t come out with some snarky comeback. I just nodded, wondering what he could help me with.
“I’ve got to run, but there’s a book you should read. I’ll drop it around your dorm tomorrow.”
With that he let go, and sauntered off. Absurdly, he had a cane that he twirled. I didn’t know how I hadn’t noticed it.
Later that evening, I returned to my dorm to find a book propped up against the door. There was no note, but I had no doubts as to who it was from. I picked it up, and it took a few seconds to work out what it was.
A few weeks before, one of my less romantically successful friends had been talking to us about something he called ‘game’. He’d been reading some stuff online, and thought that these guides on ‘picking up’ would help him out. We’d laughed at him then, and Bear had first tousled his hair and then set him up on a date with a girl from one of his labs. They had got on like a house on fire and John hadn’t mentioned it again.
This however, looked similar. I read it over the next three days. It was a strange mixture of sound advice about personal hygiene and appearance, solid confidence boosters, truly bizarre ‘pick up’ techniques and a couple of things that in retrospect sounded suspiciously close to date rape.
He called me a week later, almost breathless with excitement.
“Did you read it?”
I confirmed that I had, and was about to voice some concerns when he interrupted.
“Well then, let’s hit the town! I’ll be round about eight.”
I went that night, more out of a sense of genuine curiosity than anything else. We hit a bar first, and as we went in Charlie silently indicated a group of girls at the bar. I hung back at first, just watching. He went up and, to my astonishment, pulled a bunch of fake flowers from his wrist. The girls laughed, delighted, and before long I had joined them around a large table. There was one girl in particular I really liked the look of, and she returned my shy smile with one of her own. Meanwhile Charlie was regaling the table with stories of our school days, most of which never happened.
The shift was subtle, but I could feel it when he started to lose the room. Under the nice clothes and the muscles there remained a tiresome blowhard, and he interrupted the other girls when they tried to speak. Eventually, I went to pee, and when I came back they were filing out of the door. I did run into the shy girl again some time later, though. We had a little boy last June.
Charlie didn’t understand what had happened. He had followed the rules proscribed, and yet still wasn’t getting anywhere. He sat down heavily, and to my astonishment, started crying right there and then. It all came tumbling out. He was still a virgin. The book hadn’t helped. He was going to die a virgin, and he had been a perfect gentlemen and they only wanted assholes, so fuck them and he would have his revenge.
I put it down to drunken rambling, but that last phrase still haunts me to this day.
I didn’t see him again for another six months. I didn’t think he was dangerous, not then, but I didn’t want to be around him. Chloe had got the full story out of me on our third official date, and felt sorry for him, but my pity and my patience was through. He had put up a facade, and that facade had cracked and revealed the ugliness beneath. Maybe one day he would grow up, but for now, I was done.
The same as before, he got in contact with me. He cornered me when he saw me going into a shop. He asked me if I was still dating ‘that bitch from the bar’, and it took an incredible amount of restraint for me to not hit him. There was something off about him, an anger covered with placidity that frightened me. I said yes.
He told me with a sickly smile that he still wanted revenge on those girls, and all the other girls at the university. I didn’t know what this meant at the time, but now I do I still shiver when I think about it. He had met someone online, he told me, an older woman, who agreed with his plans. He had apparently let his heart out to this stranger, and been responded to in kind.
The day after he met up with her for the first time was even stranger. He knocked on my door almost absent-mindedly, and seemed vaguely distant the whole time. He even seemed this way when I asked about his date.
“She’s … wonderful.” he said, in a singsong voice. “I’m seeing her tonight.” His head turned slowly to the window.“I should be going.”
He left, and as far as I told the police, that was the last time I saw him. I was apparently one of the last – there are a few witnesses who saw him get on the bus and get off on Quinpool, but other than that, nothing.
I lied to the police. The true story of what happened that night, insofar as I know it, is as follows.
Something was seriously wrong with Charlie. That much was obvious, but at the same time I had no idea how he would react to me following him on his date.
It was cold outside, so I bundled myself up and pulled the hood on my jacket as far forward as it would go. I lurked in the shadows near the bus stop, and slipped on just before it pulled away. Charlie had gone upstairs. I followed him.
The stairs came out around a third of the way down the bus, and to my relief I spotted Charlie in front of them, facing forward. My cover wasn’t blown yet. I stared at the back of his head the whole way, and he didn’t move once. Eventually, when the bus lurched to a stop, he stood and, still with that dreamy look on his face, headed down the stairs. I waited a few seconds, and then followed.
By the time I got off he was some distance down the street, talking to a woman. She caressed his face, and to my surprise, wasn’t wearing gloves or anything on her sleeves. She was very pale, and very tall. She put a hand on his back, and as they turned to walk away, she looked down the street straight at me. Instantly I knew that while Charlie might still be oblivious, she knew what I had done. The look, a terrifying, penetrating look from two black pools, was one of almost idle curiosity. And then, they swept off, and were around a corner before I recovered.
I ran, and slipped, and ran again, reaching the corner to see Charlie being ushered into a boarded up house. The woman had her back to me, and she followed him in.
It was by now almost completely dark. Street lamps buzzed and came on as a crept up to the house. I stepped over a waist high fence and looked through the cracks in the shutters.
A single streetlamp behind me served to illuminate the gloom. I saw Charlie standing, facing the window, and the woman sultrily stepped behind him. There was a strange, shifting quality to her now, and as she left the light she seemed to be taller still.
A few seconds passed, and then something large and bulky got between Charlie and the window. The street light still shone, and it illuminated something black and scaly at my eye level. I could hear the woman talking now, a low level hissing sound that froze my blood. She was angry, and the bulk in front of my eyes swayed slowly from side to side.
It was only when it moved completely that the truth dawned on me. The black scaly thing blocking my eyes and the woman were one and the same. I fell at that, and only through youthful stupidity (masquerading as willpower) did I force myself back to the window.
Charlie was stood, alone in the room. He still had that dreamy expression his face, lolled to one side, but the strange purple lips and bloody drool suggested he was dead.
The woman, or whatever it was, was nowhere to be seen, at least at first. A pair of hands with white insectile fingers appeared out of the gloom and placed themselves on Charlie’s shoulders. He collapsed slowly, as if whatever had killed him had made him rigid and immobile. The creature bent over him, and cooed softly, a long black tail curling around his body.
“Oh my dear. My poor dear. You will feed my sisters who cannot yet stray from the nest. But, my love, what shall we do about the one outside? Time, my dear, time. We must give it time to mature.”