They say that the hour of three A.M. is the time when spirits can become active, and I’m sure of that. My apartment was always a little too quiet for one in the city, especially at night. No drunk shouting in the street at that time, no sound of car horns and alarms could penetrate the dark at that particular hour. It’s like my apartment was high on a platform, surrounded only by a dense fog that the sharpest of hawk eyes couldn’t penetrate. I was usually attempting to sleep at that time, after bleaching my skin in the pure electric light of my computer screen. Emphasis on the phrase attempting, because from that stems this tale. I advise you, if you’ve been here long enough to find it, you’ll soon discover of what I’m talking about. I should really tell you anyway, just so you know you’re not insane. I know I’m not.
Every night for the past four months that I decided to make this apartment my home, a strange sound would pierce the strange blur that surrounded my home– or maybe just my mind. I have searched the apartment many times for it, but behind the hollow-sounding ivory walls and hard pine floors, I couldn’t find any source. The sound, at first, was like scratching. If you have fingernails, drag them along a table. Like that. It was slow, and every time I heard it, I froze up. It wasn’t as dramatic as anything like ghostly moaning or anything like that, but it still scared me so much I reverted back to childhood and stuck my head under the blanket.
During the day I worked at what could possibly be the most boring place on earth, a factory that stamped out cans. They didn’t even need workers, but I really didn’t care. It paid the bills, and getting to sit around until someone needed help fixing a machine wasn’t too bad. I sort of miss it. There was always something bad happening though; in retrospect, I feel as though it was following me. For instance, a man’s hand ended up being caught in the stamping machine under a sheet of aluminum. The crunch was sickening, it sounded like a dog chewing upon a bone. That same splintering sound.
Every night, I would retire from this slightly gory boredom to my apartment, back to my beloved computer. The cycle was always the same. Work, computer, scratching sound. I never really thought to ask anyone about it, I would usually forget about it by morning.
But one day I didn’t. I sat there in my folding chair at work, surrounded by the drab, bleak grey concrete walls, a long ignored cigarette that was gradually becoming one trembling tower of ashes in my grasp, trying to think of a way to discover whatever this thing was. Why wouldn’t I just follow it? Get my nerves together and find the continual source of fear for me. It made me cold just at the thought, but I knew I had to do it.
So that night, I turned off the computer as usual, but then took one extra step. I grabbed a flashlight. It would be faster than dashing across the room to my light switch. ‘It could even be mice,’ I thought to myself as I slipped into bed, wearing the hero’s garb of any sleepy man; a pair of boxers and socks. At least if I ran crying out of the building, a few people could get a laugh.
The clock slowly began to head towards three o’clock. My heart began to pound nervously. Like a sword I held the turned-off flashlight to my bare chest. The necklace around my neck felt strangely cold, even though I had at least three comforters on. Oh, the joys of a particularly cold winter. Closing my eyes, I heard the scratching. Slowly it got louder. My hand began to shake, but I kept my eyes shut. Why wasn’t I turning on the light? Why wasn’t I looking? Because there was a new sound. A tinkling, strange shaking, like a maraca full of metal instead of beans or beads.
A loud thunk against my door made me leap up. Turning on the flashlight, I managed to run to the light switch and flick it on as well. With an icy, trembling hand, I opened the door.
What I saw will never leave my mind. There was the source of my fear, the thing that had somehow invaded my home. An oddly small, waif-like creature, like a starving child with skin that was too pale. It was like a corpse dropped in water, for its skin was tinged with blue. Every vein was visible. Oh, how I wanted to gag at the sight. But it gets worse. Strategically placed in this demented creature’s flesh, long metal nails were embedded. Through the tips of its fingers and toes, sticking out of its neck and shoulders, down its chest and out of its eyes. They were everywhere. How loudly I screamed, I didn’t know. Would anyone hear it through the fog surrounding my house? Would I hear it? I couldn’t stop staring. The dried, cracking blood against that decaying flesh brought up my earlier meal, and a gushing hot river of vomit poured out of my mouth onto the ground.
I backed up as the creature took a step. Its lank hair was missing in chunks, and as it stepped closer, its feet dragged upon the floor, the nails in them making…a scratching sound. Why I had to keep my room in a state of continual chaos, I don’t know, but the mess was astounding. Of course I fell. Scrambling back, I stared in horror at the dead thing.
It didn’t move right, I realized. It didn’t just walk. Its motions were snappy and disjointed, and one foot dragged behind it while the other advanced towards me. In its hand, there was a heavy, rusted hammer, dripping with what I hope was water. It was slightly rust-colored. I couldn’t bear to see it, but in the other, there was a plastic grocery bag that sagged and poked out with the weight within it, like if someone hung a porcupine from a diaper. I felt the wall against my back. The creature moved forward; I was paralyzed with fear at the sight of it. It was so grotesque. In front of me, it stopped. I noticed the puncture marks upon its tiny calves where the nails were, and I felt a strange sense of pity.
The bag in its hand split a little, and the sight of what was within made me let out an audible, and most likely bile-scented groan. A nail jutted out. I cried out loudly as the thing pounced upon me, as I felt the first nail go into my eye, it was worse. Through the blood blocking my vision, I could see its tiny mouth pull back in a widely-toothed smile, the nails in its lips making them split and gush rotten black blood down onto me. I moaned in pain again as another nail entered my second eye. Blindly I swatted, but it was to no avail. Perhaps it would be over soon. Perhaps death would be better than being tormented by this rotten thing. But still, the nails entered. Still I cried out loudly, especially when I was dragged. I couldn’t see where, but damn, it hurt.
It’s gone now, the nailed child. I don’t know where it went, but I know somewhere, it will be coming out at three o’clock. And so will I.
I think you ought to check your clock, because it looks like this bag in my hand is about to split.
I’m so excited to see you.