Sudden. Shock.

March 26, 2008

Mac was, at heart, not a nice person.

To prove this, one needed only to look to his favorite activity: startling the daylights out of people. We are not talking about a casual “boo!” or simply a brief surprise – Mac believed in delivering a heart-stopping shock, a moment of raw, sudden terror that left the blood racing and the mind skittering away into the darkest corners it could find.

Sudden. Shock.

Those were the two words he whispered to himself in his wicked little mind. It was his hobby, but more than that – it was his life’s work, his calling, his raison d’etre. It made the rest of his small and shallow life tolerable. It gave him purpose and definition, and he treated it as a holy task, an act requiring careful planning, absolute devotion, and perfect execution.

His most common prank was to wait outside a victim’s front door. I’m sure you are familiar with the moment of shock when you open a door and suddenly, unexpectedly, find another standing directly in your path, a few feet away, lurking over you like some dark spectre? It was Mac’s goal to milk that sensation for all it was worth. He’d carefully time the usual time of day a victim would leave their apartment, and then lurk just outside their door at the appropriate time.

Often he would only need to wait a handful of minutes, but sometimes there would be a delay, and he would find himself standing there for hours – which he did, unflinchingly, so long as there was no one around to observe his little game. Mac was a big man, and dressed in dark and somber clothes, and he knew all too well how fearsome it was when his victim opened the door and jumped back at his sudden, frightful presence.

He savored that moment of shock… and then he would apologize, stuttering, pretending he was about to knock on the door, and the excuses would roll off his tongue like drops of filthy water. He thought it was a friends house. He was looking for directions. He was here to pick up a package – isn’t this 13th street? Oh, that’s a block over, so sorry, many apologies, won’t bother you again.

And then he would slink away, having assured the victim that he meant no harm, and the smooth warmth of another successful shock would keep him happy for days.

Now, it might seem, at this point, that Mac’s actions – while cruel – where on the whole harmless. But allow us to dispel that illusion and make it clear exactly how black a soul Mac had. What one needs to understand is not just what he did, but why he did it, and that is an ugly little reason indeed.

Mac’s hope was no more than this: He wanted to desensitive all those he shocked and scared. He fancied that his little pranks would, perhaps, result in a slowed reaction when his victims turned a corner and stumbled into an actual killer. That they would jump away a fraction too slowly, spend a handful of seconds deciding whether or not they needed to run… and in those seconds, it would all be over. And they’d be dead, and he’d have helped.

It was a terrible little idea, horrifying in its malice and pathetic in its nature. Dreaming of being an assistant to serial killers, spreading harm in the most small and timid of ways – Mac managed to be both vile and pitiful at the same time.

A remorseless prankster with a heart full of hate, Mac was not a nice person at all.

And one day it all turned around on him, as karma came full circle and he got a sudden shock all of his very own.

It was early one summer evening, shortly after dusk had fallen and Mac had returned home from his actual job, an entirely irrelevant retail position that served only to pay the bills and pass the days.

And he settled in at what he privately called his ‘study’ – an old and decrepit wooden desk shoved in a corner of his living room, covered in sheets of paper on which he planned out the details of his pranks – and as he grabbed a fresh sheet on which to write, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye.

He turned, and saw nothing. The window was open, though, and he was sure something had run past it – but it could have easily been a squirrel running down a tree, or something equally innocuous. Mac gave the matter a small frown, and then stood back up and walked over to the window, preparing to close it.

A sudden clatter sounded from somewhere in the house – up the stairs, down the hallway, it was hard to say where. What was certain was that it was sudden, unexpected, out-of-place… and unnerving. Mac spun around, his eyes searching the room behind him, but nothing seemed amiss. He turned back to the window, his hands reaching up to undo the latches keeping it open, and came face to face with a blackened, rotting face.

Mac jumped and stumbled backwards, and the window slammed shut as he tripped and fell down upon the floor. He barely avoided letting loose a high-pitched scream – but he convinced himself that he, of all people, had nothing to be scared of. Screaming and shrieking was for others, for the weak and witless fools in need of culling. It wasn’t for him.

And then, once he convinced himself he was as bad as bad can be… he lifted his head to look at the window, and the face was gone.

It must have been a trick of the light, he decided… or, as his mind fell back into its familiar patterns, someone was playing a prank on him. Or, as he heard more noises – definitely coming from up the stairs – several someones. Perhaps several of his past victims, banding together to return the favor?

If so, Mac meant to make them regret it. He, after all, was a master at this – at causing terror without ever having to be held accountable for doing so. But if they had broken into his house, or were trespassing on his property in halloween masks… well, those were criminal offenses. They might have spooked him, but they had made some grave errors in judgement in doing so.

He stood up and boldly walked into the kitchen, picking up the phone to call the cops.

The line was dead.

Now, perhaps, Mac was getting worried. But he was nothing if not an arrogant, boastful sort, so he tried to calm his nerves as he walked back into his living room. He had left his cell in there, on his desk in his little corner study.

But as soon as he entered the room, he could see the cell was gone. And the window – closed only a few moments past! – was once again open wide, and the shadowed lawn outside looked more forbidding than ever.

That was when a gristled and bony arm gripped Mac by the shoulder, and he heard a rapid, harsh breathing in his ear. He felt a shriek boiling out of his throat, but shoved it back down as he wrenched free, and spun around… to find himself face to face with a rotting, decaying corpse, teeth bared in a horrifying death grimace.

And behind it, another such walking corpse came stumping down the stairs, blackened claws digging into the railing without a hint of compassion or remorse. And another, emerging from the kitchen behind them, and the sound of his kitchen door smacking open and closed spoke of yet more pouring into his house.

Mac had been right, he was being plagued by former victims of his pranks. But, though he had never known it… his dastardly little plan had been more effective than he thought, and had worked, time and time again. All those arrayed before him had been desensitized just enough that when murder came wandering in their direction, they were too slow, too hesitant, to survive.

And when their unquiet soles arose from their broken graves, they were filled with a powerful rage and a dark need for vengeance… and Mac, more than their true killers, was the target of their hate and anger.

A dozen ghouls clumped across his living room towards Mac, and he spun around and headed for the front door. He threw it open, ready to make a rush for freedom – and felt his heart stop at the horrific figure just before him, that had been waiting – waiting! – for him to throw open the door. Its form was as ravaged by time as all the others, but he fancied he could see a smile linger on its face as he jumped backwards… into the waiting arms of the ghouls behind him.

The sudden shock had stopped Mac’s heart, but to his horror, it started up again, not willing to let him go that easily – and as the final corpse stepped into the room and carefully pulled shut the door, he realized it was finally time for him to begin to scream.