A Few Days Ago, a Little Boy Appeared in Our Town. Three People Have Died Since Then. I’m Going to Be the Fourth.

One morning, about a week ago, I noticed a commotion outside. A group of my neighbors had gathered which. They were talking to one another and pointing at something down the road. I was more than surprised. Nothing ever happened in a small town like ours.

When I went outside to see what all the fuss was about, I saw a little boy. He was dragging himself forward on the street. The moment I saw his face, I gasped. He looked so incredibly tired. His eyes were bloodshot, his lips nothing but tiny parched lines. His clothes were dirty, used up, almost bleached, as if he’d been walking in the sun like this for years.

More than once, he stumbled and almost crashed to the ground.

Then, my next-door neighbor’s door burst open, and I watched as old Mrs. Stevenson rushed towards the boy.

“Dear lord, child, what happened to you?” I heard her half-scream in alarm.

The boy said nothing, didn’t react at all. For a second, she turned around and her eyes wandered over the group of onlookers who still hadn’t moved, and were still whispering to one another.

“Not doing a damned thing,” she called out to them. “Can’t you see the boy’s hurt!?”

Then she turned to the boy again, whispered something into his ear before she embraced him and led him to her home.

About half an hour later, my doorbell rang, and I was greeted by no other than Mrs. Stevenson, the boy in tow.

“Hello, Julia, do you mind taking is to Dr. Mansfield? You know, the boy, he’s…”

I opened my mouth to make up an excuse, but I saw Mrs. Stevenson’s pleading expression, found her eyes almost digging into me. Eventually, I sighed and nodded.

“Sure, let me get my keys.”

During our drive to Dr. Mansfield’s clinic, I couldn’t help but stare at the boy in the rearview mirror. He just sat there, quietly, not looking at anything. His face was entirely devoid of emotions. It gave me the creeps, and I had to force myself not to shudder. Something was wrong with him and, for a moment, it felt almost as if something dark was lingering around him.

When we arrived, Dr. Mansfield was more than surprised to see us, but got serious the moment he saw the boy.

Yet there wasn’t much he could learn about him. The boy was in terrible shape, but it was attributed to exhaustion and dehydration. Otherwise, he seemed to be fine; no bruises, no wounds, no signs of physical harm at all. What he was worried about, however, was his mental state. The boy seemed almost catatonic. It didn’t matter how much the doctor tried talking to him, he got no reaction.

In the end, he said what the boy need the most, was to rest. Maybe in time, he’d open up and talk.

For now, he took a picture of the boy and said he’d hit up Sheriff Foster to find out if there was any news of missing boys in the local area. A boy just walking into town all by himself. That’s not normal.

Then he suggested he’d take the boy to a hospital or children’s home in a nearby city. Mrs. Stevenson was quick to cut him off.

“Nonsense, Douglas, that boy’s been up for God knows how long! Do you really want to take him all the way to the hospital, or god forbid that ghastly home in Williamsburg?”

“Well, I can’t think of any other-“

“Oh, for Chris’s sake, let me take the boy! I’ve raised four children all by myself and I can handle another for a day or two!”

I couldn’t help but smile a little. Say what you want about old Mrs. Stevenson, but the woman had a heart of gold. Eventually, the doctor yielded and so the three of us went back to my car.

On the way back, Mrs. Stevenson talked on end about what might have happened to the boy. She, too, suggested a kidnapping, or an accident, or he might have been abandoned out in the woods. God knows, she said, there are so many people out there, people who had no qualms about hurting a child.

At first I listened, and even joined in, but after a while I just zoned out. I liked the old lady, I really did, but I could tell she was terribly lonely. She babbled on an and, soon transitioned into what the boy’s name might be, even spoke to him, trying to see if he’d react to one of them.

I was quite happy when she and the boy left my car and made their way back to her home. As they did, Mrs. Stevenson took the boy’s hand and slowly led him on. I couldn’t help but stare after them, and for a second, I thought I saw something dark lingering around him, something that now reached out for the old lady. Then I shook my head. I was being silly.

Once I was back inside, I saw my now cold half-full cup of coffee. I sighed and promptly poured it down the drain and prepared myself a new one.

After that, I settled down for another long day of work. I’m a freelancer and work for an assortment of online magazines, and am always strapped for cash.

Almost without me noticing, the day ticked by. Soon enough, the sun set, but I knew I had another graveyard shift ahead of me.

During a brief break, I noticed something. I’d gotten up to stretch my legs and stopped in front of the window when I noticed a figure in front of Mrs. Stevenson’s home.

At first, the idea of a home invader snaked itself into my brain. I already had my phone in hand to call the cops, when I noticed how small the figure was. For a moment, I leaned forward, straining my eyes. There was no doubt it was the boy.

What the hell was he doing outside this late? I watched and waited for him to go back inside, but he just… stood there.

A moment later, with a strange gut feeling, I made my way outside.

“Hey, what are you doing here? What’s going on?” I called out to him.

No reaction, as I’d expected. Then I saw that the front door was wide open. Once more, a strange feeling washed over me.

“Mrs. Stevenson?” I called out into the open house.

No answer.

I stepped inside, but for a moment, I cringed back when I saw something dark in front of me. I stumbled back, my arms raised in front of me, before I hit the light switch. That’s when I saw her. Mrs. Stevenson was laying at the bottom of the stairs.

“Oh my god, what happened?” I called out.

I took the first few steps to rush to her side, but then I noticed her empty eyes and her half-open mouth.

Half an hour later, Dr. Mansfield confirmed what I’d known all along. The old woman was dead.

“A heart attack,” he said with a sad look on his face. “She must’ve collapsed on her way down the stairs before she…”

“Been telling her to take that damned heart medication for years, but she always said she’d be fine,” he added after a while, shaking his head.

As I gave my statement to the police, I couldn’t help but watch the boy, who still stood nearby.

Eventually, the question came up: what would happen to him? Even the police weren’t sure what to do with him. They couldn’t just keep a kid at the station until they’d figured out his identity. I could already feel one of them looking at me when Dr. Mansfield spoke up.

“Guess there’s no helping it. Until there’s some information about his identity, I can keep him with me. I’m sure Clara won’t mind.”

And so it was Dr. Mansfield who now took the boy in. I’d thought that was the end of this entire story. Hell, I thought they’d figure out the boy’s identity in a day or two. Oh, how naïve I was.

Only two days later, I noticed a well-known figure outside my home in the middle of the night. A cold shiver went down my spine. Don’t tell me…

I went outside instantly, and there he was. The same little boy, wearing the same quiet, emotionless expression on his face.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you with Dr. Mansfield?”

Of course, I got no answer to my questions.

I looked around the neighborhood, searched for a house that still had lights on, but it seemed no one was awake anymore. Freaking hell, I cursed to myself.

My eyes wandered back to the boy. In the night’s dark, he crept me out even more, especially his face. That expression, it was so wrong.

For a second, I told myself to just turn around, and go back inside, to ignore him.

I took one step, then another, before a gust of chilly wind hit me and I shivered. I cursed once more and turned around. He was still there, still hadn’t moved. He looked as tired as always. I could see his legs slightly shaking, as if he was about to collapse any second now.

“All right, fine, but I’m calling Dr. Mansfield first thing in the morning.”

No reaction. I sighed, and with quick steps, I made my way towards him. I reached out for him, but then stopped for a moment. There it was again, this strange feeling of lingering darkness. Then, I told myself once more that he was nothing but a boy, took his hand and led him back after me to the house. As his hand rested in mine, it felt so tiny, and for the first time, I wondered how old he actually was.

I plopped him down on the living room couch before I went to the kitchen in search of something to drink.

Eventually, I settled on a glass of orange juice, which I placed on the couch table in front of him.

“There you go. I bet you’re thirsty after coming all the way here, right?”

Without saying a word, he reached for the glass and brought it to his lips. He finished it in two big gulps, but not without spilling a good part of the juice over his shirt.

He really was exhausted, I thought.

Then, I went and got my laptop and decided to continue my work down here. That way, I could at least have an eye on the boy, even though I doubted he’d do anything in the state he was in.

For a few more minutes, I did my best to continue working on another article, but I couldn’t seem to concentrate. The boy’s empty face was eerie, unsettling. I couldn’t help but shiver whenever I looked over at him as he sat on the couch. It almost felt as if, because of his presence, the entire house had grown darker, quieter.

Nonsense, I told myself, shaking my head.

Then, trying to distract myself, I checked out the local news. It was a sort of ritual, something that helped me with both, to stay informed and grounded.

At first, I read about local politics, and about some sort of scandal when I saw a headline that made me look up.

“Tragedy Strikes – Local Doctor and Wife Die Because of Gas Leak”

I stared at it for a second before I opened the article. I read there’d been a gas leak, and a house went up in flames earlier that day. Terrible, I thought, and for a moment, I unconsciously smelled the air inside my home.

When I read on, however, I froze. I read that the remains of Douglas Mansfield and his wife Clara had been found in the kitchen. So far, investigations on what caused the gas leak and the subsequent explosion are still ongoing.

I could only stare at the screen. Was that why he was here? Because the Dr. and his wife were dead? But how’d he get away? Shouldn’t he have been in the house with them? Don’t tell me…

I thought back to poor old Mrs. Stevenson. Dr. Mansfield had said she’d suffered from a heart attack, but hadn’t I found her at the bottom of the stairs? What if she hadn’t collapsed, but someone had pushed her?

My eyes wandered to the little boy once more. I scanned his empty face, and once more I could almost see the darkness that lingered around him.

“Was it you?” I brought out in a quiet voice.

The boy said nothing.

“Was it you?” I repeated, this time louder, almost yelling the question at him.

For the first time, the boy’s head moved and for the first time, I saw something on his face. It was recognition, understanding, and then… fear.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” I accused him, feeling myself grow angrier by the second. “You pushed old Mrs. Stevenson down the stairs and you’re the one responsible for that gas leak, right?”

He opened his mouth, trying to say something, but no words came from it.

“Why’d you come here?” I yelled at him.

In that moment, I felt the house growing even darker, almost felt as if some sort of presence had come over it, over me.

I jerked around, my eyes scanning the living room, the hallway, the stairs that led up to the second floor, but there was no one else.

In that instant, I heard something. The boy, he’d moved, gotten closer to me, and for a second, I thought I saw him smirk, saw a ghastly smile on his face. Almost as if he was… planning something.

“You! What are you trying to do?” I screamed at him.

In a few swift steps, I’d reached him and gotten a hold of him.

“Is that why you came here?” I shook him.

As I did, the surrounding darkness grew thicker, heavier, became almost a physical thing. I screamed at him again and again, but got no answer. Not even a sound.

And then it was back, the same ghastly, knowing smirk.

A voice spoke up inside my head, my voice telling me it was him. He killed them. He did it, and soon he’s going to kill you, too.

As I heard this, as these thoughts came to my mind, I lost it. Rage unlike anything I’d ever felt before came over me. I thought again of poor old Mrs. Stevenson, of Dr. Mansfield and his wife. Almost unconsciously, my hands went forward, found his throat, closed around it and squeezed.

For the first time, the boy showed actual, genuine emotions, and I felt my mouth turn into a smile. Tears streamed from his eyes, and he tried desperately to get free. He was trashing around below me, his arms and legs flailing uselessly, but as an answer, I only squeezed harder.

And then, I realized what I was doing. Instantly, I let go of him, cringed back, and fell to the floor.

What the hell was I doing?

I stared down at the little boy, this tiny boy who was only barely moving.

Oh dear god, what had I just done?

Then he regained consciousness, pushed himself up, and I found him staring at me.

The same voice spoke up in my mind. Do it now before it’s too late! You know you have to!

Once more, the same smirk came over his face, and once more, the voice inside my head urged me on, trying to convince me, trying to justify what I’d almost done.

“No, I… I can’t. He’s just a child!”

As the words left my mouth, the ghastly smirk vanished, evaporated, an illusion that had never really been there. All that was there now, had always been, was an apathetic little boy.

Yet as I stared at him, that little voice in my head spoke up again, teasing me, taunting me, telling me just how easy it would be. It tried to convince me how good it would feel to do it, to get revenge for them, for those he’d driven to their deaths.

“No! Shut up! Be quiet goddammit!” I screamed at myself.

At that moment, I could feel the darkness that had fallen over the room surround me, intruding on me, and for the first time, I felt a presence lingering inside of it.

The voice was now back, echoing through my head, my voice, but… it wasn’t. It was something else… something coming from this… this darkness, speaking to me in my voice!

This time, however, it was different. It talked to me about myself, about how useless I was, how I was nothing, how I couldn’t even do the simplest thing. And then I felt it tear my consciousness, my mind, open. All my past regrets and all the guilt I’d accumulated over the years and hidden away in the deepest crevices of my mind came flooding back.

I felt tears coming to my eyes, felt myself shaking. Yet the voice told me there was an easy way, an easy way to make it all stop, all of this. Or, it said, there was also the boy.

For a moment, I stared at the child again. I felt my hands reaching out once more, felt them open up as images of tearing his small body apart came to my mind.

Then, I screamed once more, and fought against whatever this darkness, this presence, was.

For the past thirty minutes, I’ve been typing this out, concentrating on nothing but the words on my screen to quiet the voice inside my head and to push away the images that are coming to my mind.

There’s no way. I can’t do it. You can’t murder a little child, you just can’t.

I don’t know what this presence, this thing is, if it even is a thing. Maybe it’s nothing but the deepest, darkest part of me. But I know I won’t do what it wants me to.

And I know that because of this I’ll most likely end up like old Mrs. Stevenson and Dr. Mansfield and his wife.

I’m going to be the fourth person who dies because of this little boy, because of this harbinger of death that showed up in our town. And I know I won’t be the last.

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