I grew up in a normal family in a small town in New Jersey. For sake of keeping the thrill seekers and paranormal investigators from suffering my fate, I’ll call it Basking Hill. Growing up in Basking Hill was normal, painfully normal. We had a school, a couple of Mom-and-Pop stores, and a small medical clinic; you know, the kind of town where you didn't have to travel too far to get what you needed, but where you always felt like you were trapped in a bubble.
No one ever really left Basking Hill for too long, and outside of the occasional sidetracked traveler, no one ever really came. With a community like this, it really didn't take long to know everyone. Everything that happened in this town, no matter how small an incident, would be public knowledge by the end of the week, so people made a point in keeping a proper, clean image. And that’s where my normal life came to an abrupt halt.
You see, my sister, Sarah, was born three years before me, and even as an infant my parents knew she was…different. As a baby she would never cry; even when she was born. She was silent, never making a sound other than the occasional whimper. The doctors thought she might have been mute until one day, shortly after I was born, she said her first word, “Rake.” Apparently my mother was so surprised by my sister’s first word that she nearly dropped me right then and there. She laid me down in my crib and called my father, who left work early in the hopes of hearing his daughter speak for the first time, “rake,” she said, and my father was filled with happiness.
And for the next decade our lives were normal. Sarah and I both went to the same school. We teased each other, we picked on each other, but we loved each other. She would help me with my homework when I was having trouble, I would sit there, pretending to understand what she was talking about when she had a crush on some boy at school. We were inseparable, and we never let anything come between us. But then, when Sarah turned thirteen, that’s when everything changed.
You see, our school has a tradition that when you turn thirteen you write a paper about the first twelve years of your life. It’s supposed to be a reflection on your past as you take another leap in life. Most of us bullshitted our way through the paper. But not my sister. No, she, being the overachiever that she was, felt obligated to put her best effort into that paper. She decided to write about firsts: first day at school, first award in a competition, first kiss, you get the picture. But, feeling the paper was missing something, she wanted to add a little insight from our parents, so she asked our mother, “What was my first word?”
My mother’s mouth turned into that nostalgic smile that you see the elderly give when their grandchildren are in their care, and she said, “Rake.” My sister wrote it down, and set out to finish her paper. I remember this moment, I remember it very well, because of all the memories I have of the time before our lives were turned on their heads, this one memory is the clearest of them all.
When she got her paper back about a week later she was overjoyed. The paper never receives a grade, but our principal commended her for her fabulous work. My mom, I guess in the hopes of setting a good example for writing, made me read that paper. So I, being the nice, well-mannered son of a loving mom and dad, pretended to read her flawless paper, devoid of the markings of the red pen of death so common on everything I had ever turned in. That is, until I read the one comment on the entire paper, written in neat little cursive on the last page, “Rake,” it said, “that’s an odd first word.”
I was confused. What about that was so strange? It’s not like she was spewing pagan chants or speaking in tongues or anything. So that night, when we all sat down for dinner, I asked my sister, “Why does Principal Warren think that ‘rake’ is a weird first word?”
My mother swallowed a bite of food and said, “It’s just not something you would expect,” She swallowed another bite of food and continued, “After all, how often does someone say the word “rake” in front of a baby?” She chuckled, “We never were sure which one of us it was either.”
My father nodded as he cleared his plate, and I was ready to accept my mother’s explanation. But then I turned to my sister, who stared silently at a fork full of food, lost in thought until my mom asked if she was finished.
I don't know if I was concerned or curious, a distinction I’ve had a lot of trouble making over the course of my life, but for whatever reason, that night I snuck out of bed and quietly made my way into my sister’s room. “Devin,” she said in an exhausted voice, almost as if she had been crying, “is that you?”
I didn't know if I had woken her up, or if she had already been sitting in the dark, wide awake before I came in, but I closed the door and turned on the light. I noticed a photo album on the bedside table labeled “Sarah: 1989-1994”--The first five years of her life. Ignoring it, I walked over and sat at the foot of her bed. Noticing her puffy eyes I asked her, “What’s wrong?”
She sniffed and rubbed her nose, “Devin, have you ever noticed anything strange. Like, something that, for no reason, made you scared?” I shook my head, “I’ve been having bad dreams,” she hugged her knees to her chest, “In them I see something… shadows. And they chase me. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t run…I can never get away.” With a trembling hand she picked up the photo album and opened it on her lap, “And in these photos of me, I can see shadows, look.”
She pointed to a spot on one of the photos, but I saw nothing. But, not wanting to make her feel any worse, I lied, and told her that I thought I saw something. She wiped her eyes and smiled before pulling me in and hugging me. “Thank you,” she said, “I love you.” She let go of me and lied down in her bed. I turned off her light and quietly left to go back to bed.
I couldn't have been asleep for more than a few minutes when a bloodcurdling scream woke me up. “Sarah!” I shouted, as I kicked off my sheets and ran into the hallway, where my mother and father had already stumbled in.
“Sarah,” my dad shouted as he opened my sister’s door. I could see him reach in and throw on the light, and his and my mom’s eyes widened in horror. They stood in that doorway, trembling, and my dad said, “Sarah?” as if he couldn't believe what he saw. So I slowly stepped forward until I could peer into the room.
Before that moment, I had never known fear. Sure, I had been scared before. When I was six I was almost hit by a car when I crossed the street. But that brush with death was nothing compared to what I saw.
My sister, shaking, covered in blood. Her pajamas ripped all over. Her face, her body, everything was covered in these cuts, as if someone had started cutting her up with a knife. “Mommy….Daddy?” she said weakly as she looked toward the doorway, “he came back.”
“Who did this to you,” my dad said as he entered the room. He got on his knees and held my sister’s bloody hands in his own, “is he still here?” he whispered.
“He’s always here,” my sister said in a chilling voice, too young for her age, “always watching. Always watching for Him.”
My father let her go and hugged her, telling her that she was safe now, and that she would be okay. And that’s when I noticed it, her nails. The most terrifying thing was the state of her nails. Chipped, and some even torn clean off, she looked like she was trying to fight someone…..something off.
The next day she was committed to a psychiatric hospital. The doctor told us that she must have had a hallucination that somehow manipulated her into somehow doing….that to herself. I was too young to understand what schizophrenia was, but when they told me that she was seeing things it all just seemed so strange to me. And it made me think back to that photo album in my sister’s room. And the nightmares she was having. I wanted to believe the doctors. Believe that this was something they could fix with medicine. But it wasn't long before she managed to escape….
Well, they say she escaped, but I knew better. About a week after she had been committed my sister vanished from a room locked from the outside. Even ten year old me couldn't be convinced that she had found her own way out. And now that I think back on it, my sister seemed almost happy to hear that everything she was seeing was only in her mind. She probably was relieved to hear that the nightmares she lived every day could be dealt with once and for all, so why would she have run away? It bothered me to no end, but at some point I accepted it. I was young; on some level I must have felt obligated to believe what the doctors told me.
There was no trail to follow so the search for my sister was called off after a couple of months. It was hard, but my family managed to move on. And so, for nearly a decade we went about our lives without incident. I don't know why I was able to do that, to be honest. My sister and I had been so close; I would have expected it to take much longer for me to come to terms with her disappearance. But I was only a child at the time, so maybe it was just my way of coping. Regardless, Sarah Shaw was all but forgotten by everyone in Basking Hill…….
Have you ever had that creeping sensation down the back of your neck? That totally irrational fear of some un-seeable horror, whispering your darkest fears into your ear while you lay there completely helpless?
Late one night shortly after my eighteenth birthday I saw something at the foot of my bed. The moonlight reflected off its smooth, pale head and each and every one of its claws, which shone as if they were made of steel. And the creature was crouched, not as if it was about to attack, but as if it were trying to make itself as small as possible while it observed me. A feat, I feel I must add, did not seem so easy to accomplish given that this creature must have been about six feet tall. But despite its curious posture, one look at it told me that, at that moment, I was completely at this creature’s mercy, and if it wanted to, it could kill me in a heartbeat.
I was utterly terrified. I don't think I could have moved if I tried, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest harder and harder. I dared not break my gaze from its dark, empty eyes, and as the first sign of sun appeared through my bedroom window, it leaned started to slowly crawl closer toward me. I could feel the tips of its razor-sharp claws pricking my skin as he leaned into my ear and whispered, “Found you, Devin Shaw” in a soft voice that sent a chill down my spine and made the hairs on my neck stand on end, before it swiftly crawled to my window and pushed it open with its vicious hands. The creature took on last look at me before it silently crawled out the window. I immediately leapt out of bed and tried to spot the creature, but it had already disappeared.
I graduated from high school later that day. I still don't know if that creature came to me that night for that reason, or if it was just a coincidence. But regardless, like so many others who have dealt with this thing before me, I pushed it out of my mind, convinced that whatever happened was just my imagination.
A mistake that would cost me dearly….
But why now, why would I wait almost six months since that incident before I posted anything about it? I was contacted. This September (2012) I started my first year at a small liberal arts college about an hour away from home. Saying that something strange was going on would be putting it far too mildly.
After two weeks my roommate has a nervous breakdown and had to drop out. He said he was having nightmares and that he was hearing voices late at night.
I often came back to my room to find it unlocked—now would be a good time to mention that I have a bit of a compulsion about making sure my doors are always locked behind me—and my room would be rearranged. But nothing would ever be missing.
But a little over a week ago, as I was packing to go home for the winter holidays, a manila envelope was slipped under my door. What I found inside scared me more than anything in my life. Three time-stamped images from the security tape of my sister’s room at the hospital. And in each of them, the same creature that had haunted me the night before my graduation sat at the foot of my sister’s bed. My hands started shaking, and I started sweating profusely. The hospital had gotten in a lot of trouble because the security tape from that night contained nothing but ruined video, yet there she was, sleeping, with that terrifying creature staring at her. My fear quickly turned to anger: right now I don't know if it was at that thing, or at the person who brought such terrible memories back into my life. I had decided that it must be some form of prank, so I stuffed the pictures back into the envelope, threw it in my backpack, and went to bed.
That night I awoke to the sound of my door opening and closing. Considering I always slept with a locked door, I was scared, and had to fight the urge to get up in case whoever had broken into my room was dangerous. So I lay there, taking care not to move an inch whilst keeping my eyes tightly shut. I could hear the sound of metal tapping against the metal frame of my bed. Right then, thoughts of that night months prior rushed into my head, and it took every ounce of strength I had to keep myself from screaming, although now I’m sure it knew I was awake, because it leaned in and whispered, “He always knows.” It then started walking away and I heard my door open and close once more.
I knew that I was in danger. So I grabbed my backpack and ran. I ran all the way to the train station and boarded the first train to New Jersey. Once on the train I pulled out the envelope and once again looked at the pictures. Seeing that creature brought tears to my eyes. My nightmares…..my sister’s nightmares, they were all real. And as I opened the envelope to put the photos away I noticed a piece of paper folded up at the bottom. I pulled it out and opened it:
“Devin,” it read, “for help come to <name removed> Motel at <address removed>, NJ. Tell no one.” There was no signature. Just a circle with an X through it. I folded up the note and took a deep breath.
My parents had no idea what I was up to. I still haven’t told them anything. I destroyed the phone they gave me about a week after I started running. I have since started using disposables.
It’s been a week since I ran away from school and I am writing this in my motel room. I am sorry that I left out the name of some of the places, but I can’t risk being found by anyone, or anything. I saw a man sitting alone in the lobby. I think he may be the guy I am looking for. I am going back down now to see if it is him. If not, I’ll give him until the New Year to show up, otherwise I have to run. I don't feel safe here. It may already be too late.
Mom, Dad. I love you.