I’m suspended in the void, floating. Senses fail here, except hearing, which is fine because this is the nothingness; nothing to feel or see. It’s a quiet place–peaceful, like finding yourself adrift in space. Then a familiar voice reminds me to be afraid. I can’t see, but he speaks to me in harsh whispers near my ear, saying:

“Whatever you do, don’t open your eyes. Don’t even peek. The Peepers say they’re coming for you next. You’re not supposed to see.”

I awake in bed. My sheets are in a tangled knot, ripped free from the corners and damp with sweat. Andy and I have been best friends for over 20 years–since kindergarten. I have been having these dreams about him every night for the last three weeks. Every night since the day he disappeared. I think I know what to do now. It doesn’t have to happen the same way.

Andy and Aunt Darlene were wrong.

*****

Aunt Darlene was not really my aunt, she was Andy’s. We were so close growing up, and in a way I thought of her as my family too. It was a shock to both of us two months ago when we learned Aunt Darlene had gone missing.

Aunt Darlene was a lively woman, energetic and quick with a laugh. When she laughed it showed through her entire body; her short legs shook, her dark hair swayed and the gleam in her bright green eyes grew. Aunt Darlene worked out of her home. “Learn Your Future” glowed brightly from her front window in neon lights, outlined by a giant flashing palm. Through Aunt Darlene you’d learn your future, told by tea leaves or tarot cards. She could see your triumphs but she could also see the things that haunted you. She taught Andy and me about our third-eyes, auras and energies. After seeing what I’ve seen, I believe she knew about a great deal more than what she’d shared with us when we were young–but in the end, she didn’t know enough.

Andy stopped by because she hadn’t answered his repeated calls. She was getting on in years and every unanswered call lead to the worry of unanswered questions. Did she fall and break her hip? Did she nod out after diving into a bottle of gin with a lit cigarette in-hand? He made it a point to check in with her frequently. When he arrived, the house was bright and looked occupied. Nothing was out of place, aside from the front door which stood ominously ajar.

“It’s the strangest thing,” he said to me over the phone. “It’s like she just stepped out to get her mail or something. Like she’d planned to be right back but decided otherwise and left. Nothing’s broken or toppled. No signs of struggle. Her last meal is here, on the table.”

“That’s really weird,” I remarked.

“There’s only two bites missing,” he mumbled as he evaluated the scene.

I told him I was coming over.

When I arrived, a policeman who yawned into his fist was glancing half-heartedly around. Andy spoke to him in an increasingly agitated voice. The officer scribbled a few lines, closing the notebook before Andy even finished his statement. As the officer left he said in a flat voice: “People decide to up and leave around here all the time. I’ll file it, but she’ll probably be back.”

After he’d gone, Andy quietly swore for an hour, storming around as we searched the house for clues.

On her office desk, bound in cherry-red, the current year embossed in gold filigree across the center, was a ledger. In place of bookmark, a pen stuck out between the pages.

I glanced it over. The front held accounting, yet the pen lay towards the back in the pages of notes. I called Andy into the room after I’d read. This was probably the last thing she’d written. Delusional ramblings. I worried how Andy’d react to it.

“What do you make of this?” I handed it to him despite the stone of dread I felt fall inside my stomach. The hurried handwriting was difficult to read:

If you’re reading this, I’m gone. I’m sorry.

They start as shadows. I saw them from the window. Maybe you’ll be walking down the sidewalk after dark and stop to stare at a spot where you thought you saw movement. Is this the nighttime playing tricks? You were sure something was there, so you stare. Right at that spot. Don’t do that. Whatever you do, you must pretend not to see. Close your eyes because it mustn’t see you see.

I see them, so now they see me.

Andy looked up at me, his face lost, “What the fuck is this?”

“I don’t know,” I said quietly, “it’s–weird.”

You’ll think it’s just the shifty dark toying with your eyes but that’s folly. Something jagged does stalk you in the soft edges of night. You’ll see it bouncing in and out of sight, and even with the sense of dread alerting fight or flight, you will ignore your instinct to run. Why? Don’t ignore it. Run. Hide. But don’t hide where they hide. Hide someplace bright.

If you are reading this, and have begun to see them too, don’t write it off. ‘Everything’s fine’ is a pleasant thought, but it’s wrong. If you feel the fear that something lurks behind–or in front–or off to the side in the corner of your eye, don’t let them realize you saw.

It isn’t nothing and no matter how many locks you have, hiding behind a door won’t keep you safe. Locks are not going to keep them at bay. They’re shadows and shadows find a way. I’ve seen them here, in my place. I’ve burned sage. I have so many charms and am trying so many things to keep them away but their numbers are increasing and my options are dwindling each day.

Andy’s brow furrowed as he read further down:

When you see them–when you stare, they mark you. It’s just one at first. As soon as you see it, it sees you too. It knows. You become a shining beacon and the number grows. Others come, one by one; shadows that are not supposed to move as they do–vying for spaces out of the light and crowding just on the edge of your sight and filling your periphery like a vignette of night. All the time they grow closer.

They’ll follow for a while waiting for their moment. It may be days or weeks. I’ve seen them now for fourteen or fifteen nights. I haven’t figured out what to do.

I know they came because I saw them outside. I saw them crowding a man who was walking calmly by. His slow and steady steps were incongruent with fear hiding behind his eyes. He could see them too! That man knew they were there–everywhere. I didn’t know what to do, so all I did was stare. Only one took him. It climbed inside. The man disappeared before my eyes and as he did they seemed to express a collective shudder of delight before disappearing once again, into the night. One remained. I could feel it staring back my way, though it was staring with an eyeless face. They’re patient. So they wait until the moment is right, then one night, they’ll work as a team so one of them can strike and I will be gone.

I haven’t said anything because they’ll call me insane.

To my family, if I’m gone, I’m sorry. I should have told you something was wrong, but I didn’t want you to see.

– Darlene

Andy’s eyes were filled with tears.

“Did she go nuts?” I asked, “What is this? What do we do?”

His voice sounded somewhere far away, “I don’t know,” was all he could manage to say.

*****

Weeks later, Andy disappeared. That night began with a phone call.

He hadn’t been returning my calls or texts since that day at Darlene’s I could feel a churn of emotions as his name flashed across the screen. In the end, anger won. I picked up the call, starting: “Where the fuck have you been?”

Andy whimpered on the other end of the line, “I’ve been talking to Darlene.”

My heart leapt. They’d found her, thank God.

“She’s been coming in my dreams, Scott.” He blew his nose, “I don’t think she’s dead. I think it’s worse.”

“What?”

“Can you meet me?”

He showed up a half an hour after he’d said he would, sliding into the stool next to me so soundlessly, I didn’t notice his arrival. When I turned, I jumped at the sudden appearance. My longtime friend had become a gaunt-faced, haunted caricature of himself. He nervously scratched at the unkempt beard on his cheeks and neck. Avoiding eye contact, his eyes flitted across every dark corner of the bar.

I let out a reflexive gasp as I took him in: “Are you okay, Andy?”

He did not make eye contact when he replied, “No. No, Scott I’m not.” and then he whispered harshly: “the thing in her book. The- the- the diary. It’s real. She told me”

“No,” I shook my head quietly, “it isn’t. It didn’t make any sense. I read it too.”

Andy glared at me, “Yes.” He demanded. “She’s been meeting me in my dreams. She calls them ‘Peepers’ because they go for your eyes. Scott, I saw it. Them. I see them everywhere.”

“What drugs are you on?”

He changed the subject, shaking his head: “Carol’s gone. Took the baby. Wants a divorce”

“Seriously, what’s wrong with you?” I asked.

Andy sighed heavily but his nervous glances didn’t slow. He looked around the bar like a cornered animal searching for escape. He reached his hands across his face replying, “just coffee. Lots of it so I don’t sleep. Lost my job a week or two ago. Mostly she was mad about the lights.”

“The lights?”

“Been keeping them all on. Haven’t turned them off. She’d turn them off, I’d turn them back on.”

The place was nearly empty but Andy’s twitching drew stares from the handful of patrons. “Maybe I should walk you home.” I suggested, “we can talk more there.”

He liked that idea, saying “Yes. In the lights. I don’t know what I was thinking coming here. Too dark.”

I glanced nervously at him from the corner of my eye, “That’s right man, we’ll talk in the lights.”

I put $10 on the bar in front of me and we left. When we were outside and on the sidewalk, Andy began walking very briskly; then jogged.

“Hey slow down!” I cried out. He did not so I matched his pace to keep up.

“They’re everywhere. Don’t you see them?” He panted.

I’d had it then, “Andy, what the fuck are you talking–”

Then I did. I saw them. A jagged shadow poked its head out from inside a garbage bin, right in front of us. It flitted in and out of vision, like it broadcasted itself on the wrong frequency, and then ducked back down. Andy turned left, attempting to run across the street. From the boughs of an overhanging tree, a second strange shadow folded itself down, its legs clinging to a branch. It’s face blocked the way. We turned back the way we’d come and on the wall, creeping downward to the ground, a third crawled from the darkness that loomed beneath a storefront awning. Andy faced the only direction that remained–down an alley. He took off in a sprint. That was a mistake. They were herding him. I realized too late.

He stopped half way down the alley with his hands covering his face. The things–the Peepers–crawled out from every dark corner on all fours. They slunk toward where he stood, their movement and size like stalking cats. They had no feet. Each of their four limbs ended in another hand. They were fully formed, not shadows anymore, and flickering in and out of sight as they surrounded him.

Andy screamed, “Scott, don’t look. Don’t look. Aunt Darlene says don’t let them see that you can see!”

How could one look away from a nightmare so mesmerizingly strange? How does one turn away from the wreck when passing? Away from a friend before he vanishes?

One of them snagged his ankles from behind. It climbed up Andy’s back digging deep divots into his flesh with all of its serrated fingers, slashing through his clothes and skin, tracing lines of blood like fingerpaints through his gray shirt. Andy howled and shuddered bodily but still made no attempt to move. In the darkest part of the alley, the echoing patter of hands-as-feet slapping pavement swelled It sounded wrong, like a warped vinyl recording played back. It hissed and popped and scratched and increased in pace. The thing that clung to Andy’s shoulders pried his hands away from his face, pulling them around to behind his back and held them there with one of its extra hands. The Peeper that ran came into view as the one on his shoulders reached around digging two of its fingers into Andy’s eyelids, forcing them open.

“Oh God! Andy, shut your fucking eyes!”

It was all true, I watched it enter him.

The surrounding crowd parted as the Peeper running upright closed in, leaping into the air towards his face and funneling it into his eyes like liquid spinning down two adjacent drains. Andy changed frequencies then, to match theirs; he became a dark silhouette with angular sharp edges. I watched him disappear, closing into himself like an aperture. The jagged static collapsed in on his stomach until he was gone. The Peepers watched too and began to flicker out of sight until only one remained. As I stared at it, it stared back.

I closed my eyes and whipped around, feeling the air before me, escaping blindly. When I opened my eyes again, I stood on an empty sidewalk in the sweet after-midnight air, bathed in the lonesome glow of a single streetlight.

*****

Aunt Darlene’s advice didn’t work for Andy so it stands to reason that it also won’t work for me. It took several sleepless nights sitting under the lights to figure out where Andy and Darlene went wrong, but after my latest dream I know what to do. I have to be strong.

Even under the light of every lamp you own, you’re creating places, obscure dark spaces where the Peepers can hide. Light is not the solution. More light means more shadows. I think they only hurt you because they’ve been seen.

You’re not supposed to hide in the bright. You’re supposed to hide in the nothing. That’s the only place that seems safe–that place in my dreams.

I’m staring down into the kitchen sink, looking at the spoon, trying to decide. Then I do decide. I’ll survive. This way they’ll have no place to hide.

When one is done, it stares up at me from the kitchen sink, expressionless and bloody and yet seeming somehow to gaze at me alert and wide with shock. There’s just one left. I take a shaky breath. The spoon feels cold against my eyelid; against my skin…

I push it in.