Special thanks to:

And others for giving their valuable time and input on this original draft.

The final version of “Peepers” can be read here: Peepers Final Version

All around me is the black of the void. I’m standing in the nothingness with only the sound of my heavy breathing and my rapidly beating heart. Through the darkness, I hear a familiar voice. It says:

“Whatever you do, don’t open your eyes. Don’t even peek. Just keep them closed. I hear the Peepers from inside my head. Hissing whispers say: ‘they’re coming for you next.’”

I woke up in my bedroom. The room was still dark. My sheets were in a tangled knot, ripped free from the corners of the bed and damp with sweat; my heart and breathing were pounding at wild intervals, like one was trying to outpace the other. Andy and I had been best friends over 20 years–since kindergarten. I had been having these dreams about him every night for the last three weeks. Every night since the day that he disappeared.

Andy is a good person. He volunteers at the soup kitchen every Thanksgiving; talked me into going with him for the past 10 years. He would give you the shirt off his back. We’re both good people. We don’t deserve this.

When we were younger, we’d been a handful. We were always getting into trouble. It was never anything illegal or life-threatening…well, there was that one time, in the woods. We were 12 and Andy had almost put out my eye with an arrow; another time we almost got arrested for trying to steal some puppies. We were drunk and they were just wandering around in a garage; the door left open wide. That was just rambunctious youth. This is not like that. I know that I’m going to end up just like Andy did. They marked him and now they’ve marked me. You don’t get an official notice. Nobody has to tell you: I knew I had to heed the warning we’d been given. You have to shut your eyes. I had shouted as much to Andy.

Nobody would believe me if I told them what happened, so I haven’t. Not until now. I was with Andy the night he disappeared. He didn’t “go missing.” that’s what his mom keeps posting on social media in her desperate search for him. She can’t make heads or tails of it. First her sister. Now her son. They didn’t “go missing”…that implies they can be found. They’re gone; lost in the nothing. They disappeared into thin air.

This started with Andy’s aunt. Growing up we always thought that she was a little nuts but she and Andy were close and Andy and I were like brothers. To us, this meant that Aunt Darlene, by proxy, was my aunt as well. I even called her that: Aunt Darlene.

Aunt Darlene worked from home making her living as a psychic; reading tarot cards and seeing the things that haunted people. I was raised not to believe in those things. I believed anyway, but was raised not to. I especially believe now.

After she disappeared, Andy said she would visit him in the night while he slept. In these dreams, the same sort I’m having now, he could tell he was in a vast place of darkness. An endless void, empty of time and space. Total blackness so thick he couldn’t even see his hands. It’s like all of your senses choose to abandon you, with the exception of your hearing. He couldn’t see Aunt Darlene but he heard her whispering to him–said: “No matter what, keep your eyes shut,” she named them: “Peepers.” Whether that’s what they’re actually called, or something she dubbed them, I can’t be sure.

Andy started acting very strangely after those dreams began. He called me several times to tell me about the dreams. Each time he seemed to be slipping away from rationality a little bit further. The last time I saw him, he said he was seeing things.

I’ve started seeing things as well.

It starts as a shadow. You’ll be walking down the sidewalk at night and–wait–did that shadow just move or was it a trick of the light? You’ll stare at the spot you thought you saw something you should not have seen.

It’s nothing, you’ll think, the dark is mischievous for someone alone. I better quicken my pace; get myself safely home. You’ll move a bit more hurriedly in the gloaming dark, yet with a facade of nonchalance. Something jagged does stalk you in the soft edges of the night. As you see it flicker in and out of sight, even with the sense of dread alerting fight or flight, you will ignore it your instinct. You’ll write the feeling off, preferring to convince yourself the more pleasant thought that there is nothing wrong.

Yet there’s still that small voice urging you on…Don’t delay, home is safe…but you won’t be any safer there. It isn’t nothing. It’s definitely something and no matter how many locks you have, you are not going to keep it at bay.

They mark you when you see–when you stare. As soon as you see it, it sees you too. You become a shining beacon: then one turns to two. Then the others come, one by one; shadows that are not supposed to move–vying for spaces out of the light and crowding just on the edge of your sight and filling your periphery like a vignette of darkness.

They’ll follow for a while waiting for their moment. It may be days or weeks. It may be spurred by their growing numbers in the corner of your eyes or maybe the victor is predetermined and this–this is a game. The rest are only here to witness. Only one of them can have you and as their numbers bloat, one by one their individual chances slim. 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.

That is what happened to Andy. I watched it until I remembered to shut my eyes. When I opened them again, I had found my way back from the shadows, all alone. I stood on an empty sidewalk in the sweet after-midnight air bathed in the lonesome glow of a single streetlight.

The night I began to see them was the night that Andy disappeared. Aunt Darlene had been gone almost four weeks then. He called me to meet him at the bar at 10:00. He’d sounded frantic on the phone. Anytime we’d meet up like this in the past, Andy had always beat me there. I was the late one. He was the ten-minutes-early type. That night he didn’t show up until almost 10:30. His eyes had the wild look of a haunted man.

He quietly slid into the stool next to me while I was looking the other way. I turned and suddenly he was there, casting nervous glances to every dark corner of the room.

“Are you okay Andy?” I asked with serious concern.

He did not make eye contact with me when he replied, “No. No, Chris I’m not.” and then he whispered harshly: “I know what took Aunt Darlene”.

“Does this have something to do with your dreams? About her telling you to close your eyes?”

Andy was twitching erratically, looking everywhere and nowhere all at once, “No–well yes–but no. I saw it. Them. I see them everywhere.”

“What are you talking about?” I was so confused.

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

“What’s going on with you man?” I asked… “Drugs?”

Andy sighed heavily but his erratic behavior didn’t slow. “Coffee. Haven’t been sleeping. Lost my job a couple weeks ago. Mostly she was mad about the lights.”

“The lights?”

“Yeah. Been keeping them all on. Haven’t turned them off. If you turn them off, I turn them back on.”

I made a decision then: we shouldn’t be at a bar. “Maybe I should walk you home.” I suggested, “We can talk more there.”

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

“Okay, yep.” I was looking at him from the corner of my eye, “We’ll talk in the lights.”

Andy hadn’t ordered anything in the few minutes that he had been there and had been nursing the same beer for the entire time I’d sat waiting. I put $10 on the bar in front of me and left. When we were outside and on the sidewalk he began walking very briskly; then jogging.

“Hey slow down!” I cried out. He did not. I was forced to match his pace to keep up.

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

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

Then I did. I did see them. A jagged shadow had popped it’s head out from inside a garbage bin, right there in front of us. It flitted in and out of vision for a second, like it was broadcasting itself on the wrong frequency, and then ducked back down. Andy changed directions, darting down an alley. That was a mistake. He should have stayed on the sidewalk. In the light. He realized it too late.

Half way down the alley he came to a dead stop. His hand was covering his face and they were crawling out from every dark corner on all fours, moving like stalking spiders towards him. The shadows had taken solid form and were flickering in and out of our frequency. They were surrounding him.

“Chris, don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look don’t look don’t look. Don’t. Look. In the dream Aunt Darlene said not to look.” the trouble was, how do you look away from something so mesmerizingly horrific and strange? How do you look away from the wreck when you pass? From your friend before he vanishes? Two of them began crawling up him then. One on his back and one towards his face. He howled a scream and shuddered bodily but made no attempt to move. I watched as the one on his back pried his hands away. I watched as the one at his face began to peel apart his eyelids.

“Oh God! Andy, shut your eyes! Shut your fucking eyes!” It all made sense then, I knew that what Aunt Darlene had been telling him in his dreams was true.

But shutting them hadn’t been enough. It wasn’t enough for Andy and it won’t be enough for me either. It still got inside of him.

I watched as the thing pulled his eyelids apart and climbed through, like liquid spinning down two adjacent drains and into his face. He changed frequencies then, to match theirs: like all-black static on an old television, an angular moving silhouette with sharp edges. Then he snapped off and I watched him disappear, closing into himself like an aperture. Andy was turned off like a television set, the jagged static collapsing in on his belly button until he was gone. I watched it all happen. The other shadows, the Peepers, watched too–and they began to flicker out of sight until only one remained. That one turned then: watching me. I closed my eyes and turned back to the sidewalk, using a wall to feel the way as quickly as I could. I didn’t open my eyes again until the black of my eyelids began glowing red and I was sure that I was back in the light.

The last time I dreamt of Andy was days ago because I haven’t slept. He’s been missing almost a month now. After several sleepless nights of sitting under lights, I think I finally figured out where they went wrong: Andy and Aunt Darlene. Even under the light of every lamp you own, you’re creating places, obscure dark spaces where the Peepers can hide. More light means more shadows. Light is not the solution.

You’re not supposed to hide in the bright. You’re supposed to hide in the nothing. That’s the only place they don’t seem to be.

I’m staring down into the kitchen sink, looking at the spoon. Trying to decide, and 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 upon me still 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.

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