I lived in a small town.  It was the kind of town you could walk through in ten minutes and everyone kept their doors unlocked.  Fifty miles from the nearest city, it was the only world I ever knew.

My dad was a fireman and my mother was an EMT.  They tag-teamed the best they could when it came to raising my brother, sister and I, but despite their best efforts, there were nights that we were left alone in the house as they worked.  My parents were not neglectful, we never really wanted for clothing or food or love.  It was a necessity.

At the tender age of eight, I was told I was in charge of my little sister and brother while mommy and daddy were away.

Not to say that I was actually in charge of anything.  Not for real.  My little brain probably would have exploded if I had any real responsibility.  My mother would put us to bed by nine and she would leave to work by ten.  My father returned from work by five, so my only true duty was to simply stay asleep and make sure that little brother and little sister did the same.  My grandmother lived across the street as well, so we were never truly alone.

I shared a room with my little brother.  It was a hastily built add-on, larger than even my parent’s room, too hot in the summer and too cold in the wintertime, but it was mine.   It was built just for me and would have been only mine had my little brother been born a sister, but given that he wasn’t, I was forced to share it with him.  I didn’t care for that arrangement.  Not.  One.  Bit. 

He was young, whined about not getting his way constantly, and cried at the drop of a hat if he thought he would get me swatted by dad.  His sole purpose in life seemed to be getting me in trouble and, although I loved him as I would any family member, I didn’t like him and never let him forget that this was my room… not “ours.”

The bunk beds for example.  I slept in the top bunk for one reason… because my brother wanted it.  The truth is, I didn’t particularly care which bed I slept in, I just had to keep my brother from getting what he wanted.  It was a big brother thing, you wouldn’t understand.  I was simply marking my territory.

The room was dark and, being a cold winter night, it was dimly lit by the small blue flames of a gas furnace.  The flames danced inside of the metal box that looked like it had been made in the 50’s causing the shadows to wriggle about the floor and walls as though they were alive.

This was the first night I saw The Black Mass.

My brother was asleep.  I could tell by the rhythmic peaceful breathing underneath me.  I called his name once or twice just to bug him, but he was out of it.  Probably dreaming whatever stupid things four year olds dream about.   I sighed.  Ever since I could remember, I had trouble sleeping.  I would stay awake think about school, about Christmas which was right around the corner, about friends and games we would play. 

It was then that my eye was drawn to the ceiling over the gas heater.  Something moved in the dim gaslight, flowing and undulating on the ceiling like a thick black smoke.  Almost as quickly as I had noticed it, it flowed silently into the shadows.

My little heart raced.  My mind was flooded with every ghost story and urban legend I had ever heard from Ichabod Crane to Poltergeist.  I tried to call my brother’s name, but the only sound that escaped my throat was a high pitched rasp that sounded like a mix of someone rubbing a balloon and steam escaping.  I wasn’t sure what the little twerp could have done had I woke him up anyway.  My eyes were fixed on the dark corner of the room that the smoky visitor had crept into.  I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there.  Watching me.

I’m not sure how long I lay there terrified until I drifted off to sleep.  I just know what I felt like when my mom woke me up to go to school.  Once awake, my sleepy eyes darted to the corner where the black entity had hidden itself, but saw nothing… only the bright and welcoming room that I loved so much.

I was like a zombie for the whole day.  I sat by myself, talked to no one… told no one about the late night visitor.  Had I been older, I probably would have rationalized it away by believing it was a dream, but eight year-old me knew it wasn’t a dream… I couldn’t have been that imaginative and I had never seen anything like it in a movie.  What happened happened.  I was sure of it.

When bedtime rolled around, I was tempted to tell dad about the black specter, but he as a skeptic and never believed anything I said.  Besides, despite the fact that I was scared out of my wits by the black smoke, I didn’t believe it to be evil.  I wasn’t sure why.

The lights were out, but I couldn’t sleep.  I didn’t want to miss the ghostly visitor again.  I heard the front door to the house close shut as my mother went to work.  We were alone in the house.  I fought sleep for what seemed like an eternity until finally, there it was…  clinging to and crawling along the ceiling like thick black smoke – as if another part of the house was on fire.  The thing was flowing slowly and methodically through the door, at one point pushing the door open a tad with its apparently semi-solid bulk.  The doorknob tapped the wall, causing my body to jump with fright.  The creature itself made no noise.

It swirled on the ceiling, swaying and drifting lazily along a meandering path as though it was exploring…  I was reminded of the time our cat had kittens and how they gingerly reconnoitered the world around them.   It flowed like a liquid on the ceiling, back and forth back and forth… it was getting closer to my bunk bed and it was then that I realized I was lying only about two feet from the ceiling.    Was it going to get me?

The smoky entity slid on the ceiling above my head.  I wanted to scoot sideways and fall to safety, but fear paralyzed me.  I couldn’t dare make a noise.  It was inches from my head… a coldness emanated from it.  I slowly pulled the blankets up to my neck.

The formless black simply remained.  It didn’t threaten or seem dangerous in of itself.  As a matter of fact, looking back, I decided that it seemed more curious about me than anything else.  Like a timid dog.  A few times, a hump would descend from it in front of my face as though it tried to form a head.  I would whimper when this happened and the “head” would absorb back into the mass.

I wasn’t sure how long it was there.  Minutes?  Hours?  It may have been observing me, but as the minutes ticked away and the fear dulled, I found myself observing it as well with the same curiosity.  Thoughts of stories like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial rolled through my mind.  This… visitor.  This black mass was special.  Out of all of the children in the world, it had chosen me.  I was special too… 

I decided to reach out.

And touch it.

My arm crept out from under the blanket and, shaking, reached out.  It was only two feet in front of me, but it might as well have been ten.  My breathing increased.  Was I really doing this?

My fingers made contact and immediately withdrew… it was cold.  Despite the fact that it seemed like a weightless cloud, the mass had a body to it that felt like runny Jell-O.

The black mass recoiled a bit too… as though it was surprised by my bravery.

I reached out for it again.  My hand entered the blackness and was greeted by the same cold thickness I had felt before.  I smiled and a small laugh escape my lips.

But then I realized that I was looking at myself.  There I was… or at least someone who looked like me – smiling the same smile I had just smiled, quickly withdrawing his hand with a jerk.  The other me took a deep breath and laughed. 

Did the black mass mimic me on the ceiling… or… wait… That’s my bed.  How did my bed get on the ceiling?  That’s not… wait… I’m not looking up, I was looking… down.  I was on the ceiling.  I was floating just like the…  Just like the black mass.  I had become the black mass!

The other me wrapped himself in my covers and laughed again. “I did it!” he said with a palpable sense of satisfaction and relief.  “I did it…,” he began to cry now, holding the blankets of my bed to his face and rubbing against them as if he were knowing what it was like to touch for the first time.  He looked up at me and sniffed and said the last words he ever said to me.

“I’m sorry.”

I spent the rest of that night watching from above as he got out of bed and played with my toys for hours.  He then left my room and went into the kitchen where he proceeded to gorge himself on everything he could find in our refrigerator as if he had never eaten before.  I wanted to yell at him.  Scream… but I couldn’t.  I had no voice. 

At five in the morning, my father came home.  He asked the thing in my body what he was doing up so early and I watched the imposter hug my father.

I drifted way.  Angry.  Sad.  I couldn’t even cry.

How long have I been drifting now?  Unseen and unfeeling?  Months?  Years?  I went back to my home once, when I was able to find it again, and saw that it was empty.  My family had moved away.  I don’t know where they went.  Did they ever notice that their son is not me?

Did they care that something had stolen my life?

So I roam the world with the wind and the cover of night.  You’ve probably seen me: that dark something from the end of your hall at night that you see for only a split second.  That shape that you could swear moves out of your closet as you try to sleep.

I’m very sorry for what I have to do, and I’ll tell you that when I switch places with you just as soon as you become brave enough to reach your hand out and touch The Black Mass.

Copyrighted. Do not reprint without permission.

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Written by Jason Gaston

Father, teacher, writer, photographer, artist, actor, male model, and inventor of the semicolon.

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