BookTok Writers' Group Submissions
For

April 14th, 2024

M.K.

I would like to tell you something. It might linger with you. It might disturb or even haunt you. What I would like to tell you is this... that when you sleep, I watch you. I watch all of you. I know what you are thinking, you’re imagining some ghoul or gist in the dark. Perhaps something in the way of a human monster. Perhaps those things you might understand or relate to better, but I am none the less, far more sinister than any of those things. But we are not talking about me, we are talking about you and your kind. Your time of reclining repose is not what you think. Your restful hours are not the reprieve from wakefulness as your logic may have led you to believe. It is not a place to escape and find delight in dreams or expand within the limits of vivid or even wild imaginings. Oh-- I see it. The curiosity I have piqued within you. You shouldn’t be focused on that. Yes, I know what you are thinking. You are trying to figure out what and who I am. That is unimportant. You should be more concerned with what place dreams are made of, or what many of you should have gleaned from all the time you have spent there. Have you learned nothing? Oh yes, let those sparking neurons fire. Let the connections link within that meat skull cap that you wear. Many think that escape lies behind the dark shadow of a closed eye lid. But there are others among you that do not wish to venture into those places. They fear what visions might visit them. But those things that you call “demons” and “dreams” cannot forever be outrun by those who have the most reason to fear. Those specters of prediction can never grow tired in their ceaseless chase from the place of shadows behind the curtain of the lidded eye. The sight that sees beyond what you call “conscious vision” is not a mere warning or. So, humans, dig the crust from your eyes, wipe the sweat from your brow and prepare yourself for what comes next.

Chris

Ezra craved the moment just before he opened his eyes, not awake but not fully asleep either. The moment, when you're nestled perfectly in the space between treacherous dreamscapes and the hellish nightmares of life. If that's what you want to call it. It made him feel safe but it couldn't last forever. It never did. He opened his eyes to be welcomed by darkness. Faint gray shapes sat around him, a dresser at the end of the bed, a curtain to his right, moving from an unfelt breeze, and a door, slightly open, that led to the bathroom. Flashes of pain exploded just behind his eyeballs like he’d stared at the sun too long but he knew that wasn't the case. There was no sun here. But maybe this time it'd be different. Ezra lifted his body from the sweat-soaked sheets of the motel bed. Was it actually sweat? He wasn't sure. His bones cracked as he stood and the high-traffic rug under his feet felt like sandpaper. For all he knew, it was. Please, he thought as he shuffled towards the window to open the curtains, the sandpaper rug feeling like it was taking skin off with each movement but he couldn't lift his unsteady legs any higher. His eyes longed for some sort of light and every time he woke, he found himself following these same steps, hoping that something had changed. His hand shaking, gripped the cardboard-like curtain and pulled it to the side. Blackness. Not a two-o'clock-in-the-morning blackness or a dark-basement-with-no-windows blackness but a complete and absolute absence of light. Ezra rested his forehead on the cold window pane. Nothing had changed. But this morning?... Nightly?... Daily?... routine wasn't over yet. He followed the curtains, his hand hanging by his side and brushing along the rough fabric until it connected with something metal and cold. He grabbed the round object and twisted it. He knew it was a door, or at least knew it was a door knob, but no matter how many times he tried it never opened, until now. He pulled hard, not expecting it to budge, and when it did, he stumbled backward, his legs barely keeping him up. Looking through the doorway was no different than looking through the window, a sprawling pit, void of light, and into it he stared. There was no ground, no sky, no stars, only an inky abyss. He approached the doorway and took a step through the threshold, expecting to fall into nothingness but his foot landed on an unseen surface. Hello! Ezra screamed, leaning his head out. The word, sucked up by the void, didn't make a sound. Had he said it or thought it? Ezra took another step, now standing fully in the emptiness. Disoriented and striving for something to ground him, he turned back. The doorway stood, leading to the slightly less dark room he was just in and a window floated next to it. There were no walls or roof. The gray shape of the dresser still sat at the end of the bed. Where am I? He thought and turned away from the door. And then something changed. The blackness ahead of him started to shift and colors started to form. Whites and light blues swirled and warped revealing a picture, not a picture but a scene, playing like a movie. Ezra recognized it immediately. A woman lay on a hospital bed, her knees up by her chest. Tears streamed down her face as she looked down at the doctor. Ezra could hear himself telling her to push until the space around him was filled with a baby crying. Ezra walked?... floated?... toward the scene playing in front of him. It became fuzzy before he could reach it, and began to swirl and blend, closing in on itself until it disappeared. A pain in Ezra's chest made him stop. He coughed, feeling like he couldn't breathe. Further away, the colors returned. Greens and blues and gold this time, faded in from the abyss and started to form another scene. Ezra moved forward again. The same woman stood, pushing a little boy on a rope swing. A breeze blew the woman's gold hair from her face and the smile she wore seemed to brighten the darkness around her. Much like the gold hair, the little boy shared that smile. And the brightness. Ezra started toward the image. The closer he got, the warmer he felt but it wasn't a pleasant warmth. He coughed again. The scene folded in on itself and evaporated, leaving Ezra in darkness. He tried to keep going forward but the tightening in his chest made his already shaky legs not want to move. And he could smell something. It reminded him of a campfire. Ahead of him more colors started to form and with them came a heat and light that Ezra couldn't look directly at. An array of reds and oranges and yellows spiraled in front of him. Before the scene fully revealed itself he heard screams. The colors danced until they formed flames that towered over him, throwing heat that licked his skin and singed the hair on his arms. A woman screamed from behind the flames. She screamed for help. She screamed for Ezra. He tried to move forward, each step harder than the last. He pushed through the flames, mouth open to scream but no sounds escaping. In the fire, the blackness was lost. Now there was only heat and light and pain. But there was something else. Another door, standing just ahead of him, void of flames. He just had to make it a little further. The screams begged for him to save their son. He was almost there, just a couple of more steps. He fell to his knees, coughing and trying to breathe. He crawled, his arms threatening to give out under him. The little boy screamed behind the door. He reached his hand up, the door knob, cold to the touch. He opened the door. The room was dark and he crawled inside. The gray shape of a dresser sat at the end of the bed. He coughed and tried to listen for the screams but there was none. There was only silence. The flames and the heat vanished from behind him. He collapsed on the floor, fighting to take a breath and failing. He faded into an involuntary sleep. When he awoke, he was lying in the bed. There were no burns on his skin, no pains in his chest. The gray shapes still stood where they always were, like every other time before. Ezra got out of bed, shuffled to the curtains, maybe this time it'll be different, and continued the routine.

Shawn

Darby sat on the corner of the bed, fidgeting. Noticing the not so subtle social cues, Emily knew something was bothering her friend. “It’s gonna be okay,” Emily said. “She’s going to be so happy when she sees you.” “Will she? Will she even remember me? It was five years ago. She was only three at the time.” “She’ll remember.” “Everyday I wake up, head pounding, covered in sweat, shaky hands and painful thoughts. Everyday. Have you ever had a hangover from dehydration because of the tears you spent crying yourself to sleep?” “No, honey. I haven’t. And it breaks my heart that it’s been your reality.” “Then I put my feet on the floor, dig the crust from my eyes and put a goddamn grin on my face. That's what it's like to be me. Because it has to be. If I didn’t fake it, I don’t know if I would have made it this far. I had to convince myself I was going to get better, get clean. I had to convince myself I was going to get out. I had to convince myself that I deserved to see my Madalyn again.” Darby’s head sunk in shame. Emily crawled onto the bed behind her and wrapped her arms around Darby. “She’ll remember you. Little girls don’t forget their mothers.” Kissing her on the cheek, Emily leaned her head on Darby’s shoulder. “I wish I knew if that were true.” “It IS true. And you don’t have to convince yourself that you deserve to see her. You do! Look at how far you’ve come. You’re a free woman. You are clean. Just leave that stuff in the past, Darby. You have a wonderful future to look forward to.” “I appreciate that. I do. But it isn’t true.” Darby interlaced her fingers into one of the hands, connected to an arm Emily had firmly wrapped around her. She kissed the back of it and pressed it into her cheek. The dampness of tears soon soaked Emily’s hand and she tightened her embrace as Darby began shaking in agony and fear with each breath. “It’s okay to cry,” Emily said in a soft voice as she rocked Darby, hoping for it to have a calming effect. “All those things you were trying to convince yourself of while you were in prison are finished. You accomplished them.” Darby broke free of Emily’s hug and turned to face her. She raised her shaking hand to wipe her nose. A look of confusion dominated her face. “You don’t understand. I’ve only accomplished one. I’m no longer in prison. Sure, I’m clean for now, but I’m not better. There’s no cure for addiction! Do you know how much I want a hit right now? Anything to take the edge off. I know just how it would feel and my body is begging me for it. I have to fight it every day. I didn’t want to see her until I was free, until I was out of the halfway house. Because I just knew I would fail. But here I am, I get to see her tomorrow. And all I can think of is how much I would love a fix. Tell me, does that sound like a person who deserves to see their daughter?” “Yes. It does. And you want to know why? Because as much as you want to shoot up some heroin, you haven’t done it. The Darby I knew in the past would have disappeared, and when you came back you would have some half assed excuse for why you were gone. But everyone would know where you were. We could tell when you were high. We could tell when you were getting rid of us because you didn’t plan on being conscious for much longer. We knew Darby. We knew!” “Why didn’t you stop me?” “I did.” Darby stared into the eyes of Emily. Her pitiful body language turned into anger and betrayal. “It was you? You’re the reason the cops showed up? You’re the reason why they took away my Madalyn?” Her voice tailed off in a whimper. “We kept telling you, ‘you need to quit,’ but you wouldn’t listen.” “Get out!” “No!” “Get the fuck out of my house!” Darby screamed, pointing at the door. “No! Damnit, listen!” “Why would I listen? You’re a traitor. You’re not my friend. I hate you!” Darby squealed as she screamed almost incomprehensibly. Her fists were swinging wildly and she landed numerous blows but Emily absorbed them ignoring the pain. Emily reached out and pulled Darby into her, holding her tight. Darby kept fighting, pounding on Emily’s back with her palms, but they only lasted a few moments. Darby screamed out. Wailing into Emily‘s loving embrace, she shook, her breath fighting with her sobbing. “I love you, Darby. I know the last thing you want to hear is I did it for your own good. But I didn’t know what else to do. You wouldn’t listen. I was having nightmares seeing you in a casket. You were endangering yourself, but even worse, you were endangering Madalyn. I didn’t know what kind of dark place you would go if you harmed her. I love you. I love you enough to lose you if it had a chance of saving you.” Darby’s closed fists relaxed into open hands. Her arms tightened around Emily. Here angry breaths turned into whimpers desperate for a clear vision of the future. “How will I survive this?” Asked Darby. “You’ll live for Madalyn.” “No, that won’t work. I thought I was living for Madalyn before I went to prison. The only way this works is if I love myself enough.” “Do you?” “The only thing I can promise is I’ll try.” “And I promise I’ll be here to help as long as you’re trying.” “Emily?” “What is it Darby?” “I don’t really hate you.” “It’s a good thing. Because it would have been awkward for me to love you.”

Scott

The Need The need is the first thing I feel when I wake up every day. It makes my head hurt and my teeth itch. My sheets are soaked in sweat and my hands twitch and shiver like a current is running through them. Lying there in the stink of my sleep sweats doesn’t make it any better. I’ve tried it a few times and my need only intensifies, my headache worsening. I get out of bed, just like every day before this one. I can’t see thanks to the thick curtains covering my windows. The pain in my head lessens as I plant my feet on the hardwood floor of my bedroom and breathe deeply through my nose. I blow out through my mouth and repeat the pattern of breathing. With each breath, my headache grows more distant, but there’s a point at which it will only be a constant throbbing and will get no better. Not until I satiate myself. Now that I can think straight, or at least think without the distraction of pain, the images come. I see violent images; bodies blown apart by bombs, bloody holes torn through flesh, arms and legs shivered from their joints. I groan at these thoughts, wanting to will them away and knowing that I am unable to. I am not a soldier, at least not in this life. I have no desire to hurt anyone. But still, these pictures flood my mind. I press my thumbs to my eyes, pushing away at the sleep sand that gathered there overnight. Then I press harder into my eyeballs until I can see the stars that form behind my lids. The distraction of pain works for a moment, but I will carry these thoughts with me all day. I stand, groaning as gravity asserts its hold on my body trying to drag me to the floor. I am so weak when I first awaken. Strength will come soon enough, a terrible crushing strength. I cross to the room’s dresser and find the box of Lucifers. I narrow my eyes in preparation for the light’s assault on my pupils. Now bathed in the light of an oil lamp, the sparseness of my bedroom is laid bare. The mirror over my dresser is covered by a sheet. It and my bed are the only furniture. I grin as I dress, trying to approximate a normal smile and knowing it will terrify women and small children. Even grown men’s knees will turn to water if I let them look in my eyes. I wash my face in the basin of water near the lamp and dry it on my only towel, feeling the horrid lumps and uneven planes of my visage. My fingers are the only ones which will touch my face tenderly. Satisfied I have done all I can to postpone satisfying my need, I don my hooded cloak and leave the boarding house I call home to prowl the streets of this great city. Fog swirls around me as I drink in the night air. The chill is a balm to my fevered brain. People pass near me, though not so near to be able to remark on my appearance. My body is large and well put together if oddly proportioned. My long arms and short legs could have come from two different people. I am barrel-chested and my hands are massive. These multitudes of sins are covered by my cloak, the night, and the city’s fog. In the distance, I hear a scream. That’s not unusual when one considers where I live. I stalk towards the origins of the sound, my ears like that of many creatures of the night. Drool forms in my mouth, my nose having already caught the faintest traces of blood in the air. My hands close tightly into fists as I start to walk faster. Where others may run away, I move towards the sounds of violence. He stands over her body, working at her innards. He doesn’t hear me as I move up behind him. This is his fifth victim or perhaps his sixth. I am too late to save her, if that was even my intention. The coppery tang of her blood fills the air, but it is dead. My need is for that which still sings through the veins. I throw back my cloak showing to any who might look the scars my maker left behind. They are cunning and the stitch work by the good doctor was well done. The killer turns at the movement and sees the dagger-like teeth that fill my maw. His scalpel clatters to the cobblestones. My brain takes a moment to register that his face is familiar before my mouth closes over his throat. Blood gushes down my gullet filling my body with strength. I grab the man, one of the royal house I believe, and squeeze him, hearing his bones crack. He tries to scream, but all that comes out is a gurgle as I continue to take in his essence. I leap to a nearby wall once I finish my meal. Filled with disgust, still I am sated now. My need is gone. I will take his remains to the rooftops and once I am done with them will deposit them in the Thames. The sea will take them and there will be no more Ripper victims. I don’t kid myself. There will always be victims. As long as I must feed though, it will only be on those like me, monsters whether made by man or God.

Michael

Every day I wake, head pounding, covered in sweat, shaky hands, and painful thoughts. Everyday. Then I put my feet on the floor, dig the crust from my eyes, and look at my blood-stained hands. No matter how hard I try, it never comes off. That's what it's like to be me. I splash water on my face and clean up, then don my uniform, glance at my shaking hands, and squeeze them into fists. My knuckles turn white as my face turns red. Crying out I release my grip and look back to my hands. They’re no longer shaking. To show others my weakness would be to admit that one day they’ll find someone to take my place. I didn’t dedicate years of rising up through the ranks just to be replaced because of shaking. That’s not who I am. I am a professional killer. Every day they bring me the scum of the earth. I don’t want to know what they’ve done to deserve it. After so long you get a sense for people. I can tell with one look who’s guilty and who’s innocent. The innocent are the worst. They beg and squeal for mercy. They cry that they don’t deserve punishment. They soil themselves when the moment of truth comes and fight against the inevitable. The guilty are more accepting. They carry on and spit in my face, but a quick slap calms them down. I must never show fear or mercy. Brutality is my stock in trade. I deal it out to everyone sent to me. There has never been a message from the governor telling me to stay my hand. People look at me in different ways as I do my job very publicly. Some show disgust, some show outright rage at the things I do to the scum, a very few show acceptance. And one or two show envy. These are the ones I watch the closest. They are the lions in disguise, waiting to jump on wounded prey. I don’t call the crowds to come and watch, they do that on their own. They judge me as brutal. They whisper names about me they wish they could say to my face. And yet, they gaze with hungry eyes and dark souls. They took time out of their day, away from their children, or worse, brought their children with them, to watch brutality, torture, and death. But I’m a wicked person. I wonder what would happen if they could see through my eyes. If they were the ones whose task it is to torment and kill. Would they allow those they deemed guiltless to depart and by doing so count their own life forfeit? Even the watchers are guilty. Those who don their holy cloth and stand in judgment over my actions. They cry their fake tears and call for mercy for those who don’t deserve it. But not one of them ever tried to stop me. There was only one who made me ponder innocence. I didn’t think much of him when he first came to me, beaten and bloody, but there was no rage in his eyes, no guilt. He never claimed he wasn’t to be here and made no mention of mercy. It didn’t take long until he was talking to the others waiting for death. I never understood this, why bother befriending those who are about to perish? He confused me like no other before him. But I am a professional. My duty is death. I allow them to suffer for as long as possible, and that’s when I do it. Some beg me to end their suffering quickly. I watch for a long time until hope drains from their eyes, and they realize what I am. This one had endured more than most. Strangely, he didn’t seem stronger than the others, even those larger than I am succumb to the inevitable. But this one seemed to welcome it, even asking for it, but not from me. For the first time, I felt merciful. As if this man was truly righteous. I knew there would be no stay of execution. But this man… If ever there was an exception, it would be him. I reached out with my blade to deliver my twisted mercy and slid the sharp metal into his flesh. He made no sound, even as the blood poured from his side, running down the blade and covering my hands. I knew the stain would never leave. When the day is done, and countless others have tasted my blade, adding to the perpetual stain, I drink to forget but instead, it makes me remember. My memory always betrays me as I stumble home and collapse in my bed, uniform and all. Tomorrow morning I’ll wake exactly the same way I did this morning. The same way I have every morning since I came to this place. Right before I close my eyes, I remember everything. The realization of where I am and what I’ve done hits me like a charging beast. This is my punishment, my purgatory, my perdition. Doomed to carry out the worst moment in human history. Imprisoned in my mind, this is my sentence. No one stands by the side of the road to proclaim my innocence. I deserve to feel every moment of pain I’ve inflicted on every soul in my wretched life. To suffer this torment a thousand times and a thousand times again would never come close to retribution. I am a murderer, condemned to relive this day throughout eternity. I am the man who killed the prophet from Nazareth they called, Jesus. I am the man who killed the Son of God.