Fer stepped out of the shower. As he dried himself, he briefly looked at the mirror, still misted over from the steam off the shower. What the… That was weird. It looked like someone had drawn a symbol in the condensation: a big X in a rough circle. Somehow, it felt intensely disquieting. And it made no sense that symbol should be there, none at all.
Well, whatever. It must have been Julia, his little sister. She was forever doodling stuff all over the place, though normally it was rather hearts and smiling suns -the kind of stuff six-year-old girls tend to draw.
By the time Fer was done shaving and doing his hair, the symbol had slipped his mind altogether -it had disappeared as the condensation evaporated. After-shave, cologne…
“Can I come in now, honey?”
“Just a mo’, Mom!”
“You’ve been in there for an hour! I need to pee, hon, and your sister needs her bath! Whoever says girls take long has never met a teenage boy!”
“Yeah, Mom, almost ready!”
Some ten minutes of pulling single hairs in position, critically eyeing this or that tiny spot, and plucking at nose hairs followed. Finally ready, Fer almost ran into his mother’s fist, raised to angrily knock at the door once more.
“‘bout time,” she hissed as she swept past him.
“Time to get dressed,” Fer muttered, surgically close to parroting her and carefully controlling the volume. It wouldn’t do any good to anger her any more tonight. Tomorrow she’d likely be mad enough -Fer didn’t intend to abide by his parents’ “no drink, home by two” rule.
As he walked into his room to get dressed (all stylish black in a nod to the occasion, but nothing as childishly-showy as a real Halloween costume), he caught a glimpse of the window. There it was again -that weird symbol. It was barely visible, as if someone had drawn it with a greasy finger, but when the light caught it just right… Yeah, it was the same. Julia had been in his room! He’d told her literally a million times to stay the hell out, and here… But wait. Don’t make a scene today. Ignore it for now. Luna was coming to the party, too, and he just might score with her tonight. And even if he didn’t, there was booze, there was weed, there were the blokes… Everybody would be there.
It was several hours, quite a few drinks and a decent number of spliffs later that Fer made his way home. The guy who’d scored with Luna hadn’t been Fer, though -it’d been Pablo, damn his ancestors. The result, on Fer’s side, had been even more drinks, quite a few of which now clamoured for release the way they’d come in -if less tasty. Stopping for a moment, Fer vomited his guts out. And that’s when something really, really weird happened: he could have sworn, as he tried to get back upright, that there was that symbol again -he’d bloody vomited that X-in-a-circle that had appeared in the bathroom, in the window. This was getting creepy.
Well, damn it all. By now, Fer felt bad enough to just want to go home. He straightened up, took to his feet again. As he neared the village, though, he thought he saw something in the distance, over by the road, outlined against the moonlit sky. It looked like… Like nothing that made sense. An impossibly tall man in black, with lots of arms made of pure darkness. Damn, he looked like he had a black octopus strapped onto his back. Fer felt his body tense up, goosebumps crawling up his spine. That... thing was standing between him and his house, the distance impossible to gauge.
The drink again wanted to taste the fresh air, and Fer had no choice but to oblige. He doubled up, spilled the meager rest of his stomach’s content, accompanied by a surprising amount of bile. Much of it actually landed on his boots, but there are moments when you’re just too busy to really notice. When Fer looked again, the apparition was gone.
Over the next few weeks, Fer didn’t get to go out much. His parents hadn’t taken particularly kindly to their son coming home drunk as a skunk, well after four a.m., and soaked in his own vomit. They’d grounded him for the foreseeable future, including even his karate lessons. Bugger! He slept none too hot, either: that weird octopus man kept cropping up in his dreams. Now he stood there between the trees, now he appeared in the window, then again standing right next to his bed. It was deeply disturbing: somehow he seemed to change his size, unpredictably, impossibly. He was always huge, though: when he stood by Fer’s bed, his head barely cleared the ceiling. When he stood by the window, he looked right in -nevermind that Fer’s room was on the third floor. When he stood among the trees, it looked like he was really far away, yet seemed taller than the trees.
Most disturbing of all was his face. He simply had none. There was just a blank, with the merest suggestion of eyes, the tiniest hint of a nose and mouth. No hair, no visible ears. Like one of those dolls artists use to get the posture and proportions of a person they’re painting right. And yet, the eyes that weren’t there kept staring at him, staring right into his soul. Hardly a day went by, too, without that strange symbol appearing somewhere.
"That’s a good boy,” Mom said when she saw Fer cleaning the bathroom mirror. He almost jumped -he hadn’t heard her enter.
He blushed, didn’t turn round. “Well, I ought to do my bit, oughtn’t I?”
“It’s so nice to see you take some responsibility,” planting a kiss on his cheek, “but why don’t you start with your room? It’s a mess in there.”
“Yeah, right away.” Relief: she hadn’t seen the symbol, which had been appearing every day since he first saw it. Something about it made Fer feel guilty, as if it were his fault it should be there. And the next morning, after the shower, it was there again. Like every...single...day. To Fer, it was quite clear who was to blame: Julia was playing some sort of sick joke on him. Not that he ever saw her do anything weird: she was just the happy, innocent little girl she’d always been. And yet…
"I summoned you here because I'm really starting to get worried about Fer, Mrs Sánchez." Mr Davies, the boy's English teacher and tutor, looked at her. “He’s been acting rather strangely these days, you know. It’s like he isn’t fully there, if you know what I mean -mentally absent. He’s skipping on his homework, and sometimes he’s getting outright aggressive. Is there anything going on that we need to know about?” The question was very direct, but Davies and Mrs Sánchez had been in permanent contact ever since Fer and Davies himself had started at Santa Lucía del Trampal Secondary School, more than three years ago.
“I was going to ask you the same question, in fact. At home, he’s behaving just like you said, and … I’d been wondering whether he might have trouble with someone at school.”
“Well, there have been clashes. But… well, it’s always him who started it. You know, he kind of lashes out at the others. When someone questions him, or when anyone makes some kind of comment, Fer… Well, he explodes, shouting at them. Plus, there’s this…” He slid a piece of paper over the table. On it, there was a symbol -a large X in a rough circle. “He keeps drawing this, on his books, in his notebooks… And this.” Davies took out his mobile phone, showed Mrs Sánchez a drawing. A man in a black suit. Thin, long arms and legs, no face. A bunch of tentacle-like things sprouting from his back. Somehow, the image felt scary beyond what should have been possible, a dark presence staring without eyes.
“What is this?”
“I was hoping you could tell me. It’s the other thing he keeps drawing -this one’s a photo of the backside of the last exam -you already know he left it blank. This is what he was doing all that time.”
Mrs Sánchez felt quite disturbed. That picture… it felt evil. Fer had always been a good student and a better person. What was happening to him?
The village lay in darkness. Not a living soul was moving, anywhere. Fer himself didn’t know how he had got here -all he knew was that he was scared. Slowly he walked on, down the street. Somehow the light seemed off -places were lit that shouldn’t have been, and shadows lurked in the most unlikely of crannies. Still, he could see reasonably well. For what seemed like hours, he walked through the empty, dead streets, barefoot. Suddenly, as he was walking past a crossing, he thought he heard a whisper from the left. Spinning round, his heart froze in his chest. Julia was standing there, talking to the tall man with the tentacles on his back!
Fer jerked awake, soaked in a cold sweat. Everything was clear now: Julia really was in league with that monster. He’d have to kill her!
As the room stopped spinning, he became aware of a weight on the mattress. Someone was sitting there.
“Good morning, Fer,” he heard his sister’s voice. “Mom and Dad are gone already -now it’s your turn.”
Before he could react, the knife slashed his throat. As the world dimmed, he caught a last, fleeting glimpse of Julia, smiling angelically as she slowly pushed the knife into her heart.