He never left my mind. Between the first and second time I saw him, I had let him drip away into vague memory. But this time was not like that. I waited for him every time I closed my eyes, looked for him everywhere I went. The idea that this demon might just walk up behind me in class one day and whisper in my ear his terrible secret haunted me. He was everywhere, and though I thought of him all the time, I was still not prepared when I saw him again.
It was about a year later, and in another dorm. This one was much nicer. It had an elevator, a private bathroom in the room, and a roommate who hated me. Randal was passive-aggressive and bitter. He was the bitchy variety of man that no matter how you try, you cannot trust or rely on. His life was about drama, and while I lived with him, so was mine.
He was studying in the room while I slept one night. It was late, too late and I fought to get sleep that had eluded me the night before. Dreams were beginning to sheer away the thick fog of repression that hid all my horrors. I found memories, half raw and charred, bubbling up from beneath the swamp in my mind. I saw shades of fists and teeth. I found myself dreaming of vans and sweaty images of my father, and I knew that beneath that slime-covered water was a truth I could not face.
Exhausted, I was slipping into a nightmare when he came. The nightmare was of a living room, a door I had to get through and a grown man in my way. Again and again, I was ordered to charge the door, and every time a fist or a knee repelled me. My seven-year-old body could not withstand the punishment, and every time I failed, I heard the same thing yelled at me.
“He is in there! He is in there with her, hurting her. Attack. You have to get to that door!”
But an evil man stood before it, and every time I strove to save my sister from the thing in the room beyond, I was met with a fist and a kick. I sobbed out in my sleep. Suddenly aware of the room I was in, aware of the thing walking up the hall. I pulled back from my nightmare, for a worse one was coming.
It reached the door and it knocked. I was looking through the peephole, though I had not moved from the bed. I saw its angular body, warped in the glass, its head massive and coated in hair, its body tall and emaciated, its arm impossible and tapping with a long finger at the door. It bent, craning its head to glare into the hole. Its hair dropped like a curtain to brush the floor and its terrible finger tapped again.
My roommate was up and moving to the door.
The terror I felt was too real, too hideous to comprehend. I moved as if through sludge as I fought to bring motion to my body as I fought to rise above the stupor of sleep. My roommate muttered to himself about odd hours and rude people. I crawled out of the bed, my hands thumping the floor as I slowly oozed from the covers. I struggled to speak, but in my state all that issued from me was a moan, a mournful cry that scuttled across the floor to all corners of the room.
Randal turned to me and stared. I looked up at him, weeping and shaking my head.
“Don’t let it in,” I begged with a voice that cracked in desperation and horror. He looked back at the door and then to me. He stepped back half way to the door and shook his head.
His mind fought to make sense of the thing before him, and he shuddered. He could feel this was not a thing to let in, not even a thing to look at.
“Can you feel it?” I asked.
He looked back at the door. He did sense it. The thing at the door was more terrible than anything he had ever felt before. “What is it?” he asked.
In that moment, I knew what it was. It was a creature of sex and domination. It was a beast or victim of rape, and it wanted to get to me. It desired me, and it would have me, no matter how I fought against it.
I screamed. I knew nothing but screams. I had devolved into a creature good for nothing else save stark terror and the embrace of insanity.
I don’t remember what happened next. But I do remember walking out to the front porch, fully dressed, where a group of deviants sat smoking and talking of the important things—girls, music, fantasy and video games. They were a constant there, a small gathering of people who were burning out of college. They had forsaken classes for socializing on the porch. They had walked away from it all so they could hang out with those who came and went. They were the embers of a fire that would die out. They sat there at three in the morning, talking of nothing and laughing. I needed not to be asleep. When I found them, they greeted me with shock.
“What the fuck happened to you?” Job said. I looked haunted, as if I was for the grave. I dropped down into the seat beside him, wishing I smoked so that I might be carried away in a haze of tobacco.
“He came back,” I said. “I knew he would find me again. He came back and he almost got me this time.” I was trembling and cold, though it was a balmy night, and when they looked at each other, their eyes glinted with interest.
“Tell us,” Anton said.
I drew in a deep breath and started at the beginning. I told them everything I have told you except the nuggets about secrets and rape. I told them of the fear, naked and crippling, and the obsession that the demon might come from anywhere at any time.
“Randal almost answered the door?” Job said.
I trembled with the reality of it. “He did. He heard it, too,” I sobbed.
“And there was no one there?”
“No one but the specter. No one but the demon,” I said.
From a darkened corner came a voice. She had been sitting in shadow unknown to me, a ghostly haze of a girl who knew of things she should not have and could see things that none other could. She was a witch, a traveler of dark paths and seeker of forbidden knowledge, and she spoke with a drag of her cigarette. When she pulled on the stick, the cherry lit her face in ghastly red and orange.
“You’re being hunted by a demon. It will catch you or lose interest in you. You can run from it or embrace it. It has secrets it wishes to share with you. It is fighting for your soul.” Another drag of her cigarette and she was moving. She leaned forward, half of her face shadowed by her long dark hair, the rest of her face lit by the moonlight. Her eye was black, her lips wicked.
“You have to name it. If you name it, you will have dominion over it. If you do not, it will run roughshod over your life and claim every inch of ground you hold dear. Name it and you can hold it back. There is power in names, much power to be had over the denizens of the dark if you know their name.”
And I did. I knew his name the moment she mentioned naming the thing at all it stood out to me, powerful and wrong, a demonic moniker that would haunt me from that day to this one, for the name, more than the creature, strikes fear in me. I knew what harried my steps.
“His name is Smilin’ Jack,” I said.
“Wicked,” Job said. He laughed, “That is a wicked name.”
Anton lit another cigarette. He looked up at the harvest moon and nodded. “Dark night,” he said.
He was right. Indeed this was a dark night, for I had seen my nightmare and named it.
“Smilin’ Jack,” she said. “I have never heard that name before. But I will look in my catalogue of demons and see if I can find him.”
I knew she wouldn’t find him. He was for me. No one else had ever seen him. Smilin’ Jack was my demon, and now he had a name.
Now he was real.