Mister Gallows [1/2]
If you see a sickly boy in a blue hoodie, please contact me immediately. It's a matter of life and death.
subscribe to be notified when episode 2 comes out
"I don't like him," Liam says, staring a hole into the ground. "Mister Gallows hurt my sister, and he tried to hurt me too."
The kid's young, younger than most subjects I've dealt with. He's witnessed an Event, and not just any Event, a serious one. It's something that could have massive implications. My bosses are calling it a situation, and they're telling me that I need to get his story, and I need to get it quickly because people's lives are on the line.
I'm an Interviewer for an organization known as the Facility. I specialize in working with juveniles who have crossed paths with the supernatural. Liam Hanesworth is one such kid. He's just shy of twelve years old, but he looks worn down. His eyes are framed with heavy bags, and his skin is tight to his cheekbones. He's also missing at least three of his teeth.
"How did he hurt your sister?" I ask. The room we're in is brightly lit, with cartoon animals nailed to the walls and faded imprints of Looney Tunes on the carpet. It's designed to calm kids down.
"He pulled out her teeth."
I write down his words on my clipboard. As I do, I record details about Liam. His expression. His tone of voice. It's all important in some way or another. All of it swims together to build a picture of whether what he's saying is true or false. Sometimes it's both, and the minutia helps determine where reality ends and the lies begin.
"Why did he do it?" I ask.
Liam shrugs, rubbing his arm. It's an expression of discomfort, of nervousness. He's not sure he should be talking so much. He's not sure it's safe to say. "You want to know why he pulled out her teeth?"
"That’s right." I already know Liam’s sister is dead. She’s been dead for several months, so it seems strange that he would fixate on the monster pulling out her teeth, as opposed to the murder. “Do you know why?”
He shakes his head. There's something there, though, in his eyes. There's something that says he isn't telling me the full story, so I press him. "Does he ever talk to you, Liam, this Mister Gallows?"
He nods. He still won't look at me, but that's okay. Kids are nervous at the best of times. After what he's been through, I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't look another person in the eye for years.
"What does he say when he speaks to you?"
Liam opens his mouth. His lips are pale, and they tremble. "He tells me I can't talk about him."
"It's okay," I say. "I'm one of the good guys." I pull out my badge, with the howling wolf inlaid in gold, and I show it to him. "See? I'm like a police officer, except for kids dealing with scary things. I can make that stuff go away."
It's a line I've used a hundred times before. I'm not sure it's ever worked.
"I'm not a kid," Liam says, folding his arms. "I'm almost twelve, and I don't think anybody can make him go away."
Liam's smart for his age. Top of his class. According to my preliminary research and the discussion I had with his father, he's never felt at home around other children. 'They bore him,' his father said.
"What if I can make Mister Gallows go away, though?" I lean back in my chair, and its legs creak under my weight. "Don't you think that's worth a shot?"
There's a moment of silence between us, and I let it stretch into eons. Time works differently for kids. It feels longer. More tiresome. Soon enough, it stretches on long enough that it wears on Liam too.
"I guess so," he says at length.
"Good," I reply, swallowing my smile of satisfaction. "I'm here to help, remember. It's my job."
He chews his lip for a second, and behind his mop of black hair, I catch sight of him glancing at me. "Okay," he says. "I just want him to leave me alone."
"Me too." I run my pencil down the sheet on my clipboard, pausing under the heading that reads ORIGIN APPARATUS. "When did all of this begin?"
"A year ago... pretty much. I was ten and a half."
"That's a long time for a young man. How often does he visit?"
"Lots. Almost every night."
Almost. I make specific note of that term. It's a throw-away line, but one potentially valuable. "The first time he visited you, what happened?"
"I was sleeping," Liam says. His hands are tugging at the strings of his hoodie, and he's staring at a smiling ostrich on the wall. "It was winter. I remember feeling really cold. I had all of my blankets on, but I was still shivering. I got up to turn on the heat, and I noticed my window was open."
I nod along with his words, my pencil scribbling across the form. The cold could have been a ghost or a spirit, but the open window is the more likely culprit. I try not to cast judgment quite yet. After all, my bosses seem to think this kid is the genuine article, and his mutilated mother does a good job supporting that.
Still, I didn't get this far by cutting corners. "Did you leave it open when you went to bed?" I ask.
"I don't think so."
I make a note on my clipboard. "Please continue."
"I walk over to close it," Liam says, and his voice starts to stutter and die. "... And I see something on the other side. Somebody's out there, watching me, far away by the fence."
"Is your bedroom on the ground level?"
"The house is just the one floor," he explains. "My bedroom faces the backyard, and I see a man out there, just past the garden. He's waving at me."
"Waving at you?"
"Yeah, just like this." Liam raises his hand and slowly moves it side to side. His expression is deadpan, and his lips are twitching. "It makes me uncomfortable, so I go to lock the window, and then the man shuffles forward a bit. I realize there's something weird about him. It's dark, so it's hard to see, but it looks like he's hunched over on all fours."
"Like a dog?"
"Yeah. As he shuffles forward, he calls out to me. He tells me to wait. 'Don't close the window,' he says. 'I have something for you. Then, I want something for me.' "
Something moves across Liam's face. Disgust, maybe? Self-loathing? It's quick, whatever it is.
"I listen to him," Liam continues. "I don't know why. I think it's because I realize he isn’t human, or maybe I'm in shock. All I know is closing the window feels pointless now. It feels like it's more likely to piss the thing off and make it want to come in even more."
I listen to Liam's words intently. His story is compelling enough, but his vocabulary is more impressive by far. It's no wonder the kid skipped a grade.
"Understandable," I tell him. "What happened next?"
Liam squirms in his seat. "As he gets closer to the window, he reaches out a long, skeletal hand. There's blood on his boney fingers, and now that he's only a few feet away, I notice he's wearing this burlap sack over his head, with a little hole cut out for his mouth. Except his mouth doesn't have any teeth. He tells me he's hungry. He says he really needs something to eat.
"I'm scared. I've never seen anything like this before, and I don't know what to do, so I tell him I need to ask my mom. I tell him we have some leftover turkey in the fridge, and that I'll be right back." Liam pauses, and it's like his world is falling around him. His eyes are bloodshot, and I wonder when he last blinked.
"The man grabs me by my arm, and it hurts. He tells me my mom doesn't need to know. He says he came to my window for a reason. He pulls me closer, and his grip really hurts, and when he whispers in my ear, it aches. It feels like it's cutting the inside of me. He says I'm special."
My eyes glance up to the camera in the corner of the room, and I raise an eyebrow. I know my supervisors are watching. "Special?" I repeat. "Why?"
Liam shakes his head. He's back to tugging at the strings of his hoodie. "I don't know. He asks me again if he can come in, and I tell him I have to ask my mom, but at this point, I'm not planning to ask her anything. I'm just going to tell her there's a psycho out there, and we need to call dad and the police and wake the neighborhood up.
"He tells me if I don't invite him inside, though, he's going to add my blood to his hands. Then he runs a finger across my cheek, and it's cold, searing cold. He asks me if he can come inside again. He says he's hungry, and he just wants a bite to eat, and then he'll leave. 'Promise,' he says."
Liam takes a shuddering breath. His eyes are closed. The smiling animals aren't working anymore-- if they ever did. He's alone with his thoughts now. They're tearing at him, picking away at his mental state, and in his expression, I see the grimaces of grief and regret.
"You aren't to blame for this," I remind him. "What happened was going to happen whether you were there or not."
When he opens his eyes, they're soaked with tears. "No, it wasn't!" he snaps. "It happened because I let him in. It happened because I told him he could get something to eat."
I open my mouth and realize there's nothing to say. There are no words that will take away this boy's pain, so instead, I look back to my clipboard. I busy myself writing down the details of the man's request and the boy's reaction. When I'm finished, I have to ask him to continue. I hate myself for it. I always do.
"I tell him he can come inside, but he needs to be quick. I tell him not to steal anything, either." He shakes his head. There's doubt in his eyes; disbelief. "I thought he was telling the truth. I didn't think…" His words are lost in sobs. “I thought he would leave.”
"It's fine," I say in a soothing voice. I reach out a hand to touch his knee, to comfort him, but he winces, so I pull my hand back. "You're safe now."
"She's not," he says. "She's not, and she'll never be safe again!”
I take a breath. It's hard, these interviews. They always are. Children are supposed to be the pieces of the world that are pure and untouched by the horror that humanity perpetuates. They're meant to be idyllic. Fantastical.
Too often, they're not. "I'm sorry to interrupt," I say. "Go on."
Liam's sobs taper off into a frown and then a snarl. Rage replaces despair. "That's when he told me his name: Mister Gallows. He tipped his top hat to me, and said 'Nice to meet ya,' and then he crawled up through the window."
Liam reaches up a hand, wiping away the evidence of tears. "It was gross looking. His bones were snapping and twisting as he hunched over, lurching through the opening. The window’s not that big. Maybe large enough for me to fit through, or another twelve-year-old, but not a full-grown man, and Mister Gallows was much bigger than anybody I'd ever seen."
"Mister Gallows," I mutter, staring at the name on the sheet. It's not an entity I'm familiar with. My preliminary research didn't come up with any leads either. Whoever this legend was in life, he certainly didn't make much of a name for himself. Once more, I raise an eyebrow to the cameras and my supervisors watching from the other room. I wonder why this Event is so important to them.
"How tall was he?" I ask.
"Tall enough that even on all fours, his back scraped along the ceiling. He had to crane his neck down to look at me, and I could just barely see his eyes through the burlap sack he wore over his face. He asked me to show him to the kitchen.
"So I did. I walked him to the fridge and opened it, and when the light came on, I saw Mister Gallows was wearing this old, raggedy suit that looked like something from the 1800s, covered in dust and moth holes. My hands shook as I pulled out the leftover turkey, but Gallow’s didn’t notice. He was too busy humming. It sounded like an old song, a really old one. I don't remember the tune.” Liam pauses before adding, “I'm sorry."
"That’s fine,” I say, jotting it down onto the clipboard. “These are interesting details.” The intense cold, antique apparel, and out of date song certainly lead me to believe we're dealing with a ghost. "Is the food to his liking?"
Liam shrugs. He looks uncomfortable again. He's shaking. Shivering. There's something about him that's different, like he's having some kind of reaction. "Are you feeling alright?" I ask.
He nods furiously. "Yes, I feel fine. I um-- I give him the plate of turkey, and the man asks me how he's supposed to eat it. I tell him I don’t know, can’t you just swallow it? He snarls, clacking over the kitchen tile and putting his face right next to mine. He tells me there's more room for blood on his fingers, lots more.
"I'm whimpering, and I tell him I don't know what he wants. He tells me he wants some teeth so he can eat. He opens his mouth and shows me his empty gums, swishing his tongue around some. Then he reaches up a hand and forces my mouth open. 'You've got a nice set,' he says.
"I’m starting to panic. My legs feel wobbly, and my head is spinning. I think maybe if I change the subject, I can bide my time long enough for my mom to wake up, and then she’ll see what’s going on and call the cops or dad. I don't want to scream, though, or be too obvious, because I think this guy-- this creature doesn't have any qualms about murder. So I keep my mouth shut, mostly. I stick to safe topics."
"Like what?" I ask.
"Like what he had for me."
Ah, yes. ‘I have something for you. Then, I want something for me.’ They were among the first words Mister Gallows spoke to the boy; a bargain, one innocent enough.
Of course, to entities like Gallows, such deals are usually deceptions or a means to an end. They allow the creature to broker for horrors too terrible to put into words.
“What did he have for you, Liam?”
Tears slip down the boy's gaunt face. He raises a sweater sleeve, wiping them away before sniffling. “He had a message.” Liam’s nose is running, and he looks sickly. Unwell. “He said it was from somebody he never wanted to meet.”