The Midnight Paper (Episode 3/8)
The New Girl
Episode 4 will be sent to paid subscribers on 10/21/20
After the second paper arrived on Wednesday, I decided to keep a close watch on it. I tried taking more pictures, but it seems that trying to take that first one ruined my cellphone camera. I’m looking into getting it fixed.
I set the second Midnight Paper down on a worktable and stared, watching it for any slight change. Hours passed. My eyes grew heavy. Exhaustion seemed to settle into every cell of my body, heavy as lead.
It was 5 AM on Thursday morning when I first started to see it. There were wisps of black smoke rising from the black pages. I leaned closer, covering my nose and mouth with a face mask to avoid inhaling the smoke.
It seemed like the black paper itself was burning up. But there was no fire. The pages were just beginning to curl up and float away, disintegrating into fine smoke before my very eyes.
My phone rang. It was work. I ignored it. I had to keep looking.
By noon, the cover page was gone. The pages beneath it were already curling up too.
By 10 PM, there was only one page left.
By midnight on Thursday, it was gone.
One day. The paper had stuck around for 24 hours, then disintegrated. Suddenly, I was very glad to have taken that picture, broken cellphone camera be damned.
I went off to sleep and dreamt of black smoke and white ink.
Friday. Another paper was coming at midnight. I wasn’t ready for another one. I was exhausted, scared, but also oddly excited. This was weird. Weird in a way unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was like there was a secret, invisible world that had existed beyond my mundane life. And now that I had stumbled upon it, I didn’t want to go back.
I didn’t get reprimanded at work, but there was some tension when I logged on on Friday. Whatever. They wouldn’t understand. I’d like to see how they’d react if they got a Midnight Paper on their doorstep.
11:50 PM. I sat on my front porch. The front door shut behind me, the welcome mat a few feet in front of me.
I’d swapped out the bulb above me for a new one, just in case.
At 11:55 PM, the hairs on my neck stood up. There seemed to be strange electricity in the air. There was a chill, too. One that felt like it went deeper than my skin like it was wrapping around my bones.
At 11:58 PM, a metallic taste filled my mouth, like sucking on a penny.
At 11:59 PM, my eyes began to sting and water, as if I was standing in front of a bonfire.
Then it happened. The light bulb didn’t flicker, it just shut off abruptly. I was ready. My phone was in my hand. With a few taps, I brought up the flashlight. A patch of darkness, even deeper than the one around me, appeared over the welcome mat.
I brought the flashlight over it, and could just about see the black bundle…then my phone went from being cold to the touch to searing hot in the blink of an eye. I dropped it, hearing glass shatter. The odd thing was, I heard it before it hit the ground.
The air around me seemed to disappear. I wasn’t breathing oxygen anymore. I wasn’t breathing anything. My eyes bulged. My throat spasmed in protest.
Then the light popped back on, and it was done. The air around me was the same as it had been just moments before. I coughed, my lungs screaming for oxygen. I swallowed it in gulps, lightheaded, the dark tentacles of a migraine already wrapping themselves around my brain like a vise.
I pushed through it. I needed to see if the paper was there. I needed to know if my interference had caused it to be taken away.
I sighed. It was there. The same black bundle tied wit the same black twine.
I brought it into my dad’s study, used the knife to cut the twine, and unfurled the rolled-up papers.
Again it was one article, but it was longer this time. This is what was printed on the black pages:
“THE NEW KID:” JAILED TEACHER TELLS BIZARRE TALE
Former English teacher Mark Bailey, found guilty of murder last winter, sat in the visitation room of a maximum-security prison. He looked gaunt, pale…haunted. He was a far cry from the young, athletic man that was a constant presence on millions of television and phone screens across the nation.
Bailey seemed to have it all. He had taught at Roslyn High School for almost a decade. He was well-liked, with many students citing him as the reason they discovered a passion for literature. He was the coach of not only Roslyn High's girl’s volleyball team but also the town’s little league team. He was married to his High School sweetheart, Holly Bailey, a kindergarten teacher.
On the outside, his life was not just innocuous, but downright inspirational: it’s a well-known fact that, instead of traveling to Europe or Hawaii for their honeymoon, he and Holly opted to join the peace corps to volunteer in Africa.
So where did it all go wrong? What transformed the Mark Bailey from five years ago, a well-loved coach and volunteer, into the Mark Bailey who must now be separated from the prison’s general population for his own safety?
The answer has a name: Stephanie Carson. Carson was a senior who attended Herricks High School. She was popular, smart, the star player of the girl’s volleyball team, and already accepted into several Ivy League schools. Stephanie’s promising life was cut short when, after a few weeks of stalking so severe she placed a restraining order on him, Bailey broke into the Carson family home and attacked her with a knife.
Bailey’s trial was a lighting-fast affair, the evidence stacked against him so completely it left no room for interpretation. Yet, there were many online who rallied to defend him, citing his strange, disjointed testimony as evidence for mental illness.
“You don’t understand,” said Bailey in court, “she’s not what you think. You’ll see. Just wait for the new school year to start. If I had more time, maybe I would’ve put an end to it.” After being reminded that Stephanie is now deceased, Bailey exploded into a series of bizarre statements and accusations, many directed at Stephanie’s parents.
After several months of being blocked by Bailey’s court-appointed psychologist, we were able to secure an interview with him. Sitting behind the glass in a beige jumpsuit that seemed to be several sizes too big, Bailey spoke into the phone mounted next to the window, his voice a distorted whisper.
Almost immediately, as if knowing what we were there to ask about, he launched into his story.
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“Her name was Monica first. Monica Campbell. So that’s how I think of her. She was the new kid that year. She moved here from California, or so she said. She was instantly popular. Pretty, from a family with a lot of money. She was at the top of every class, straight A’s, 4.0 GPA. She came to the first volleyball practice and everyone could see she would become the best player on the team. She was in my English class too, and she seemed to know more than I did, could quote Yeats on the spot. Oscar Wilde was her favorite though. She got into Yale. Stanford too. Went for Yale for Chemistry. Bright kid. She was even homecoming queen.
There was something about her. Like a spark. Monica was almost too bright. Strangely intelligent. She seemed to be able to learn things right away, and remember every little detail later. My car broke down once, right in school. There must’ve been a dozen teachers trying to help out. Harrison, the science teacher, was fiddling with the motor when Monica walked right up. She looked down at the engine, rolled up her sleeves like a fucking mechanic, and started working on it. She fixed it. The car started right away.
She apparently spoke Japanese, German, French, Spanish. We could only verify the Spanish and the French, but she spoke them fluently.
A few teachers cried when she left, saying they’d miss hearing her laugh in the halls. She made a big impression. Obviously.
I don’t know about her parents. I think her mom came to school once or twice. Dressed like she was attending the Oscars or something. But we didn’t see her after that, or the father, not even at the graduation. Monica was valedictorian.
It was the year after that that things got weird. The first semester had just started when there was a new kid in school again. Her name was Natalie Creed. She moved here from California. She was instantly popular. Pretty, from a family with a lot of money. She was at the top of every class, straight A’s, 4.0 GPA. She came to the first volleyball practice and everyone could see she would become the best player on the team. She was in my English class too, and she knew more than I did, could quote Shakespeare on the spot. Emily Dickinson was her favorite…and she looked just like Monica. Everyone asked her if she was related to her. She said no. But there were rumors. Maybe she was a cousin or a lost sibling.
Her parents didn’t come to school either. She was valedictorian, the homecoming queen too. She got into Harvard and NYU, went to Harvard for Chemistry.
It was weird, everyone said so, but they seemed to forget right away. I was the only one who kept saying how strange it was. That made them look at me like I was crazy, or worse. So I let it slide.
The year after that, we were at a volleyball game at a different school…and there she was again. Her name wasn’t Monica or Natalie anymore, it was Jennifer Cook. She was the best player on that team. Better by far than anyone on ours.
I knew something was wrong, but even asking about her made people look at me like I was sick. There are enough stories about teachers becoming obsessed with one of their students for all the wrong reasons. But it wasn’t like that with me. She looked the same, she acted the same, she always went off the study Chemistry.
So…I followed her home. And the house was one of the biggest in town and we’re in Long Island. It wasn’t Monica’s house, but damn well could have been. Then I saw her, the mom. Monica’s mom.
I knew something was wrong, but when I told my wife, she told me that I was losing it. That I couldn't follow anyone home, let alone a High School student. I was a teacher, for God’s sake.
The year ended. When the new year started up, I went looking for her. I went to every school in the area…and I found her. Her name was now Stephanie Carson. She looked the same as Jennifer Cook, the same as Natalie Creed, the same as Monica Campbell. It wasn’t just her looks, she sounded like her, moved like her, played volleyball like her.
I followed her home again. It was a different house, but the same tax bracket. I waited until nightfall then snuck in. A window was wide open. There weren’t any family photos on the walls, just art. The house was fully furnished, not a fake house or anything…they must have been moving for real.
Nobody was home yet, so I looked everywhere. I had to find an explanation. The door down to the basement was open…and that’s where I found it. It was like a fucking lab. There were machines I couldn’t even recognize, a freezer the size of the wall with frozen petri dishes and test tubes inside. There were also weird books. Astronomy, occultism, demonology.
Then she snuck up on me. Quiet. She must’ve hit me with something because I blacked out. I woke up in the hospital handcuffed to a gurney. The police were there, my wife wasn’t. They said that Monica…Stephanie, was putting a restraining order on me. That I had been following her for weeks. They didn’t seem to know I had broken in. Maybe she didn’t want them to.
My wife wasn’t home when I got back. She didn’t answer my calls either. A few weeks later, I went back to the house, around 4:00 am. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew she would be asleep. Maybe I could get her to talk somehow…I wasn’t really thinking straight.
I broke in again. Through the same window. I went down to the basement…and it was empty. Totally empty. Just bare concrete and drag marks where things had been taken out.
I was furious. She was hiding things to make me look worse. I could almost imagine her having those things taken out with a condescending smile on her face.
I went up the stairs. I thought her room had to be one of the smaller ones, but when I opened it it was all wrong. There were two sets of clothes in the closet. The bathroom was set up for two people. It was the parents’ room. I checked the other small room, but it was completely empty. There was nothing on the walls, nothing on the carpeted floor, nothing in the closet.
Only the master bedroom was left. But why would they give the master bedroom to their daughter? I opened the door. She was sitting up in bed. Waiting for me. With a smile on her face.
I asked her who she really was. I told her I knew she had been in my class, in my volleyball team, in my school. She just said one thing, and it was enough to me lose control: ‘that wasn’t me.’
I pulled her off the bed, dragged her down the stairs. I was going to show her the basement, you see? But it went wrong. She was faster than me. Stronger than me too. She forced my fingers apart and rushed for the kitchen. Then she just waited by the knives. Like she was inviting me to use one.
So I pulled one out. She smiled again. So I stabbed her. Then again. Then again. She was still smiling when the police showed up. Later, they said that she had called them. That she had gotten away for a few moments and called them from the bathroom. But that was a lie. She must’ve called them before I went up to her room.
Her parents were at the trial. And that’s when I knew. They didn’t look sad. Just annoyed. Like I had broken one of their toys. It was the parents, you see? They’re behind this. I should’ve waited for them. I should’ve killed them instead.”
Bailey became frantic when the interview was coming to a close, like a castaway watching a ship fade into the distance.
“Look! It’s up to you! Go to every High School in Long Island. You’ve got to find her! She’ll be there. She’s blonde. Blue eyes. She must be about to graduate again. Follow her home. Get to the parents. Get them talking! You’ve gotta find out why!”
Bailey was found in his cell a few days later. He’d chewed through both of his wrists. The damage was so severe that he bled out before he got to the infirmary. Nobody involved with this publication fulfilled his last request, and we urge our readers to ignore it as well.
I read through the paper a couple of times. Long Island. Not too far from where I live. But I’d never heard of this case. A murder like that, a trial like that, involving a teacher and a student…I’d have heard of it.
By the time I was done reading, it was almost 2 AM. I collapsed into bed and fell asleep, my mind still filled with the black pages…and with that shadow that had left them on my doorstep.
I spent most of Saturday in front of my computer, typing different variations of “Mark Bailey” and the names he had given in the article. Nothing. I was only met with seemingly thousands of Facebook profiles. No articles. No headlines. No memorial pages.
Yesterday, I turned my attention toward the first two articles. I scoured the internet, finding only medical ads and urban legend “games.” No mention of The Ledge Game. No mention of the Removal Doctor.
I decided to go for a walk. It was late, almost midnight, actually. But I didn’t have to worry about that. The next paper was due Wednesday night.
I walked toward the “nice” part of town, where there always seemed to be new businesses and new buildings going up. The cold air felt nice on my forehead, where the seeds of another migraine were already growing.
Then I saw it. It was something so striking, so unmistakable, that it drove the pain out of my head in an instant of blinding shock.
I was looking at one of the new apartment buildings that had gone up last year. It was already well populated. I could see the checkerboard pattern of lit-up windows and dark rooms. Nothing out of the ordinary…until you looked at the rooftop.
There was a tiny silhouette standing there, at the edge of the rooftop…on the ledge. I rushed toward the building. I was maybe one block away. I wasn’t thinking about the distance, about the difference in height, about the fact that my voice wouldn’t be able to carry all the way up there. I was only thinking about that silhouette…about how it was almost exactly what I had pictured when I read my first Midnight Paper.
The building’s lobby was dark. The front desk appeared to be empty. The glass double doors were immovable. There was an e-card reader on the wall next to them. I couldn’t get in.
I backed up, standing in the middle of the street. I craned my neck, and there it was. The little shadow in the shape of a person standing on the ledge, quivering and shaking under the pressure of high-velocity wind…they were standing on one leg…the other was dangling over the ledge.
I started to shout, but the sound died in my throat. Because the person was already a blur. I closed my eyes, but I felt it anyway. Felt it more than heard it. It wasn’t just a bang. It wasn't just a crack. It was something you feel in your bones, something that stabs you in the stomach and scoops all the feeling out of your legs.
When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the body. I just watched the red rivulets snake their way into the gutter. The Ledge Game. It was real. It was real now.
Episode 4 will be published 10/21/20
Written by u/MidnightPaper