I opened my eyes and immediately regretted that I had. The routine had always been, leave school, get on the bus, take a nap, get home, and jerk the fuck off. A typical course of action for a multitude of teens, I’m sure, as they head home from school.
This all changed when Joshua moved into town a month ago.
The noise on the bus had become unbearable. My eyes forced open. Sleep was now an impossibility and without thinking too hard, I immediately knew the source.
I looked to my right and, after slapping him on the back of the head, David had Joshua’s hat in his hands.
“Confrontation engage!” Joshua said in his mechanical voice as he stood up onto his gargantuan legs. He made a flimsy attempt to retrieve his hat. Before he could grasp onto the object, it flung out of David’s hands and into Mathew’s grasp.
“Hey, you fucking retard! Over here.”
I winced from the insult and looked to the front of the bus with bleary eyes, and of course, the bus driver was doing nothing to intervene. His indifference was alarming, reprehensible to be honest. Like everyone else on this bus (myself included sadly), he was allowing the bullying to continue unabated. Butterflies rose in my stomach. I kept saying to myself, “this is the day, c’mon just fucking do it.” However, I just sat there and didn’t do a goddamn thing.
I had found a sweet spot in the social hierarchy of Andrew Jackson High School. Mathew, David, and their cronies were perched at the top. My poor friend Joshua was firmly smothered at the bottom. I had miraculously worked my way to somewhere on the periphery, neither target or player in the neverending jockeying of high school politics. By publicly throwing my allegiance to Joshua, I would upset the order of things. I had chosen, cowardly I will admit, to provide moral support after and not during frays such as these.
Mercifully, the bus reached our stop. Joshua cried out, “exit of vehicle engage!” leaving his hat behind without a care in the world.
As the yellow bus pulled out of sight, I began to comfort Joshua, going as far as to put my arm around him.
We continued to walk in silence. I regarded his enormous figure, really looked at him and sincerely asked, “why don’t you just fight back?”
Never once looking in my eyes, always looking over his shoulder, he said tonelessly, “conversation engage!” I cringed. Before he could answer, I interrupted him.
“Listen Joshua, it’s because you say weird shit like that that people pick on you. If you just…” I stopped talking. Joshua wasn’t hearing a word I was saying. He was staring at the space over his right shoulder. I grew frustrated. In that brief moment, I viewed him as complicit in his own abuse. “And that’s another thing. Dude, you’ve got to be like 17 years old. How the fuck do you still have an imaginary friend?”
This was the real source of Joshua’s bullying. For the past two weeks, he would spend the entire day talking to a man that wasn’t there, even interrupting class to hold conversations with him.
He was already a bruised and battered pariah before, and this only made things worse. However, he just seemed too oblivious and innocent to care. I mused that he must have some sort of undiagnosed mental disability. My anger subsided. My irritation with Joshua gave way to genuine pity. I stopped walking and looked at him with genuine sorrow in my heart. He stared over his shoulders, now regarding a street sign.
My tone deftly shifted to one of sympathy, now willing to meet Joshua halfway in his weirdness.
“Joshua, what’s so interesting about that sign?”
“It says no standing,” he said in his indelibly monotonous voice.
“So, yeah it means you can’t park your car here.”
“No, it’s for him,” pointing to the space next to him. “The man with horns. He doesn’t stand. He floats.”
Normally I would chalk that up to the usual odd nonsense that escapes Joshua’s lips, but something about that statement really got to me. It was said in such a creepy way and so sincerely that a chill overcame me in spite of the warm, spring air.
Wanting to change the subject, I asked him again, “Joshua, you’re a really big guy. Why don’t you stand up for yourself?” (Which begged the question in my mind, why the fuck don’t you do anything?).
Never once looking me in the eye, always staring next to him, he replied, “Don’t worry. No one helps me, but he came to me. He says I have potential. The plan. His plan.”
The conversation with Joshua had unnerved me greatly. One thought consumed me as I lay in bed. It was Joshua’s voice played over and over again in my head. I was rattled to my core.
“The man with horns. He doesn’t stand. He floats.”
“The plan. His plan.”
I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night without assistance. So, I stole one of my mother’s Ambien and had taken it while praying that slumber would eradicate the fear bubbling up inside.
As I lay in bed waiting with open arms for sleep to find me, my phone continued to buzz on my nightstand. I finally picked it up hoping to keep my mind off of Joshua and his… “friend.” My heart sank as his name stared back at me from my phone. I immediately regretted giving him my number on our walk that afternoon. It was done with good intentions and legitimate care, but I should have figured that, with his lack of social graces, he would blow up my phone. I read the first text.
I actually smiled. His idiosyncrasies tickling me as the Ambien finally began to take effect. However, what little joy I felt perished as I continued to read his texts.
He likes you, you know, potensheol ha.
Horns and glory. Horns. Hel. Eternal.
Him. Its always him. Forver.
He wants to see you. The plan you see. We’re steps. Just. His plan.
Say hi tonight. The plan. Tell him I said Hi.
Nothing in the world could prepare me for this. The Ambien completely overtook me as I fought to stay awake beyond terrified of what dreams may come.
I awoke with a start. Drawing my vision, the light of my alarm clock cut through the darkness.
It took a moment for me to realize that this wasn’t the only source of light in my room.
A faint, green glow was emanating from my closet. I blinked twice. I was convinced that I was in some sort of intense, Ambien induced, lucid dream. I noticed that the room was no longer filled with silence but a faint whirring sound filled the still air. I made my way towards the closet door one step at a time.
The sound of my footsteps on the hardwood floor of the bedroom rose above that ethereal noise. As I approached the light, it grew brighter. Eventually, the sound began to drown out my footsteps as well.
I reached for the knob of my closet door. As my arm extended, another high pitch tone entered the air, it resembled… laughter.
Drawing a deep breath and closing my eyes, I pulled the door ajar.
My eyes shot open. The light had disappeared.
I felt something behind me. With panic consuming me, I turned my head one millimeter at a time.
Two green eyes were floating over my right shoulder.
I backed away and fell onto my bed. I looked up and saw two incandescent green circles floating above the space to my right. I gasped in horror as they illuminated a pair of horns. The light grew brighter, revealing a sickening smile lined with fangs. Evil thoughts filled my brain and consumed me. I closed my eyes and prayed for relief…
I opened my eyes, and I was sitting on the bus.
The entire day had gone by in a haze.
“This fat fuck isn’t going to do shit!” David shouted as he grabbed a handful of Joshua’s ample bosom. Mathew gleefully grabbed his left breast and twisted it ferociously. I could only fathom the pain Joshua was in at the moment.
As fucked up as it is, I almost welcomed the familiarity of this abuse. He had scared me so bad the previous night that it was going to take some time for me to forgive him for the terrifying dream he had injected into my mind. I felt that my revenge would be turning a blind eye on that bus ride. Though this was a complete rationalization of my cowardice, I felt content in not doing anything at least for that day.
We got off the bus and began to walk. He finally broke the silence.
“Conversation engage,” he said with his characteristically flat affect. “He likes you you know. His plan.”
I shuddered. “You said that last night, and I’m going to be honest. You scared the fuck out of me. I am trying to be your friend, and that really fucked me up. Gave me crazy dreams. You need to knock that shit off.”
“He’s going to mark you, isn’t that right Mr. H.C.T.O?”
“This is the sort of shit I’m talking about…” I wanted to lay into him, but again I saw how truly pathetic this kid was. Pity filled me once more, and I backed off. No matter how bizarre this kid is, he still doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him. The constant barrage of violence was turning this strange kid even weirder. I felt guilty for my anger and ambivalence toward this clearly troubled person.
“It’s okay Joshua. Let’s just talk about something else.”
We ended up talking about video games. It was of little surprise that he was really into JRPGs (as was I but I kept this little nugget of information to myself). It turns out he had a copy of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment which I had been waiting to play with bated breath. He said I could come over and borrow it.
We entered his home, and I was immediately put off. His house had a strange, stifling energy. It looked derelict and empty. Darkness enshrouded his living room and kitchen. I remarked in my mind that his parents or any sign of a parental figure were nowhere to be seen. If they were present or involved in his life, they would maybe do something about the relentless bullying their son was subject to. My thoughts scattered as Joshua pointed to the second story and led the way. I ascended the stairs further into the darkness.
We entered his bedroom. It was drab, stark, and empty like the rest of the house. He reached for the lamp on the nightstand and turned it on.
I gasped. Four large letters had been crudely scratched into the wall.
Joshua saw me staring at them, looked over his right shoulder, and began to speak.
“I can tell him right? Mr. H.C.T.O. That’s his name. He scratched it there when he marked me. Plans Tomorrow. Potential.”
I looked at the wall, staring intently at Joshua’s large silhouette. Next to his shadow, I saw it. A pair of horns appeared on the wall floating over Joshua’s shoulder. Fear seized me.
I blinked, and they were gone. It didn’t matter. I left that house as fast as my feet could carry me and ran two doors down to the relative safety of my home.
As I entered my living room, I took a deep breath. I gave myself a pep talk. Listen, you need to calm down. Yes, he’s weird and the fucked up shit he’s said has gotten into your head, but he needs a friend now.
The fear began to dissipate. I texted Joshua apologizing for before. I told him I felt really sick and that’s why I left like I did. I texted him asking, we’re still friends, right?
Me, you, and Mr. H.C.T.O. are friends forver. See you tomorrow. Big plans. Tomorrow. Potensheol.
Though I was somewhat relieved, I still slept on my couch that night, terrified of what might be waiting for me in my bedroom and too timid to even check.
This time on the bus sleep was beyond impossible. In fact, even pretending to be asleep wasn’t going to cut it. The bullying had reached a fever pitch. Mathew had Joshua in a choke hold while David pummeled his stomach. The stress of the last few days had gotten to me and without fully contemplating the ramifications, I shouted at the top of my lungs.
Mathew and David looked at me with incredulous eyes. All of the ire they were directing at Joshua turned to me with a laser-like focus.
“What the fuck did you just say?” Mathew growled while glaring at me. David began to approach me. His hands were drawn to his sides in fists. He towered over me. All of the fear from the past few days was replaced with a new, more imminent terror.
“Did you just fucking tell us to stop?”
“Well… um…” I was a few blocks away from home. I was hoping that, if I could filibuster long enough, I would be able to leave the bus unscathed. Suddenly, a voice called out.
“Insult engage! Mr. H.C.T.O. wants to know, David, what does Mathew’s dick taste like?”
I couldn’t believe my fucking ears. Everyone on the bus gasped. Mathew and David turned to Joshua. They had an unparalleled look of rage on their faces. All of the fear I had felt for myself quickly transferred to Joshua.
The timing of Joshua’s insult couldn’t have been more perfect. The bus came to a stop. Joshua, got off the bus and ran. My heart sank as Mathew and David followed suit.
I called out to them, “he’s fucked up man. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” They clearly didn’t give a fuck and continued their chase. As I ran after them, I marveled at how fast Joshua’s enormous feet could carry him.
Joshua entered his home. Mathew and David followed soon after. My heart was racing. What the fuck do I do? I had only moments to decide.
I ran home and grabbed the baseball bat. As I ran over to his house, I called the police. Holding the bat above my head, I entered Joshua’s home.
It was just as dark as the previous day. But the most unsettling detail of all that afternoon was the silence that greeted me. I expected to hear shouting, but silence filled the still air of the empty abode.
I surveyed the first floor and found nothing. As I began to ascend the stairs, the creaking of my footsteps almost gave me pause, but I was determined. With bat in hand, I was going to make up for my inaction, all of the bullying I had let occur without intervening.
I rounded the corner to Joshua’s room and could see a light. I closed my eyes and steeled myself for what was to come next.
Nothing in the world could prepare me for the horror I would see when they opened. I dropped the bat and fell to my knees.
Mathew lay on the floor. Stab wounds riddled his body. I looked next to him to see the form of David. He had been stabbed so many times in the neck his head lay a few inches from the rest of his body. I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt my vision began to fade. That’s when I saw Joshua’s hulking figure standing over the bodies. He was literally bathing in their blood. His eyes had taken on a green, ethereal glow. He began to speak.
“The plan. The plan.”
Before I passed out, I looked at the wall and noticed a strange detail. The letters embossed on it the previous day were no longer there.
To say I was dreading this visit, would be a gross understatement, but I still felt horrible for Joshua, and I knew I would be the only person coming to see him. I entered the jail.
I was a wreck. So much regret encumbered me. I kept playing all of the scenarios in my mind. If I had stood up for him earlier, if someone else would have stepped in, it wouldn’t have come to this, Joshua facing life in prison at worst or committal to a psychiatric hospital at best. At first, there was a sliver of hope for self-defense, but that was dashed as soon as the sickening and brutal details of the murders came to light.
Looking at the glass through misty eyes, I could see Joshua enter the area. He sat down and slowly picked up the phone all while looking downward. I began to talk to him.
“Hey Joshua,” I said weakly.
He continued to look down.
“Conversation engage!” A tear streamed down my face as he said that.
With a manic energy, he began to speak. “He’s done with me you see. After Bill, he’s free from hell. Anyone he wants. Done with me. But you’re next. He’ll mark you, you’ll see. You have… potential.” His head turned upward and instead of glancing over his shoulder as he always did, he was staring at the space to my right with an unwavering gaze.
”The plan. His plan.”
The second he said “plan” my mind went back to the grotesque scene in Joshua’s bedroom. I could see David’s dead eyes staring back at me. I could envision Joshua picking up handfuls of their blood and rubbing it on his body.
Worst of all, I could see the green, demonic glow of his eyes in that moment.
Panic filled me. I couldn’t bear to be there anymore. I swiftly left the visiting area of the jail. As I was leaving, a man approached me. He had a look of terror and concern written on his face. He attempted to speak to me, but I blew him off and ran towards my father’s car.
When I finally got home, I looked long and hard into my bathroom mirror. I splashed water on my face as my thoughts continued to race. My phone began to ring. I looked at it to see an unfamiliar number. I answered and let the rage that had been building in my gut spill forth from my mouth.
“What the fuck do you want!?!” I shouted.
“Listen, my name is Dr. Williams. We need to…” Before he could finish, I had already dropped my phone. A scratching noise filled the air. As I stared into my bathroom mirror, I saw the letter O appear on the wall, written by some unseen force.
Read more terrifying short horror stories by checking out “The Last Stair Into Darkness” from Thought Catalog Books here.
A person’s first visit to a Waffle House can be very frightening, what with the cold tile floors, the cheap, aspirin-colored lighting, and the dark film of grease that forms on your face within a minute of your arrival.
With over 1,700 locations clustered mainly in the American South, Waffle House is the poor suffering redheaded bastard stepchild of American restaurant chains. Their ugly yellow illuminated signs stick high into the air and scar many an otherwise beautiful Southern mountain landscape.
As much as I may strain to appreciate Waffle House ironically, I’ve always found them to be depressing little boxes of grease and cement. I ingested my first questionably nourishing Waffle House meal about 20 years ago near a Motel 6 in Tucson, and I think I may have been just high and munched-out enough to enjoy the place’s grim design style and punitively oleaginous cuisine without vomiting. I also remember having to eat at a Waffle House in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter in the middle of Missouri because there were no other restaurants around—an experience that was roughly as joyful as it sounds. But it was the time I got sick after eating at a Waffle House in northern Florida where the whole place smelled like a urinal cake that made me forever swear off their food.
Granted, your experiences may be different. My point is not to cast aspersions at what I’m sure are literally, at the very least, dozens of fully functional, delicious, and clean Waffle Houses throughout this great and noble land. Though Waffle House’s detractors are legion, so are its supporters, which is why #WaffleHouse always seems to be trending on Twitter, especially in the middle of the night when people are drunk and all the other restaurants are closed. But before you make the possibly life-altering decision to go and have a meal at Waffle House, I believe it is my duty as a reporter to inform you of what could happen.
1. You Could Be Shot
Luckily for the victims, there have been nonfatal shootings reported at Waffle Houses in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. Although, admittedly, the odds are that if you’re shot at a Waffle House anywhere in the country you won’t technically be shot to death, patrons at Waffle Houses in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina have suffered precisely that grim fate. The point is that although you likely won’t get shot at Waffle House, you may be, so it may also be advisable to wear protective gear or at least learn how to duck quickly.
2. You Could Be Stabbed
Again, for the sake of fairness I must reiterate that chances are you won’t be shot at Waffle House. Neither is it a sure thing that you will be stabbed there, either, but it has happened far too many times to give a completely sane person any sense of total comfort while dining there. People have been stabbed at Waffle Houses in Alabama, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. I’m not suggesting it’s going to happen to you while you’re eating your sliced, diced, ‘n’ chunked home fries, only that it’s happened in the past—that’s all. I don’t wish to alarm you or anything.
3. You Could Be Assaulted By A Famous Douchebag Musician From Michigan
In 1998, members of Caucasian hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse were arrested and charged with assault after a dust-up at an Indiana Waffle House. They pled guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, but whether it’s being assaulted by Insane Clown Posse or merely having to eat while they’re running around conducting themselves in a disorderly manner near you, is the cholesterol-drenched waffle and the baseball-sized dollop of pure butter melting atop it really worth the trouble? In 2007, fellow Michigan douchebag musician Kid Rock, who looks in his mug shot there as if he is entirely composed of ball sweat, was arrested in connection with a late-night brawl at a Waffle House near Atlanta:
This isn’t to suggest that every famous douchebag musician from Michigan will assault you if you happen to be eating at the same Waffle House as them—only that it seems statistically likelier that it may occur.
3. You Could Be Poisoned
There have been reports of chemical leaks at Waffle Houses and of county Health Departments closing down franchises due to unsanitary conditions. There are online snitch boards where anonymous commenters complain of atrocious conditions at their local WH franchise. A Dateline NBC study on America’s 10 “largest casual restaurant chains” allegedly found Waffle House ranking first in the number of “critical violations.” But then again, this may not be the typical Waffle House dining experience…but it sure makes you wonder.
4. You Could Become The Victim of Discrimination
At this point, Waffle House, Inc. has already settled over 20 lawsuits alleging racial discrimination. It has also been sued for creating a “sexually hostile work environment.” In 2012, an Ohio Waffle House was the scene of an alleged anti-gay hate crime. I must reiterate that it’s not certain you will be lynched, sexually harassed, or gay-bashed if you decide to dine at Waffle House, only that there’s an outside theoretical chance it could happen.
5. You Could Put On Weight
Waffle House cuisine typically seems to be some iteration of carbs fried in lard and powdered in sugar, then rubbed in hog grease. According to this site, the ham and cheese omelet alone will pack 1,000 calories somewhere around your midsection. No matter how good it tastes when you’re wasted at three in the morning, is it really worth risking a heart attack 30 years down the line…in addition to all the remote chances that you may be shot, stabbed, or gay-bashed? Really?
6. You Could Have a Great Time
Anything’s possible in this big, wild, wacky world, so it could happen. You and a group of friends could go there after church and have a grand old time sharing Bible verses as you send forkfuls of scrambled eggs sliding down your gullet. You could go there late at night after the bars have closed, and if there’s no one there who wants to shoot or stab you, you might actually enjoy a salty plate of grease and sugar as you sober up enough to drive without crippling yourself. You may secretly rendezvous there with a lover as part of a tawdry love affair that would bring your tiny Southern town crashing down amid a tangled web of scandal and heartbreak. You may have the time of your life there again and again until you die of heart disease—it is not my place to judge. But I feel it incumbent upon myself to sternly warn you that as with all guilty pleasures such as unprotected sex and driving while uninsured, eating at Waffle House carries with it a fair degree of risk.
1. When you wake up with a start — absolutely, totally, completely certain you’re late — and then check your phone to realize you have another hour to sleep. It’s undoubtedly the best hour of sleep you’ve ever had in your life.
2. When you wake up from an amazing dream and you’re super bummed it got cut short, but then you drift off again and surprisingly continue your dream and it’s kind of the best start to your day.
3. When you’re cold at home, so you put on your softest, most worn-in long sleeve and your bare skin is like, “Thanks, I’m really happy we did this.”
4. When you’re watching an intense movie that everyone says has a twist ending, but then you guess the ending in the first 20 minutes and it gives you a sense of satisfaction nobody can ever take from you.
5. When someone says, “It looks like you could use a hug,” and you could use a hug so bad you almost cry a single tear in gratitude.
6. When someone you haven’t talked to or thought about in a while randomly pops in your head and you think, that’s odd. Then, the next day, they email you and say, “Hey, was thinking about you lately, how’s it going?” And you’re like, good call, Universe.
7. When you wake up in the middle of the night starving and you know exactly what would satisfy you — and that just so happens to already be in your kitchen.
8. When you experiment and try a new food you’re certain you’re going to hate and then, to your surprise, absolutely love it. Then, you vow to be more adventurous and your life instantly seems more exciting.
9. When the batteries go out in something and you actually have extra batteries to replace the old ones with, because a couple months ago, you thought, I should get batteries for when I need them and you thank your past self for being brilliant.
10. Actually, when anything runs out – shampoo, toothpaste, olive oil – and you happen to have purchased more in the past for a situation just like the one you’re currently in, you’re all, high-five, past self.
11. When you’re having a shit day and someone compliments your hair or outfit and lo and behold! Your shit day is a little less shitty.
12. When you run out of something stupid like printer ink and you’re all, ugh, I don’t want to have to go all the way to wherever I get printer ink and then you realize you can order it from Amazon Prime and you want to open-mouth kiss the founders of Amazon for being convenient and affordable.
13. Forgetting you preordered something off the Internet and having it come and feeling like it’s Christmas because you actually don’t know what’s in the box and, because you ordered it, it’s exactly what you want and not just socks from your Aunt Trudy.
14. When you order food from a new place and it’s amazing and it becomes your go-to place for whenever you’re in the mood for whatever kind of food the new place serves.
15. When you are nice and cozy on the couch catching up on your Hulu queue and you’re dreading having to put on pants, but you made plans a week ago with a friend, then that friend texts and says, “I’m too lazy, rain check on tonight?” And it’s like God intervened on your behalf to deliver you canceled plans when you needed them most.
16. When you’re hanging out with a friend and you are both exactly in sync on what you want to eat, what you want to do, and what you want to talk about.
17. When you’re in the car listening to the radio and you think, I really want to hear this song that’s been in my head for the past two days, but you’re too lazy to get it up on Spotify and, randomly, it’s the exact next song that plays on the radio. It’s eerie, but you don’t care because you’re too busy car singing at an embarrassingly loud volume.
18. When you rediscover a song from your past that you had completely played-out, but because enough time has passed it’s like listening to it again for the first time and you repeat it for the next two weeks until the same cycle begins again.
19. When you read a list on the internet that is so you, so on point, you think, did I somehow write this from my brain without actually writing it?