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The Nobodies

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History has a way of altering villains so that we can no longer see ourselves in them.” ~ Adam Serwer


June 1999

 

It’s not like Taehyun actually believes that saying Latin words over some candles and a chalk symbol can summon a spirit, malevolent or otherwise. But he wholeheartedly believes in hauntings, and if any place is haunted, Manes High School must be.

Derek parks his weathered pickup in the empty strip mall across from the school around 2:45 a.m. He kills the engine and looks in the rearview mirror, glancing at Jesse and Taehyun in the back seat. “Let’s go.”

Jesse unbuckles his seatbelt and gets out, carrying a stainless steel dog bowl and a ziploc bag filled with assorted herbs. The demon summoning spell he printed off the internet sticks out of his back pocket.

Taehyun carries the candles and chalk. “There are cameras inside, right? Or do you think they shut off the power?”

“The only cameras are in the lunchroom,” Derek says, shutting the driver’s door and moving to the truck bed. “We’re not going in that way.”

Across the street, Manes High is still cordoned with crime scene tape after last month’s massacre. On the morning of May 27th, Manes senior Syd Reed had opened fire inside the school, killing eight students and wounding twenty more.

Taehyun, Derek, and Jesse aren’t students at Manes. Without the non-stop news coverage about the shooting, Taehyun would never know that this school, nestled in a neighboring city, even existed.

Almost a month later, the building is still technically a crime scene. Though the bodies have been removed and an investigation conducted, the school is boarded up to discourage prying thrillseekers. Just looking at it makes Taehyun’s stomach clench.

Derek grabs a sack of tools from the truck bed and leads them through the school’s empty parking lot. He walks with purpose, like summoning a demon is just one item on a list of things he has to get done today. Jesse rushes to catch up, but Taehyun is in no such hurry.

Derek reaches the double doors of the school’s west entrance. The glass was shot out in the massacre, leaving only the metal frame and pushbars. The gaps are boarded up with thick plywood.

Derek retrieves a crowbar from his sack of tools. He fits the crowbar wedge underneath the lip of the wood barricade and goes to work. One corner of the plywood pulls free with a brittle snap.

Taehyun looks for a security guard or a cop who might be drawn to their illegal entry. Derek parked across the street to prevent any drive-by security guards spotting the truck in the school’s lot, but the last thing Taehyun needs is a breaking and entering charge at the scene of a mass shooting.

He’s not even into this occult shit in the first place, but being here might earn him a bit of street cred. What better way to shed the impression of being a wussy bookworm than performing witchcraft inside a haunted school to summon a mass murderer?

Derek works another corner of plywood free. He drops the crowbar and peels back the wood with his hands, just enough to stick his arm inside the window and turn the latch on the other side. Derek retrieves his tools and opens the door.

They walk through a small atrium and another set of double doors. Broken glass crunches under their shoes. Derek switches on a flashlight to illuminate the dark halls. Inside the cone of light, Taehyun sees chunks of plaster and wood shot out of the walls. Missing ceiling tiles come into focus as the flashlight beam moves up.

“This way.” Derek jerks the light beam down a hallway to their right. Taehyun and Jesse follow him through the darkness.

“Do you feel anything?” Taehyun murmurs to Jesse, if only to interrupt the eerie silence. “A presence or something like that?”

“I don’t know,” Jesse whispers. “But it’s creepy.”

As Taehyun’s eyes adjust to the lack of light, he sees dark holes in the walls. Bullet holes. Most of the carnage was contained to the cafeteria and the library, but with every step Taehyun fears he’s walking over a spot where someone died. He wills himself to keep his eyes forward.

Derek leads them up the stairs to the second floor. He ducks underneath the yellow crime scene tape blocking off the library. If Taehyun felt a presence before, he certainly feels it now. Something is trapped behind those doors. The spiritual energy of Syd Reed’s victims? Or the malevolent spirit of Syd himself?

“C’mon,” Derek says, opening the library door, “let’s raise a little hell.”

The smell of melted pennies hits Taehyun immediately as he steps into the library. Derek’s flashlight beam illuminates snapshots of chaos: dried puddles of blood on the floor, tables and chairs torn to pieces by gunfire. Against the far wall, the vertical window blinds look like crumpled straw wrappers on the floor.

If this room had a stone tape1, the recording would be an endless scream.

“Holy shit,” Jesse whispers.

The vile, tragic energy and the stench of death here make Taehyun nauseated. He doesn’t want to soil this place any more than he already has by trespassing, so he swallows down the bile and takes a deep breath.

Derek checks his watch. “Right on time. The witching hour.”

Jesse pulls the paper with the summoning spell out of his back pocket. Derek’s flashlight beam sweeps the floor by the bookshelves and stops on a large dark stain on the carpet. “Set it up here,” Derek says.

The only demon spirit that might be in this room belongs to the shooter, so Taehyun assumes this is the spot where Syd Reed died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. “Is that where he died?”

“Yep.”

Taehyun has no idea how Derek knows this. Derek must have done a lot of research, scouring websites and news articles for details about the gruesome details.

Jesse asks for the chalk. Taehyun hands it over, and Jesse proceeds to draw a sigil on the carpet. He copies the design from the sheet with the spell printed on it, and the chalk glides easily over the long-dried bloodstains. “The candles go in the circles there,” Jesse says.

Taehyun sets the tealight candles in place, and Derek lights the wicks.

Jesse places the stainless steel dog bowl in the center of the sigil. He opens the ziploc bag and dumps the herbs into the bowl. From his pocket, he takes out a small bottle of oil and shakes some into the herbs.

“What is that?” Taehyun asks.

“Oil of Abramelin,” Jesse says tersely, like Taehyun’s an idiot for asking. “From that weird hippie store in the mall.” Jesse reads over the spell sheet again. “Now we need blood.” He looks at Derek. “You think the bloodstain counts, or—”

“Don’t be a pussy,” Derek snorts. “Just cut your finger and get on with it.”

Jesse looks at his fingertips like he’s trying to imagine how much that might hurt.

“I’ll do it,” Taehyun volunteers. He’s not going to cut his fingers — too many nerves there — but he can slice the top of his forearm and gain some cool points while he’s at it.

Derek lifts his eyebrows, as if he’s impressed by Taehyun’s initiative. He hands Taehyun a pocket knife. “Finally grew some balls?”

Maybe Taehyun should draw blood by shanking Derek instead.

“Why don’t you read the spell, too?” Derek says, snatching the spell sheet from Jesse and handing it to Taehyun. “You’re good at reading foreign stuff.”

Latin and Korean are totally different, but apparently it’s all the same to Derek. “Fine.”

Taehyun draws the knife over his arm. The blade cuts across the thin layer of skin with a metal whisper and a pinch of pain. It’s a small cut, just an inch or two over the bone of his wrist, but it’s enough to get the blood flowing. He tucks the blade back in and hands the knife to Derek.

Taehyun kneels down by the bowl and squeezes his blood into the mix of herbs and oil until Jesse stammers, “O — okay, that’s probably enough.”

Taehyun stands back as Derek lights the contents of the bowl. The herbs and oil go up with a fwoomph!

Taehyun reads aloud the incantation: praecipio eis, obligat eos, et adducam eos ad me.

He expects the earth rumbling beneath him, or magic swirling from the bowl of fire, or a ghostly spirit flowing into someone’s body. None of that happens. He thinks he smells sulfur, but he doesn’t know if it’s the power of suggestion playing tricks on his senses. Maybe the air around him is a little colder than it was before, and maybe it vibrates like a guitar string.

A gust of wind blows out the candles and the fire in the bowl. Which would be fine and dandy, except there are no open windows in the library, and the power is off. How could there be a breeze?

Derek looks around with the flashlight beam. “Where is he? Syd? Are you here with us?”

“Maybe we should’ve just brought a Ouija board,” Jesse jokes, but there’s a quiver in his voice.

“I don’t think it worked,” Taehyun says.

“Then why did the candles go out?” Jesse asks.

“Could’ve been the wind,” says Taehyun.

Derek scoffs. “It’s never the fucking wind. Have you ever seen a character in a horror movie say ‘oh, it must be the wind’ about some kind of noise, and have the noise not be the killer?”

“He’s got a point,” says Jesse.

“In a movie, it has to be the killer, or else it’s pointless,” Taehyun says.

Derek scans the library with the flashlight. Taehyun almost expects something to jump out at them from the shadows. That’s movie bullshit, he tells himself. You’re not really buying this nonsense, are you?

Maybe he is, just a bit. That candle thing was pretty fucking weird.

“Are you sure you read it right?” Derek accuses.

“You’re the one who insisted I read it!”

Derek growls something under his breath. He stalks through the library, searching for evidence of a demonic presence. “Don’t fucking tell me we did all this shit for nothing.”

Okay, I won’t.

Out loud, Taehyun says, “Is this proof that Hell isn’t real — which probably also means Heaven isn’t real either — or do they exist and we can’t communicate with the other side?”

“I bet the spell was bullshit,” Derek says from the other side of the bookshelves. “People would be summoning demons all over if you could find real magic spells on someone’s fucking Geocities page.”

“The site seemed pretty legit,” Jesse says, sounding wounded.

“Maybe he can’t appear without, like, a body to jump into and speak through,” Taehyun suggests.

Derek comes back to where they’re standing and shines the light on the sigil. “That’s what I thought, though. Y’know, vampire rules. You have to invite them in.”

“Demons aren’t vampires,” Jesse points out.

“No shit. But if it works for one supernatural creature, shouldn’t it work for all of them?”

Jesse shrugs. “I guess.”

“Fuck it,” Derek says with a sigh. “He’s not here. Pack up this shit and let’s go.”

Taehyun retrieves the candles. Jesse pours the ashy remainder of the herbs back into the ziploc bag and picks up the dog bowl. Taehyun considers brushing away the sigil with his shoe, but that feels like even more desecration than just leaving it there. All the carpet will have to be removed anyway, if the school isn’t simply closed for good after this.

There are cameras in the school cafeteria, so Derek doesn’t bring them there for a tour of the destruction. Taehyun’s seen enough already.

On the ride back, Taehyun reads over the printed spell. Translated, the invocation reads: Command them, bind them, bring them to me.


Derek drops Taehyun off at home in front of the wrought-iron gate. The gate sits at the end of the dirt driveway, along with the mailbox. Derek’s truck runs loud, and Taehyun doesn’t want to risk the sound of the engine waking his parents.

The house itself is somewhat tucked away in the foothills, with their nearest neighbor more than ten acres away. Towering slabs of red rock sit on the property, creating a scenic, quiet atmosphere.

When Derek drives away, Taehyun punches in the gate code and steps through. As he hurries up the paved walkway, he feels as though he’s outrunning a malevolent hand trying to grab him.

Taehyun quietly unlocks the front door. The house is dark and quiet, just as he left it. He takes off his shoes in the mudroom, then replaces the candles and chalk where he found them in the kitchen junk drawer. He goes upstairs, taking care not to make the steps creak under his weight.

Taehyun inches open his bedroom door. The vaguely human-shaped lump of pillows in his bed is undisturbed, but someone’s sitting in his beanbag chair.

“Goddamn it.” Taehyun sighs. “Chanyeol.” It’s very on-brand for his older brother to fuck with him like this. “Don’t tell Mom and Dad, okay?”

Taehyun presses the overhead light switch, because if Chanyeol’s been sitting in the dark, waiting to blackmail his little brother, Taehyun’s going to flush him from the room like a vampire caught out at sunrise.

But it’s not Chanyeol sitting in the beanbag chair. It’s a corpse, staring at Taehyun with one good eye. The other eye is bright red with burst blood vessels.

The dead man grins. “Hey.” His teeth are stained with blood. His bottom right incisor is missing. Half his fucking head is missing too, but if Taehyun takes in the whole sight at once he’ll start screaming and never stop.

He should probably run, right? That would be the smart thing to do when faced with a member of the undead.

Taehyun turns to do just that, and the zombie says, “Wait! Come back! I’m not gonna fucking eat you or anything, dude. I’m not a zombie.”

His fucking brains are blown out! He shouldn’t be able to talk!

Though a dead man shouldn’t be sitting in Taehyun’s room either, so clearly something has gone horribly wrong with the order of the universe.

Taehyun risks another look at the corpse. Red rivers trickle down the zombie’s face from his nostrils and the fangs of bone at the top of his skull. What remains of his short brown hair is stained black with blood. And that fucking red eye.

Command them, bind them, bring them to me.

Taehyun runs across the hall to the bathroom and locks himself inside, just in time to vomit into the toilet. He hasn’t thrown up in about ten years — the last time was thanks to a spoiled Kid Cuisine when he was six — but it’s all muscle memory. The taste in his mouth is last night’s barbecue, and that gets him puking all over again.

Crying and shaking, he flushes the bowl. From outside the bathroom door, he hears the zombie: “C’mon, dude. Don’t be so fucking dramatic. It’s just a hole in my head. Haven’t you seen Scanners?”

Taehyun only knows that’s a movie due to the infamous head exploding scene that’s made rounds on the internet. But that’s a movie. Seeing gruesome makeup effects is nothing compared to looking at a real human body that has suffered an act of violence.

Any ambitions of becoming a doctor Taehyun once had are gone now. He can’t stomach this shit. “Have you seen yourself?”

“No, but I guess I look pretty gnarly up close.”

“What do you want?” Taehyun whimpers.

“It’s not about what I want. You’re the one who summoned me.”

The taste of puke lingers in Taehyun’s mouth. Slowly, he rises from the bathroom floor and rinses his mouth with Scope. At least Taehyun will die with minty-fresh breath.

Though if the demon ghost of Syd Reed wanted to kill him, it would have done so already. Instead, the bathroom door acts as an impenetrable barrier between them. Maybe what Derek speculated is true: evil must be invited in.

“Why are you here and not... there?” Taehyun asks through the door. “If the spell worked, shouldn’t you be back at the school where you died?”

“I don’t know, man. Maybe you fucked it up somehow. But whatever you did, thanks. It fucking blows down there.”

Down there... “Y — you mean Hell?”

“No, Texas,” the zombie says, and why wouldn’t he be a sarcastic asshole? “Of course I mean Hell. I wasn’t Mother fucking Teresa when I was alive.”

Taehyun thinks of the blood soaked into the carpet of the school library. The stains that marked where students lost their lives.

He swallows, and it makes a loud clicking sound in his throat.

“Just come out of there, okay?” the zombie says. “I’m unarmed. Which would be way funnier if I was missing an arm. Okay, scratch that. Let me try again. I’ve got half a mind to come in there and drag you out!”

Taehyun unlocks the bathroom door and turns the knob. The corpse stands in the doorway of Taehyun’s bedroom. The left side of the zombie’s head doesn’t look so bad, but the real damage is on the right. There’s no entry wound, which means he must have stuck the gun in his mouth before pulling the trigger. The upper right side of his head is a crater that starts from the crown and extends down toward his right ear and brow ridge. His brain is mostly gone, a few pale chunks sticking to the bowl of his cranium.

“Move,” Taehyun says in a pitiful voice. He doesn’t want to shoulder past the corpse to get to his room. “Please.” The corpse obeys. Taehyun grabs his Red Sox baseball cap off the door hanger. “Can you… cover that up? I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a weak stomach.”

“You don’t say.” The zombie dons the cap backwards. The worst of the damage is hidden now, though his face is still covered in blood.

Taehyun supposes he should start referring to the ghoulish sight in from of him as Syd now, since he looks a little less like something that crawled out of a grave.

Did he actually crawl out of his grave like one of the zombies in the “Thriller” music video? Taehyun doesn’t see any dirt on Syd, so maybe not.

“How did you get here?” Taehyun asks, slowly and quietly shutting the bedroom door. If he’s going to have a conversation with a demon zombie, he doesn’t want anyone else hearing him.

“One minute I was being tortured by butthole spiders in Hell, then I was here. I’m just as confused as you are,” Syd says. He gives himself a perfunctory sniff. “Thank God I didn’t shit myself when I died. I liked these clothes.”

He’s wearing black cargo pants, combat boots, and a black Rammstein T-shirt. His murder outfit, apparently. “Kinda wish I looked like a Doom imp or something fucking cool if I’m supposed to be a demon. That’s some bullshit,” Syd says.

“You’re scary enough,” Taehyun says.

“Thanks.” Syd grins, showing off his missing tooth and the blood caked between his remaining teeth; Taehyun forces himself not to cringe.

“So are you here to kill me?” Taehyun’s heard the Bloody Mary legend; he knows he shouldn’t have fucked with this, and becoming Syd’s next victim will be his punishment for invoking the darkness.

“Nah. I think I’m more Beetlejuice than Candyman.”

Taehyun assumes the latter is a reference to a movie he hasn’t seen. He nods like he understands.

“You’re the one who brought me here, remember?” Syd says. “It was, like, an hour ago. Your memory can’t be that bad.”

“I didn’t think a spell printed off a Geocities site would actually work! I just went along so my friends would think I’m cool.” Taehyun would be embarrassed to tell this to his own parents, but Syd might understand, being a loser outcast and all.

“You should go on the Donahue show. ‘I was peer-pressured into summoning a demon!’” Syd laughs, but there’s no malice behind it. “What was the spell, anyway? No fine print caveats about your soul belonging to Satan?”

“The Latin translated to: command them, bind them, bring them to me.”

“So we’re working on Kazaam rules, then.”

Taehyun has no idea what the fuck Syd’s talking about.

“It’s a movie where Shaquille O’Neal plays a rapping genie. Of course it’s as shitty as it sounds,” Syd explains. He glances at Taehyun, then at the lumpy shape in the bed. “Has that ‘pillows under the blankets’ trick ever fooled anyone, by the way?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never snuck out before,” Taehyun says, feeling attacked. “Can anyone else see you?”

The last thing he wants to do is wake up his brother or his parents to test this hypothesis. He could invite Derek over, but bringing a friend to the house at four in the morning is probably a groundable offense.

Derek’s going to be so jealous when he finds out Taehyun’s harboring a mass-murdering zombie.

“Never mind. We can test that later,” Taehyun says.

Syd raises a bloodstained eyebrow. “Aren’t you gonna ask the million-dollar question? Why did I do it?”

“I know why you did it. You’re an asshole who’s screwed up in the head and doesn’t care who he hurts.”

“Aw, now I feel really bad,” Syd says, clearly not sounding sorry at all. He gives himself a playful little slap across the jaw. “Bad Syd.”

Taehyun wants to send him right back to Hell with the butthole spiders if that’s how he’s going to fucking behave. Though maybe Taehyun’s an idiot for expecting a mass murderer to feel remorse.

“I don’t think I’m a psychopath or anything,” Syd says. “I mean, I felt bad about what the whole thing was gonna to do my parents.”

“But not bad enough to call it off.”

Syd shrugs a shoulder. “I wanted to feel alive.”

Taehyun is stricken by how callous this sounds, that Syd could dare to feel alive while taking the lives of others. “And now you’re dead.”

“Half-dead, thanks to you.”

Taehyun wants to roll back the clock and undo this entire night. Is there a spell for that? Let Derek and Jesse sneak into the school and play with the spirits. Maybe one of them would be stuck with this dipshit instead of Taehyun.

“Don’t thank me. I’m sending you back as soon as I can.” It’s probably not smart to tell Syd about this, but if Taehyun were smart he wouldn’t have ended up in this situation to begin with.

“No! You can’t do that!” Syd is terrifyingly tall, towering over him. Taehyun puts his arms out as if fending off an attack, but all Syd does is clutch at his T-shirt. “Please don’t send me back! It’s literally Hell! There are actual Xenomorphs, but instead of fangs they have human teeth!”

“It’s where you belong. You’re not a good person. You killed people.” Taehyun twists out of Syd’s grasp and tries to shake off the chills from being touched by a dead guy.

“Don’t I at least get a chance to fix things? That’s how it always happens in movies.”

Taehyun whirls on him and has to struggle to keep his voice low. “This isn’t a fucking movie! You killed eight kids and maimed enough people to fill a hospital ward. Some of them will never walk again. You don’t get a redemption arc!”

“Then I’ll just kill you too. And everyone else in this house,” Syd says calmly. Taehyun gapes at him. “I mean, if you’re right and there’s no hope for me, why should I start being good now?”

“You shouldn’t be good just to avoid punishment. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?”

“Baby steps, kid.” Syd smiles through bloody teeth. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Taehyun.”

“You’re Chinese?”

Taehyun rolls his eyes. “Korean.”

“Close enough. I’m Syd. But you probably knew that already.”

Taehyun moves for the bureau, where he takes out a set of pajamas. He’s too tired to deal with this paranormal bullshit right now. All he wants is to go to bed and wake up from his nightmare.

He takes his pajamas and leaves the bedroom, shutting the door as he goes. Inside the hall bathroom, he changes clothes and brushes his teeth. He’s grateful he can stay here without Syd being present. So Derek was right about supernatural creatures operating on vampire rules. Or else Syd’s respectful of Taehyun’s privacy, which is unlikely.

Before he leaves, Taehyun grabs two baby wipes and returns to his bedroom.

“Hold still,” he says, standing on his tiptoes and using the baby wipes to clean the crusted blood off Syd’s ruined face. “You should look less scary.” This brings them very close to each other, and Taehyun tries not to look at the gory ridge of skull and bone near the bridge of Syd’s nose.

He’s actually kind of cute — disregarding his personality, at least. If they went to the same school, Taehyun could see himself developing a crush on Syd until he opened his mouth. His stupid, pouty mouth…

A light brush of freckles covers his cheeks. His pupils are two different colors, one blue and one green, though the latter floats in red sclera.

Syd squeezes his eyes shut when Taehyun wipes his brows. His nose scrunches like a rabbit’s as Taehyun cleans blood off his upper lip.

Taehyun catches a glimpse of that missing tooth, or at least the space in Syd’s mouth where it was. “How’d you lose your tooth?”

“I put a shotgun in my fucking mouth. I’m shocked I didn’t lose more teeth.”

“How do you... do something like that?”

“You stick the barrel in your mouth, count to three, and pull the trigger.”

Taehyun can’t imagine doing that. He finds it sad, however, that Syd had to count up to it, like even this hopeless, suicidal boy had to steel his nerves.

Syd’s glance moves down Taehyun’s body. “Cute PJs, by the way.”

Taehyun blushes and tosses the bloody wipes into his wastebasket. “Shut up.” His pajama pants are covered in cartoon cats, and they’re probably a little childish for anyone over the age of ten to be wearing. “It’s been a long day. I need to go to bed. Please don’t kill anyone, okay?”

Syd smiles wryly, as if Taehyun’s entire existence amuses him. “Can I watch TV?”

Taehyun wants to say no, but he’s fading fast and could probably fall asleep next to an active jackhammer.

“Sure. Go ahead.”

Syd sits in the beanbag chair in the corner and switches on the TV. Taehyun notes that Syd is able to interact with objects, though that fact should have made itself clear when Syd donned the baseball cap.

Syd’s watching an early morning music video block. Taehyun wonders what kind of music Syd likes before wondering how the fuck he’s going to sleep with a demon in his room.

If he wanted to kill you, he would have done it already. Maybe the ‘bind them’ part of the spell means he can’t do something like that without your permission. This could be the same barrier that stops him from walking in on you in the bathroom.

Syd has obeyed every command Taehyun’s given him, which offers Taehyun a sliver of solace.

Taehyun lies awake in bed, watching Syd out of the corner of his eye until exhaustion takes over.