I remember it all. Every single detail with great precision. The day my life changed for the worse five years ago. I remember everything from my awakening to the moment I sat in the back of that car with my hands behind my back. And for you to fully understand everything, it would be suitable if I explain what occurred from the beginning.
That day started the way I planned it. Early in the morning, while some people were peacefully sleeping or getting ready for work, I found myself in the middle of my yearly battle, warring against other contenders and swearing not to lose. Around thirty minutes had already elapsed when my legs began to get sore. Running through the shelves and bumping into others' carts several times, I felt drops of sweat covering my whole body as my lungs were on the verge of explosion.
"Just give it up freak!" one of the competitors yelled at me as we were wrestling to get the last coffee machine from the Ardanozzi brand. The commando training type I inflicted to myself during the past weeks just to be ready for that day could not be allowed to go to waste, so in the frenzy of the moment, I punched the gentleman right in the nose under the astounded looks of the lady with him and of other customers. He released his grip on the cardboard box and I only heard him fall behind me, because I already turned and put the coffee machine in my cart before speeding up towards the electronic shelf.
The Shop Cheap hypermarket was the biggest in the town at that time, and I believe it still is. I have participated in countless Black Friday rushes there, but that year, at that specific date, there was a special prize to be won for the customer with the most articles purchased. For some reason, after all the efforts and considering what I was going through in my life, I felt compelled to win it. That was the first edition, and I had to win.
"And the special prize goes to..."
I heard the manager about to announce the name of the winner after the counts. Teeth and hands clenched, my eyes riveted on him, I was ready to make a scene in case my number was not the one picked. It had to be me since my cart was the fullest; at least, it was what I thought.
"...the number thirty-eight, Mr. Ronald Kasilinic!"
A light of pure bliss filled my eyes. I trembled in joy as if it was the best day and the most marvelous moment of my life. Advancing towards the manager in the middle of disdained customers disappointed by their defeat, my heart shivered at each step I made with my eyes on the prize; a large cardboard box with the Shop Cheap hypermarket logo on it, along with a strange symbol and the inscription 'Special SurpriZe.' The symbol was composed of a cube with a question mark in the middle of its front face, and the cube was inside a circle that had five triangles emerging from its outline. One of the cashiers handed me the reward then we took a picture together with the manager. Even though it was in a large cardboard box, it did not weigh a lot and I just hoped it not to be some stupid gift like a large bucket or a set of useless plastic cooking tools.
"What's inside?" I could not prevent myself from asking.
"Come on Mr. Kasilinic. It's a surprise. You'll definitely find out once you open it in the comfort of your home. But I can assure you that you won't be disappointed." the manager answered.
After some minutes, the familiar smell of cigarettes inside my car welcomed me back. The vehicle was loaded with the fruits of my striving while my heart was filled with feelings of pride and accomplishment. My paranoia about losing my prizes led me to take a lot of bypasses on my way to home with the objective of avoiding potential carjackers. What an idea that was really. Along the road, while witnessing the vehicles' rush and hearing the multiple cars' horns of the busy working class, a hellish heat tortured me to the point I had to open all the front windows and remove my T-shirt. I convinced myself that it came from the hood of my old car and prayed for it not to break down during the ride. Since I was driving, I was constantly looking at the rear-view mirror and seeing the cardboard box of the special surprise in the back seat, but at one moment, I suddenly glimpsed two dirty pale arms quickly tear through the box and make a reach for me on the driver seat. Immediately taking a look at the back seat and losing control of my car in that moment of dread, the loud sound of a truck's horn made me remember being on the road and look in front of me. As I stomped on the brake pedal and successfully stopped my vehicle's motion, a large truck sped just centimeters away from my car's headlights. I froze, eyes wide open at the sight of the enormous mechanical monster that could have taken my life seconds ago. Following the passage of the truck, I looked again at the box, breathing heavily but saw nothing unusual.
"What the hell? Some people gotta go to work dammit!" a man yelled while repetitively honking from the car right behind me before I decided to shake it off my mind and continue driving.
Fortunately, I arrived without further issues at Rainlight Villas, a derelict building in which I rented an apartment on the third floor. The place was quite reminiscent of the tragedy of my life but nobody could remind me of all the pain better than Melina Yiasheen. Evil landlords ruling crappy buildings can be a cliché overused in stories and movies, but I can assure you that they really exist. The place stank of dead rats and cat litter, so I hurried through the stairs despite all the bags and the large cardboard box I carried. Unfortunately for me, right in front of my door, Melina was seated on a chair she had brought, leisurely smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper. Her three equally mean cats rested at her feet, two of them licking their paws and the other one meowing. I stopped my run at the sight of her as she responded by calmly throwing the cigarette away before addressing me a question:
"You heard the news?"
"Oh uh, hi Melina. How you doing to—"
"Did you hear the news Mr. Kasilinic?" she interrupted, still calm with her eyes on the newspaper.
"I guess you're talking about the five million dollars you just won at the lottery this morning?" I said with a big smile, trying to joke and ease the situation.
"The news, Mr. Kasilinic, is about a guy called Ronald, who haven't paid a single iota of the five months he still owes me. Ooooh yeah that's the news around here." she said, folding the newspaper before standing up.
"Wow! That's a really awful guy you're talking about here Melina." I replied as I put all the bags and the cardboard box on the floor.
At that instant, the three cats went crazy; they bolted in random directions, terrified and meowing as if they suddenly saw the scariest thing in their lives.
"Charlett? Harriett? Din—come back here, where you going?" she called then asked visibly worried, but her three cats ignored her and disappeared from our sight.
"Poor things. Living with that old witch? I don't blame them." I whispered, but I believe she unfortunately heard what I said.
"That's quite the jackpot you got here." she said turning to me with her most evil look on her face. "Looks like this year Black Friday has been quite rosy for somebody." she added, approaching. "What do we have here? All this would do for two months of rent don't you think?"
"No—way! Look Melina, I will pay you when I'm ready okay? I'm really close just give me more time and Ronn Kazy will be back!"
"For crying out loud Ronald! It's been five years now. It's time to get a job Ron, you're a grown man, you can't be living off money games and Black Fridays. Yeah you had it. You had a contract, you made it, you were the big star, then she came into your life, ruined it and got away with all the money. Wake up man Gracie's gone. Gone with all the money and all that Ronn Kazy show is far behind now. Now what? Back to reality you loser! And as you can see, it's painful you freak! Pay me my money right now Ronald, or you're not stepping into that apartment today..."
Standing right there in the corridor, we went on and on till we were on the verge of fighting. The tenants of the neighboring apartments came out and attempted to calm us down. I recall burning with the desire of punching her right in the nose, and that was what could have happened if she was not a woman. She succeeded in taking some of my precious and hard-earned prizes with her after the heated argument.
"And one more thing dumb ass, it's not Melina, it's Ms. Yiasheen you hear me?" she yelled while I hurried into my apartment.
I sighed upon closing the door before taking a look at the glass picture frame. "Honey I'm home." I whispered with my eyes still on it. Her smile remained unaltered. A diamond smile in a moment of pure happiness captured with my own camera years ago at the park. Forgetting Gracie was out of question, not for the wrong reasons though. She left me broke and broken, I admit, but I still love her with all my soul.
Drained from the Black Friday rush and the umpteenth argument with Melina, I just put the rest of my prizes on the kitchen's table, next to the many unlucky lottery tickets and the numerous letters from debt collectors. Upon bearing all the weight, the already sensitive table bitten by the termites for years just collapsed with a thrashing noise.
"Don't you dare break anything in there you moron!" Melina yelled from behind the door.
"Go home!" I yelled back at her.
The purchased articles in the bags were scattered on the floor and I could spot one of the cans of corn I bought in a corner. A hungry man, I simply picked it up and opened it. A rotting odor emerged from the can and rapidly mixed up with the dust odor of my apartment. I released the can when I saw something moving inside it and at the moment of impact with the floor, huge maggots were ejected from the container. Paralyzed and perplexed, I watched them crawl on the floor for seconds. This could not be happening, I thought, so I opened all the other cans only to see that they were infested too. Angry with the hypermarket and overwhelmed by everything I was going through, I cleaned up all that mess as quickly as I could and it soon joined some casino coins in the trash can.
The solemn unpacking of the special surprise could not be spoiled by the already stressful day, so I decided to leave it for the evening after a moment of relaxation with the help of the only thing able to ease me. Therefore, I checked the door lock several times, hoping that it will keep the potential burglars out, and thirty minutes later, I found myself lying on my bed with my nose full of that white powder. Eyes on the ceiling, my head felt like spinning, and the false sensation of ease and clarity it gives overwhelmed me. Everything illogically appeared so simple to me; all I had to do was winning a lot of money again whatever the way, then all the torment would end and the frustration would go away. "I'll pull through...I'll pull through..." I kept on saying to myself until I passed out.
The noise of something or someone slamming the bathroom door woke me up. It seemed to be late in the evening; everything was dark in the bedroom and I understood being knocked out for a long time. I also noticed that the unusual and unbearable heat from earlier in my car was back. After I gathered myself, I made a reach for the iron golf club under my bed, resolute to defeat the intruder I thought broke into my apartment. There was no way to lose what I strove for because of some thief, so with my weapon in hand, I stormed through the door.
"You better get out of here you piece of shit!" I yelled in the dark corridor. I pressed the switch but the bulb did not light up, even after nervously insisting. I then tried the same in my bedroom without success. Searching for my forsaken flashlight in my cupboard, I fortunately found it after a few minutes. Once out of the bedroom again, the hair on my head and arms rose as cold chills traveled through my spine. Under the lighting of my flashlight, random objects from boots to toilet papers were scattered all over the floor, and that reinforced my thought that somebody broke in my domicile. At the end of the corridor lied the cardboard box of the special surprise, on its side, wide open and empty. I soon noticed bloody handprints and footprints on the ceiling before following them from that end of the corridor to the other end where they stopped on the bathroom door.
"I'm coming for you freak!" I threatened, even though already nervous and trembling.
As soon as I said that, the intruder began speaking in the bathroom:
"What—what—inside—I—guess—talking—five—won—lottery..." the intruder was saying, probably talking to himself.
"Hey! Stop—stop playing man! I'm—I'm gonna mess you up!"
My heart sank into my stomach when I realized that I was hearing my voice saying those things. An intruder in my bathroom was perfectly imitating my voice and repeating some of the words I said earlier during the day.
Close to the door, my hand shaking because of the unnerving experience, I advanced my fingers slowly and was about to touch the door handle when he burst into a wave of violent anger with my most intimidating voice:
"You better get out of here you piece of shit!" he threatened me using my own words again.
Eyes riveted on the door, I jumped back and stood still. Everything stopped and a disturbing silence followed. I took a deep breath then swallowed my saliva before taking bravery in both hands. With a war scream, I stormed through the door, ready to destroy whoever was in the bathroom with my iron golf club. There was nobody as only silence was my companion in the small room. Slowly looking around, my eyes then caught something horrible in the mirror; a pale face with black rugged hair and a pair of green glowing eyes full of anger, looked in the mirror too from behind me and right over my shoulder. I immediately turned and swung the golf club but there was nobody. I looked again in the mirror and clearly saw the entity bare its dirty sharp teeth. Some of the maggots crawling on its face fell off, then I heard it make an eerie growling sound.
Fear gave me wings as I flew along the corridor. In my run, my foot hit something on the floor and I fell on the mess, losing my grip on the flashlight in the process. It rolled until it met one of my boot and stopped. The light then revealed another terrifying view that nothing will ever erase from my memory; the enormous maggots crawled on the corpse and some even emerged from the skin. The body was covered with deep scratches and blood, testifying of the brutality with which Melina had been murdered. Her empty and lifeless eyes on me, she seemed telling me to leave, to stand up and run without looking back. I do not know how to accurately explain that but it was definitely what I thought.
I stood up, picked up the flashlight and dashed to the door with the hopes of just kicking it open and escaping from the nightmare. After jumping over Melina's body and the pool of blood, I saw two bloody footprints appear right in front of the door and I stopped my run; by the way they were positioned, I realized that the entity directly faced me and stood as the obstacle between me and my escape. Even though it was invisible to my eyes, I sensed it, felt it, and knew it was right there in front of me. At some point, I could hear its heavy breath too, almost in phase with mine. Its breath just grew heavier and soon evolved into a growling, like the one of an enraged big dog building up its anger before its destructive and deadly attack. Just like it was not enough to kill me with fear, I soon glimpsed the glowing green eyes of the tormentor mirrored on the glass picture frame next to the entrance door. The thing stood there, certainly staring in my direction.
Frozen by the disturbing occurrence, I felt my blood congeal in my veins. My heavy breath evolved into a nervous groaning until what I feared the most happened. The thing attacked. Four traces progressively appeared below the picture frame as it clawed the wall in its momentum. I made few steps backward, trembling and only hearing its growl as well as its heavy and powerful strides getting closer to me. The assailant clawed me on the right cheekbone. I did not even have the time to scream in pain since the thing seized my neck and threw me on the trash can near the window. I lost the golf club during my fall and once on the ground, I still felt the glacial sensation on my neck, resulting from the contact with the monster. Terrified, I smashed the window with my bare hand, hurting myself on the spot, and stormed through the opening. Engaged in the run of my life, I tore down the fire escape staircase, my feet slipping through the cracks in the rusty stairs several times.
Once I reached the firm ground, I kept on fleeing on the desert street without looking back. In less than a minute, a police car coming from nowhere almost run me over. I had my trunk on the car hood with my large open eyes on the two appalled officers inside. They quickly stepped out of the vehicle to help me. It looked like somebody called the cops, something I maybe should have done myself instead of taking the matter in my own hands. All this because I was afraid to lose some special surprise I did not know was cursed.
"Some—something—someone, it's in my—it's in my apartment, it—it—tried to kill me—hurry—it killed her—" I tried to explain but of course, all the ramble could not make sense to the officers.
No invisible force or monster attacked them when they entered the premises, in which they almost found everything. They found all the mess on the floor, Melina's body, all the blood, the enormous maggots, the scratches below the picture frame, the smashed window, the burnt fuses, the drugs in my bedroom, the bloody handprints and footprints as well as the large cardboard box—it was closed and sealed, carefully placed in the middle of the kitchen, as if nobody ever touched it. Although I insisted about seeing it wide open and empty during my interrogation and in my deposition, they assured me it was intact since they had to open it themselves to discover the prize inside, and they even showed me a picture of it; a strange and horrible small statue which face resembled the one of the entity I saw in the mirror of my bathroom. That single fact contributed to render my version of the story unbelievable, and for the investigators things became clear; I consumed drugs and lost my mind to the point of murdering my landlord. A version of the story supported by the fact that my neighbors witnessed me and Melina get into a fierce argument about my unpaid rent. The landlord, as well as the witnesses also heard noises in my apartment that night, which prompted her to come and knock at my door. According to my closest neighbor Kelly, I did not answer, so Melina went to fetch something and came back with duplicate keys of my apartment. She came inside and talked with me for a moment—a fact I have no memory of and always denied—but she never came out.
To this day, after five good years, I am still in custody and there is just no way myself or anybody else can prove whether I am guilty or not. I made the news once more of course since the fallen star Ronn Kazy was then arrested for a murder case. The media frenzy became more intense when Gracie committed suicide shortly after being sent to a mental hospital. Unlike most people, I understood why all that happened; Gracie and I were the only ones to blame for our tragedies. In the prison's library, I found several books about demonology and discovered the identity of the tormentor hidden inside the special surprise's cardboard box. An evil spirit called Xhorxhès. It feeds on the souls of the greedy people—since it can smell greed, then trap them in a miserable existence for eternity.
I wanted this testimony to be shared everywhere possible, so after writing it, I sent it to my cousin who took care of the rest. Right after defeating my addiction to money games that followed me in prison, I also overcame my drug addiction and firmly believe that everything I went through in that apartment was not due to the effects of the narcotics. I do not know if the hypermarket has a part of responsibility in what happened to me, or if Xhorxhès, like it is written in the books, just smelled my greed, found me and emerged from something I valued—in my case the 'Special SurpriZe.' It is up to you to believe me or not, but after you read this, you will not be able to say you were never warned. Please be safe, distance yourself from greed and therefore from that demon. Do not grow addicted to gain in any way, or else, he will come for you.