The twins are up past their bedtime, the sounds of a bloody creature feature turned down low on the bubble-fronted basement television, so that their parents upstairs won’t hear them. They’re giddy with the rush of the forbidden, of trespassing, transgressing. It’s a glee that’s cut short just when it’s getting good, when the monster is about to be revealed, because the television cuts to black. But it’s timed wrong, in the middle of a scene, in the middle of a line of dialogue, so they keep their eyes on the screen, and see only a grainy close-up of a man sitting in front of a black and white chevron background.
It is not an ad. Not any they’ve ever seen.
And it’s not a man. Not any they’ve ever seen.
His smile, his whole face is unmoving. Sunglasses shield his eyes, his hair a platinum plastic pompadour.
“They… are coming… to get me,” he says from behind the mask.
The boys know that they shouldn't see this, even more so that they shouldn’t have been watching the monster movie. Not in the sense that it came to them by mistake, but that they shouldn't. See. This.
That it's against some rule of the world they don't understand yet. They look at one another, the silent question, should we? drifting between them. When neither of them voices an objection, they confirm their decision.
The masked man disappears, and they keep watching the unspooling of seemingly-unrelated images. They cannot look away (waves crashing against an unfamiliar, broken shore), suddenly imagining some invisible force holds them steady. Peels their eyelids open. Points their faces at the screen. When they take into account what they see on the television (a close-up of a woman with a ball gag in her mouth, looking wide-eyed into the camera), this seems less farfetched. And when it's all over, and the television has returned to its normal late-night rerun of whatever monster movie they were watching that no longer seems important, they can't describe what they've seen. Not entirely. Nor can they properly describe how it made them feel. Only in snippets can they do either.
It's like the images (a brown paper bag over the head of a barefoot lady in a floral dress, hands held out at her sides for balance despite her standing in the grass) are part of a dream (she steps forward carefully, tentatively, unaware of the coiled snake by her feet). Not theirs, but someone else's they accidentally stumbled into. The feelings, however, the reactions, are entirely their own.
The boys look at one another. Neither one of them speaks, but they each know the other is sweating (just like the blindfolded man, sweating, running, the look of terror on his face, the camera moving ahead of him, looking over his shoulder, spying the dark, loping, out-of-focus shapes he’s fleeing). Under their armpits. On their foreheads. Rivulets running down their backs (a shot from behind of a toned woman in the dark, her muscular back laced with fresh, bloody wounds, something moving in the darkness ahead of her, something she looks ready to fight again). The boys do not yet have the vocabulary to explain what they’ve seen, how it’s made them feel other than wrong (a woman in a pencil skirt bending herself over a pommel horse, looking back over her shoulder at the camera as she spreads her legs).
And yet there is no proof that any of this ever happened. Nothing except their memories (the woman in the dress holds the snake carefully, coiled around her bare forearm, extended, holding it out like it’s going to fly away and she’s going to guide it), their feelings.
T.T. Madden (they/them) has been writing horror, scifi, and fantasy ever since they tried climbing (and were unfairly pulled from) their mother's bookshelves to reach her Stephen King novels. So to get their fix they visited the library, and their local Blockbuster (which didn't check ID). They have two books releasing in 2024; The Cosmic Color, a transfem mech/kaiju novella with Neon Hemlock, and The Familialists, a queer social horror with Off Limits Press. They can currently be found in the deepest, darkest part of the woods, finishing a folk horror novella. But for a more normal method of contact, try @ttmaddenwrites on Twitter, Instagram, Bluesky, and TikTok.