Written in one sitting and originally posted to r/nosleep, this is the slightly edited-and-cleaned-up version. This story has its genesis in me getting sick of the “disposable female victim” trope, and subsequently wanting to mess around with it a little.
Content warning for self harm and implied sexual abuse.
When I was a kid I had this friend called Vic. She was a weird kid, scrawny and dirty and unpopular, and we kind of ended up as friends because I was a weird kid, too. There was a certain camaraderie, I guess, in constantly running into each other in the bathroom, cleaning spit balls out of our hair.
We started to hang out, first at school, then after and on weekends. Always at my place, though, never at Vic’s. My house was across the street from a green belt, and Vic and I used to spend hours up there; building treehouses and catching frogs and all the other nonsense things kids get up to. We called it “The Green” and pretended it was a magical otherworld, made up this whole mythology to go around it.
Like, I said, Vic was weird. She always wore boys’ hand-me-down clothes, ratty and full of holes. This was the ‘90s, the age of Seattle grunge, so I guess in some other universe she would’ve been cool. In real life, she just smelt of old cheese and flaked iron.
I learnt what the iron smell was one day sitting in Ebbflow Hollow, also known as the old stormwater drain in The Green.
It was a sweltering summer’s day, the sort where walking barefoot on pavement leaves blisters. I was in a tank top and Vic was wearing her dirty flannel shirt, because Vic always wore her dirty flannel shirt. It was so out of-place in the heat that I finally asked her about it. I remember her giving me this really long, deep look, then–very carefully–rolling up her sleeves.
Suddenly, long sleeves and the iron smell made sense: Vic was a cutter. Everything from her wrists on up was a tangled mass of old scarring and new scratches. Nothing suicide-deep, just shallow stuff; pain and frustration cuts. I’d never seen anything like it. (This was the 90s, pre-Internet, and there was a lot less information out there about this stuff back then.) I freaked out a bit at the sight of the cuts, and asked Vic why she did it. I’ll always remember her answer:
“Because it’s ugly. He doesn’t like ugly things.”
I know what you’re thinking and, nowadays, I think the same. But back then I was just a kid, and didn’t know how to deal with a situation like Vic’s. So I did the only thing I could think of at the time, and ignored it.
Yeah. I won’t lie; I still hate myself a little over that.
Anyway. The years dragged on and Vic and I became weird-kid-besties, sharing adventures up on the Green and helping each other survive the ravages of high school. About six months before things ended, Vic started getting real lethargic. Like, falling-asleep-in-class, dark-circles-around-the-eyes lethargic. She got sent to the nurse’s office a lot, where she spent most of the time asleep. I think the teachers were pretty lenient on her because they suspected what was going on at home. I mean, there are laws about mandatory reporting and whatever, but who knows. I guess they did what they could.
Sometimes, I would sit in the nurse’s office while Vic slept, just so she wouldn’t have to wake up alone. She had nightmares. Like, real bad nightmares, which I guess is why she didn’t sleep so well. She told me once she used to dream the Shredded was chasing her.
The Shredded was a monster we’d made up as part of the mythos of the Green. Once upon a time she’d been the King’s wife, gentle and kind, and more beautiful than anything else in the kingdom. All men wanted her and all women wanted to be her, that sort of thing. As is always the case in these stories, one day the King went away to war. When he returned, he began to suspect his wife had been unfaithful. She, of course, assured him her heart and body belonged to him and him alone. To no avail. The King’s paranoia grew; he had his wife locked in a tower but was convinced men were stealing in through the window at night. So he had her locked in a dungeon instead. Even filthy in the dark she was still beautiful, still coveted by the dungeon’s jailers, so the King had a hideous mask made from iron bands and the flayed head of a deer, and had it welded in place over her head. Even that did nothing to hide his wife’s beauty, nor stop other men from dreaming that, one day, they’d be able to rescue her and claim her for their own.
Eventually, the King decided to make his wife as ugly outside as he believed she was within. He had her stripped naked, bar her rotting deer-head mask, and dragged her on all fours through the streets. As she crawled, the people of the kingdom–still jealous of her or afraid of the King–whipped her with switches and pelted her with stones. Her bones snapped and her skin was shredded from her body, and still the King dragged her on. Until there was nothing left but a pile of broken, mangled meat beneath a rotting deer head.
Finally, as if woken from a dream, the King saw what he had done. He tore the mask from his wife’s head, only to find her unmarred face underneath; thin and dirty, but otherwise as lovely as she’d been the day they were wed. The King howled in grief and remorse for his cruelty, but it was too late. His wife was nothing more than a beautiful face atop a broken, mangled corpse.
The King held that corpse, weeping, well into the night. The moon rose high and full and red above him and the mangled flesh in his hands began to stir. The King cried in joy, believing a miracle was returning his wife to him. It was, in a sense. But the creature that arose was not his kind and gentle wife, but a grotesque monster of raw muscle and tattered flesh, starvation-thin limbs broken and twisted, and shoulders topped with a grinning, rotting deer skull.
Vic had been the one to make up the Shredded. We’d never really gotten around to figuring out what it did, exactly, only that it wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted coming after you.
I tried telling Vic it was just a story, just a dumb thing we’d made up. She told me she could smell it, that every night it got a little closer, and every night the smell got a little stronger. A rotten smell, like sour milk and flaking iron.
I didn’t have the heart to tell Vic that was her own smell and that, yeah, it was getting worse. It followed her around like a physical presence, sticking to everything she touched. Including me; my other friends knew if I’d been hanging out with Vic because of the stink she left on my clothes. Even my parents noticed. I started taking a lot more showers.
The end of the year loomed and Vic got worse and worse. She got really, really thin–skeletal thin, anorexia thin–her eyes sunken and wild. She started hallucinating, which I learnt later is a side effect of staying awake too long. Sometimes we’d be just hanging out or whatever and she’d grab me and start pointing at nothing, saying things like, “There. It’s right there. Can’t you see it?” At first she’d be pointing far away, like across the oval far away, but every day it was a little closer; across the car park, across the auditorium, across the classroom. Until one lunchtime, we were in the bathroom, and Vic suddenly yelled, “It’s here! Run!” And grabbed me and dragged me out. Her fingers were strong, like iron bands, which shocked me because she seemed so thin and so frail.
As we ran, I swear I felt… something brush against my back. I mean, I’ve relived that a lot over the years. Vic’s behaviour was really scaring me by then, so I keep telling myself it was nothing, just hysteria, just getting caught up in the moment, imagining fictional monsters because it was easier to deal with than reality. I keep telling myself that, but…
But that doesn’t explain the stain on the back of the hoodie I’d been wearing. A big, dark, hand-shaped smear. One that wouldn’t come out, one that stank like cheese and iron, no matter how many times it was washed.
Vic believed the Shredded was chasing her. That, maybe, it’d always been chasing her. It’d just taken this long to get to our world from the Green; the real Green, not our imagined empty lot. That’s why she didn’t want to sleep, because it was so close, now. All it had to do was reach out and grab her and—
“And what?” I’d asked, but Vic didn’t know.
The last time I saw Vic alive, it was Thursday. She was sitting on the stairs behind the science block, and she looked and smelt like a corpse. But she was calm. Calmer than I’d seen her in months. I remember she looked at me, her eyes big and soft and gentle, and she said:
“I know what it wants now. It wants to make me ugly. If I’m ugly, he won’t touch me.”
They were the last words she ever said to me.
Vic wasn’t at school that afternoon, or the day after. On Monday, the cops came. They told me Vic had been found dead in the stormwater drain–in Ebbflow Hollow–in the green belt across from my house. She’d finally cut in deep.
There was a big investigation. In the end, Vic’s death was ruled a suicide. Her uncle had been under suspicion for a while, but with no complaining witness, they couldn’t make anything stick. A month after the verdict, they found him badly mauled in a local park, attacked by something that’d torn off his face and his hands and his dick. He lived, but barely, shredded in body and in mind. Official verdict was that it’d been a feral dog, and no one looked too hard after that.
It’s been nearly twenty years, but I still think about Vic a lot. Particularly when the moon is high and full and red. On those nights, I dream I’m walking through the Green. It’s cold and I’m barefoot and there’s something following behind me. It smells like sour milk and rusted iron, and sometimes I can see its shadow on the ground; body a thin and twisted tatter, skull a stripped and grinning deer.
It’s behind me, and I’m afraid. But it never gets any closer, and I never turn around.