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Chapter One: The Silhouette
My name is Jay Mauser. Most of you probably don’t know who I am, and some probably think I’m dead. The truth is, I’m alive bright as day, but my brother isn’t. I’ve been off the radar for ten years, unwillingly imprisoned by an institution for claiming that my family has been murdered by a demon.
But the truth is, every story in your bookshelf is alive.
I’m here to tell you the story of how I failed to save my brother, and how this godforsaken spirit took my parent’s lives. I know you won’t believe me, because I didn’t even believe myself at first.
But trust me, you should. We weren’t the first, and we certainly weren’t the last.
June 11, 1994 – Chicago, Illinois
"Goodnight, Jude,” a soft voice said to her son as she tucked him into his bed, beneath the shattered window that desperately needed to be fixed. Jude looked up at his mother, a small smile spreading across his lips as he stared at her—for the last time—and no fear crossed his eyes.
“Night mom,” Jude replied with a tired yawn, his blue eyes fluttering slightly with exhaustion. Her hand caressed his cheek for a moment before she stood up from the grey blankets, moving towards her infant son only a few feet away.
She leaned over the crib’s edge, planting a tender kiss on her son, Jay’s, small head. “Have sweet dreams, my love,” she whispered in his ear. After a moment, she moved towards the light switch, her hand hovering over it as she looked at her sons. They were both so young, and even though she thought she’d see them in the morning, she didn’t want to leave them alone in the dark and in the room with an open window that allowed rain to sprinkle inside. She only hoped that the tarp would be enough shelter.
“Lori?” A male’s voice said from behind her, causing her to jump from surprise.
“You scared me…” she sighed to her husband John. He smiled softly and turned off the switch.
“We should get to bed.” His hand rested on her waist as he led her to their room. “It’s been a long night.”
Lori nodded with agreement, unable to disagree. Only the night before they had returned from the hospital, believing there was something wrong with Jay’s breathing. Apparently, it was just a bad nightmare that caused him to ingest something—a spider, perhaps. She was so afraid for her son’s life, but he was safe and sound.
Lori was asleep when the sound of the baby monitor went off. Jay was crying in distress. She grimaced slightly, leaning over to turn on the lamp, and a soft, yellow light illuminated the whole room.
“John?” she murmured, but no one answered. She looked to the side where her husband would lay, but he wasn’t there. She looked around the room once more before she rolled herself off of the bed, grudgingly making her way towards her son’s room.
She peaked into the room before walking in, finding that Jude was fast asleep, as well as Jay. Not a sign of tears, not a sign of distress. Strange. She turned around to leave the room, but the sound of a creak made her stop in her tracks. Her brows furrowed as she looked over her shoulder. No one was in there besides Jay and Jude, and both were asleep. Lightning flashed outside, and—
She could have sworn a shadow moved… Shrugging to herself, the female shut their door and walked down the dark hallway.
The light was flickering at the end of the hall — she had changed them last week. She rubbed her chin with confusion, and her finger tapped it to adjust the light. “That’s weird…,” she whispered to herself.
She walked down the stairs and into the living room, and she squinted her eyes at the light of the buzzing television. “John?” she said, reaching his side, rubbing his arm. The sound of a low snore told her that he was fast asleep, just like everyone else.
Lori Mauser’s brows furrowed, unsure of why her husband would fall asleep in the living room right after they had gone to bed. But her thoughts dissipated when the sound of footsteps could be heard from upstairs.
“Jude? Are you awake?” Lori followed the sound of the footsteps, and for some reason, they lead to the basement. “Jude?” she called again, but no one answered. Her heart was pounding, and she felt lightheaded at that moment. Why wasn’t her son answering her?
“Jude!” she cried as she ran down the stairs, loud creaks following every step. She reached the bottom, and when she pulled the light, there was a dark silhouette in the corner, standing there. Everything stopped at that moment. Time itself, her heart… Jude wasn’t here.
She was shaking now, fear overwhelming every inch of her body. She couldn’t speak, hear… Nothing, but a blank space of nothing at all. But then she was moving. She was sliding across the floor, and her body was slammed against the wall. She let out a cry of panic, knowing that the figure wanted to hurt her. Badly.
“Lori?” she heard John’s voice call. “Lori?”
Please don’t come down stairs, she wanted to scream, but her mouth was sealed shut.
Legs could be seen ascending the stairs as he rushed into the basement. Her savior… but did he know that she was truly in danger, and that he had gotten himself into this, too? She cried silently, silver tears running down her blanched cheeks as her husband laid eyes on her. She was sprawled against the wall, forced to lie there as the dark silhouette flicked its finger and… just like that, John’s head snapped. It was in an awful direction, and her screams could be heard for miles.
“John!” Just like that, she could speak. Just like that, she could feel hot, boiling anger that ripped throughout her entire soul. Yet she was helpless against the dark figure. She could do nothing at all. And that scared her.
Words Lori could not understand poured from the dark silhouette’s mouth, and a shiver was sent down her spine. She watched as it got closer and closer and closer… Until it was a mouth’s breath away. She gulped hard, sweat beading atop her brow. She had to remain strong for her boys. Even though she felt a black pit of nothingness at the feeling of her lover being murdered by that thing.
The dark silhouette’s hand touched her cheek, and she wanted to move away, but her body was glued to the basement wall.
“Mommy?” a tired voice whispered at the top of the stairs. No!
The dark silhouette’s head whipped to the side, and a flash of red beamed from his eyes. Oh God, save my Jude! Save my boys! She used all of her strength as she struggled on the wall, her words coming out in muffled cries as if she were gagged. Save him, save him, save him…
But as if a miracle, the door slammed shut, leaving her Jude behind the door. A scream could be heard from behind the wall, but she couldn’t care at that moment. He was safe…
The eyes of pure rage bored into her own, and her eyes widened. She wasn’t as afraid as before. Her husband was gone, in Heaven. Her boys were safe. She didn’t want to leave them, but she… she didn’t have a choice. But couldn’t she fight? Couldn’t she try?
But in moments, a hand grasped her throat, and she let out a panicked cry, unable to breathe in fresh oxygen. He squeezes tighter and tighter until black edged her vision, and her throat screamed for air. Please… She felt as if she was drowning in an endless sea of flames, and it was like ash was clogged in her throat. Her lungs fought for cold, beautiful air, but they didn’t fight hard enough. She wished she had.
Her lungs were on fire, and she hadn’t realized he let her go before she fell onto her knees. She breathed in and out with painful wheezes, and she had never felt more relieved. But the moment only lasted for so long. Hot-blooded pain rose inside her, and her organs felt as if they were being melted away by an unknown source. She gasped slightly, her mouth falling agape with shock. Nothing could move, even though he freed her. A single tear fell down her cheek, as she knew fire had awakened inside her.
Oh god, she was on fire!
She fell to her side, a scream escaping her lips at the excruciating pain she could feel in her limbs, in her insides.
It came to a point where she could feel nothing at all. Third degree burn. Her body was shaking, and she was seizing. She couldn't see, smell or feel. Just nothing. Her body was something completely different.
And she just wanted to go. She wanted to die. She never wanted her sons to see her this way, for she knew they wouldn't recognize her. She was gone. She was already dead.
The ambulance and police had arrived an hour later. Jude and Jay were found at the edge of the road, and both were crying with fear. They were freezing and afraid, completely oblivious to what had happened inside the house. However, Jude claimed that there was a monster that killed his mother and father. No one believed him.
The police said that Lori had killed her husband, and that she was so distraught she set herself on fire. But that didn't explain her insides that were burnt first. The police refused to investigate this crime any further, and they wouldn't tell anything to Jude for he was much too young.
But on that night, even if he was a child, Jude swore to himself that he'd solve this case and bring justice to his family. He would kill that monster that took his parents lives.
June 11, 2017 – Danville, Illinois, 23 years later
"Come on Jay! We can't miss the reunion!" Sarah, Jay's girlfriend, called from the bedroom as she put in her earrings and pampered up her curly blonde hair.
Jay walked into the room, a grin plastered over his lips as he showed off his newly bought tuxedo. "How do I look?" he asked her.
"Stunning," she replied. "Handsome." She winked seductively, and Jay let out an amused laugh.
"So I'm fit enough to see our fellow classmates?" he inquired, striding over to her and resting his hands on her hips as he kissed her.
"Not with that breath of yours," she replied with a cringe, batting the air in front of Jay's mouth.
Jay rolled his eyes. "I just brushed my teeth," he muttered.
"Doesn't smell like it." She crossed her arms with pursed lips. Always a tease, she was. Smirking, the male left the room and grabbed their Camaro's car keys.
"Come on, just as you said: we can't miss it."
The duo entered a large, 1930s secondary school hand in hand. The gym was as big as they remembered, but there was a large banner that read: class of 2006. 90s pop music played in the room, and couples were dancing with each other. Jay couldn't help but smile.
Lights illuminated the gym with blue, purple, and green. The decorations were overdone, especially with the tinsel and confetti spreading around the room as if this was a four-year-olds’ birthday party.
"Jay!" A voice called to him, followed by three boys from senior year that he remembered. Adam Bane, Justin Fox, and Kevin Maxwell. They were all jocks, and only Adam was the one that wouldn't pick on him and tug at his hair that reached the nape of his neck. They claimed he looked like a 'cougar' that was in desperate need of a shave.
Jay mustered up a fake smile and clasped Adam's hand and brought themselves into a hug. "Long time," Jay said as they pulled apart and he returned to Sarah's side.
"It's only been a couple years." Adam placed his hands on his sides as he eyed Sarah. "And you got yourself a girl."
Sarah beamed, and her pale skin brightened. "Jay's the best boyfriend any girl could ask for," she replied, looking up at Jay beneath her dark lashes.
"Ah, now must we watch them make out?" Justin complained with a snicker from Kevin.
"Let them have fun!" Kevin exclaimed.
Jay shook his head. "But we're already having fun," he told them.
"I bet you are," Adam grinned.
Jay felt an itching feeling in his hand as Adam's crew stared him down. He didn't want to run into them today, and he felt as if things weren't going to turn out as he wanted them to. But what did he expect? Fun and games? Good memories? Not really.
"So, what have you been doing with your life besides getting a girl?" Kevin asked with a raised brow.
Jay shrugged. "You know, getting myself into college, studying law enforcement..."
"What about your brother, Jude?" Justin chimed in.
Jay looked down at the ground. He didn't really know. "Who knows," he sighed. "All I know is that he's on the road, traveling." It wasn't the full truth, but they didn't need to know. "And you?"
Adam laughed. "Justin still thinks he can be a star in the game, and Kevin's got a wife. Me? I'm still discovering."
Jay nodded, smiling a little. "You'll find something worth your time."
"Yeah." Adam shrugged. "Well, we'll see you two around," he said as he pulled his crew away.
Jay looked at Sarah with raised brows. "That was interesting," he muttered.
“They were nice," she said, hugging his side as they walked towards the crowd.
"Only if you saw them in high school. They were anything but." He ended up kicking their asses in a game—literally. They showed him respect after that, especially when they each formed black eyes. However, he decided to not tell her that.
"A police officer?" Alex, his friend from high school, said with disbelief as he heard that Jay was in college for law enforcement.
Sarah nodded proudly. "He scored a 176 in his test," she told him. “He really knocked them out this time!”
Alex let out a low whistle. "How does it feel to be the golden boy of your family? Considering your brother’s circumstances."
Jay let out a sigh, setting down his drink. "Ah, Jude doesn't know."
"Why not?" Alex asked, making a face.
"Well, we’re not as… connected as other families.” Jay let out a laugh, shaking his head. He hasn't spoken to his brother even since he graduated. They parted ways when Jude decided to go on a road trip. He was happy, honestly. Jude, he was… he was dealing with things a different way. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes… “I prefer to not talk about it.”
"Here's to a perfect hero," Sarah decided to chant as she held up her glass. Adam and Jay both joined in, grinning. Tonight was going better than he thought.
They returned back to their apartment, both falling asleep on the bed. But just before Jay could so much as get a minute of sleep, he awoke to the sound of the door clicking. He looked to the side, finding Sarah still asleep. Hoisting himself off the mattress, he grabbed the baseball bat in the closet, and exited the room. Who the hell would break into a house with the owners inside?
He made his way slowly towards the door, and he could have sworn he heard his heart beating with fear. It thumped with an abnormal pace, and it felt as if it was going to explode from his chest. He held in his breath, and just when he reached the front, he put his eye to the hole and immediately resisted when he saw a young man with black hair kneeling in front of the knob, attempting to picklock the door.
Jay held the bat up as he swung the door open, and the male fell backwards, surprise written all over his face as he realized he was caught. He threatened to hit him with the bat, but the man held his hands up in surrender.
“I wasn’t trying to break in,” he quickly said, his blue eyes wide with fear and panic.
Jay noticed the light touching the male's face, and he instantly recognized the man before him. Black hair, blue eyes... light stubble around his chiseled jaw line. The practical identical twin, even when they were three years apart… Jude was here?
"Jude?" He let out a relieved sigh, pressing two fingers into the bridge of his nose as he felt an oncoming headache. "What the hell! You scared the crap out of me!"
Jude smirked and lifted himself off the ground. "That's what brothers are for, right?"
Jay rolled his eyes, rubbing his chin. "Yeah, sure," he muttered in response. “Breaking and entering. Real smooth.”
His brother grinned and opened his mouth to say something else, but the sound of footsteps from behind them cut him off. "Jay? What's going on?" Sarah’s voice asked Jay, her eyes lying on Jude with confusion.
“Uh," he said, "this is Jude."
"Your brother?" she inquired, raising a brow.
“Pleasure to meet your acquaintance..." his words trailed off as he held out his hand, clearly showing that he wanted her name.
"Sarah," Jay clarified to him as she took Jude's hand. Before she let go, Jay watched with a frown as he grazed her arm seductively. Seriously?
Jude grinned and eyed Sarah like a wolf. Jay was tempted to smack him, but yet again, he was his brother.
Sarah let out a nervous laugh, and then turned to Jay. "This is a surprise."
"I know," he murmured, looking at Jude with raised brow as in question: why are you here?
Jude let out a sigh. "Sarah, darling. Do you mind if you let Jay and I speak alone?"
Jay looked at her for a long moment, a long sigh escaping his lips. It’s been years since I’ve seen Jude, and now he wants to talk… “It’ll just be a few minutes,” he reassured her.
“OK,” she said cautiously and looked at Jude before walking away and back into their bedroom.
Jude rubbed his chin, and after a long moment, he finally said, "I think I know what happened to our parents on the night of their death."
Jay stopped moving, and he stared at his brother for a long, sickening moment. Was he lying? Was he telling the truth? He knew that his brother vowed to bring justice to their family, but hadn’t he told his brother that he didn’t want to be involved?
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Jude had said to him five years ago—the last time he saw his brother. “Our parents… They didn’t die in a fire. Truthfully, no one knows how they died.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Jay asked, looking at his older brother sadly. He was confused, and he felt himself begin to shake.
“I know you’re confused; I am too,” he continued. “But you need to listen to me.” And he did, for Jude was his older brother. “I was there the night mom and dad died… I watched dad’s neck…” Tears fell down his cheeks, but Jude remained strong. “I was so afraid, Jay, and I wanted to run, but I stayed there. But before I could react… the door slammed shut, leaving me behind when I heard her scream. But she was screaming with sadness, she was screaming with pain and…”
Jay’s eyes widened at his words, taking it all in. Why had he never told him this before? “Who… Who killed them?” He was too afraid to know, truthfully, but he still asked. He should know, nonetheless.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he said, his features darkening. “But once I do, Jay, they will pay.”
“What are you going to do?”
Jude looked as if he expected a different response, but Jay was oblivious to what he had expected. “I’m going on a road trip,” he told him. “Across America, I’ll go investigate crimes similar like this. Paranormal activity, dark silhouettes… Demons, ghosts, monsters… Y’know, the ones from television?”
“But those are all fantasy.” Jay sat up from his spot on the beer-dried couch. “Fiction.”
“And how do we explain—how does anyone explain—what happened to mom and dad? I watched them die—“
“We were kids!” Jay suddenly snapped, unsure where this rage came from. But he felt so angry that Jude would involve him in such nonsense! “You don’t know what you saw, Jude.”
Jude looked hurt, but he didn’t flinch once. He stood up from his spot and swung his packed duffel bag over his shoulder. “If you won’t come with me, then goodbye.”
“Where will you go?” Jay stood up, distraught and ire written all over his face. He was afraid for his brother.
“I told you, across America.”
“But that isn’t an answer—“
“It’s good enough for me,” was all he said before he turned to walk out the door. Those were the last words he said to him before he left. Five years have already passed.
Jay was brought back to reality when he felt someone slap him across the face. Jay held it protectively, cringing with the sharp pain that jolted through his face.
“Did you hear me?” Jude asked with a serious and concerned tone.
Jay curtly nodded. “Yeah…”
“So you know what we have to do?”
What, exactly, was there to do? Their parents were murdered, as his brother claimed, and he came back to tell him to join him on some impossible hunt? They didn’t even know how to hunt these things, nor did they have proof that they even existed!
Jude pulled him outside and down into the cold parking lot in front of their cheap apartment. It was completely empty, and they were the only two souls roaming the streets at the moment. It was probably around three o’clock in the morning.
The bitingly cold bit at his skin, even when he was wearing thick, cotton pajamas with a t-shirt in the summer weather. Jay leaned against his car that was practically falling apart, and he looked at his brother, shaking his head.
“We don’t see each other for five years, and now you expect me to go on some road trip with you?” Jay quirked a brow in question as he spoke.
Jude shrugged. “What do you want me to say? I’m sorry for leaving like that? Because I’m not, Jay. I’m not sorry for going out and solving the mystery of our parents' death.” Why did his words hurt more than he expected?
“I just expected more, you know?” Jay lifted his shoulders and dropped them dramatically. “You left without so much as a goodbye, and no calls or anything. I wasn’t even sure if you were dead, Jude! But then you return, breaking into my home as if this was some cool, brotherly ritual or something, and then you want me to help you on a crazy person’s idea of justice? Hunting something that isn’t real?”
Jude let out a bitter laugh, looking down at the cement ground. “How do you know that monsters don’t exist?” That is the only thing he got out of that?
“Because, something that isn’t proven cannot be assumed to exist. It’s a child’s fear; it’s a story. You, however, are lost in a delusion.”
Pain crossed his brother’s eyes at his words. “You were only a baby.”
“And you were only a child,” he shot back.
Jude let out a long sigh, rubbing his chin. “Jay, I didn’t come here to fight,” he said calmly. He was trying to make things better, Jay knew. “I know we left things badly, but I don’t want to shut you out. We’re family, we’re blood…”
Jay nodded to his words, but he couldn’t look at him. Things have been hard for them their whole lives, and they only had each other left. And they couldn’t just ignore what happened, could they? And he knew that Jude wouldn’t leave him alone until he said yes.
“Okay,” he acquiesced. “One week.”
Jude looked confused at first until realization crossed him. Suddenly Jude had brought him into an embrace and squeezed him tightly. Choking slightly from the lack of oxygen, Jay got out, “Can’t breathe—“
His brother let him go, and a broad grin was spread across his lips. “You won’t regret it,” he assured him as he walked the opposite way, towards a modern vehicle that was nearly impossible for Jay himself to afford. So, how could Jude afford such a thing? The black paint of the car was perfect, and the car almost glistened beneath the street lights.
Jay let out a whistle of approval. “Is that yours?”
“Ah, you like her?” he inquired with a smirk. Jay nodded. “She’s a 2011 BMW M3.” Jude patted her trunk before he swung it open, revealing guns, salt, hand cuffs, daggers… The criminal’s jackpot. “It’s the last thing mom and dad gave us before they… passed. Well, I sold the original car and got this beauty. She’s the upgraded version of herself.”
Jay’s eyes widened and his breath hitched. “Jude—“ He was more surprised about the weapons, rather than the fact that mom and dad had apparently given them a car that he didn’t even hear about.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got my license,” he told him and pulled out a stack of papers. Jay was speechless. If he had a badge… What the hell could he do in this situation? It’s not like he could arrest his brother—even if, he was still in school. “Take a look at these,” he ordered him as he pushed it into his chest. Taking the folders, he looked at the first page, finding records of murderers, missing persons, etc…
“Where did you get these?”
Jude pulled out a tin box and showed him fake IDs, credit cards, and FED badges. For some reason, some had his own face on the cards. “Used these to get my information.”
“That’s illegal!” he hissed quietly at his brother. Sure, he was insane, but this… This was out there. Who the hell had all of this?
“I know,” Jude replied with a careless shrug. “But working in this business has some… procedures we’ve gotta’ go through.”
Jay shook his head with disbelief but said nothing more. He continued to look through the paper, noticing patterns and names. The article was dated September 5, 2015. Only two years ago. Jessica Maul, death caused by a fire, along with her daughter, Elisa Maul. The father lived, but was put in a mental institute for claiming he saw a “demon.”
“This gig is similar to ours, don’t you think?”
Jay shrugged, flipping through more articles dated back decades, all about two victims dying in a fire and leaving one witness. Why were they so similar? And why did no one care enough to check out these cases? But a lot of fires happened across the state. It wasn’t like this was unordinary, right?
“Yeah, sure,” Jay murmured. “But these are just coincidences.”
“Really? Coincidences? That’s what everyone says, Jay. They all think that nothing else happened but a fire because they’re afraid of the truth.” Truthfully, Jay had to admit he was afraid to know. “But we can’t leave this be, Jay. We need to crack this case!”
“Jude, we’re not the Ghost Busters,” he said flatly.
“But someone’s got to be,” Jude pushed. “Haven’t you always wanted to be a hero?”
A police officer was his dream, and he got himself into college. Ruining his reputation with this… Was he willing to risk it all? He already told his brother one week, and then he’d return to his studies. He just hoped his brother wouldn’t push him further than he agreed.
“When do we leave?” he asked him.
Relief shone in Jude’s blue eyes as he shut the trunk, taking the paper from his hand. “Now.”
“You’re leaving? Now?” Sarah followed behind Jay’s tail as he packed a suitcase. “Your brother comes out of a blue, and all of a sudden you're leaving me here? You’re leaving on a road trip?”
“Yes,” Jay said to her, swinging the bag over his shoulder. “But I’ll be back next week, I promise.”
Sarah placed her hands on his shoulders. “Listen to me, Jay. I know you haven’t seen your brother for years, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave.”
But it does. “I know,” he told her, kissing her softly on the lips. Resting his head on her forehead, he added, “But it’ll only be a week. I need to get a vacation anyways.”
She sighed with defeat, kissing him one last time before she let him go. “Promise me you’ll be back.”
“I promise,” he replied sternly, looking her in the eyes. He was remembering everything about her. The way she smiled, the way her eyebrow twitched when she was nervous or afraid… The way the light touched her green eyes, and how her blonde hair practically sparkled beneath the sun. It would only be a week, he told himself. He’ll see her soon.
“I love you,” she whispered as he turned to walk away.
“I love you, too,” he said back before he left the apartment. In that moment he regretted leaving, but it was already too late. He got into his brother’s 1967 Mustang, slamming the door shut as he looked at him.
“Where to?” Jay asked his brother.
Jude started the engine to the vehicle, and indie rock met his ears. “Kansas,” Jude replied.