07 Mar Bandersnatch
The Dead Canary
The effects were instant.
Seconds after I swallowed the tablet, I felt lightheaded. Faint. I gripped the side of the armchair; the house swayed underneath me.
“You feelin’ it, huh, Kasey?” Sandra said.
I’d never done drugs before. Ever. And this… this was some home-brewed concoction, called “Bandersnatch,” by a friend of Sandra’s. What was I thinking? What did I just get myself into?
I pulled my coat tighter and closed my eyes.
“No, don’t close your eyes!” Sandra said. “You’re missing the best part! Look — the walls are moving!” She let out a high-pitched, weird laugh.
“No,” I replied, shutting my eyes tighter. “I don’t want to see.”
“But look! There’s something moving under the wallpaper!”
“Okay, fine!” My eyes flew open.
The walls were dark green, covered in gold damask. Fancy like the rest of the house. But now… the damask pattern rippled and warped, as if something large were moving underneath it.
My heart began to pound.
Sandra let out a wheezing laugh. “You look so scared, Kasey! Don’t worry. It’s not real. It’s just the chemicals taking effect in your brain.”
Smack! The wall convulsed, shaking the large oil painting Mr. and Mrs. Bencht had hung up. It clattered loudly against the wall, threatening to fall.
But there was something wrong with it.
The little painted farmers, who were usually happily scattering wheat seeds, ran through the fields in terror. Behind them, the silhouette of something large and gray bounded towards them.
“Sandra. Look at the painting,” I said, my voice shaky.
“What about it?”
“There’s something wrong with it.”
The little farmers were now at the edge of the painting. They clawed at the frame, mouths open in terror. The shadow loomed closer behind them.
“They’re running from something.”
“Peasants running from menial labor? Sounds about right.”
I snapped towards her. “Are you not seeing this?!”
Underneath them, the wallpaper churned faster. As if rats, or immense bugs, were skittering underneath. The farmers were thrashing in terror, now, as the shadow bounded forth.
“Make it stop. Make it stop, Sandra!” I shrieked, my voice reaching fever pitch.
She laughed in response. “I can’t make it stop. It’ll wear off eventually. Come on, just enjoy it. Ha, look! There’s a three-legged woman sitting on the couch!” She grinned at the thin air. “Hi! What’s your name?”
I didn’t see the three-legged woman.
I just saw the walls, rippling and shaking with growing force. The farmers in the painting, crying and thrashing as the large mass on the horizon grew ever closer.
“Stop, stop, stop,” I muttered to myself. “Please, stop –”
The painting flew forward, as if something had punched it from the back. It narrowly avoided my head before crashing to the floor.
Behind it was a gaping, dark, rectangular hole.
I didn’t see beams, or insulation, or drywall. Just darkness. Like the sky on a moonless night. Or the depths of the ocean.
I stood up, took a step towards it.
I ran my hand along the wall, then grabbed the raw edge. Bits of drywall crumbled in my hands. I leaned my head forward, to peer inside —
A hand shot out.
I leapt back, screaming. The hand gripped the side of the wall, fingers groping for a better hold. Bits of drywall crumbled to the ground.
“H-hello?” I called. I whipped around to Sandra.
The room was empty.
Not just empty. Abandoned. It looked like, in the span of seconds, decades of dust and grime had appeared. The armchairs were covered in white sheets. The wallpaper had a faded to a sickly shade of grayish-green.
What happened? Where… where’d she go? I turned back to the hole, my pulse pounding in my ears. The hands had crawled up the side of the wall, now, and a dark shape was taking form in the shadow.
A face emerged.
No, no, no…
It was Sandra’s face. Smeared with blood and dust. Contorted into a look of panic. “Please, help me,” she whispered. “It’s coming for me. Please –”
I jumped back.
“Kasey!” She pulled herself up a bit. Then she slipped, disappearing halfway back down the hole. “Give me your hand!”
Shaking, I took a step forward. Extended my arm.
My fingers brushed against hers.
“Closer,” she choked. “You have to get closer.”
I took a step.
Her hand grabbed mine. Hard.
I yanked forward. “Hey!” I yelped. “Hey, stop! Sandra!”
“I’m not Sandra.”
Before my very eyes, her skin cracked like a mirror. Dozens of black cracks webbed across her face, her arms, her body. The pieces, one-by-one, fell off like eggshell — leaving tufts of gray hair in their wake.
I looked down and screamed.
It was no longer a hand latched onto my wrist.
It was a gray, furry claw.
It yanked me forward. I skidded across the floor, towards the hole. “Stop it!” I screamed, trying to pry it off of me. “Get off! Get off!”
The creature stared at me with milky-white eyes. Its gray fur bristled like a lion’s mane; its mouth hung open to reveal rows and rows of sharp teeth.
“Hey! Stop!” someone shouted from behind me — but they sounded so far away. “Kasey!”
Slam! My body hit the wall.
My face leaned into the hole.
And for a second, I saw it all.
Stars, twinkling in the utter blackness. Shimmering and pulsing in colors I couldn’t begin to describe. Eras of history, happening all at once. Pyramids built as men landed on the moon. Christ born as fleets of spaceships fought in World War X. Everything melted into each other. Connected. Unified.
But beneath it all — a rippling, gray mass. With the head of a dog, the mane of a lion, the claws of a bear. It had reached up to grab me, but it was present in all that I saw. Hideous and revolting. Grabbing at every moment, every man, every soul. Trying to pull every particle of existence towards it.
“Kasey! Hey, Kasey!” Hands grabbed me roughly by the shoulders. “Kasey!”
I was pressed against the wall. Blurry damask patterns filled my eyes. The back of the painting pressed into my head; my nose smushed against the wall.
“Kasey? Are you okay?
I slid my head out. Sandra stood in front of me. Her brown eyes were wide; her hair stuck to her forehead in wet curls. “Kasey. Talk to me.”
I looked down.
My own fingers were dug into my wrist, clawing at the flesh. Deep, red marks bloomed into shining blood.
“I… I don’t think so,” I said.
* * * * * *
“Tell me what happened.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” she scoffed. “Of course you know. You just don’t want to tell me.”
It was true. Sandra had been a good friend for three years now — yet I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what I’d seen. “I can’t really describe it,” I said, finally.
I ignored. “Why is it so cold in here?” I pulled the coat tighter around me. “Don’t your parents believe in heat?”
She shrugged. “My mom doesn’t like to sweat. She thinks it’s gross.”
I halfway smiled, for the first time since the high. “Your mom doesn’t sound fun.”
“No, she isn’t. Not at all.” She grinned. “I can’t complain about her, though. She goes out a lot so I can have my space. Which means –” she did a suggestive eyebrow waggle — “I get to do Bandersnatch with my friends.”
“What is Bandersnatch, exactly?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. All I know is the name.” She pointed to the small, plastic baggie sitting on the table. In Sharpie, someone had written Bandersnatch over it. “It’s a reference to that guy who played Sherlock, I think.”
“No, it’s not. It’s a creature from Alice in Wonderland.”
We fell into an awkward silence. Finally, I said: “I should be off. I need to go to get some stuff done before Monday.”
She nodded, not meeting my eyes. “Go and do your thing.”
I walked out into the cold. The sun was beginning to set, outlining the trees in gold. I pressed the button on my keys — the lone car in the driveway blipped back at me.
For all the riches the Benchts had, they never bought their daughter a car.
I shook my head and started it up. Through the thin veil of trees, their neighbor — Mr. Dickinson — was shoveling snow off his deck. When he saw me, he gave his usual frown. As if to say what the fuck are you doing here?
I smiled and waved to him. Then I turned for home.
* * * * * *
That night, I lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling.
I’m never doing that again. That much I was sure of. I’d never had such a terrifying, weird experience in my life.
I closed my eyes.
But sleep never came. Every time my lids shut, images of that hideous creature filled my mind.
I rolled over and pulled the blanket over my face.
I jolted up.
All was silent once more, save for the steady rush of city traffic. “H-hello?”
I pulled off the blanket. Softly, slowly, I stepped out of bed. My hand fell on the cold metal of the doorknob.
With a deep breath, I pulled it open.
The main room of the apartment was dark. Too dark to see anything other than blocky silhouettes. Outside the windows, snow fell, obscuring the skyscrapers across the street.
I jumped. “Hello?” I said, louder this time. I stepped into the kitchen. My fingers fumbled across the wall. Where’s the light switch? Come on, come on…
My hand fell on smooth plastic.
Yellow light filled the apartment.
“No. No, no…”
Gaping black holes. On every wall. Some so large, the apartment should have collapsed. The edges were jagged and dusty, as if someone tore them out with impossible force.
I backed away.
I’m not high anymore. I shouldn’t be seeing this.
Something shifted behind the wall. Something huge. Each footstep shook the entire apartment, reverberated through the walls. A flash of gray fur, of milky-white eyes.
“Get back!” I screamed.
I swung the door open and ran out into the hallway.
Ding. The elevator doors whooshed open. I ran inside. Pressed “1” repeatedly.
The doors didn’t close.
Snap! Snap! The snapping sound started. Soft, then growing louder by the second. “Come on, come on!” I screamed, pressing the close door button. Maybe this isn’t real. Maybe I still have a trace of the drug in me. Maybe —
The hallway walls began to shake. The lights flickered.
“Come on!” I screamed. “Please, go!” I glanced at the stairwell door. It was halfway down the hallway, barely visible in the darkness. I’d never make it.
The walls undulated violently, shedding dust and drywall everywhere. Snap! Snap!
And then the lights went out.
With it, the walls stopped moving. The snaps, the thumps, faded into total silence.
My heart slowed. I cowered in the far corner of the elevator, praying it had left. Everything was dark — save for the glow of the EXIT sign above me.
“Kasey!” Sandra’s voice called, from the far end of the hallway. And then I saw it — the silhouette of a woman. Just barely visible in the red glow. “Kasey! Thank God, I found you. Please — help me!”
I jammed the close door button.
“I know it’s not you, Sandra!” I screamed. “Get away from me!”
And then the silhouette was no longer a woman. It was a hulking, terrible shadow, taking up the entire width of the hallway. Bristled fur. Thick legs. Standing, still, at the far end of the hall.
I felt every muscle in my body freeze.
It took a step forward.
Everything shook. The walls, the floor, the elevator. Thump. Its silhouette swayed with every lurching step.
“Move, dammit!” I screamed. In a wild impulse, I slapped my hand against the elevator wall.
The elevator doors whooshed shut.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone. Dialed Sandra’s number. She never picked up the phone, but I prayed she would answer this time.
Brzt! Brzt! Brzt!
Busy signal. As usual. My heart pounded as I waited for the elevator to descend. 4, 3, 2, 1…
I ran out of the elevator. Out the door, into the snow. Then I drove to Sandra’s house.
* * * * * *
“Something’s wrong with me.” I stared at Sandra, my lip trembling.
“What do you mean?” Her brown eyes filled with concern. “Kasey, are you okay?”
“I think I’m still high. Because I’m still seeing things.” I let out a quavering sigh. “Or maybe… maybe it’s real. Maybe it followed me back.”
“What followed you back?”
I expected Sandra to start laughing madly. Or to say I’m really worried about you, Kasey. We should go to a doctor.
But instead, she said: “Tell me about it.”
“This creature… it comes out of the walls. Like a huge, gray lion. But it’s the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen.” I pulled my coat tighter around me, my breath coming out in puffs of mist. “Ugh. It’s so cold in here. Can’t you turn up the heat?”
“Sorry. I can get you a blanket, or –”
“No. It’s okay.” I glanced over at Sandra. She stared back at me, watching intensely. “Do you have any food, though? I’m feeling a little weak.”
She shrugged. “I don’t think so. But you can check.”
I walked into the kitchen. It was mostly bare, as usual. No fruit on the counter, no cookies or bread. I sighed and grabbed the refrigerator door.
Not a single piece of food. Just dust, dirt, and grime.
And it wasn’t even cold.
“Sandra?” I called, pushing the door shut. “I think there’s something wrong with your –”
I was standing in an empty kitchen. Perfectly empty — not a single piece of furniture. Layers of dust covered the counter like snow.
It looked abandoned. Like no one had lived here in years.
“Sandra?” I called, walking back into the room.
The armchairs were covered with sheets. The damask wallpaper was cracked and faded. Where the painting hung was a jagged hole instead, spilling insulation and dust.
“I’m right here.”
I whipped around.
Sandra stood behind me, smiling.
But something was wrong.
Her pale skin rippled and roiled, as something churned underneath. Her eyes flickered from brown to milky-white.
No… this isn’t real. It can’t be.
Her lips curled into a smile. “Do you understand now?”
She gestured to the empty, abandoned house. “The house. The drug. Me.”
I shook my head, backing away.
“This mansion has been abandoned for years,” she said, taking a step closer. “It’s a popular drug drop-off for the dealers in this town.” She grinned. “Especially for Bandersnatch.”
“I don’t… I don’t understand. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Do I really have to spell it out for you, Kasey?” She sighed. “You’ve been visiting this house every day — for the past three years. Each time, you steal a pill. Or three. You take them, you get high… and then you to see me.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m not a real person. You’ve only been seeing me every day because, well… you’ve been high every day.”
“No. You’re my friend.” I suddenly felt dizzy, faint. “I know you. I tell you everything. You’re one of the closest friends I have.”
“Then how did we meet?”
“I…” I faltered. I tried to remember the first time I hung out with Sandra. What drew us together.
But it was all blank.
“Who… who are you?”
“I’m Sandra Bencht,” she said, her smile widening into a grin. “Or, if you rearrange the letters… Bandersnatch.”
I ran out of the room. I grabbed the doorknob, yanked it open. The snow was coming down heavily, now — thick flakes flitting and twirling in the wind.
And then the snow-covered ground rippled.
I ran across the lawn. I threw the keys in the ignition, started it up; then I pulled out of the driveway.
Through the veil of snow, the dark, abandoned mansion looked back at me. In the doorway stood a hulking, gigantic silhouette.
I pulled out of the driveway and didn’t look back.