I was a junior in college in the fall of 2012. I had managed to convince my parents to let me take over their place while they vacationed in the French Riviera (don’t ask, dad worked for a huge company, he was a higher-up.) I aspired to be a musician, and they were willing to do just about anything to keep me in school. I told them, if I was going, I wanted to go all the way and at least get my M.A., and they had no argument, even offered to foot the bill for school, books, etc.
However, I was on my own as far as basic living. They took care of the bills for me, but small things like food, cell phone bills, etc, I still had to come up with cash for. I was normally able to make due playing music, but I was always on the lookout around campus for a good scheme to make some cash.
At one point, I saw an ad on one of the campus flyer-boards that was offering payment in exchange for participating in a study the psychology department was doing. I’d done some of these before, even chain-smoked cigarettes for a study one of the medical departments was doing. I got $200 a day, and free cigarettes!
Anyway, I visited the psych building later that day, and asked the faculty office secretary about the study and what it entailed. She told me I was only the second one to enquire, so the space was still available. The registration was only open for that day, which was surprising, as they normally kept it open until they had as many people as needed. The stats (statistics) faculty worked with the psych department on a lot of the studies, and sometimes the participants numbered in the thousands.
This one was different, though. The secretary made a quick phone call, and told me to head into Dr. Mazur’s office. I’d had Dr. Mazur as a teacher for Intro to Psych, which sucked. Massive class, probably over 100 people in one of the bigger lecture halls, and he was a really monotonous, “Bueller…Bueller…” type of teacher. I walked into his office and shook his hand, then took a seat in front of his desk. He handed me a small stack of papers, which detailed the study. It was pretty vague, but mentioned that I’d be wearing an experimental medical bracelet, as well as a
pulse monitor on my wrist, and that the staff would be able to check the status of the pulse one remotely at any time. One paragraph stressed that the study was not meant to be invasive, but people uncomfortable with feeling “watched” or “monitored” should probably sit this one out (I’m paraphrasing.) This didn’t bother me, so I kept reading.
Towards the end, before the signature/agreement lines, was a paragraph in smaller print. It glossed over what I understood to be participation by the U.S. government in the study as a third-party observer. I asked Dr. Mazur about this, and he explained that the first bracelet, not the pulse one, contained some highly regulated materials, and that they could only do the study with supervision from the proper branches of government. Whatever. I signed.
The study was only to last for a week. Dr. Mazur told me to go home, and asked for my address and phone number, as the materials had to be delivered later that evening. No big deal, the college already has my address and whatnot anyway, and if I could avoid people seeing me walk around the psych department (not always the best thing to be spotted doing outside of class time,) I was down.
Around 8 p.m., it was already getting dark, and my doorbell rang with the half chime, half grind that resulted from who knows what happening to the old wires in the walls. I opened the door to find two extremely formal-looking guys in navy blue suits. They both flashed badges that I was able to quickly see said, “Defense Intelligence Administration.” The one on the left, a fairly normal looking white guy, probably early 50s, asked if they had the right place, and said they were there to deliver the materials for the study. No problem, I welcomed them in. The white guy who spoke first had a shiny brass name badge above his heart that read, “Brimfield.” The other was obviously Native American, the guy was quite red, and extremely tall, probably close to seven feet, with long, jet black hair. He seemed extremely out of regs for a government official, but seeing as I was going to be in the career market in less than a year sporting hair halfway down my back, I saw this as a good sign. His brass read, “Running Wolf.” Literally, that was his name.
They came in, I offered them some coffee, which they accepted, and didn’t scoff at the fact that all I had was instant coffee. We sat, I asked them some questions about the study. They explained that the “other” bracelet, the experimental one, had a new, man-made element in it, and they were studying it’s effects on humans. So far, they said, things have been good. I asked what this was intended to actually do, and they said that the scientists who created it actually weren’t yet certain what benefits, if any, this holds, but they are making sure that it is safe for medium-to-long term use.
About this time, Running Wolf asked to use the bathroom. The only nice one was upstairs, so I pointed him that way. He thanked me and walked upstairs while I chatted with Brimfield. They both seemed friendly and cordial. When you hear of civilian interactions with federal agents, normally it’s really intimidating or cold, but these guys seemed like regular guys. They asked about my classes and major, I asked about their work (“we’re really just glorified secretaries; it’s all paperwork.”) Running Wolf came back from the bathroom, and they said they needed to get going, so I showed them to the door. Before leaving, Wolf reached in his suit coat and pulled out a piece of paper, which he handed to me. A check for $350. I was stunned. He told me, somewhat hushed, that there would be more money coming down the pike if I stuck with the study, so I was totally thrilled. All I had to do was wear some wristbands for a week? Dude.
After they left, I went and played drums for a bit, sat on the couch and watched some TV, and generally enjoyed having the house to myself. It was cool that it would be like this for a few months. I headed upstairs, where my bedroom was, around 11 or so. I did my bed up, and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. That was when I saw everything for the first time.
There were a few things laid out on my bathroom counter. Two wristbands in plastic wrappers, and a little box. It looked like a gift box, about 5”x5”, tiny, and looked like one you’d get at a drugstore for a gift card or something. It was white with black vertical stripes, and a pink stick-on bow. I laughed, thinking that I had totally forgotten to actually ask them for the stuff they were supposed to deliver. I was hoping that there was more money in the box, or an Amazon gift card or something. No such luck. On the bow was a little tag attached by a string that said, handwritten in blue pen,
“53106 – RUNNER.”
I opened the box, and it was empty. Nothing at all. I didn’t really get the point. I opened the two wristbands. One was a typical pulse monitor thing like you’d get at a fitness store. The other looked exactly like one of those copper ones you see on the early-morning infomercials, that claims to give you energy or whatever. It was featureless, no fancy digital screen or anything, just a bracelet with a little section missing to put it around your wrist, looking like it was made of melted pennies.
Included in the plastic wrapping with that one was a set of typed directions. It simply said, “Thank you for participating in this important study! Please put the wristlet on your wrist as soon as you feel you are ready, but do not wait more than 12 hours past delivery.” I figured I’d put it on in the morning before I went to class, and left it on the counter before turning the light off and going to bed.
I have issues staying asleep, and it’s almost become routine for me to wake up around 4 a.m. and get a new bottle of water (to replace the one on my bedside table that I drink in my sleep, I’m not kidding,) drink down a few gulps, and go back to bed. This time, I had to piss, which isn’t uncommon, so I got up, flipped by little lamp on, and opened my door to walk the ten or so paces to the bathroom. I opened my door up, and the tiny bit of light illuminated the hallway, and when it did, I saw something.
I couldn’t make out much of it, but it looked like a person in all black. I thought it was a burglar, so I flipped my bedroom light on, flooding the room and hallways with even more light, but I didn’t get a good look at it. From what I could see, it honestly looked human, it ran out of the bathroom with very careful precision, though it’s feet made very light pitter-patters on the carpet as it moved away from the bathroom door and disappeared into the darkness of the loft. I was so tired that I wasn’t even sure it was real, but I turned the lights on in the loft, which shone on most of the main living space in the house. The guy was nowhere to be seen, and I figured that it was my sleep-deprived brain working me, since the last thing I’d watched that night was “Haunted History” on the Bio Channel. I always got jumpy watching or reading scary shit at night, there didn’t seem to be anyone else, and my dog wasn’t barking, or even more alert than normal. I went ahead, got my water, and went back to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up, and found the note I’d left for myself to put the wristbands on. I did so, went through the morning routine, and headed to my class for the day. I didn’t notice anything different or feel weird, but after washing my hands a few times that day, noticed that I had a green mark on my wrist from the copper-looking one, the kind you get when you wear really cheap jewelry. I wondered if this was some sort of prank or placebo-study, but it wouldn’t make any sense if it was, because I was never told what this was actually supposed to do, if anything.
The point became moot later that night. I was home. I sat on the couch with my dog and watched TV, did some homework in one of my online classes, and got ready for bed around 10 p.m. I wasn’t supposed to take these wristbands off for the duration of the study, which kind of sucked during showers, but it wasn’t a big deal. I got settled into bed, and realized I’d forgotten to take my vitamins, so I opened the door to my bedroom to go to my medicine cabinet in the bathroom, and that’s when I saw it for the first time up close.
As I reached the bathroom door, I got this feeling, like I was being watched. Only a step before I was in the bathroom, I saw something lunge from around the corner near the stairs. I froze. All I could see were two white dots, the size of quarters, and a row of grinning white teeth, and the thing emanated a low, triumphant cackle as the white specks, within a few seconds, were inches from my face. I felt something grab my wrist and start tugging. I instinctively jumped into the bathroom and turned the light on.
Just like that, whatever it was was gone. There was no sign of it being there. My wrist had a few bruises, so I knew something had grabbed me. I was scared shitless. I ran back to my room and locked the door, figuring that whatever it was couldn’t possibly get me, unless it put a ladder from the driveway to my second-floor window, which I deduced was unlikely. I waited for around an hour, and I didn’t hear any sort of noise. The only “proof” that something happened were the bruises on my wrist, in the shape of long, thin fingers. I figured there was no chance I was sleeping that night, but a few Sleepinal and a shot of Beefeater gin knocked me out until the morning.
I woke up and realized that I had slept with my lamp on. No big deal. I had my day as normal until between my second and third classes. I used the bathroom in the Nursing class building because it was always spotless, and the lights are on a motion detector, where if they don’t detect motion for about two or three minutes, the light click off until the thing senses motion again. Well, the lights clicked off. I had to laugh, because it was just so silly, but from outside the stall, I heard tapping. The bathroom was dark, so I tried waving my hand to kick the motion detector back on, but it didn’t work. I heard a low cackle, the same one I’d heard the previous night, and the end of my tongue went numb, like it does when you feel you’re in danger. At that point, the door opened, the lights kicked on, and whatever it was was gone.
I got back to my place around 7 p.m. or so, and there was a yellow mailing envelope taped to my door, with a sticker of my name and address on it, so nobody had to write it out. I took it in and snipped it open with some scissors, and in it was a check, this time for $650, along with a note that said, “we are entering the most crucial phase of the study, of which you are an important part. Thank you for your dedication to the project!” I found it a little strange that wearing this stuff for a day was so important and valuable to them, but once again, the money was enough to keep me from asking questions.
Shortly after, I got a phone call from an extension at the college. I picked up, hoping that the power had gone out and we’d get a day off, but it was someone from the study. They mentioned that my pulse meter had skyrocketed at 4:17 a.m. and about 3:30 p.m. that day, and asked what happened. I wasn’t sure how to tell them what I’d seen, so I just told them that I’d been stressed while studying. The person on the phone, a young female judging by her voice, thanked me and hung up quickly.
That night, I went through my now-typical routine of making a simple dinner, sitting on the couch and watching some TV, doing some homework, and heading to bed between 11 p.m. and midnight. I went to my bedroom, made my bed quickly and carelessly, and went to the bathroom to take my vitamins and brush my teeth. I hadn’t turned the hallway/loft lights on, and when I exited my room, I got an odd feeling again, like I was being watched. As I approached the bathroom door on the right side of the hallway, a figure lunged through the door of the spare bedroom, directly down the hall at the opposite end. Running. Sprinting. All I could make out was a black shadow with blank, white eyes and a row of grinning white teeth, as it darted towards me at superhuman speed, its eyes fixated in mine. The figure was a rough silhouette of a human, but with no visible feet, just overly-long, thin legs that ended in rounded stumps. It made almost no noise as it charged me. I screamed, jumped back and closed my bedroom door. It didn’t bang on the door or anything. It was just gone.
My heart was beating out of my chest, and after 10 or so minutes, I eased the door open and looked into the dark hallway. It didn’t seem like there was anything out there. I kept the bedroom light on to illuminate the hallway, and once again, tried to head to the bathroom. Nothing else happened.
I did some reading, and honestly, it didn’t take as much as I’d figured to put the incident behind me. I went to sleep. I did my usual wake-up-at-4 a.m., and almost as soon as I opened my eyes, my closet door, diagonally to the right from my bed, creaked open, and the thing came crawling out…on the wall. It quickly clambered across the wall, preparing to hit the corner and come straight at me. I jumped, and the jump woke up my laptop, sitting on the bed next to me. The login screen lit the room with blue light, and the creature literally faded into nothing in less than a second.
My heart pounded, which it was doing quite a bit lately, and I knew it was time to accept that something was obviously not right. At that point, my phone rang, cutting through the silence of the room and nearly sending me to the ceiling. It was the female from the college, who mentioned that my pulse had jumped again. I decided to come clean and tell her that this…thing was following me and jumping at me from the darkness in my house. She told me to visit the psych faculty office the next day. To sleep, I turned my bedside lamp on, as it seemed that the thing didn’t like light.
After my class the next day, I visited the psych building. I told the secretary that I was told to come in, and she told me to head straight to Dr. Mazur’s office. I did so, and Dr. Mazur wasn’t there. Instead, an older guy in a lab coat was at Mazur’s desk with a manila folder. He told me to sit, and asked me to describe what it was that I’d seen. I explained the thing the best I could, chills creeping down my spine at the thought that I’d likely encounter it again that night.
The guy in the lab coat, some sort of scientist in a field with an unpronounceable name, opened the folder and took out some blurry images. The images were mostly dark, but a blurred shape appeared in each of them, which I recognized as the creature I’d seen. I told him that the thing in the picture was what I’d seen, and he took out a final one, a digital depiction of the creature in discomforting detail. He said that this was “The Runner,” about 6’5”, and some other details, which he explained coldly and without any sort of emotion.
I asked him what this thing was. He told me that it was “something” that his team had discovered while researching the speed of light. The team was essentially exploring, in a less philosophical manner, what darkness was. Was it the lack of light? Was it something with more energy than light? They didn’t know, but while using all manner of sensory monitors to observe darkness, they’d come across the Runner. This led to another year of experiments in order to figure out what conditions “drew” this thing, and they’d found that it only appeared during times when another team working in the same complex were working with a new, man-made element, tenebrisium.
This guy’s team didn’t know anything about the other team’s experiments, but they realized that this element apparently drew this creature, which they dubbed “The Runner” because it always came running in the darkness. They also, after searching the entire complex, realized that the creature always came running out of an uninhabited, dark area, and always ran in the direction of the element.
The team were fascinated by this, as the creature, other than appearance, didn’t seem malevolent or violent, so they darkened the entire building of the complex, and watched on the thermal security camera monitors as the creature came running out of one room, a storage closet, and continued to observe as it ran (at speeds estimated to be about 110 mph,) flung open doors so forcefully that they dented steel walls, and eventually reached the sample of tenebrisium that the team had used as “bait.”
The scientist then clicked on the computer in the office we were in. He said, “you need to see this before you continue with the study.” He loaded a burned DVD into the little slot on the side, and a movie began playing. It was from a security camera, and showed a mostly empty, hospital-type room with a shiny, steel table in the center. The table was totally empty except for a small Tupperware container. About ten seconds in, the Runner showed up. I blinked, and it was standing at the table, it’s too-long arms outstretched slowly and picked up the container. It shook it a few times before turning and staring directly into the camera. Seeing it’s face, clearly, made me sick. Those white, featureless eyes. It’s grin, however, was absent, leaving only the two white eyes on an otherwise-featureless, angular face. I blinked again, and the face took up the entire screen of the TV before its mouth opened and it let out a low, distorted scream. I kicked my seat backwards with my feet as the screen went dark.
I was stunned. I couldn’t speak, and breathed in deep after realized that I’d been holding my breath. The scientist told me that they weren’t aware what this thing was capable of. I asked if they knew what it was. He told me that, as far as they knew, it was an inter-dimensional being that could survive only in darkness. Based on what they’d seen, he said that the creature was essentially always around when it was dark, around everyone, everywhere, though there was only one of them, but being in proximity to the tenebrisium had an effect on the human brain that allowed people to see this creature. I asked if the creature could hurt people. The scientist sighed, and disappointedly said, “we don’t know. So far, it hasn’t, but we can’t be certain.”
I wanted out of this study immediately. I took off both bracelets and threw them in the small trash can at the side of the desk. The scientist sighed again before grabbing the wristbands out of the trash and sitting them on the desk. “Mr. Lane,” he said, “this is the reason that this study is so lucrative for participants. I will personally see to it that you are compensated to your satisfaction if you will continue to participate for just one more evening.” I wasn’t sure what this meant, and I was scared. I refused. The scientist grabbed his cell phone and dialed a few numbers, telling whoever was on the other end that I was quitting the study. He “mhm’ed” a few times before thanking the other end of the line and hanging up. He opened his folder again and handed me a paper. It was a bill, which threatened expulsion from the college, in addition to legal action, if I did not return all of the money I’d been given as part of the study, due to premature termination of my participation.
“…one more night?” I asked. The scientist nodded.
I made it home around 6 p.m., both bracelets on my wrist where they had been. I turned on every light, lamp and television in the house. I figured I’d have to sleep with the lights on, but that was a small price to pay for keeping my money, and keeping the Runner away. I watched some TV and did homework until 10 or so, and eventually, got up to grab a soda out of the kitchen. As I was walking, my eyes happened to to glance out the window, facing the back yard. The Runner was there, sprinting from the far end of the back yard towards the house before disappearing near the back doors that entered the basement.
The basement. Shit. I forgot about the basement, which was totally dark. The thing was in the basement. I was terrified at first, until I realized that it couldn’t leave the dark basement, since the lights were on everywhere else. I didn’t like knowing that it was in the house, but I figured it couldn’t get me anywhere where there was light, so I relaxed somewhat. I continued into the kitchen and got some frozen chicken from the freezer to put in the microwave, and went to grab a paper plate from the pantry. I opened the pantry door and there stood the Runner, not moving, but grinning wider and wider, letting out a low chuckle. I went to slam the pantry door, but not fast enough. The Runner darted out and knocked me to the floor with a forceful shove. I crashed to the floor, and in the bright light of the kitchen, the Runner stood over me, its eyes meeting mine. It raised a hand, which now had long, spindly, featureless fingers, and grinned as it gave a small wave, bending its fingers up and down slowly before turning back and re-entering the pantry slowly, slamming the door behind it.
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t call the police, I’m sure their inter-dimensional demon unit was on vacation or something. I grabbed my cell phone and searched through my recent calls for the number from the college. I called it. The female voice answered and, without any form of greeting, asked, “what happened?” I told her what had happened, how it happened in a fully lit area, and that it could hurt me. Her tone changed from the bland monotone it had been to one of genuine concern.
“We’ll take care of it, try and find somewhere safe” was all I got before the call disconnected.
I was screwed. I called my friend Dominic to see if he’d come and stay with me for the night. He could tell I was really terrified of something, though I didn’t tell him exactly what, and he was there within five minutes. We went to my room and BS’ed for a half hour or so. I didn’t tell him what was going on, just that I needed someone to stay with me for a while. Eventually, we both laid back, me in my bed, and Dominic in a sleeping bag on the floor, and passed out. I was only asleep for an hour or so before I woke back up…in total darkness.
In my infinite wisdom, I’d forgotten to mention not turning the light off, so he must have shut it off while I was asleep. Before I could even think of moving, I heard a strange noise, like a balloon being inflated. To my left was a wall with only a foot or so of space between it and the bed, and the face of the Runner was pressing outward from within the wall, the edges stretching outward in a way that walls just…don’t. I was so terrified that I couldn’t scream, and the face’s mouth began to move. It seemed to speak in an extremely low voice, mumbling words that I couldn’t identify. The featureless face actually looked sad, like it was sorry that it was doing this to me. It mumbled for about a minute as I sat up in bed, too scared to move further or make a sound. A hand pressed from within the wall under the face, stretching the wall outward around it, and the hand made a small wave, its fingers slowly moving up and down. The face was frowning, its eyes seemed full of despair. The shape receded into the wall, and it was gone. The wall was undamaged, there were no signs that anything had been there whatsoever. I was so exhausted, my body so tense, that I passed out with no real say in the matter.
I awoke again an hour or so later. Dominic was still passed out on the floor, seemingly oblivious to everything that had transpired, but I heard a voice outside my door. It spoke in a low, calm male voice. I cautiously opened the door, and the scientist from Mazur’s office was standing there with a small, metal box. The box was featureless, like it was made from blank, matte silver aluminum cans. I didn’t even bother asking how he got inside. Without saying anything else, he grabbed the bracelets from my arm. The copper one, he put in the box, which was filled with dozens of tiny light bulbs, like car headlights, all brightly glowing. The pulse monitor, he put in his lab coat pocket. He reached out and shook my hand before saying, “go back to bed, Mr. Lane.” With that, he turned and walked down the hall, apparently seeing himself out. I was so exhausted, and still half asleep, that I closed the bedroom door, flopped back on my bed, and passed out immediately.
The next day, Dominic woke me up, telling me I had an hour to get to class. No big deal, I did my morning routine and we got ready to head out. On my kitchen counter, I noticed a yellow shipping envelope. I grabbed it and tore it open, pulling out two pieces of paper. The first, a check from the college for $11,000, the other, a small note. It was typed.
Your participation in our study has greatly furthered scientific understanding of a new and unknown subject. Please accept this compensation as a token of the gratitude of the Defense Intelligence Administration of the United States of America. With your help this past week, the decision has been made to begin distribution of an improved wrist-worn device en masse to citizens abroad.”
It finished at the bottom with,
“You don’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore. “