This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.

The Thing

I am standing in water. It floods into my boots. The sun is warm on my back. I squint up into the light. It is so very bright...I was somewhere else just a moment earlier. Where was I?

My mind is dizzy - reeling - and I feel almost drunk.

I look around and see that I am standing in a pond. Thousands of tiny green plants float on the surface of the water and cling to the fabric of my pants. I am wearing camouflage pants and big army boots. There is a boy's bicycle in the weeds. It is too small for me to ride.

There is a wide open field of tall, wild grass all around. I can see houses and handsome trees. There is a fence nearby and a gate and a boy waiting to walk through that gate. I feel certain that I know him.

Mrs. Harding. No. She's there. I need to stop the boy!

"Wait," I try to yell, but my voice is gone.

It is too late anyway. He has stepped into the yard and there is no sound at all. The water does not even splash as I run along the slippery rocks. I climb out of the pond and up the steep bank. I can see it moving. Just shapes and shadows. It's doing it. It's changing now.

"No!" I scream, but there is no sound.

The white face looms into view. The white face, big as a clock on a clock tower, waiting to come out of the shadows and silence me.

But it isn't the white face. It is a man like any other, only his hands are...

"Unfolder," the sound comes out, barely a whisper.

I am standing behind myself. Only a child. I remember this. I know this. There was someone behind me too. I tried to tell Sheriff Oates, but they figured I was imagining things.

"You are not supposed to be here," the man says.

He is wearing a suit and tie. His hair is groomed immaculately. He is slim and tall and looks at ease. He is holding both hands up from his chest as though he is playing a piano. He is not.

His fingers are unfolded, like sheets of dark paper that twist and spiral into impossible angles. These shifting helixes extend outward, moving, coming to points.

He is playing Mrs. Harding. Still alive, or brought back alive. She is torn open with precision. Dissected like a specimen.

"How did you come to be here?" The Unfolder asks me with a slight edge of concern to his voice. "You were never here before."

His accordioned paper fingers slice open organs and separate meat from bone. Mrs. Harding continues to breathe. To watch us. To try to speak.

"I was," I say. "I remember it now for certain. I remember these words."

"You were. You remember them for certain. You remember these words."

Mrs. Harding's heart seizes, but the Unfolder tickles it with his impossible fingers and it begins to beat again. His entire body is beginning to bounce like a paper spring. He is coming apart like a stack of papers being caught sheet-by-sheet in a gentle, swirling wind.

"Does your father wear a hat?" The Unfolder asks.

"Yes," I answer.

"You are editing," the Unfolder comments. "This is not done."

"What do-"

I am in a moving tram in a darkened tunnel. Overhead lights strobe through the curved windows. I am sitting next to a fat man who stinks of blood and wears a white hood over his head.

"Almost there," Fatso says. "Did you go to the toilet?"

We are almost there. I did not go to the toilet.

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