by Tina Dolly Ilangovan
It was a dark and dreary night, a night just like any other. The sort of night where abounding terror abides. The kind of night where your imagination alone can send a chill or two, or ten, down your spine. The type of night that beckons you with the beauty of its all-encompassing darkness while simultaneously begging you to stay put inside.
On such a night as this, marked by the absence of the moon to lead his way, Kevin found himself on a lonesome road, save for the dimly waning lamps and the shadow that followed. With anxiety seeping out of him through beads of sweat, he cautiously made his way forward, head lowered, dressed inconspicuously enough to blend into the night. A night he was incredibly concerned with, though not for any of the reasons stated above.
This was an important night for Kevin, one filled with nervous excitement and fearsome nerves to the point it could make or break him, his reputation, his legacy. After all, it’s not every night a monster from the underworld ventures among the living to make their first kill.
Albeit a monster in our most objective sense of the word, he’d rather call himself Kevin. Though the name he originated with and was referred to by all who knew him was The Minute Man. Armed with a couple of sharpened clock hands, his life-leaving stab wounds point to the exact time his victim’s life leaves them. At least that’s what he’d been preparing for at Underworld University. Technically he should’ve been known as Clock Hand Man, although he was more “Boy” than “Man”, but everyone agreed “The Minute Man” just rolled off the tongue better, while he was left enamored with “Kevin” thanks to a “Human Pop Culture: Movie & TV Medium” course he attended during Hellfire Camp.
Kevin dived behind an empty car as the human he had been waiting for stepped out of the gate and into the road three houses down. He made sure not to touch it in case that set off the car alarm, recalling that was how they got The Hide & Kill Seeker. A travesty, considering he was so close to attaining the ability to silence car alarms as well! Kevin had done his due diligence, though. Learning from others’ mistakes was one of his covert assets (and favourite classes) that was already lending its hand tonight with his very first victim. As the saying goes, “You never forget your first!” and Lincoln was no exception to that rule.
Bright-eyed, broad-shouldered, benevolent-heartthrob, Lincoln. If he had a tail, it would undoubtedly have been bushy. But neither looks nor personality were ever a concern of Kevin’s. What he did have his sight set on was status, and being one of the most popular kids on campus, Lincoln was swimming in it.
“The higher the status, the deeper the mark.”
This solitary sentence rang through Kevin’s head as he zeroed in on Lincoln during his preliminary research. A straight A student, teachers’ pet, track star, quarterback star, debate star, the velvety voice of an angel star, all rolled up into one swarthy stud, loved and respected by anyone lucky enough to know his name, let alone bask in his presence; he was the most suitable prey to bring Nolok University to its knees and subsequently establish it as his haunting.
His colleagues and mentors said he was aiming too high, that he had to start low and make his way up, but he didn’t see the point in that.
“Life is for the living. And the more they live, the more we lose our patience.”
It’ll catch on after tonight, he thought, because from his observations, that’s exactly what some of his predecessors got wrong. They went low, underestimated their target, and spectacularly lost their patience along with everything else they’d worked hard for.
Any sown seeds of doubt stopped sprouting and uprooted themselves from his head upon seeing Lincoln make his way back home on the lonely road after a successful midnight rendezvous, given the skip in his step. It’s a well-established fact that horny young adults make the most satisfying prey.
With minutes to accomplish what he had set out to do, he came out of hiding and continued onward with his new travel partner. Maintaining enough distance between you and your prey where they remain within your sight while being oblivious to your presence is an artful science that Kevin was currently excelling at.
Kevin did not consider patience one of his virtues. To be fair, he had no virtues. Nevertheless, he couldn’t ignore its importance in this next step. The enveloping darkness set the scene with a shudder-worthy atmosphere, playing its part in the induction of fear. Tangy, sweet fear, ambrosia for the soul, or whatever constitutes a soul in the undead. It was their fuel, their drive, their strength. It wouldn’t be too far off to say that it was the sole purpose of their existence. He’d been preparing for this for as long as he could remember being, and was now mere moments away from tasting it.
It was time to start pulling out the big guns. Or in Kevin’s case, a flip phone. He’d read a magazine blurb in Undead Weekly that said humans never went anywhere without this tiny device that could connect them to the entirety of the living world. Not even in the most private of spaces reserved for the human body’s daily evacuation needs did they let go of it. Rather, especially there. Yet, what some feared the most was a call to connect.
“Phone Privileges” was still out of his curriculum’s reach, but he’d be damned if he didn’t utilize this tried & tested harbinger of dread to his advantage. Well, he was already damned, so it didn’t take much convincing for his senior to lend him a phone.
He dialed the number he’d memorised from the soul book. Lincoln didn’t stop as he took one look at the smartphone already in his hand and answered. Granted, it was an odd time for a phone call, and an unrecognizable number such as this would usually prompt him to silence the call and ignore it until it went away, but he was in an obligingly curious mood.
“Hello?” his smooth voice rang out on Kevin’s end.
Kevin’s natural voice was deeply demonic enough to raise hairs, but this was a do-and-die situation. Mustering newer, lower depths of ominousness, the words flew out of him just as they had in front of the mirror all week, “Hello, Lincoln. I have been following you…”
Lincoln slowed down in confusion. All he had to do next was turn back, witness The Minute Man’s daunting silhouette–sorry, Kevin’s–and begin to walk faster. At this point Kevin, matching his pace, would reiterate his stance, adding the fact that he could try all he wanted to run and hide, he was still going to get him. Once Lincoln would start running, Kevin would catch up and seal the deal. Textbook horror haunting.
Instead Lincoln asked, “On Twitter?”
Now Kevin wasn’t one for social civilities, but he couldn’t help blurting out, “Sorry, what?”
“Twitter! Or is it TikTok? Facebook? Maybe Instagram?”
It was Kevin’s turn to slow down in confusion. “I… I do not know what you are talking about…”
“Oh, you are missing out bud! Are you a Snapchat guy then? YouTube? Soundcloud?” The enthusiastic kindness in his quick speech was hard to miss.
“I am? Uhh no… wait…”
“LinkedIn? ResearchGate? Wattpad?”
If anyone had been around to sneak a peek at Kevin, they would’ve instantly caught how visibly flustered he was at that moment.
If anyone had been around to sneak a peek at Lincoln, they would’ve instantly caught him entering the front gate to his apartment building at that moment.
But no one was around except for Kevin, stuttering and mumbling to himself, still too visibly flustered to notice.
“HitRecord? Letterboxd? Apple Podcasts?” Lincoln prodded, a little too helpful, a little too hopeful.
“I do not care for apples.” Disdain was catching up to him. And so was the alarming realisation that he needed to catch up to his prey.
Lincoln chuckled. “You don’t? Me neither, bud. Okay, last resort… Goodreads? WordPress? Ravelry?”
Kevin, now in a full sprint ahead, answered between pants “I suppose… technically… I am your rival, yes.”
Lincoln, mishearing Kevin’s mishear was elated. “Mystery solved! You should join our knitting club! We’ll provide the yarn and needles unless you’d like to bring your own.”
“Oh, I will bring my needles, alright.” Kevin sneered into the phone, his free hand reaching for his sharpened clock needles, confirming they were ready for the kill.
“Perfect!” Lincoln continued, “I’ll see you at the club.” With heartfelt earnestness he ended, “And thank you. It means so much to me that you’ve chosen to follow me. Good night!”
Kevin stared at the bolted building door between him and his victim, now housed safely inside because his hunter wasn’t born with the ability to walk through walls, and neither had he learned it yet. Then he stared at the useless piece of metal in his hand, that just like his currently useless self, had been drained of its power and minutes. He stared back and forth between the two, exchanging looks ranging from incredulous rage to appalling dread to sheer, painful defeat. His first chance to prove himself, and he had failed, not even spectacularly.
Unable to sit right within his system, these mixed emotions bubbled to the surface and spilled out in an earsplitting shriek. Fortunately for the residents of Nolok University, their ears were saved for at that exact moment, a solitary gust of wind amidst the still night pulled Kevin away from the mortal world and into a void that had no choice but to bear the brunt of his feelings.
Panic set in as he realised where he was going. He wasn’t ready to face his peers and superiors moments after the most embarrassing blunder of his existence. Not without processing any of it at the very least. Where he was from, embarrassing blunders never faded away. They grew, and grew, and grew right in front of your face until they could grow no more. Diminishing just enough to linger. Hovering across the expanse of the inferno. Floating into every crevice available. Haunting the hurt hunter for the rest of their unlife.
But he would have plenty of time to process all that and more as the void dropped him off on a high stool in the middle of Underworld University’s sprawling lobby. The same solitary gust of wind stuck a large conical hat on his head with the letters “D U N C E” vertically emblazoned upon it, and left with the very swiftness it had arrived.
He had always been on the other side, generous with his raucous laughter before exploring the error of their ways with careful precision to prevent himself from ending up in their position. Now here he was, on the receiving end of raucous laughter, in the very seat he’d desperately worked hard to stay out of. Their laughter continued to ring through his ears, as it would forever, leaving him in a state of perpetual seething. The Highchair of Humiliation left an indelible mark on one’s career. Success was rare to those whose behinds landed upon it. With Kevin’s behind now added to the list, it became further incentive to prove what he originally set out to do.
As much a motivator as fear is to Kevin’s kind, so indeed is shame.
To the point that Kevin’s sole focus now rested on Lincoln’s demise and the destruction of Nolok University. Depending on the generosity of his superiors, who were anything but generous, he would be let out of that chair in weeks if not months. More than enough time to reflect on every detail that brought him here and to strategise his way forward between bursts of humiliation.
It was already working; he knew exactly what to do first. Sign up for every single class about cell phones, and weave his way into the ancient art of alternative needle stabbing. Or as Lincoln called it: knitting.
A budding writing enthusiast from India, Tina Dolly’s short story, Apptitude Test, is her first foray into the world of storytelling. She strives to dive deeper into said world with humour and heart on her sleeves. You can find her on Instagram @tuna.tries where she dabbles in prose, poetry, as well as anything in-between and beyond.