Men In Suits

I saw a man in a suit today.

I don’t imagine you’ll find that very interesting; there are men in suits everywhere, after all. The thing is, I’m from a pretty rural area and there’s rarely a reason to wear a suit out here. Unless you’re getting married or buried, you really don’t need formal attire.

I suppose, in a way, perhaps he was dressed appropriately, after all? I’m getting way ahead of myself, though.

I first saw him less than a week ago. I had woken up early in the morning, hoping to catch the sun rising from a beautiful spot I’d found the day before. I’m a bit of an amateur photographer. I like taking pictures of nearly anything and everything, and I wanted to try my hand at that old staple: sunrise over a pretty autumn skyline.

I found the spot nearly a mile behind the old Derrick estate, a derelict old farm long since overgrown with kudzu and the steadily encroaching forest. I traveled for the better part of an hour, the short distance seeming much farther due to the resistance the untouched growth of the forest put up. I originally found the spot crawling across swampy sections of dense underbrush and clutching vines, certain that the best-looking vantage points are found in the places man has the hardest time reaching. I figured that fighting for an hour to cover just over a mile’s worth of land would show me something special. I wasn’t wrong, but not for the reason I originally thought.

A chilly October wind blew an unseasonable fog across the shallow clearing ahead of me as I readied my camera. My tripod was set at the perfect location for catching the sun’s ascent over the trees, or so I hoped. By the time I finished adjusting everything, double-checking my batteries, and brushing errant branches out of the way, the horizon had already begun to brighten. Gazing out over the clearing, I took my first shot.

I checked the preview of my test picture and frowned. It appeared that, at the edge of the clearing, there was a slight smudge. I checked the lens of my camera, but saw nothing amiss. Just the same, I took a cleaning cloth and wiped at anything that might be obscuring the view. Certain that the problem was solved, I took another picture and viewed the results.

Another smudge greeted me. I looked at the preview more closely, inspecting it. The smudge was oblong; much taller than it was wide. It showed up in both pictures just inside the treeline on the other side of the clearing, caught up in a particularly dense swirl of the morning mist. That caught me as odd in itself, but I didn’t immediately realize why.

Irritated by this unexpected setback, I again wiped the camera’s lens and went about making minor adjustments; zooming in a little farther, panning slightly to the left, altering the focus. Satisfied with these trivial alterations, I nodded at my camera before taking another picture. What I saw caused me to stagger back.

The smudge was still in the picture, except now it wasn’t just a blur. The picture clearly showed a tall, slender man in a black business suit and tie standing just inside the treeline. The fog swirled about his form, becoming denser as it wrapped around; almost as though it was emanating from him, I thought. I shook the thought from my head and looked up, trying to spot the figure.

No one was there. The treeline stood just as empty as it was when I had first arrived; the fog meandering lazily among the trunks of the various trees. “Hello!” I called, hoping to alert the man in case he was a hunter. “I’m just taking some pictures! I’m not trespassing, am I? Hello?”

I waited for a moment, shading my eyes with my hand despite the lack of sunlight, hoping for a better view. No answer came. I stood there for a few seconds longer, waiting. Realizing my hand was pressed to my brow, I quickly lowered it feeling foolish and a little embarrassed. Feeling a blush rising to my cheeks, I quickly snapped another picture and checked the preview. The man was there again.

I shot my head up and again saw nothing at the treeline. I’m not ashamed to admit that I began to feel a little nervous at this point, glancing back down at the photo to see a man who wasn’t there. I pressed a button and cycled to the first picture. A blurry smudge floated in the trees, shrouded in fog. I pressed again, and the smudge became clearer; an obvious shape hidden in shadow and mist. Again, the next picture bore the image of a man lurking in the shadows of several trees. Returning to the most recent picture, I gasped and took a step back.

The man had grown taller between frames, and his arms snaked down to his knees like limply hanging vines.

Collecting myself, I returned to the camera’s screen. Surely I was mistaken. I told myself that the man had merely walked closer to the clearing between shots, and that the strange arms that looked like vines were just that: vines and nothing more. The picture itself was inconclusive at a second glance. The forest was too dark to be sure of anything specific in the picture. I looked up instead, straining to see something in the fog and darkness on the other side of the clearing. The wind blew, swirling the fog, but I saw nothing else.

I tried to laugh at myself for jumping at shadows, but the camera’s viewer clearly displayed a tall, thin man in a suit. He's too tall, I thought to myself, and too slender. And why is he wearing a suit way out here? Without thinking anything further, I took a shot, and another. Yet another. Zoom, then one more. As I was taking the last, I looked across the field until I heard the camera make its faux-mechanical clicking sound before checking the results.

The first picture was identical to the previous: a tall man wrapped in fog and shadows, a pair of vines in front of his arms. The next shot looked identical to the first and second. Same with the following. Something in my mind screamed out to me as I began to press the button that would display the final picture. Something nagging and urgent, like a splinter in infected flesh. I paused for a moment, then cycled backwards through the pictures I’d just seen. Then forwards. Then back. My eyes began to widen as I realized what I had seen.

The pictures had looked identical to each other, but they weren’t. The vines obscuring the man’s arms moved between shot, appearing to writhe as I cycled quickly through the pictures. They also started at his shoulders, and ended in long, pale hands.

My head lifted slowly with an odd, jerky sensation as though I myself were moving in frame-by-frame pictures. I didn’t want to look, but my head lifted anyway. I didn’t want my eyes to focus, but they acted on their own. At the end of the clearing, partially hidden by shade and fog, was the man who was once hidden yet revealed in my pictures. I stared, helpless, as his boneless arms writhed and whipped; as his body lengthened and grew taller. It was then that I noticed he had no face. Then, when he took a step toward me.

Thought was obliterated by terror. I turned and ran headlong through the forest; branches tearing at my face, roots tripping me up, the ground’s rolling unevenness causing me to stumble. I shrieked and dove aside as a grapevine caught my arm, rolling to a jarring stop against a hoary old oak tree. I almost laughed as I realized what I had recoiled from. Almost, until I looked back the way I’d come.

The man in the suit… no, the thing in the suit, was no more than thirty yards away, standing silently as though it had always been there. Its arms writhed; I ran.

I don’t know how long it took me to exit the forest. The way in had been careful and methodical as I tried to keep myself and my equipment clean, dry, and unharmed. The way out was a mad, unthinking scramble that I can barely remember. I didn’t stop running until I reached my town’s general store and collapsed in front of one of the morning clerks. All I know is that the sun still hadn’t risen above the trees yet.

The first coherent memory I have at that point was trying to explain what had happened to somebody. There were a few people around me by that point, all looking either confused or concerned, but I didn’t immediately recognize any of them. I realized that I had somehow brought my camera back with me, but it appeared as though I had been gesturing at the display for several minutes by that point. I saw the confused faces begin to register a sort of understanding, while the concerned merely began to look bored. They thought I was playing a prank. They thought I was trying to trick them or, perhaps, that I had gotten spooked by a shadow or a coyote or something.

I looked down at the camera. On the display was the zoomed-in shot of the tall, slender thing in the suit. Its arms clearly hung down several feet, twisting and bending bonelessly. Looking up, I saw that most of the crowd had dispersed. The only person left was an old friend of mine, Dan Foster.

I was absolutely terrified and exhausted, yet somehow I was also already beginning to feel foolish. I slowly stood up, absently dusting some drying mud off my pants, and held the camera out to Dan. I asked him what he saw.

“Nothing,” he replied. “There’s a bit of a smudge in the middle, but but I don’t see anything else. You scared the hell out of us, man.”

I looked at the camera, then back at Dan. I made some lame excuse about shadows and being alone in the woods before dawn, then started walking home. I glanced back towards the store, once. The sidewalk was deserted, but there was something behind the store itself. A head without a face stared back at me over the top of the building, and I ran without looking again.

As I said in the beginning, less than a week has gone by. Since then I have shown my pictures to six other people. Four saw nothing in them but trees. One saw some ground mist and a weird smudge. My mother saw a dark, barely visible hint of a man in a suit hiding in the trees. That was two days ago. My mother was buried today.

I saw lots of men in suits today. The coroner said it was heart failure, strange for a healthy woman with no family history of heart disease. Her friends said it was a damn shame; no woman should die so young, especially without any grandchildren. The priest said she was in a better place; he didn’t see the boneless arm snake through the window. He didn’t see the slender hand reach inside her chest as mist swirled about her feet. He didn’t see the thing in the suit watching her die, its head without a face staring at her as she gasped and choked, waiting for her to go limp before it somehow managed to…

There was nothing I could do. I tried to tear the arm away, but it felt like… like… nothing I can describe. Touching it was like knowing what it’s like to rot slowly away to nothing from the inside out. Like surviving in an eternity of oily slick darkness, where the only light is the glint of alien stars off the teeth of something rabid and wrong.

There was nothing I could do. I keep telling myself that: there was nothing I could do. It helps, a little. But, still, I remember running for the phone. I picked up the receiver, hoping to call the police (what little they could have done, I do not know), but hearing nothing but static at the end of the line. I held the phone to my ear as I watched my mother die. As she slumped lifelessly to the ground, the static in my ear slowly started to take form. At first it sounded like an empty cacophony of noise, but then…

Then I heard the voices.

Thousands, maybe millions, of inhuman tongues shrieked and muttered in a symphony of madness; their words inhuman and alien. I let the phone drop to the floor, then fell unconscious beside it. The last thing I remember as the world went dark was my mother’s lifeless eyes. That, and the faceless thing outside the window somehow smiling.

I haven’t shown anybody else the pictures. I burned my camera and destroyed my computer. I’m not taking any chances. I blocked the windows in my house and locked the door. I know it won’t do any good, but I feel helpless and needed to do something. There was one last thing that happened before I end my story.

When I got home from my mother’s funeral, after I’d blocked the windows, I turned on the TV. The news was full of men in suits, so I tore the cable wire out of the wall. Folks in the country still have old TVs, and some of us haven’t gotten around to replacing our antennas with digital receivers. My television, free from the cable feed’s flow of sound and images, displayed a field of black and white static. For a moment.

Then, as I watched in horror, the multitude of faceless figures turned toward me in unison, the white noise of their sea of alien voices rising in a shout of recognition. The empty channel opened on an eternity of slender men in suits, all staring at me with unspeakable hunger in their shapeless faces…

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