My best friend in grad school was a guy named David Smith. As average a guy as there ever was.

He maintained about a 3.2 GPA, he would have a few drinks but never got off-kilter drunk, he had a steady girlfriend, played a few recreational sports and occasionally volunteered for community service. Like I said, as average as a guy could be. Even his name was average. Dave Smith.

Well, after graduation Dave and I parted ways to pursue our careers. He and his girlfriend decided it would be best if they did the same. As far as I know they were stil friends until it happened. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This story isn’t about an average guy with an average life. Well, actually it is. But it’s also about what happened to this average guy with an average life. Dave was average, what happened was, well, I’ll explain as I tell the story.

Dave had a degree in law and started work at some law firm in Maine shortly after graduation. Preti Flaherty, I think. I don’t think that’s too average, when we got in touch shortly after settling into our new lives post-grad he seemed pretty excited about it, like he was given a big opportunity.

So yeah, nice above average income, single, living in Maine, working at a law firm. House in the suburbs, working on a country club membership, living a comfortable life. That was enough to keep Dave happy. Though, it wasn’t to last.

He called me a few months after we last talked but he didn’t seem his normal self. He had been complaining about strange headaches and lost time. He had been to various doctors and had numerous examinations, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. He kept having headaches and periods of lost time, none of the treatments he recieved had any effect.

Naturally, he was getting stressed. I guess being hired by this law firm turned on the switch inside him and he really started burning the midnight oil. Dave was being groomed to be made full partner in short order. The boss had introduced Dave to his daughter. He was a popular member of the country club and a mover and shaker in his town’s politics.

But his life was falling apart. He missed work unexpectedly, waking up on the kitchen floor or in the basement, his last memory being several hours ago. He withdrew from social life as the stress of his condition weighed on his psyche.

He confessed that he hadn’t been in to work for over three weeks. He hadn’t answered the phone in just as long. The pounding on his front door went ignored. He never left his house unless he needed to buy food or do… other things I couldn’t get him to comment on.

He upruptly hangs up in the middle of the conversation.

fast forward another three months. I’ve tried calling him several times but he never answers the phone. I call his ex-girlfriend and ask if she’s heard from him. She hasn’t. He hasn’t spoken to her in over six months. He hasn’t answered or returned any of her phone calls. No contact.

Dave calls me out of the blue, without warning, and asks me to come meet him at a bar in Augusta, Maine. He’s obviously desperate and scared and I haven’t heard from him in so long, so of course I agree. He wires me money for a plane ticket and I take some personal days at work for a, “family emergency.” I’ve known Dave for over six years, the guy is as close to family as he can get.

When I get to the bar around midnight, Dave is sitting in a corner booth, wearing a trench coat and a detective’s hat (fedora I think). He waves me over and I sit down, immediately stunned by the face of my best college friend. His hair was long and dirty, face gaunt, like he hadn’t eaten in a year, with about two week’s worth of facial hair thrown in. He probably hadn’t showered in a month, but thankfully the smoke in the bar masked what I’m sure was a ripe odor of wet armpit and sweaty underwear.

Still, this guy was my best friend. I was concerned for him. To let himself go this much means he’s really in trouble, I wanted to help him. That’s what friends do, right?

I opened my mouth to speak but he cut me off before I could make a sound. It was hard to understand him, his words were mumbled and he spoke way too fast. I managed to catch most of it, about him giving up on the doctors, withdrawing from social life completely, installing a CCTV system in his home to record his lost time, etc. Midway through the conversation he passes me a small envelope without so much as a pause in speech.

The one-sided conversation went on for a few more minutes, it was really hard to follow and I missed a lot of the details. I almost wish I brought a tape recorder so I could make more sense of it. After he finished rambling coherently and incoherently, he stands and tells me to wait half an hour before leaving. He walks out the door with an awkward gait, as if his feet were injured. About ten minutes later I hear a massive explosion that shatters some of the windows in the bar. I was sitting far in the back, so none of it hit me, but a few people had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

I don’t leave the bar until the half an hour had passed. When I exit, I see Dave’s Geo Metro (that he drove in college) still smoldering, a charred husk of twisted black metal. I avoid the police investigator who arrived on the scene and get into my car where I open the envelope. Inside was a key and a note scribbled in blue ink:

“Sorry. I’m so sorry. You’re the only one I can trust, the oldest memory I have. Who else can I ask?

This is a key to my house. Take it and go inside, get the tapes (you know the ones). They’re under my bed in a few shoeboxes.

I don’t want to do this to you. I don’t want to ask this of you…but I’m almost out of time, man. Get the tapes and take them.

You know, I never watched them? Too scared. I don’t really want to know what’s on them… Well, I do know, but I don’t want to see it.

Watch them. Then decide what to do.

I’m sorry for this again,

Dave.

PS: The place is a mess, I haven’t been there in two months. I won’t go back.”

Naturally, I go to Dave’s house and retrieve the tapes. There are thirty-two of them, sixteen pairs (he had two cameras connected to VCRs both on the first floor). The labels noted each pair as having about 24 hours of footage, but they were all dated non-consecutively. There was a six week span between the first and last pair.

I bought a VCR and brought the tapes to a motel to watch them.

I wish I hadn’t watched them. God. I still can’t sleep a whole night without waking up in shock.

The first two tapes were mostly footage of Dave walking around his house, mumbling to himself, pacing nervously, etc. I fastforwarded thorugh most of it until something odd occured: Dave doubled over in pain, holding his head. I resumed play as I watched him collapse to the floor, shuddering like he was having a seizure.

This attack, or fit, or whatever you wish to call it, only lasted a moment before he seemed to regain composure and push himself to his feet, back to the camera. He stood still for a good five minutes, so still it looked like he was holding his breath. Just when I was about to start fastforwarding again, the screen flickered with static. It was no more than a second, but when the image was restored Dave was just staring into the camera, less than six inches from it. Just staring it down, I felt like his eyes were piercing through me. He never blinked, just stared. There was no life in his eyes, it was if he was catatonic.

Just when I was about to fast forward again (because this was quite honestly, very unsettling) he takes a deep breath and just screams his lungs out into the camera. Thankfully there was no sound, but just looking into his face was enough to scare me half to death. The most contorted look of rage and anguish twisted his features as he emptied his lungs into the camera, screaming over and over again. I wanted to look away or turn it off, but I couldn’t. He just kept screaming, screaming, screaming.

Several minutes passed before he stopped shrieking at the camera. Immediately after his screams ended, he collapsed to the floor. Thirty minutes later he stood up, shivering and hugging himself. He looked into the camera again and it was obvious he wasn’t aware of what he was doing for the past several minutes. The rest of the tape (and its pair) were like this, as well. Dave would pass out and then, as if possessed, carry out some self-destructive, psychotic, disturbed, deviant or perverse behavior.

As time passed and I watched more of the tapes, progressing through his recorded history, the self-abuse grew worse. He would claw his skin with his fingernails, scratching his flesh raw and drawing blood. He slammed the side of his head into the wall, or punched himself in the temple as fiercely as he could. He struck both feet several times with a hammer and while gnawing on his other forearm. Of course, it wasn’t Dave doing this to himself purposefully, something was making him do it. But I couldn’t figure it out. This is the first time I had seen anything like this. My best friend was being destroyed by his own body against his will.

The final tape gave me part of the answer. In the last hour of footage, Dave was in the middle of the most intense and abusive attack yet, I was practically in tears watching him thrash violently, helplessly. The last several minutes of this attack were spent with his face extremely close to the camera, all you could see was his mouth as he repeated the same phrase over and over again.

At first, I thought it was nonsense or gibberish because I couldn’t read his lips, but when I rewound the tape I realized he was actually speaking (or mouthing) a phrase in complete reverse. Slowly rewinding the tape allowed me to partially decipher the message:

“I’ve know it. It’s hidden in the walls. It’s hidden behind my vision. But why can’t I stop it?”

Was this a singular lucid moment in one of Dave’s attacks? Or just some effect of pareidolia that tricked me into believing there was an actual message in a stream of random lip movements? Well, because I fast-forwarded through the majority of the tapes, watching them only took about twelve hours. I started mid-morning, and it would be dark soon. I had his house key, and I was going to figure out what he meant by, “Behind the walls. Behind my vision.”

I stopped at a 24-hour supermarket before going to his house. I bought a sledgehammer, battery powered lanterns, work gloves and safety goggles. It was well past sunset when I made it to his house with my supplies and got to work. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find there, but what I discovered was beyond belief.

When I smashed open a wall, I found inside, not studs and boards, but a complicated series of tubes or pipes interwoven with what appeared to be radiator or heatsink fins. The entire pipework was made from a pale-copper colored material and when I held my head close to it, I could hear it humming softly, as if vibrating, or even singing. It made me sick to my stomach if I listened too long. I swear I could almost make-out voices in the hum.

As I opened other walls I found similar structures, it was if the very framework of his house was this strange transmission device. The devices were really impossible to describe in any other way. I ran out to my car to retrieve a disposable camera and snap some photos before breaking open more walls to reveal even more metallic structure.

Then I remembered something else he said, “Hidden behind my vision.” Either he believed he had some form of implant in his brain, or, the only other thing I could think of, was more machinery behind the mirrors in his house. Come to think of it, during one of his attacks he had gathered all the hanging mirrors in his house and screamed into them for several minutes each.

All of the hanging mirrors in his house were missing, he only had two mirrors permanently fixed to the wall. I smashed one open and found another strange machine, but different than the tubing behind the walls. Behind the mirror was a combination of video cameras and LCD displays that were repeatedly flashing horrific images of humans engaged in self-mutilating behavior. The cameras seem to come to a focus on me after a moment, I rushed out of the room and out of the house.

I retrieved a spare can of gas from my rental car’s trunk and splashed the inside of the house with fuel, tossing the half-empty cannister into a hall when I was satisfied. I lit a match and left. I was long by the time the house had burned to the ground.

When I stopped at the motel to retrieve the tapes, I found my room ransacked. The tapes were gone, the VHS was gone, and the motel owner refused to acknowledge that he had ever seen me before. Needless to say, I rushed to the airport and bought a new ticket (to hell with wasting the few hundred dollars on my round trip return that was three days later) and flew back home to Seattle.

It took me weeks before I could relax in my own home. The photos I took of the stuff in Dave’s walls didn’t develop properly. The tapes were gone. My friend was dead. I have no idea what happened to make him so sick.

Two years later I worked up enough courage to go back to Maine and do some more snooping around. It turns out that the three previous owners of that house (all single males) vanished without a trace after only living there for about a year. It had been five years since the house was built. While letting this sink in, I drove through Dave’s old neighborhood and nearly ran off the road when I saw it.

His house. Standing there. Just like it was when I first saw it. Except there was something different, this time.

There was a man and his two sons, washing their car in the driveway, while a woman tended the flower beds out front. I stopped and asked them how long they had been living there and when their house was built. The man’s answer sickened me.

“We’ve been here two months. This house was built five years ago.”