The Things We Thought We Banished

📅 Published on July 13, 2020

“The Things We Thought We Banished”

Written by Matt Dymerski
Edited by N/A
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.89/10. From 9 votes.
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When the quarantine began, I thought life couldn’t get any worse, but it only took a week of silent streets and empty lots for that to change. On the seventh night, sitting and staring across the block from the window of my apartment, I saw something move.

Initially, my interest was idle. I’d had less than nothing to do for a full week. I’d scoured the internet, watched every movie, and played every game. Only a couple blocks from the edge of endless farmland, there was nothing to do. When the fun ran out, I simply sat at the window and took in the motionless neighborhood. A nebulous sense of longing kept me posted as a lookout for anything that might signal a change. So, when I saw movement, I waited.

It took twelve minutes for the motion to happen again. It was quick, a mere instant, and would have been missed if I’d had anything better to do. Sighting that motion a second time, it occurred to me that there was probably something out there. Idle curiosity became active interest, and I peered at that night-shadowed intersection of fences and sidewalk from my third-floor vantage point for another twenty minutes.

Curiously, there was no subtlety to it. There was no attempt to remain hidden. I couldn’t fathom what it was at first, so I tried to make sense of it. Was someone climbing a tree and casting a shadow somehow? There was definitely an aspect of two grasping arms and a silhouette of a head, but the shape itself didn’t make sense. I saw no other source—nothing between the pale azure streetlights and the ground to make such an impression—but that couldn’t be right. The shadowy object on the ground, taken purely on its own merits, would have to have been an oversized torso pulling itself along the sidewalk with two long spindly arms.

There was no fear. Not yet. I had a worldview, and I was secure in it. I told myself that I wasn’t seeing it right, or that somebody was playing a prank. Still, there was fascination. I sat, captivated, as the silhouette of a torso dragged itself down the opposite sidewalk under a darkly cloudy night sky intermittently illuminated by lonely blue streetlights and flare-dotted urban sprawl. In fact, I smiled. This clearly impossible entity was going about its business in a world that had no place for it. Whatever that thing was, it couldn’t happen here. I stared right at it, and I refused to believe it.

Two floors below my vantage point, the door of my apartment building opened, and a Mexican woman I recognized as a fellow tenant emerged. Two heavy bags of trash in hand, she waddled for the dumpster around the corner. I briefly felt indignant that she was going outside so brazenly—but of course, we were allowed to go outside in brief and limited ways. It was just a trash run. She was still a prisoner just like me.

As she exited the front gate and turned in the direction of the neighborhood dumpster, my eyes snapped back to the thing that couldn’t possibly be real. It was only a few feet away, directly across the street from her, but hidden by breeze-shifting shadows.

I watched in disbelief as its head turned toward her.

It reached out an uncannily long arm and started dragging itself across asphalt.

I could just about see my fellow tenant if I leaned out the window. She pushed one bag over the edge of the dumpster and let it fall. After stretching her wrists, she began hefting the second bag.

She was taking too long, and she was facing the wrong way.

I raised my hand half-heartedly.

I made a weak sound, too, a sort of “Uh, uh!

It wasn’t real. I didn’t want to come off hysterical. What would even happen if I said something? She would turn, see nothing, and think I was a loon.

She tipped the second bag over the edge of the dumpster, then sighed, stretched her wrists, and turned around to head back in.

Instead, she stopped. Just like me, she stared, not comprehending.

They weren’t arms. Whatever it had been dragging itself with, those appendages weren’t arms. One curled around her shin in weird angular ways.

Her scream echoed with the shattered remnants of my worldview. Collapsing like so much broken glass, my beliefs rained down around my thoughts, paralyzing me as I watched her stumble backwards. Barely avoiding its grasp, she ran for the gate and punched in the code—the small red light indicated she’d entered the wrong numbers by accident, something I myself did often. I whispered encouragement as she punched in the numbers again.

Red again.

My encouragement became soft cussing as the other limb ratcheted toward her feet. She pressed the numbers one more time.


She pushed through the gate, slammed it behind her, and ran screaming for the front door of the building. Heads began emerging from windows below as my fellow tenants peered out in response to the noise.

They couldn’t see it. The gate and the fence were too tall for people on the first and second floors. I was the only one who truly understood. There were other tenants on the third floor, but they were around a corner, and their windows were pointed at other apartments.

They didn’t know. One shouted up to me in askance, but I just shook my head. How could I possibly convey what I’d seen? They still had the old worldview, and they would reject anything I had to say until they saw the truth themselves.

I turned off my light, wrapped myself in blankets, slid the curtains shut, and peered out through a small gap. The torso-thing dragged itself past the dumpster and out of sight, but it was hardly the last shadow to move in the night. None were close enough to make sense of, and they all could easily have been figments of my electrified imagination, but there was no longer any denying that there was something out there.

Humanity had retreated from the streets and valleys of the land. The news had spoken of wildlife returning to fill the void, of dolphins visiting beaches and wolves walking through parking lots, and apparently there was more out there in the fringes of the world than dreamt of in my naive picture of how things ought to be. No—not mine. The picture of how things ought to be had been carefully painted for me by others. Did I truly know anything at all?

I cowered in my bedroom watching the darkly glimmering night, and I did nothing.

After all, I wasn’t really in danger. Not yet. I was on the third floor, and I would no doubt be woken by screaming long before any risk reached me. We had fences, we had a gate, and we had sturdy walls. We could just wait it out, I told myself.

My blankets seemed useless. Sentimentality was a joke. I was wearing sweatpants I’d had for ten years, always comfortable, always my favorite. There was no security in that feeling now. My life was made of balsa wood and masking tape, and had none of the sturdiness I’d so arrogantly come to assume.

Shaken to my core, I abandoned my blanket cocoon and began pacing my apartment. I needed something to stop this feeling of nerve-burning terror. I couldn’t rest, couldn’t stop moving, couldn’t find balance. I was compelled, even tortured.

Our building had a central lounge on the second floor, and we’d stored an emergency stack of food boxes there as a sort of communal show of solidarity. I intended to take them before anyone knew something was wrong outside. That way, I would have a backup plan: if the situation really fell apart, I could barricade my door and window and hole up until it all blew over. With a backup plan like that, I could finally end this torturous nerve-wracking fear.

I knew it was wrong. I felt ashamed throughout the entire walk along the hallway and down the stairs. I hoped nobody would see me, because I couldn’t bear to go through with it if they did.

Relief and disappointment met me at the entrance to the lounge. There were a dozen people arguing, all standing with their roommates and family members at various separate entrances. Nobody dared get close to one another because of the quarantine, so they instead talked loudly at a distance.

At one entrance to my left, the Mexican woman was sobbing and explaining in rapid Spanish. Across the lounge, at one of the narrower doors, a man I’d seen taking mail from the Apartment 2A box was listening intently while carrying his young son.

2A reported, “Some kind of wild animal.”

“First it was a monster, now it’s a wild animal,” a mother with her three children at the far exit complained. “So all this yelling was just about some animal?”

The Mexican woman saw me, opened her eyes wide, pointed, and let loose a string of excited words.

2A looked my way. “She says 3A saw her get attacked.”

Oh, god. She’d noticed me watching. What else could I say? All eyes were on me as I stammered, “There was nothing. It was just a stray cat.”

A choir of sighs erupted, and a college student in a far corner threw up his hands. “Screw this. I’m going back to bed.” The others shook their heads and began to turn back down their respective hallways. The Mexican woman stared at me with confusion and anger, exclaiming Un gato? Un gato!? before leaving in disgust.

When they were gone, I slunk further in. Heart pounding for many reasons, I opened the cabinets of the lounge kitchen, scooped up the boxes of food in my arms, and darted back upstairs with them.

What exactly does it mean to be a bad person? I considered that question as I slid my couch against my front door and tilted my mattress across my window, save for a small gap through which I could watch the world. Secure in my makeshift bunker, stocked with food and surrounded by people who would be affected first and scream if anything happened, I was finally able to sleep.

When I awoke in the morning, it was to more shouting: this time outside.

Pulling my curtain open, I felt the previous night’s terror returning as I watched 2A run back and forth in the narrow leafy paths surrounding the neighboring one-story homes that were not part of our building. To my left, a grocery store delivery truck careened away. Where the truck and the man had met, a pile of bags remained, while 2A himself held two close to his chest as he played a horrible game of tag with…

What the hell was that? This was no half-seen shadowed thing lurching about in the night. This loped. It was bleeding, but it was not wounded. The crimson drops smoked under the sun as they burned the grass. 2A threw one of his bags at it, then dashed the other way.

And I—

I was a bad person. I’d dreamt about the shame. Compelled by that pain, now a greater torture than my nerves, I finally shouted, “Left!

2A looked up past the ivy-covered fences and saw me.

“Left!” I shouted again, pointing. “It’s going around! It’s trying to cut you off!”

He clutched his remaining bag and ran left. The bleeding and loping thing bashed its tusks against the fence where he would have been, finding nothing but wood.

Someone was holding the front door open below. Recalling the code problems from the night before, I screamed at her, “Go open the gate!”

She looked up at me, surprised.

“The gate! Get the gate for him!”

Finally comprehending, she dashed out, held the button on our side, and opened the gate just in time for him to charge through. She was visibly considering going after some of the grocery bags left on the sidewalk, but she looked at me first. I shook my head. The loping thing was coming down the leafy alley. Wisely, she chose to shut the gate. Pausing just long enough to snap a picture through the bars, she ran back into the building.

The loud talking in the lounge had graduated to yelling. When I arrived, 2A was quite animated. “Somebody took the food here! I wouldn’t have had to order groceries early if the reserve had still been here!”

That college student replied without actually replying: “I’ve already tried talking about it online. Nobody will believe us. I’ve already posted the shot 1C got of that bleeding creature, but people are just saying it’s a shitty photoshop.”

2A insisted, “Somebody took the food. Somebody here knew it was coming and did nothing.

From one of the entrances, the Mexican woman looked my way with narrowed eyes.

He refused to believe her. “Nah. 3A helped me. We gotta figure out who really did it.”

Tense, but relieved, I thought to suggest calling the police—but then dismissed the notion, remembering that would just add a new problem for us rather than solving the current one.

The single mom with the three kids, who I’d overheard was 2D, interrupted. “Enough with the accusations. We’re safe here, right? It’s just weird solitary creatures roaming around. We just have to make it a couple weeks, so when we order groceries, we just look out for each other, and we’ll be fine.”

I was the only one who could truly see the neighborhood. I supported her take on things so that the communal ire wouldn’t focus on me, but that meant I was on lookout duty more or less permanently. “There’s no one to look out for me, though, since we can’t go in each other’s apartments without risking spreading the virus.” The thought came to me like a stroke of genius. I floated out of my body as I dared to say, “So I can’t run out there for deliveries. Can people give me a piece of food when I look out for them?”

The tension in the room faded as my fellow tenants agreed to that reasonable proposal. The only one who remained unhappy was the Mexican woman, who continued to glare at me.

To our credit, the system worked fine as long as everything went according to plan. For five weeks, I never had to take a single risk, and the neighbors had no idea how much food began to pile up in my living room and bedroom as each person gave me one box or head of lettuce or bag of apples or whatever else they could spare from each run. Every family had to order groceries, and none were really aware of the schedules of the others, so none realized I was shouting directions ten or fifteen times a day.

It wasn’t just groceries, either. There were deliveries of medical supplies, video games, movies, toys for kids, sometimes clothes—we were basically being entirely supplied by overworked delivery drivers, and none of those drivers dared get out of their vehicles. Like us, they knew awful creatures were roaming the empty streets, and like us, there was nothing they could do about it but endure.

My hoarded piles of stuff began to accumulate to the point that I wondered how I could continue hiding it from the others. My living space was filling up! If one of them caught so much as a glimpse inside my apartment, I knew something terrible would happen. I still had nightmares of guilt about what I was doing, but what choice did I have? I didn’t want to go out there. I didn’t want to risk death. There was nobody to look out for me…

At a full six weeks into the quarantine, I was sitting alone in my crammed apartment, still wrapped up in blankets, still peering out through a small gap, when the wrench in the works appeared. I’d seen all manner of horrors wandering the streets, from bleeding loping things to ratchet-crawler torsos to snake-like wolves, but this was far worse.

The destroyer came in the form of a knock on my door.

Immediately mortified, I carefully wended my way toward the front of my apartment, taking care not to stumble on any boxes. I called through the closed wooden door, “Hello?”

“Uh, hi, it’s 2D. The single mom with the three kids.”

I swallowed down apprehension. “Yeah?”

“We’re kind of out of money. We can’t order things anymore. I’m going around asking if anybody has anything to spare.”

My tongue felt thick in my mouth as I lied, “Sorry, all out. I can’t order things myself, either.”

“Right,” she replied through the door, sounding disappointed. “Sorry to bother you.”

She left, but I didn’t move for a full hour. I just stood staring at the stacked boxes of stuff I’d acquired. My hoarded wealth was the only thing keeping me from panicking, and the only thing that allowed me to sleep at night, but I was also wracked by fitful dreams.

Later that night, when everyone was asleep, I crept downstairs and left a large box chock full of food in front of 2D’s door. With a big smile on my face, I returned to my apartment and lay down for the first night of good sleep I’d had in two months. Problem solved!

Except four days later, the family in 1E ran out of money, and began going around asking for donations.

And then a week after that, the old man in 3B, my direct neighbor around the corner of the building, ran out of money and began going around asking for donations.

The community meeting in the lounge was quiet this time, rather than loud. We stood in separate corners and exits, still far from one another.

The dad from 1E said sadly, “We’re gonna die in here if we don’t do something.”

“Where’s the government?” 3B asked. “Where’s the police?”

“They’ve got a thousand other buildings to worry about, old man,” retorted the college student whose apartment number I still didn’t know. “They’re not coming. They said the quarantine was only supposed to be two weeks, but we’re still on lockdown going on month three.”

3B quavered as he spoke. “But they’ll get us money, right? Food?”

2D couldn’t look any of us in the eye. “I saw my husband.” She sobbed twice, then added, “He’s been dead for over a year. He asked me to let him in. When I told him I couldn’t do that because he was an abusive asshole, he turned around—it was a rotting thing made of beetles that had dug him up, and was wearing his face.” She began to openly cry. “It laughed at me. It didn’t even really want in. It just wanted to torment me.”

Aghast, the college student breathed, “What the shit? What’s happening to the world?”

We all knew it was getting worse out there. As the number of delivery drivers coming our way had declined, the empty spaces between pockets of mankind had only deepened. From the chatter on the internet, the cities were fine, and so were most towns, but we were on the fringes quite near open farmland, and civilization proper had no idea what was creeping its way back in.

I don’t know who said it, but we were all thinking it: “We’re gonna have to go out there. Kill those things. Maybe even eat them. Just like hunting, only the animals can fight back.”

A wave of nausea hit me as I thought about eating the exposed bleeding flesh of that loping thing or the scaly meat of that snake-like wolf, but then I realized—I wouldn’t have to eat it. I had my own stockpile.

2A pointed my way. “Lookout duties upgraded to coordinating a hunt. You’re in charge. You game?”

To that, I nodded slowly.

They crafted what makeshift weapons they could—mainly branches whittled to points, stolen from trees right outside the building—and we waited.

I sat at my window and watched the neighborhood. In the daylight, more animalistic creatures often wandered, but we had to wait for ones that we might possibly take down. That day, only the more dangerous ones happened by: a real brown bear that looked afflicted by some sort of horrific parasite wrapped around the top of its head, and a leathery bird with one snapped wing that kept scraping the ground with two-foot long teeth at the end of its beak. I decided neither were good targets.

At night, the shadowed and dead things walked. I saw 2D’s beetle rotter, but it was wandering in another direction. Two hours later, the dragging ratchet-crawler began clanging its limbs against our dumpster, as if reliving that first attack, but then it moved on without incident. It was followed soon after by a blob of what looked like corpses melded together into a mass I could smell even at my height. I closed the window before gagging too much.

In the morning, though, I saw the bleeding loper clacking its way down our sidewalk. It was sort of like a boar, so I slid my stick down and tapped 2A’s window directly below mine.

That was the signal. In less than two minutes, a dozen of my neighbors emerged from the front of the building and lined up behind the gate. I eyed the beast until it began snuffling at something in the leafy alleys, and then I made a fist.

2A opened the gate and led the charge. There was no sense in being quiet anymore, so I began shouting orders. “Cut off the alleys! It’s seen you. It’s preparing to charge!”

My neighbors were no more skilled at this than I, so it took nearly twenty minutes, but I finally managed to direct them into cornering it. They stabbed it repeatedly, spraying smoking blood this way and that, felling it only after destroying an unidentifiable organ in its lower abdomen.

It was our first moment of hope in nearly three months.

They dragged it inside, up the stairs, and into the second floor lounge. On the tiled section of the kitchen area, the two men that knew about meat went about the disgusting work of carving and cooking it. I had to admit, it certainly smelled like meat, though I did not want to eat it.

Nevertheless, 2A handed me the biggest cooked chunk.

“For me? Why?”

His answer was simple. “Cause you’re in charge, and you did good for us.”

My neighbors gathered around the meat, abandoning the policy of separation that had kept us apart for so long. None of us had left the building in three months, and it was entirely possible the virus had never even been among us. Now, they began hugging and clapping shoulders and tearing into chunks of unfamiliar meat with their teeth.

I watched this, holding the largest piece.

I was in charge.

Why was I in charge? Happenstance. 3A had been the least valued apartment when I’d moved in, because it was up two flights of stairs and facing the street. By virtue of where I’d been when this all began, I’d somehow ended up in charge, and with a huge hoard. It had just been random luck—and sure, a little self-serving shittiness, but I was over that shame now.

Because I was in charge. I provided a valuable service, and that meant I was justified in being where I was and having what I had. These people couldn’t get by without me.

There was still one threat to my safety remaining, however. She glared at me as I sat holding the largest chunk. Pulling 2A aside, I whispered, “Hey, you’ve got my back, right?”

“Of course, boss,” he replied quietly. “What is it?”

“I thought I heard that lady…” Hmm, what would sound plausible? “I saw her conspiring with the beetle thing last night. Talking to it from her window. I think we need to kick her out of the building, or she’s going to let it in.”

He glanced over surreptitiously. “The Mexican lass?” He paused. “What apartment is she in?”

I didn’t know either. “Not sure.”

“But you saw her from her window,” he whispered, eyes on me.


“Uh…” I had no time to think of another plausible lie. “Yeah. I did.”

The jig was up. He knew I was bullshitting. He’d clearly connected the dots on my flat-out lie. I prepared for the worst—to be kicked out, to have my hoard stolen, to possibly being jabbed myself by one of our spears.

Instead, he thought for a long moment, and then said, “We’ll take care of it, boss.” He moved away then, to discuss in hushed tones with some of the other men.

Strange? Maybe. I didn’t eat that unfamiliar meat. I dropped it, then headed upstairs to eat something more familiar in the safety of my apartment. The view from my window was the same, but somehow felt a little higher… and a little darker. There would be no more guilty nightmares. I was safe. I was secure, in charge, and had everything I needed.

And that was all that mattered.

Rating: 8.89/10. From 9 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Matt Dymerski
Edited by N/A
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Matt Dymerski

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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Severus Snape
Severus Snape
3 years ago

Great story. Just amazing.
Please keep writing man …….

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