As with any story conveyed by word of mouth and recorded only in the nightmares of those who hear it, the story of Tobias Crawley is hard to authenticate. Details have been known to vary from person to person, with the truth ultimately surrendered into legend. For instance, the name of ‘Tobias Crawley’ does not appear in every telling of these stories, and it does indeed seem difficult to verify the presence of the same individual in all three tales. Regardless of speculation and reinterpretation, I have not charged myself with creating a work of fiction, but rather with recounting the version of events most akin to truth. However much we cannot know for sure about Tobias Crawley, we can be certain of one thing: it is remarkable that he grew into adolescence before he committed his first horrific deed.
Tobias Crawley was not to be as we are, that much was clear from an early age. Unwilling to play with the other children, he would sit on the periphery and observe, blankly stalking their every motion with his eyes. Tobias’ father, a stern and brutal man, had taken steps to correct the boy’s unsettling behaviour – administering rigorous beatings on a daily basis. Despite these efforts, the boy grew into his teenage years with barely a word spoken, and seemed to meet his father’s cruelty with indifference.
It was Tobias’ sister who drew the only kindness from their father, and became a source of fascination for the brooding young man. Unnoticed at first, Tobias’ long study of his sister began to unsettle Mr Crawley, compelling him to lock the boy in the cellar each night for fear of what he might do. From then on, they could hear a muted clawing beneath their feet as they lay down to sleep, but neither ventured into the darkness where Tobias dwelled.
Weeks went by like this, the boy surfacing each day and returning to his dingy room beneath the earth at night; his father kept a closer eye on his ghoulish child than ever, watching as Tobias put his eye to a door left ajar and stared transfixed at the other side. Mr Crawley’s footsteps resounded as he loomed over Tobias, opening the door to find his precious daughter standing naked on the other side. He erupted in such terrible fury that his knuckles were that very second streaked with blood, and his son lay perfectly still on the hard, wooden floor; taking steps to protect his daughter from the malevolent youth, Tobias was locked in the cellar – the wretched boy was to be forgotten.
That night, as the father lay sleeping in his bed, Tobias’ sister stirred from her rest. She lay awake and listened to the silence… this was the first night in some time that hadn’t been accompanied by scratching from beneath the floorboards. As the minutes wore on, she realised that the silence was more chilling to her than the eerie noises from the cellar, and her heart began to race. These thoughts would soon subside as she was overcome by another dreadful sensation – that of being watched. She opened her eyes, and a few seconds passed as she adjusted to the murky dark of her bedroom… Tobias Crawley stared blankly at his sister as he pressed his thumbs into her pupils, pushing deeper and deeper still, immersed in the comforting warmth of her skull.
Late evening, many years later, a young couple were about to settle into bed for the night when there was a knock at the door. Police were going from house to house in search of a man who had been witnessed fleeing the scene of a particularly brutal murder; the couple were informed of the killer’s description, and given the urgent instruction to lock all doors and windows as a precautionary measure. The couple proceeded to do so, securing the ground floor and, on their return to the bedroom, they found a window left ajar and a couple of stray wet leaves on the windowsill. Looking at the gale blowing outside, the pair contented themselves that there was nothing unusual in this, and locked up for the night.
Before retiring to bed, the couple checked their phones one last time, imbibing wild speculation about the grisly occurrence in the area. Among various comments was one about local legend, Tobias Crawley, whose crimes were many and great for someone who may not even exist; after the murder of his own sister, Tobias seemingly disappeared beyond the reach of justice; to this day he surfaces only to recapture the orgasmic delight of that first execution, before dissolving into shadow once more – so the story goes. The pair joked together about how some people will believe anything, before turning off the lights and going to sleep.
During the night, the woman was briefly awoken by her partner going to the bathroom, and by the same creaking door that routinely disturbed her slumber. When she awoke again, she felt her lover’s hand around her waist, and through her lethargy she heard the faint sound of the bathroom door creaking. The sound began to unsettle her, though it was easily explained away by the door being left open. Even so, the noise continued on the far side of the room, and it was only her partner’s comforting warmth on her body that quelled the tremors of fear inside of her. The hand began to caress her body amorously, and soon it was all she thought about; before long, the eerie creaking had left her mind, and fallen silent.
The next morning, she reached out for her lover, but his side of the bed was empty. Slowly opening her eyes, she noticed that the bathroom door was closed, but no noise came from within. She made her way over to the door, turned the handle, and pushed it open… there on the cold tiles lay her lover, his throat cut, damp leaves strewn around him. She saw that her own body had been smeared with his blood, and it was then that she realised: the creaking sound she had heard was a desperate warning, the final tortured cries of the man she loved, as his killer lay in bed beside her.
The witness reports would tell of a haunting presence outside her house, a man who some tried to describe in common terms, but most simply called “brutish”, “fierce”, and “demented”. His dead-eyed stare was mistaken for absent-mindedness at first, but any who saw him came to know his gaze as that of a hunter with his prey in sight. No official documentation links these events with Tobias Crawley, but those familiar with his name and deeds are left in little doubt.
The house was fairly unremarkable, tucked away in some anonymous suburb where nothing of note is likely to occur. The occupant lived a similarly ordinary life, dividing her time between an office job and home, where her cat had been a constant companion until a recent tragedy had claimed him; only mangled pieces of the animal were ever found, and his death had been attributed to a larger predator – in a way, that was true. At any rate, the woman now lived alone and felt a certain trepidation which only worsened after dark.
That particular night, she had chosen to entertain herself by reading some gruesome literary work which preyed upon her fears; the night, the dark, the loneliness, the words on the page: she was scared. Even so, she told herself that this is the real world and there was nothing to fear, and so she began the long walk to her bedroom, the long walk through the dark. Her imagination conjured villains from the shadows, and yet she carried on as adults are expected to. Once inside her bedroom, she glanced around and turned off the light, climbing into bed and burying herself beneath the covers a little more quickly than usual.
As fearless as she told herself she was, a doubt lingered at the back of her mind; a doubt lingered there and grew until she had no choice but to brave the dark once more. She tentatively lowered one foot to the ground and then tread as carefully and quietly as she could downstairs. She pressed down on the handle of the front door and… locked. Satisfied that her mind was playing tricks on her, she turned around and proceeded toward the stairs until a clattering sound from the street startled her; her heart racing, she peered through the living room window to see a few drunken men staggering home, a bottle freshly broken on the street.
Allowing her heart a moment to settle, she made her way up the stairs once more, the darkened corridor no longer a source of anxiety. She returned to her room, immersing herself in the comforting warmth of her bed, the night’s apprehension so far from her mind; as the minutes passed, she soon found herself drifting off to sleep… It was only then that she began to feel the warm breath of Tobias Crawley on the back of her neck.