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Had a date with a close friend who then pressured me, gaslit me, posted me and more
This is soooo long and I’m really sorry.
So for a bit of context, I’ve (24F) been friends with this guy (24M) for nearly 10 years after meeting through high school, he dated one of my closest friends (24F) for a couple of years but they broke up quite mutually and are still friends now (although that’s kinda complicated at the moment). They broke up about 4 years ago.
For further context I became severely depressed just before the pandemic outbreak and I began CBT over the phone at the beginning of lockdown. I was diagnosed at the time as a highly at-risk sufferer of severe depression to be exact. I was discharged after about 2 months due to a full recovery and a lot of hard self-work!
I’d been single for just over a year and throughout lockdown the 7 of us in our friend group would go on zoom and play video games. I’ve also played games/streamed films with multiple friends one to one via zoom during the lockdown and thought nothing of it. This particular friend, I’ll call Dan, and I started playing a game on PS4 and spoke over the headset bc I’d never played this game before and he was talking me through it. After a couple of sessions, we joked about our characters being married and stuff, I didn’t really think much of it.
Dan’s an odd guy, doesn’t show much emotion (I have aspergers and anxiety issues so I struggle with reading people, yes I’m a mess) and his sense of humour was very daring. He would post old style paintings of people having sex and such on his Twitter etc. to be funny I think?
He secretly had strong feelings for me for a while, I had no idea. He never let this on once until he started using his daring humour on me in private messaging, sending me the dirty paintings and saying ‘this could be us’ and stuff, which was a running joke amongst our friends. I would reply with ‘daaaaamn’ and stuff because I was kinda shocked it was just at me but still didn’t think much of it, again he’s odd.
When he started being more forward about us having a connection (still vague tbh) it kinda planted a seed in my head that we had chemistry, I couldn’t tell whether it was platonic or more. I was also enjoying our gaming sessions and texting because we did it a lot, it felt like that stage when you start dating someone and text a lot but there’s not a lot of feelings there yet because it’s early days. That feeling always made me giddy in general and I wasn’t dating at the time, I guess I also enjoyed it because he wasn’t some stranger either.
We opened up about a lot of stuff. I mentioned my first boyfriend who was his close friend back in school, that’s actually how I officially met and befriended Dan. My ex (25M) abused me and kinda groomed me in the relationship, it started off small like pressuring me into sending dirty pics and being sexual even though I was 15 and he’d just turned 16, and it progressively got worse (let’s leave that there for now). Dan told me how awful that was etc etc, as a normal person should. I also opened up about my depression I suffered with this year and how I genuinely thought I was going to k*ll myself, which was why I took the initiative to speak to a specialist before I was beyond help, again he was supportive.
Then the ‘lol what if we dated’ jokes started. We arranged to hang out at my new place to play games, he then kinda turned it into a date. I asked him how he felt about me and for how long, I wanted to know how deep this was for him because it wasn’t for me, and because I didn’t want to risk losing him as a friend if this didn’t go well (my other friends encouraged me to date his because we ‘vibe well’). He told me ‘I don’t know, just realised one day but it’s not that deep’ or something to that effect. So there was my answer, it’s not that deep and I don’t need to worry. This was when the lockdown restrictions eased btw in the middle of the summer, also he didn’t/doesn’t go out at all so I knew he hadn’t mixed with people.
Now my first red flag for me should’ve been how nervous I was for him to come round. I have anxiety issues but I always get excited for face to face dates and only a teensy bit anxious, but my anxiety was over the roof with this date. I put it down to misplaced guilt because he was once in a relationship with my friend, but she was adamant she was cool with it. I then put it down to being nervous because he himself was a friend.
The date was... awful. We watched films and stuff, which I usually enjoy, the problem was I was so uncomfortable the whole time. The minute I saw him in person, sheer dread ran through me. My brain just said ‘no, he’s your friend. He’s like a bro to you’ but I suppressed it because again I thought I was just being overly anxious.
Towards the end of the date we kissed, it was awkward. He was too sexual and I was too uncomfortable. I kept trying to pull away but he pulled me in for more. I went through a bit of panic and went still (I did this sometimes) while he STILL kissed me. Most of my friends including him know I do this sometimes when I panic. I also told Dan back in our deep convo over PS4 that this is what happened to me when my ex r*ped me. I’m kind of trapped in my own body wanting to get away but can’t move, it only lasts a few seconds up to a small few minutes and it’s rare for me now, but it’s so harrowing whenever it occurs.
I had to go to bed relatively early, he knew this before the date. He also knew he couldn’t stay over, so when I politely said he should go so I can get enough sleep, he kept asking to stay the night. I kept saying no. He pulled me in for more kisses (I kept shortening them) and then he started trying to gr*pe my breast. I pulled his hand away and said ‘no [dan]’ but my issue is I get anxious about sounding too angry so then I nervously laughed and said sorry.
He tried touching it again so I jumped up and said he really needs to leave, still politely. If this were someone I wasn’t friends with I would’ve been more firm, in hindsight I should’ve been extra firm because as my friend he should know better, he did know better.
A day after the date he text me and was acting all lovey dovey as if the date went well. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because maybe he was bad at getting the hint, although looking back there really were no hints and more me saying no or going into a panicked daze which he knew about. HUGE red flag. I told him I didn’t feel great, and I was also working, so we didn’t talk much.
The day after that, he tried to arrange a 2nd date with me over text. I had a huge panic attack and flat-out told him I’m not comfortable being more than friends. He took it poorly but wasn’t aggressive, he just kept trying to get me to have another date and see how it goes. I told him whatever feelings I had were wrong/gone, that I was sorry for leading him on and that I didn’t want to force things. I was confused about the whole situation and I let him know that. I didn’t mention the gr*ping yet, I didn’t really get a chance to at the time. He persisted to the point where I had to get firm (still over message). I also said I didn’t want to jeopardise our friendship, and said it’s good it was just one date and neither of us were in too deep. He dropped the ‘this is a problem for me because I’ve had these feelings for you for so long’ card. I then said I felt kinda violated when he wasn’t catching the ‘hints’. He just apologised and said he never meant to do that to me.
I fell into some mild depression after that. I couldn’t even sleep for a couple of weeks because I was filled with guilt. We still texted occasionally as friends but every chance he got, he was guilt tripping me. I told him that this was pressuring and making me feel guilty and he’d hit back with the ‘I don’t meant to’. He then started an online journal and his first post was about, you guessed it, me. I was referred to as ‘A’ but it was very obvious. He referred to me as someone who ‘stopped the silence’ in his head, another red flag. I was just his security blanket and he was being codependent.
The journal was the last straw, it kind of hit me then that I really didn’t need to feel anywhere near as guilty as I was feeling, if at all. I didn’t mention the journal post, I was fed up because at this point he still kept saying things like ‘I keep playing our date over in my head trying to figure out what went wrong’ etc, I told him I need some space from him because I feel guilt tripped and it will completely destroy whatever ounce of friendship we had left.
Not long after that he unfollowed me on social media, then followed me again like a week or so later.
By the end of summer, one my of newly single friends (another 24F) was on Tinder, Hinge etc so I kinda jumped in on that, remembering how exciting it is to talk to people online. Very soon I matched with a lovely guy (27M), we are now in a relationship and things are genuinely amazing (touch wood).
About a day after matching, Dan messaged me saying he was sorry for being weird and unfollowing me, that he’d gone to a dark place but is ready to drop everything and try to go back to normal. We played PS4 as we usually did. The day before this I got severely sunburnt whilst at the beach, it came up in convo and I said that I took some pics earlier to show the red/white lines and that I was about to crop my butt and breasts out to send it to him. He kept saying in the headset ‘don’t crop it, don’t edit it, send it like it is’ I reiterated that I was naked and will not be sending him a nude even in this context, whilst cropping the pics. He kept going on and on, like a child. I sent them cropped and he acted like I was being weird by censoring these pics. I asked him to drop it and he did. A few mins later he brought it up again, ‘I can’t believe you cropped them, just send them as they are’ and I kept saying no, politely. It got to a point where I bluntly said ‘I don’t like being pressured’, to which he replied ‘what pressure?’... I ended the gaming sesh swiftly after by just firmly saying I had to go.
After that, he ghosted me and unfollowed me on social media again. I noticed this because I tried to initiate conversation so I can tell him what he did wasn’t okay and I’ll need a bit of space but because of the ghosting I couldn’t. I genuinely think he heard through another friend from our group that I met someone (my now boyfriend).
Because I was still following him, I’d see on twitter that he’d like tweets about heartbreak and how it’s hard to get over someone. What was worse was that he started posting stuff about feeling s*icidal. I genuinely felt like he was trying to get me to message him, but instead I messaged our friends asking whether he was okay, they always said he was fine. I didn’t bite because at this point I thought he was doing this for my attention, using something so close to home.
In this time he also tried to get back together with my friend (his ex I previously mentioned) and he told her he thought our date was awful and that there was nothing between us, that it wasn’t that deep for him. I heard this from her, I told her what I knew from him. We agreed that it seemed like he wanted us to kinda go against each other, which we definitely did not. She even mentioned that in their relationship, he often pressured her into sexual activities. She said this because I mentioned the gr*ping on the date and the constant begging for nudes on the PS4. Turns out the persistence and harassing was a common theme with him. Great.
About a month and a half ago, dan messages me at around 4am, saying and I quote ‘Hey. Hope you’re okay (my name). Sorry for ghosting 🖤’ I did not read this until I woke up later that morning. I immediately had a panic attack. It sounds dramatic but just seeing his name on my phone made me feel sheer terror.
I texted him saying his whole behaviour throughout this situation (the pressuring, the gaslighting, the ghosting, the baiting using suicide, etc) was toxic and borderline cruel. his main response was referencing just the pressuring to see me nude, I again quote: ‘I think when the PS4 thing happened I was trying to be funny, but in hindsight it really wasn't, and I'm so sorry for that.’ But his tone of voice in that game and the fact my friend went through this says this is predatory behaviour and he’s saying this is a joke to get off the hook. I told him I need more space and we left it at that. I unfollowed him off social media, he still hadn’t added me back even after apologising lol, but I’m glad.
At first my other friends (apart from his ex) were a bit confused as all they thought what had happened was that we had a date, I caught the ‘ick’, he took it bad but apologised, end of story. so they kinda didn’t see my problem at first. They now know though, so it’s fair.
My fella knows everything and has been perfect throughout, he’s barely said a bad thing about Dan except for pointing out his wrongdoings. He says he supports my decision of choosing to be friends with Dan again or not either way.
I was going to put this in the Am I the Asshole subreddit, as I lead him on and I should’ve known better than to date a friend who was as emotional as a statue. But typing all this out makes me realise that he was toxic af and I didn’t deserve to go through all that stuff. But I really need advice now.
My question is, should I give him a second chance as a friend? My mind and my gut are telling me not to, so in that case how do I tell him I don’t think we should be friends? I feel like he’ll inevitably pop up again to ask what’s going to happen. I just don’t know what to do, there’s a sort of question mark floating around and I’m in a sort of purgatory. What’s prompted me now, nearly 4 months later is that I just got off a zoom call where I was playing games Ywith the other friends, without him there and I started dwelling on this. Please let me know your thoughts. Also, really sorry again that this was so long.
Terror In The Northern Climes
In the darkness little could be seen, save one man-made structure about 200 meters off. That was his target. The rocks and crags could be seen faintly against the sky. These regions were untouched and out of the public sphere- which would make his grisly undertaking easier. He kept on, his worn boots sturdy after all these centuries. He should have brought a coat, but his apron served him well.
There, to the northeast, he could scarcely piece together the jagged figure of Mount Thor. In times of old the Inuit had called him to that very peak.
He drifted back through the ages- the tribe was under siege by an English clipper. Sound of muskets, screams in the night. Suddenly from the blue came the figure of brute force. He grabbed the ruffians by their oversized collars and hauled them up the peak, then dropped them off where their carcasses were splattered in a gory spectacle. The Inuit bestowed upon him countless beads and trinkets, which to this day remained in the drawers of his desk.
Now, though, the Inuit people were scattered, and the fields were barren and cold, and as nighttime set in the Meat Butcher found it difficult to keep from shivering. Snow and ice and granite for as far as the eyes could see- save to the south where Arctic waves lapped gently against the shore. The stars came out, one by one- and they were brilliant, and the butcher could see the Milky Way, and way off in the heavens he could spot Andromeda. He had been there only once, a long, long time ago, and due to its vast distance the portal had nearly stranded him there, and since then he had avoided making the trip.
With each plodding step he came closer to the shed where the criminals lay, unaware, deep in slumber, the fire roaring in the fireplace and the walls well insulated to heat and sound. Their screams would be muffled, their limbs could be preserved for eons in the glacial drift, and their victims could be freed and set loose outside, to make their way home. There was a road nearby which, while seldom used, would prove sufficient. The butcher abhorred those who engaged in the sordid business of human trafficking- and these rough Canadian syndicates would soon know of the terror which had made rounds around American cities and American headlines.
He crept to the door, taking care to make his massive physique as lithe and swift and possible, then stole to the lock and peered through the keyhole. Warm fire emanating light through the windows, bed to the wall, small kitchenette in the back. It would be easy.
The Butcher opened the door, but was stopped by a feeling at the back of his neck that something was awry. Yes, something was awry. He sprang around and his eyes were greeted by a fiery explosion of color and frenetic movement- a glowing craft materialized from nowhere and hovered for a moment in the freezing atmosphere before descending and swooping over the area like a demented hawk. In his years of serving justice, the Butcher had never seen such a craft- it did not belong in these dark surroundings, it was crimson and gold, with no wings and no means of levitation. It was physically impossible, at least given the physical confines of this realm.
Not interplanetary but interdimensional. The butcher shut the door and stepped out into the night. Yes, from another plane. The humans were far too concerned with the stars, from which few craft ever lowered- they never took into account the ease with which some otherworldly dervish could breach the continuum and roar through. No space, no time- as an interdimensional being himself, the butcher knew the convenience of a portal. This thing had come through a portal, or perhaps it needed none.
The criminals still slept, but the Butcher’s mind was torn away from them, and his eyes were mesmerized as the craft came lower, lower, lower still, and finally settled itself over a patch of snow 50 meters out. It sent shafts of light deep into the cosmos, it pulsated with life and vibrated slightly before some engine deep in the hull was shut off, and the craft went silent and dark, with only a slim neon headlight for the Butcher to follow.
Soon enough the hatch opened and the Butcher stood, face in awe, cleaver dropped, and sank down to his knees in the snow- for the ship appeared to be constructed of flesh and bone, and its occupant was himself a visceral pink skeleton, an eldritch thin creature with ligaments and tendons but no skin. The Butcher, familiar with the construction of flesh, had seldom seen any being which could function without an epidermis, but just the same, this one could. Certainly not from this universe.
“State your purpose,” said the butcher, picking his ax up from the tundra and waving it over his head with fury. “What are you here for? Make your intentions known!” The being held a small weapon, which appeared inoffensive but could possess the power of an atomic bomb for all the Butcher knew. It stared at him, scarcely illuminated, its small silver eyes hollow in empty sockets.
“EhTsH. cLaSs 4 iNtErDiMeNsIoNaL bEiNg,” the figure replied, hopping from the cockpit and onto a patch of grass. The Butcher stared in awe as the figure neared closer. “HeRe On RePoRtS oF a MeAt MaN. hAvE yOu SeEn HiM?” Ehtsh withdrew a remote control and turned on the headlights further- and the Butcher gaped in awe at the figure, whose face was unlike anything he had ever seen, even in the lower cells of his torture dungeon. The thing had a foul appearance but a calm demeanor as it strode forward, likely confident that it could confide in another interdimensional being.
Far away the Butcher could hear the howl of some erstwhile predator. It wasn’t safe out here for autonomous cadavers who could sniff out blood. He didn’t know if this Ehtsh fellow could defend himself, although that weapon could be employed in such a case.
“I’m the Meat Butcher,” he said. “God of pain, dealer of righteous torment, keeper of the dungeon of justice. I don’t think I’m who you’re after, however.” Ehtsh pointed the weapon at the Butcher, who held his hands over his head. He stepped into the headlights and Ehtsh shook his head. The weapon was lowered, and the freezing winds whipped about the duo. It was nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Butcher was unable to comprehend how Ehtsh, who lacked even a simple covering, could withstand these temperatures.
“No, NoT yOu,” the skeleton man said. “RaAiR, tHe MeAt MaN. sErVaNt To IuRrA aNd ScOuRgE oF sEvEn DiStRiCtS. aLtHoUgH i MuSt AdMiT, yOu Do ShArE a SlIgHt ReSeMbLaNcE.” The Butcher let out a sigh of relief. The figure stood there a while more, contemplating his next move. Like the Butcher, he had been called to this remote area for a purpose. The Butcher was here to deal out a can of whoop ass on some slave owners, and now this interdimensional flesh beast who referred to himself with five unrelated vowels and consonants had shown up, with a vendetta against someone who was presumably a member of his own species. Could the traffickers and Raair be heaped in the same burrito somehow? The Butcher thought this over. If so, they could kill two birds with one stone.
“Listen,” cried the butcher, as the temperatures dipped yet again. “It’s too cold out here. What I propose is let’s make our way to that cabin back there and hunker down for a while. It has a fire, warmth. And I have something to do.” Ehtsh nodded, lodged his weapon in his ribcage, and followed along. The Butcher could tell that despite his stoic expression, Ehtsh was not invulnerable. He had weaknesses, he had problems, and he had been through trials and ordeals the Butcher couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
They crept up to the door. The Butcher broke the lock and let it wave open silently. He made a quick motion with his hand, signaling for Ehtsh to follow. Unfortunately, the Butcher’s arm hit a taxidermied eagle which fell to the floor and burst open. In the corner of the room, the bearded man who had been slumbering sat up straight with a jolt and grabbed for his pistol, which he kept in his boot. Ehtsh acted quickly, scampered in front of the butcher, and took aim with his weapon. A brilliant scarlet flash made its way to the man’s hand. He yelped in searing pain and dropped the pistol, which the Butcher promptly confiscated. To ensure the others weren’t awoken, the Butcher clasped his hand over the man’s mouth. He would make a fine addition to the dungeon. The butcher would as per usual remove at least one limb, and then let the scoundrel out, after which he would live his remaining days as a cripple.
“The closet,” said the Butcher. “I’ll take care of the rest of them.” Ehtsh wandered into the darkness. He was nearly inaudible, but perhaps that was only because the door was still open, and letting cold air in by the minute. The fire swung around, close to being extinguished. In that dwindling light, the Butcher leaned in close to the man, whose face was oddly enough not one of abject terror but of placid lucidity.
Ehtsh opened the closet and found a woman, tied and gagged and malnourished. She looked awfully like a skeleton herself. She opened her mouth and fifty decibels came rushing out as Ehtsh tried his best to quiet her and loosen her bonds. She was appalled by his features- they all were, these meek third dimensional beings. Physiology or no, Ehtsh had a duty to perform. He had been sworn in as a keeper of the peace and he was licensed to breach the fabric of the multiverse- and if that meant unsettling a few people, then so be it.
She sat up, trembling. Ehtsh chalked this nervous behavior up not to the cool temperatures but to his ghastly visage. He tried his best to calm her, put an arm around her and helped her to her feet, then walked with her out into the foyer where the Butcher had let go of the scoundrel’s mouth. He looked up at Ehtsh, and the woman screamed again. Ehtsh went off to get her clothes and food- she would need them on the long trek home, and he also grabbed a bottle of gin to calm her nerves after witnessing a frail corpse and a gigantic inhuman bulk.
The Butcher leaned in close, and the man, who had been staring into the fire with empty eyes, shrugged. The Butcher had no time for games. He gripped the man by the collar and hoisted him up, axe in the other arm ready to swing. The man remained complacent, looked the Butcher with those empty peppers, and said only:
“You can’t stop him.”
He burst into a thousand writhing maggots, and the woman screamed again, louder this time, and even the Butcher was caught off guard by this sudden transformation. Ehtsh rushed back with the gin and poured everyone a glass. All across the floor lay the filthy vermin, each one the size of a thumb. They gnawed and burrowed and wriggled, and the man was no more.
“Check if there’s anyone else here,” said the Butcher. Ehtsh darted off, and returned a moment later. There were no other people in the house. The butcher found this hard to believe, he had been informed through the cosmos of a full trafficking ring, but perhaps his powers had failed him for once. If they had, it would have been the first time in a long while. Errors were rare where justice was concerned. Still, there was only one person in the house. That man had been comprised of filth. There was more here than met the eye. The Butcher shut the door and they all grabbed coats and gloves.
They walked down to the road. A vehicle of some kind, probably a Zamboni or snowplow, could be seen way off, coming round the bend. Ehtsh and the Butcher would need to step out of the line of sight while she hopped in. She shook the Butcher’s hand- it was nearly 3 times the size of hers- and then shook Ehtsh’s hand. She leaned in for an embrace.
“Thank you,” she said, and pecked his cheek. It was clear she had overcome her fear of fourth-dimensional inhabitants, but Ehtsh wondered what Yuraah would think of this, some strange woman kissing him out in the Nunavut night. She wouldn’t be pleased, especially if she was watching him through the oscilloscope. Ehtsh shook the woman’s hand once more, and then the vehicle came, engines blazing, lights on, and she scampered to meet it. Ehtsh and the Butcher trod back towards the cabin, but didn’t go inside, for fear of what the maggots could have transformed into.
Ehtsh took one clean shot with his weapon, and the cabin exploded into cinders. By morning the vermin would be gone, the cabin would be gone, and the wind would take care of the fire. Even if someone were to pass in this direction, which was unlikely, they would never know a human dwelling had stood here. At any rate, the coats helped.
From what The Butcher could tell, Ehtsh’s vehicle was his only means of accessing his dimension, so the decision was made to pluck some shrubs and pile them atop the vehicle. The Butcher of course could travel to and fro with merely a portal, but Ehtsh needed his craft to get around, and The Butcher couldn’t begin to guess where in the cosmic plane Ehtsh originated. Once the craft was well hidden, they sat on a rock and reviewed the night’s proceedings.
“The maggot-man referred to another entity,” said the Butcher with a furrowed brow. “Clearly he was under the authority of someone else.” Ehtsh nodded solemnly, looking out into the night. The stars had long since disappeared underneath a cover of mist and drizzle, and it appeared to both of them that harsh weather was setting in.
“YoU kIlL pEoPlE, dOn't YoU?” rasped the entity of bone and cartilage. “YoU sHoW tHeM nO mErCy. YoU aRe So SeT iN yOuR wAyS, sO cOnFiDeNt WhEn YoU tAkE sOmEoNe's LiFe. I cOuLd NeVeR dO sUcH a ThInG, i Am A lAw-AbIdInG cItIzEn Of ThE fOuRtH dImEnSiOn, AnD sInCe 4155 We HaVe NeVeR eXeCuTeD a MeMbEr Of OuR sPeCiEs.” The butcher looked up, puzzled. Comparative ethics had never been his forte. He didn’t have many wits about him, especially here in subzero weather.
“I don’t always kill them,” replied the Butcher. “Sometimes I only torture them. I have ways of prolonging life. Oftentimes a lifetime of prolonged misery and suffering is more fitting than either a swift and merciful death or a prolonged and slow death. Regardless, it is not mine to reason why. I function this way on a cosmic scale. I am given orders by a force, I know not what. I believe it to be the force of justice, the force of righteousness. I perform my duties and I am not ashamed. To ask me to change my ways would be to ask a quail to perform calculus or to admonish a great white shark for sensing blood and seizing the opportunity. Though I have caused great misery, and I have killed many, and tortured many, I am calm knowing that all punishments were entirely justified.” His philosophical skills were weak, his justifications were even weaker, and a smarter being such as Ehtsh could mull over comparative reasoning for hours on end- but now there was something afoot. Both of them sensed it, and this cosmic disturbance was only growing stronger as the night wore on and the drizzle became a blast of ice and snow.
Even with this onslaught, the clouds could be seen, and every now and again the pitch black night sky would make its presence known- but the mountains were nearly lost from view. Both sat on the rock, periodically getting up to stay limber. Neither knew if they were vulnerable to hypothermia, but they knew that they could not leave, for their missions were unfinished- The Butcher seeking answers as to the nature of the peculiar maggots, and Ehtsh with a creeping and steadily growing suspicion that Raair the Meat Man was indeed close by, and that the sour weather was his doing. They sat for a long time in silence, and waited for a sign.
The sign came in the form of an intense Aurora Borealis. The light started off from the East and made its way across the skies until every snow cloud was dissipated. The green and yellow ribbons slowly turned sour. They became a sickly garnet. The butcher knew this color well. It was the color of the slaughterhouse, of meat raging in fury at cages and metal. Ehtsh knew the color well, too. He knew it as the unpleasant shade of a fifth-dimensional being, a being whose existence was so uncanny that it suffered from a conflict of the soul- and that meant only one thing. Raair. The meat man.
The ribbons coursed with fury, and both stood, and turned around, and they saw that this unnatural and loathsome phenomenon could be seen streaming and billowing from one area- the peak of Mount Thor. The landscape looked bloody in the deep red light- hell on Earth if there ever had been. Every crag and promontory was made ugly by the sickly hue. To the Meat Butcher, he saw the fortress of Moloch on the plains of fire. Ehtsh saw something, too. The fifth dimension. Though he tried to resist traveling there as often as possible without being fined for avoidance of duties, Ehtsh had visited- and shuddered to think of it. Was Raair, perhaps, altering this world to make it more suitable for him and his kind, or was the stupid brute simply flaunting his powers without realizing that no humans were around to notice? It was a toss-up with Raair, it always had been. Raair was an unpredictable and fearsome being, and though he lacked the cunning intellect of Iurra, he more than made up for it with his musculature and ferocious appetite. Even the denizens of the fifth dimension cowered in corners before him like the slovenly and pitiful creatures they were. Rumor had it that Raair could be seen chawing on their bones late in alleyways, ripping the flesh with his incisors. Ehtsh put these thoughts in the back of his mind and gathered himself.
Though the environs gave off the complexion of a primordial swamp crevasse, the temperatures were still dropping quickly, the snow continued blowing in a frenetic swirl, and the road ahead was steep and perilous. Still, they could see a small figure on the peak, and he was behind this. Both were too far in to quit. Ehtsn grabbed the Butcher by the collar and they set out.
The Butcher recalled the unpredictable terrain of Nunavut. Though he was invulnerable to falls and slips, he wondered if his comrade was. This adventure would certainly test their respective limits. On they strode, closer to the peak with one sheer drop and one slope, the only mountain of its kind in the world. The Arctic was a region of geological anomalies and forgotten landmarks, barren inhospitable wasteland from front to back.
They reached the bottom, and Ehtsh quivered slightly as he saw the heights to which they would ascend. Raair stood on the tip, a maestro of chaos, and Ehtsh made a feeble plea, then along with the Butcher he gripped the rocks and hoisted himself up the short hill.
They approached the base. Foot past foot, struggling against the raging scarlet blizzard, they pushed on, knowing full well what waited for them at the top. Once, on a journey to Tibet to torment some British imperialists, the Butcher had found himself at the peak of Everest. He recalled that the peak was tiny, incomprehensibly tiny, and even he quivered when thinking about that unstable little area. Though Mount Thor was nowhere near as high, the uninterrupted precipice on the opposite side was a truly horrifying and scintillating feature.
The Butcher pressed on, and Ehtsh wavered behind. His innards were not constructed for such a mighty endeavor. Still, the Butcher reached out with his brawny hand and pulled Ehtsh up by his scraggly arms and insisted that they keep going, that the pursuit of this so-called meat man was well worth the ascent.
Halfway up they could hear Raair’s savage cries in the wind. They were somewhere between a low grunt and a twisted cackle. On bitter breezes they floated down, and the available land tapered slowly. In all directions the crimson ribbons could be seen, shimmering as demons, blocking out the moon and stars and clouds, covering all. Even the snow was blood, and the icicles dripped gore. It was a beautiful and thoroughly stunning phenomenon, but malevolent nonetheless, and the Butcher knew that the Arctic was better desolate and white.
They huddled in their coats, which were losing insulation. The Butcher was better off than Ehtsh, who was frail and thin. He was turning grey, losing his typical orange color, and the Butcher hoped that the remainder of the journey would be quick. Though Ehtsh looked sickly, there was fire in those dead black sockets, determination and perseverance, and he grabbed every slab with glee. Tonight, perhaps, the criminal meat-man, scourge of the fourth dimension, could be hauled in and rehabilitated, if such a beast could indeed be rehabilitated. If Raair was taken captive, perhaps they could lure Iurra in. For the time being, Raair’s actions were spastic, and Ehtsh’s face was quickly succumbing to the frigid and unavoidable blasts sent scuttling down from that accursed peak.
The ribbons were closer now, and their point of origin was fully visible. Like angles out of a demented protractor they rippled and wavered. The Butcher removed his coat, leaving only the apron, and slung it around Ehtsh, whose coat was less protective. Ehtsh thanked him and they moved on. The last thing in either of their minds now was insulation. They needed speed, they needed to put the mountain behind them and apprehend the scoundrel on top.
From this point they could see the world- the peaks of the cordillera, the endless roaring ocean, and Ehtsh thought he could see, far down south, the tiny settlement of Pangnirtung- small though it was, they would likely notice the peculiar red aurora. It would be over soon, they reassured themselves. Hands gripped stones, foot before foot, faces stern and pointed ahead.
At last they were within sight of the top. Raair stood, an immense figure before his legions of scarlet, arms raised to the sky in a mockery of the crucifixion, bellowing arcane noises at the top of his lungs. Little could be heard over the swirling weather, but Ehtsh could decipher that what he was calling into being was bad news- and the ritual was at least one-third complete.
The coats were weighing him down. He took the Butcher’s off and ran the rest of the way, 30 long feet over ice patches and ragged mineral clusters. The butcher ran close behind, hindered by his size. When spurred into action, the skeleton man was a force to be reckoned with. An orange bolt, he hid behind a small outcropping, out of sight. The available space was narrow, and to either side the Butcher could see endless fields of ice and snow that went on forever, and peaks with virtually no recognition.
The butcher could see why Ehtsh feared Raair. A hulking giant with an even worse complexion than Ehtsh, the meat-man seeped with pus and blood, his sinews thick and weighty, his muscles preserved in brine and his face an empty shell. His size rivaled the Butcher, but while the Butcher was a guardian of ethics, Raair was clearly a malevolent and ancient beast, dead-set on following the orders of his crooked master or doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. The meat-man grunted and turned, but couldn’t see Ehtsh or the Butcher. The outcropping hid even the Butcher’s massive form. Raair pivoted back out toward the frozen wastelands and proceeded with his grisly task.
The Butcher took the opportunity. He darted forward and grabbed Raair by the neck, digging into his chest with the knife. The knife had no effect, of course. Raair dealt the Butcher a vicious blow and he went toppling back. It was now that the Butcher realized just how far up they were. Two feet from the precipice, the Butcher gathered his bearings and looked down. While he didn’t think any fall could damage him, he didn’t exactly look forward to climbing back up. Couldn’t use the portal because his task wasn’t completed yet. Same went for Ehtsh. They would need to take the meat-man down, on little more than ten feet of moss and basalt. Humans would need climbing equipment on such an unstable landscape. Neither the Butcher or Ehtsh had ropes or pulleys of any kind. Only the knife, the ax, and the coats, neither of which would be useful in stopping the fiend. Even Ehtsh’s weapon, which he held in his trembling hands, wouldn’t do much, and as it were Raair was unaware of Ehtsh’s presence, so the weapon would need to be kept in reserve until all other avenues had proven futile. Raair, unfazed by the chest wound, went back to the edge and recited his incantations. The Butcher took his ax out and swung it around, nodding at Ehtsh, who looked worried.
“PiTiFuL,” said Raair, gripping the Butcher’s arm before he could get a clean swing in. The Butcher was strong, but Raair had strength to match. “PuNy MoRtAl. YoU tAmPeR wItH tHe AfFaIrS oF a GoD.” He dug his bones in, enjoying the agony. Among many other things, Raair was a masochist. The Butcher had seen many a deformed face in the dungeon of pain, but this ghastly visage was more than he could bear. Raair was sickening to think about, much less see up close.
“I am no mortal,” insisted the Butcher. “I am the entity of pain and justice. I have seen many pompous tyrants through the years, yourself included. Let me tell you this: You do not deserve the title of meat. Meat is well-kept and sanitary. You are a being of pure chaotic filth.” Raair snarled and tried slinging the Butcher back- but he wasn’t going to be taken by surprise again. The deadly armlock held, and the Butcher’s ax fell onto the snow. They were neck and neck, staring down into the glacial abyss.
Raair spit onto the Butcher’s face. Two giants, the Butcher saw a small portion of himself in Raair, and this worried him. Raair was similar to him in so many ways. They were both brutes, doing what they felt was right. How did the butcher know that his behavior was justified? He was only acting on whims, on fleeting whispers from a higher power. Was that higher power the ultimate ethical authority, or was it some maggot-ridden emperor, some long-forgotten sibling of Iurra’s?
Ehtsh couldn’t discern between them much, either. They were two insipid brutes silhouetted against the otherworldly backdrop. The red clouds were dissipating, probably due to the butcher’s interference, but it was still dark and they were difficult to tell apart. He held his weapon in one hand. Only a single shot left. He would need to aim with perfect accuracy.
The butcher leaped up and tried pinning Raair to the ground. Didn’t work. The meat-man picked the Butcher up as if he were a baby and slammed his face into a chunk of ice. It was bitter, and left a gaping wound. The butcher wasn’t normally so easy to wound, but he suspected Raair was draining his strength somehow, probably through the ritual. Dark magic indeed. He straggled up and spotted a small object near Raair’s feet. Before Raair could react, the Butcher grabbed the infernal device and tossed it out. It sailed on the air for miles before splashing into a thin pond. Raair howled in anger. That strange box had been the method to the madness.
“YoU dO nOt HeEd My WoRdS!” snarled the thing. He lunged at the butcher, and they once again faced each other, but now, with the device out of the picture, the Butcher felt an incredible resurgence. Strength coursed through his limbs and he was an entity born anew, the keeper of fate. He retrieved his ax from the snow and made a deep incision in Raair’s stomach. A loathsome bilge of insects and filth poured out. Whatever Raair had eaten, it was concocted to sustain an equally foul being.
Raair staggered, but kept his stance. The stomach was inconsequential. The Butcher tried removing the ax but it was held tight. Raair’s muscles were firm, and he clenched them around the ax. There was no blood. They stood in the freezing winds, and the clouds disappeared altogether, and the stars and moon could be seen, and the Butcher could even spot Andromeda. This sight filled him with courage. Across the night the Milky Way stretched, a gash of light in the darkness. Ehtsh could see now. Their shadows were even discernable. If only they didn’t move around so much. Ehtsh readied his weapon and pointed it at Raair. Soon, though, they switched position. Each was trying to knock the other off the precipice, and they spun and flung each other in a mad tango.
It was now or never, Ehtsh knew, and if the shot took the Butcher along for the ride, then he would beg forgiveness. He steadied his arm on a pebble and covered his sockets. The weapon fired, a clean shot, straight out of the nozzle and into Raair’s side.
Raair could be heard gasping in dread as he stumbled backward, the ax still in his gut and the shot having singed a good portion of his torso. He was doomed. His foot slipped. He tried hanging onto the butcher, but the Butcher swept his grasp off and ran for cover. Raair’s fingers were the last thing either of them saw, digging into the slabs on the boundary- and then came a loud and insufferable scream as the weight of the situation sunk in and Raair fell. Thousands of feet down the sheer vertical drop he fell. And all the while he screamed, a scream which they both heard, a scream from the depths of Hell, a scream of fury and bitterness and deep-seated anger.
Then all was silent. The snow was over, even the winds were out, and both sat, looking over the rock, for a long time. Perhaps even the Butcher would not have survived that descent. It was truly a knife’s edge, a cliff beyond comprehension. Once both felt safe, they darted to the edge and held on for dear life. They couldn’t see anything down there.
The descent was slow and tiring. They had won, but each felt a little emptier. Ehtsh in particular. If Raair truly was dead, it was the end of an era. He had pursued the meat-man in countless locations, from the fire pits of adjunct 27 to the abandoned passages of Bynar. In a way, he would miss the meat-man, who had always been a worthy adversary and a difficult challenge. Villains such as he made life worth living for an interdimensional keeper of the peace.
They approached the bottom with caution. They worried that Raair had somehow cheated death. He hadn’t. He was there, a lifeless chunk of meat, of tendons and ligaments. The Butcher kicked the cadaver, then when both were sure it was dead and there was nothing more to be done, the Butcher removed his ax from Raair’s stomach and chopped him into tiny bits. This vivisection was an intense ordeal, and Ehtsh looked away during the process. The Butcher buried each chunk roughly five feet apart in the snow. Once the thaw came these bits would decompose. Who knew- perhaps they would become food for a beautiful alpine daisy.
The ax was relatively unscathed. Before either of them left, however, they had one final task to perform- to find that box and ensure that it would never fall into human possession. The Butcher had a strong throwing arm, so Ehtsh darted ahead and covered the grounds, while the Butcher stayed behind with Raair’s remains and waited for a signal.
He staggered forward and took the box from Ehtsh. It was a thing constructed from a fleshy substance, much like Ehtsh’s ship. Looked evil. The Butcher turned it over a few times in his hand. How could such a thing billow forth all those heady clouds?
As he held the box, the sun rose. It was a welcome sight. Shadows crept over the looming figure of Mount Thor. Soon it would be entirely illuminated. In daylight it was less threatening, almost peaceful. The jagged edge remained, but it was hard to believe that a scant half hour earlier the meat-man had met his end, or that the landscape had resembled hellfire. It was a pristine and brisk Arctic morning, and all that they had to remember the night by was this accursed artifact.
“I’ll take it,” said the Butcher. “Back to my torture dungeon, keep it on the desk. A memento of this night, a memorial to the meat man.” He reached for his pocket and Ehtsh shook his head in discontent. Far away they could hear a glacier calving into the stirring seas.
“I'M sOrRy,” said Ehtsh, “ThE tHiNg CoRrUpTs ThE uSeR. iT mUsT bE tHoRoUgHlY iNcInErAtEd. My PeOpLe WiLl KnOw WhAt To Do WiTh It.” He took the thing and they both set off for Ehtsh’s ship, which remained undisturbed and safe a few hundred feet out. In retrospect, it was very noticeable. There were no large structures nearby, only peaks of white and an infinite plateau of pebbles and ice. The cabin was entirely decimated.
They removed the covering and Ehtsh sat in the seat, the object beside him. He would get rid of it, the Butcher had faith in that. This was goodbye.
“Well, so long,” said the butcher, giving Ehtsh a sharp salute. “We make a good team when it comes to doing away with the forces of evil. Perhaps we should meet again sometime.” Ehtsh nodded, pressed a button, and the craft started up, whirring and wheezing. It still looked like flesh, and in broad daylight the Butcher could see all the intricacies, all the flaps and structures, and if he didn’t know better, he would think it to be a living creature.
“GoOdByE,” said Ehtsh. “MaY yOu FiNd SaTiSfAcTiOn In YoUr WoRk, As I dO iN mInE.” They waved, and the craft sent out spurts of vapor. It hovered for a moment, then darted off, a bullet in the blue, and vanished midair. Ehtsh had gone back to whatever place he had arrived from. The Butcher could have asked Ehtsh if he could come along and witness the wonders of the fourth dimension, but the craft seemed to accommodate only a being of Ehtsh’s size, and the butcher had been through enough.
With a sigh and a shrug, he opened the portal. Beyond it were the confines of the dungeon, that limbo between realms of indeterminate size where the corrupt would go for judgment. This escapade had been more than he had expected. His perception of the cosmos had been altered substantially. He would need to consult the texts for information on this fourth dimension of Ehtsh’s- and also of the fifth dimension from which Raair and Iurra originated.
Now, though, the Butcher would retreat to those stony passages and gravity-defying chambers, those gothic structures he knew and resided in. He would sleep, and then he would get back to business. Gregory Daniel wasn’t going to castrate himself.
The Butcher stepped through, and the morning was cold and bright, and Nunavut was at peace. Nobody had witnessed the red clouds, not even the citizens of Pangnirtung, who dismissed the cosmic disturbances as a mountain fog, and the pinkish hue as some attribute of Arctic weather not worth looking into. From the south came a group of hikers, ready to try their luck at scaling Thor. They would likely fail, but they were willing to give it a shot.
“Look at this,” said one, holding her cap in shock, pointing to the carnage, which lay obscured in the shadows of the summit. “Something died here.” They all crowded around and gazed at the chunks of flesh, which were fully uncovered by the snow and moving slightly. None of them had seen dead meat move like that.
“Probably a coyote or something,” said one of the hikers, taking out his ropes and gear. “Come on, let’s get to it. It’s late already, and it’ll be at least 5 hours to the top of this thing.” The rest agreed, and they went off together, spikes in hand. Their footsteps could be heard traveling out into the nether regions of the range, exploring tundra and ultimately summiting Thor, one of the most challenging and distinctive mountains on Earth.
Below, the writhing flesh coagulated.