To Be Afraid

"Have any of you ever heard the phrase, 'Only God can judge me?'"

Several of the students nodded or mumbled assent. Some of them would normally pay less attention than others, although even the more absentminded students felt as though the bearded, shockingly well-aged professor commanded attention.

The teacher himself was as bright-eyed and intrigued as he always was. The quiet intensity on his face was only matched by the simple yet elegant black suit he wore. Where most individuals would appear to be a bland churchgoer in such an outfit (the man was one of those as well, albeit far from bland), the professor looked more like a James Bond actor.

"Only God can judge me," repeated the man. "It's a phrase you'll usually see being touted by someone who has faced harsh judgement yet continues to fight for what they know is right. It's more commonly used as a thin and cheesy excuse by kids on Instagram as to why their peers shouldn't call out their trashy attitude, despite the fact that they should be far more worried about what an all-powerful being thinks of them." A few chuckles emanated from the classroom.

"However, the meaning still stands, even whether or not you believe in a higher power." The man rubbed his laniard, the ID badge reading "Prof. Bold" twirling clumsily. "Because we never actually know what's in someone's heart. What people do and what people think aren't always connected. We see a man rob a convenience store, and judge him as a thief, without realizing that he was recently laid off and can't afford to feed his family."

A dark-haired young man in a blue sweatshirt raised his hand. "Before you say anything, Mr. Jameson, the hypothetical scenario takes place in France. I'll remind you again that the American politics class is just across the hall." The class laughed for a moment as the student sheepishly put down his arm.

"Humans are fairly good at judging character, we've been doing it for a long time. But at the end of the day, a person's true feelings are known only to themself and -" the professor winked and pointed a finger upwards "- the Man Upstairs."

"Now, assuming all of you completed the assignment, you'll know -" he was cut off by a sudden DING. He looked around at the room for a moment before exclaiming "Ah! It was me!" The class laughed as he walked to his desk and picked up his phone. "Now, where were…" his voice trailed off. His formerly friendly and cheery face paled, and his smile dropped into an expression of shocked horror.

Even the vacuum of space couldn't match the silence of the room in that moment. Every student felt a shadow fall over them. The air seemed like a glass sculpture, and any sound or even movement would shatter it into a million pieces.

After a few year-long seconds, the professor gulped and said, with a shaky and quiet voice, "Class dismissed." The students slowly filtered out, careful to remain silent, and the professor collapsed into his seat.

He remained in shell-shock for a few moments as the universe crumbled around him, before he slowly reached for his phone again. He didn't want to be the one to tell him, but there was no one else to do so. He dialed in the number and put the device to his ear, praying that no one would pick up.

A click.

"Hello?"

The man gulped. "H-hey Cal. I need to tell you something."


Cal watched the snowman.

He paid no attention to the bloodstains on the walls, the shadowy beasts crawling through the doorways, or the vampire staring back at him. He used to pay attention to them, but not anymore. He wasn't supposed to be paying attention to them. He was supposed to watch the snowman.

Several minutes passed before Dr. Barnes, the senior researcher, said, "Alright, let's call this a wrap for today."

Everyone else in the observation chamber groaned and stretched. Cal averted his eyes and peered through the glass and around the courtyard. The tiny cottage, what used to look like the front of a Christmas card. had become overrun by Halloween decorations at this point, and the courtyard was crawling with monsters. The green grass was splattered with blood, the walls defending the yard were caked with slime and moss, and skeletal hands were poking out of the ground.

"Anyone noticed changes?" asked Barnes. The other researchers shook their heads. "Then in that case, let's take five before the next shift, but first…" Branes smiled at Cal. "We're gonna have to say goodbye to you, Bold."

Cal flushed slightly as Barnes patted him on the shoulder. "Congrats on the promotion, kid." Barnes turned to everyone else. "Cal's gonna be leaving the 4745 team today, and taking charge of his own this afternoon. We're gonna miss you, pal."

Cal rolled his eyes and grinned as the team clapped politely. "I'll still be on-site, I'm not going far."

Barnes laughed. "Yeah, but you can't just go and do your own thing without a sappy goodbye." Barnes reached out his hand. "But for real, we're proud of you. Go have some fun!"

Cal smiled brightly as he shook his former supervisor's hand. As silly as the "sappy goodbye" was, he was gonna miss working with the folks here, even if they'd still be close by. He walked down the gray hallways, nodding at the occasional researcher. He knew most folks found the interior of the sites rather bland, but he actually enjoyed walking through them. Several of the doors he passed by had colored warning signs on them, labeled with "EUCLID" or "INCONSISTENT TOPOGRAPHY" or "COGNITOHAZARD". He knew what some of them were, and less about others, but it was just as fun to try and speculate what bizarre things were in those rooms now as it was then.

He grabbed his lunch from the cafeteria and walked outside. A giddy feeling started rising in his chest as he sat down. He was gonna be in charge. His own skip! Was he nervous? Absolutely. But as he took a bite from his pizza and looked out into the field, he felt a surge of euphoria.

Suddenly, his view was blocked. A shadow loomed over him, emanating from a bearded man in a lab coat. The rays from the hidden sun behind him resembled a crown of angry fire.

Cal smiled. "Peanut butter."

David Bold sat down by Cal. "Peanut butter." A greeting in the bizarre language of two brothers. David's scraggly beard, messy hair, and slightly wrinkled coat would make him come off as tired and rushed to most people, but anyone close to him knew that he was just sloppy. Cal pulled out a sandwich - not peanut butter, but a BLT. David plucked the muffin from Cal's lunch tray.

"Hey!" Cal reached for the muffin, but David popped the whole thing in his mouth. Cal frowned. "I wanted to eat that."

"You can't even share with your favorite brother?" David said through a mouthful of gluten, "Didn't think becoming - ahem - a Head Researcher would get to your head so quickly." David nudged him in the ribs and grinned. "Congrats."

"Thanks," said Cal. He tried to keep a straight face (no one is allowed to steal his muffin), but a smile peeked through.

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