The boys all lived together in one big house out in the suburbs. There were four of them who split the rent, plus a rotating cast of friends crashing on the couch at any one time. They had a YouTube channel together and their combination of laidback on-screen charisma and inventive video concepts — playing Halo on a trampoline, seeing how far they could get in Skyrim before a cheaply-bought TV melted on a grill — made them successful enough that they could afford the place and live at and sometimes even a little above the standards they’d grown up with.
Some people might expect the abode of a group of gamers in their mid-20s to be disgusting, but that wasn’t the case with the house at all. The communal spaces — the kitchen, living room, and hallways — were kept clean and tidy because they were used for filming. However, it would be easy for most to identify the general demographics of the people who lived in the house. A certain haphazard and uninterested quality characterized the decor — curtains of awkward length hung over a window and never corrected, a few token pieces of pop culture-related art placed up here and there, the cheapest lamp sold by IKEA illuminating the living room, a large cat tree planted next to the front door. These, taken together with the four large leather chairs and the widescreen television mounted on the wall across from them, firmly marked the place out as the domain of a pack of young, unattached men.
Life was good for them. They were living the dream of so many young people in the mid-2010s, paying their bills by hanging out with their buddies and creating content about video games. They would game late into the night, alternating between newer titles and the classics of the 2000s they’d grown up on — Super Smash Brothers Melee, Left 4 Dead 2, Rock Band — before finally retiring to their respective rooms where they might stay up even later playing PC games with strangers online, watching pirated movies, or jacking off.
Which isn’t to say that they didn’t work hard. Recording and editing their videos — not to mention doing promotion on socials, running their merch store, booking event appearances, and keeping up to date with trends and new releases — took considerable time and effort. They split up the duties between them, trading off camera work, on-screen presence, production, and so on from project to project. Together, they functioned as a single unit, a kind of latter-day Jackass and one of the last true longform video success stories before short form vertical content became the norm.
Their numbers were steadily rising, the requests to do panels at cons were starting to come in more frequently, and they were in early talks with someone at Cartoon Network to design and voice characters in a potential animated series based on their antics. It seemed like they were on the cusp of something incredible. Only one night, one of them came back from a 7/11 run acting kind of distant and out of it. They didn’t get anything out of him until later in the night when he’d had a few beers and admitted that someone had attacked him in the parking lot coming out of the store. He didn’t remember much but had woken up slumped against the wall across from the dumpster.
The other guys were sympathetic, saying maybe it was some kind of drugging robbery, like how they used chloroform in old movies. He lied about his wallet having been stolen, because what was the alternative, that he’d been raped or something?
He was different after that. His friends gave him a wide berth, assuming that he was just shaken up from getting jumped. He was sleeping in later, getting worse at games he was previously the king of, taking longer to edit videos. All that was possible to rationalize as the aftereffects of the trauma he’d been through. But it was harder to explain finding him in the kitchen at 3 AM eating raw, bloody steak with his bare hands in the glow of the open fridge. And the cats, who’d previously adored him, had begun to bolt out of the room or start hissing wildly when he walked in.
Then he started to complain that he was having memory issues. He’d wake up on the lawn naked with no idea how he got there, or slip into a fugue state while he was supposed to be working on a video and hours would go by in what seemed like a second. He still had a few months left on his parents’ health insurance so he went to a doctor who ordered all kinds of neurological tests but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him.
He began disappearing for hours at a time after dark, returning scratched up and smelling of raw earth. The neighbors started to keep their distance after an incident in which he bared his teeth and growled at their little dog, which barked crazily when he walked by. He developed an aversion to sunlight. As the weeks dragged on, the other guys realized he wasn’t getting any better and that it was starting to impact their work. He insisted he was fine but they thought maybe he was getting into drugs to cope with what had happened so they decided to go through his room while he was out one night.
They didn’t find any drugs but they did find the neighbors’ dog’s collar with little tufts of fur stuck to it with dried blood. One of them wanted to call the cops but they gave it some thought and decided to talk to him before they went that far. After all, they’d known each other for years and were practically brothers and there had to be a good explanation for all this. So when he got home they cornered him and confronted him with the collar. At first he tried to lie, then he tried to run, but they overpowered him and tied him to a chair in the basement with a bunch of bungee cords they’d had lying around from an old video where they’d set up a Nintendo 64 and a TV in the back of a pickup truck and played Ocarina of Time while hitting up fast food drive-thrus around town.
So they sat down there with him for a few hours, trying to get him to talk about what was going on. For a while he didn’t say anything, he was just real quiet, seething at them. Then eventually he looked up and started speaking in this voice that wasn’t his and talking about how he craved blood and meat and to run wild in the night. The guys were startled but they’d also seen plenty of horror movies so they figured that their buddy got himself possessed by something.
One of them asked then, who were they talking to, and it told them that its true name had been forgotten eons ago but it had been known as many things — the Scourge of the Plains, Light-Drinker, It Who Gnashes at the Bones. It had been sealed away for thousands of years but had awoken thanks to the careless actions of men digging beneath the earth, and now it would delight in the rapture of the flesh once more. It would hunt and maim as it had always done, and it would bathe in viscera and bring ruin to the works of man. It lived only for its own selfish pleasure and thrived on the chaos that chasing its desires left in its wake.
The guys had a little huddle and discussed their options. None of them knew any priests and the idea of turning their buddy — possessed or not — over to the police or a psych ward didn’t sit right with them. So they asked this thing in their friend, whatever it was, if it could please move on and find someone else to inhabit. It just laughed this feral sound like a wolf howling and said that the two of them were bonded now, and only death could separate them.
They kept it tied up in the basement for a few days. It tried to lie, to threaten them, to convince them to let it go free. They brought it food and water, made sure it didn’t get away when it used the bathroom, and did their best to ignore it when it spoke in their friend’s voice and told them that everything was fine, that he had fought the thing off. The situation was unsustainable — they couldn’t shoot videos without their buddy and they certainly couldn’t keep a demon locked up in their basement indefinitely.
So they talked about it and made a plan. All of them went down there and told it that they wanted to make a deal. They needed their friend around to keep their lives on track, so they weren’t going to just let it go free. And even if it did somehow break loose, it wasn’t like the olden days of whenever the fuck it had been around last. If its M.O. was really just to eat livestock and cause problems for people until it got caught and its host was put to death so it could jump into a new body, that wasn’t going to work anymore. See, there was this thing called jail or a mental hospital where if you were caught killing animals and attacking people you were put in a room and weren’t allowed to leave. Did It Who Gnashes at the Bones really want to sit around in a cell for decades waiting for their friend to die of old age so it could find a new vessel?
It seemed to consider this, at first spitting defiantly at their threats. Then they showed it statistics on how many people were locked up in America, pictures of prison interiors, that kind of thing. Its bravado waned and it finally responded like a sullen child that no, that didn’t sound like much fun at all. So they came to an agreement — it would allow their friend to continue to work on their projects, and in return they would help it stay out of the room it wouldn’t be allowed to leave. All things considered, it seemed like a pretty good deal for both parties.
From the outside, nothing seemed to change. Any obsessive fans who might have noticed a shift in the mood of the group in the weeks prior were soon satisfied that all was back to normal. Both the boys and Gnasher, as they came to refer to it, were on guard for while — the guys expected it to bolt at the first chance anyway, or to wake up to a knife buried in their guts. These possibilities crossed the thing’s mind, and it chafed at the myriad rules and technologies of modern society that seemed designed to prevent it from indulging itself, but was appeased by weekly trips to the woods from which it would return after an hour or two soaked in deer blood — the boys hoped it was deer blood — and grinning madly.
And it soon learned that this new world it found itself in was not without its compensations. It developed an interest in the games the boys played on their screens, awed at the thrillingly-lifelike depictions of violence. At first it had difficulty comprehending the concept of navigating a fictional three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional screen, and it fumbled like a toddler or — more accurately — a senior citizen with the controller. But eventually it became enamored with the adrenaline rush of winning a tense digital gunfight. The trips to the woods became less and less frequent as It Who Gnashes at the Bones found an outlet for its urges to hunt and dominate in Call of Duty matches.
It discovered snack food and had to admit that the taste of Mountain Dew and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos agreed with it much more than raw venison. When introduced to contemporary music, it exulted in the sonic fury of bass-boosted metal. Once it got the hang of social media, it delighted in getting into arguments with strangers using anonymous accounts set up by the other guys. Its behavior became more and more domesticated until it was indistinguishable from that of an average American male in his mid-20s. And in the end, the ancient, chaotic thing that had stalked and troubled men since before there were words was no match for the myriad, immediate pleasures offered by the modern world.