"So, Squee," Johnny began, sitting cross-legged on the end of Squee's bed. "You ready for a bedtime story?"

This was their routine. Well, Johnny's, at least. Every night that Johnny was feeling calm, rational, and almost sane, he would use that opportunity to visit little Todd Casil next door. See, Johnny had to feel sane when visiting the scared little boy. He had too. At all other times, he was either slowly slicing a screaming victim up with a rusty blade because he was bored, smashing a cashier's head repeatedly into the countertop because he was enraged, driving needles as deeply as he could underneath a snippy woman's fingernails because was annoyed, or just giggling insanely and accomplishing many terrifying acts of torture at once because he is excited. There were times he made an exception by visiting Squee during one of his other moods just so the sight of the boy would calm him down, but these exceptions were rare. He learned long ago how much he scared the poor child during one of his other moods. Johnny felt guilty for it and resolved to only visit Squee when he was at least somewhat calm.

Todd Casil, on the other hand, could never predict when the Scary Neighbor Man would appear in his room. He was pretty sure that Johnny found every single way possible he could enter his room. Window, tunnels, popping out from under the bed, some weird kind of zipline that the maniac used only once, opening up a door to his ceiling from the attic he never knew he had, and so many more. It was all absolutely terrifying. Nobody, especially not a child prone to panic attacks, wants to know that a bloodied lunatic comes and goes from your house as he pleases without the child's parents giving a single fuck. He suspected his dad might even encourage it for reasons he still refuses to believe. Johnny played along when the father was around, of course. Acted like he meant to scar Squee for life, but then shot a deathly glare after the man as soon as the father's back was turned. Johnny resolved to at least not kill Todd's father. It might be a personal thing that even Johnny barely understood. Squee didn't know. All he knew was that a knife-wielding homicidal maniac that has killed and continues to kill thousands of people right next door seemed to take a liking to talking to him. Especially late at night. Especially by telling bedtime stories. Squee also long ago timidly requested there to be no swearing in the stories. Johnny, surprisingly, readily agreed with this and even commended Todd for that suggestion. Johnny liked the idea of falling out of the habit of swearing so often. Swearing was a crutch and was usually a sign of lesser intelligence. Better to get rid of it straight away.

The stories were a lot of the time scary, sometimes insightful, and other times just plain silly and nonsensical. Johnny never planned his stories out ahead of time. Every bit of it was improvisation. Sometimes they weren't so much stories as much as a very, very, very mild and calm rant from Johnny about issues in society. Really. He would be screaming those things at any other time, but instead, in front of Squee, he spoke them as if they were more of an observation that mildly interested and annoyed him rather than something that clawed at him from the inside out. Just like politics for the average person.

Squee wondered what kind of story he would hear tonight. Or whether it would be a story at all.

"Y-yeah, I guess so, Scary Neighbor Man," Todd responded quietly. Johnny smiled and patted little Squee's head awkwardly, then tried to discreetly rub his hand off on the covers. Not out of germs. Johnny knew that Todd wasn't particularly dirty. He just wasn't used to physical contact with another human being, not yet. He was slowly getting better with that, too.

"Well, good! How about…a story that takes place in the middle ages?" Johnny asked.

"With scary dragons and knights?"

"Oh, no, not at all! Stories shouldn't only be about heroes and knights in shining armor, after all! That's not how the world works, so why should stories work that way?" Nny put a hand to his chin in thought. "How about…a story about a lonely peasant?"

Squee smiled and nodded. That story sounded safe. A bit sad, but relatively safe. After all, how much trouble could an everyday peasant get into? Johnny grinned back, cracked his knuckles, and began his story.

"Once upon a time, there was a disturbed peasant.

This peasant, you see, had a strange idea as to how the world actually works, and felt that any other theories were fanciful illusions. He felt he was the only one who saw society for what it was, uncovering all of its dark secrets. His deeds did not go unpunished. The local Orange Wizard saw how mindlessly and joyfully violent the peasant was in his youth, and hated it. Despised it. According to him, no one who killed so mindlessly and still understood the harsh world should be so happy with what he does. It wasn't right. And, in the Orange Wizard's opinion, if there was going to be a killer in that world, he might as well stand out as different from all of the others. So he cast a slow-working curse upon the child. It would manifest over time, slowly influencing his thoughts. At first, the peasant simply believed he was growing more intelligent. He embraced what he believed to be a gift and felt that, for this, he was above all of the others. He felt superior. It wasn't until the curse was fully in effect did he realize what was happening to him. The peasant still killed without pause, but this time, he started to feel guilt. Remorse. There was more than a touch of angst scraping away at his thoughts, which were littered with the self-aware inner voices that sounded so much like his own."

Johnny paused at this point and glanced nervously over at Squee. There was obviously something tugging at Nny's thoughts, but the child was too scared of the unexpectedly savage villager and the diabolical Orange Wizard to question it. So, the maniac took a deep breath and hesitantly continued.

"The peasant tried to cope by buying a cottage, listening to the latest classical music whenever he could, and starting an art career. It had worked at first, and the peasant entertained the idea of freedom. What he didn't know was that the curse still bore a heavy influence on all of his decisions. It needed him to get a new cottage so it could find a place to physically manifest. It needed him to start an art career so he could have some sort of cash inflow to care for himself just enough so he might live long enough to bring the curse to life. His treasured music became triggers for homicidal rampages, contributing to the curse's power. All in all, his life became a living Hell, and the evil Orange Wizard was happy.

After a few years of torturous slavery, the peasant by chance found favor with a beautiful peasant girl who sold scrolls for a living. The girl was more intelligent than the words bound on the dry parchment she sold, and yet she remained humble. She looked into the peasant's troubled eyes and discovered a quality of him that she liked, one that even the peasant knew nothing about. She created no triggers of murdering sprees for him, and even prevented ordinary annoyances from bothering him when she was around. His life was by no means magically transformed into bliss or any sense of normalcy, but he could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel of tragedy. It made him…hopeful. With tense muscles and a scattered mind, he requested the company of the peasant girl to the local theatre. She smiled and did a remarkable thing; she said yes. The peasant was ecstatic, and could hardly wait for nightfall.

The peasant picked her up in a run down horse and carriage, and the gods seemed to smile favorably upon him, for the curse had given him nary a symptom throughout the day. He took this to be a good sign and genuinely looked forward to sitting next to this peasant girl in a dank, dirty theatre to watch a play all the other richer civilians have seen many a time before. It was not the play that mattered, though the play was well done and had an intriguing storyline, but it was the fact that the curse was so weak as to allow another living human, a female no less, set her eyes upon him and to find him in her favor.

He and she had a long discussion after the play about the village and the villagers within. He found to both his suspicion and delight that she agreed with many of his points, especially the fact that the villagers were blinded by their lack of insight to the common tragedies and disgusting habits lurking around them. He accidentally let slip a few references to the curse he was under, but she only interpreted it as more idle conversation. For that, he was glad. So it was no surprise that when she asked if he wanted to escort her to his own cottage, he accepted.

They arrived with little fanfare, and when he allowed her into his home first, the gesture was born more from innate politeness than of any romantic gesture. He didn't believe in immediate romance, and neither did she, so there were no misunderstandings. They sat upon a bench within and talked a bit more personally of various topics. She implied that she would like another date to be made as the one they had just had, and he inquired as to why she wished to repeat the experience with him out of all the other villagers. He asked to satiate his curiosity, and not to stoke any ego he may or may not possess. The female peasant smiled and told him that she liked him for obvious reasons, and that if he felt otherwise about her, she may just send him to the River Stix to meet Hades in person. They both laughed at the jest. The peasant openly rejoiced due to his rare moment of happiness, and to his surprise, the girl leaned closer to him and attempted to kiss him. He was about to return the favor when something…unimaginably terrible happened."

Johnny paused again, looking even more deeply troubled. He really wanted to stop the story now and start over with different characters, a different setting, and a far different ending. But that's not how life works, and his stories are meant to reflect life itself. He had to continue. He had to. Johnny took a deep, shuddering breath, and avoided eye contact with Squee. The child couldn't see the truth in his eyes. Squee had to still think this was just a bedtime story, and nothing more.

"You see, even all of this was a plan of the curse and the Orange Wizard. Right as he was to return the kiss, the previously quiet voices of the curse screamed at him to stop, to cut, to tear, to murder this innocent girl before him. He fled the room, leaving her behind, confused and fearful, but safe for now. He found a place to talk openly to the voices and argued with them, knowing that this wasn't right, and that he had been so close to happiness only to have it torn away from him. At the urging of the voices, he finally did attempt to kill the girl. He was under the impression that it was his own choice, but of course, it was a lie. He reasoned this was a way for the happiness to last, that if she were to descend to the underworld, the essence of her memories and his happiness would remain back with him on Earth. Flawed logic at best.

Lucky for the girl, his attempts at her life were frantic and poorly planned. She was able to fight back. She was able to not only defend herself, but seriously maim him in a full on skirmish. The girl fled the cottage, and for this, the seriously injured villager was glad. He thought she was free from him, from the curse, from anything that could wrong her. He felt a twinge of guilt, of course, for attempting to end events the way he did. He was also incredibly sad that this one chance at freedom was swiftly taken from him without a moment's notice. He attempted to get back in touch with her months later, hoping to explain the circumstances and at least cause her to not despise his very existence, but he was far too cowardly to approach her in person. He sent a rambling message instead. He allowed himself a bit of hope that, maybe, it would make things better. He WAS technically defying the very essence of what the curse was, after all. It did not go well. Not at all. She appeared to hate him even more so, though she also seemed able and willing to avoid him, which made him both happy and mournful for the same reasons that were explained earlier. He could only hope that the curse did not follow her as well."

Johnny got up from the bed, still avoiding eye contact, and made his way toward the window. He had just opened it enough to slip through when a small voice spoke up from the bed.

"Mr. Scary Neighbor Man?" Squee asked in a trembling voice. "What…what happened to the lady? Is she okay? Did the big bad curse thingy follow her?"

The lonely peasant shut his eyes tightly against the sudden wave of sadness that attempted to overtake him, clinging to the window frame for support.

"I…I don't know, Squee. I just…I just don't know…"