Logan casually glanced at the grey man in the corner. No one else in the room saw it, but he knew it was there. It slowly traced a path through the room, soaking up the sparks and noise the last child in the room had left. Logan looked down at his own hands. His medication was wearing off. He wouldn’t leave a scent or trail after that.

The doctor was waiting for him to give him his attention. “Logan, is there something you want to tell me?”

“No.”

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“You want to change my medication again.”

“Do you understand why we need to do that?”

“My parents don’t like my behavior.”

“I appreciate that you’ve worked on your language skills. Your social skills are… still weak, but I think I agree with the assessment that you have both high functioning autism and a degree of psychopathy.” The doctor sighed. “You’ve been a difficult patient to treat. I want you to understand that we want to help you become as normal as possible.”

“I haven’t hurt anyone.” His mother sighed at that statement.

“You’re going to be here a while,” the doctor said.

“I don’t want to be here. I want to go home. Or to school. Or somewhere else.”

The doctor sighed at that. “That is the most normal thing I’ve heard you say in a long time. That’s a perfectly normal sentiment. I’m glad you want to go home. Work with us in treatment and therapy, and you can go home as soon as possible. I’m thrilled that you’re attached to your family and familiar environment.”

The doctor was wrong. Logan corrected him, “The grey men are here, a lot of them. I don’t want to be here when they’re here like this.”

His mother uttered word he wasn’t allowed to repeat while the doctor flinched. The doctor said to his mother, “He may be here longer than I initially estimated. I thought we’d resolved that problem.”

 

 

The grey men circulated in this place like vultures over prey. Logan remembered that from his biology lessons. The teacher in that subject had loved Logan asking questions, watching video and learning vocabulary. He’d made so much progress with the ecosystem lessons, the vocabulary, the tests. The teacher got points and gave Logan candy for it. Logan fed it to ants to watch their groups form and the candy dissolve. No one was angry at him for that. They were upset when he pinned a mouse and let the grey men do the same to the mouse. No one understood that was the same thing. This was around the time he realized almost no one even knew of the grey men.

They generally only saw them as they were dying, and the few words they saw created the vague stories others told. Sometimes the grey men came at night, sensing the dreams of others as lights and sparks, though they rarely took the sleeping. There was less energy, less food for them that way.

He knew this because he’d seen them feed on people. Kaylee had been all sparks and energy, so bad the doctors actually wanted to cool her off. She had ADD or ADHD and some other longer terms he couldn’t remember on her case file. She took lots of medication to slow her down. That was bad, because her wandering through the room and doing all sorts of things created a long complex trail that confused the grey men. One day, the new medication slowed her down. She had energy but was too tired to move. She radiated energy and sparks but wasn’t running around much. The grey men locked in on her, because she glowed like a beacon but was no longer lost in the crowd. She was eating the sweets they’d given her as a reward for sitting still, so the teacher went to focus on other things. She was bright, sparkly, and sitting still for hours with the juice, cupcakes and the books she now wanted to read. Logan was focused on her. The teacher actually noticed him. She said don’t worry, you’ll get some too if you’re good. He ignored her, and then the teacher ignored him in favor of kids doing things they weren’t supposed to do.

The grey men surrounded her. It was a group of three, a large group by their standards. They held out their hands, absorbing her sparks. Her awareness peaked, that jolting of the body with the fright response, hair rising. Instinctively, she was afraid. She looked up from the books but stopped to stare at nothing. Well, it was easy to think she was staring at Logan or a poster on the wall. They reached down toward her, into her, and began to suck the color and light and energy out of her. Her body stiffened as her heart sped up and seized. The colors stopped sparking from her body, though her body remained a bright lantern. Her body shook as her body lost color and light, turning grey. The grey men didn’t gain color from her but a kind of substance. They were almost visible to others now, a solid kind of shadow.  Logan thought that was the reason people even had stories of grey men appearing out of mists or nightmares. Maybe this is why they thought death was a faceless thing in a black cloak, especially if it was just one of them feeding on her. She then slumped down in the chair, empty.

Logan watched her body shift and settle, wondering if he’d see degradation of the still upright, utterly still form. The teacher came back and asked why he was still staring at the sweets, would he like to earn them?

“I’m not staring at the sweets. I’m staring at Kaylee.”

“Don’t you think that’s rude?” the teacher asked as she picked up the worksheets he’d barely filled out.

“No. She doesn’t care,” Logan said.

“She is a very forgiving soul.”

“Her soul is gone.” The teacher looked at him startled, then finally looked at Kaylee. She went over to the girl, checked her pulse, and then screamed for help. They eventually came for Logan and asked questions. He told them the grey men took her energy and killed her. They said that was crazy, not real. He described what happened to her body in detail. That was emotionally upsetting to them, but they considered it evidence. Her medicine, it turned out, had stopped her heart. They said excitement over the sweets and the drugs in combination killed her. They also said he needed different medication to not see the grey men who didn’t exist.

Logan knew he wasn’t crazy, because Manuel saw them, too. He was there because he had always seen them. No, the better way of saying it was that Manuel was there because he was always afraid of them. Crazy people could say things that weren’t true, but Logan knew it was true because they so often looked at the same place and saw the same entities. They could talk about the patterns in behavior like how they tracked, how they could fade through walls, what they did. Manuel wasn’t a friend, but he was the only one who understood.

Manuel would pace and wander to create a complex trail for his own safety. One day, their medication calmed him down, quieted him, took his energy level down. He could still see the grey men. He couldn’t get the energy up to walk around much. Logan could see that his energy levels weren’t as low as Logan’s, so he wasn’t invisible to them like Logan.

The drugs left him silent in bed as the grey men came, though Manuel watched them come to him. He looked at Logan as if Logan could or would stop them. They put their fingers into him, feeding. Manuel’s colors started to slowly fade. Manuel’s fear sparked energy, and he got up to run. This gave him a brief moment of freedom, but the door to their room was locked. Manuel was trapped. And the loss of his color and emotion made him sad, guilty, and other words Logan couldn’t fully fathom. Manuel wanted a way out. The window was totally sealed. He then hung himself. This was the worst thing he could have done, for the grey men had a target locked in place. They sucked the life from his body as his body fought the loss of air. Logan could do nothing but watch. It seemed like they could get more from him than others. Maybe the ability to see them meant he had more energy to feed upon. The scene sparked Logan’s interest, and he saw a few sparks rise from his frame. The grey men finally noticed him. Logan cooled his interest, became a passive observer. They circled the room for a while, then left, sated.

That was the moment Logan realized he was invisible to them as long as his colors and energy were nothing. And that his emotions and behavior could make him visible.

He watched people in the main halls. When there were lots of people, lots of energy, it was like a cloud hiding a raindrop. The grey men stayed away, it was too bright and loud. A lone person might be ignored. Old people in the cemetery were almost as grey as grey men. Grey men liked children, though. More color, more energy, their batteries still charging up. Adults they mostly avoided, but they sometimes took those people. The suicides in the forest, the people who jumped off bridges. But they liked kids. And they liked kids with weird colors and energy… like those in this hospital.

Logan sat in his room looking out the window. There were far more grey men here than anywhere else. He might see them walking along a road, sucking life from someone young dying in a car crash or, once in a while, basking in the glow of the crazy homeless dudes on the side of the road. Those men saw them, sometimes, if they weren’t too drunk or stoned. The grey men didn’t seem to feed on them to the point of death. It was more like a sweet that didn’t fill them up, because they didn’t become solid then.

His mother thought he was silent, brooding, and dark. She didn’t understand that he was colorless grey, nearly silent. He heard her coming in on a visit. “Logan?”

“I’m awake.” The rules said he had to answer a question like that. The world had so many rules. It was made worse by ever-changing based on the feelings in others he didn’t understand. That was part of what made their sparks. That’s all he did understand.

“What are you looking at?”

“I’m looking out the window.” He didn’t turn to face her. She was no more interesting than anyone else. She was just familiar, a set of habits and routines that he could lay out some rules for to give her a little more predictability than the rest.

“Look at me,” she asked by the tone of her voice. They had so many lessons on reading facial expressions, tone of voice, body positions. The doctor once said it was tragic he was autistic – he’d have learned how to at least act normal without that handicap on top of the psychopathy. And if he was just autistic, he could learn to act based on rules though he didn’t always understand them because he wanted to be accepted. He was a weird, exotic combination of two conditions… he understood that. He never met anyone else who was as gray and silent as himself unless dying.

“I am looking at you,” he confirmed.

“I want you to work really hard at your lessons,” she said.

“I’m up to grade level on reading.” It was something a teacher said to be proud of and that you want your parents to be proud of you. And the teacher wouldn’t lie about something like that the way mean kids would tell you that you should do something dangerous or socially unacceptable. Logan had learned to not like those kids from the pain they caused or the anger it caused in adults. He wasn’t angry at them beyond the flared up colors of pain and frustration. That could have flared brightly but he silenced it. He was praised for not lashing out. It wasn’t that. It was the grey men at the edge of the playground who looked at him when he flared.

It was a relief when one of the boys fell, hit his head, and in the confused colors, they sucked the color from him until his body was grey. Others were relieved, too, though Logan wasn’t happy like the others. His mother wanted him to be happy. He couldn’t comprehend it. He’d never felt it. He just recognized it in others, colors on the person matched to the words others used about it.

“I want you to work harder on your social skills,” his mother said.

“I’m not normal,” he reminded her. It made her sad to hear this. Her colors dimmed, though it wasn’t grey. It was something sliding down toward death. Grief was when others sensed that someone that made them bright and alive was dead. “I can’t be normal.” He didn’t mention the colors or the grey men. Any time he did, they injected him with drugs. They didn’t even try to talk about it anymore. They were teaching him not to talk about it. That didn’t change reality.

“We want to get you as close to normal as possible,” his mother said. Her colors were brighter, stronger, complicated. “We want what is best for you.” He thought of saying that you don’t understand me, but he didn’t think she’d understand why he said it. “I love you, Logan,” she said.

“Can I go home if I say I love you?” Logan asked.

“I’d be happy if you said you loved me.”

“Can I go home?” Logan asked.

“We have to make you better, Logan,” she said. “You can’t come home until you are.” Logan looked out the window and away from her, knowing that his muted sad colors were flaring. The grey man in the trees emerged from the shadows there and looked up at him. Their eyes met, and it shimmered a kind of grey that was almost like a dim light. Was that its aura? Someone in another room screamed they saw a ghost and were told to shut up.

His own sad colors faded. He didn’t need to be sad, because it wouldn’t change anything. He couldn’t change anything. And he didn’t have to.

 

 

Logan hated the new drugs. He understood the word now because it pumped feelings and emotions and colors into him that were bright and vivid. They said it would expand his emotional palette and make him feel. He made them feel, too, with physical contact and words. Trial and error made their pain worse.

They eventually stopped those drugs. They didn’t like his reaction to it, they said. He hated the drugs afterward, because it was hard to become silent and still. He now left a little bright trail like confetti the grey men could follow. It was a fraction of the shattered rainbows and smeared paint flecks other kids left, but it was real. The adults didn’t understand how real.

Logan couldn’t find the kid who saw the grey man, the ghost, either.

 

 

Logan tried to mix with the groups and join the activities. He didn’t like them. He didn’t want to be with them. But there was safety in numbers from the grey men. He hated them, at times, for being blind. The teachers loved him following the rules better and interacting with others so that he wasn’t sent alone to a room.

 

The rec room was empty but for him and a kid he’d never seen before. Logan intentionally paced like Manuel had to break up his trail if the grey men tried to follow it. The other kid sometimes watched him, sometimes watched the walls, sometimes watched a grey man pass through. Yes, he was like Manuel.

One of the grey men materialized in the corner across from the kid like Manuel. The kid’s dimmed aura, dulled by the drugs, was still enough for the grey man to see. Logan watched the grey man follow his pattern. Logan walked up to the other kid and turned to watch the grey man circulate the room. The boy asked, “Can you see it?”

Logan wasn’t sure if he meant the stupid paintings on the wall, the colored sparks he’d left behind in a space almost silent because everyone else went to play outside, or the grey man. He knew the adults weren’t present. “I see a grey man following the sparks I left behind.”

The boy breathed in and out a few times. “I see the grey ghost. Is it a man? What sparks?”

“The grey man senses the sparks and follows it like a dog on a scent.” Logan had tested that with pets thoroughly. Crime shows with bloodhounds were interesting, too. “You put off color sparks with emotions. It senses that. It feeds on the energy that makes it, too.”

“What happens when it gets to us?” the kid asked.

Us. A strange word to Logan and stranger that someone applied it to him. “I don’t know if it will feed on you or me.” Logan breathed slowly to calm himself, to dim his aura. “Sometimes it only feeds on the sparks, but it has to feed on people once in a while.”

“They surround me when I’m strapped to the bed. Are they feeding on me?”

Logan was startled by these words. They’d never surrounded him personally, and he’d never seen them surround a person without killing them. He asked, “What do they do?”

“They touch me. I dream, and I feel weak, and I am scared I’m going to die.”

“Is that every time they touch you?” Logan asked.

“Sometimes,” the kid asked. Logan almost said that doesn’t mean every time. “The ghosts haunt other kids, too, in the delusional unit. Most other kids don’t see them, though. They see other things.”

Logan then realized why they circulated through the hospital so much, hunting though they rarely killed. They were feeding off kids, once in a while, like vampires drinking blood. They were able to feed here without someone dying, though they clearly fed on the dying or killed people by feeding on them, too.

“Where do they come from?” the kid asked him.

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe we can stop them,” the kid offered.

Logan didn’t say that was impossible and pointless. “I just want to go home,” Logan said. There were so many people on the floors above and below, on the sidewalk and the roads that the grey men didn’t ever come by in the day. At night, they stuck to the middle of the road and the fringes of places with people. It was as if the colors and noise of adults were bad for them, things they avoided. But here with doctors and drugs and lots of crazy and stupid kids, they were abundant.

 

 

The nurse heard them talking. The nurse told the doctor. The doctor held him down while he fought and gave him drugs. They put him in the ward with the new kid like Manuel. But they didn’t put the new kid with him. They said that was reinforcing his delusion. The doctor said maybe he’d do better if they tried psychoactive drugs for his delusion, something they’d otherwise avoided due to his age and condition.

For the first hours, the grey men weren’t visible. Then again, with the small room with padded walls, there wasn’t much chance of seeing them. He felt the chemicals bubbling in his body, making his body give off strange new colors at random. At the same time, the room became grey in a way he’d never seen it. The erratic emotions and flashes of color made him wish for silence, quiet, the grey inside and out.

Then a gray man entered the room. Logan calmly stared at it, wanting it to feed on this insane color palette and bring calm and quiet, curious what it would do. Others of its kind entered the room. Four in all now.

Logan was quiet as they patiently circled the room. They were clearly awake and aware, because he made eye contact with several of them. Once, one went through the back wall. Screams of terror erupted. It was the kid like Manuel. Then it came more slowly through the wall, as if it was harder to drift through with a more solid body, but it made it through. Logan forced himself not to laugh and to remain cool and calm. The grey men tasted his aura then.

They remained in the room while a nurse came and went. When the door closed, they became supernaturally charged. They were almost solid. Someone else may have seen them if startled awake, rising out of a dream state and seeing the grey men while in the grey twilight themselves.

They offered him something wordlessly. Logan didn’t let himself feel excited; that would kill it. He calmed himself to grey, the color of calm and peace. They reached for him and sucked all the lingering color sparks away. Then they continued until his heart stopped.

Logan stepped away from the grey, dead body on the floor. The doctors couldn’t make him feel emotions he didn’t want to anymore. He could now go wherever he wanted. His grey vague form was almost solid, he knew. Eventually, it would fade to mist, they said. Feed, once in a while, to avoid dissipating and you will always exist. Logan told them, wordlessly, he understood. They knew he understood and they left him.

Logan stared at his body until the nurses came in the morning. The woman screamed as she realized he was dead, her bright loud colors as blinding. They must be brighter, now, when he was in this grey form. He left the room through the back wall. Manuel was there, strapped to the bed, an IV in him and tray of partially spooned food beside him. Logan wasn’t glad this wasn’t his morning. He was simply accepting of his fate. He was relieved to be released, the most emotion he might ever have felt while alive. He slowly moved to where new Manuel could see him. The boy’s drugged eyes were beyond comprehending his new form.

Logan decided to return later to answer his question of where grey men came from. He might taste the new kid’s fear, too, to understand what he’d described. There was no excitement or hunger as Logan as a human would have felt, simply a pressure and need he was aware of. He floated through the wall to the world outside and went to see what was in the trees the other grey men spent so much time in.

*****

Photo by FolsomNatural