Episode XII - Don't Look Back

Rain fell across the heavens and streaked down to bang on the roof. It reflected off tiles and cascaded down in a torrent right outside my window. The roar of falling water blinded my other senses as I lay in bed. The sound seeped into my brain, telling my vision that the shadows cast in the night ran and poured down the walls. Hesitantly, I clutched my bear tighter and gingerly opened my eyes, willing the night to be too dark; my vision too blurry or anything else that would change what I knew lurked above me. Seconds passed and my eyes saw the spot. Directly above me, scarred into the soft popcorn texture of the ceiling, they were there. They stared malevolently, unblinking and uncaring, exuding a silent horror and anger. In reality, they were just two ruts, knocked out carelessly and left un-repaired.

To my five year old brain they looked evil, even during the day. They never blinked. They never moved. They always watched. They always stared. At night, they wanted to place their dark sunlight machinations into action. Silently, they urged on what would come next. I could already hear the soft sliding of the closet, opening just a crack. Just a slight inch. Just a centimeter. A completely unsecure black sliver that light disappeared in. A sliver that had been occluded by door a minute before.

Just as I thought I would scream for my parents, the feeling would grip my body with the desperation of a drowning man. It would roughly cast my muscles into a dead cold vice. It would claw and wrench my voice from my throat, throwing it uncaringly to a silent, deep void. Then, the cold would ooze from that gap, rushing over my rigored and vulnerable body. I would stop my breathing so that it couldn’t hear me and take me where it had come from. With my last effort, I would force my eyes shut so as to ignore the vague whisperings that followed. Somewhere, in this state of white knuckled bear grabbing abject terror, I would pray for sleep before anything else happened.

This memory rose unbidden in my head as I strode down the abandoned main hall of my house late one Saturday, some eleven odd years later. As I paused for a second, mid-step, the darkened living room behind me seemed very far away. Unbidden, hairs across my arms and legs shot upward. Spooked, I took a large step into the back foyer and whipped my head around at a perceived noise. The fierce grip of death struck my eyes and shot into my legs, rooting me fast.

Two feet behind me, suddenly stock still as myself it stood. To call it a shadow would be to mock its substantiality. It was corporeal. It was just shorter than me. And its form was human. It rested just a foot shy of the dark hallway I had come from. The dirty opaqueness of its outline blurred and blasphemed in the light it had stepped into. I could see through it, vaguely making out the wall through it. There were no eyes. I began to wonder if it was looking at me. Or if it was facing the wall, pondering eternal questions, and would turn to face me unleashing some horrible Medusa’s stare.

With molars grinding with such force as to crack teeth, I forced myself to blink, willing it all just to be a trick of the light. With eyes shut, then open, it was still there. Motionless. With force to make congealed bones rip, I thrust my legs back a step. With the absolute inevitability of a second hand measuring time it slipped forward a step easily toward me. It paused. I fancied that eyes or no, it was looking, no staring, no, boring through me with sight as if my body was the ephemeral one and I would be blown away like a decayed branch.

Uneasiness mounted inside me. The thing that had been rattling, no banging away inside of my head pounded harder in utter fanatical frustration. The terror cracked through the bounds of restraint and welled in my throat to scream and scream and wail and pour forth such irrationality until the end of time. Just as the intake of breath to fuel such a release was being collected by my lungs, it leapt, cavorting wildly into the room behind it. Its faded presence evaporated into the unlit space easily, expelling any grains of light trapped inside.

All lights blazed forth obliterating any shadows that lurked in any space in the room. My eyes did not blink. They stared numbly at the doorframe. Not a sound was heard. After the flight into my room, my limbs were refusing to move. Like a countervailing balance, my brain’s neurons moved faster than a comet across empty space. It was logically incomprehensible. It was scientifically unsound. It was ridiculously impossible. My memories defied all explanations. Either I was crazy, or I had seen something. I didn’t feel crazy. My paranoia refused to release my eyes from the door. The sarcastic section of my brain laughed at the fundamental impossibility of a substantial item blocking something insubstantial. Eventually, like the five year old, I fell asleep, exhausted, watched by the hum of all of the lit bulbs in my room, and hopefully, nothing else.