I just finished reworking this story from my novel, Wasted Nights and Wasted Youth, I hope you enjoy it. It references another story/location within the book, Golden, that one is still being touched up and will be posted soon.
Have you ever felt the fear? That base fear that every child knows when they are alone at night, embraced by darkness from all sides. The fear of what is lurking just off the periphery, lingering in the murky gloom, waiting for you to grow brave enough to venture into its domain. It is that fear that causes you to jump at the slightest sound, to avoid large windows after dark, and to corner yourself, back to the wall, just to make sure nothing can sneak up behind you.
I felt the fear the other day. Though I am no longer a child and it was broad daylight I felt the fear. It started as a faint tickling in the middle of my back, just below the shoulder blades along the spine. The tickling grew to an uncomfortable pressure, like the feeling of a finger jabbing me without release, pressing hard against my vertebrae. I felt that I was being watched. No, I knew that I was being watched. I could feel eyes on me, observing and cataloging my every move, waiting for their opportunity to pounce as a lion waits for a gazelle. I felt the fear strongly, for the first time in many years.
I first noticed my ethereal stalkers on my way to the bus station in the morning while heading to work. I was not doing my best that day, my situational awareness was dulled. I was distracted by the feeling of being watched that was slowly consuming me as it overpowered my thought process. As a result of this, I missed the call from my boss that work was canceled for the day, due to massive protests near our office downtown. Most people would be happy to hear they had a day off, paid on salary; I was morose. I would have been safe at work, with the others, but now I was going home alone with my spirits. The feeling of being watched had progressed with certainty to the feeling of being hunted. I was the quarry. I felt paralyzed like a deer caught in the headlights of the incorporeal oculi that plagued my existence. And the fear grew.
I got back onto the same bus I had just exited, to turn around and go back home. The social awkwardness which accompanied this would normally have driven me to the point of mincing my words and blushing, not today. Today I had bigger concerns than awkwardness; I was being hunted by an invisible tiger, haunted by a ghost with no name. I got on the bus without saying a word, just a nod to the driver. With the exchange of nods complete I progressed to a seat and tried to calm down.
The pressure along my spine had peaked and crystallized into a tangible form. The eyes I felt staring at my back had now become daggers, piercing through my flesh and bones, delving deep into my heart and dwelling there causing immense discomfort. Sitting down did little to help with the pain and discomfort I was feeling. It had taken on an aspect of what I can only describe as sickness; I felt like I was going to be ill all over the bus. I looked around me frantically, to see if anyone was looking at me strangely, giving me some clue that this wasn’t entirely in my mind. There was no friendly face to confirm my sanity, or lack thereof. The only eyes I felt upon me did not belong to any human face. And the fear grew.
Every so often on my walk home from the bus stop I had to pause to look around me, to make sure I wasn’t being followed. I kept glancing fervently over my shoulder looking for my pursuer, but it was to no avail. I accelerated my pace, my walking now on the verge of running. I was being pushed forward by the force of the eye-daggers in my back and the fear pressing at the back of my mind. I must have looked like a madman, rushing through empty, windswept streets; like a traveler seeking shelter from a storm, and finding none. A newspaper blew past me like a tumbleweed and a dog barked in the distance, signs of life in a listless world. By the end of my trip home, my walk had become a full on sprint. Despite this, the walk had never seemed to take longer, every moment passed like an eon. It was as if time itself had slowed down to corroborate with my would-be captors.
Now that I was home, I was back to a place of safety, where I was no longer alone. I didn’t tell any of my three housemates about the fear, for I imagined they would consider me as mad as I must have appeared. Due to my run in a three-piece suit I had worked up quite a sweat and my shirt-tails were hanging out over the belt line. Disheveled. That was how I looked and how I felt. Even though I was in the supposed safety of my own home, I still did not feel safe. I could feel the eyes upon me, I could still feel the fear paralyzing me. And the fear grew.
As the day dragged on, I could not have envisioned a worse possible day off. While normally I would have gone out celebrating my good fortune with my friends or gone out hiking, today I was locked in my bedroom, finishing moving furniture and rearranging my belongings. Instead of getting out and away from the fear I was stuck inside, locked in a prison of my own making waiting for the fear to consume me. My girlfriend and I had just separated after several years together. We had slowly grown apart. The realization of this was even slower to dawn on us. Once it had, we were slower still in acting upon it.
Eventually, as with all things we see in opposition, something had to give, and when it did she was the one to pack up and move out. Now, I was alone, and tonight I would sleep alone for the first time in many years. Before we had gotten together I could only sleep alone, whenever I shared a bed I had trouble sleeping through the night. I had the tendency to thrash around while sleeping from vivid dreams, active dreams. As a child, my dreams moved me; I had night terrors and ran around my house screaming. Could sleeping alone be the source of the fear? No, sleeping alone was nothing new to me, it was far more normal than sleeping with another. I racked my brain for some clue as to the wellspring of the fear, but found nothing. Yet still, in the sanctity of my bedroom, the fear grew.
I cooked and ate dinner in silence, contemplating my fate. What was hunting me? What force or creature found me so irresistible that I could not be ignored? And what was the reason for it? Had I done something to deserve this? If it was a question of deserts, what cruel god had I offended to deserve this torturous punishment? Dinner was a small, unwelcome, reprieve from moving, which had proven to be the only thing that could distract me from the feeling of being watched. Not fully, but enough where I could pretend everything was still normal. This must be how soldiers felt on a battlefield after the first sniper bullet shot through the air and was planted in a man, making him a corpse. I was holding my breath waiting for my bullet, never knowing when it would come. I’ve always hated waiting, since I was a kid. The feeling of waiting to die was the worst kind of waiting imaginable.
As night fell, I decided strong drink would help keep the phantoms at bay. Gin and tonic has long been held to be a cure-all, for malaria and other ailments. I wondered if demonic possession was another dis-ease healed by this wonder drug. I continued to move furniture around my room and unpack boxes while continuing to drink. The hours dragged on as the gin and tonics flowed on and sleep refused to come. Morpheus had already blessed my housemates, but I was forsaken, the last one awake being hunted by an unknown predator. Oh sweet Morpheus, what did I do to forsake you? Did I take the wrong colored pill? The matrix of my life was becoming distorted by my fear, I was becoming irrational.
I ventured out of my bedroom, into the midnight dark of the still and empty kitchen for another gin and tonic. Suddenly, the fear flared up. A red flag instinctual warning of life threatening danger. For a moment, I froze where I stood and stared into the darkness. Out of the amorphous dark materialized a small being made of shadows, no taller than a child, a shadow within a shadow in the moon’s penumbra. There were no clear features of the thing, past two pinpoint eyes, gleaming like stars out of a night sky, far off stars from some distant galaxy. I saw no face where one should be with my eyes, but with my mind I saw a myriad of horrifying faces in an endless montage, all with the twinkle star eyes. I could not bear to look at the thing, and ran back to my bedroom in terror, locking the door behind me.
Utter panic arrested my breathing and attacked my heart. I did not know what the thing I had seen was, nor did I care to find out. I now knew what had been watching me, I had seen my hunter and it was not of this world. Clearly, it did not want to take me yet, it was still enjoying the sport of the hunt, like a cat toying with a mouse once victory was assured. That was perhaps the most disturbing fact of the day’s events so far, it found my torture pleasurable. I shuddered to guess what it had it store for my demise. I had been reduced to a small child once more, a mirror image of the shadowy doppelgänger that laid waiting for me just past my flimsy bedroom door.
I remembered that as a child, the best way to conquer the fear was to go to sleep. Somehow sleeping always manages to make everything better. When your head hits the pillow, the entire world may be crumbling around you, and when you wake up miraculously the world has been built up new and more beautiful than ever. I needed that right now, I needed that beauty to help me overcome the fear. After many hours of unpacking and begging Morpheus to bring me to dreams, even the most awful nightmares would be better than confronting this real horror that skulked in the Stygian dark. I was tempted to sleep with the lights on, thinking that might protect me from the shade that was prowling about my house. In the end, I decided not to, it was best to face my fate head on, as my hunter had faced me minutes before. Despite that resignation I did not feel up to going back out of my room, the fear within me was too strong. Besides, what could I hope to do to a demon of shadows? Instead of physically facing my doppelgänger I would face it metaphysically, in dreams, perhaps there I could stand a chance of besting the fear.
The next day when I awoke, still alive, the feeling of being watched had subsided, and the fear had diminished, but it remained. The fear remained in my memory, a specter haunting my thoughts. Perhaps something had been disturbed during the move, some hidden evil from childhood. Some long forgot secret doing of mine, a horror of my own past too despicable to recall. While the fear had temporarily passed, I knew it would live on in the back of my mind, pressing me. It would be there, forever waiting, lurking just off the periphery in the dark, biding its time.
Something was definitely not right in the world, or at least in me, I could tell that much. This gnawing feeling in my guts, a feeling I often felt all my life, like the fear, signified some tragedy. I wasn’t sure what was wrong though, everything seemed fine with me. Aside from the bad break up and worse hangover everything seemed fine. One thing I did know was that I needed to sober up. I needed to be able to see the world through clear eyes again, not shrouded in a haze of bong smoke or sheltered behind beer goggles. While I had come a long way from Golden, the General’s words were still fresh in my head. Encouraging words, psalms of strength from a slightly shell-shocked bible-thumping trucker, words that might normally have fallen on deaf ears but they stuck with me. “If you knew what to expect on the test what would be the point in testing you?” There wouldn’t be a point. Even worse, if you knew what to expect but were still punished for your mistakes, then life really was about playing your part and dealing out punishments on those who forget their place or seek to change it. I refuse to live in a world that is afraid of change. Evolution is the only constant and I will evolve from my shortcomings.