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Not Myself

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It started so slowly I barely noticed: a faint dull ache deep inside my bones.  It couldn’t have been a growth spurt—those ended in my teen years. I ignored the pain by taking some pills from the cabinet and promising to get in better shape… but it didn’t go away; the aching got worse. I thought that maybe it was just a symptom of growing older, like the arthritis my parents were always complaining about.  It was possible, I guess, but I didn’t think I was old enough to be whining about my joints.  Not yet.

One morning I woke up and found a few grey hairs. No… not grey… white.  It was depressing.  Seemed like I’d aged 20 years overnight.  I lied to myself, saying they made me look distinguished — but the truth is that I was just starting to look old.

Hair color and body pain I could have forgotten about, but that was only the beginning.  I remember starting to feel strange… different.  I looked pale.  And none of my clothes fit right.  Not only was I putting on weight, but I thought I might have gotten (inexplicably) a little taller. It seemed like a second puberty, but without the hope of something better around the corner.

I felt less and less comfortable leaving the house. I didn’t like looking at everyone, or having them looking at me.  Strange thoughts would pop into my head. Thoughts about following people… And not just the attractive people, or the interesting people, but everyone.  Children even.  That creeped me out… the thought of watching children.  Really, I’m not a perv… I just… felt a need to know what they were up to. Was this a type of paranoia? I wasn’t sure.

That’s when I stopped going outside. At first I stayed in during the hours when children were usually out.  Soon enough I stayed in all day.  Needless to say, I lost my job after a short time, so I had to pick up some evening and overnight delivery gigs.  That kept me busy, and at least I got to stretch my legs while everyone else slept.

It was a good routine, but then I noticed my eyesight started getting weaker… rapidly.  What was going on with me?! One day I woke up and suddenly everything was blurry.  That was the first time I became really worried about my health. The eye doctor said that my eyes were fine, and I just needed glasses. After my appointment I bought a pair with thin, metal frames, and told myself that they weren’t that bad—maybe they even helped me look smarter.

But around the time I got glasses, I started… seeing things.  I had just come back from my delivery route, and the sun hadn’t come up yet.  I thought I’d grab a snack before getting some sleep.  No, I HAD to get a snack.  I couldn’t seem to eat enough for my strange, changing body.  I had just polished off some leftovers—ok actually, a whole pile of leftovers— and I was getting some milk out of the fridge. I put the last half turkey-sandwich down on the counter to take the lid off of the jug. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur move around the kitchen.  It stopped in front of the sandwich. I blinked hard, really staring—trying to make it out.  The top part of the form began to look less transparent… more solid. I recognized the shape. It became an arm.  A strange, misshapen, non-human arm.  I gasped, and dropped the milk. The blur froze for a moment, then as the container splashed across the tile, the form raced out of the kitchen around the corner.

I could hardly believe what I saw.  I rubbed my eyes, then ran out of the kitchen the other way.  What was that creature?  Why was it here?  I was breathing heavily. I felt sick.  Was I being watched?  Was I being followed? Maybe it was my imagination. Maybe. But over the next few weeks, it started happening more often. Once—twice a day I’d see something pass me.

I tried to put the creatures out of my mind, but I didn’t want to stay in the house at night.  I went out in the darkness, just roaming the streets.  Snow fell lightly onto my swollen face. The warehouse and business districts had a few lights on, but my meandering steps led me to an apartment building.  I looked up at the dark facade. Why was I here? I put my hand on the swinging gate, and there was a faint creak as it moved… just a little.  Someone had forgotten to latch it.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I crept into the building… silently, making sure not to make too much noise in the process.  

I wiped the snow off my boots inside the entryway. To my right was a set of mailboxes… the small, locked kind you find in apartment buildings.  I found myself reading the names on the boxes… Esther Jackson… probably elderly, probably a widow - living alone.  The Greenburgs… a few domestic problems maybe, but probably a happy family. The Williams, the Matsu family, Horace Jones… hmm… I didn’t know… I wanted to know.

I noted the numbers on their apartments and went to their floor.  

The Matsu’s place was quiet except for a radio faintly playing from behind the closed door.  I shut my eyes and imagined a middle-aged Japanese couple asleep. The wife was snoring quietly. Pleasant enough. Not much to see here.

I went to the next door and listened…

Incoherent jabbering, somewhere between asleep and dead drunk.  Horace Jones. I pictured him as a big, hairy, loner.  I pictured a collection of whisky bottles surrounding him.  Single. A few kids by a handful of women, but hadn’t met any of his offspring. Probably for the best; he was a terrible person.

Next the Williams family.  I listened really closely…  for a long time.  I thought I could hear breathing through the door.  One… two… three… four different people, dreaming.  Parents and children.  I closed my eyes.  Perhaps a baby girl of only a year or two. And a boy of six.  I tried to remember… what do six-year-olds dream about? Probably candy or toys. Friends? Family? Or maybe nightmares.  Would he ever dream that someone was outside, listening? What if I were to watch him?  Silently… just watch while —

There was a click behind me.  Esther Jackson’s apartment across the hall.  It shook me out of my trance, and I disappeared around the corner. What was I doing? What had come over me?

I peeked back down the hall in time to watch a wrinkled, dark arm scoot a cat out the door, and then there was a click as though the door locked again.  

That was close.  I had to be more careful.  Who knows what Esther would have thought if she caught me listening outside of her neighbor’s door? Or, more importantly, what was I doing listening at these strangers’ homes?!  I made eye contact with the cat and she seemed to agree. “Tabitha,” I thought to myself.

I decided to go home and not watch people again. It just seemed creepy.

I did a good job… for a little while.  I avoided people, and even managed to overlook the blurry forms around my apartment for about a week, but they were hard to ignore. Their numbers were increasing, and they had started following me around at night on my delivery route. Just one or two, at first, and only when I seemed to slow down and veer off my route into the neighborhoods.

I don’t know exactly when it started up again, but I began obsessing about the people in the town.  I started walking slowly past the houses in the suburbs, thinking about the people inside. Each house had stories.  Each one held people with complex lives.  Each one needed to be catalogued.  I started taking notes.  You’d be surprised how quickly I learned where everyone lived, and what their secrets were.

I entered buildings compulsively now.  Just to see.  Sometimes houses while the residents weren’t conscious.  I remember trying the doorknob to the Lone Creek apartment building. I told myself I was just checking to make sure it was locked.  

When I thought about what I was doing, a wave of nausea passed over me.  This wasn’t normal.  Nobody… nobody should know what I knew. I tried to tell myself that I was just some kind of advanced neighborhood watch.  I almost convinced myself. I turned the handle, nearly hoping I would be shut out, but the door was not locked.

… Neither was the door of the Jelka family in 202A.  Single mother with three girls, all under seven.  I glanced at the mother’s room, practically smelling the mix of anxiety and laundry detergent. She seemed exhausted. She wouldn’t be awake for hours.  That meant… I had hours.  The girls' room was right ahead.  All three were in their beds.

Even with my strange, malformed body, I was stealthy. Deathly quiet. I stood for a long time, watching. The hands of the oldest already showed signs of hard work, and she had a rough spot on her index finger.  She was a writer, even though she was so young.  So responsible.  She slept next to the crib.  The baby was dreaming, a drop of milk still on the corner of her cheek.  But something was off with the third bed.  This one wasn’t asleep.  Not entirely.  She was watching something… something in the corner closet.

The door was only open a crack, and something moved in the darkness.  I saw a flicker pass the opening, and it slunk back, like it knew it was being watched.  My eyes fixed on it.  One of the blurry forms crept forward out of the closet and started to become less transparent.  It turned, and in the darkness, I saw its eyes take shape, glaring at me. They glinted green in the moonlight.  I froze. The breathing of the girl became faster and more ragged.  She knew something was watching her from the darkness.  Well, I suppose two things were watching her.  The creature looked away from me and back to the child. I didn’t know what it would do. I didn’t want those creatures to plague her the way they did me.  Panicked, I stepped toward it and whispered “Get away from her!”

The apparition vanished.  The girl screamed and ran past me to her sister’s bed.  I backed away quickly toward the door of the apartment.  I heard the mother’s light switch on behind her closed door.  “Is someone there?” I froze for a second, then backed out of the room as quickly and quietly as I could.  As I reached the door I heard the voice of the oldest girl saying, “It’s only a dream. Go back to bed.”

I ran.  I ran as fast as I could back to my apartment.  More blurry creatures crowded the street as I ran.  I tripped on the stoop, twisting my ankle as I lurched back into my apartment. Inside, they were… everywhere.  I yelled at the top of my lungs, “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” I didn’t care who heard. The creatures seemed to disperse at my yell. Dragging my left leg behind me, I rushed to the bathroom.  On the way I  knocked over large stacks of paper that held my observations of the neighbors.  I didn’t care.  I shut the door and leaned over the sink, breathing heavily, sweat dripping onto the porcelain.

I looked up and took a hard look at my reflection illuminated by the swinging, naked bulb of the bathroom.  I was shocked. My face had swollen and changed shape, and my cheeks looked like they had a torrid rash.  I didn’t recognize myself.  My skin was wrinkled and distorted.  My hair looked stringy and long, and nearly all the brown had gone.  My hands looked old. It wasn’t me anymore.

What was I?  What was I becoming?  Everything seemed to swirl around me.  I didn’t know what was real anymore. I slammed my fist into the mirror on the cabinet, shattering the glass.  My hand bled openly, and several objects fell out of the cabinet.

I collapsed on the bathroom floor, the checkered tiles swimming in my teary vision.  I cried.

The… things… in my house…, the horrible changes to my body, not being able to sleep at night… the strange need to watch children… it was all too much. I thought about ending this nightmare.  Maybe I could stop myself before it was too late.  I eyed the box of razor blades that had tumbled out when I broke the mirror.  Razor blades.  This has to end.

Somewhere around four the next day, I awoke.  My body felt heavy.  When I peeled open my eyes, sunlight was bouncing off of an open razor blade on the bathroom floor. Blood stained the tile. I jolted upright and looked at my arms.  The only blood was from the cut on my hand where the mirror broke. I let out a sigh of relief.   

Mornings have a way of making things look different. I felt a bit better. I picked up the blade and threw it away.

Was I just imagining all of this? The things that had been creeping around my house? The girl from last night sure seemed to know they were real.  Maybe I had imagined her. Maybe the creatures were causing my body to age? Was the aging what had attracted them, or was my transformation causing me to see them? I didn’t know. I just knew that this morning I was alive, and I would live life fully for whatever time I had left.

I decided to take a break from shaving for a while.  After all, a beard could help hide my grotesque face.  My whiskers had grown in a little overnight.  I wasn’t surprised when my facial hair grew in like the hair of an old man.  I was feeling ancient. I gave my best geriatric smile to my reflection in the mirror.  It made me feel a little better.

For the first time in a long while, I wanted to go out of the house in daylight, and see people.  I wanted to be among the living, as they say.  I made up my mind to carry on and accept the whole thing as my new normal.  I gathered my courage, and opened the bathroom door.

There were a great number of hazy forms outside of the bathroom when I left. More than before.  I tried to ignore them, and they gave me space as I went to my room and got dressed.  Truthfully, I was surprised that they left me alone. It was as though they could sense what I had gone through.  I put on the only sweatsuit that still fit me, and left my apartment to go out.

___

Autumn was definitely over, and the wind was picking up.  It was already starting to get dark when I reached the shopping district downtown.  It was there I saw an elderly woman, painfully hunched over and shuffling her feet.  I felt for her. At least her transformation had taken decades, not just months.  When we locked eyes for a moment, her face lit up with delight, almost as if she recognized me.  Heh… or maybe it was because an eligible old man was noticing her—not sure.  But she looked up and whispered weakly through her smiling mouth, “It’s me... Elizabeth!”

Never seen that lady in my life; probably mistook me for someone else, or she was senile.  I smiled and nodded, and she looked thrilled.  She watched me as I ducked into a nearby alley, avoiding further conversation.  Strange.

“How did you get here?!” A low voice came from behind me. I turned around.

“HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE?” It was a very smelly and dirty homeless man crouched in a shadowed corner.  I instantly knew he was capable of violence.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to bother you.  I just came from the street back there…”

I turned around to point to the road I was just on.  The way behind me was blocked by dumpsters.  How had I not noticed them?  How had I not bumped into them?  There was only about two inches between the dumpsters, and there was no way my swollen body could fit between them.  I looked around frantically.

The man lurched toward me, his eyes wild.  My first thought was to throw a punch, but, out of nowhere I felt a twinge of sympathy. I slid my wallet out of my pocket, taking out a twenty—the only thing in there—and held it up.

“Here, take it!”

The man pounced on the money with an intensity that surprised me, and I retreated as close to the dumpsters as I could.

Something inside moved. Several somethings.  A dozen different small, blurry forms poured into the alley out of the trash—out from the street—out of nowhere.  I took a panicked deep breath as I drowned into the surging mass. They grabbed at me, and again I saw misshapen, otherworldly arms all around, this time clutching at my clothes and pulling me toward the impossible way I entered.  I kicked and thrashed, trying to fight them off.  Some of the time, my hands went right through them, like mist.  Like demons.  But some of the time I could actually feel them.  Whatever they were, they were becoming more real.  I was wedged into the tiny space between the dumpsters and shoved forward.

I got through.  Somehow.  I was back on the street and the forms disappeared into the shadows again like vapor.  I turned around to look at the alley way. The space I passed through was still only two inches wide; there was no way the homeless man had followed me.  I could see his bloodshot eye peeking through the gap between dumpsters.  When he saw me looking back at him, he uttered a few expletives and backed away.  Shaken, I walked back down the street, away from the alley.

These things - these creatures.  I knew I needed to confront them.  Somehow, all of these strange events happening to me were connected to them.  I made up my mind to go to the place I knew they’d be.

The cold wind picked up as I retraced my steps, back to my street and building.  This time, I saw droves of little foot prints in the snow, some crossing over the larger ones I had left earlier. When I reached my door, I flung it open, and think I hit one or two as I did. They seemed to be both frightened by and attracted to my presence.  They were definitely more solid now.  In the swirling haze, there were eyes, those weirdly elongated hands, misshapen ears, and sometimes entire faces.  They were definitely not human.  All eyes fixed on me.

I roared, “Why are you here?”

One small pair of eyes looked up at me, and a mouth full of yellowed teeth spoke,

“We have been waiting.”

And a second,

“It’s time. We’ve come to take you.”

I picked up a table lamp, the only heavy thing close to me.

“Back away!” I threatened.

A third voice spoke,

“Another month and you would have come willingly, but we cannot wait. It is time.”

Then a fourth.

“You have not guessed?”

I looked around at the hundreds of beady eyes now fixed on me.

“Are you here to kill me?”

A chorus of inhuman laughter erupted on every side.  I knew I couldn’t fight them ALL off.

“Take you with us! Take you with us!” they chanted.

I swung the lamp, and a few creatures scattered, but more laughed.  I kept swinging, but felt their strange, strong hands pulling at me, shoving me through my tiny window.  Again, I felt my oversized body squeezed through an impossibly small space it shouldn’t have passed through.  The lamp was too large for the opening, and it fell on the floor of my apartment with a crash. The bulb broke, but I only saw it for a moment before the flood of creatures coming through the window blocked my view.

They carried me upward.  In no time, my feet touched down on the icy roof of the building.  A storm had rolled in.  Sheets of snow poured out onto the city. There were even more creatures up there standing in groups.  They carried something with them.  Something large.  They brought it forward until it was in front of me.  It was an enormous dark bag.  

One creature cackled.  “For you.”

Two more opened the end of the sack, which was spread before me like a gaping mouth… like a pit I would never escape.

Then I saw what was inside, and I knew.

I knew.

It all made sense.  Everything.

I took the bag, and was surprised it wasn’t heavier.  I looked at the creatures around me and understood.  I knew what was happening… and I knew where they were taking me.

One by my side whispered,

“You understand who we are?”

I nodded.

“And who YOU are?”

I nodded, and for the first time in months, smiled.

“And do you know why you must come tonight?”

I laughed.  It wasn’t the laugh I was used to. As I kept laughing, It changed, deepened.

I spoke through the laughter, “Tonight is MY night!”

The creatures parted in front of me, leading me to a large, dark shape and the silhouettes of beasts there on the roof.  I quickened my pace with a sudden excitement. They placed a heavy leather whip in my hand.

At the last moment, I turned. “Anything else?”

One of the creatures slowly smiled a wide grin.  He cleared his throat and croaked,

“Good luck, Santa Claus.”

________

I haven’t stopped, you know.  I’ll be in your neighborhood soon.

I see you when you’re sleeping. I know when you’re awake.

I know when you’ve been bad or good, so be good, for goodness sake.

You better watch out.  I’m coming.



Credited to Professor Z and SleepyPasta