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A quick glance under the desk. Throw the wardrobe open. Push clothes aside to make sure there is no one inside. Close the wardrobe. Step into the middle of the room. Breathe. Quickly bend and kneel forward, your hands on the ground, ready to push you back up as fast as possible. Check under the bed.
No one there. As every night.
Get back up. Walk towards the light switch. Look around the room another time, the eyes resting for a few seconds on each window. Second floor, but who knows what can climb that high?
Nothing suspicious. Mentally pace the room – two steps, then the jump.
Flip the switch. Large step with the right, large step with the left, then a quick jump to escape any possible hands.
Climb under the covers. Cocoon yourself. Try to sleep. Try not to have nightmares.
That was my routine for nearly a decade. To call my teenage self “troubled” is probably an understatement. And I’m not even going to start with all those hours spent staring and watching the dark, just to make sure that the shadows didn’t move.
I rarely had nightmares, but when I did they were intense. My heavy self, moving through a dark world full of living shadows. Often I found myself watching a kind of weird white blob, longish shapes that seemed to be lying on the ground. They disgusted and confused me. The more I watched, the more I hated them.
But my routine kept me safe. I knew it worked, I knew it protected me from this strange world.
Damian’s fifteenth. A party. Gage and I were his best friends and so we were allowed to sleep over at his place after all the others had left.
I just didn’t want to look stupid. I didn’t want to look weak. I didn’t want them to make fun of me.
Gage had already snored off. Damian was on his bed and I was cocooned as much as the sleeping bag allowed.
He said, “Goodnight.”
I said, “Goodnight.”
He was quiet and from one moment to the next I felt uneasy. Itchy. Cold. Alone. Vulnerable.
I hadn’t followed the routine. I hadn’t checked. I hadn’t ensured my safety.
There were just me and two breathing bodies and then all those shadows, running, shivering, grabbing, manifesting.
I fell asleep right into a nightmare. There was no transition. From one moment to the next they were all there, those shadows, and for the first time they had faces. They had voices. They were whispering things – about school, about Damian and Gage, about Sarah, the girl I fancied. But they weren’t nice things. They weren’t good things. They were whispered right into my face; they felt like screams. Insults and threats.
My friends, they said, were conspiring against me. My friends were evil. My friends hated me. They liked each other, but not me. The shadows screamed at me. They shook my body, tickled me, made me choke.
I felt furious. I pushed them away, but they were holding me down. I got more violent, more angry. I kicked and thrashed.
There was a sound like ripping paper; then suddenly I was on my legs, heavy and tumbling from side to side however the shadows pushed me.
The shadows escaped me whenever I tried to grab or punch them.
A dark world of angry shadows and their screams and whispers and hisses. My own body slowly pushing through this world and I myself growing angrier with every second. It wasn’t me. It was a heavy, sluggish version of my body, running to and fro through a labyrinth of darkness filled with taunting shadows and strange blobs on the ground.
I ran through this world for an eternity. Then, out of nowhere, one of the blobs attacked me. It bit my arm and the last thing I remember is an incredible, vile anger.
I woke up feeling wet and cold, on the top of my sleeping bag. There were many people speaking and shouting.
There are memories missing. I know there should be more, but something took those memories from me. There is a blank slide in my mental movie; a cut that lasts a day or a week or a month.
Even the days were suddenly sluggish; my whole body a slow version of what it used to be. Constant headaches. For some reason I had to start see a therapist who kept asking, every time, about my dreams and my memories and no matter what my answers were his reaction was always either “Uh-huh” or “Good.” No one wanted to tell me why I had to see him, my parents just said I didn’t have a choice.
My mother took me out of school. I wasn’t allowed to see Damian or Gage again; she didn’t even allow me to call them to tell them that I wouldn’t be in contact anymore.
I don’t remember any of that happening; I just remember it being a fact, something that must have been in place for either days or weeks. These are all such scenes that I don’t remember.
But out of all these things, no matter how lonely or helpless or lost I felt, the worst was that my routine didn’t help anymore.
No matter whether I checked in the wardrobe or under the bed three or four or six times – the shadows came every night. I was so tired that I had to go to bed at 7 or 8pm. I was too sluggish to resist sleep. And on most nights I was still awake when the shadows began to move closer and the line between wake and sleep, completely disappeared; one followed right after the other.
Hands came out of the mattress to hold me down while the rest of the shadows laughed.
That was the only difference between wake and sleep; how I knew in which I was: at night the hands held me down. My legs and hands were still free to move, but the rest of my body was pinned down.
My routine changed every day. I tried everything to make it work again.
I started checking under my mattress too; sometimes I even pulled the sheets off. Kept the lights on. Slept with a knife in my hand – a knife that was gone in the morning.
I told my parents that it got worse. I told my therapist that it got worse. I even told the neighbors what was happening and that it got worse every night but they just started to avoid me.
In those nights I heard screams. Not just the shadows’ screams, but the screams of a woman. Someone screaming for help.
Despite my constant tiredness I fought with my parents every day; we had fights in which I begged them for explanations or for reasons why I wasn’t allowed to meet anyone or even leave the property or just for, at least, some closure as to what happened at Damian’s place. Fights in which I told them I felt like a prisoner and their only response was that I could leave the house again when I was better; when I was healthy again; when the shadows were gone.
My mother left her job. She said she was fired, but I never believed that. She stayed home to watch me.
I lasted all of half a year. Then, while my mother was doing laundry, I sneaked out the back door and climbed over the fence. It might have been the isolation taking its toll, but running along the street everyone seemed to be staring at me.
The doorbell sang an old ‘80s song. Slow footsteps. The door pulled open.
Damian’s mother screamed and with her scream a memory came back.
A memory of her screaming a scream which I had to hear every night since then. A memory of her screaming, while I was thrashing at her.
Nothing bit me that night.
The white blob grabbed my arm because I had wandered into her room again and again.
And I must have been the one that ripped her face into pieces.
When I was half-way home my mother’s car sped past me. She made an unhealthily sharp U-turn, then stopped next to me. More screaming, but I didn’t hear her.
She locked me in my room. At some point the smell of food came through from under the door, but no one called me and I felt no hunger. Just that one memory kept replaying in my head, the memory of Sarah screaming and my hands and arms crushing against her body and face; my hands grabbing and ripping flesh and skin and two fingers slid into her right eye socket and didn’t let go until somebody else pulled me away.
At some point I lay down and closed my eyes, but I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t see shadows either; only her face and the dark of her blood spreading on the bright sheets. A scene, replaying in my head over and over again, each time lasting the fraction of a second longer.
The door was being unlocked. Two voices whispering to each other.
“Let’s get it over with,” whispered my father.
“Do you have all the belts?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “Give him the drops.”
And I lay still while my mother pushed a small bottle between my lips. A cold but only slightly bitter liquid.
Belts were wrapped around my arms and chest and waist.
“Not so tight,” whispered my mother.
The belts were pulled tighter.
“We were lucky,” whispered my father. “It could have been you or me instead of Sarah.”
“You’re hurting him.”
“We should have done this years ago,” whispered my father. “When he started wandering around the house.”