She wasn’t sure when it started. More than 6 months ago, less than a year, it’s impossible to say. She can’t even describe for sure what it was that started. It was small, to begin with, but it’s grown more frequent and more alarming as the weeks and months have passed.
In the beginning, it was just snatches of something out of the corner of her eye. Little things, that she’d turn her head toward, expecting to see a curtain blowing or a bug crawling, and there was never anything there. She remembers not thinking about it much at all, except that it seemed to be happening more often as time passed.
As it continued, it seemed to somehow grow larger. Which seems impossible because what is “it” and if something is nothing, how can it possibly be any bigger?
But then it was happening every day, sometimes multiple times. Something moved in her peripheral, not even the corner of her eye, it felt like it was taking up her whole side view, but when she turned, nothing was there. No bugs. No blowing curtains. No meandering cats or scurrying mice. No people.
She stopped turning her head, or would willfully look in the other direction. The movements kept happening. She ignored. She chalked it up to stress, or perhaps just straight up going crazy. She figured as long as she didn’t attempt to identify it or give it a name, as long as she kept it to herself—she’d be fine. She wasn’t actually, crazy. She didn’t think ghosts were following her around or anything. There were no phantoms or stalkers creeping behind her everywhere she went. That would be ridiculous.
And then the sounds began. Quiet ones. It took her a long time to understand that they were somehow related to the missed visions she kept having. She had spent so long forcing herself to ignore the fleeting movements, that she almost forgot they were there. Almost didn’t realize that they were now accompanied by…sounds. A whisper. A shuffle. A creak. All easily attributed to the old apartment she lived in, or the rickety car she drove, or the drafty office she spent her days in.
But her willful ignorance was starting to slip. The flashes of movement were coming more frequently, and these days the sounds came, too. They weren’t coming from the same places: sometimes there was a flash to the right and she’d hear a squeak to her left. Sometimes the sound came first, a mysterious clunk from behind her, and when she turned, something would seem to be scooting just out of her vision in the other direction.
She stopped ignoring. She tried to turn her head faster, to catch whatever it was. She tried to anticipate when it happened. She was almost always alone. Occasionally a co-worker was nearby at the office, or she was driving her sister to the grocery store, or every now and then, a friend stopped by for some coffee on a Saturday. Sometimes those people were around when the thing happened. She would glance in the direction of the movement, glance back at her company. They didn’t appear to have noticed anything. So she continued to keep it to herself.
She was losing sleep. That feeling that happens sometimes, just before a person drifts off, and they feel like they’re falling? That was happening on a regular basis, except that instead of falling, she felt as though someone, something, was standing directly next to her. Her eyes would leap open, and she’d shoot up in bed. There was nothing. No movement, no sound. Just the feeling.
She tried to outsmart it. She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing, willing it to come closer so she could catch it off-guard. She acted nonchalant, as though she wasn’t constantly anticipating an incident. But, it knew. It knew when she was waiting for it, and it never came then. Only when she let her guard down. Only when she forgot, for just a moment, that there was a thing at all.
She started missing work. She was staying up all night, avoiding the thing, only to nod off just before dawn. She’d wake up and have missed half a day of work, with several missed calls on her phone. She’d rush in, unshowered, unkempt, eyes wide and bloodshot, heart pounding.
Her boss called her in and asked what was wrong. She didn’t dare tell him. She knew he’d think she was crazy. She had just overslept a few times, that’s all. Her sister’s been sick, she’s been under some stress, big projects at work. She rambled off whatever excuses she could come up with. Something moved in the corner of her eye, and she forced her gaze to stay straight. Her boss sent her home, told her she clearly needed to take some time to take care of herself. No, he wasn’t firing her, just encouraging her to take some days off.
Her friends don’t stop by for coffee on Saturdays. She hasn’t been to work. Her phone rings, but she doesn’t dare answer. What if she misses her chance? Her sister has started to call a local taxi service to take her for her doctors appointments and grocery trips.
These days, she mostly sits upright in a chair in the middle of her dining room. There aren’t any windows here, no cupboards for something to be hiding in. She’s pushed the table onto its side so that nothing can hide beneath it. She sits in a corner of the room with her back against the wall, daring it to happen, waiting for the movement, the sounds, the inevitable assault.
That’s where they find her. Her sister didn’t let too much time pass before she got worried and angry and called someone who could do something about it. She hears them knocking, but she can’t tell if it’s real. She can’t remember the last time she ate something, or the last time she spoke out loud, or the last time she took a shower or brushed her hair. The knocking becomes more aggressive, and she hears the front door of her apartment splinter as the door comes crashing in.
She doesn’t fight them, but she doesn’t speak to them either. She hasn’t seen the thing happen in a long time, but she knows it’s just waiting for her to think that it’s gone. A female officer kneels in front of her and speaks in soothing tones, but it’s hard to pay attention. Because that’s when it happens again. Small, this time, like in the beginning. Just a hint of something off to her right, and when she turns, there’s nothing there.
The female officer and her partner help her gently to her feet. She stumbles a little, weak, tired, defeated. She lets herself be pulled out of the windowless room, glancing behind her a few times, wondering if maybe now she’ll catch it, if now will be the time when someone else sees it, too. There’s nothing there, though.
There’s never been anything there.