“Good morning, Alan,” it snarls at me in its high-pitched voice, speaking some foreign language I’ve come to understand. I blindly attempt to hit its snout, as if it would send it into the corner, cowering like a dog, but it eludes me. “Now, now, now. Let’s not be like that.”
Quickly, it leaps on the bed and stares at me with its glowing red eyes, chuckling, letting some slobber drip from the corners of its mouth and onto my cheeks. When I was young, I feared the monster living in my closet or under my bed. I read delightful children’s books about kids and their monsters, but the monster was usually likable in some way in order to help ease a child’s fear of the dark. This monster, however, wasn’t manufactured by Disney.
“Ah, yes,” it says, its voice turning deep and guttural. “I think today is the day I finally suck out your brains and rip out your soul.”
“Uh huh,” I casually answer, which makes the creature visibly upset. I see the loathing in its eyes, as it leans in closer. I’m hoping it doesn’t call my bluff, as I dare it to take action. It points its long, sharp fingernail at my temple and lightly scrapes down the side to my jaw, returning to the temple and tapping it.
“Right there,” it declares with a chuckle. “As good a place as any to make my incision.”
“Sorry, Jack,” I say, slithering out from beneath its weight. It hates that name, finding it belittling because it is too generic for a monster. I try to dismiss it further. “Can’t play now. Gotta get ready for work.”
It watches as I walk to my closet to find a pair of pants and shirt that appear to be pressed. Pure hatred seethes in its eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if flames shot out towards my back, but I don’t know if it has that kind of power. You see, I’m not trying to instigate it into some kind of action. I’m not trying to purposefully piss it off.
As I reach my fortieth year, I never thought that the monster I feared when I was a child would manifest itself, finally making itself known. Maybe it has been watching me since my youth, waiting for its time to pounce. So far, I have sustained no injury, not physically anyway, because of the monster, even though it constantly threatens me each day. But, I see the evil behind its eyes, and I know it is capable of doing damage if it so desires.
I try not to let on just how much its presence scares me. On the outside, I brush off its insults and threats, but, on the inside, I fear it will finally decide to eat my brain and swallow my soul. I have seen its teeth, and I’ve seen its long fingernails. I think my flesh, muscle, and bone would be softer than butter under the power it could generate.
I can’t let on how much it scares me, though. I’m hoping the thrill for the monster is in the building up of tension and fear leading up to its kill, and my lack of interest may bore it, causing it to find some other poor fool to fall for its insults. I don’t know if it sticks around because it can sense what’s below my surface, hoping to allow the fear to break through, or if it sticks around because it thinks my surface is truth, liking the challenge of trying to wear me down. I hope it is not telekinetic at all because, if so, then it knows what I am planning. Maybe it’s waiting to make its move then. If I believed in some form of God, I would pray for It to hide my true feelings from this creature.
There are days the monster is absent. I think I went nearly a month one time without feeling its breath on the back of my neck. I was looking in closets, under beds, slowly opening doors, and taking deep breaths before walking around a corner, but the thing had disappeared. After I finally let my guard down, the thing re-appeared. If I remember correctly, I may have had four days of complete bliss when I thought it had actually left me for good. To be honest, it’s difficult to remember those days, even though I know they exist. I can’t envision my life without the monster.
I avert my eyes from my monitor at work, unable to focus on the electronic spreadsheet any longer. Closing my eyes, I cup my eyes with my hand, resting my head against it. The eye doctor had told me to take frequent breaks to increase the health of my eyes, suggesting I stare into the distance out the window, but I find myself closing my eyes more often, nearly asleep. I assumed this tactic is just as effective; I think the whole point is to take my eyes off the computer screen.
With my eyes closed and my head tilted downward, I feel the sharp fingernails again, one on each temple, digging in slightly, working its way back and forth in a twist. A part of me wants to end this. In one quick motion, maybe I can slam its fingers into the sides of my skull, putting myself out of this misery as the blood drains down the side of my head. I do feel a slight bit of fluid on my left temple. Is it sweat? Is it blood? Is something coming from the monster’s finger?
“You okay, Alan?”
Anthony’s voice brings me out of my stupor. I wasn’t asleep, but I feel like I’m waking.
“Do you need a band-aid?”
I tap my temple and feel the dampness. I look at my fingers, which are now thinly decorated with red.
“No,” I answer. “No. I’ll be fine. I guess I just scratched a little hard, that’s all.”
Anthony slowly backs up a step or two, looks like he wants to say something else, thinks better of it, and then turns and walks back into his office, offering a couple glances over his shoulder as he walks.
The chuckling fills my ears.
“You’re fucking crazy,” it hisses at me. “And you’re going crazier by the minute.”
I don’t talk to it while I’m at my desk. At home, no one is listening. Here, I’ll be ordered into some sort of psycho evaluation. It tries to engage me in conversations, trying to get me to break and answer it, but I’ve stayed strong this far, even though I feel the reigns on my psyche loosening. This is it. Today. It’s me or the monster. I debate taking a half-day, but I don’t want the creature on its guard by doing something unexpected. Then again, maybe it’ll think it’s finally wearing me down. Maybe it would be to my benefit. Maybe it will think I’m fragile and weak.
I exhale through my lips and place my hands, palm down, on my desk to push myself up. My back straightens, and my butt is just about to leave the cushion. I settle back in my chair and return my gaze to the electronic spreadsheet of, let’s face it, meaningless data. I have no preconceived notions of what I’m doing here. Nothing. Still, I better not risk it. I need to finish the day like normal.
Somehow, I get through it.
While sitting on the train, I have a little bit of peace. I think the monster has something against trains. Who knows? Maybe it was human once and met its fortunate end on a train or maybe a train track. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to bother me here. That brief fifteen minutes from when I board the train to when it reaches my stop is pure bliss.
I walk down the steps and out the front door of the station. The air is calm, quiet. Did it have other things to do this evening? May the confrontation not occur? Could it sense that it should fear for its own well-being?
“So much meat on that train,” it says, once again making my temples throb. “I don’t know why I spare your life. I could feast on all those zombies.”
I am about to say then do it. Either, leave me alone and go find someone else or just kill me and get it over with. I continue to walk ahead, my house in sight. Inside the sanctuary, I will be free to interact with this thing, scream at it, do whatever I need to do. No. That’s what it wants. Tonight, I will do nothing. Yeah. Nothing. I wonder how it will react if I show no visible signs that I recognize its presence. I mean, think about that. The creature is only seen by me. If I stopped validating it, would it start to wonder if it even existed anymore? Would it start to wonder if I could even hear it? Could I drive this thing insane instead? If I kept saying things like “ahhhhh, peace and quiet,” would it quickly know the tactic I’m trying to deploy? Even if it knows, could it still cast some sort of doubt?
“So, what’s going to be for dinner tonight?” it asks. “You probably wanted that chicken that was in your refrigerator, eh?”
I open the fridge to find the chicken breast I was thawing replaced with a dead rat. Check that. Replaced with an almost dead rat. Its whiskers are still twitching, and blood is still gently trickling from beneath its fur. I try not to notice, reaching past it and picking up the peppers and onion I was going to sautee with the chicken.
“Awwwwww, Alan,” it says. “Are you not recognizing my presence now? Are you wanting me to make sure you cannot ignore me? Okay, Alan. If that’s what you want…”
I peel the onion and chop off the ends. I cut around the center and slice the layers into some thin pieces.
“Do you want me to prep the rat for you?” it hisses just to my right.
I take it by surprise, turn on it, and plunge the knife into where I assume the heart will be. I push, push, push, until I can only see the handle sticking up from its scaley flesh. Orange liquid pours out from the wound. Its black eyes fix on mine. Its mouth is working, trying to form some sort of curse on me but unable to do so. Finally, the black eyes turn grey, and the pouring plasma turns into a trickling stream. Its hulking frame collapses to the ground.
I can’t believe it was that easy. Complacency will get you every time.
In celebration, I order a pizza and spend the evening in front of the television. I go to bed somewhat early, looking forward to what tomorrow may bring.
The alarm wakes me in the morning, or so I thought. Instead of an alarm, it’s that familiar voice I’ve come to loathe.
“Good morning, Alan.”