Do You Want to Live Forever?

Do you want to live forever? he said, as we kissed passionately, his voice smooth as silk sheets.

Yes, yes, I said breathlessly, more than anything, and he plunged his fangs
into my neck. I cried out and felt my warm blood escape.

I tried to move, to stop him, as he pitched clod after clod of earth down onto me, but I was already too weak. I felt my vision fading.

This, he said, this is how we live forever.

By not living at all.

Patience

“Hello?”

The front door was ajar, just enough for me not to notice from the driveway. I pushed it open and entered the house.

“Hello! Anne! You home? Michael! Honey?”

I set my briefcase down next to the closet and kicked off my shoes. The house was deserted, and quiet, far too much so. Even the air felt empty.

“Hello…? Where are you guys?”

I walked in to the living room. On the coffee table, sitting on the glass waiting with expectation, was a crisp white envelope adorned with cursive writing. I picked it up and read my name in the bold sweeping strokes of a calligraphy pen: Adrian Fillmore.

Inside was a plain white sheet of paper with a letter written in flowing script matching that on the envelope:

Adrian,

I have your son. Whether he is returned to you in one piece or a hundred is something only I will know. Your wife is chained to the water heater in the basement. I apologize but I had to give her a rather nasty bump on the head to keep her from screaming. I wouldn’t have wanted her to alert the neighbors and she was scaring Michael.

What terrifies people, Adrian? What truly strikes fear into their hearts? This is what I wish to know. But you don’t feel fear like other people do, do you? The situations that grip others in abject terror don’t rattle you. You only become more calm, more collected and cool-headed, and this is why you excel at what you do. I know because I’ve been watching you. I know the tell-tale signs of a psychopath when I see them because it takes one to know one; the difference between you and I is that I’ve always known what I am and have accepted it.

So what is it that scares you, then? Not this, I know. I have your son, and you’re surely angry with me as you read this, for taking something that belongs to you, but I know you’re not afraid. You’re viewing this coolly, impassively, as another problem to be solved and you’re already piecing together in your mind what to do.

No, Adrian, I know what frightens you, because I know what drives you. I know how you think because you think like me. We are just so impatient. So driven. Always thinking about what will happen next.

Well today, Adrian, you don’t get to know what happens next. And you don’t get to know when.

Only that I’m coming for you too, and all you can do is wait.

Sincerely,
DMK

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

The highway is empty and the sky is clear and stark. It’s cold outside; the interior of the rental hasn’t yet warmed from the struggling heater. I rub my red hands together above the steering wheel and blow into them, trying to keep them from going numb.

After the Christmas dance, I’d driven her back to her parents’ house. The way the snow was falling so beautifully and slowly outside and the way her face was lit by the light of the big plastic candles on the lawn, it just seemed like the right thing to do, to try to kiss her. To hold her.

I don’t know what came over me then. But when she rejected me that way it just made me so angry, so very very angry, and before I knew what I was doing I’d reached for the crowbar in the back of my Dad’s pickup, and I was on top of her and tearing her clothes off and beating her face in with it and stabbing her with the sharp end. Her father ran out of the house screaming. I think he wanted to kill me.

That first Christmas, my present: tried as an adult, 25 to life, attempted murder in the first degree. I’ll never forget the bang of the judge’s gavel. I’ll never forget how she ruined my life, how she took it all away for me, for just one kiss.

25 years. 25 Christmases. No phone calls. No visitors. No presents. No cards. In prison Christmas is just another day. 25 years of being the model inmate while I was beaten and abused and tormented. While I learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of someone’s anger. Why they’d locked me up in the first place.

The heater is finally starting to work. The interior of the car is gradually warming. There is a crowbar on the back seat, blue like the one in my father’s old pickup so many years ago, God rest his soul.

That’s the thing about small towns. People don’t go far. People aren’t hard to find if you want to drop in on them. To wish them a Merry Christmas, as it’s that festive time of year. Or perhaps to reminisce about Christmases past.

I switch on the radio and music floods the car in AM, crackly and far away, and I start humming cheerily along with the tune:

I’ll be home for Christmas…

The Shower Scene

One time when I was younger my mother told me something that really stuck with me. She told me that when she was a teenager she saw the movie ‘Psycho’ even though her parents had expressly forbidden her to, and after she watched that movie she couldn’t shower for a month, she was so scared of the infamous ‘shower scene’.

Imagine that. Watching a movie with a scene about something as commonplace and everyday as taking a shower and having that make it absolutely terrifying. And, as many people have pointed out, compared to modern films, the shower scene doesn’t actually show all that much of anything – it’s all in what is suggested, which is the brilliance of Hitchcock at work.

I’d never seen the shower scene, in fact, only heard it talked about by others and seen bits and pieces of it when it was referenced in documentaries and TV specials about Hitchcock or the history of film. But still my mother’s story about it terrifying her that much changed the way I thought about showering. It made me realize how strange an act it actually was and how frightening it could really be.

I mean, it’s kind of strange when you really think about it, the fact that each and every day we step into this tiny little chamber, no more than a few feet by the length of the average human body, and then completely close ourselves in. With a curtain. Or maybe a sliding glass door. Frosted usually, so if someone else happens to be using the bathroom they can’t see your naked ass and naughty bits, but perhaps more importantly, it means that you can’t see what’s going on outside. What’s on the other side of the curtain? You have no way to know except to hold it back a little and peek out from behind it.

I guess it was about two years ago. These past two years my morning routine is a lot different now than all the years before, but we’ll get to that in a bit, hold on there. Even then, even before it happened, I guess I never really liked showering that much, after what my mother had told me. I found myself sometimes worrying if I’d forgotten to lock the front door or left a window open, or the back door maybe, with only the old storm door that didn’t shut completely on its own, and maybe someone could break in and rob the house while I bathed myself, or, worse, barge into the bathroom and attack me where I was behind the curtain blissfully unaware.

So, I’ll admit it. Sometimes those types of thoughts got the better of me. Sometimes, I peeked, just to make myself feel better. To reassure myself that I was just being silly. Irrational.

That time I really wish I hadn’t.

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is watching you? Ever just been sitting somewhere, minding your own business, reading a magazine or playing with your phone or watching pigeons flutter away against the backdrop of a blue sky and you know – you just know – that someone is watching you? I remember one of my psychology professors in university liked to say that there’s nothing more powerful than the gaze of a human eye. If we see other people staring at something we can’t help but follow to see where they’re looking. It’s in our nature. Evolutionary. But I think he meant more than that, I knew he did. There’s something about another presence, about something observing you, that you can just feel.

The steam of the shower was hot and the water was too, and just as I was finishing rinsing the last of the shampoo out of my hair, I felt it. A presence. Something watching me. Something there in the bathroom with me. It sounds crazy, I know. I knew I was just being ridiculous but I couldn’t help it, just like my irrational fear that someone would barge into the house while I was defenseless beneath the hot water, I knew this was irrational too. Ridiculous.

But I still had to look. To prove to myself that it was. That the presence I felt was only my imagination, only my mind playing tricks on me.

Ever so slowly, I stepped over toward the far side of the tub, the one away from the falling water of the showerhead, and slowly pulled back the curtain to look.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. Thank God nothing did. Who knows what would have happened had I made a sound? Terror, sheer, raw, utter terror overtook every part of me in that moment. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream but knew I could not. I wanted nothing more than to flee from that tiny space beneath the falling water and dive into the safety of my warm bed and hide beneath the covers until it went away and I could stop shaking and convince myself that what I saw was not, could not, be real.

In the bathroom, not two feet away, towering over me, was a creature.

I don’t expect you to believe me. Why should I? It’s impossible. But it happened. I know it did. How do you describe to someone something that is beyond belief? The paranormal? The fantastical? The beyond real? I’m doing my best. All I know is that that thing I saw in the bathroom was as real as you and me. And it’s no exaggeration to say at that moment I was more terrified than I’d ever been in my entire life.

The thing was tall, too tall, tall and white, and had smooth, smooth skin. It was facing away from me, so all I saw in that furtive horrified glance I took was its giant back arching toward the ceiling and the rounded whiteness of its skull.

The terror I felt. What did it want? How had it gotten in? And what horrible would the face of this horrible thing look like when it turned to face me? Full of long pointed teeth covered in the blood of children it had devoured. Of previous victims caught unaware in the shower, dozing on the couch, sleeping in their beds. Two sunken black pits for eyes that burned with the red fires of hell.

The water poured down and the steam rose and the seconds passed and the thing, the terrible thing, just sat there and my fear, my complete and utter horror and dread of this thing, was absolutely palpable. I put my hand over my mouth and tried not to make a sound. Not to breathe.

The creature was not two feet away from me. It needed only to reach out the tiniest bit with one of its long spindly arms to touch me, and then what would it do? Impale me on its long bony fingers that I’d seen hanging down to the tile of the floor. Spear me on its claws, slash and tear me until I bled to death and my blood mixed with the water going down the drain, just like that in the shower scene.

Have you ever had to do something you know you must but every part of you screams not to? Have you ever been so terrified that every part of you, every tiny fiber of your being screams for you to turn and run, but you know you can’t, that you mustn’t, that you’ve got to face your fear head-on if you want to survive?

I have.

Ever part of me wanted nothing more than to scream and run from the warm wet safety of my tiny universe, to tear out of the bathroom and run screaming out of the house, down the street, naked and dripping wet, just to escape the horror of that thing that stood waiting for me. But I knew I had to look again. I knew I had to hold back the curtain and look again just to convince myself that it was real.

Holding back my fear, quivering and shaking, every part of me wanting to scream, wanting to run, I slowly pulled back the curtain just a little to reveal nothing.

There was nothing there. I was alone. The water kept falling and beating its rhythm against the bottom of the tub. I had imagined it.

I finally watched the shower scene. And I know now why it must have been so terrifying for my mother at the time. It’s true, it doesn’t show that much, but that’s is precisely what makes it so brilliant, as I said before, and so many others have said before me. It’s not about what you do see, but what you don’t see. Terror is not about what is shown, but what isn’t. The greatest horrors are those that are left to our imagination. The white creature that visited me will always fill my nightmares, but only because of what I did not see – it never faces me, never acknowledges me, but still I know that it is watching. The most frightening thing is that if the very presence of this thing filled me with such dread I cannot begin to comprehend its true nature – what staring into the face of such a thing would have done to me.

I don’t take showers any more. Two years it’s been since then. Two years that I’ve only taken baths, and then only with the door open. I try to tell myself that what I saw wasn’t real. Couldn’t have been real. But when I stepped out of the shower that day, still very much shaken from what I’d seen, on the tile of the floor next to the bathmat were two giant wet footprints.

It’s still out there, watching me.

Backward

Do you remember the first day of your life? I do.

I was 32. I woke up on the street. There were police cars and firefighters and EMTs and blood and broken glass everywhere. I was lying on the tarmac. The first words I heard weren’t those of a doctor. They weren’t the cooing sounds of my overjoyed mother, having just gone through the ordeal of childbirth and basking in the beauty of her newborn son. They were of a fireman, buried beneath his brown suit and helmet and bulky equipment, standing overtop of me.

“Sir?” he was saying, as my vision blurred into focus. “Sir, can you hear me? Sir, are you alright?” He was waving his hand above my face, above my line of sight.

I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know how I’d gotten there. I didn’t remember anything.

Do you know what it’s like to be truly alone? To never really be able to connect with someone? I do. Because every conversation I have is disposable. Because no one remembers anything I say to them. And all the things they remember haven’t happened yet, so I stumble through life, confused and disoriented.

The first day is coming, the one day, in the future, of my birth. Or unbirth. I’m not sure what will happen. But I know now it’s true what they say – that every living creature is born and dies alone. I just wish it wasn’t that way for me all in between.

I know the day exactly. I just wonder if there’s any point in holding on until then.