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I stare at the ceiling. The shadows of the tree branches outside my window dance across my room. It feels like I’ve been staring for an hour. I turn my head to look at the clock. Two fifty six. It’s only been five minutes since the last time I checked. It’s going to be another long night. I close my eyes and wait for the inevitable.
I turn my head and check the clock again. Two fifty seven. I can feel the anxiety building. I know it’s counter-productive. The more I worry the more awake I am. Just an added insult on top of the torture I go through every night. I stare at the empty bottle of pills by my bedside. A lot of help those did.
My eyes return to the ceiling. I try to keep my eyes transfixed on the splashes of moonlight. It’s no use. My eyes eventually return to the familiar glowing red numbers.
* * * * *
I’m an insomniac. I’ve been this way since we moved to Pennsylvania last spring and every single night I go through the same routine. I lie down, close my eyes, wait for sleep to come, and inevitably end up watching the clock slowly change all night until my alarm goes off. No matter how hard I try to sleep, stay still, look at something else, I always end up wide awake staring at the clock. Believe me I’ve tried everything. I turn it around; I just end up getting out of bed in the middle of the night to turn it back. I get rid of it; I get up and search the house for something else to stare at. The last time I found myself in the kitchen watching the microwave all night. I can’t help it. Something about those numbers just digs into my brain. I know I won’t sleep, so I just watch it.
At first I told my mom, she said it was just anxiety from moving to the new house. She tried getting me meds and when those didn’t work I started seeing doctors and psychiatrists and the whole thing became more trouble than it was worth. All they wanted to know was whether my parents beat me or if I was close with any of my uncles. All I wanted was sleep.
* * * * *
Three o’ three. I rub my eyes in frustration. Just let me sleep! I let out a sigh. It’s no use anyways. Not sure why I bother trying. The more I worry about not sleeping the more worked up I get and the harder it is to sleep. I let my mind wander to other things.
* * * * *
Chrissie Lee… She had sat in front of me in chemistry class my first day at school here. First thing I noticed was how her brown hair curled down and framed her face. She looked at me and our eyes met. I was lost in a galaxy full of golden swirls and copper constellations. Something about her just took my breath away. Whether it was the way her lips parted when she smiled or the way that one strand of hair refused to cooperate with her, I don’t know. But needless to say, I had a thing for Chrissie Lee.
Chrissie Lee. Chrissie Lee was one of those girls that everyone referred to by her full name. Never just Chrissie, always Chrissie Lee. I loved the way her name rolled off the tongue. I remember one night lying awake in bed just saying it to myself. A smile spread across my face just thinking of her.
I had only one friend that year, a kid named Ike Davis. He was a scrawny little kid. He wasn’t terribly smart, but wasn’t dumb either. He didn’t have many friends, which is probably why he was the first to introduce himself to the new kid. Ike was an alright guy, he just wasn’t the best in social situations. He was the kind of kid who would try to make a joke and join your conversations but only succeeded to make the situation awkward. I didn’t talk to him much and would just sorta listen to him ramble on while we ate lunch together. He wasn’t the best company but I was grateful to have someone around. It beat eating lunch alone.
On one occasion I actually think I really reached Ike on a human level. He had attempted to make a joke about me being quiet all the time and said something along the lines of, “Jeez, Mike, why so glum? Your mom just die?” Prime example of his bad comedy skills.
I’m not sure what made me say what I said next. Maybe it was because Ike was the only friend I had, or the fact that I had been dying to let out everything I’d been thinking of for the past year.
“Last July, my older brother, Sam, he.. he was driving home to surprise me for my birthday. He’d been away in the marines for the past six months and he wanted to do something nice for me. Had bought us tickets to see a concert the next day… Well he was coming home when a drunk in a pick-up ran a red light and hit him head on. Figures, he survives combat over seas just to die at the hands of an alcoholic on his first day back in the States.”
Part of me didn’t even realize I was speaking. It all just sorta came out. A tear hit the back of my hand. Not only had I just spilled my raw emotions out in front of some kid I barely knew, but now I was crying in front of him. But then Ike did something I hadn’t expected. His happy demeanor faded away and he said, “I know what it’s like.”
I looked at him puzzled as I wiped my arm across my face, trying to make myself presentable without making it obvious to the rest of the cafeteria that I’d been crying.
“My mother died when I was twelve.” Ike said. “Lung cancer. She’d fought it off twice before and everyone thought she’d make it but I guess her hope gave out. She was tired of fighting.”
I looked at Ike. In that moment we were closer than any other time. Here we were, both of us outcasts, me tall with a decent build, him small and skinny, me in a band tee, him in collared shirt. We couldn’t have looked more opposite. Yet here we were sharing the most personal details of our lives. We were sharing our loss. After that I actually liked Ike, or at least respected him. He’d lost his mom and everyone at school treated him like a flee. Yet he held his head high and carried on with a smile. I couldn’t understand how he could stay so happy. He said that it was how he coped. “Life’s not always easy. Sometimes its downright unfair. But you can’t let it beat you. You find something you love and you hold on to it. For me its comic books, and my dog, Bo.” He showed me a picture on his phone of a twelve year old holding a german shepherd puppy, with a blue bandanna tied around his neck. “You just got to find what you love, Mike.”
I guess I just got caught up in the moment, but I knew what I had to do. I got up from the table and walked across the cafeteria. I walked right up to Chrissie Lee and said, “Hey I’m Mike, I’m sorry to bother you but you’re the most beautiful girl I have ever seen and I want to take you out.” I had never been that straight forward before or that confident but I didn’t even listen to the snickers of the girls around her. And despite the fact that she hardly knew me, Chrissie just smiled and said, “okay, Mike. It’s a date.”
* * * * *
Three ten. I sit up in bed. God I miss her… I crawl out of bed and onto the floor, I stare under my bed looking for the wooden box amongst a camouflage of gym bags, guitar cases, and lost socks. I find the familiar case and pull it out of its hiding place. I run my fingers over the engraving on the top: an “M” and a “C” inside of a heart. I smile. I turn the front of the box into the light and find the lock. I reach into my shirt and pull out a key on a long leather band. It was a comforting object for me. I liked to keep it close. The key slides into the lock and I can hear the clanking of tiny metal mechanisms. I loved that sound. Reminded me of the sound a watch made when you held it to your ear. The faint clacking of metal pieces, all working together to serve a purpose.
I remove the lock and sit down on the floor with the box in front of me, moonlight from the window allowing me to see. I slowly open the lid. The box is a collection of memorabilia. Ticket stubs, photographs, even tabs from coke cans, which I’d strung on a red piece of string. Everything in the box has a memory in it and I can feel my face getting hot just seeing them again. I look away so I won’t cry.
Three sixteen. Damn, I’d gotten so lost in the past I’d almost forgotten about not sleeping. Might have actually fallen asleep for once… I look back at the box. My hand reaches inside and finds a photograph of me and Chrissie. My hair and clothes were soaked and Chrissie stood next to me, one arms around me, on holding the camera, her lips making a kissy face. It was from our first date.
* * * * *
I was confident and brave when I had asked Chrissie out, but after she had left to go to class I realized how nervous and dumb I was. My mind started going a hundred miles an hour. I was new here. I didn’t know any of the hot spots or hang out places or what there was to do for fun around here. And on top of that I hadn’t even picked a day to go. This meant that I’d have to go and ask her again to confirm everything. I didn’t think I’d be brave enough to ask her out twice. But somehow I did it. When I was with Chrissie I felt confident in myself. I felt like I could do anything. She had some special air about her that just made me feel good about myself. Maybe that was why I had fallen for her so fast.
I took Chrissie to a little diner called “The American Café” that Ike had suggested. It was a quaint little place, decorated in red and white checkers with leather seated booths, kinda like something you’d expect to see in the fifties. Anyways, we went there and ate, and I remember showing her how to make a straw snake grow by dripping coke on it. Chrissie Lee just smiled at me and laughed. “You’re odd,” she’d said, “but I like that.” I must have blushed cause she laughed again and said, “your face looks cute in red.”
God, Chrissie, Chrissie Lee. She had such a way with her words. Everything she said sounded just as sweet to my ears as her name. After dinner we decided to just walk around. After about twenty minutes Chrissie asked me where we were going. I had thought she was leading me and confessed that I still didn’t know what was around here. She smiled that intoxicating smile of hers and told me she knew just the place to go. She grabbed my hand and her fingers laced between mine. I was shocked for a moment but didn’t say anything. I just clamped by mouth and tried to hold in the warm feeling that had traveled from her hand into my heart as I followed her, grinning like an idiot.
We ended up at a little fountain and Chrissie sat down on the edge, patting the spot next to her, inviting me to sit beside her. I sat down and she immediately slid closer to me until our bodies were touching. I’d never been very successful with girls and the amount of attention she was giving me was kind of terrifying. I’m not sure what we talked about but we ended up standing on the edge of the fountain and someone said “race.” About two steps and I had tripped. Luckily we had had the forethought to take our phones out of pockets but that water was freezing. Chrissie had laughed at my shouting and pouting and said I had dived right in like a fish. She called me her “fish-boy” and made fish faces at me. I guess she decided this was a moment worth capturing cause next thing I know her arm is around me and I’m being blinded by her camera’s flash. I pretended to be angry and pout but honestly I don’t think the night could have gone better.
“Cheer up, Fishboy,” she said before making her fish face again and kissing me on the cheek. I jolted up in surprise, I looked into her eyes as she starred back at me. I think we were both a little surprised. But sweet Chrissie Lee, she slowly smiled and pulled me in close, kissing me on the lips. Our eyes closed and she held me there for a while, our lips pressed together.
That’s how everything was with Chrissie Lee. It just happened. It never felt wrong and things moved kind of quick after that. One date had turned into the beginning of the best and, admittedly, only relationship I had ever been in.
* * * * *
I put the picture back in the box and smile thinking of the summer and how everything had seemed so perfect. Three twenty five. I grab the box and climb up onto my bed. I look back in the box and find a small stuffed fish. She never would let me live that down. It was made of a soft fabric that glimmered like fish scales when you held it in the light. I brought the stuffed animal to my nose and inhaled deeply. I could just make out the scent of Chrissie’s perfume. I closed my eyes and laid down.
The fish was part of a birthday present. It was meant as a joke but I loved it more than anything else. The fish had a story. It was us. It was me and Chrissie Lee.
I feel my face grow hot again and my eyes begin to water. I squeeze the fish tight as the hot tears roll down my face. I open my eyes. Three twenty nine. My eyes go wide. I bring my hand up slowly to wipe away the tears. My heart starts pounding in my chest. It’s almost here. The time of night I dread most. I feel my breathing quicken as I stare at the little red numbers. I slowly put the fish back in the box. Come on, Mike, you can do this. Don’t let him see you like this. Just close your eyes. Make yourself sleep. I close my eyes tight. I hold myself and grip my arms. My hands feel cold and clammy. Whatever you do don’t look. Just keep your eyes shut. Just keep them shut. Keep them shut.
My eyes fly open. Three thirty three. Right on time. The room is deathly still. I slowly roll away from the safety of the red numbers and look at the ceiling. The shadows are still. I will myself to stop turning but I can’t help it. I have to look. I have to. My eyes move across the ceiling and head towards my door. My breathing quickens as I look on. I know what I’ll see. It’s been there every night. Stop. Don’t look. Don’t do it. Just close your eyes and turn away. You don’t have to look!
He’s watching me. Just like every other night. The dark shadowy man. Every night he’s been there. Standing in the corner of my room, next to the door. His gaze makes my body go cold. I shiver as I stare transfixed. His red eyes hypnotizing me, a mockery of the safe numbers of the clock.
* * * * *
The first night it happened was the anniversary of Sam’s death. I had been sitting in bed clutching the pocket watch he always wore. It was gold and old fashioned. Like the kind you’d expect a train engineer to carry. I had wanted to cry but I’d spent most of the day in tears. I sat there numb. I was already used to not sleeping by then, I had actually slept only once or twice since the move, and I glanced at the clock out of habit. Three thirty three. The number I’d learn to dread. I had suddenly felt a presence. Like someone watching me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I peered around my room frantically. My whole body felt cold as I whipped my head back and forth trying to find the source of my terror. Back then it was only a shadow. A dark spot in the corner of my room that seemed darker than usual. I had watched the shadow all night. I jumped when my alarm went off and when I looked back in the corner it was gone. I wasn’t sure if I had dreamed it. But the next night it happened again. This went on every night since then. The shadow slowly started taking shape. A head formed, and then arms, then legs, and eventually those awful glowing eyes appeared.
* * * * *
The shadow smiles at me as I sit in fear. Why are you still scared of him. He can’t hurt you. I don’t sound very convincing. His eyes burn into me and I get this feeling that he’s looking straight inside of me. Straight into my soul. And maybe he is.
* * * * *
About a month ago, while I was lying in bed waiting for the now routine nightly visit I heard a clunk at my window. At first I thought I had imagined it but when it came again I climbed out of bed and looked outside. There, in my yard, dressed in nothing but a tank top and underwear, was my Chrissie Lee. I opened my window and helped her climb up onto the roof of the front porch and into my room. She starred at the floor.
“Chrissie? What’s wrong sweetie? What are you doing here?”
I placed my hand under her chin and made her look at me. Her eye was blackened and blood dripped down her lip.
“Oh my God! Chrissie what happened?!”
She had cried for a long time and I held her. I walked her over to my bed and sat her down. When she had calmed down she told me everything. Her father beat her. He would go out and drink all night and then come home and beat his wife and if Chrissie tried to do anything about it he’d beat her too. They’d had a big fight and she’d run away.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” she said through her tears.
“Hey. Shh. It’s okay. You’re safe now. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
I cradled her and laid down on my bed. She fell asleep fast. I kissed the top of her head. Chrissie’s father was an abusive drunk. He had beaten MY Chrissie. And he had done it before. A drunk had been responsible for Sam’s death too.
As if on cue the familiar prickle came to the back of my neck. I slid my arms out from under Chrissie and turned to face him. The shadow was where he always was. And then he moved. He seemed to glide towards me, eyes burning into mine, holding me transfixed.
So what are you going to do about it.
The shadow spoke to me. It did not speak out loud but instead seemed to speak directly inside of me. Right into my own thoughts.
A drunk murdered your brother and now another drunk is beating your girlfriend. What are you going to do about it! It seemed to snarl at me.
I don’t know why I spoke to it, the shadow was evil. It had to be. But I spoke to it anyways.
I don’t know. I can tell the police and have him arrested.
And let him live in a prison for the rest of his life where he’s fed and treated like a house pet? No. He’s a vicious dog. He needs to be put down.
His eyes glowed crimson. I felt heat radiating off of his presence yet my insides felt cold. But the shadow was right. The man deserved to die.
* * * * *
I stare at the shadow in hatred. He must sense my anger because his size seems to grow. He approaches me. The coldness grows as he nears and I hug myself tighter as I shiver. I recoil away from him as he reaches my bedside and knock over my box. Its contents spill out onto the floor. A secret compartment at the bottom of the box opened up and a pocket watch and several photographs fell out. The shadow was speaking to me.
* * * * *
I had followed him that night as he drove to the bar. I waited for him to go inside. The next part was simple. I did what I had to do and waited. Eventually the drunk stumbled out of the bar and into his truck. I followed close behind him. He was swerving a little but it wasn’t good enough. I blinded him with my high beams. He began driving faster. I kept right one him. I blinded him again. He swerved. His truck drove faster. We were approaching a sharp bend and I flashed my high beams one more time as I hit my brakes. He hit his. They didn’t work. I’d cut them. His truck went through the barrier and flipped as it rolled down the embankment. Finally it stopped, headlights lighting up the trees above it like spotlights. I climbed down the hill and starred in through broken window. His lips trembled as he looked at me. I held up my camera. “For Chrissie.”
Chrissie never knew what had really happened. But she had suspected. She broke up with me a week later. I figured she knew. For some reason she still loved him.
* * * * *
I scramble to put the box back together. This was personal. HE wasn’t supposed to see it. I grab my brother’s watch. It had popped open and I glance at the time, the hands stuck permanently at 3:33, the moment when the truck had collided with Sam. I close the watch. I turn towards the shadow.
You…This is all your fault!
I crawl toward him.
You have taken away everyone I have ever loved! I hate you!
I am inches away from him now, my eyes starring right into his. They glow red hot. Then they change and for a split second something flashes into them. I only catch a glimpse, but that’s all I need. Staring back at me from within the shadow… is me.
The shadow lunges forward and its claws tear into me. I scream. And for the first time in months, my eyes close, and I sleep.
* * * * *
I awake staring at a white ceiling. I try to cover my eyes with my arm but I can’t move it. I blink away the brightness and confusion and lift my head up. I am in a hospital bed. My arms restrained to the sides.
I look out into the hall and see police talking to my parents and a doctor. I can’t quite here what they’re saying but I hear enough to gather what happened. They found me in my room clutching the glass of Sam’s broken watch with my wrists cut open, next to me was the box of photographs. To them it must have looked like I was trying to commit suicide. That meant HE had won. I sunk down into the bed, giving in. There was nothing more I could do. I rolled over and saw a clock on the wall. The hands ticked slowly. Three thirty two.
My heart began pounding in my chest. I pulled against my restraints. I shouted. I knew what was coming. And if they left me here tonight he’d finish what he’d started. I had to get out.
“Help! Please! Somebody get me out of here!”
A Nurse ran over.
“It’s okay Mike. I’m here to help you.”
“Please you have to help me. He’ll kill me. I’m not safe here!”
“Don’t worry Mike we’ll make sure you’re perfectly safe.”
The nurse turns towards the table next to my bed. I turn to the clock. Three thirty three. My body goes cold. I know he’s here. I search the room frantically and spot a slight shadow behind the curtain of the bed next to mine. I turn back to the nurse. She’s holding a large needle.
“Just close your eyes Mike. You need to get some rest.”
I feel eyes watching me.