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The Black Cat
The Black Cat
The blue moonlight found its way to my window and perched upon it like silver smoke. I held the covers to my chest, watching flecks of glittering dust rise up through the air.
It was then that I felt them watching me.
My lungs opened wide and drew in the dusty air, and I felt my ribcage expanding, pushing my flesh outwards. I tried to remember what the therapists told me. Breathe. Breathing wasn’t helping. Already, I could feel my heart beating too loudly in my chest. Count down from ten.
Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two point eight. Two. One. Zero. Negative one. Nothing in this world made sense.
It had been three years ago when I’d first felt it. Lying in bed, staring at the white ceiling, I heard a strange noise in the walls. I stood up and looked out the window, and the city gleamed before me like a field of stars. I then examined my closet, but there was nothing. Still, the noises continued. I turned my head to the air vent directly above me and there I saw it, illuminated in crystal clarity - a pair of bright green eyes.
That first night, my parents shone their flashlights into the net of air vents above, but there was nothing. I dismissed it as a dream until the next day, when I arrived home from school. The second I stepped into my apartment, I felt it - the dizzying sensation that eyes were following me, tracking my every move. I heard their voices murmuring in the ceiling. My body became attuned to any sign of movement or sound, but even when there was none, I still felt the green eyes. I began changing my clothes underneath my covers and sometimes, I’d talk to the walls. “I know you’re there,” I’d say, over and over. “I’m watching you, too.”
Two months later I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The meds helped, sending me into a drugged spiral and forcing me to sleep, but tonight I felt the heavy heat of eyes on me again. The air in my room was freezing. I imagined the web of lights that existed behind my wall, the cameras put in place by some mysterious spy organization. When counting down from ten didn’t work, my blood continued its transformation into ice, and I felt my bones begin to seize up.
I rolled over and grabbed my cellphone, which shone greenly onto my ceiling, and shot a text message into the night. “To: Jake,” it read. “Having another panic attack. Help please!”
I turned onto my back and tried to keep my eyes from rolling back in my head. It had been almost three weeks since my last panic attack and the doctors had even mentioned the word “better” to my parents. I wasn’t about to ruin their happiness. My mother had been buying different flowers every day for the table and my father drank his coffee with more zeal than I’d ever seen.
The phone blinked. Jake was an insomniac, like me, so it wasn’t a surprise that he was awake at three in the morning.
“Be over in a second. Count,” it read. I stared at the letters, wishing that they were a physical body so I could hold them closely to my chest.
Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
I still felt them watching me. The sensation was a mysterious force that pressed in on my life, a constant eye that stalked my every move. It had engulfed my life for years. Therapy and pills didn’t make it leave, but they made me care less. They were always there, though, watching, constantly, incessantly.
Cars rushed by. I imagined that every skid of a tire belonged to Jake’s car, but the minutes seemed endless. I waited, biting my lip until blood ran down my chin.
At last, the heavy white door swung open and he appeared, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. I could tell he hadn’t even tried to sleep tonight.
He shut the door and bent down, turning on the phosphorescent lightbulbs that hung above my bed. “Hey, Sam,” he said, voice a whisper. I stared at him, feeling about as hollow as a person could.
“It’s happening again, Jake.”
“What? The panic attacks?” He sat down amongst the sea of white sheets.
“The eyes thing.”
“Oh, God. I thought this was fixed. I thought you were over this,” he said, voice low. For some reason, the night seemed to make his eyes darker than they normally were, pits of cold blue instead of light ocean waters.
“It’s not my fault,” I whispered back, staring straight at the white stone walls.
“What happened to all that therapy? Did you take your meds?” he spat back.
I could feel what I was going to say build up behind my lips before I said it. It burst like a waterfall out of my mouth. “Meds can’t stop them from watching me. It’s the C.I.A. They’ve got their eyes on me all the time. Something bad is here. I’m telling you. They’re everywhere. He’s everywhere.”
I could feel Jake’s bones freezing beside me, his joints locking up like prison doors. Suddenly, he swung around to face me. His teeth glinted in the pale luminosity. “Sam. I need to tell you this because I don’t know if anyone has for a long time. It’s been - take this medication, breathe this way. But it’s all in your head. No one from the C.I.A. is watching you. There were never any ‘green eyes.’ Frankly, you’re not important or interesting enough for any sort of spy to give a damn about you. There is no one there and there never has been anyone.”
“I’m not crazy.” I was starting to cry. “I’m not crazy.” The tears came, pouring silently down my cheeks.
He looked at me, and I could tell that he was torn between storming out the door or hugging me. He seemed to flicker back and forth. “Oh, Sam,” he said at last, his shoulders seeming to sag into him. “You made this all up.”
Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.
I felt a scream bubbling in my throat.
Six. Five. Four.
Jake walked out, leaving the door swinging behind him, shadows tracing his every step.
I heard a knocking, a pounding, in my head.
My parents ran into my room, their faces ashen, like twin bloodless moons. Jake stood behind them, his cerulean eyes meeting mine. “What’s the matter?” my father asked, sitting down beside me.
“Call 911,” my mother shrieked.
“We don’t need to be so irrational,” my father responded in his smooth dentist’s voice. He might have been talking about a root canal. Dealing with me was a root canal, to him. “Jake, what happened?”
I took a deep breath, suddenly feeling my face flush. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“Did you take your pills tonight?” my mother pressed, her white nightgown floating around her feet as she ambled towards me.
“No,” I replied softly.
“Well. There you go,” my father said, throwing up his arms. “Jane, get her pills. This is ridiculous, Samara. I thought we were past this immature behavior. And Jake, I’m not even going to ask what you were doing over here at this hour, but thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sir,” he replied, still immersed in shadow in the corner of the room.
“Now go home,” my father added, folding his hands across his chest. In his striped pajamas, he looked a bit less intimidating than normal, but Jake still moved towards the door.
After I’d taken my pills, little orbs of light and potent medicine, and the lightbulbs were off, and all I could see was the moon washing the window with smoke, I leaned over and checked my cell phone again. Of course, I had a message from Jake.
“Are you alright?” it read.
“Sorry,” I texted quickly, shooting the message off into the night, knowing that one word could never be enough.
“I love you,” he replied, and I smiled as the words appeared, green lights cutting through the foggy darkness of my room.
After a long while, I somehow managed to fall asleep.
Autumn came and went in a flurry of orange and amber, and although I still felt like someone was watching me often, I was slowly learning how to manage it on my own.
Then came winter and a steel breeze the likes of which New York had never seen. The most notable thing that happened to me that winter was that my apartment had to be evacuated. They told us it was because of a gas leak.
We moved to a brownstone that was smaller than our old apartment, but I loved the new place. When I was in my room, more nights than not I wouldn’t even think about the spies that had so haunted my old life.
One afternoon, after Jake and I had stopped in for coffee at Starbucks, and I was in a particularly good mood, I arrived home to see my mother holding the newspaper. Her face was white as paper. Outside, frost twirled and whispered at our window.
“Hello, sweetie!” she said the second she saw me, dropping the paper on the table.
“What did that newspaper say?”
“Oh, nothing much. Just an obituary of an old friend.” I could tell she was lying by the way her eyes seemed to raze over every square inch of the room in the span of her sentence.
I walked towards the paper, sitting innocently on the coffee table. “Apartment in New York found to be wired with bombs,” I read. “This can’t be true.”
“Sweetie, I think you should put that down...” she said, lurching towards me. My eyes found a quivering spiderweb in the corner of the room.
“This was our old apartment. This is why they evacuated us,” I said, feeling a cloud start to build around me. My mind was preparing for a storm. “The apartment complex’s intended destruction was found to be a terrorist ploy that had been put on unexpected hiatus... A masterful plan, because the small apartment complex was directly above Times Square... a former warehouse... the government believes it was originally intended for last New Year’s Eve.” I looked up at her. “The government had been watching the place for some time.”
She covered her mouth with her hands.
“Apartment B7 was the epicenter of the bombs. It was discovered that a new form of bomb was embedded in the walls, nearly invisible to the eye or sensor. The C.I.A. and several national defense corporations had tagged the area but believed it to be a worthless cause. One agent refused to leave his station at the apartment, setting up cameras in the walls in case of a possible launch. Several million owe their lives to this recently deceased man, Agent Owen Black, who, despite a degenerative illness, was able to unearth the bombs.”
I drew the paper to my chest. “My apartment was Apartment B7.”
Just then, another piece of paper caught my attention. It was an invitation we’d received several days ago, to a funeral in Calcutta, from some family named Black we’d never heard of. We’d assumed it had been addressed incorrectly.
Then I was flipping quickly to the obituaries. “Agent Owen Black, died last week, also known as the Black Cat for his deftness and invisibility but bad luck with cases.” I was smiling, smiling so widely that my cheeks ached. “The funeral will take place in Moth’s Graveyard, Calcutta.”