Friday, January 17, 2014

The Staring Man

He's been watching me sleep. His expression is uncaring and unblinking, a frozen death mask of a face held just a few feet from mine.

He appeared on the night we moved into the house. I was so tired, I didn't even bother unpacking and fell into bed with my clothes on. I remember looking at the blank ceiling for maybe a minute or two before falling asleep. It had been a long day.

Suddenly my eyes were wide open and I was staring at the ceiling again, my body covered in a cold sweat. I had goosebumps and was actually shivering, despite the warm weather.

There was a cold feeling in my gut though. Something felt wrong. It could have been just the unfamiliar room or a bad dream but I couldn't quite work out...

... and then he was standing there, staring down at me.

The bottom half of his body was transparent, but the rest of him was as solid looking as anything. His eyes were wide open and his mouth was drawn wide across his face, as if the skin were being pulled back somehow. I couldn't make out any details in the dark, just those staring eyes looming over me, black pits surrounded by white. The silent gaze was worse than menacing. It was the same look a person would give an insect they were about to crush.

Adrenaline surged through me, and in a panic I leaped out of bed and ran down the hall.

When I made it to the livingroom I didn't know what to do. It seemed so unreal. Looking back up the hall through the shadows I didn't see him, so I just sat down to get myself together. I woke up in the morning having accidentally fallen asleep in a chair. My parents had a good laugh about it, and since I was still dressed, I decided that it must have just been a bad dream.

I wish that was all it was.

When he returned on the second night I stared up at him from under my covers and, startled and confused by the intruder, called for help. He didn't move when I shouted, and his eyes were burning into me with that expression of disgust right up until the moment my mom came in the room and snapped on the light. Then, just like that, he was gone.

My parents didn't know what to make of my story, and assumed I had just had a nightmare. I tried to convince them, but my dad got angry at having been woken up and reminded me that I was heading to college in a few months and it was time to grow up and deal with stupid things like nightmares on my own.

The next night I slept with the light on, and to my extreme relief I slept through the night. The night after that was fine as was the one after that. By the third or fourth night I started to feel a little silly leaving the light on when I went to bed, and wondered if maybe I really had just imagined everything.

Still, when I thought about that strange wide mouth and those staring eyes it seemed so real. I could picture his short hair and shorter, seemingly non-existent neck on those broad shoulders of his... well, it was enough for me to keep up the habit of leaving the light on.

After about a week I found myself waking up in the middle of the night again. The light was still on, there was nothing to see, but still my was heart pounding and I was looking around as if something had jumped out and startled me. It was the kind of feeling you might get if you saw a giant animal about to pounce on you from the dark.

It went on like this for another few weeks, and I went to the doctors. They said it was night terrors, nothing serious, and prescribed some sleeping pills. They didn't work, but at least I felt like we were on the right track and would find the solution soon.

Then, only a few days ago, things changed. I woke up as usual, and at first it seemed like the usual night terror. I was trying to calm myself down, but a moment later the bedroom lights switched off. He was there, hovering next to my bed, his bottom half faded into nothing but his arms, chest, shoulders and head all to solid and real.

I was paralysed with fear, and no amount of will power could unlock my frozen body. All I could do was lie there staring at him while he stared right back at me with those bulging eyes. We stayed like that for hours, me unable to move and him staring down, waiting for... something...

Soon I noticed that he hadn't been still. Slowly, so gradually that I hadn't noticed the movement, he was coming nearer. His body passed right over the bed. Just before dawn he had reached the edge of where my arm lay. He bent over slightly then and just stared, motionless, disapproving.

By then the sun was just peeking over the horizon, and when the first ray of light came in the window, he faded. The moment he was gone I passed out.

That day I couldn't eat anything without feeling sick and was extremely exhausted. I didn't tell anyone what had happened, I knew it would just sound crazy. Everybody assumed that I just had a cold.

The next night I brought an extra lamp into the room and also lit one of those thick 8-hour candles. It seemed that I was only asleep for moments before waking just in time to see the lights snap off. The candle stayed lit for only a few moments before it was slowly blown out by an invisible source.

He was back, fully solid this time, his legs no longer transparent. I was paralysed by the unknown force, and could only lie there and shiver in fear. I couldn't even close my eyes, and had to stare up at him while I sweat and tears rolled down my face. He moved forward again, ever so slowly, and when he reached the edge of the bed his legs walked through it as if it wasn't there. Once again he leaned over and stared down at me as if I was a little piece of dirt that needed to be scrubbed from his sight.

Hours passed, with cold drafts pouring down from him. Every muscle in my body was tight and shook with terror. When dawn finally came he faded as before, but by then I was in so much pain from the tension that I couldn't sleep.

The family thought I had the flu or something.

I knew they would assume my story was just night terrors again, but I tried to negotiate for a different room saying that mine was too drafty. My dad said that we'd only just unpacked and he'd be damned if he was going to move everything around now, and stapled some sheets of plastic over the window instead. I was too exhausted to argue with him, and tried deliriously to think of another plan.

There was no use in trying to keep the lights on that night, that much was clear. I decided to wait for my parents to go to bed and then sneak down the hall and sleep on the couch. They might say something in the morning but at least tonight I'd be safer.

Once I was sure they had gone to bed I grabbed my blanket and pillow and made my way down the hall. As soon as I laid down on the couch I knew I had made the right decision. The room felt infinitely safer, and I sank into a comfortable sleep.

I soon woke up with a start. Somehow I was back in my bed, under my covers, with the staring man looking down at me. Adrenaline surged through my body but it wasn't enough to break free, and I could only quiver under the force of the terror that was consuming me.

Over the next few hours we silently stared at one another, and my heart pounded in my chest until I thought it would burst through. He slowly moved closer and closer, leaning over and then hovering over me, his face only inches from mine. He smelled of cold and damp earth and stale water. The scent filled me and saturated my body just as his eyes filled my vision with the certainty that he would wipe me away with no more care than one might scrape an insect from one's boot.

Just before dawn something changed. The man's eyes widened a bit and his lips parted slightly. Two long rows of pearly-white teeth peeked out from behind them. It wasn't a smile though, just a parting of his unnaturally wide lips. A moment before the first rays of the sun hit the room, he whispered the only words I've ever heard him say: "Finally ready." There was no emotion behind it, just a dead certainty.

As soon as he faded away I screamed, crying like a little baby, thrashing around under the covers with tears running down my eyes and every part of my body shaking. My parents came rushing in and, after taking one look at me, they brought me to the hospital. As we left I caught sight of myself in the mirror and saw why: my face was pale and swollen, I was covered in sweat, and my eyes were completely bloodshot.

I was so weak I had to lean heavily on dad to make it to the car.

They had to put me on an IV since food wouldn't stay down. My head was pounding, and despite being utterly exhausted I just couldn't sleep. The doctors just scratched their heads, all tests coming back negative, and could only recommend plenty of fluids and rest. I had a mild fever and I think they just thought I was being dramatic about a flu, or that I just had mental problems. They might have ordered a psychiatric exam but I never had the chance to find out.

After some begging, they let me stay the night in the hospital instead of going home. Finally I was away from that place, and I promised myself I would never go back. It didn't matter what kind of argument I had to get into with my family, if I had to leave home and live on the streets, there was absolutely no way in hell I was going back there.

It didn't help.

I woke up back in bed at home, back under my covers, paralysed. He was looming over me, wafts of cold air emanating from him, legs buried in the bed. That horrible, emotionless stare had a bit more energy behind it now... there was intent behind that stare.

He moved to the foot of the bed, and as he did I felt my head drawn up slightly so that I could watch him. He leaned over and he opened his mouth wide, wider, stretching it until he had both of my feet clamped between his teeth. My skin split and started bleeding, pain washing up my legs.

I couldn't kick, couldn't struggle, couldn't even flinch. I could only let him bite into me and stare back at his dead, unfeeling gaze. I was an insect, a small problem that he was dealing with, and had as much of a chance of stopping him as a worm would a boot.

Minutes passed like this, his teeth sunk into my flesh and resting against my bones. After a few minutes he opened his mouth again, relieving the pressure on my feet. My relief was short-lived, however, as he moved up to my calves and split my flesh again, my shin bones grinding against the enamel of his teeth.

This would be my last night on Earth. There were hours left before dawn. More than enough time to eliminate a little bug like me.

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