The rain was pouring down as Jeff’s car pulled up by my building. The water pounded against the roof of the car and slithered down the windows like liquid snakes. People were hurrying past on the street, huddled under umbrellas. I pulled out my keys from my pocket and grabbed my bag which had been resting on the seat next to me.
Matt, sitting on the passenger seat, turned around to look at me.
“Are you sure you’re ready to go back? You could stay at our place while we’re away, if you want. Or… we could cancel the trip and go another time.”
I smiled and shook my head.
“I appreciate the offer, but that won’t be necessary. I’m ready for this.”
It had been almost a month since that night when Ryan Patrick attacked me. The cut on my arm had needed stitches and my fall had resulted in a mild concussion, but other than that I was physically fine. Unlike Ryan, who had died from the knife wound to his chest.
I learned from the police that Ryan had a history of severe depression and had been in and out of institutions for most of his adult life. There had been some interest in the press over what happened, but I definitely didn’t want to talk to them, and it died down after a while. But still, I had been staying at Matt and Jeff’s place ever since. I had not set foot in my apartment.
But, now it was really time to go back. Matt and Jeff had planned a trip to Italy months ago and they would be leaving tomorrow, so I had decided on going back that day. I didn’t want them to have to worry about me during their trip.
“So you’re really going back?” Jeff asked, turning around to look at me as well.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I have to. I feel like if I don’t go back now I’ll never be able to go back at all.”
“Okay. Well, we were up there yesterday and checked it out. You don’t have to worry about anything, the cleaning service we hired did a good job. Everything looks fine, and they managed to clean up all the…” Jeff silenced.
I smiled at them.
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. You just have a good trip.”
“We will. Just take care of yourself.”
I leaned over and gave them both a quick hug. I pulled the hood on my sweater over my head, got out of the car and hurried inside the building, up to my apartment. I unlocked the door and, with a deep breath, I stepped inside.
The first thing I did was crack open the living room window. The air was incredibly stuffy. I could hardly breathe. I stood by the window, inhaling the fresh air as my eyes took in the room. It felt strange, being back. I couldn’t really tell if it felt good or bad. More like… hollow. Everything looked the same, just they way I’d left it that night when I went to meet Matt and Jeff at the restaurant. And… hesitantly I walked over to the spot where Ryan had fallen. Completely clean. I bent down for a closer look. Nothing. Not the faintest hint of blood left anywhere.
Straightening up, I sighed with relief. I had been a little afraid there would still be traces of blood left, but there really was nothing. I tiredly rubbed my eyes. Not so surprising, my nightmares had returned full force since the attack, and I hadn’t gotten much sleep this month. The dreams had changed as well. They used to be a weird jumble of disturbing shit, but now it was mostly just the same thing over and over: a repeat of everything that had happened the night of the attack, only in the dream I was the one who ended up with a knife in my chest.
Having closed the window, I went to the kitchen and made myself a mug of tea. After a moment’s consideration I put a splash of Bacardi in there as well, then went back to the living room and stretched out on the couch, listening to the rain as I drank my tea. The soothing sound combined with the warmth of the tea made me sleepy, and I soon put my mug on the table, pulled an old fleece throw over me and closed my eyes.
I had just drifted off when a loud crash made me sit up with a start. Confused, I looked around, and when my eyes fell on what must have been the source of the noise my confusion multiplied by ten. The mug of tea I had placed on the table was in pieces — and still on the table. It hadn’t fallen down on the floor or anything. It was shattered, but still on the table right where I’d put it before I went to sleep. The tea that was left in it had spilled down on the floor and some of it had soaked into the carpet. Cursing, I went to get a towel and began mopping it up.
How the hell did it break? Maybe I’d knocked it over or something, turning in my sleep? It seemed unlikely, though, that I could have knocked it over that hard. Shrugging, I put the towel away then started picking up the shards of the mug, some of which were part of Homer Simpson’s now broken face. D’oh.
When I’d disposed of the pieces I went and got my bag, and started unpacking my stuff. Having done that, I settled down on the couch with a book. I briefly considered working on the zombie pictures for Grave Dirt, but I wasn’t in the mood, so instead I just spent all day on the couch with my book. In the evening I ordered pizza for dinner, and ate some of it while watching a movie. After that, I read the rest of the book and finished around midnight, when I decided to go to bed.
* * * * * *
Groggily, I opened my eyes. It was still dark. Yawning, I looked at the clock. 2 a.m. I had barely slept two hours. Throwing back the covers I sat up, hissing when my feet touched the cold floor. I got up and made my way towards the bathroom, rubbing my tired eyes. I peed, then washed my hands and splashed my face.
I could feel a throbbing in my temples as I leaned over the sink. A headache was something I definitely could do without right now. I opened the cabinet and started looking for some pills when my eyes fell on an object inside the cabinet and I took a step back, gasping.
The card. The little card with “Waiting” written on it with Ryan Patrick’s blood. It was there, inside the cabinet, propped up on the shelf against a box of bottle of cologne. But it was impossible. When the cops took my statement I had told them about the card and how I’d thrown it in the trash. I’d assumed they’d retrieved it for evidence. And anyway, the rest of the trash had been taken care of by the cleaning service when they came. So how could the card possibly be here, in my bathroom cabinet of all places?
What’s going on? Is this a goddamn joke?
Hesitantly, I reached for it. If this was someone’s joke, then that person had a very fucked up sense of humor. I tore the card into pieces, then flushed them down the toilet. I watched as the whirl sucked them down. But then, with a slurping sound, the water suddenly drained from the toilet — and something dark started bubbling up instead.
It was blood. Thick, dark blood, rising inside the toilet bowl, filling it to the brim and then spilling over the seat. I quickly stepped back as it hit the floor with a loud splash and formed dark red puddle that grew as the blood kept flowing from the toilet. It kept spreading, practically covering the bathroom floor, inching towards my bare feet, closer and closer…
I blinked. Suddenly the blood was gone. The bathroom was completely clean. Not the slightest fleck of blood anywhere, and inside the toilet bowl was nothing but ordinary clear water.
Shaking, I stood there frozen, unable to move.
* * * * * *
When I woke up the next day, I was lying on my couch. I didn’t remember lying down and going to sleep there. All I could remember was the blood, spilling from the toilet onto the floor. I got up and went to the bathroom, peeking inside. Still clean.
It had been a dream. Nothing more. I took a deep breath and let it out.
I had never had a dream that vivid before. It felt so damn real. I shook my head and closed the bathroom door. Vivid or not, it didn’t matter. It was still nothing more than a dream. I went to the kitchen and made breakfast. Matt and Jeff had put some food in the fridge when they were here the other day. I made myself a sandwich, but I didn’t really have an appetite and couldn’t eat more than a few bites. I wrapped it up and put it back in the fridge, and just had coffee instead.
I went to the living room and turned on the TV, only to switch it off again. I went to my work room and sat down by the drawing table. Picking up a pencil I tried to work on my zombie pictures, but I had barely sketched for twenty minutes before I put my pencil down with a sigh. It was no good. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. That dream really got to me. Maybe I wasn’t ready to come home after all? Maybe I should have accepted Matt and Jeff’s offer to stay at their place while they were away?
No. Instead of freaking out about this, use it. What is it you normally do when the dreams have been worse than they usually are?
Use them for inspiration. I flipped to a blank page on my sketchbook and started sketching out the bathroom. Then I added the blood, welling up out of the toilet and spilling on the floor. Some shading. When I was satisfied, I added black ink, and then color. I only colored the blood, using an amazing, deep red shade.
All done, I stretched my back and looked at the picture. It was pretty damn good. The red of the blood looked fantastic together with the black and the white. I found myself beginning to smile. I felt better about it already.
I shook my head and my smile disappeared. All of a sudden the air in the room felt heavy and stifling. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and a new headache was beginning to blossom between my eyes. I entered the living room, threw open the window and took a deep breath.
I was getting really frustrated. Up until now, there had bee a part of me that had felt sorry for Ryan. I mean, he was sick. But now, my sympathy began to completely disintegrate. He had robbed me of my sense of security in my own home. I had always been able to relax here and be at ease, but now that feeling was gone with the wind. My apartment just didn’t feel like home anymore.
I heated up leftover pizza from last night and forced myself to eat it, even though I still didn’t have much of an appetite. I hadn’t been eating well at all this month. I would have to change that, if I didn’t want to become an even bigger wreck than I already was.
As I ate, I thought with regret about the safe haven my home had once been and how it was now tainted. I tried to tell myself that it would get better after a few weeks or so, but I couldn’t quite ignore the little voice in my head that suggested that maybe I should start looking for a new apartment.
In the evening I got a text from Matt saying that he and Jeff had arrived safely in Italy. About an hour later I got a call from Kenji.
“Matt gave me specific instructions to check up on you while he and Jeff are away.”
“Matt’s a mother hen,” I said, smiling to myself.
“Totally,” Kenji chuckled. “But that’s something I like about him.”
“So… are you okay over there?”
I hesitated before answering.
“I don’t know. It’ll take a while before I’m used to it, I think,” I said, trying to make it sound better than it really was.
“Yeah…” He was silent for a moment. “I could come over if you want, or… we could hang out at my place.”
“I… no. I’m pretty tired. I’ll probably just watch a movie and then I’ll try to get some sleep.”
“Okay. Well, if you need anything – anything at all — just let me know.”
I smiled to myself.
“You’re a mother hen, too, Kenji.”
I heard him laugh softly.
“Yeah. Sometimes, I am.”
“Bye. Thanks for calling.”
“No problem. Take care of yourself.”
I had seen a lot more of Kenji since the attack. The police had just interviewed me at the hospital when the nurse popped her head in and told me my friends were there. I expected just Matt and Jeff, but when she let them in Kenji was with them as well.
He later explained that he had been at home when he suddenly had one of his ‘hunches’: he knew that something had happened to me. He rushed over to my place and had just about had a heart attack when he arrived and saw that the cops had taped off the building. Luckily, he saw a cop he knew, who had told him what he knew of my condition and which hospital I was in. Kenji had called Matt and Jeff, and the three of them waited at the hospital until they were allowed to see me.
During the time I stayed with Matt and Jeff, Kenji stopped by often to see how I was doing. Things were almost like they used to be when the four of us used to hang out. The feeling was incredibly comforting. It occurred to me that I had begun to think of the three of them as my family. The only real family I had ever had.
I had called my father and told him what had happened, which turned out to be a mistake. He wasn’t too concerned, if you know what I mean. Instead, he had hinted that I only had myself to blame. Dressing like I do, creating goth art and being gay are apparently things that make being targeted by psychos inevitable. I was used to this attitude, but it hurt that I had almost died and he still didn’t care. Well, to hell with him.
After I finished talking to Kenji, I popped a beer and sat down in front of the TV, flipping through channels, looking for a movie. ‘Lost Highway’ was on, but watching a David Lynch movie in my current state of mind didn’t seem like such a good idea. I flipped past a few more channels and found ‘My Cousin Vinny’. Perfect.
“Fuck you, Ryan,” I whispered as I pulled a blanket over myself and settled back on the couch.
* * * * * *
I woke up shivering. Not so surprising, when I noticed that my duvet cover was lying in a fluffy heap on the floor. I must have thrown it off in my sleep. As I reached down and pulled it back up I glanced at the clock. After the movie I had stayed up for a while listening to music and doodling in my sketchbook, and then gone to bed at around 11:30. It was now 2:30 a.m. I sighed to myself and pulled the duvet cover up to my nose, still shaking from cold.
Over a half an hour later I was still nowhere near getting back to sleep. I was wide awake, tossing and turning in frustration. I turned on my back with a frustrated groan. I just couldn’t relax. My eyes fell on a spot of shadow in a corner of the ceiling. It was oddly dark. It almost looked solid. And what’s more, it seemed to be growing.
I drew in a sharp breath as the shadow suddenly started moving, sliding down the wall and growing at the same time. Then it released itself from the wall and started moving through the room towards the bed. And it grew even more solid, there was no mistaking that the outline of the black shape was that of a man. It was blurred around the edges, like a photo out of focus, but I could make out arms, legs and a head.
The shape stopped at the foot of the bed. Petrified with fear, I stared at it. Even though it was so black, I could almost make out its face. It was almost like staring into the darkness of a deep well and seeing the face of a corpse staring back at you.
It seemed like forever that it just stood there, at the foot of my bed, watching me. Then, in one swift motion it moved to the side of the bed and I felt hands grasping my throat and pulling me off the bed down onto the floor.
Frantically, I tried prying away the hands that were strangling me, but I couldn’t. My hands simply passed through them as if they weren’t even there. Fighting to breathe, I stared up at the black shape. Its face was now distinguishable, and I knew who it was. It was the person who had tried to kill me before, and had succeeded many times since in my nightmares. But this…
…this is no dream! It’s no dream!
My vision began to blur. I was passing out… then the pressure on my throat disappeared. Gasping for breath, I looked around. The shape was gone. Or rather…
Ryan was gone.
Once I was able to breathe normally again, I frantically dressed and shoved some clothes into a bag along with my wallet and toothbrush.
I’ll call Kenji and I’ll stay at his place. I can’t stay here.
I grabbed my jacket and was just about to reach for the phone when it started ringing. Looking at the display, I noticed it was Kenji.
My mouth fell open. I walked over to the window. Sure enough, he was there, standing by his car. He gave a little wave as he saw me.
“Come on. I’ll take you to my place.”
“How did you…?” I fell silent.
“I had a hunch,” he said gently.
* * * * * *
Arm around my shoulders, Kenji guided me inside his kitchen, sat me down and handed me a glass of whiskey.
I took a sip and felt its warm burn as it slid down my throat.
During the drive the shock of what had happened had set in. I had glimpsed myself in the rear view mirror and seen marks on my neck. After that I simply stared out of the passenger side window, not saying anything. Kenji drove in silence, without asking any questions, for which I was grateful.
Swallowing the last of the whiskey, I felt myself beginning to loosen up. I glanced at Kenji and saw him looking at me with evident concern. I cleared my throat.
“There’s a ghost in my apartment.”
It sounded so stupid, as if I was talking about a rat or particularly nasty spider, and I started laughing. It was a weak, joyless laugh that soon turned to sobs. I hadn’t cried in a long time. I hid my face in my hands and tried to hold it back, but I could still feel the tears escaping my eyes. I was barely aware of Kenji sitting down on the chair next to me, but when I felt his arms around me the dam burst. I buried my face in his chest and bawled.
“Sorry,” I sniffed once I had stopped sobbing.
“It’s okay,” he said, stroking my hair. “Why don’t you try getting some sleep? We’ll talk about all of this tomorrow.” He stood up. “Come on. You take the bed. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
He led me to the bedroom. As he was about to leave, I turned around. I did not feel like being alone right now.
“Look…” I blushed, feeling like a total chick as I mumbled, “…could you… would you mind…?” I motioned towards the bed.
“Sure,” he smiled.
We both climbed in. Turning on my side, I discreetly sniffed at the sheets. They smelled good. The smelled like Kenji.
I deep breath. Within minutes, I was asleep.
* * * * * *
Some time during the morning I was awakened by a noise. I felt a brief flash of fear, followed by relief as I recognized the noise as that of mail being pushed through the mail slot, and that relief was replaced by a different feeling as I realized that Kenji, still asleep and lying on his side facing me, had his harm around me. The feeling was not unpleasant. Not unpleasant at all. I felt warm, safe… and a little aroused.
It wouldn’t be so bad, waking up like this every morning.
Kenji yawned and blinked as he began to wake up. Realizing where his arm was, his eyes widened and he quickly jerked it back.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
I couldn’t resist giggling a little.
He sure is cute when he’s embarrassed.
He hopped out of bed, grabbed some clothes and rushed off towards the bathroom. A few seconds later I could hear the shower coming on. When he came out of the bathroom I thought I was going to pass out. Dressed only in jeans, his hair was damp and he had a towel slung over his bare shoulders. It was pretty much the hottest sight I’d ever seen in my frickin’ life.
“Go ahead and take shower, if you want,” he said, rubbing the towel against his hair. “There’s towels in the closet. I’ll prepare breakfast.”
Putting on a t-shirt, he went to the kitchen. I grabbed a towel and hurried to the bathroom.
I’ll have to make it a cold shower.
* * * * * *
Once we’d had breakfast, I told Kenji the whole story about all the strange stuff that had happened in the last two days: the broken coffee mug, the weird dream about the card and the bleeding toilet (which I had begun to think maybe wasn’t a dream after all), the stifling air, the black shape that tried to strangle me. When I was finished I realized how absolutely ludicrous it all sounded.
“Maybe I’m just crazy,” I said, my voice hollow. Kenji shook his head and smiled.
“I doubt that.”
“But he tried to strangle me. Can they, I mean ghosts — can they do that?”
“Well… I’ve heard of instances where people have been slapped, been struck on the head, scratched… but I don’t think I’ve heard of a case as extreme as what happened to you. However, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.”
I didn’t feel very convinced. He put his hand on my shoulder and lightly rubbed it.
“Trust me, you’re not crazy. I would know.”
I massaged my temples with my fingertips.
“If I’m not crazy, then that means that Ryan is still stalking me from the grave. I’m not sure which is worse.” I looked up at Kenji. “What am I going to do? Can you help me?”
He took a sip of the same coffee he’d been drinking throughout my story. It must have been cold by then, but he didn’t seem to care.
“Communicating with the dead isn’t really my specialty,” he said. “I can pick up on their energy, but for something like this we are probably going to need a real medium.” He drummed his fingertips against the table. “I know the right person for this job. Let me make a call.”
He went and got his cell phone, then made the call.
“Hey, Carl! Can I talk to Pinky?”
“Uh-huh? Oh… do you know when she’ll be back? I need her help with an unwelcome guest. Okay… we’ll, have her call me, alright? See ya.” He ended the call.
“What’s a Pinky?”
“You’ll like her. Her real name is Penelope, but nobody ever calls her that. She’s the most powerful medium I’ve ever met. She’s out of town right now, but she’ll be back in two days.”
“Don’t worry.” Kenji placed his hand on my shoulder. “She’ll help us.”
I looked up and my eyes met his.
There’s that warm feeling again…
It occurred to me that I had always felt like that whenever I looked at Kenji, but it had been an unwelcome feeling because of my relationship issues. But now… it didn’t really feel unwelcome anymore. It felt nice.
“Tell you what,” Kenji said as he swallowed the last of his cold coffee. “I’ll go over to your apartment and do a little recon, see what I can pick up on.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah…” I unconsciously rubbed my neck. “That thing is dangerous. You shouldn’t be there alone.”
“I’ll be fine. Spirits usually aren’t as active during the day as they are at night.”
“I still want to come with you.”
“Okay. Let’s go, then.”
* * * * * *
Standing outside my building, we hesitated before going inside. Bending his head back Kenji looked up at it, shielding his eyes from the light. Then he closed his eyes and jerked slightly.
“Are you okay?”
He took a deep breath and nodded.
“Can you feel… it… all the way out here?”
“Clearly. I sense his presence.” He took another deep breath. “Shall we go inside?”
We went inside and walked up to my apartment. Standing outside my door as I unlocked it, Kenji shivered a little. As we walked inside he quietly gasped.
“It’s bad… he whispered. “It’s very bad… His energy is so strong… it has seeped into the walls. I can feel it all around us. I can feel anger… coming at me, bombarding me from every direction. He hates me.”
“Why you?” I asked quietly. Kenji turned to me with a grim little smile.
“Because I’m with you. He’s jealous.”
As he uttered those words, a few books fell off their shelf and onto the floor with a loud bang. I jumped, but Kenji just closed his eyes, then opened them again and started pacing around the room with slow movements. He looked strangely pale. At one point he stopped and seemed to be in deep concentration.
“I can see him.” He spoke slowly, as if he wasn’t talking to me, but to himself. “I can see him hiding behind a corner out in the hall, or on the street outside, watching you. I see him leaving the roses… He was planning to… He was convinced that you wanted him as much as he wanted you, but the thought was there in his head that if you did reject him he was going to…”
Kenji stopped talking abruptly, and his eyes snapped up and looked at me. They were wide and startled.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Look,” I said worriedly. “Maybe we should get out of here. You don’t look so good.”
“Yeah, it’s… I can’t breathe in here. You’re right, we should go.”
We hurriedly left. As I was locking the door , I could hear a strange growling noise beyond the door. I did not stop to take a look. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to know.
* * * * * *
“Feeling any better?”
We sat in a nearby park, sipping coffee.
“Yeah. I’m okay. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you worried.”
I glanced up at him. The color was slowly returning to his cheeks, and he didn’t look so shaken anymore.
“Does that happen a lot? Do you always get affected like that?”
Kenji looked down and thoughtfully sipped his coffee.
“Sometimes,” he replied after a minute’s silence. “Being like me isn’t always so pleasant. I mean, I have this great ability to help people, but it comes with a price. Sometimes I have to see thoughts and actions of the worst kind of monsters in this world. People who prey on children, or who get off on the pain of others. Most of the time I can handle it, but sometimes — like today — it just hits me like a hammer, and I can’t shield myself from it.”
I tried to imagine what it must be like to be Kenji, but I couldn’t.
“How do you do it? How can you stand it?”
He smiled softly, looking up at the sky.
“By concentrating on the good parts. You know, I try not to ‘eavesdrop’ on another person’s thoughts and feelings, but sometimes I can’t help picking up on a few things, and the things I hear sometimes remind me that the world might be evil people in this world, but there are also good, and if I can help some of these people then I’ve made a difference.”
I stared at him in awe.
I’ve never known anyone like Kenji. I could never do what he does. I could never be that brave.
“You’re braver than you think,” he said, turning his head to look at me.
My eyes widened.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help it,” he smiled. “But it’s something you often think about, right? ‘I’m not brave’, ‘I’m a coward’. You can’t help thinking that can you? Well, you’re wrong. You’re not a coward.”
He tried to look me in the eye, but I turned my head away.
“That Tim…” he said cautiously. “He really messed up your sense of self-worth didn’t he? Isn’t that why you keep thinking of yourself as a coward?”
I stared straight ahead, trying to ignore the feeling of a lump in my throat.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push. I just want you to know that that’s wrong. You are brave, and someday you will realize that.”
We drank our coffee in silence.
“So…” I cleared my throat as I broke the silence. “This Pinky person… is she really as powerful as you said?”
“Oh, yes…” Kenji gave a short laugh. “She’s remarkable. She’s been all around the world, and done some pretty amazing things. People contact her all the time with book deals and TV contracts, but she’s happy the way she is, helping people in her own way. She says she channeled Jim Morrison once, but I’m still not sure whether she was telling the truth or just shitting me.”
“What’s she like?”
He laughed again.
“It’s impossible to describe her. She must be experienced. But you will like her. Everyone likes her.”
I tried to imagine what someone named ‘Pinky’ would look like, but I gave up after a few minutes. I have to say I was quite curious about her.
“She was out of town, right?” I got up and threw my empty cup in the trash. “When did you say she’d be back?”
“Her husband said two days, but she might be back sooner.”
“So… what are we going to do until then?”
Kenji got up and threw his cup away as well; standing with his back towards me he put his hands in his pockets.
“Well, I was thinking…”
He turned around.
“…maybe we could go on a date.”
To Be Continued