He was having that feeling again.

The vaguely unpleasant sensation that someone was watching him as he sat on the couch he’d picked up third or fourth hand on the side of the road not far from his new place. He tried to focus on the magazine in his hands, but the words seemed to blur into weird shapes before his eyes.

He had first dismissed the feeling as being in a new apartment after weeks of crashing at friends’ places after Carol threw him out. It was natural; he’d been in other people’s homes for so long that he had gotten used to having someone or something – pets, children, spouses – watching him. It would go away after a while.

But it just got worse.

At first he’d feel uneasy in the evenings after work, when the quiet of his rooms – still smelling strongly of the former occupant’s boiled cabbage – would grow heavy and dense as smoke. It pressed against him, clinging like a wet blanket. Restlessly he would prowl the tiny rooms, flicking on every light even though he couldn’t afford to. He borrowed a radio from a coworker, pleading his obvious poverty, and kept it tuned to a twenty-four hour talk radio station even though he loathed the shows. He needed the sound of voices to fill the silence.

They weren’t helping anymore.

After staring at the same page for ten minutes, he tossed the magazine aside. He had to do something, anything. A shower, that would help him calm down. Provided the hot water from the building’s balky hot water heater lasted, it had taken to blasting him with cold water at random intervals but his complaints to the super had fallen of deaf ears. The  stout gray-haired woman in the stained overalls claimed that no one else in the building was having a problem.

As he walked into the closet-sized bathroom he caught a glimpse of something dark from the corner of his eye. He ignored it, knowing from experience that there would be nothing there. The flashes had begun a few days ago, a slim dark shape that teased the edges of his vision but vanished when he turned to look. He was becoming increasingly sure that the messy break-up had fractured something inside of him, causing the strange feelings and the flickers he couldn’t quite see, but was reluctant to seek help. He could hear his father sneering at him every time he walked past the university’s mental health clinic, calling him weak and useless. He could handle this, he had to.

With a teeth-rattling screech he twisted the taps, sighing in relief as hot water pattered from the nozzle. Steam began billowing around him as he peeled off his sweats and stepped under the drizzle, releasing another sigh as the heat seeped into his bones. This was what he needed, he told himself as he lathered his chest with a bar of pine-scented soap, a good long shower to erase all …

What was that?

Like a rabbit sensing the presence of a fox, he froze. All of his senses strained to identify the noise he had half-heard over the strident hiss of the shower. Was that the loose board near the bathroom door, the one that groaned like a lost soul everytime he walked over it? It couldn’t be, there was no one else here. And that rustling noise had to be the shower curtain, even though it sounded eerily like the movement of cloth against cloth. He forced his hands to move, to continue washing, not even realizing that the water had grown ice-cold.

The single bulb of the ceiling light flickered and he noticed with a sort of detached calm that there was now a dark shadow cast onto the thin blue plastic of the shower curtain. It was just a moth battering itself against the light, that was all it could be. But as it grew larger and more distinct he found himself stepping backwards, away from the water. He instinctively did not want that shadow, now looking more like the outline of a very tall, thin man than a suicidal insect, to touch him. The soap fell from his hand and he looked down at it, watching it bump against the cracked green tiles and come to rest by the drain. He could still smell it, that pleasant woodsy aroma, but now there was something mingling with it; a sour smell that reminded him of the packet of mushrooms that had gone bad at work last week. It made him want to gag, but he found himself unable to do so. He couldn’t move at all, his eyes fastened on that green rectangle and the gleaming silver circle it rested against.

The shower stall grew darker as the shadow came closer. With a great deal of effort he managed to close his eyes, blotting out the image of the bar of soap. If I don’t look, it can’t get me, he told himself. It was the logic of a child hiding under the covers so the monsters couldn’t get him, but he clung to it like a lifeline. Over the pounding of his heart he could hear something that made him shudder – the creak of the tap as it slowly turned.

The hiss of the water became a sigh, far too quickly fading away to a few gurgles in the drain. Above it he could hear what he could only hope was the sound of himself breathing. His cheeks ached with the efforts of holding his eyes shut, but he couldn’t open them. Don’t look, he told himself. It can’t touch you if you don’t look.

Don’t look.

 

Author’s Note – Happy Halloween, folks! Just a little scary fiction to get warmed up for NaNoWriMo. Hope you enjoyed it.

 

 

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