I awake with a start, in my room above the kitchen. I sleep there during the winter and early spring, because it was warmer than my cold room on the other side of the large, Southern style home. Something's in the room, the small cramped window opened, a cool breeze blowing through. That was what woke me. I convince myself that it's just a bit of fear. Too many scary movies before sleep.
I swing off the bed, stepping into my slippers, trying find the light. The lamp crashes suddenly, though not by my hand. I half turn, and can just make out the shape of a deeper darkness in the gloom. That settles it. It doesn't even take a second thought. I whirl in my slippers and almost crash into the door, swinging it open with so much force that the door knob knocks a hole in the wall. I scramble down the spiral stairs, tripping on the last one and slamming into the wall across from it, careening off of it as I've done in the past, my head reeling. From the kitchen, into the over decorated parlor, slamming into a new table. That wasn't there this morning. I stumble down the hall. The front door is a key locking deadbolt. My fist slams into it, and I curse under my breath violently.
On the right, a door. I rip it open, stepping inside, moving as quickly and quietly up the servant's stairs as quickly as I can, praying the intruder mistakes the door to the stairs as a closet door, like I did the very first time I walked through the house. Being chased, but I don't know by what. Up the stairs. To the right, the servant's rooms. To the left, the master suite through a pair of french doors, and from the master suite, the balcony. I head for it, trying to put distance between me and my pursuerer. Slippered feet move over the hard wood floors far too fast, and I lose my balance, skidding into the master bedroom's glass door. I hear the servant's door being ripped open.
Glass shatters everywhere around me, in a cacophony of song and dancing edges, but I'm amazingly unharmed. Rushing to my feet, carefully avoiding the broken glass, I run onto the balcony, the only place left I can get to, except the third floor attic room, which has no way out.
The balcony. Maybe thirty feet wide and ten feet deep, in the style of old Southern mansions, set back into the building... Swinging over the side railing, I edge along as far as I can to one side and then swing my legs over, slowly. The slate is slick with rain, and I almost lose my grip... The column down the side is slick, too, but that's to my advantage. I slide down easily, despite the lack of pants, and land with enough force to knock the breath out of me. It takes me a moment, but I'm up and moving again, trying to be free of what persues me. My head is still reeling from the slam into the wall, and my stomach aches from the collision with the table.
Down the bank, towards the river. For some reason, I think I can out swim this threat. I'm staying barely a step ahead of it now. It didn't have to slide down, it just jumped. Down the slick and muddy bank, I slide, losing my balance and falling down the small drop of five feet. Thick grass is replaced by sand with the occasional bit of crab grass, and I slam into it with the force of velocity and gravity behind me. Again the breath is knocked out of me. The slippers are useless now, and I tug them off, rising up from the sand, shoving myself up and rushing along the sandy little beach.
My hair is matting to my head as I run along the beach, skinny legs pumping. I glance over my shoulder for the first time. Mistake. Barely a foot behind me. I run harder, and leap into the water full force, not bothering to wade, diving in without fear. The water is freezing, and the current is already strong, only a few feet away from the beach, but I'm a strong swimmer, and I cut through the water far better than I should, fear motivating me.
The Ohio river is less than pleasant, and I normally don't go swimming in it, even when with friends. It's a sewer in some places, most of the people in the country areas having drains from their septic tanks.
I don't think about it. I continue to swim and rush through the water. The strong current is working against me, and I'm already tiring, less than a forth of the way across. The chase has been going only minutes, and I already feel like I've run a marathon. I begin to swim more with my arms, trying to rest my legs.
My persurer is slower in water, and that's good for me, because I'm fast. The shirt is slowing me down, but without it I'd be almost naked, and so I leave it on in some strange display of modesty.
I continue swimming for my life, coming up for air for the second or third time, I've lost count. Down again, and I continue swimming. The oncoming beach looks so far away, but it's closer than it seems. It's not even half a mile where I entered, but I'm being carried off course by the current, and it's getting harder to swim through it, and it's getting getting even harder now.
For a moment, I consider letting the current pull me under. But I need to make it across. For some reason, getting to West Virginia will save me.
I've swum across the invisible line of the border now, and I'm in West Virginia, and I'm almost free, the beach closer, so close I can almost touch it.
And that's when something grabs my ankle, and I'm pulled under, into the less than fresh river water, taking a gasping breath...
Moments later I come up for air, sputtering and lashing out with both feet, digging into the soft sand below me, pulling free of the water and muck and dropping down, exhausted. If it's still following me, now is when it will take me, as I try to regain my strength. Soaked to the skin and covered in river mud, I force my hair back from my face and roll over onto my stomach, trying to rise. I can't, and collapse into the sand, into oblivion, and I dream.
Gallipolis, Ohio. Not a bustling metropolis, to say the least. I'll never understand why my mother bought the house we moved into. Well, at least not at that location. We moved from the bustling city life of Columbus to the slow and placid life of Gallipolis, because my mom got a new job. Hospital administrator. So the price of the house? Not that big a concern.
A single parent, my mother has raised me since I was about five. I'm sixteen now. Anyway, Gallipolis. It's a little podunk town smack in the middle of no where. The Ohio river and fertile farm land are the only things it has going for it, and, honestly, the place is slowly dying, seeping its population to larger areas of less despairing means. There's very little middle ground in Gallipolis. Either you're well off, or you're poor. When we moved in, there wasn't even a Wal-Mart.
We moved when I was thirteen. Problems with the neighborhood getting worse, my grades dropping and other factors led to mom taking the new job and packing us up... Don't get me wrong. The house was beautiful, but it was in the middle of about five or ten acres of land and was the only house on either side for a good ten minutes, walking. Three or four on a bike...
And then there was another minor problem. Gallipolis is a town of mostly middle aged folks, with relatively few kids. The birth rate's low, and I know why, now, but I didn't at the time.
Not to ramble, but the house is important. Technically, it's a part of Crown City's township, but everyone just relegates it to Gallipolis. Gallipolis high school, specifically Gallia Academy High School, and it's quicker, from our house, to drive to Gallipolis... I'm rambling. But I want you to understand what this place is like... On the other side of the Ohio River, which once brought money from coal transport and probably fishing, at some point, West Virginia. For those who do not live in rural areas, let me explain something now. The people in these areas, specifically Gallia County, are poor, mean, and quite possibly drunk or on drugs. That's not to say that there's no one decent. Quite the opposite. But in general, when people are poor and unhappy, they turn to booze.
So, I've told you about the area, now I'll tell you about the house. The first time we did a walk through of it, mom fell in love all over again. See, when she was little, HER parents rented the place for years, but they had to move due to my grandmother's sudden death and my grandfather's deteriorating health. The house stood empty for only a year or so, and then a new family bought it and moved in. By the time mom was old enough to try and buy it with the inheritance grandfather left, the owners weren't interested in selling. It passed through five or six different families, and they all moved out after about five or so years, give or take. I think the realtor said that the family previous to the ones we bought it from lived there a month.
I'm rambling again. The house. Big is the best word to describe it. But not overpowering or even imposing. Built in the late 1800's, it featured the Southern style plantation type of grace, though it was too late for that period. Three stories, plus a basement, it was almost more a series of interconnected buildings, in some ways, which has more to do with later owners adding on and remodelling than it does the original plans. Originally a house for a weathly lord and lady, the house featured six bedrooms, plus the refinished attic that could be used as a bedroom, the third story. Three of the bedrooms are the 'Master Suite', which is what mom and I jokingly called it, because it was obviously not meant for servants. Two of the bedrooms shared a bathroom, while the master bedroom had the luxury of a bath and shower all to itself, as well as a walk in closet big enough to turn into another room. The 'Master Suite' was seperated from the 'Servant's Quarters' by a french door and gauzy curtains, and they could be accessed via seperate stairwells, as well, so that the lord and lady never need be disturbed by the sight of their servants doing their daily work.
I had my pick of the rooms when we moved in, except the master room in the suite, and, for added privacy, I chose the bigger bedroom in the servant's quarters. Moving in day came, and I began to help mom with the heavier furniture, just the two of us. A skinny legged thirteen year old and an out of shape fourty six year old. My mom's not fat, but she's rubenesque in a pleasant fashion. It took us forever moving the furniture, and for some reason, mom decided that taking stuff up the spiral stairway in the large room at the back of the house was more fun than taking the servant's stairs, perfectly straight with a nice landing, secreted behind a door that strongly resembled a large linen closet.
Somehow, we managed to get her bed up the stairs piece by piece, and then set it up. Next, my bed, my computer table and I carried up my computer supplies myself. Computer nerd, self admitted. I won't bore you with the details, but we had the house set up in record time and feeling like home inside of five days. Summer ended, and school started. Being so skinny, and having long, kind of lanky hair and an actual brain, I wasn't exactly ostrasized on the first day, but watched as one watches an exotic animal. The reason, I think, I ended up being accepted is that mouse brown hair and cow brown eyes aren't particularly threatening, and I tried hard to be friendly.
Accepted does not, however, mean that I made friends. I was a loner before, and didn't change that here. Not anti-social, just not particularly interested in the goings on of the town. Cow tipping, after all, is not my idea of fun.
That fall, mom made me try out for swim team. I'm an accomplished swimmer, nothing Olympic quality, but I'm a good swimmer. I learned swimming in the public pools, but that's beside the point.
I made the team, and for the next several months, practiced, competed and so on. Never placed, but I always came in close after the leader, which was enough for me. After that season, though, I quit swim team. I kept up the practice routine, though. Still skinny armed and skinny legged, despite my daily exercise routine, at least I was stronger.
That first winter, my bedroom, being on the wind facing side, being in shade all day and being the room furthest from the heater, was freezing. Too cold to sleep in. I moved to the guest bedroom above the kitchen, not taking my computer with me. I spent my free time in my bedroom, and slept in the guest room to keep warm. Heating a big, old house can be hard, and we had to make do that year. I moved back to the cooler room when late spring arrived.
Mom kept odd hours, being an administrator. Some nights she would be home, some she'd be gone until sunset the next day, depending on what was needed. Still, I was old enough to take care of myself.
The summer I hit fifteen was the year I first started noticing things at night. The house creaked in strange ways, sometimes... And at others, it felt like there were eyes watching me from the dark. It only seemed to happen when mom was gone, which was unnerving enough. Still, the watching was not malevolent, merely a presense in the house, a neutral force awaiting judgement.
Mom's schedule changed, some, and she was home more often at night, toward the end of summer, which was just as well. I felt like the house was watching me, at night. As much as I loved our new home, I was getting a little freaked.
When I hit sixteen, the eyes... changed, seemed to suddenly develop a darkness to them as they watched me sleep. My dreams grew fitful. I took down the shelves in my room because things would fall off them or be moved, sometimes breaking, sometimes not. At times, it was as if things were accidentally nudged off, at others, like someone picked items up and forcefully threw them to the ground.
I changed rooms before I should have for the year. Rather than moving closer to my mom's room, I moved across the house, to the guest room above the kitchen, which was much warmer. I needed the warmth to keep the night chills at bay, now...
I reawaken with a start, realizing, of all things, that the sun is rising and reflecting off the river. For a moment, I'm convinced I'm dreaming, until I sit up, my clothing stiff with mud and sand, my skin clammy from the night out in the cool weather. I look across the river with apprehension, surprised to see exactly how far I came the night before. The house is a good distance upstream, and I'm way too close to the bridge for my own comfort. Homeless people live there, surprisingly enough, under the bridge near Gallipolis.
My limbs ache from over exertion, and my forehead has a sizeable lump on one side, but nothing's broken. I frown to myself and claw my way up the riverbank, walking upstream slowly. There are houses, nearby. Last night seems like a nightmare... I begin to wonder if I was sleepwalking, until I glance across at my home again, and see police lights flashing from the river boats and cars searching for me. Mom must have called them in. I wave my arms and try to make a larger target of myself on the hill top, and soon get the attention of one of the boat patrols.
Safely on the boat and wrapped in a warm blanket, I'm driven back across the river, where my mother waits. Given time to sluece the river mud off, I clean up and dress in real clothing, only to be bundled off to the county hospital and subjected to a series of X-Rays and other such fun tests. On the way, the police tell me I was lucky to have escaped the punks who broke in, last night, and that swimming for it saved my life. The house down the road had been ransacked after ours, and those inhabitants weren't so lucky. It was gruesome, everything torn to shreds...
By the time I got to the hospital, I had convinced myself it was a weird coping mechanism. Rather than people breaking in, it simply had to be monsters...
Six weeks later, winter was truly setting in. The bump to my forehead had finally faded, and my wrist, which was apparently sprained, is now out of its brace. Life has returned to normal, though rumors still buzz about what happened that night. I, of course, am a prime subject of rumors, as the one that escaped to safety.
By Christmas, the new neighbors had moved in, and, despite being aware of the grisly events that had happened in the home, were insistant on taking the place. The price was just too good to let a little something like an elderly couple being brutalized in the front parlor get to them.
by January, it's all but forgotten, yet another example of inner city violence leaking out into the countryside.
With bars over the windows, and new, solid doors replacing the flimsy glass balcony doors, the house seems fortified. Mom even springs a little extra on fire wood for the fire place in my summer room, and I move back there, away from bad memories and half dreams. Still, unexplained things happen when mom's away. The coffee table in the parlor keeps shifting from where it goes to other positions in the room, causing me to constantly trip on it to the point that I actually just finally stand it up out of the way, much to mom's amusement.
February comes around, and with it, St. Valentine's Day. I get a few cards, people trying to be nice, and one rather creepy girl who obsesses over anyone who smiles at her. I finally have to stop smiling, because it's almost as creepy as that night, frankly.
The night of the 14th, the school is supposed to have a big dance. I, in my status of computer nerd and wall flower... Stay home. Of course.
Alone again, I stretch out on my bed and read for a while, as nothing interesting seems to be happening online. My webcam is on, as it generally is. Dozing off with the book next to me, I wake to a sudden ill feeling in the pit of my stomach and roll over onto my back slowly, staring up. On the ceiling, in the gloom... the eyes watching me. Blacker than the night around them, I can make out only that detail, and I stifle a scream as I stare back. Those eyes know I'm awake. There's no pretending I'm not. No amount of prayer will make this turn into a dream, and the mostly forgotten memories from late fall tease about the edges of my mind in warning.
I stay perfectly still, trying not to breathe too deeply, blinking only when absolutely nessisary.
Between the split second my eyelids come down and reopen, the deeper darkness above me is gone. I cringe inwardly, my fingers digging into the sheets. It could be anywhere in the room. The bed stirs My monitor suddenly comes to life, illuminating the room in brightness, and involuntarily, I jerk upright, staring at the screen. The bright glow illuminates the whole of the room, and my voice catches on a sob of relief when I see nothing on the floor or in the shadows, though I'm hardly so stupid as to step off the bed and test my luck. I've seen enough horror movies to know, that's when you get pulled under the bed.
I eyeball the clock next to my bed. Sunrise soon, and then school. The room that had seemed so safe to be now felt hollow, somehow violated by the thing in the darkness.
In times of crisis, people react in different ways. Some collapse. Some pray for guidence or strength. Others act. I am one of the final group. However, when circumstances prevent me from acting, I think.
I thought harder that night than ever before, busily memorizing every detail of the beast above me, finally risking death by reaching off the bed and turning on my bedside lamp.
Shortly before sunrise, I rise from the bed and move toward the computer.
... Of all things, someone requesting permission to view my webcam saved my life. That request, and my PC's automatic approval, had stirred my PC out of its power saving mode...
All flippancy aside, I shook harder that night than I had ever before in my years, and it did not stop until well after lunch time. Somehow, despite the depressing grind of the American education system, I found it hard to maintain my fear in the harsh fluerescent lights of the school.
The fear was brought home once more when I returned from school and caught the first image the camera had grabbed. My shadow fanning out behind me in a parody of the creature, I sat bolt upright in terror, frozen in time on the monitor, hair tangled and matted down. It was a stark reminder of many nights of fear in the dark, and I found it hard to concentrate the rest of the evening, and impossible to dismiss as night terrors, as my mother did.