Smilin’ Jack, Part 2


I had forgotten, but my senses hadn’t. When he showed up again, I felt him stalking me. It started as a tickle, as if a dead finger scratched along my spine. I rose from my bed in my dorm room and dressed.

The room was hollow. My roommate moved out long ago to other rooms on his way to fleeing school. Drinking and drugs had been done in my room. Many of his friends had come over, and I had hated it all. But with his leaving, the room echoed in his absence. I was not cool enough, it seemed, to draw people near to me. I lived in a room devoid of a soul. I was not big enough to fill it up. In my apartment back home, I had been. But this was college, and I was nothing here.

I had not been out of my room in days. Classes had fallen away. All socializing had come to an end. I had wrapped myself up in darkness, unwilling to venture out even for food. It was a new kind of fugue, a kind of funk that made a ghost out of me. I was afraid to leave my room, though I didn’t know why. Afraid to go to classes, though there was no reason for it. A darkness stretched out before me. This was a year before the memories started coming back, I could feel the darkness coming. Shadows and rumors of horrors approaching and it terrified me.

I was hiding from everyone.

Cheech wanted me back. He had come to the door many times to knock and invite me to dinner, to watch a movie in his room or to run to the store. His father was rich, and he was given an ample allowance. He had every fine thing, and he often took me out to buy me gifts. He pounded on my door every day, begging me to come to the cafeteria and let him see me. He wanted to know I was OK.

She came by, too. The one woman. She knocked and begged, and every now and then, I  let her in just to see her, just to look at her, but I never ventured away with her, no matter how she begged. I was dug in, don’t you see? I was not going out there. A fog awaited me out there, and I was terrified of what was in it.

When they talked to the RA and were let in one day, I had to admit I had gone too far. I ate and let them talk to me. I even laughed a few times before disappearing again.

That day, I was sought and found. He came back to reach for me again.

I was asleep again. I would come to understand that in that weakened state, I was almost helpless to his grasping. I rose from the bed, only half awake, stuffed my legs into pants and ambled out into the hall.

The hallway was abandoned. It was a weekend maybe, but that didn’t sound right. It was too late at night for people to be walking around perhaps. What day was it exactly? I did not know. What time was it? I had no idea. I fanned it all away, trying not to care. But at that moment, I did care. I cared quite a bit, because I could feel him coming.

Like I said, I had all but forgotten him. Hadn’t thought on him for months. He was not even a distant rumbling, a dark forboding, I knew something was coming. I went back to my room to hide from it, but desperation drove me back out. I had to pee, even though I could not remember the last time I had drunk anything. I stood in my room, scared and poorly fighting back the fear. When I could not find an empty bottle or cup to piss in, when I had no options except draining in the corner, I walked out into the hall and snuck past the dorm room doors.

I wondered if the doors held back people. All at once I got the notion that the people on the other side of the doors were trapped there, that they were all wasting away, unable to care for themselves. I got the idea that they had been caged. I wished for the nerve to knock on any one of those doors, but I could not summon it up. What would I say? Would I beg them to come to the bathroom with me? I walked on, too scared to run, too desperate to go back. I reached the communal bathroom and ducked into the stall.

I sat to pee because I was dizzy. Not enough food maybe. Not enough water. Whatever it was, I was weakening, and I slumped to the bathroom quietly. I sat and drained, and before I could stand up, I felt it pull closer. I knew it then. The nerves that had been telling me to run, the thing I had been hiding from, it all came back to me, and I gagged on my horror as I felt it on the other side of the stall.

It was standing in the stall to my left, staring at the flimsy wall between us. It pressed its forehead against the wall and I knew suddenly that it had no eyes. I stood and opened the stall door slowly.

Before me sat a row of sinks, every one of them beneath a mirror. In the mirrors, I saw the stall beside me standing open, and within, it waited.

It was tall, almost as tall as seven feet, naked but covered in thick hair from brow to ankles. It reached its impossibly long arms out and slowly laid a hand on the wall between us. Very slowly and deliberately, it stretched out its arm to lay its other hand on the far wall. Its impossible arms were so long that the elbow crooked at the thigh, the arm spindly and pale. It leaned over, its hair draping down to the floor, as it slouched forward and craned its neck, as if to look around the wall.

Scream, loud and clawing. The sound of my scream terrified me. It was a sound beyond control, a sound issued from a madman. I rushed out, his reaching hand only missing me by a whisper. I ran. I ran so hard and so fast that I burst from the bathroom and slammed into the wall across the hall. I spun and headed for my room. I can’t remember if I was still screaming. I remember bouncing off the walls as I ran. I remember praying not to fall down. I remember hitting my door, ripping it open, and slamming it shut behind me.

It was still out there. I can’t tell you how I knew that. It stood outside the bathroom door, staring up the length of the hallway from me. I stood breathless, watching my door, waiting for it to come up the hall and take me away.

It knew something, something I could not bear to hear. It knew a secret that would cost me my sanity. It knew of darkness and it wanted to whisper in my ear. It wanted to wrap its impossible arms around me and squeeze.

It would be years before I heard its secret, but until I did, it would come looking for me.

It was gone now, but it would come back. We had business, we two.

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