It was one of those times when you start awake suddenly with the feeling of being watched. You know – you might be in an uncomfortable position, the covers may have slipped to the side leaving part of your back exposed, but you refrain from shifting position so as to not provoke your dark, intangible observer. For several minutes, your hairs may prickle, you may take to breathing in quick, shallow puffs, and you keep your eyes squeezed safely shut for fear that they may seek a grotesque figure in the shadows.
However, this time, it didn’t go away after a few minutes. I had dreamt of sinking rapidly in a river – faster than natural, faster than falling even. The water seared past my face and my eyes, and I frantically twisted and strained my wrists against the knotted rope that bound them. The light above was tinted a deep green and faded far too fast, a grim omen of despair. I closed my eyes and tried to scream; my mouth filled with water. It tasted like blood. As the river tore at my skin and burned my lungs, I opened my eyes to a grinning skull not four inches away, and shuddered to consciousness.
My left arm was bent awkwardly under my stomach and beginning to fall asleep. My right foot stuck slightly out from the protection of my blanket. But, my primal instinct led me to freeze, and listen, and await.
The dream had made me uneasy, perhaps, but I have never been an overly nervous person. Sure, after watching a creepy movie, I’ll check the shadows, and turn on the lights, and shut the curtains for fear of being met with another set of eyes upon looking out. But these notions passed, and I recovered, and I breathed easily. There is another degree of fear that is not so easily shaken; that which forewarns imminent and real danger. Young deer, and similar animals, will naturally tense up in the presence of a predator, hoping to rely on the camouflage of a shrub or bush to compensate for what they lack in physical vigor. As soon as they detect a nearby threat, they freeze, and remain rigid, hoping desperately for the danger to overlook them and press onward. The eerie thing is, however, that they will do this even when they don’t perceive the threat; young gazelle will exhibit this behavior even when a lion is behind a one-way mirror, with no way to be seen, or heard, or smelt. They can tell when they are being watched, even when no biological means of sensing it is present. They just know; they just fear.
And I felt as though I was being watched that night. As much as I willed myself to shift, to adjust, I could not bring myself to do so. My skin crawled with anticipation. My ears perked to alertness. My heart raced in my chest.
I thought about the skull in my dream. Dared I risk open my eyes? What if the apparition were to be there, hovering over my bed, waiting for that moment? I took a deep breath. And I slowly forced my eyes open.
There was no skull floating before my eyes, although I could not see much of anything. Across the room, on my desk, my alarm clock flashed 2:13 in blocky red digits. The rest of my room remained submerged in darkness. I shut my eyes in relief.
A creak. Was I sure I heard it? It came from the floor just outside my closet. I held my breath, but the sound did not come again. My house wasn’t old, but it did settle like any large wooden structure. I exhaled. My arm was still awkwardly bent under me. I tensed my muscles nervously. I still felt so much like an infant gazelle, frozen in a bush to avoid the lion behind the glass. Except I knew that I had no such protection.
The floorboard creaked again, bolder. This time I was less willing to blame it on the settling of a house, it was too heavy, too deliberate. My heart fluttered; my eyes raced behind closed lids. It was at this point that I first thought that it was more than misguided instinct that left me so alert. I opened my eyes.
The room was still dark. The alarm clock flashed 2:21 in blocky red digits. My eyes searched the shadows near where I knew my closet was located. They found only darkness. For all I knew, there could be someone standing there, with a knife or a gun, but I had no means of perception. I shut my eyes and shuddered.
The third time, I was certain that I had heard a person, for not only did I hear a creak, but a footfall. My eyes shot open. I broke my bounds of motionlessness and jolted upright. My heart frantically beat the inside of my ribcage, and my breath caught in the back of my throat. I looked across the room.
All I saw was darkness.
I could not see the clock.
THERE WAS SOMETHING BETWEEN ME AND THE CLOCK.
I half-gasped, and tried to scream, but it stuck in my throat like a hiccup, or like in a dream. I convulsed, threw my bedsheets aside, scrambled backward on my hands, tried to back away, when a dark figure lunged forward from the sea of darkness…
AND HIS NAME WAS JOHN CENA!
Trumpets blared. The floodlights switched on. And before I knew it, I was being pummeled by a 251-pound ex-military pro wrestler. He threw a right hook. It landed true. My face cried, but my heart knew only raw delight. He lifted me above his head, and threw me onto the ground at full force. The trumpets blared. I smiled as I bled. John Cena stood above me with a confident smile.
“Don’t forget to brush your teeth, kids,” he said with his rich, deep, Cena voice.
Of course, I thought.
He punted me from the ring.
Thank you, John Cena.