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Everyone is familiar with the idea of a soulmate, someone meant for you, your perfect match. The missing piece of you that exists out there, off in the world, just waiting to cross your path. The idea is touching, and viewed as a little naive by most people. After all, true relationships are built on hard work and dedication, not false promises of perfection.
I met my soulmate when I was a young adult, overcome with a strange sense of being watched one night when I was out on a walk. Although I lived on a street filled with houses and life, at that hour, you’d think it was a ghost town. The perfect way to clear your thoughts, and take in the outside world without the buzz of kids and cars.
The feeling that washed over me wasn’t the same kind of fear inducing sense of being watched, it was more like a strange sense of knowing.
Except the street, aside from me, was empty for as far as I could see or hear. There was not a moment in which I had passed someone by, or heard the tell-tale scuff of shoes on pavement that told me someone else couldn’t sleep. It was dead quiet.
I chalked it up to sleep deprivation, but allowed my pace to pick up as I started back down towards my home. I want to preface this with self awareness by saying I’d always been open minded to the idea of there being more out there. Aliens, cryptids, the paranormal, anything that could be possible, was potentially possible in my mind.
That’s not to say I was a firm believer in these things. On the contrary, I’ve always been logical as can be, like anyone else this day and age. There was always the thought in the back of my mind that we can’t quite disprove life after death, or aliens existing out there, or even a cryptid or two staying isolated from us.
I also want to admit that I’ve always been an avid horror fan, with a particular small hope that something terrifyingly exciting would happen to me just once in my life.
But as we all know, you have to be careful what you wish for.
Just as the feeling of being watched, if not stalked completely at this point became suffocating, I heard him. Rather, his shoes, scuffing the pavement behind me as he jogged along to catch up to me. My back was turned to him, and I kept my eyes ahead to avoid looking paranoid. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up, goosebumps pricked up on my skin.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, a strong grip and determined fingers gently digging in with a sense of urgency.
“I don’t want to scare you, but there’s something in the bushes that’s been following you down the street for the last twenty minutes.” His voice was a bit labored, and he lacked any sense of tiredness. If I had to guess, he might’ve been riding a wave of adrenaline that had come on suddenly.
That in itself alarmed me. All evidence suggested he must’ve just come from his home, one of the ones on the street, in quite a rush to warn me about my situation. Still, I could hardly find words.
“Excuse me?” Was my voice always that small? “Someone’s following me?”
By now I was facing him. He was taller than me, not hard to do, considering I’m a young adult man standing so dashingly tall at 5’ 6. He was considerably taller, though, maybe even an entire foot. It was hard to make out his features, but I could tell he was handsome even in the dim streetlight glow.
His eyes were the loveliest shade of green.
“Not someone, something,” the stranger clarified, casting a tentative glance to the bushes across the street as if to prove a point. I swallowed, my stomach dropped with anxiety and I could feel myself tense up.
There were a million questions to ask, that I should have asked, but at the time only one went through my head.
“But I live over there, how do I get home?” My voice was a whisper, I realized. Without deciding whether I really believed this man, I found myself worried about alerting this mysterious thing that was apparently fascinated with me.
In hindsight, one might wonder whether or not he made it up just to talk to me. That’s what I believed when I had time to calm down, but right then and there, my panic was starting to take hold. Just how would I make it home if I had to cross the street, where this thing was currently hiding right now?
The stranger smiled, warm and brave. It was gentle, promising that all would be well without words.
“I’ll walk with you. Everyone knows about safety in groups, right?” He offered a hand, guiding me further down towards the crosswalk and occasionally peering behind us and back at the foliage. “I’m Rider, by the way. I’m sorry if I scared you. I woke up to use the restroom and I saw you walking down the street by yourself.”
“Elias,” was all I could manage. I was far too busy trying not to look behind us, even though my terrible curiosity wanted me to.
“I know it sounds weird, okay? I thought I was seeing things at first, and then when I saw it run across the street when you were under the lights again, I realized I wasn’t,” Rider continued, gently nudging me along the sidewalk and blocking my view of the path behind us with his body.
The rest of the short walk was silent, we were both listening out for whatever he’d seen and on our toes. But we made it just fine, and I never saw nor heard a single thing out of the ordinary. As I fumbled to unlock the door of my home, I felt sadness wash over me.
It wasn’t my own. It was foreign, alien.
Rider saw my hesitation and gave me another charming smile, filling me with the courage to start thinking for myself long enough to all but throw the door open. The poor cat was scared half to death when it hit the wall with a loud smack, staring up at us with wide eyes. All things considered, the disgruntled cat was a welcome sight.
“Well, you’re home, safe and sound,” my savior chuckled, keeping a respectful distance outside the door. I was thankful for that, I’d always been socially anxious and the idea of having to kick him out after he helped me was not a good one.
“Yeah, I sure am. Ah, thanks, for walking with me,” I murmured. Compared to Rider’s confident cadence, I sounded like a ghost who didn’t want to be seen.
Without missing a beat, Rider offered me his number and warned me against walking alone at night for various reasons.
“Especially here,” he added, as casual as someone discussing their day. “He got pretty close to you before you reached the lights.”
At the time, I thought nothing of that comment beyond Rider explaining what he saw.
After that night, my life became a lot more exciting than I asked for. For one, Rider and I became very close very quickly. Never in my life had anyone ever paid me any attention, cared about what I had to say or given me much of a second thought. Until I met Rider. Where I was appallingly, undeniably and painfully average and routine, Rider was adventurous, exciting and handsome to boot.
You can probably guess that we were dating before long. It was just a casual relationship beginning, and we were slowly spending more time together to try and ease into a more serious one. As it stood, he never stayed overnight because he knew how much it stressed me out to be around someone for more than a few hours. That was another amazing thing about him, he understood my defects enough to accommodate them. It touched me that someone thought I was worth that effort.
So, casual it was.
Until late April, well into the night. Ever since the incident before, I’d stopped my night walks and taken to new coping methods in my home when I felt anxious. Rider had helped me many a time when I’d called him on the verge of a panic attack while he was dead asleep, helping me form new hobbies or things to keep me busy that wouldn’t put me in as much danger as being out alone at night would.
He cared about me, after all.
It was late again, just passed midnight when I curled up on the couch and turned on the TV for background noise. My sketchbook was out on my lap, and my hands fiddling with a pencil while I tried to decide what to draw. Feeling confident I wouldn’t need to disturb Rider’s sleep tonight, I decided to draw him and give it to him as a gift when we next met up. Silly, I know, but I was so grateful to him.
And then there was a knock at the window across from me.
Tap…. tap…. tap…..
The knocking was almost nervous. Nowhere near as nervous as I was when I lifted my gaze from the paper in front me, up to the window across the room. It was well lit in here, and terribly hard to see anything outside. I could hardly see at all, save for two pairs of glowing red eyes staring back at me.
I almost choked on my own fear, anxiety rising as fast as my pulse as my hand slapped around for my phone. A few moments of sheer panic, and then my fingers smacked the familiar cold and flat surface, and I was dialing Rider’s number in an instant.
“There’s something outside my window… Please help me,” I croaked, still making full eye contact with the intruder watching me. Rider gave no verbal response, but I could hear him rushing out of bed and pulling clothes on. It was no more than five minutes later that he was at my door, disheveled.
As shocking as the ordeal was, it was even more shocking when Rider all but ran for the back window. For the first time since I’d known him, I saw a flash of rage on his face I never thought he was capable of.
Only when Rider ripped the back door open did the thing outside look away from me. I couldn’t hear anything over my partner’s furious cursing, his body stiff and face red with anger as he paced the back yard and shouted after the thing. Rider didn’t come back inside for a long time.
When he did, he looked exhausted, like he’d been busy at work. But when I inquired, Rider simply made me promise never to go outside when I see it again, and to always call him first. Always. There was a hint of something dangerous in his tone, something angry, daring me to protest.
But I smiled weakly and told him of course I’d call him, he was my hero after all. And I told myself he was only angry because he was scared.
That seemed to calm Rider down, and he relaxed and came inside. For the first time, he stayed the night with me. I don’t know if it was because of what happened, or the air of uneasiness that settled over me like a fog, but I couldn’t sleep at all that night. Even though the only person who’d ever protected me and respected me was sound asleep next to me, it felt wrong.
It felt bad.
Eventually, I quietly slipped from my room and returned to the couch. As I finally started to drift off to sleep, and my consciousness lapsed into dreams, I once again caught the gaze of the eyes from before. There was something so, so upset about them. Sadness that knew no bounds. Anger that could rend entire worlds, and send the gods to their knees.
I slept until I was awoken by Rider grabbing me rather violently by the arm and yanking me off of the couch. He was shouting at me, but I’d just woken up, I couldn’t make sense of it in my haze. The back door was open, my furniture had been upturned and broken. My senses didn’t return until the pain from a hard slap to the face knocked them right back into place.
Rider hit me.
That same day, he declared — not asked, declared that he would be living with me from then on. I was too affection-starved to say no. If this was the only person who would care about me, the only one for me, then so be it. No one can survive alone.
Things fell back into some semblance of normalcy for a while. And I learned very quickly to stop reporting anymore “incidents” of being watched to Rider if I didn’t want to be punished for them. I’d never been one to socialize much, but I was also punished if I attempted to go out or contact family.
One night in utter defiance, I walked out and spent a night to myself in town. Deep down I knew I only stayed out so long because I was terrified to return home, Rider would be furious and I knew even though it felt wrong I’d be on my knees begging him to love me, apologizing for being the ungrateful worthless pig I was.
By the time I did get home, Rider was already asleep. But he made sure to make his point; my phone was smashed to pieces on the kitchen floor and the note next to it warned me that it I ever did this again, my legs would receive the same treatment.
I like to think of myself as strong, but I’m not. I started crying, unable to understand how or why someone who treated me so amazingly had come to treat me like I was nothing in such a shockingly short time. A toxic whiplash, stinging my skin and burrowing deep, deep into my gut.
And that’s how it was from then on for the next year. My time outside was limited to an hour a day, and I was not to take it first thing in the morning or any time Rider was sleeping. The eyes outside the window became the only routine I had anymore, each time I saw them I kept it to myself. But it hurt, the eyes, they were so upset.
I could relate to that.
On my birthday Rider decided to celebrate by locking me in my room for most of the day and at the end of it, attempting to force himself on me. I say attempting because my memory of what happened next is extremely hazy, and not because he succeeded in being a total piece of shit.
No, it’s because of what I saw. The window shattered, glass splinters flew this way and that. The roar coming from it shook the walls, I swear, shook them so hard I thought they’d fall. As a large, red-eyed form entered my peripheral vision, I squeezed my eyes shut. Stupid as it was, in that instance, my only thought was that I was going to die and this time, Rider wouldn’t protect me.
Besides the roar, there wasn’t any noise beyond a sudden, wet tearing sound and a violent splatter. My memory cut out here, it’s just blackness. But they told me later that Rider’s body had been reduced to the human equivalent of wet tissue paper, all over my bedroom. They told me someone in my home dialed the police, but no one actually spoke to them or told them anything.
I don’t know how I got from the bedroom to the living room. There’s a vague memory of large, cold arms on my back. The warning bite of clawed fingers on my side. They said when they found me, I was hysterical. I was begging for him to come back. “I don’t want to be alone again, please!”
They assumed I was talking about Rider, whose killer was never caught. The police ruled me out as a suspect pretty quickly. I’m small and, when they found me, malnourished severely. Rider only let me eat if I weighed less than a certain number on any given day.
Last night, I was finally able to come home after my home was cleaned and restored. Everything felt empty and lifeless, drained of all meaning, painfully lonely. As anyone can guess, I spent all evening in one of my worst panic attacks to date, crying so hard that I had to sit by the toilet because I was throwing up. Too afraid to sleep in my old room, I instead resigned to the familiarity of my couch.
Again, as I was drifting into sleep, I saw two pairs of red eyes watching me from outside. This time, there was no sadness. Not like before, at least. It was a empathetic sadness, as if we were understanding what tragic lives we’d both lived thus far in one glimpse.
Recognition dawned on me, words not from me probing into my mind clumsily. As awkward as my attempts to speak with anyone else. I sent back encouragement, careful, with what little light I had left in myself. The eyes widened slightly, and then softened.
Memories that were not mine eased into my mind. The perspective from the outside of my home at night, glancing inside. Rider producing knives, waiting for me to sleep. Rider at his own home that first night I let him stay, measuring out pill dosages that would kill someone of my height and weight. That very first night we met, Rider watching me from his window, a dark idea blooming in his expression.
I understood, then, that this red eyed being had been protecting me all along. Each time I was supposed to die, it had purposefully provoked Rider’s ire to redirect his attention. It couldn’t be there during the day, but at night, it was free to roam.
And I understood then, that Rider had never charmed or comforted me in some mysterious way I couldn’t explain. That this being had been sending me comfort, bravery and the will to calm for my own sake whenever it could.
When I woke the next morning, I also understood why Rider never allowed me to glance or step foot outside until he’d woken and cleared the home of whatever evil the thing haunting us left behind.
Scattered all along the perimeter of my home were the most beautiful red flowers I’d ever seen.