Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I had been in the apartment about 6 months when I started to see them. They should’ve scared me but they didn’t. The only thing I felt at first, as I recall, was fascination. To me it seemed as though it were happening to someone else. It was as if I were watching them on TV from very far away. In those moments I felt detached from my body. Looking back it seems to me I was under a sort of spell. Or perhaps there was something about my mind that allowed me to accept their existence contrary to all life’s normalcy I had experienced up to that point. However one looks at it, I should’ve been afraid.
I think my dachshund noticed them first. Actually I’m sure of it. Before then he was extremely quiet; he never barked and only whined when I left him alone. That’s why it was unusual when he began barking at seemingly nothing. At first I thought he was hearing rustling from the neighbors or people on the street. I guess that’s what I thought for quite a while until I saw one of them as the dog began barking directly at it.
They were fast when they wanted to be. I didn’t see much, just a dark, cat-sized blur. In hindsight, I don’t think I ever saw their real form, if they even have one, because they always looked different. One minute they were the size of a mouse then they seemed to envelope the entire room. I tried to tell myself they were just shadows but I could feel them. They had substance. It was as if, whatever part of my body they touched became part of them. That part of my body became cold then colder then numb then it wasn’t a part of me at all, it was theirs. As they retracted back into the wall that part of me they touched slowly came back to me. No, that’s not right. I was never the same after they touched me that first time. I’m not sure, it’s all so confusing now.
They weren’t ghosts. I thought maybe they were but now I’m sure they weren’t. Whatever they were, once they touched me they were able to follow me out of the apartment and into the real world. Maybe they hid in my pockets. All I know is I started seeing them everywhere. They would ooze through the slats in the blinds and block out the sun. They would darken alley ways to total darkness and slide through the mortar consuming the facades of the buildings I passed. If I had been afraid from the start; if I wouldn’t have let them touch me, then I would’ve left and I’d still have my dog.
No one believes me. Sometimes I think I’m crazy but where is the dog? Everyone thinks I just lost him but I didn’t. I don’t think I did. I’m sure they took him. The dog isn’t the only one. There were others taken, strangers and acquaintances. They were there one day, gone the next; there one minute, gone the next. No one knew who I was talking about when I asked what happened to them.
“Who?” They’d ask.
“That lady who was making copies right behind us 60 seconds ago,” I’d say.
“I didn’t see her,” or “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” It was always the same.
Sometimes I’d think I just didn’t see them walk away but then it would happen in an elevator and the person behind me would just disappear without the door opening on any floor. And sometimes in the middle of small talk; in the middle of a sentence, they’d vanish. I never seemed to be looking directly at them so I never saw it happen. But I felt the cold and something like static cling that made my hair raise and my flesh goose all over. I felt the vacuous suck of their going and then they were just gone. I never knew them personally which made it seem like I was hallucinating and I certainly thought I was crazy often enough.
Every time they would go, there was something in my peripheral vision that was nearly recognizable. Like Déjà vu or when you have a word on the tip of your tongue. There was something so familiar right as they were being taken.
I get the feeling that I knew the people who were taken. People that I was close to but because they were taken I can’t remember them. Perhaps that Déjà vu sensation is my memory of that person slipping away. I can’t even say with certainty that anything happened as I have no firm memories of these missing strangers except my dog. Maybe that’s because I really did lose my dog on my own. I was so busy trying to understand what was happening around me that I neglected to pay close enough attention to him. But, no, he was in the apartment with me the last time I saw him. I can’t remember them taking him but I’m sure they did. I’m sure of it.
It seems like a dream now but I think I went to that place to get my dog back. I let them envelope me whole. There was a woman there. I can’t recall anything about her. I know that I felt that I knew her. She was my wife. But that can’t be right, I’m not married. I never found the dog and I don’t know how I got back. Maybe it was a dream.
One day I awoke to find I was already in the bathroom getting ready for work. When I opened the bathroom door there I was with a Q-tip jammed in my ear. I didn’t seem to notice myself. I was confused but not scared. I should’ve been scared. Why wasn’t I scared? I should’ve been scared out of my mind during this whole time in my life but I wasn’t. I was constantly trying to retrace my steps to recall how I got to each bizarre moment.
I got dressed and followed myself out of the house and got into the back seat of the car and rode with me to work. I followed myself around all day, saying nothing, just observing. No one seemed to notice me except the woman in the elevator. She didn’t see me at first but then she did a double take in my direction. She gasped and backed up against the back of the elevator but there wasn’t a back to the elevator any more. It was just an empty void now. She seemed to fall in slow motion into the void and disappear. I had tried to reach for her, to save her but in a second she was gone. She slipped, totally silently, into the darkness. The other me glanced over his shoulder and looked shocked to be staring at an empty elevator. I started to tell him that I had tried to save her but then I remembered that he couldn’t see or hear me so I mumbled and fell back against the wall. I told myself that this was probably a dream anyway and not to worry. I followed myself home, watched myself eat dinner, watched myself watch TV, watched myself feed and walk the dog and then I watched myself go to bed. I slept on the couch and when I awoke the next day I was in my bed, I was alone and the dog was gone.
Every remnant of him was gone. There was no food or water bowl. There was no dog hair, dog toys, leash or anything else one might associate with owning a dog. There were no pictures. It was as if I had never owned him or as if he had never been at all.
What was I doing in the street? I was watching myself, through the blinds from my bedroom window. It was definitely me and I was walking my dog. I watched myself approach my building and disappear from view. I waited for the sound of the key in the lock. I waited for the door to open. Nothing happened. I was alone.
I went to the bathroom mirror and stared intently at myself. I turned my head slowly from side to side, never breaking eye contact. I mimicked myself perfectly. It was almost as if it were just a reflection. Maybe it was just a reflection. I saw one of them in the mirror slipping down the shower curtain like black beads of water. I turned the light off and returned to bed.
On another occasion I opened a book that was lying on my coffee table. It had no title or wording of any kind on the spine or the cover. I supposed it was a journal but I had never seen it before. I flipped through it and could see written words; my hand writing. I hadn’t written my name on the inside cover but I was sure it was my writing. There was one blank page then the entries began. There were indentation and paragraph breaks but no page numbers. I began to read.
I began to read about myself and the dog and the things that lived in the walls. I read about the disappearance of the strangers and following myself to work. I read about my wife. She had lived here with me. It was just the three of us. Why don’t I remember her? I shut the book. I felt in that moment that my life was a dream, that I had been asleep. I felt miles away from myself. One of the things oozed from the wall toward me.
Inside its black dimensions I could see nothing. It was as if a hole were floating across the room, over surfaces, consuming everything it touched only to expel it immediately as it moved ever closer. I was mesmerized. It was like looking into the part of my brain that creates dreams. It’s form was relatively stable but there was a vastness to its innards that made my head swim with thoughts of space and infinity. I began to panic as a drowning sensation slowly choked me. It seemed to take forever for the creature to find me. The light dimmed and the apartment stretched in slow motion. The thing slipped onto the table and swallowed the book. It barely touched my knee and began to recede back to its cave in the wall. The book was gone. The light flickered and I thought I saw my dog in the strobe. I blinked and he was gone. I was alone again.
That night I had a dream about being married. We did everything together. She was my friend. We didn’t fight. It seemed so familiar yet it was like watching the events of someone else’s life. None of her features seemed to stay constant. She was always pretty but everything was in constant flux. Every time I thought I had a good look at her it was as if someone dropped a pebble into water causing ripples in my memory. Still though, I had the sense of loving her very much and missing her terribly. It was a memory of a memory of grief. Then she walked into the wall where one of them manifested. I wanted to stop her but I couldn’t move; I couldn’t speak. I watched in horror and sadness as the blackness took her. She was gone. I was alone again.
As I stared after her, trying to will her back, I began to think about the void; the nothingness. I tried to imagine nothingness and couldn’t, even though it seemed I had a perfect example right in front of me. I couldn’t blink and I couldn’t move. The longer I stared the darker it became. Blackness began to crowd in around me. I began to panic and sweat. My heart began to race. Eventually I regained myself and I could move but I was inside the blackness now. I was consumed. I was on the couch I had been on in my living room with my wife. I could see myself and the couch clearly but there was nothing else. It was black as pitch and just as infinite. I stood and walked in the direction she went.
I thought I’d walk on and on forever. It didn’t feel like a dream any more. In fact this felt more real than anything I can remember. I was inside me and very sure of the space I took up. I felt blood flow through my veins and my pulse beat in my wrist. It was a strange combination of elation and sadness. I had a sense of my own realness; my own being but it hardly mattered now that I was lost to the world. I walked on.
I came to a door. I saw it as a thin vibrating rectangle in the distance; the way a mirage on a deserted highway on a moonless night might appear. The door was simple; white with four panels and a brass knob. I turned the knob and walked through. I was in an empty square room. There were four windowless, white walls, a wooden floor, a chair and a table. A single bulb hung over the table illuminating the room well enough. On the table was a single volume. It was the book that disappeared from my coffee table. I opened it. It was empty. There was a pen. I sat down and began to write.