Authors: Liana Hakes-Rucker
Tags: #schizophrenia, #humor, #paranormal, #urban fantasy
By Liana Hakes-Rucker
Copyright 2011 Liana
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Hot water beats on my shoulders and pools
around my feet. The drain is slow again. The bottom of the tub is
slimy with soap scum from yesterday's shower, and the one before
that, and the one before that. How long has it been since the drain
worked? I'm rinsing my hair now. Water is up to my ankles. I don't
mind. I appreciate a foot soak. The soft thud, boom, thud of a
stereo pulses through the wall from my neighbor's apartment. I
close my eyes. Boom, da, da, thud, bang, bang. It must be a video
game. The bass beats in time to my heart, or else my heart adjusts
itself to the music. The shower curtain sticks to my arm as I turn
my face into the spray. The thump, thump, pulse gets a little
louder. Jesus, how can that guy even hear anything over that
"Ah!" soap in my eye. "Fuck!" I taste soap in
my mouth. Wet plastic jostles against my shoulder as I rub my eye
under the water. Pulse, pulse, boom. I can't even hear the water
sloshing around my legs. Pulse, pulse. I blink my eyes open just as
the lights flicker. No, that wasn't a flicker. Something moved in
front of the bulb. I begin to turn when, boom, thud, thud, the
curtain closes around me. I feel arms, like a meat vice,
restraining me through the plastic. Pulse, pulse, wriggle, kick.
Slosh, I am aware of my legs beating against tile and porcelain.
All I can see is wet plastic just before the rip of the shower
curtain is felt, not heard. I scream, short and angry. Bang, thud,
boom, crash. No one hears my scream, not even me.
The sound of a siren cuts through the uneven
rhythm of the video game. My eyes pop open. I am confused and wet
and alone in the dark. "Ahrg, Christ." I recognize the siren as my
alarm. It must be 6 P.M. I reach for it but my arms are pinned to
my sides. The sheet is wrapped tight around my body, so is the
blanket, so is the dark. I am soaked with sweat. "Ugh." I roll
over, twisting and groaning. My arm is asleep. It feels as if it’s
made of concrete and Play Doh. The siren alarm is underscored by
the bass from next door creeping through the walls.
"Fuck." I moan again. Finally I work an arm
free, not my best arm but good enough to end the crisis. My heart
is still pounding from the dream. As I reach my phone to stop the
noise, a shadow dashes against the wall. I hold my breath for a
beat. My legs are still trapped in the bedding. I silence the alarm
and when it quiets, its blue glare goes with it, leaving me light
blind. Pulse, pulse, boom goes the neighbors game. With a few more
desperate flails I unwind myself from the bed. I stand up in the
pitch black room. My limbs tingle as blood pours back into them.
I'm afraid to turn on a light and I am angry at my fear.
The cold air of the room hits my sweaty skin
giving me the shivers. A bead of sweat eases down my back. It feels
like a bug crawling under my shirt. Still dazed, I walk with
intentional slowness towards the light. It’s a tall floor lamp. It
stands by the wall switch, that doesn't work, for the overhead
fixture, which is probably a fire hazard. I twist the knob on the
lamp twice and the room is cast into dull relief. I blink several
times. It doesn't seem nearly bright enough in here. The throb,
throb, bang from the neighbor is making my sweat vibrate. "Jesus."
I say and run a hand down my face. I see it again: a shadow darting
off to my left. I turn, breathing evenly. Nothing is there. The
urge to speak to the empty room is strong but that's the kind of
thing people do when they're frightened, and I refuse to give in.
Instead, I suck in a breath and pad casually to the second room of
my three room apartment, the kitchen/living room. Here I proceed to
turn on all three lamps, the two by the couch and the clip on
office-style lamp I keep on the cupboard over the stove. None of
the built in lights in my apartment really work. When and if they
turn on, they make worrisome crackling noises. That's why I use
lamps, even in the bathroom, which is where I go now, twisting on
the floor lamp that is the twin of the one in the
Thump, thump, boom, da, da, boom. The music is
louder in here. I eye the tub and fight the urge to shudder. I step
up to it, looking in. Dry swirls of dirty soap scum line the
bottom, caking in the edges of the floor mat. Yeah I know, it's
gross. I hug my arms to my chest and am startled by the movement I
make in the mirror. I look at myself for a moment, pink shorts,
white tank top sticking to an American excess of pasty, pale skin.
My long hair is tied up in a top knot. The seven inch roots are
light brown, and the ends, which used to be red, are now more blond
than anything. My hazel eyes are ringed with dark circles. My face
is decorated with a few zits which stand out in stark relief
against the heat-flushed, blotchy tones of my face. Thump, thump,
boom. the mirror vibrates with the video game next door.
"Goddamn." I breathe. I take the four steps
necessary to get back to the bedroom. Here I straighten the sweaty
sheets and grab a pair of jeans off the floor. I give them the
sniff test. They pass. It takes me a second to locate a clean
t-shirt and underwear. Now it’s back to the bathroom for a shower,
a real one this time.
I can't quite muscle my way around the fear of
shower time abductions. That's why I only draw the shower curtain
half way so I can see out. Never the less, I have to strain to keep
from visualizing someone lurking just the other side of it. Every
time the plastic touches my skin I take deep breaths and refuse to
be scared. Rinsing my hair with my eyes open proves to be
impossible. Closing my eyes brings fear creeping into my belly.
Fear triggers anger. Anger leads to the ultimate act of silly fear
defiance: I wash my face in the hot shower while listening to the
thumping sounds from next door. It’s exactly like my dream except I
can hear my feet slosh as the water builds up around them. Just to
prove that I am not, and never have been scared, I keep my eyes
closed. An angelic expression of calm is plastered to my face as I
shut the water off. I am standing here like this, eyes closed and
naked, water up to my ankles in the half open shower, when I hear
an exhale and feel a little gust of hot breath on my neck just
below my right ear.
"FUCK!" I yell at the top of my lungs. I fling
my eyes open and snap my head around. Nothing... no one.
Bang, bang, bang. "Keep it down over there!"
It’s a man's voice, my neighbor. He's yelling through the
"Blow me!" I holler back. It feels good to yell
at someone real. Pulse, pulse, boom goes the video game.
I step out of the shower, dry and dress in
record time. I run a brush through my two-toned hair and pocket a
hair band for later use. After slathering some
way-too-expensive-no-where-near-effective-enough zit cream on my
face I step into the main room and deliberately pause for several
seconds, forcing myself not to hurry. Without looking into any of
the corners, I gather up my wallet, keys, cell phone, netbook,
netbook cord, spiral notebook, e-reader, pens and cigarettes. I
throw them all into my badly abused messenger bag. I spend about
six minutes looking for a lighter that works. I see another couple
of shadow twitches but chalk it up to having already let myself get
scared. Choking down the urge to yell at the apartment, I shove my
arms into a dark blue hoodie, shrug on my shoulder bag and step to
I am always just a little surprised to find
that it is still light out. I work a night shift, and have foil
taped over my windows so that I can sleep during the day. It’s like
stepping out from a matinee every time I go outside. I blink
several times and check my phone: 6:30PM.
"Damn I'm going to be early... damn I'm talking
to myself." I smirk, as I turn the deadbolt with my key. I run a
hand through my wet hair and try to shake the creepy feelings from
my dream. Standing on the little porch outside my third story
apartment, I look over the back alley at the slowly darkening
October sky. My place is one of six tiny apartments carved
indelicately out of what used to be a single family residence, back
when people in this neighborhood could afford to own whole
I slip a cigarette out of my pack and light it.
I'm just putting my lighter back in my pocket when it hits me...
What day is it? With this question comes a barrage of doubts: Do I
work today? Did I work yesterday? I think I worked yesterday. Did I
sleep just one day or did I sleep through work yesterday? Fuck,
what day is it? As usual when these moments happen, I am torn
evenly between panic and apathy. With a deep drag to prepare, I dig
out my phone and check the calendar. According to the calendar it’s
my day off, but once the doubts have surfaced there’s nothing for
it but to check and re-check. “Goddamn it.” I mutter, sitting down
on the top step of my fire escape porch. I troll through the
numbers in my phone looking for Ashley’s. Ashley is a co-worker who
usually knows what day it is, and may even have a copy of the work
schedule. The same work schedule I entered laboriously into the
calendar of my phone, but I can’t trust that now. As I hit the call
button I see a small black bird teeter into and out of the corner
of my vision. I'm not sure if it’s a real bird or just another
shadow thing. I set my jaw and take a deep drag on my cigarette.
Does it do any good to pretend not to see them?
“Hey, hot shot.” Ashley answers.
I exhale, modulating my voice for ‘cheerful’.
“We’re still going to breakfast
“Of course...” That doesn’t answer my question,
as night shifters can have breakfast at any time of day, before
work, after work, days off, at 1AM, any time.
“No I didn’t forget.” I lie. “Not breakfast
“What, are you cancelling?” Ashley sounds
“No, Jesus. I’m not cancelling. I just don’t
know if you mean before work or after work. I didn’t remember.
That’s why I’m calling.”
“You’re not helping. Look, do I work today or
“Oh my God.”
There is a pause while Ashley decides whether
or not to help me. I take another deep drag. I can still hear the
game but only just, mpf, mpf, mpf. “Well?” I prompt.
“Why don’t you just copy the schedule into your
I'm not telling her I already did that. She'll
think I'm neurotic. So I say: “Jesus H Christ, I’ll just call
Ashley lets out a sigh. “Maybe you should. I
never applied to be your personal secretary.”
“Rosie’s half an hour.”
“Half an hour, half an hour, half an hour. “ I
say, referencing Water World. Ashley doesn’t laugh. “So I’m off
“Yes you’re off today.”
“Cool... you’re sure?”
“Oh my God.” Ashley hangs up.
“Bitch.” I say to the phone.
I push a cart slowly down the cereal aisle. I'm
wearing ear buds. The Pixies croon idly about incestuous union. I
grab grape nuts and chuck them in my cart. For the seven thousandth
time I wonder why the hell it's illegal to smoke indoors. I
consider the cavernous ceiling. Surely they could install some
massive ventilation fan. They probably already have one. Nazis,
hippy, fucking Nazis every one. My grip on the cart tightens. If
someone tried to talk to me right this second I'd probably
The aisle ends. I turn right. Far off down the
store, looking over the meat, is another shopper. I always like
grocery shopping at 3AM. The people I see are just like me. Oh some
trivial things are different: gender, race, etc.. For instance, the
Meat Shopper is male, tall, with dirty blonde hair and he obviously
cooks for himself if he's buying raw meat, which I surely don't.
But the things that matter are the same. My fellow customer is
wearing the jeans-hoodie-t-shirt uniform common to all night people
of a certain age. His skin is pale, even a little sick looking. His
demeanor is casual and unhurried. Most importantly this other
human, this night meat shopper, keeps his gaze on the products, or
the floor, or anywhere but me. None of that crazy, manic,
friendliness of day shoppers with their eager willingness to
converse with strangers. Night people avoid one another, as they
should. I take one last quick glance at the unshaven shopper. Just
long enough to appreciate the perfect V shape of his torso and his
square narrow hips. Flash: what might it look like to wrap my legs
around them? Now I turn down the soup aisle. Not that I plan to buy
soup; I do not. Actually, the items I am here for are over near the
other shopper. Whoops, there's that flash again. I'm taking the
long way. I'm allowing him time to clear out of the area, as I