I hate the way crowds sift through open spaces like sand through cracks and crevices. Each granule only really thinks of themselves as they flow through time with every other granule acting as just another obstacle or object in their path. No time to fight through or find another path. This one is comfortable and normal. Just ebb and meld. Don’t make eye contact. They are only objects and the path is the focus. Just keep spatial awareness in mind and granules flow as they should through any space.
Cities reek with crowds, and I always let my parents know of my displeasure. Living in a city was no fun, especially when most of my childhood consisted of farm life. I grew up in a small town where pretty much everyone lived on acres of land occupied by peaches, strawberries, cows, goats, and horses. It was quaint and familiar, where everyone waved as they drove by. The days were crisp and often smelled of freshly cut grass, and the nights were vibrant and accompanied by the serenade of crickets.
I missed that life constantly throughout the latter part of grade school, and it was likely the reason I chose to attend Centrest College after I graduated. It wasn’t completely in the countryside, but it was just outside the city deep within what could pass as a modest forest. The campus was quiet, and the rules were a bit strict, but I didn’t really care. I don’t even think I really paid that much attention to their available educational programs.
My mother never tried to sway my decision despite the fact she wasn’t thrilled with its “discriminatory nature.” It’s just an all-girls college, but my mom took it as some sort of quasi-feminist or sexist agenda. My mother was always in a constant state of analyzing, her thoughtful eyes peering as if to see everything. She would nod her head once ever so slightly when she made a mental note, her short cropped hair slightly wavering with the motion as if to say she’d figured it out. She was a psychologist for some random organization I’ve never heard of, but she held her profession with high esteem, often throwing it out in conversation as if it was revolutionary news.
My father wasn’t quite as social, and was more like me when it came to crowds. He was a computer programmer making who knows what for whatever firm or company. I don’t really know, but mostly because he never liked to bring work home with him. There was only one time I asked him what he did because I had to for some elementary school project.
His eyes, rather than being analytical, were more appreciative. As we drove through the Centrest campus, my father would slow down and admire the foliage and how the sunlight struggled through the trees and spilled out over the lush green lawns. It was kind of annoying. I just wanted to get to my dorm and unpack my things.
“I bet the air is real fresh here,” he mused as we parked outside the dormitories. It was my mother’s career that brought us into the city, and while my father was just as unhappy there as I was, he rarely reminded my mother of his feelings. She tended to over analyze.
My mother eyed my father keenly before exiting the car. “What’s the matter with the air at home?” she asked with hidden venom. The question, to me, seemed rather stupid to ask, and yet my mother always felt it necessary to ask really stupid questions with very obvious answers. Over the years I learned to bite my tongue, but my father never called her on it. He shrugged as he usually does, his lanky arms slightly flailing from the action around his tall frame.
“City air is just different, love.” Calling her pet names was always a sure way to calm my mother. She enjoyed the verbal assurance that she was still wanted, possibly because she would always see things that weren’t always true. I admired my father for putting up with her and her constant stream of questions. She seemed like she never trusted him, and when she questioned him it was almost like an interrogation. Dutifully, my father would answer every question until he could find a moment to reassure her of his love. It was cute, but also a bit too…romantic for my taste.
Stepping out of the cool car into the stiff heat of the Centrest campus was only the first step towards my lack of sunny disposition. Women yelled and barked to their families and friends as they unloaded vehicles with their belongings. I was on the first floor, and while that would have suggested an easier move, it was quite the opposite. We discovered quickly that we had to carry smaller loads to my dorm room as we dodged and swiveled through the snaking line that was headed up the stairs or to the elevators.
I fumbled my way into my pocket to produce my key card as we stood by the door to my dorm, our arms straining with heavy boxes. My roommate must have heard my shuffling, for the door swiftly flew open to reveal a beaming blonde, her straight locks fluttering past her shoulders from the sudden gust of wind. Without hesitation my parents shuffled their way in as I resituated my load. I already did not like the one person I would likely see the most this year.
“My name is Eden.” Her bright blue eyes sparkled as she introduced herself, but it was all a ruse just to satisfy parental worry. I could tell she was trouble despite her innocent demeanor. Her attire was comfortable but stylish, keeping the feel conservative due to college regulations. I didn’t doubt she had a wardrobe full of expensive wear. Her pointed nose was always held slightly upward as she led her conversations with her chin, denoting her confidence. Her eyes constantly cast judgment wherever she looked, and the slightest upturn in her smile told me she felt herself superior. Likely due to her vanity that was a dead giveaway by the constant presence of mirrors placed about the dorm, not to mention her wide array of high end makeup.
Her vanity was justified by her beauty. It was a beauty I wanted to slap off her face because of the way she flaunted it and fished for compliments, not just verbally but in her actions. Every move she made was as if she expected a camera to snapshot each moment. Eden sounded like an appropriate name. The garden of good and evil rested right within my dorm.
I hadn’t even noticed the conversation she carried with my parents. I was too consumed in unpacking my belongings so that I could possibly claim some space. She littered the entirety of the small confines with her belongings so much already it was difficult to tell what I could claim. She even took an extra drawer in the dresser between the two twin beds.
“We’ll go get the rest of your things, honey,” my mother called through my thoughts. “You just focus on unpacking and getting to know your new roomie!” My mother put on a show, as she regularly did with a new face. She would tell me that by keeping a positive atmosphere during your first impressions, people will come to trust you more easily as time goes on. The tactic worked for most people, but I never liked the work of being fake.
I didn’t bother looking up, and just waved them away. I didn’t feel like talking. Eden, on the other hand, felt it was a grand time to try to converse.
“I sent you an email,” she began as she carefully unpacked her clothes into the provided dresser unit. Her folded tops carefully stacked within the drawer that should have been mine. She didn't even bother to ask or explain why she had taken it. “Did you ever get it?”
The second stupid question of the day brought to you by Eden. Because apparently stereotypes need to be reinforced from time to time. She either knew the answer to the question and was gauging whether or not I’d lie about it, or she is stupid and honestly has no clue.
“Possibly, but I don’t check my email much.” It wasn’t a complete lie. I remember getting the email and reading it. I had intentions of emailing her back, but then, like most things, I just forgot. If I forget, I guess I don’t find it important. Now I’m glad I didn’t respond to her email. I would have hated getting coffee with her.
Four seconds passed in silence, which now declared the atmosphere officially awkward, at least for Eden. I hadn’t really cared because I didn’t want to converse in the first place. I could tell it was going to be a long year, but maybe she would be smart enough to pick up on my signals. I partially wished I had just told the truth and informed her that I had read the email but she wasn't high on my priority list.
Eden was thankful for the sudden burst through the door made by my exuberant parents. They huffed and smiled as they entered the room, placing more boxes on the floor next to my bed. My mother, in her usual fashion, overly dramatized how hot it was outside by slumping her shoulders with a loud exhale of breath, the back of her hand wiping her brow.
“Stars and stripes, it’s hot outside!” she exclaimed as she leaned against my bed post. My father just smiled in silent agreement as sweat began to dampen his shirt. I hated it when my mom replaced curse words with stupid words or phrases. It was only ever done to get a rise out of anyone listening, and by the powers of God and the strength behind her given diaphragm, everyone was sure to hear her bellowing voice.
Precious Eden squealed with laughter that only heightened my parents’ misguided impression of the woman. I watched as the three delightfully laughed and merrily conversed about the weather. She eventually looked in my direction as if it dawned on her that I still existed, but thankfully she didn't say anything. In a flash she looked back at my parents with her white smile and offered to help bring in my things.
“Helena?” My name was the only thing that ever made me quickly look up from what I was doing. It was rarely ever spoken, but my mother knew well how I reacted instinctively to the sound. It was my biggest weakness while trying to ignore my surroundings. Smiling, my mother continued, “We’re going to get the rest of your things. Will you be alright here?”
I nodded in reply and returned to situating the fitted sheet across my thin mattress. My mother did not deny Eden’s help possibly to “explain” to her how I am socially, as if she couldn’t deduce it all on her own. It’s not like I hide how I feel, because I’m very clear about not caring to socialize. Socializing is just another way for the other participants to try to steer the conversation about them. If I cared about them, I’d converse.
But that isn’t the only thing my mother sees wrong with me. She thinks because of my past I’m sheltering myself from having fun. I have plenty of fun by myself, but she thinks because I like to be secluded that I seclude myself from every form of fun. Because I am alone, I can do whatever I want. How much more fun can it get? It's baffling a psychologist doesn't understand an introvert.
Being an only child has its advantages, especially when someone like me prefers to be left alone. Sometimes I wished I could claim I was adopted, but my parents’ genetics were far too prominent in my features. My face is oval and masculine like my father’s, but my mother’s wide eyes and defined lips carried over to help soften my face. I kept my dark hair long despite its thickness, for I felt it just looked better that way. I am by no means boyish in nature, and preferred to stay away from sports. I'm also thin and likely out of shape, but I never cared to change that. Anytime I'd have a check-up, however, the doctors would feel very different. I guess you could call me lazy. I'll admit it.
The air conditioning unit hummed mechanically as it desperately pushed out cool air into the small sized dorm room. It almost canceled out the noise that seeped its way through the door cracks. I turned to finally observe my new living space for the year with a growing sense of acceptance. It was cramped for two people, or rather cramped for someone trying to share space with Eden. Her belongings were strewn about the room haphazardly as if she couldn’t make up her mind what she wanted to unpack first. I gently scooted her bag that laid closest to my feet as if it were contaminated, and instantly gained another two feet of room I could call my own.
The desk that would be mine was sandwiched between the two beds, and my bed was right up against the window. The bathroom was tucked behind the wall that Eden’s bed was up against where the area around the sink was already adorned with various makeup bags and brushes. Eden had already set up two mirrors stuck to the walls, one of them being as tall as I am. I never really liked looking at myself in a mirror, and I never understood why anyone would take the time to admire themselves. I don't need a mirror to tell me my fashion sense is bland, but I know it's comfortable and won't get me arrested, so I don't care how it looks.
My thoughts and silence were broken yet again by the crescendo of sound that emitted from Eden’s mouth as she likely conversed with my parents. She seemed to like to be as loud as my mother, and within an instant I heard her laugh as they neared the door. I didn’t bother opening it for them, and instead made my way to the nearest box and began to unpack more of my things.
“Well, this is it!” my mother chimed as they entered through the doorway, boxes in hand and smiles plastered on their faces. They were all out of breath and glistening with sweat, my father lowering one box with a grunt.
“What do you have in this box, anyway?” he asked, removing the lid to answer his own question. It was a random assortment of books, notebooks, and small posters for decorating the walls. I looked at my corner of the room and frowned. I could see why Eden did not choose the bed closest to the window, because there wasn’t much wall to work with.
My mother sighed through her smile as she observed the dorm, and then turned to me after nodding once to herself. The strands of her bob that framed her face were stuck to her temples and jaw, the bottom portion of her hair clumped and dampened with her sweat that prevented the normal movement of her hair in that nod. “Do you need any help unpacking, darling?”
“No, thanks,” I replied as I unloaded my clothes from a container to the dresser drawers under my bed. I at least had this unit unclaimed by Eden. It's really all I would need, it seemed. My wardrobe was straight forward and simple to the point where I really only needed to add layers when it got colder.
“Do you want us to take any of these empty containers out of your way?” my father asked.
“I can just stack them and put them under the bed,” I responded with a shrug. It wasn’t that big of a deal, and I’d rather take my time unpacking than to have to rush as my parents hover while they waited on me.
I stood up and smiled at them reassuringly. I could feel their anxiety stiffen the air as they lingered by the door. Perhaps they were waiting on me to ask for some sort of help, or maybe they were just being weird parents who don’t want to let their child go. My mother called me their “happy accident” because I wasn’t planned, and ever since they had me they tried to plan for another and failed. I couldn’t resent them for their overly clingy nature after suffering through miscarriages and desperate longing. I didn’t understand the longing part, though. But despite how annoying they come across, I still loved them and appreciated their efforts in raising me, especially with how difficult I make myself.
I hugged them good-bye, and my mother burst into tears. It would have been a poignant moment if Eden hadn’t cooed in dramatic admiration for my mother’s affection. My mother fanned herself as if to dry the streaking tears down her cheeks and looked to my roommate as she laughed in slight embarrassment. “I know,” she said with a shaky voice, “typical mom.”
“Oh, no need to apologize,” Eden told her. “I find it adorable!”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, and my father just looked at me with a big smile. He held his tears back for me, but I could see them glimmer at the base of his eye. “Don’t hesitate to call us if you need anything. We’re only an hour away.”
I playfully rolled my eyes for his sake. “Yes, I know. I’ll keep in touch, don’t worry.”
My father eventually had to guide my mother out of the dorm so that they could leave. At least my father always respected my space. Maybe my mother was oblivious to my desires to be alone. As the door shut behind them, I turned back to my unpacked boxes and caught Eden’s silhouette out of the corner of my eye. So much for being alone now.
College classes were better than high school, in my opinion. I am allowed to use my own unrestricted computer tablet, and the desks came with built in tablet holders that folded back into the top when more space is needed. The professors didn’t even care if I was browsing the internet during their boring lectures. I didn't understand why college classes would be a repeat of content I had learned in high school. For some reason it was hyped up by my former teachers as some academic hell where I'd have to pay attention and take fantastic notes or I'd be screwed. But basic math and U.S. history was pretty straight forward from the last time I had taken it in grade school.
I spent most of my first day of college on my own. I never ran into anyone I knew despite knowing there were at least two other girls from my graduating class attending this particular college. My last class of the day was Freshman Focus; a requirement for every freshman at Centrest College. Out of all my classes, this one had the most socializing and the most human interaction. Worst of all, Eden was one of my classmates in that very class. She beamed at me as I entered the room.
“Hey, Helena!” she called to me with an exuberant wave. “Come sit with me!” She patted the chair next to her at her two-person station and moved her notebook to the other side. Who still uses a notebook? Ever since the computer tablet became a mainstream and affordable product, it soon replaced all other writing mediums amongst other things. Paper is a thing of the past and a waste of a good tree. Well, most of the time, nowadays, notebooks and other primitive writing sources were made out of recycled materials. I always thought it felt funny under my hand. It was so smooth and it felt like my hand would slip right off the paper if I wrote too fast. My handwriting is terrible anyway. Likely due to the lack of writing in general. I always preferred to type things out anyway.
I hesitated for a moment as I continued to walk. Should I just ignore her and make my feelings apparent? I don’t think I hate her that much, she’s just annoying, and creating a rift so soon in the year would only make things terrible in the long run. Reluctantly, I fell into the chair next to Eden and managed a smile back.
“Hi, Eden.” I tried to greet her with some form of enthusiasm, but I could only muster up enough to keep a smile on my face. She detected my tone, and her face contorted to concern.
“Long day?” she asked as she positioned herself to face me. I always found that question odd. One day is always twenty-four hours, so every day is the same length. Even if it feels long or short, it’s still the same length, and no one should judge time on how it feels. Then there's the whole concept of time being a figment of our imaginations and so forth. Some sort of construct created by man that doesn't exactly exist.
It was then out of the corner of my eye I could see the outline of a silhouette, and I turned my gaze to its direction only to be met with a stark white wall about five feet from me. I looked back at Eden, the silhouette reimerging in my peripheral yet again, but every time I moved my eye to try to see it nothing was there. Eden picked up on what I was doing, and began to look at the wall next to me as well, her perfectly plucked brow furrowing somewhat in silent question.
Before I could finally answer her, she bit her lip and spoke quietly. “I’m sorry, I’m overstepping my boundaries, aren’t I?” The silhouette was distracting as it moved. It stood like a human, but it was bulky and would sometimes phase away. I shook my head and turned my body to face more towards Eden to block the silhouette from my peripheral. There was nothing normal about what I was seeing, but believing in it as only validating what shouldn't be there. Moving my body to face Eden seemed to soothe my roommate's concerns, her body straightening as she readorned a smile.
“No, sorry, I just…” I paused momentarily, bringing my hand to my forehead as I thought of a lie. Telling her I was seeing things wouldn’t be best to reveal. “Uh..headache.” I smiled awkwardly; my telltale sign of lying. Something about the way I ended up lying always amused me, even in the slightest, because I never lied maliciously, and I lied well enough for things to be believable. The lie suited Eden, and she nodded with a slight playful pout. She was a rather animated person, almost like she were trying too hard at life.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said before hovering her hand over my arm. It was either a gesture of comfort or an awkward pause before contemplating not to touch me. “I have pain medicine in the dorm if you’d like some.”
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine.” I never liked medicine. If I ever had a pain I’d deal with it on my own, and I had never been through anything where I would need something strong prescribed by doctors. Common use pain medicines seemed like a crutch, and people become dependent on them for the silliest pains. Not only that, people popped them like candy anytime they got the slightest inkling of an ache. That technology was still not advanced enough to prevent damage in its overuse. But no one ever thinks about that until they've gained weight or their liver fails.
My skin bristled with a rush of cold on my back, and I felt an overwhelming sensation of being watched. I turned, the silhouette catching my peripheral again and causing me to jump at its closeness, but it was gone in an instant as soon as I looked straight in its direction. My breath caught in my lungs, halted in the strangest sensation. Despite not being able to see the silhouette, it still felt like it was there.
This wasn’t the first time something loomed just out of sight, and I thought it had all been over. In my elementary years I told stories about seeing ghosts and shadows, often running from my room and into my parents’ for protection. It was in middle school that I began to see dark figures out of the corner of my eye, and it eventually got to the point where I couldn’t stand to undress or even sleep in my own room. My mother first took me to an optometrist to check and make sure my eyes were alright before delving into therapeutic methods of addressing the situation. Eventually I never saw it again and I could go on with my life knowing it was just a figment of my imagination.
But the silhouette came back, and it distracted my focus so much that I missed when the professor entered the room and started up her power point presentation for the day's lecture. She stopped on a slide about Centrest policies, the first bullet being about dress code, and the second bullet about the buddy system. I wanted to reach out and touch the air where I looked; where I felt the silhouette was still lingering.
“Here at Centrest we value every student and want you all to succeed,” the professor said in a rehearsed tone. “We require that if you go anywhere, you must do so in a group or with a friend. But you must not go out alone. I’m sure you all have seen on the news how many kidnappings have happened over the past ten years just within the United States alone. Due to this, the buddy system is nonnegotiable, and we encourage that if you see anyone walking alone on campus that you volunteer to walk with them to your destination. There is strength in numbers, and who knows? You may just make a friend.” She tapped her tablet and the next bullet appeared on the presentation that read, “Dry Campus.”
Eden turned to me, leaning in slightly as she whispered, “Have you been keeping up with the kidnapping rise?” I shook my head no. I didn’t like the news because it focused so much on too many negative things that caused people to worry, just as Eden and the whole campus of Centrest was. It left me out of the loop on political affairs and world issues. I didn't care to know them anyway. I had only just turned the legal voting age. “They say it is estimated that if someone is kidnapped nowadays, there’s a .01 percent chance that the police can find them before they hit a dead end.”
I leaned in to challenge the thought. “How did they get that statistic in the first place?”
Eden shrugged, her trust still apparent within the statistic. “You missed a good pun, though,” she whispered back before sitting straight in her chair. It dawned on me in that moment that she had nonchalantly made a morbid joke and was okay with it. I sat up and couldn’t help but smile at the terrible pun I had missed. Eden came across as a sweet and innocent little girl, and she was just now revealing a somewhat darker side. Just as I predicted.
I haven’t been keeping up with the kidnappings, but I have heard plenty about them. That's when my mother decided, after being scared by the media, that my loner lifestyle had to change. She downloaded a program in her car that allowed for my parents to track its current whereabouts at any given time and required that I only go places during the day and when it’s most crowded by what she conisidered 'good people.' I eventually stopped going out because I found out later she had people check up on me far too regularly.
White vans and black SUVs were common amongst kidnappers, according to supposed eye witnesses. Anyone driving those types of vehicles would commonly get pulled over and searched. Technically, a car search is against our Constitutional rights, but everyone is so afraid of the law they don’t even bother to understand it. They have to have probable cause to search without a warrant.
During my chain of thought, I had apparently missed three other bullet discussions. The professor was now onto the bullet about community volunteering. A volunteering bulletin was transferred to everyone’s tablets through the network, and those paying attention had theirs already opened. I didn’t bother to open mine, and figured I could read it later. Or I could not read it at all.
Eden leaned towards me, her blonde hair cascading off of her shoulder in a wave of curls. “I’m going to eat dinner with Jane and Farley and a bunch of other people,” she whispered. “You’re more than welcome to join us.” The thought made me visibly cringe.
“Do you have a buddy to take you back to the dorm?”
“I’m sure I’ll find someone headed that way.” I knew I wasn’t going to even try, but I also contemplated what type of punishment I would get for walking alone. Would they really reprimand me harshly for going solo on what could have happened but didn’t? It was then I decided I would test it out and see what would happen. It wasn't that far of a walk either.
I was eager for class to end, not just to test out this school policy, but because I felt uneasy. I didn’t see the silhouette anymore, but I still felt like I was being watched. Not a single student in the classroom had their eyes on me or even cared to look my way. They were either politely listening to the professor’s lecture or too busy paying attention to whatever was on their screen.
My senses honed in on the signs of class dismissal. As soon as others around me noisily gathered their belongings, so did I. I wasted no time as I exited the building and made my way across the yard towards the dorms. The sun was setting into an orange burst of light that filtered through the trees to welcome the coming night. Pairs of commuters made their way to their cars as they merrily conversed about their day with the other. I had nearly walked half way to the dorm before I heard my name being called off in the distance.
“Helena!” I turned to see Eden running towards me, her hair golden in the sunlight that created a halo around her head. She waved with a smile, her pace slowing as she saw I noticed her. Finally she caught up to me and exhaled noisily. “You sure do walk fast!”
I continued to walk, only glancing at her once out of confusion. “Aren’t you going to dinner with some friends or something?” It was difficult to mask my annoyance. I was looking forward to enjoying the dorm in solitude, and was even thinking about listening to music without my headphones. It was the ultimate form of freedom to me. I could only do it at home when my parents were at work. They didn't much care for the noise, I suppose.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of you walking alone to the dorm, so I figured I’d do my duty as your roommate and walk with you!” I wanted to punch her in the face. Everything about that sentence annoyed me making my fingers curl into fists and my jaw tighten. I’m not a child, and I’m not a charity case.
“There are no set duties as a roommate, Eden,” I began as calmly as possible. “You’re free to do whatever you want, you know that, right?” I looked at her condescendingly as I waited for her answer, and I took enjoyment out of the slight squirm she tried to hide.
“I’m just trying to be nice,” she mumbled dejectedly. I could feel guilt bubbling inside of me, and I pushed it away. I would not give into her guilt trip. Instead, we walked the rest of the way in silence. I’m sure it was unpleasant for her, but maybe this will finally teach her not to be so annoying. Even as we entered the dorm room, I made no attempt to start a conversation. Instead, I sat myself on my bed and produced my computer tablet from my bag and plugged in my headphones to make it look as if I could not hear her.
Eden moped through her actions as she called someone on her phone, likely the people she was going to have dinner with. Within five minutes someone knocked on our door, and she was gone in a flash of laughter and smiles. I was finally left alone in a quiet room with only the hum of the air conditioning unit as company. I sighed with appreciation before returning back to my screen.
The silhouette was back, and it stood at the foot of my bed. I looked up slowly, watching the black form fade and disappear. I looked back down again just as slowly, the figure reappearing. It looked a little more detailed this time, and I could tell it was definitely human in posture and build, but it was masked and bulky.
Something in me stirred, and my stomach churned with an uneasy feeling. What could possibly cause this? Was I going crazy? Without thinking, I spoke, “I can see you, by the way.” I kept my eyes on my computer screen to keep the silhouette in view. Its movements suggested masculinity as it shifted its weight. Or maybe the silhouette was a spot burned into my retina from the bright sunlight. I felt foolish for talking to something I knew wasn’t there, and yet I spoke again. “Please go away.”
I couldn’t remember what my mother told me to do when I was younger and had the same issue, at least not the successful method. I remember one of the methods was politely asking, but then I also remembered how that didn’t work. I had to mentally shut the visual away and tell myself it didn’t exist over and over, I think. I contemplated informing my mother of the returned silhouette, but she would likely diagnose it as some form of homesickness, and I did not miss home. I'd be lying if I didn't fear the worst scenario. I wasn't prepared to take on and deal with a mental illness, but then again, who is?
The silhouette moved out of sight, and I quickly began to look about the dorm in hopes of catching it in my peripheral once more. I couldn’t find it, though there were a couple of times I thought I had seen some shadow. I became afraid, and I didn’t know why. It was just like ghosts, and my mother always told me ghosts can’t hurt me because they don’t exist. It always just felt so close and nearly tangible that my mind couldn’t handle the thought. My mind still couldn’t wrap itself around the concept of the looming silhouette, and I sat in complete stillness for the remainder of the evening, every one of my senses on high alert.
My first encounter with a ghost was also my first encounter with my best friend, Nadia. Our parents were meeting at the town hall to discuss some important community issue, and I had gone in the back towards the bell tower. It was a very old building that smelled of mold and aging wood, and had many unused rooms down each small hallway. I turned a corner to go down the dark hallway that led to the spiral staircase when I saw the wispy figure walk towards me. In a fit of panic, I ran the opposite direction, running straight into Naddia. The dark girl instinctively followed my lead until we ran outside laughing and gasping for air. Her presence made the panic disappear, and from then on we were nearly inseparable.
I missed her comforting presence to a sickening degree when I was afraid. I can never forgive her for what she did, though. I suffered through my fears in discomfort, and I was sure that every light in the dorm room was on before returning to the safety of my bed. I couldn’t tell if my fear was causing me to see and feel things at this point, or if my senses were actually picking up on anything legitimate.
I was becoming annoyed by my growing paranoia. Anyone who walked past my window caused me to jump, and any noise I heard I listened to with intense focus. I knew I needed to distract myself, so I placed my tablet on my lap, accessing a random mindless game. Within minutes I found I could not focus long enough to complete the game, and I placed the tablet beside me and resorted to sitting in silence once more.
Time passed without me truly comprehending it, and the sudden burst through the door made me gasp with panic. Eden let out a cry as well, her arms flailing before covering her mouth. She stared at me with confusion and let the door close behind her. It hissed into place and clicked with the locking mechanism before she spoke.
“Sorry about that!” She placed her purse on her dresser and pulled out her cell, typing a quick text before tossing it onto her bed. “I didn’t mean to scare you! Did you have a good dinner?” She hopped onto her bed and pulled out her computer tablet. I realized I hadn’t even considered dinner, and slipped off my bed shakily.
“I haven’t eaten yet, actually,” I explained as I neared the refrigerator. It was stocked with Eden’s water bottles and my assortment of easy-to-fix meals. None of it looked enticing.
“Oh, well then, what did you do?” she asked. I heard her phone buzz, signaling a message received. She picked it up and began typing a response, her nails noisily clicking the screen. I tried to ignore how annoying that came across and pulled out some lasagna.
“Nothing, really.” It wasn’t a lie. I did absolutely nothing during what was supposed to be a wonderful time by myself. What a time wasted on unfounded fear. I could feel my face flush with embarrassment, and I clenched my teeth together in frustration.
“Well, the girls want to go out this Thursday,” Eden informed. “There’s a club in the city that we can get into for free if we have the password. And guess who has the password?”
“Don’t clubs have an age restriction?” I asked as I warmed up my meal in the microwave.
“Not on Thursday nights, apparently. It’s open for people eighteen or older.” She sounded excited, her phone buzzing again. “So, do you want to join us?”
I hesitated with the thought, not because I wanted to go to a club, but because I wanted to go in general. I knew this initial feeling was founded on the fear I experienced earlier that evening, so I pushed it aside, shaking my head slightly with the thought as I brought my hot plate to my bed. “Nah, I’m not really the clubbing type.”
Eden looked at me sadly, and I looked away, pretending whatever was on my screen was more interesting. It was apparently enough to end all conversation for the night, for she retreated to her phone, and continued texting instead. I began to feel more at ease, and ate my meal contently as I browsed the internet. I may not like to converse, but I knew at that moment I just needed a quiet presence of someone I knew existed.
Sleep always came easily to me despite my situations. My father would joke about how I could sleep standing if I really cared to, and he was probably right. I loved to sleep, and perhaps I slept too much over the years. A lot of summer vacations were spent dreaming in bed until well into the afternoon and sometimes into the evening when I'd stay up all night browsing the internet or watching movies. My mom hated it.
“The day is almost done!” she’d complain. It’s not like I ever had anything to do during the summer anyway. Sometimes I’d go out for a swim in our pool, but my mixed genetics always had me burning despite my naturally tan skin. Luckily, all my sunburns would darken to a nice color. My mom said we had a rich heritage we should embrace, and our tan skin was a part of it.
I debated on calling my mother during this time of unease. Sleep still came, but it was marred by nightmares that were fueled by my fear. I would wake up every morning feeling as though I never actually went to sleep. It made caring about my classes incredibly difficult, and I could sense that if this issue continued it could really mess things up in the long run.
I kept pushing away the idea of calling her because I didn’t want her to think that I missed her and regretted not choosing to commute. Since it was only an hour drive, it was a possibility, but I wanted to live away from my parents. I was sure what was causing these odd hallucinations had nothing to do with separation anxiety or home sickness.
But what was the cause? I found myself after classes looking up the paranormal, finding testimonies and photographic evidence. Most of the evidence had me skeptical, with little balls of light and figures that looked like shadows cast by a camera flash. Some of the testimonies matched what I had seen in my past, but none of them were close to what I saw in the silhouette.
I hadn’t seen the silhouette the rest of the week, and my nerves began to calm. I could tell Eden had noted my unrest, but said nothing on the matter until Thursday night as she dolled herself up in front of one of the large mirrors.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come along?” she asked as she applied dark shadow to her lids. In contrast with her pale skin and light hair, it made her look like her eyes were hollow sockets, or worse yet, a raccoon.
“Yeah, I think I’ll catch up on some sleep instead.” I turned my attention back down to my screen, touching the icon to access the web browser. To me, that was the end of the conversation, but not to Eden.
“It will be really fun,” she tried to coerce. I continued to browse through my regular sites in silence, but she continued on. “This club has like…two floors with like…eight different rooms that play different types of music you can dance to.”
“Dancing’s really not my thing,” I replied flatly as I began to look at images of cats. I had always wanted a cat, but my mother was allergic.
“Are you really sure?” she asked, looking at me through the mirror. The repetitive question was annoying, and my feelings showed when I nodded to her, my pursed lips being the most visible sign. It looked like she took it personal, her eyes looking back to her face as her brow knit together. I rolled my eyes and went back to looking at pictures and videos of cats. Silently, I vowed to myself that I would get a cat one day, and began to day dream about what I’d name it.
It wasn’t until Eden left that the overwhelming fear crept inside my mind. The light jingle of her jewelry and the occasional click of her makeup containers had served to block out any noise that would cause my mind to jump. Now, I was left alone again in the dimly lit room, the hum of the air conditioning unit grinding slightly as it tried to push away the heat that lingered from the day. It had been three days since I was left in solitude, and I wondered what I would see.
My eyes looked as though they were gazing at the screen of my tablet, but in reality my mind was focusing on my peripheral. Would I see the silhouette again? As much as I did not want to see it, I still searched, sometimes positioning myself differently upon my bed to get a different view of the room.
After seeing nothing, I decided I needed to find a way to push away my unfounded fear. I accessed my music library on my computer and picked some upbeat list of songs as I slipped off my bed. I decided I would clean as best I could, or as much as I could, around Eden’s mess. I started with the bathroom, my feet shuffling as I moved to the rhythm of the blaring music. I didn’t really care if it was too loud at this hour of night. The RAs didn't seem to care either.
I was uplifted and carried away into my own world of lemon scented chemicals and clean surfaces. There wasn’t too much to clean since it hadn’t even been a week since we settled into the dorms, but it was still nice to know I’d be using clean facilities to bathe in. I swept the cold tile flooring, pushing Eden’s pile of clothes towards her bed with the bristles of my broom. I was dancing at this point without care, tossing my worries away as I threw my arms up into the air. My dancing was not very graceful, and felt more robotic, but I always had fun while doing so. I personally didn’t feel like I danced terribly, and that night I felt the music inspire my movements.
Dancing was something I enjoyed, and even though I lied to Eden about my feelings on it, I still could never shake the feeling that maybe I really was terrible. I didn’t want to know if I was from some stranger, so I avoided situations where I would come to learn such disheartening news. Instead, as I tossed my long hair from side to side, I spared a glance into the long mirror attached to the wall next to me to see how I looked.
Two feet away the silhouette stood behind me through the reflection causing me to gasp and whirl around to meet it. Of course I was met with nothing, but I used the broom as a weapon through the air, slashing at nothing as I backed myself to the sink counter. I fell and ducked down under the counter, my eyes darting about the room to search for the figure in my peripheral. I needed to know where it was to make sure I was safe, but I saw nothing.
Panic paralyzed my body and choked me as I held onto the broom in desperation. Should I call my mother? Should I move? For a moment I thought I heard my name through a whisper, but quickly decided it was just the hum of the air conditioning unit though my music. I knew there was no mistaking what I saw, though I still never saw it directly. It was the figure of a man, like a shadow but nearly opaque.
“Music off!” I called to my computer, and the room went quiet. Adrenaline pumped through my body and kept my senses alert to anything. My voice was shaky as I spoke again. “What is the time?”
“The time is now two oh one a.m.,” the computer jauntily replied. It was too late to call my mother for advice or consolation. I had no one to really turn to in my fit of fear and knew I would just have to wait it out until Eden returned.
What would Eden think if she saw me hiding under the counter? Her annoying motherly instincts would kick in and I would have to deal with that for the rest of the year. I was still trying to teach her that I don’t want her company. How long would it take to get her to stop coddling me? The thought made me brave enough to run to my bed, my eyes avoiding any reflective surface. I still had the broom in hand as I tucked myself under my covers.
Despite the lights being on, I willed myself asleep. I woke up at one point to Eden noisily making her way into the dorm room before saying good-bye to her friends. I acted like I was still asleep, and listened to her quietly remove her jewelry and turn off all the lights. Soon, I drifted back into another restless slumber.
My first class started at nine the next morning. I nearly melted out of bed as I woke, but willed myself to stand and get dressed in the bathroom. I felt miserable and sleepy, and envied Eden for sleeping in. I wondered if she had classes later or if she was skipping out, and then I wondered why I even cared.
It took everything in me to stay awake as the professor lectured with the lights turned off. The large screen displayed his presentation on the basics of math and how it can be applied to everyday life. I sat myself in the middle of the room close to the isle for an easy exit, giving myself space from the professor yet still allowing people around me. My brain told me it was just in case something happened again.
But nothing happened. No silhouette appeared out of the corner of my eye or stood behind my reflection. I still managed to walk by myself, but floated amongst the many crowds to appear to be within the parameters of Centrest rules. I made my way from one class to the next, the jittery feeling slowly leaving as the sun rose higher in the sky. The buildings of Centrest were dated but not old, with exteriors that curved with metallic sheeting and vibrant accented colors. The interiors, on the other hand, were constantly updated by the School of Interior Design, apparently. I didn’t much care for either looks, but at least the interiors were fitted with better tech.
Relief filled me as I made my way back to the dorm. Eden sat on her bed hunched over her computer tablet as music softly played from its speakers. She looked up, tapping the screen once to turn the sound off and smiled at me.
“Oh, hey there, Helena. Did you have a good day?”
I swung my bag onto my bed while kicking off my shoes. “You didn’t have class today?” I asked ignoring her question. Her smile seemed to widen at my question.
“I did, actually, but only one class at ten,” she replied. I realized the reason for her smile and peppy response. I had made it apparent I was actually thinking about her or somehow concerned with her, at least in her mind. She completely ignored my tone of voice and took my question as trying to be nice.
Climbing onto my bed, I contemplated taking a nap. Never had the thin mattress felt so glorious underneath me, and I settled myself over the covers and enjoyed the cool air blowing from the unit above Eden’s bed. I could see in my peripheral that Eden was still smiling and looking in my direction.
“Hey,” she began a little hesitantly. “I was thinking of going to see a movie tonight. Want to come?” The thought of it made me cringe inside, and I began to wonder her movie habits. She looked like a chick-flick girl who constantly talked throughout the movie as she tried to predict the plot. But then she added the magic words. “It’ll be my treat!”
How could I say no to a free movie? I looked in her direction, eyeing her momentarily as I wondered the catch. She knew she had reeled me in, though, and she looked at me with hopeful eyes.
“What movie are you thinking about seeing?” I asked.
She simply shrugged in reply. “I don’t know, we can figure it out when we get there. Let’s eat out before the show, too!” She hopped from her bed and ran to the sink to apply more makeup. I looked back at my computer screen and wondered if the meal would be free too. I wasn’t entirely sure how much cash I had on me, but she looked desperate enough to spend time with me that she’d likely pay for the meal if I couldn’t.
Eden’s car was dated with old maps in her built in GPS. As she started up her car, the windshield display warned her to download the new maps with a big pop up, but then she just tapped a button on her steering wheel to make it go away as if it were routine. The AR screen flickered to life, displaying the transparent map. She turned to me with a smile.
“We’ll drive to the theatre and find food around there,” she said to me as she buckled her seatbelt. “Sound good?” I shrugged and she called out the address to the GPS. Within seconds the route was displayed with a bright green line upon the road before us. “Best invention ever. I’d never find my way around without it. Hey, do you want to play your music?”
I shrugged again and pulled out my phone. “I don’t know if you’d like it,” I said simply before connecting to the car’s network wirelessly. I couldn’t tell whether Eden was enjoying my music, or she was just dancing as she drove for my benefit. I sat still in the passenger’s seat, my eyes on the road ahead. All that was in my peripheral was Eden's form slightly bobbing to the beat, and I wasn't annoyed by it.
Finding a restaurant was difficult when we arrived, not because there wasn’t much to choose from, but because neither of us wanted to choose where to eat. There were too many selections, and I’d rather not hear Eden complain about food the rest of the night. We finally chose a burger joint neither of us had ever heard of. It was quaint and had pretty good food.
“So, I just wanted to apologize for the way I come across,” Eden began as we waited on our food. I looked at her curiously and said nothing. “I know I probably have been in your personal space, and I’ve often been told that I am too annoying.”
I was certain at a point like this any normal person would offer comforting words to Eden. I decided to forgo the normal affairs of white lying and chose to be blunt instead. “Yeah, you are a bit annoying sometimes.”
She nodded slowly as she allowed my words to sink in. “Alright,” she began, “I’ll make note of it and work on that.” I eyed her suspiciously at this, taking a sip from my soda to appear as though I had something better to do. “I just want this roommate thing to work out, you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” I replied curtly. A waiter brought our food to us, and we smiled politely at his service before turning back to each other, the smiles fading. Something in me felt like I was being too harsh. The truth is good to give, but execution matters.
“Well,” Eden started hesitantly. She played with her fries while she gathered her thoughts. “I’m sorry. I think we can have room reassignments next semester, but for now I’ll still pay for your movie. I won’t talk, I promise.”
I thought about the pros and cons of getting a new roommate. Most of it didn’t appeal to me, and I figured I may as well deal with the hand I was dealt. “Nah,” I said to her, waving my hand through the air dismissively, “you’re fine. We can still be roommates. I just like my space, yeah?” I shrugged and took a mouth full of my burger. Eden seemed to be alright with that response, her posture straightening and her expression turning to a slight smile. She said nothing more during the meal, and I respected her a little for that. Maybe this year won’t be so terrible.
She let me pick out the movie even though I didn’t want to pick. There was really no movie out I had a desire to see, so we browsed through the trailers of each movie on the booth screen. I picked out the more entertaining science fiction thriller, and to my surprise Eden was excited about seeing it.
The movie was slightly predictable, but had some memorable scenes. Neither of us talked throughout the film, but as soon as it was over we couldn’t stop talking. We discussed various actors and their believability throughout the film, as well as the overall plot. I was beginning to enjoy her company, and the feeling made me feel odd. I was pretty mean before and she acted like it never happened.
Eden presented herself differently. She only spoke if I spoke first, and I noticed she would only talk about herself or her views if I instigated the subject. A wave of guilt crashed against me as I realized how nice of a person she really is and how quick to judge I was of her. Just as I was about to apologize, she grumbled as she rummaged through her purse.
“Damn, I think my keys fell out of my purse in the theatre,” she said still searching. She looked up at me. “I’m going to go check, okay?”
I nodded as she ran back into the building, and I regretted not offering my help. I stood on the sidewalk awkwardly as I wondered if I should run in and see if I could offer any aid. Instead, I stood in place, at one point checking my phone just to see the time. I really didn’t see the time, though. It was like going through the motions without fully registering the act. My mind was elsewhere trapped within my actions towards Eden and how even now I didn't even bother to help her find her missing keys.
A dark car sped towards my location before coming to a complete stop. I eyed the tinted windows thoughtfully for a second until two masked men quickly exited the car, one grabbing my arms and the other placing a bag over my head. I cried out as best I could, but in my panic I could only manage a faint squeal for help.
They threw me into the back of the car, and I felt a prick in my neck. There was a pressure of a liquid being pushed into my system as I heard Eden scream my name. The door shut and I felt the force of the car driving away frantically, my body tumbling towards the back of the seat cushion. I felt my body become sluggish against my struggle, the two men in the back holding me down as I slowly succumbed to the darkness.