On Monday, it tiptoes across your shadow. By Tuesday, it’s clawed up your jeans. Come Wednesday, it’s sunk its claws into your jacket. On Thursday, you can feel it hanging from the top of your head, hissing with a voice as sweet as honey:
“Assignment’s due on Friday…”
You see it prowling in the dorms, its form compacting like a rat as it slides under the door. Look closer and you’ll notice its nest, behind the beer-can stacks. Its compact yellow eyes stare at you from between your roommate’s guitar strings. With shriveled gums, it nibbles at your toes and the soft spots under your armpits.
“Cite at least three sources…” it whispers in that sickly-sweet way.
Look at any line of students, assignments in hand. Turn your head just so and look at the back of their heads with the corner of your eye. You’ll see it then: the shriveled little thing that makes a blanket form their hair or dangles from their piercings. Stare at a tardy student in the bathroom mirror on exam day and you’ll see it once again, hanging over them in mid-air, like a monstrous puppeteer.
“Did you attach the writer’s memo?” it titters into your ear, just as you’ve clicked ‘Send’ at 3 in the morning, 3 minutes before the deadline without a chance of resubmission.
The tutors can see it, but won’t talk about it. The professors drag entire gaggles of the tings across the linoleum, their spindly arms wrapped around their ankles. A few neutered ones, gorged with the spicy-sweet bounty of academic anxiety, frolic in the dean’s office. Bloated, predatory alphas are perched like hunting falcons on the shoulders of exchange students.
“No shame in re-doing the semester!” they croon from the rooftops at the slackers, but they don’t seem to hear. “No shame, no shame!”
It’s two days before the deadline and they’re prowling around your keyboard, stretching like kittens. A few of the bolder ones wraps their spindly legs around your wrists, as your fingers struggle with a title for the essay. They grasp your index finger and pull, just so, switching tabs as they go. They roll around the keyboard, filling your browser with nonsense pop-ups and kitten videos.
“Four hours to go! You can get a passing grade, easy!” they coo, reassuringly. From the other end of the dorm, you hear the desperate cackle of a student, caught in the clutches of an impromptu ‘How I Met Your Mother’ marathon. All around you, the stress-fauna sighs in delight, gorged on fresh waves of anxiety.
You type on the keyboard, the words crawling across the blank paper at a languid, almost geological pace. Chancing a glance outside, you see the creatures gliding on currents of chill night air, their tiny bodies bobbing and weaving across the moon’s pockmarked face. One glance at the clock and an hour’s gone by. Another and it’s already past midnight. All around you, you can feel them tugging at your hair and whispering, oh so softly in your ear about the joys of procrastinating. Your finger hovers over an open YouTube tab.
“Is that a Let’s Play? What’s that sketch all about? Ooh, you just have to check that podcast!”
When you look up from the screen, the sun’s peeking out from the edge of the horizon. Your eyelids are heavy. Your palms are sweaty. There’s a deep, animal rumble coming from your belly. All around you, the room is crawling with the cackling things. One glance at the word count. Just a few hundred left to go. Fingers hammering at the keyboard, you struggle with the perfect excuse, but nothing comes to mind. All that’s left is for you to finish it.
The last fifty words are like pulling teeth. The 1” margin might as well be as wide as the Marianas Trench. Double-spacing is an arduous, almost impossible chore. By the time the printer finally churns out the pages, you feel as if you’re a doddering old fossil.
“Did you check for typos? I think the margins are all skewed.” the doubt-things mock you, even as you’re handing the papers in. Their voices are weak, their gaunt forms withering every second. “You forgot the memo!” a wizened old matron cries. You whip it out at the last second and hand it over, as she disintegrates like the Wicked Witch of the West. The doubt-things shed off you like dandruff, pattering down on the floor to howl at you. They begin to melt and hiss as soon as they’ve struck the floor. Come Saturday, not a trace of them remains. On Sunday evening, you see glowing eyes staring at you from the air conditioning vents.
On Monday, you know they will be out on the prowl once again.