Yes, I do like to brag that nothing can hurt me. I am untouchable by evil. Bullets have never had the pleasure of tasting my flesh. I am immortal. Even emotional trauma cannot score wounds in my heart. So I would like to start this off by thanking my best friend, the one who made me the happiest person alive. Thank you. Thank you so much.
As a child, I found myself living enveloped in the musk of old books at the library my mom worked at. I would spend hours curled up in my favorite chair reading well-beyond my grade level, always eager to go on to the next adventure. I would sometimes hop through the stacks of books pretending to be a heroine from the latest escapade I had discovered, and sometimes I would even wear my mom’s reading glasses and help her stock shelves like a real librarian would. The library was a place that allowed for exploration and wonder. But it also drove nails of fear into my heart.
You see, I was hunted from the day my mom took the job. I remember so clearly curling up in my new favorite chair with a book about tigers when I saw it. At first, I just briefly noted a slinking of limbs and casting of strange shadows, too long and snake-like to belong to anything human. I would see its lanky form crawl infant-like across the marble floor, and I my ears would catch the sound of its long, yellow claws drawing patterns in the ground. It never fully materialized, but it rather darted across isles, stopping just long enough to stare it me with its eyeless sockets, and then disappeared into the stacks of stories on the other side.
I could not turn away from it, and I always found myself shivering with tears when it gave me its wide, toothy grin plastered on its corpse face. It never got close to me, but I felt that its gaze was enough to bind the two of us together, to intertwine our fates horribly. It was my demon, and its smile told me it knew that.
I became downright terrified to be alone in that library, and that could be why I bonded with Dean. Dean was an older man with too-big glasses that magnified his too-small eyes into comical proportions. He walked with a bit of a stoop, but he was still nimble enough to keep up with the escapades of a small child. While my mom would always brush me off during her work hours, Dean seemed to incorporate me into his job. He was how I learned the Dewey Decimal System. He was how I learned to sound out big words. He was how I felt safe with the demon that stalked me through the book racks.
He was a great friend to me. He would keep me entertained for hours by hiding various objects around the library and giving me a map to search for them. And, oh, was he clever! He would hide objects up in the ceiling so I would have to stack boxes and hardback books to reach them. He concealed items in the men’s restroom and laughed when I refused to go inside (I am a lady, thank you very much). And he would sometimes place a roll of Duct tape for me to find inside a small janitor’s closet that I had never seen used. He would hide the tape behind mountains of unused cleaning supplies, and if the creature hadn’t been lurking in the ventilation shaft of the closet, I would have definitely taken my time finding it.
Dean just laughed when I told him that I thought the demon lived in that closet. He shook his head at me and just clasped a hand over my shoulder.
“There’s no such thing as monsters,” he said. He sounded so sure, so adamant, that I wanted nothing more than to believe him completely.
Of course I couldn’t. The demon was lurking just behind the non-fiction section, and it peeked its head out to frown at me. That was much more terrifying than when it smiled; just the downwards slope of its cracked lips seemed to cast the library in a petrifying cloud of dread. Tears sprang to my eyes.
“Yes there are!” I retorted. “Look; it’s right there!”
Dean turned to look. He stared right fucking at the monster and just chuckled.
“Ah, honey, there’s nothing there. You’ve been reading too many books.”
“I have not.” I was adamant, too. It’s a gift small children seem to have.
“All right, sweetheart. Here, why don’t you help me put this book back?” Dean handed me a copy of a collection of Bram Stoker, and I just scowled as I went to put it away. The creature smiled when I passed it, parting just a whisper of the dark clouds that enveloped my mind. Dean couldn’t see it. I was only ten, and already I was questioning my sanity. The monster was as real as the books around it, so why was I the only one it haunted? If possible, I was more scared than before.
But the monster never harmed me. I got close to it a few times hunting for treasures, and it just looked at me with its soulless, black sockets and smiled. It never reached out a claw to me. It never leaped at me baring a mouth of fangs. It just watched me play in the library like a hovering mother, attendant and alert. Although my young mind invented scenarios of bloodshed and murder, the creature still never touched me. It was just there, and it slowly began to just become a part of the library, part of the scenery.
I still tried to talk to Dean about it, but he insisted that it was just the product of my vivid imagination. Even my mother told me to stop wasting her time with foolish tales. I think that is why the monster was still so terrifying to me. Nobody believed it existed, and I was the only one it stalked. I felt crazy. I felt like a liar. So I did my best to ignore it, and, after a while, I was able to pass the monster without feeling lightheaded and without my heart racing towards explosion. Perhaps it was just in my mind, and maybe it was just a phase of my childish whimsy like my mom said. It was a little bit comforting to think that.
Because the monster was no longer plaguing me, I grew closer to Dean. We played more and more together, him inventing new treasure maps, me searching with methodic determination through the janitor’s closet.
I even hinted without secrecy to my mother that she should marry him. She brushed off my comment like it was poison, and told me that he “creeped her out” and that she didn’t like me playing with him. Of course I defended Dean by yelling at my mom that she was wrong, that he was the nicest person in the world because he actually paid attention to me. My mom was helping a customer when I said that, and she turned to me fuming.
“Go read a book or something; I’m busy.”
With hatred burning tears in my eyes, I stormed off leaving my mom to apologize to the lady checking books out at the counter. My favorite chair by the adult section (the children’s section was always too loud) swallowed me as I fell into it and buried my face in my knees. I could feel the monster peer out from a stack of books, watching me cry. Its very presence made me weep harder, the tears of a very lonely child falling from my face. I didn’t want to look at the monster; I didn’t want to know that my mind still found it real.
I looked up to see Dean standing in front of me, the monster watching him with a malevolent expression just a few feet away.
I might’ve sounded too excited to see him, but by him moving closer to me, he moved away from the demon he couldn’t see. His face leveled with my own, and he wiped a tear away gently.
“Why are you crying? You can tell me.”
“My mom says . . . I don’t think she wants us to play together anymore.”
He was a quiet for a few moments, and I could hear the tick of the library clock slicing through the silence. His lips formed such a grimace that I involuntarily retreated further into the chair, but he then smiled, eliminating all the fears in the world even when the monster hissed from behind him.
“Well, she’s probably just worried you don’t have friends your own age.”
“That’s dumb, and I don’t really care. You’re my best friend, and that’s that.”
“Why thanks, sweetheart!”
I gave him a hug then, but he felt stiff, like it was unwelcome. When I drew back from worry, he was still smiling, but he glanced around briefly as though searching for something. Of course, his eyes never rested on the monster even when it growled lowly at him.
“Hey, how about one last treasure hunt then? Do you think the old lady will complain about that?”
I giggled and shook my head, and he helped me to my feet.
“All righty! Let me think . . . Oh! I know! I hid a pink rope in the janitor’s closet. If you can find it, it’s yours, okay?”
I nodded and dashed off before he was able to give any further instruction. His smile was all I needed to put haste in my step. A few of my mother’s coworkers cast annoyed grunts my way, but once I was in the sanctuary of the closet, I didn’t care. I was playing a game with my best friend, after all.
I sorted through piles of cleaning supplies and boxes of paper towels systematically looking for just a hint of pink. I was usually an expert when it came to finding Dean’s treasures, but after moving my fifth bottle of bleach to the side, I was beginning to suspect that he didn’t actually hide a rope at all. In fact, my childish temper began to rise. Almost. That was before I noticed a hue of delicate red just above my head in the air vent, just beyond the creature’s soulless black eyes.
Anger seared through me rather than fright. This was my last chance to play with my best friend, and this monster was ruining it. It was just like my mother how it seemed to suck away my happiness and find fault with whatever I did. It was evil. Why wouldn’t it just disappear?
“Go away!” I yelled at it. “Just leave me alone!”
The creature moaned as though letting out a quiet sob. Its smile disappeared on its gaunt face, and I whimpered at how terrifying its frown appeared. But it backed off, it actually left, and I was able to climb a few boxes of Bleach to get the rope from the air vent.
“Dean! I found it!” I was so proud of myself. I won the game, and the monster was gone. Triumph washed through my veins, and I held myself tall as Dean came into the closet and closed the door.
“Great job, sweetie! Now, would you like to play a different game?”
I cocked my head to the side, lips pursed. I didn’t much care for change, but Dean’s wide smile reassured me. I nodded with my entire heart.
“All right. Have you heard of Houdini?”
When I shook my head, he grabbed my shoulders and took the rope from me. He slowly drew the course material against my tense arms.
“Well, he was the world’s best escape artist. He could get out of any knot, any dangerous situation, you name it. He was incredible. He captivated millions. So we’re going to play Houdini, okay? I’m going to tie you up, and you’re going to try to escape.”
It seemed like fun, and I nodded again as he began to coil the rope around my slender frame. I yelped a little as it rubbed sharply against my skin.
“Dean, it’s too tight; it hurts,” I said.
He was standing behind me know, knotting the rope on the small of my back. When I turned to look at him, he was frowning, a scowl that reminded me so much of the monster I was terrified of that tears sprang to my eyes.
“Dean? Dean, I don’t want to play this game. Dean, please.” I begged. I cried. But he just stared at me with a predatory expression I had never seen accompany his features.
“Shut up. This is just a game.” He said it so roughly that I began to cry audibly. He mumbled something in annoyance and grabbed at the Duct tape lying just a foot away on a shelf.
“I told you to shut up. I don’t want to do this the hard way, sweetie.” There was no love in his voice anymore, and his hands were like the monster’s claws as he shoved the tape across my mouth. The adhesive burned. I began to squirm against the tightness of the rope. Tears began to form rivers on my cheeks.
“Oh, sweetheart, your mother was so right about me.” His lips appeared as if they were held down by weights. His monologue was not intended for me, but I still recalled later the intense sorrow he projected. “But I need you. Dear God, I need you so much.”
He drew his fingers across my cheek, and the goosebumps raised pain on my skin. When I flinched away, he mumbled a curse. He glanced up to the air vent above.
“I’ll get you out of here. You’ll be mine. Finally, you’ll be mine.”
I cried so much harder when he moved a box to get to the vent. Panic seized my heart when I heard the creature crawling to the opening. Two monsters, and I was tied to a chair, immobile, in a janitor’s closet.
The creature dropped down from the vent and landed its lithe form nimbly between me and Dean. It glanced at me briefly when I screamed against the tape, and then it turned its hollow eyes on Dean who didn’t so much as flinch. Of course; he couldn’t see the demon. That must’ve been why he began to peel his shirt off his torso.
There was a brief second in that moment where I lamented on the loss of my best friend. I was alone, so alone in that tiny closet.
But that concern was brief.
In the course of just a minute (but what felt like hours), the creature plunged its long talons into Dean’s bare chest. He howled, a sound akin to what I heard a cat make when my mom ran over it in her car, and he stumbled backwards as he stared at the blood rose blossoming on his chest.
“What the . . . What the hell?” he screamed. He punched at the air in front of him, but the monster had already removed its claws and was hovering behind him. Was that hissing sound laughter? Was that look it gave me pity?
It wrapped its over-large hands around Dean’s head, and he began to panic. He squirmed against it while crying curses. He looked at me with horror.
“What is this? What is this?” But I couldn’t talk. All I could do was nod my head at the monster. As an answer, it hissed again and tugged at Dean’s head with a power unrivaled by anything else on this earth. But I know where that creature came from, especially when it tossed Dean’s disembodied head and spine carelessly next to the discarded roll of Duct tape.
I don’t remember much of what followed. There was shouting and a bright light as the closet door was opened. There were men in blue uniforms. There were men in white coats that dragged me away when I, free from my bindings, hugged the creature’s slick body. It cooed in affection, and I cried when I realized that I wasn’t friendless after all.
My mom left me at the hospital they took me to. There was something about a gruesome death caused by a little girl tied to a chair that I think she just couldn’t wrap her head around. It didn’t matter, anyways; I told the monster to kill her when I was in a particularly bad mood after she hadn’t visited for a whole month.
The doctors put me in isolation after a while when unexplained deaths would just occur around me. The schizophrenic that stole my dessert? Dead. My manic roommate that tried to shove a pillow over my face in my sleep? Dead. My counselor who refused to refill my Lithium and Zanex? Definitely dead.
But I don’t mind the solitude. I’m never alone, anyways, because my best friend is always there to comfort me.
And I know I am invincible. The doctors cannot hurt me with isolation or medication because that creature is always there, hovering like an angel above the people who try to maim me. It even helped me escape my prison, and now I lead a normal life, free from the confines of pain and misery. Besides, no one can trace the deaths to me.
If you pass me on the street nowadays, you will most likely see me grinning. I am so happy. So I will give you one warning from the bottom of my generous heart:
Do not hurt me. Be careful what you say to that smiling stranger. Because, if you’re not, remember that Hell is my best friend.