Catchlight - So Very Lonely I can feel their eyes on me. They’re always watching, waiting for their chance to strike. I quiver, adrenalin filling my veins and turning my muscles to mush. I’m so alone here in my room, in my empty house, alone and vulnerable. I wish Jason were still here, he’d protect me. He’d wrap his arms around me and hold me close, smoothing away the frown-lines, easing my fears. Outside my window, the shadows are lengthening, stretching. They are reaching across the grass to prod at my house with skeletal fingers. I’m afraid; tension fills my body until there is no space left for breathing. I flick the switch by my bedroom door and warm, golden light, fills the room. It’s cheerful, hopeful but sorely misplaced. There’s nothing warm about this room, not now, not when I’m alone. I gaze over at my bed with its thick, fluffy covers and deep inner-sprung mattress that holds me like a lover in its arms. More than anything, I long to slip between the cool sheets and rest my face on the marshmallow pillows. I can’t do that though, not tonight of all nights. Outside, the darkness is complete. The trees that line my yard are no more than barren frames, gnarled by the wind and bleached by the frozen air. Their branches are reaching out into the night, pointing at me, mocking me, telling me they know my secret. They know why I’m afraid. I stare at the ruffles that surround the base of my bed, all pastel shades and prettiness. The perfect cover for such ugliness as lives there, under my bed. It threatens me, threatens to consume me, to pull me out of the golden light and into the chill beneath the bedsprings. It’s the place where they live, the wobbly after-images of those who’ve gone before, the fallen ones. They wait for me there, ready to drag me in with them, make me one of their number but I’m having none of it. I’m the one in control here. In defiance, I stride to my dresser and pull out a fresh nightgown. It’s a pretty one; white with eyelet lace around the shoulders. It drapes beautifully over my body, flaring at the hips and swirling elegantly when I turn. It makes me feel pretty, makes me wish I wasn’t so alone. I spin with a dancing step, cover the floor and fling my body onto the bed. I slip between the sheets and wriggle my toes, feeling the cool spots turn warm. I hear my mother’s voice in my head, mocking me from my childhood, “There’s something not right with that girl,” she tells my father with a laugh. As if there is anything wrong with being happy, or with dancing and spinning and enjoying yourself. Whisper’s, I can hear them whispering. Small voices from beneath me, I knew this would happen. It’s Halloween after all, the time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. It’s the time when spirits can walk among us and air their grievances. These aren’t walking though. They’re waiting under there, waiting for me. I lay my hands against my chest and feel my heart wriggling beneath my fingers like a squirming baby rabbit. I’ve gone rigid with fear, with anticipation at what I know must come. Any moment they will come for me, reaching out from beneath the ruffles with hands colder than the lake in the middle of the forest. Colder than the blood that’s running in my veins, chilling me to the bone with fear. What options do I have? I wonder if it’s too late to make a run for it, to drive to my friend Erin’s house. It’s not too late yet. We could still dress up and terrify the straggling trick or treater’s. It’s a tempting thought. If I had company, if I was with Erin, I wouldn’t feel so alone, they couldn’t get me. I stand up in the bed, reluctant to let my feet touch down too close to the perilous mattress. Instead, I leap off, lifting one leg before me like a flying stag; landing neatly, well away from the bed. I crouch down, rest my buttocks against the back of my calves and peer at the shadows that seem so much darker under the bed. Are they in there? I can feel their eyes on me, watching me. The ruffle twitches a little, as though a slight breeze is lifting it, but I know it’s them. All I have left is fight or flight. My gut votes for flight but only for a moment. I have never been one to back down. I glance at the wardrobe, knowing my coat is in there, and the Halloween costume I chose with Erin. I could still take it out, still drive to safety and a night of silliness with my best friend. No. I won’t let them win. Placing one foot in front of the other with a deliberateness that hides the terror inside me, I walk to the side of the bed. Defiance has always been a vice of mine. It’s gotten in my way and caused more trouble than I needed, especially with men. Jason was the latest, he of the heavy brows and the Hollywood smile. He had broken my heart when he told me that he was leaving. Just like that, no warning, no reason. He was leaving and he was never coming back. “But hey,” he said, “it’s not you, it’s me.” I wasn’t even worth something more original than a worn out cliché. There was David before him, lanky and lean but sexy as hell. I had wanted him so badly I could taste it. Instead of my usual reserved cool, I turned into a lesser, more desperate version of myself around him. That had been the downfall of that relationship. I couldn’t allow myself to grovel. Before them came Kevin, Andy, Jim and Derek. They were all wonderful in their own right, yet imperfect in profound ways. All of them left me. Now, they are always with me, always hovering nearby. They were the spirits that lived under my bed. I crouch beside the ruffle and take the fabric of it between my thumb and forefinger. It has no weight as I lift it away and reach tentatively under the bed with my free hand. I fumble around under there, amongst the dust and long lost socks, and I find it, a shoebox. I pull it out and set it on the floor in front of me. With a deep breath, I lift off the cardboard lid and put it aside. It’s been so long since I have opened this box. There’s not that much in it really, most of it is emptiness but the base is covered in square pieces of plastic and paper, Polaroid photographs. I reach in and take one out at a time, in the same order they entered the box. I lay each photo in order, on the floral rug beside my bed. First Derek then Jim, Andy, Kevin, David and finally Jason. Dear Jason, I wish he were here. He would hold me in his arms and keep me safe, but he isn’t here. His spirit is, it’s angry and vengeful, crouching under my bed and wishing it had the substance to grab my wrists and drag me under there with him. It’s sweet, in a way, that he wants me so badly now when it’s too late. His body isn’t so far away either. It rests at the bottom of the lake, only two hundred feet from where I sit. He was larger than the others had been, big and muscular. I had barely made it to the end of the jetty before tipping him over the side, concrete blocks attached. The others I had been able to drag further, to the dinghy and so they were in much deeper water. It feels right having Jason closer to me. He was my favorite after all. David is furthest away. He needs to be. He’d been my obsession, the most difficult to let go. If he’d been any closer, I would have never been able to escape him. Carefully, I pick up each of the photo’s, glancing briefly at the death masks that stare back at me with unseeing eyes. Silly boys, every one of them. I lay them inside the box and take the lid in my hand. It’s time, time to let them go and move on with my life. It’s past time to find a new love, to start afresh. I pick a white rose from the vase on my nightstand, shake the droplets of water from its stem and lay it gently on top of the photographs in the shoebox. I replace the lid and tie it in place with one of my long, golden hair ribbons from my dresser. Holding the box respectfully in front of me, I walk down the stairs to the back door, pausing to slip my feet into my boots. I collect the spade from its place by the door and head toward the trees. The bitter air raises gooseflesh under my flimsy gown, but it appropriate attire for such an occasion. There will be no more monsters under the bed for me. I place the box carefully on the ground. The grass is moist here; the sun never reaches it during these short, fall days. The spade cuts through the damp soil easily and I lift one lump after another of dirt from the hole I’m carving from the earth. When it is deep enough, a respectable depth for such a solemn moment, I lay the spade aside and kneel beside the hole. I lift my beautiful gown from under my knees to avoid stains and then place my hands neatly in my lap. “Here lies love. My hopes and dreams dashed away by men who cared little for them. They are where they belong now, swimming forever in a lake of their own misdeeds. Sleep well you foolish boys. Rest lightly.” I pick up the box and sit it inside the hole. It is a good fit and deep enough. “Good bye my loves, it’s time for me to move on. I have a life you know.” I get to my feet and fill the hole again. Jumping on top of it with my heavy boots to ensure the earth sits as even as possible. I use the tip of the spade to scrape layers of fallen leaves to cover the grave. The police have been through the area before, asking questions but there is nothing to lead them to me. Most who live in the area don’t even know of my little lake. Even so, I think it’s best to make sure there is nothing at all for them to find. Satisfied, I take my spade and walk back to my house through the heavy shadows. I know I will sleep now with nothing to stand in my way, it’s such a relief. I need a good nights sleep, for tomorrow I have work to do. I’m so very lonely.