I have nightmares where I’m trapped in a shower. The drain is plugged, and the the water won’t stop pouring down on me. Water rises to my ankles, to my waist, and then over my head. The shower curtain turns to glass, and my screams turn to gargles. A dark figure presses its face against the glass on the other side, and it watches me. I plead, but it won’t let me out. I swallow water and flail helplessly in my glass coffin.
I wake up gagging.
I know where the nightmare came from - I never have to dig deep. The incident is never far from my subconscious. Finding it is easy.
Getting over it is not.
It was the summer of my 12th birthday when the Hudsons moved in across the street. Three people, one of them a really old woman. She was tiny, frail, skeletal almost. Thin white hair, faded, blue flowery dress - her head hung from her neck and it wobbled as the man pushed her up a makeshift wheelchair ramp into the house. At the time I couldn’t figure out if she was alive or dead.
A few minutes later she appeared in an upstairs window, sitting in her wheelchair. She was directly facing my bedroom, and I cautiously peered out from behind my curtains. Her head was upright now, and she stared at me. Just stared, without moving her head an inch.
I closed my drapes.
For days she sat at the window. She watched the cars putter down our suburban road and gazed at the neighborhood kids scurrying through their yards. I never saw anyone else in the room; never saw her move from that wheelchair. At night I’d nervously peek through the crack in my drapes. Her silhouette was still in that window, lights off, staring out into the darkness at my bedroom. I couldn’t tell, but I knew she was watching me.
The stories about her cropped up pretty quick amongst my friends in the neighborhood. That she was a witch. That she was just a doll. That she was actually dead. But I knew she wasn’t dead. Sure, I never saw her move from that window, not once. And I never saw her head turn. But I felt her eyes move as they studied me. I could feel her watching me. All alone in my bedroom, in the middle of the night with my drapes firmly shut, I’d wake up and shudder. Her eyes were on me, I just knew it.
I began sleeping on the floor. The lower I was, the better. Maybe she couldn’t see me if I was on the floor.
I told my parents that the old woman across the street was creeping me out. I pleaded with them to talk to the Hudsons and ask them to move her to a room without a window. They laughed and told me to let her live out her twilight years in peace. She was just watching the street, they said, and that probably made her feel happy and feel younger.
“Are you just going to stick me in a windowless room when I’m an old lady?” my mom laughed. “Remind me to move in with your sister when I’m in a wheelchair!”
A week later there was some commotion at the Hudsons. I watched from my bedroom window as the man ran out of the house and opened up the double-doors of his van. He jogged inside, and he reappeared minutes later pushing the old woman in her wheelchair down the ramp. She looked frailer than before. She couldn’t have weighed more than 70 pounds. Her head was flung to the side, resting on her right shoulder. Her body jostled in the wheelchair.
But her eyes never left me. Watched me the whole time.
The man picked her up and placed her in the car. He folded the wheelchair and stuffed it in the trunk. He quickly hopped into the driver’s seat, the younger woman pounced into the passenger seat, and the man put his foot to the pedal.
The old woman’s limp head still faced me. It bobbed up and down as the van reversed down the driveway. I studied her face. It was expressionless, emotionless. Her tongue slightly hung from the right-side of her mouth. But her eyes were on mine, and they stayed on me.
The van accelerated down the street, and it was gone.
My parents heard the news that afternoon from other neighbors: the old woman’s condition was getting worse, and the Hudsons had taken her to some sort of a home. She wouldn’t be coming back. I went straight to my bedroom, and I looked across the street. I smiled. Her window was finally empty.
The Hudsons didn’t come back the next day. No van. That night I looked out towards the old woman’s window. There was no one there, no wheelchair. But the bedroom light was on. I remember telling my dad I thought it was strange, and he just shrugged and said, “Must be on some sort of timer or something.”
I woke up in the middle of the night and nervously peered out my bedroom window. That bedroom light was still on. It suddenly flicked off, and I ducked below my window frame. I slowly rose and looked out, expecting to see the silhouette of that tiny, skeletal being. I watched for ten minutes, pinching and straining my eyes. The lights quickly flickered on and then off again.
I slept on the floor again, clutching my pillow close.
I had a late baseball practice the next evening. When I got home, my house was empty. My parents were at my little sister’s softball game. I headed to the shower to rinse off.