Among the shelves, I was not sure I saw it. I glanced, and I glimpsed the piercing eyes of yellow and darkness. But, only for a second, and that made me hopefully unsure.
Because it would not be the first time I saw something I could not possibly claim was real. It would not be the only thing I was sure, in the moment, but only in the moment, I had seen.
So, I walked on, and I didn’t glance anymore. Even with the faint breathing keeping pace with me. The edge to that sound was seeing me shuffled to my own edge. But, then, when I truly checked again, I perceived no more movement.
It was as if it did not exist anymore. And that made me nervous.
“Hey,” came a far-away voice, and like an idiot, I assumed they meant me. I glanced and spied this guy just walking up to a random girl who is not me, and I got that little pang of loneliness that every single, uncoupled person knows.
“Hey,” I muttered to myself. “How is it going? Want to go on a date? Are you happy? No, not particularly.”
I let out a little groan, before walking further away, deep into the shelves. The dusty books. Back there, I was alone. Back there, no one asks why I flinch.
Back there, though, the monsters of my mind could find me easily.
Again, the sniffling. Something peering over a thick tome. I ignored it. They all tell me I need to ignore it. That the unreal can disappear by enough real: that’s what my parents told me to do. And, I try, I really do, but the book fell to the ground, and I was having some trouble listening to reason.
Damning evidence came even further when I walked into the next aisle and stumbled upon a girl slumped on the ground. Folded in on herself, with her head leaned down on her knees.
“Okay,” I said. “She’s not really there. Not real.”
I clutched my head and hummed some song. Some random thing. I picked a new one each time, so I would not develop a habit. That might only make it worse.
I got a few lyrics off before the girl let out a groan. I rushed to her side. Real or fake, I am not an asshole, and I would not leave her all alone.
“Hey, you okay?” I asked and leaned in close. This turned into a mistake as she vomited over her own knees. I pulled back, but the smell washed over me. If it was a hallucination, it was a damn real looking one.
“Ugh,” she managed and peered up at me. “You shouldn’t be here…”
The creature let out a small snort nearby. A shiver went up my back.
“It’s still here,” she muttered. “It hit me.”
With some prodding, I got her to unfold and found she had a shallow cut across her stomach.
“I see,” I said, trying to remain calm. “Okay. How? What hit you? Is he still here?”
I worried, for an instant, she would say something about the creature but dismissed the concern. Because only I could see that fictional creature.
“The…” she leveled out her finger, and I turned just enough to notice the shambling furry thing.
“Oh, great. You got a brain bug too then?” I asked.
She lurched, and her eyes had too wide of pupils. A shiver went through her, and she grasped my shoulders. The creature was too close for this. I did not want to know what my brain could do if I believed I was being hurt. They say things about if you die in dreams…
“The Ending Holiday is coming.” She raised her hands above her head and opened her mouth wide. I heard a grumble behind me, and I rolled away as something heavy and thick swung through the air.
A shriek, a slump. The girl no longer sitting, no longer had a head—hopefully as fake as the monster. I rose, and the creature peered at me. Its horns touched the ceiling and left little cuts.
It took another step toward me, and I turned and ran. Looping around on the adjacent aisle to go back toward the front door. To get out.
I passed the guy and the girl from before. They were mid-chatting. I ran so fast it made their papers float away, and the guy glared at me.
“Hey!” he yelled.
I stopped, looked back at him, and uttered one sentence. “Can you see it?”
He froze, and I directed his eyes with a jutting finger.
At the edge of the aisle, was the creature, broad and dark and owning hands hanging so low to the ground. A long tongue darted in and out and his breath made the air smell of sulfur.
The boy looked back at me like I was crazy. Which he was right to think. “See what?”
“Nothing…I hope you have a happy Halloween,” I said, then turned and left, letting the cold autumn air wash over me, and my nerves simmer down from their adrenaline spike. I was safe outside, the demons in my head never followed me out here. Only in closed spaces did it stalk, only when it was hard to see coming.
And, so, I’d taken to sleeping outside on the college campus. Even on that cold Halloween night.