I remember so clearly the day they first came... I think that shock, combined with horror, helps people preserve memories much more clearly than they would have under certain circumstances. It certainly seems to have done so in my case...
It was a Thursday night, and unlike what often seems to be every person in the high school other than me, I would not be out at a party, on a date, or even at a friend's house tomorrow. I was stuck at home alone now- and that would probably be my situation tomorrow as well. My parents and younger brother, Gray,had left around 6:30 to go to some restaurant and Wal-Mart- wisely, or so I'd thought, I had opted for boredom over complete frustration and anger from tagging along with them. I had been along on too many long, claustrophobic car rides during which my family drove around aimlessly and argued to agree to go on another. Even a diet TV dinner alone sounded more appealing to me.
But by 9 or so, I was growing very bored, not to mention restless. It seemed that I never had anything exciting planned for weekends. It wasn't that I didn't have friends, or guys who would date me- I wasn't a complete loser, regardless of how I felt on nights like this. I had friends, but all of them apparently had too many pressing social engagements to call me up to do something very often- or even return my calls. I practically had to extract a written vow from them, a month ahead of time, to get them to agree to do anything with me. It was frustrating to say the least.
As for guys and dating, there were several who would have been glad to date me- all who were either too cocky, too immature, or just too weird. Coming from a girl who likes to mutilate Barbies, you know it must be bad if I say someone's too weird and immature for me to date. It often seems the only guys I was attracted to were at least 30- and I was only seventeen, still just a senior in high school.
So there I was that Thursday, that they came- a day that seemed the beginning of a dull weekend. Little was I to know that boredom would soon be drastically done away with, until it came to a point where I would have loved to have it back...
I was in my room when it happened, stretched out on my stomach on my bed. I was reading- White Oleander, I believe- and for some reason I looked up briefly. And this was when it all began...
There was a girl there, a girl standing in the center of my room. She was small, thin, brunette, maybe a preteen or young teenager. As I stared at her, stunned, I noticed the anxiety shining in her eyes, the way she twisted her hands and looked away from my staring.
"What the- who are you?" I blurted out. "How'd you get in here-"
I hadn't even heard her walk inside my room! My heart started to race, and I swallowed- it wasn't that I was afraid of her, so much, as nervous. She didn't look threatening- but maybe there was someone with her who was. Could this be a robbery, a kidnapping? Was she an accomplice? Why else would she be here, if not for some devious reason? Why would a stranger suddenly appear in my room?
Unless, I realized suddenly, it was some girl Gray knew. He'd never had a girlfriend, so that seemed odd- but maybe.
I started to relax a little, for as my initial shock wore off, I was beginning to see that there was an eerie familiarity about her face, as though I had seen her often, some time long ago, and half forgotten her.
She still had yet to speak to me- she just stood there, biting her lip, the tension obvious in her eyes. Even as I tried to reason out who she was, I wondered what it was that made her seem so nervous.
"Didn't you hear me?" I asked, my tone a little gentler. "Who are you? Are you looking for Gray?"
She shook her head slightly, which showed me that she wasn't deaf, at least. But then why wouldn't she talk? Was she in shock? Had something happened, an accident up the road, maybe, and she was hurt? Was she mute?
I think it was right then that it hit me, that the pieces began to click together, the reason for the girl's familiarity... and possibly the reason for her muteness. The stranger in my room looked exactly as I had picture Reverie Lowell in my mind...
Reverie was an emotionally disturbed fifteen-year-old who was electively mute... but she also happened to be a character in Under the Influence, a novel I had written the year before. A novel that was fiction...
No, I told myself quickly. You're just seeing too much into things. It's just a girl- a girl who looks like Reverie. That isn't Reverie. Reverie isn't real!
But as I looked at the girl again, my stomach tightened in dread, my heart doubled its beats... for she was looking and behaving exactly like a character I had made up.
"Why won't you answer me?" I asked her hoarsely. "Can't you talk?"
The girl shook her head, still staring at me with those dark, saddened eyes. And I knew, somehow I was positive that it was not just some strange girl...
Impulsively I scrambled to my feet, hurrying past the silent girl from my room and into the hallway. My heart was beating so quickly it seemed eager to burst from my chest, and twisting of fear stabbed at my insides.
You imagined her, Lyn, I told myself trying to be cool and logical. She wasn't really there. It was one of your little mental flashes, a temporary hallucination. I don't know why you're so freaked- it's not like you never had one before. Remember the time you saw green worms copulating in the air? And you weren't even stoned? That's scarier than seeing some girl that doesn't even say anything!
But all my stupid hallucinating I'd had before had been brief- within a few seconds, I knew it was just another symptom of my Lyn-ness airing itself. That girl had stood there for several minutes- I had spoken to her.
"Okay, calm down, Lyn," I told myself. "It was just another imagination breakout. You read and write too much, that's all. When you go back in there, it will be gone."
Even as I said this though, I didn't want to go back in that room- didn't, for fear I was wrong, and the silent girl who had looked so much like both a fictional character and a living, solid person would still be standing on my rug...
I found myself going, instead, to the laundry room, where I kept my stationary bike. Maybe if I distracted myself, exercised a little, I could distract myself, vent off a little boredom and stress- whatever it was making my hallucination so hard to shake.
I opened the door to the laundry room, nearly entirely convinced now that everything was okay. It was another freaky Lyn episode, that was all. But that little reassurance was rudely ripped to shreds when I caught sight of the figure perched on my bike, pedaling furiously...
There was a woman there, a very thin woman in shorts and a sports bra that showed plainly her extreme lack of fat or flesh. She had long dark hair clipped up atop her head, and her sharply attractive face was narrowed into an intensely concentrated expression as she worked her legs rapidly. Even as I stood there, my mouth agape, she seemed oblivious to me. She only moved her lips, muttering urgently, "I can't hear, you'll have to speak louder... I'm going, I am..."
There was no initial uncertainty with this woman and who she resembled in my mind. I knew immediately I was looking at Penelope Demarco, the obsessive schizophrenic foster mother from Daughters of None- another novel I had written the year before...
I slammed the door shut, dimly aware of my heart pulsing in my chest much more quickly than was normal... as I stumbled blindly down the hall, all I could think was oh my god, god...
There was something horribly wrong, something was wrong... why would I have had TWO hallucinations like that, two in a five minute span, and of my story characters, no less? And why didn't they fade away after a few seconds, why did they seem so real, so THERE?
Man, you're crazy, Lyn, I told myself shakily. This is ridiculous. You're obviously spending way more time in your own little fantasy world than is good for you- you're starting to see your own characters! That is not good- I think it's time to get out more.
I found myself opening the door to the bathroom, across from my room. For some reason I needed to look at myself in the mirror, I felt. It felt like if I did, I would look drastically different from usual- not only in my facial expression, but also in my physical appearance. It seemed like everything in the world was going strange and disturbing, and somehow it seemed to me that I should be different too. Why else would hallucinations seem so real to me?
I opened the door, half expecting to find my face melted, or my eyes bloodshot, or merely empty sockets. Crazy thoughts, but they seemed logical, perhaps reason for what I was seeing.
My face reflected back at me looking physically okay, though a bit flushed and stressed. But that brought me no relief- I barely even noticed my reflection in the mirror, for yet again, there was another figure in the room, diverting the large majority of my attention.
A young girl was also looking at herself in the mirror, her expression flat and emotionless. She was clad only in off-white underwear and a bra, both too large for her gaunt figure. Her hair was short as a boy's, and her exposed skin revealed a wide array of injuries of various ages and degrees of seriousness.
Like before, with the Penelope thing, I knew with a terrible cold feeling that I had seen this girl- had in fact invented her. She was Lillith Declan, the badly abused and damaged girl from my story Breaking Silence...
As I gawked at her in the doorway, beginning to tremble, unable to move or speak, she turned her head slowly, looking at me with a sharp bitterness rising into her eyes.
" You did this to me," she said, and her body was taut, her voice a fierce whisper. "You pretend it was my father- you say it was Richard. But it was you- you made it happen..."
Oh shit, I thought desperately as her angry eyes remained fixed on mine. What if she comes near me, what if she tries to kill me... she's right, it is my fault, I wrote the stupid story, I completely tortured her in it! Look how awful she looks...
"I'm sorry," I said, my voice a squeak. "I didn't mean- I-"
Even as I spoke, stood there shivering in horror, it hit me suddenly how ridiculous the situation was. I weighed 30 more pounds than her- she would break if I wanted to hurt her! Not to mention that I was probably crazy, this was probably another product of an overactive imagination...
Not finishing my sentence, now strangely embarrassed as well as freaked, I shut the door abruptly, turning to re-enter my room. I opened the door more slowly this time, the images of before still engraved sharply in my mind, and peeked through somewhat nervously. To my relief, there was no one- nothing- in my room beyond its usual content.
Hurrying inside, I shut the door, then locked it, and for good measure, dragged my heavy pink chair to rest against it. I was taking no chances, for I still was completely bewildered as to what was happening to me...
It's okay, I told myself repeatedly as I sank down onto my bed, my hands in fists on my thighs. There's really nothing in te house at all. You know that- none of these people exist. YOU made them up- you ought to know that better than anyone!
It's a hallucination- well, three hallucinations. And hopefully the Lillith was the last one. It really shouldn't surprise you- as much as you think abotu your stupid stories and people who don't exist, it's hardly astounding you'd start seeing them.
As I lectured myself, I could feel my breathing beginning to even out, my body relaxing. I even started to laugh a little, albeit shakily.
"You are cracked, Lyn," I told myself, and my voice sounded normal, self-deprecating. "Maybe you need to stop writing all those stories about psychos. You are way too good at putting yourself in their mindset."
Turning my gaze over to my boarded-up door, I shook my head smiling. Like a blocked door could protect me from things that weren't real! What had I been thinking?
You're so dumb, I told myself. You even wrote a story like this once, remember? The one where your characters were alive- It's only in my head. How could you have thought it might really be happening? Are you stoned- did someone slip something into your drink earlier?
It was actually a possibility, I thought suddenly, amused. At school during lunch. How would I know the difference- I'd never been high before. I'd never really even been drunk.
That could actually be it, I thought again, suddenly excited, relieved. Damn, with all the people at my lunch table missing half their brain cells, why would it surprise me if slipping me acid amused them? They make fun of me for being so straight- that's probably what happened. Stupid Kim or Devin or Phil. Damn, I'm going to kill them!
I was just reaching for the phone, preparing to call the Main Assholes of my extended group of friends, when I saw suddenly that someone else was reaching for it already...
I froze, my heart already beginning to pound. I was afraid to look over, to see what was attached to the hand that had just closed around my phone, was pulling my phone away from its holder...
Okay, another hallucination, I tried to tell myself but even in my head I sounded nervous, on the verge of freaking. This is obviously some powerful trip you're on... you'll kick someone's ass tomorrow.
But did hallucinations usually pick up a real object and make it physically move? I knew I had seen the phone move on its receiver- and now a boy who looked suspiciously like my character Thomas from "Preserving Fantasies" was holding it in his hand...
I looked from the phone in his hand to the empty receiver numbly, then felt the receiver myself. It was empty- I had not imagined that. But then how could that be? I hadn't touched the phone- I HADN'T!
I was so stunned by this that it took me several moments to realize that the Thomas-thing was talking. Not to me, it seemed, and wasn't that strange too? Why would a hallucination ignore you- unless it wasn't a hallucination at all?
That is not REAL, Lyn! I told myself immediately, but again, my voice was weak even in my head.
He was talking to himself... and he looked so real, so solid. The bedcovers were rumpling where he sat...
As I stared, both rational reasonings and paranoid anxieties battling in my mind, he turned to me suddenly, addressing me.
"Hey, what time is it?"
Even in my shock, I knew Thomas, knew he was trying to sound casual to hide his intense feelings- knew his question carried for him, for some reason. I knew this, because I had made him up.
"Almost ten," I found myself mumbling faintly, more out of instinct than anything else. This could not be real, it couldn't be- but then why did he look so real, sound so real? Was there something really wrong with me?
Thomas's shoulders slumped, and he breathed out heavily, clearly disappointed.
"Damn, not late enough. Mona won't be tired enough- I can't call her until one at least."
And that was another thing to confound my mind. Could he actually dial a phone- would the call go through, even if just to another fictional character? Could a real person hear him- see him? Would a call from him show up on the phone bill?
Stop it Lyn- he's not real, you MADE HIM UP!
"You can't call her," I almost whispered. "You can't call anyone. You're not real."
The Thomas-thing glanced over at me, seemingly startled.
"What? Of course I'm real."
"No," I said quietly, my voice slightly shaky. "You're not. You can't be real because I locked my door and I put a chair in front of it. And all that is still there- but somehow you got in my room anyway. And that means you're not real."
"No it doesn't," Thomas protested, seeming genuinely puzzled, his brow furrowing. "Of course I'm real. You can see me, can't you?"
"No, you're NOT," I practically shrieked, my control cracking. "You're not REAL! I made you up!"
I launched myself off of the bed, meaning to run to my door, to escape him, escape the fantasy of my own mind... but as I stood up, my shoulder knocked against his. His shoulder was solid, I felt it against mine... it was there. It was flesh. It was- real...
Beginning to shiver, I turned toward him slowly, staring, staring... he looked back at me, bemused.
"What?" he asked. "What's the matter?"
"I felt you," I whispered, my voice dangerously tremulous. I could hear my heartbeat, felt it so strongly in my chest, my veins, that I half-wondered if Thomas heard it too. "I felt your shoulder. Why could I feel your shoulder if you're not real?"
"But I am real," Thomas insisted, shrugging helplessly. "Really, I am. Why don't you think I am?"
"Because I MADE YOU UP!" I almost moaned.
"Yeah, well, that doesn't mean anything," he said dismissively. "I'm still real."
He moved toward me suddenly, and I gasped, thinking he would touch me, and backed away. But he went to my desk, picking up a bookmark with Garfield on it.
"See?" he said, tearing it at its middle and tossing the two halves onto the floor. "I couldn't do that if I weren't real, right?"
I looked from the ripped bookmark to Thomas, then back to the bookmark. It was definitely torn- and I hadn't done it.
Oh god, oh god, we had a problem here... either I was much more seriously insane than I had feared, or my made-up story characters were somehow becoming real...
"Hey, don't freak out," Thomas said uncertainly, eyeing me. I must have looked as distraught as I felt- all I could think of was, a fictional character is freaked out by me...
"I won't hurt you. I'm not, like, violent, or anything."
"How'd you get in?" I asked, my body rigid with horror. "How are you real? Can anyone else see you, or is is just me? How is this happening?"
Thomas shrugged, seeming as uneasy of me as I was of him. "I don't know... it just is. You know?"
Just then a flood of light beamed into my window, and I could hear the unmistakeable sound of my parents' car pulling up into the rock-covered driveway. My heart leapt, though I was not sure why. What if they couldn't see or feel all these things that looked so like my story characters- what if really it was just that I was psychotic or something?
I wouldn't tell them, I decided, mind whirring with possible courses of action, I'll just go up and act casual like usual, and if anyone- anything- pops up, I'll see what they do. Then I'll know for sure...
I looked uneasily at Thomas, at the torn bookmark, even as I hurried to my door, rushing to unlock it and move aside my chair. I had touched him, I knew I had, and there the bookmark lay ripped... how could I have imagined that? But then, what other possibility was there?