I stare nervously at the bedroom door as I move to the kitchen to prepare my dinner. Just beyond the kitchen is a small laundry room. This space used to be one I would avoid at night. It’s not quite dark yet, but I do notice that I feel peaceful in the kitchen tonight. I even walk into the laundry room to test my feelings. The fear I would typically experience in that space does not rise in my belly.
It seems almost impossible that a person walking through my house with prayers would so drastically change the feelings I have in it, but it’s happening. I’m less afraid. This whole experience will take some time to process before I even begin to understand it. Still, I’m starting to see why they warned me against entering the bedroom. The place I was intentionally avoiding is now a temptation. I don’t take it. However, after finishing my dinner—on my way to use the bathroom in the hall—I do pause at the door for a moment. It feels benign, not entirely safe, but still and tempting, like a gingerbread house set in the middle of a forest might feel to two lost children.
Shaking Hansel and Gretel from my mind, I continue to the bathroom and get ready for bed. I don’t have much to do. I didn’t foresee being banished from my bedroom so early in the evening, and most of my nightly rituals are in the other bathroom. Still, I have no desire to test this Shaman’s instructions, so I will go with what I have for tonight. Pulling a blanket from the closet in the hall, I make my bed on the couch.
The deeper the night descends into darkness, the more ominous the bedroom door appears. I think of IEO’s warning to avoid it and what might lie beyond. He said there was a pack of dogs longing to push me over a cliff. I’ve always felt watched at night. Other than the typical terrors of an abusive childhood, I also feared the shadows, the things I felt lurking in the corners. I felt pursued. I don’t know if I’ve realized it before this moment, but I’ve always felt pursued.
I sit for some time, thinking of my fear. I wonder what might be in there, why I can’t go in. When suddenly, there is a small rattle from the other side. I stare at the door for several minutes before seeing the doorknob move a little and then stop. The movement is so slight that I begin to wonder if it happened at all. I stare at it, both terrified and hopeful it will move again—if only to validate what is now unimaginable.
Hours pass and nothing else occurs, so sleep eventually overtakes my scrutiny. I’m not sure how long I’ve slept before it happens, but I am suddenly jolted awake by a loud bang at the bedroom door. It feels as though it has shaken the entire building. I desperately try to pull myself from the muddiness in my mind, but my sleep was very deep, and I am not sure that it wasn’t just a dream.
Barely awake, I try to register what I heard. There is another bang. It sounds as if the door must have come loose from the hinges, and I now find myself fully alert. I try to sit up to see the door, but I can’t move. A heavy weight sits upon my chest, and my arms and legs feel pinned by invisible hands. I can’t comprehend what is happening to me. I try again, struggling against the pressure on my chest, but I can’t escape.
Panic wells in me as the door begins to rattle. Something is in the bedroom, and it’s trying to get out. I squirm, trying to break free. I must escape the condo. Whatever is trying to liberate itself from my bedroom wants to kill me, and I know it. I try to work my way to the edge of the couch, taking the weight with me, but the hands hold firm. I struggle until sweat pours from my face, and my breathing becomes short. The door rattles violently, and my mind clatters with it. The thought of freedom consumes me, and I throw everything I have against the weight on my chest.
Something shifts. I’m not sure what happens, but my attention shifts suddenly. Thoughts of the door and even the weight upon me fall away, and I grow quiet. Breathing like a prizefighter at the end of a title round, I stop, and I listen. My mind becomes sharp, hyper-aware of each molecule, the millisecond of each moment.
Gradually, I begin to sense something much more ominous than a pack of dogs. It is outside, sniffing at the windows, searching for an opening. I recall the Elder putting medicine at the windows, and I realize he must have prevented this thing from entering the house. I try to crane my head to track the thing’s movement when my eyes land upon the patio door. He didn’t put medicine at the patio door.
Like an animal sensing my thoughts and its next meal in them, the presence darts from the window and rushes for the patio. It stops just short of the deck, cautious to avoid a trap. I feel it climb nimbly, moving slowly and deliberately onto the patio. As it does, I notice the blinds shift slightly, like a small breeze suddenly picked up and gently began moving them. I struggle beneath the weight on my chest with renewed vigor, and the bedroom door rattles even harder.
That thing outside is going to set them free. I know it is. I can’t let it come in. I thrash wildly, trying to move when I see the latch on the patio door click open. Panic swells in my chest, and fresh tears pool with the sweat rolling down my cheeks. Of all the troubles in my life, I have never felt fear like this.
The door to the patio slowly starts to move on its track. My struggles stop. Of all the noises and the banging from the bedroom, I don’t think I ever really wrapped my mind around any of these doors actually opening. I stare in childlike wonder as the open gap revealed by the moving patio door slowly begins to widen.
It is him. He has come to help them. I don’t know who he is, but I know it’s true. The words stand out clear in my mind. I know them in a way I have never known a thing. He has come to help them push me over the cliff. Comprehension slowly descends upon me, and I fully realize my position. He wants me dead.
His intention shines like a neon sign, and as I begin to see what is about to come next, I begin to realize something else as well. After all the things I have survived, after everything I have been through, and after all of the fighting that I have done, this infuriates me. I am not dying like some terrified child, alone to face a pack of wild dogs. I survived worse packs than this. I can’t comprehend accepting this inevitability.
The rage in me grows, and the rattling of the bedroom door fades from my perception. I focus all of my attention on the opening patio door. It consumes my mind. It is all I see, and as I watch, I decide that this cannot happen. I will not allow it.
Throwing my body forward, I scream, “NO!”
The entire room goes quiet, and everything within it becomes still. The bedroom door stops rattling. My mind stops reeling, and I look down to find myself sitting upright on the couch. I turn to confront the patio door. As I do, I hear a deep exhale of breath, like the world itself, is sighing. There is a rush of air that crosses the room and escapes out the open patio door with the sound. It lifts my hair as it passes me and leaves the blinds lightly rattling in its wake.
I look around the room and realize it is over, not just the night but also the terror. The nights of lying awake and waiting for sleep to save me, being terrified of my closet, all of it is done. I am free.
I slowly rise from the couch and walk over to the patio. Opening the door the rest of the way, I step into the night. I take a deep breath of fresh air, relishing it as it hits my lungs and dries the sweat on my face. After a moment of enjoying what finally feels like freedom, I walk inside the condo—leaving the door open to allow fresh air to fill the room. I have never left a door open to the dark, but I don’t think I am anyone I have ever been before.
Walking across the living room to the bedroom door, I decide there is no better moment to reclaim my life. I am not running, not anymore. Whatever it is that chases me; it will not catch me from behind. I have fought too long and too hard to make it this far. I will not give myself away so easily. It must face and overcome me if it wants to take my life. I swing the door wide and walk directly to the closet.
I think I expected to see something waiting there for me, but the room and the closet and the bathroom beyond are all empty. The whole condo feels empty, inert, like nothing but me is there. Entering the bathroom, I wash the sweat from my body. Then, I brush my teeth and step back into the closet and change into my p.j.s. On my way to the living room to close the patio door, I open the window in my bedroom, and I decide to keep it open. Then, I gratefully lie in my bed, and I surrender to sleep with the feeling of a light breeze touching my cheek. With both the bedroom door and the closet door wide open, I peacefully allow myself to drift into a dream. The clock reads 3:42.