I can smell his obsession.
My hair stands on end and a trickle of cold sweat runs down my spine. Feeling safe in my own home is concept I have long forgotten. Danger lurks underneath my stairs and I feel like a small child again, wishing there wasn’t a monster under my bed. That monster is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Illusive.
My house reeks of musty cologne and shadows inhabit every room, refusing to leave me alone. Dread clouds my vision, my brain, my heart. An undeniable sorrow feeds off my very existence. I am imprisoned within my own home and my stark white sheets feel more like a strait jacket than a warm, cosy bed.
I sip my unsweetened green tea, placing my cup down on the wooden table, careful not to slam it or make any other sudden movements. I run my hands through my sleek black bob with tiny, stray curls itching the nape of my neck, refusing to obey my helpless commands. I sigh and head upstairs to my room, bringing the tea with me in a doubtful effort to sooth the overwhelming fear that claims my body for its own.
I hear a knock at the door and my heart pounds as the sound resonates throughout the room. I stealthily creep towards the door and check who it is through the peep hole. I breath a sigh of relief. It’s only one of my neighbours, Barry. I open the door.
“Hi, Dana, I just wanted to let you know that you left your car lights on,” he says politely. “Oh, did I? Thanks for letting me know,” I say as I pull my keys out of my pocket.
“You’re welcome,” he says with a hint of a smile.
I quickly dash out to my car, turn off the lights and return to my house. I shut the door and check the lock several times. I turn around and walk quietly through my lounge room, ready to head up to my room.
The stairs creek as I tiptoe up them. Sometimes I wish this house wasn’t so old – too many hiding places. Thoughts scatter across my brain as the wind flutters the curtains concealing my bedroom window which is lifted slightly. I walk slowly into my room and place my tea on the bedside table. It’s springtime and I have hay fever, so I didn’t open that window. I dash over and lower it shut, locking it and pocketing the key. There are no signs of forced entry but I feel a presence as I close the curtains once more.
My jaw starts to shake, bottom lip quivering. I let tears escape from my eyes. One, then another and another. I let them fall delicately to the ground like tiny droplets of rain. Then the storm starts, tears tumbling out of my eyes in a violent procession. My heart beats rapidly and my skull pounds with fear. I crash onto my bed and my brain floods with thoughts. Should I move? Is he already inside my house? Do I need to run for my life?
I cry myself into a sleepy oblivion where fear haunts my dreams like daggers forever piercing my soul.
I watch her from my window. She pulls on my heartstrings with her pretty, fair face; tall, curvy figure and wondrous hazel eyes. I could lose myself in her. She is the perfect combination of strength and fragility. I somehow feel … somehow feel …. protective.
When I sleep she is in my dreams. She haunts me like a beautiful ghost, unrelenting and ever-present, yet she is more of an angel than a ghost. Through the haze of the night, as she moves to close her window, it almost looks as if she is wearing a halo atop her sweet porcelain head. She is an angel, alright. She is the very definition of beauty, my darling Dana. Oh, I would do anything for my precious angel – my angel possessed by fear in her eyes.
I watch Dana draw her curtains. I suspect she knows I’m here. I watch her shadow, allowing myself to indulge in her beauty. Perhaps I shouldn’t; but I would never hurt her. I feel oddly protective of her. I dare not show her my love or admiration. I shall protect her from a distance, a concealed hero, humble. I always have. I always will.
I retreat to my bed to let my Dana dreams carry me away to a place of bliss where imagination runs wild and brilliant fantasies waltz with the ordinary man.
Keeping my curtains drawn, I rush out of bed, pulling on simple black pants and a white button up blouse before dashing down the stairs, eagerly desperate to leave the house. Keys at the ready, I bolt to my car, unlock it and climb straight in. I put my key in the ignition and start the car, driving away as fast as possible.
After a nervous, almost dangerous, twenty minute drive, I arrive at work, glad to see the friendly faces of my colleagues and boss. Relief floods over me as my eyes float to the clock
– 9am. A gentle sigh escapes my lips. Now until 5:30pm I will not be hunted. I have hours of peace.
I am an accountant at a large firm. I love my job. I love its reasonings; its predictability; its safety.
I settle down in my office, start my computer and check my emails, eager to get to work. Sitting in my Inbox is an email from my boss – nothing unusual in this. In fact, it evokes a feeling of reassurance as I enjoy the leadership of my very supportive, if somewhat, quirky superior.
Please come to my office at 9:15am. There is an important issue I would like to discuss with you.
Checking my watch, I note ten minutes have passed. I have five minutes until my meeting with Lizzie.
I smooth my blouse and run my fingers through my hair before walking briskly to Lizzie’s office. Work is my safe place. I need this place!
I arrive at Lizzie’s office and knock politely on her door.
“Come in,” Lizzie’s cheerful voice tells me.
I open the door and walk into her office. A large wooden desk sits in the centre of the room with a tall stack of papers resting on the left side, an arrangement of photographs on the other and a grey laptop in the middle. Little trinkets and souvenirs from her travels rest on her shelves and a warm, crimson rug coats the floor.
“Hi, Hon. How are you?” Lizzie asks, a broad smile stretching across her pretty face. Lizzie, at first appearance, might seem a little lightweight but despite her petite frame; messy, auburn bun and sweet nature she should never be underestimated.
“Well, thank you, and yourself?” I reply politely, resisting the urge to fiddle with the bottom button on my shirt.
“Good, good,” she replies with a quick swish of her hand. “Now, Dana, I called you in here today as a friend, okay?”
I nod in response, a bit too surprised to speak. This is the first time Lizzie has referred to us as friends.
“I’m worried about you, Dana,” she says, pulling her eyebrows into a concerned frown. “You arrive in the morning and you seem relieved but when you leave to go home …” she pauses to collect her thoughts. “It’s like you’re terrified,” she adds, shaking her head. “Are you terrified, Dana? Is there something we should know? Is there something you’re not telling anyone?” she asks.
I frown and bounce slightly on the balls of my feet.
“Um,” I say biting my lip. Lizzie is so friendly and kind. She seems genuinely concerned. Taking a deep breath, I decide to take a leap of faith. “Actually, there is,” I say, clasping my hands together.
“Sit down, Hon,” Lizzie says gently. “Whatever it is, it’s going to be okay,” she says, leaning in to touch my shoulder.
“I’m not so sure,” I whisper almost to myself.
Luckily, Lizzie doesn’t quite hear me and leans forward in her chair, ready to listen to my explanation.
“I … I think I’m being stalked,” I say, just loud enough for her to hear me this time. Her jaw drops. “There’s this man – David, my next door neighbour. He’s always there – all arty and unkept and creepy. He never stops looking at me. I can smell his cologne in my house. That distinct, putrid smell fills my house. I see his eyes everywhere,” I say as I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth and pinch my finger in order to fight back the tears. My secret fear is out and I can’t stop talking about all the tiny details which mean that I am being hunted, haunted, stalked.
“Last week my cat went missing,” I continued, “and the next day – the very next day – David was digging in his backyard. David never digs in his backyard. He never goes into his backyard! It’s a jungle – his backyard. Then, just yesterday, when I came home I caught him snooping around on my porch with some feeble excuse about hearing some bushes rustling – as if he thought he was there to protect me. He acted like HE was there to protect ME! The police say he hasn’t done enough to warrant their intervention. What does he have to do before it “warrants their intervention”?”
“Dana …” she sighs. “Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll handle this.”
Before I know it, she’s punching numbers into her phone and has contacted her lawyers. She’s chatting away and, before I can stop her, she has booked me an urgent appointment in an hour’s time with the firm’s best lawyer. She ushers me out of the room and into the car park, equipped with a detailed list of directions.
I get into my car and drive straight to the firm, park outside and arrive with ten minutes to spare. Climbing into the elevator, I select floor number four just as the doors are closing. I take a few deep breaths and compose myself. Everything is moving so fast, yet I know it is for the best.
The elevator doors open and I step outside to be greeted by a chirpy receptionist who, according to her nametag is called ‘Amy’.
“Hi there, do you have an appointment?” she asks in a clipped, false tone.
“Yes, my name is ‘Dana Reilly’ but it might be under my boss’s name, ‘Lizzie Hastings’,” I explain.
“Dana, Mr Kennington is expecting you,” she says, still keeping up her forced smile. “His office is the third door on your left,” she says, pointing her perfectly manicured nails down a long passageway.
“Thank you,” I say and make my way to his office. I knock three times and wait for a reply.
“Come in,” a deep voice calls.
I walk steadily into the office to find a slightly balding, slightly plump, middle aged man wearing huge, heavily framed glasses – not at all what I was expecting. I take a seat opposite him.
“I’m Dana, Lizzie’s friend. I have an appointment,” I tell him slowly.
“Ah, Dana, my dear, please get comfortable. We may be here for a while,” he says with kindness.
Over the course of the appointment Mr Kennington informs me of the legal proceedings needed to rid me of David’s torture but I am too stunned to take much in. I can be freed from my invisible chains.
The appointment ends, I thank Mr Kennington and immediately my phone buzzes.
“Hi, Hon, how did it go?” Lizzie’s voice springs through my phone.
“Yeah, great thanks. Mr Kennington thinks we can establish a court date and …” my voice breaks, relief, joy and appreciation flooding over me. “We can finally end all of this.”
“That’s great, Hon! I’m so happy for you!” Lizzie says brightly. “I owe it to you,” I tell her honestly.
“Trust me; it was nothing, that’s what friends are for, right?”
Dana is somehow different. She walks into her house with a little more assurance, as if something she’s been waiting for has finally arrived. She goes through her routines with an undeniable precision although still her eyes dart around the room as if waiting for the shadows to come alive and pounce, dragging her down into a dark place, filled with chaos and madness.
I cannot wait until the day I do not run from my own shadow. I feel like I am being devoured by a soulless monster that lusts after my own flesh and bone.
A musky cologne continues to waft around my house, choking my belief in my nightmare’s possible end. Invisible hands wrap around my throat, depriving me of sweet, fresh air. My ceiling creeks and I feel sure I see a green eye peering through the louvres of my bedroom cupboard. I race to the window but see David staring directly back at me from a safe distance. I collapse into a ball on the floor, crumpling into a deranged heap. All thought of a court date escapes me. I pick myself up and drag my reluctant body into bed, rocking myself into the dark of night.
Dana’s gorgeous face turns to glance out her window. She sees me. Her hypnotising eyes gaze into my very soul as they widen to see me watching her with loyalty and attention.
My heart then beats rapidly against my chest as she folds into the floor. The plot of this dangerous game thickens. I know I am the hero, even if she looks at me as if I’m the villain. I can see her anguish. It lurks in her eyes. Fear resonates deep within her as she sees me lurking in my humble shadows. Does her ignorance prove so torturous that she’s made a derogatory hallucination? She looks at me like I’m the devil. Surely this cannot be true!
I sigh and step back from the window contemplating what could very well be my new reality.
The following day I numbly execute my work tasks, trying hard to focus on the jobs at hand. My phone rings, flashing Mr Kennington’s number, and I answer hastily, eager to hear what he has to say.
“Hello, Dana Reilly,” I speak into the phone.
“Hello, Dana, my dear. How are you?” Mr Kennington’s voice radiates out of my phone.
“Um, I suppose I’m alright,” I answer. “How are you?”
“Good, thank you,” he replies, brushing off my question. “Dana, I called because I wanted you to hear this immediately. The date is set. We will take David to court in one week, on the 5th of June. I promise you, my dear, everything’s going to be alright,” he tells me.
“Thank you. Thank you so very much,” I whisper wanting to seem grateful but dreading the thought of the next 7 days.
“I assure you, my dear, it was very much a pleasure,” he tells me kindly.
I sink back into my chair before hanging up the phone.
A lawyer called me today, telling me I should be in court on the June 5th. It’s about Dana. Why? Does she really believe I wish her harm? Dana has confused a hero with a demon. I have no idea what deadly game she is playing, only that she is a danger to herself. I fear it is when I am needed most that she decides to push me away. I want to speak with her but my lawyer advised me not to. I thought she understood that I am here for her. Where did I go wrong? How could she not know? How can I protect her from behind bars?
Dana, what will you do to me? All these days, weeks, months of my brave and courageous protection yet you dare accuse me? Do you want me to rot in a cell as though I deserve nothing more than to live my days out behind steel bars? Do you think I deserve that? Do I deserve that?
“Dana,” I whisper her name like a secret waiting to be told. “My darling Dana. What have you done?”
The week flashes by in a montage of work and fear, allowing me to embrace a heavy numbness as it engulfs my brain and body with an uneasy wait.
June 5th approaches with a rapid pace as I hope and pray that Dana will realise what she has done.
I walk into the court, with my head held high – my noble intent, my worthy defence.
I must remember my damsel in distress. My darling, damsel Dana. One day, she will see. I shall watch and I shall wait. Games are just moves followed by counter moves. I shall watch and I shall move in this noble game depicting the motivations of a fair and just hero. The watching game.
I am in court, 5th of June.
David enters; I blush and squirm. Mr Kennington enters and today he seems somewhat taller, somewhat thinner and is he wearing contact lenses? Today, he’s exactly what I would have expected. He’s my saviour – no capes or superheroes needed here, just Mr Kennington.
The lawyers talk; the defendant lies; the jury listens and then decides; and, finally, the judge orders. With shaky expectation I allow myself to realise that my greatest hopes have finally come true. David is gone from my life.
I have nine whole months to myself before David is released back into the free world. Even when he is released, he will be under a restraining order, will have moved house and will never be legally allowed to come close to me again.
Relief washes over my body. Giant weights have been lifted from my shoulders and a peculiar form of contentment resonates deep within me. I breathe in deeply and exhale gently. Bliss – but not quite bliss as I expected it to be. I feel – What is it that I feel? I expected to feel elated but somehow I still feel … dread. Am I so used to fear that I can no longer feel anything but dread?
I drive home, steering my car through the many streets and alleyways that make up the rabbit warren of my city. I arrive at my house as an unfamiliar comfort creeps into my dreary being. A place that once represented such immense horror and loathing is finally going to be a place in which a warm blanket of privacy and solitude can be wrapped gently around me.
Over the next few weeks I fall into a warm cocoon of routine. Work, relax, sleep and repeat. I let my newly found blissful regime carry me through the days, lifting me across the lilting seas of the unknown, ignoring deviant shadows and ambiguous sounds. Time becomes my slow-working medicine, making an increasingly fruitful effort to heal my heart and soul.
I watch her. Constantly. I watch her every little action, her every little gesture and every little aspect of her life. I hide with feline care and agility, daring to sneak my emerald green eyes into the crack in her wall. Watching. Waiting. Hunting.
Like a predator, awaiting the pounce on the vast African plains, I watch her. Stalk her. I feel her every move. She is my ecstasy. Change has occurred within her corrupt little world yet I was no part of it. Daggers of regret and anguish stab deep into my chest.
An idea springs brightly into my mind, sparking a train of thought that, without a doubt, is pure genius. I decide to slowly bring myself into her life, allowing her to see me in all my empowering glory.
I introduce myself to her as if introducing a young child to a new type of intoxicating candy. Delicious. How convenient it is to live across the street from the most beautiful girl on the entirety of the planet Earth. My love for her is a secret, even from her.
Time passes all too swiftly as David’s release date rapidly hurtles closer, interrupting my fragile psyche. The shadowed date is etched into my future like words engraved in stone. Moments pass me by like a butterfly, swishing it delicate wings and flying away.
Another of my neighbours – Barry – has been my pillar of strength. He is a kind, well- ordered man who I often run into on my way home from work as he is out in his immaculate garden, pruning his carefully sculpted hedges. Our growing friendship gets me through even the hardest of days.
David’s release date arrives with quaking expectancy, dawning as the rolling clouds on a bitterly cold morning – a morning so cold, an aching burn bites at my fingers and toes.
I set about my day, throwing myself into my work. At lunch, Lizzie takes me to a coffee shop just down the road and does her very best to make me laugh. She is kind beyond belief and her genuine concern strikes a chord deep within my heart.
I finish work and drive steadily home, slowing whenever I have the chance. A gloomy procrastination clouds my usual thought patterns. I arrive home and switch on the television after making myself a cup of tea with an extra spoonful of honey. I prepare for a night of bleak loneliness without the warm companionship of sleep or sweet dreams.
A few minutes after settling down, I hear a crisp knock at the door and walk over to answer it. I see Barry standing on the other side, hands neatly clasped behind his back.
“Oh, um, hi, Barry,” I say. I was not expecting visitors tonight but I suppose all distractions are welcome.
“Hello, Dana. Mind if I come in? I just thought you might like some company tonight, you know, with David …” he tells me.
“Yes, of course. Please come in,” I say politely, letting Barry into my house.
I enter Dana’s house with a concerned expression plastered across my face. I suppose a truly noble gentleman would do something to heal her, support her, let her reclaim her true perspective on the haunting reality we humans call ‘life’.
I sit down on her plush couch, only just keeping the distance between us wide enough to be considered respectful. “Dana,” I say, searching her face for stress or worried imperfections. “Talk to me,” I say.
“Barry…. You already know,” she says, sighing. “David’s free! I know he’s under a restraining order but….what if he breaks it? I don’t want to go back to living how I was before, in fear of my own shadow.”
I frown and allow her constant complaints to jumble in my mind, fogging their edges, blending into one another. She believes she was never mine and now she mistakenly thinks she is his.
I have to consciously stop my face contorting into an expression of lustful agony. How dare she? She allows herself to be riddled with fear of – completely consumed by – a man who is not truly worthy, yet I stand before her, practically grovelling at her feet and she does not reciprocate my undeniable love and affection.
If she cannot be mine then she cannot be anyone’s.
I finally finish telling Barry of David’s horrors when I recognise an undeniable scent. The cologne. David is here. I nearly choke on thin air as shock radiates through my body. How could this be true?
“What’s wrong?” Barry asks.
“Nothing,” I reply, acting out of instinct.
Barry opens his arms to console me.
I lean in and, as we wrap our arms around each other, my eyes widen in hopeless confusion and brutal realisation. I feel the unmistakable ripping of my skin and barely hear my own muffled screams, drowned out by Barry’s powerful hand. Cologne engulfs me and darkness surrounds me. An abyss of nothing.
I stab her – over and over and over but, surprisingly, satisfaction eludes me. Evil, miserable laughter cackles up from the depths of my soul as I run from my own cruel confusion between pitiful denial and pulsating ecstasy.
I know something is wrong. I can feel it. I must be the gallant hero. I know I am not allowed to be anywhere near Dana but I cannot stay away. Not when I have this loathsome feeling twisting in my gut, a parasitic warning.
I walk from my new, cramped apartment to the bus stop, check the timetable and climb on board a bus heading towards Dana’s house. I sit anxiously, twiddling my thumbs and staring blankly out the window.
Finally, I arrive at our bus stop. I walk down the street briskly; keeping my head down, hoping no one recognises me.
I walk up her driveway only to find the front door wide open. Something’s definitely up.
Edging my way through her living room, I see her. She lies on the ground, a pale, bloodied mess. Dead. My darling, porcelain doll has been broken. A blood stained knife rests malevolently at her side. Tears stream down my face.
Shaking with disbelief and horror, I hear malicious laughter wafting into my consciousness and see a shadowy figure run from the house. I want to chase him but remain motionless in shock. I reach for the knife.
Sirens wail as police officers run into the house, guns trained on me.
“DROP YOUR WEAPON AND PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”
Oh my God! They think I did this.
Dana. My darling, Dana, there was one thing you never quite understood. One teensy, little concept you could never quite grasp – before you even knew of my existence, before you started fretting, before nightmares haunted even your waking hours, my darling Dana, dead or alive, you were already mine.
You were always mine!
By Jessica Faulkner from Australia