Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Man Who Wasn't There

One day, a certain man, we shall call him A, had the distinct impression that he was being watched. It seemed not a light matter, not a passing conceit, but a sure conviction attended by feelings of awareness so insistent that they seemed nothing less than evidentiary. The hairs on his neck bristled, shadows dodged conspiratorially at the periphery of his vision. Footsteps not his own fell in cadence, starting and stopping in perfect sympathy, such that it became clear to A that he was not only being watched, but closely followed, as faithfully as by his own shadow.

Always behind him was this ghost, this entity. If A turned to look, no matter how swiftly, the companion turned as well, remaining always behind, directly behind. He could feel the breath of the thing on his neck, he could feel the whisper of the breeze from its movement. If he ran, the thing ran, never tiring at all, or at least before A himself tired. If he stopped, the thing stopped, and drew so close that it might almost have been his own shirt collar. A felt himself haunted, if not possessed, and decided at last to see a doctor.

Showing up in the office on the appointed day, A sat nervously in the waiting room, his feet drawn beneath him, his elbows tucked in at his sides.

When the receptionist called his name, A rose and walked toward the door to the examination rooms.

"Excuse me," the receptionist interrupted, "we can allow only one patient at a time."

A stopped. "Me?" he said.

"Are you Mr. A?"


"Go ahead, then; but your friend will need to stay in the waiting room unless the doctor recommends a dual visit."

Dread rushed through A like a sudden fever, an electric sort of panic. Not knowing what else to do, he fled the waiting room, and entered the restroom at the end of the hall, as if to hide himself. He was shaking, sweating. He hurried to the sink, splashed water on his face, then gripped the edges of the porcelain basin, as if it were some kind of steering wheel, steadied himself, and raised his chin to face the mirror. He gazed intently upon the glass, turning his head first this way, then that.

No one was there. No one other than he himself, that is. A was there. He was alone in the restroom. Only he wasn't. He could see, in other words, that he was, but he knew at the same time that he wasn't.

A determined at that moment to seek the help of a psychiatrist. He went directly to a phone booth, paged through the book for a promising ad, and secured an appointment for two.

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