The week was hard. The day itself was harder. Daryl was not able to reach the shower much and smelled like an unkempt horse’s stall. Still in sweat, clothes peeled from his skin just as he walked in through the front door, worry about the upholstery in his car wouldn’t leave his mind. The act of roughly sliding his body out of the clothes, and feeling the birth of a cool air glide across his skin, reminded him of a blistering sun burn. When days later, for amusement, he would peel the skin away from the burn, sometimes pulling it too far and having to yank it off in a strategic fashion, allowing a sensitive pink skin to birth into existence. The water heater in his house wasn’t the fastest. Upon starting the shower, Daryl was to wait for the water to build to the desired temperature. It usually took more than ten minutes. This day, he couldn’t wait. He squinted and drew away from the icy pain only once, then jumped in without a second thought. His arms wrapped around his front, hoping to deter the pain, as if it would leave his presence upon seeing his cowardice. Daryl had forgotten, in his hurried motion, that he turned the knob until it couldn’t go any further for hot water. Impatient to wait and hoping that if it were to be on full heat, the water heater would work full force and he would achieve the perfect temperature faster. Against his hypersensitive skin, the new temperature hurt more than before. From an overheated core his body produced, to icy cold water, back to hot. Water shielded Daryl’s sight, leaving him blindly searching for the temperature knob. Luckily, his hand knocked into the knob and turned it slightly, allowing it to cool. Daryl stood, savoring the now comfortable water. It rained down in streams atop Daryl’s head, flooding his face and flowing down his neck, finding its way down his back and off his chin, slapping the tub with consecutive thuds.
Daryl grabbed the soap to help with the layer of grime. The dirt was caked on, like a shield that protected him from harm, but the thick dirt did the opposite and he knew it.
With soap in hand, top popped ready to be used, the shampoo on the recessed shelf dropped. Daryl hadn’t noticed it, and when it crashed to the tub bottom, it surprised him. When it hit, he jumped several inches in the air, not landing level with the ground. Instead, one foot landed at an angle, making him slip on the tub surface and sent him flipping backward. In doing so, one shin scraped upward against the tub faucet, the back of his head cracked against the back rim of the tub, and his tail bone landed on the bottle of shampoo, which lay on its side. The corner of the bottle dug its way north of his buttocks. Daryl screamed out.
He stood, pain lighting through his backside. Daryl rubbed his landing site , careful not to apply too much pressure. Instead of bending over to clean his leg, knowing that it would cause him pain, he let the water wash away the blood from his wound. When the pain had subsided, Daryl picked the bottle up, imagining himself stepping on it and slipping again whenever he turned in the shower. It was placed onto the recessed shelf with force, and pushed back to the wall to ensure that it wouldn’t slip again. Daryl’s attention went back to the therapeutic shower. Only a little anger was expressed. He loathed feelings of negativity and always wanted to rid of himself of such emotions. Most of the time, he would simply ignore that which deterred his harmonious self.
Daryl let the water run through his hair for a few minutes, savoring the feeling of a great itch being scratched. The water had been turned off, curtains drawn, and the towel retrieved to clear his body of the lingering water. With on step out of the tub, something was flung past his body and landed on the floor, missing his elbow by centimeters. Whatever flew by was saved by the bathroom mat, otherwise its exterior would have cracked and its contents would have oozed from the open wound. Looking down, Daryl saw the same bottle of shampoo lying on the floor. The towel was pressed against his thigh, draped over his leg, unmoving, like a flag extended on its pole without wind to praise its existence. The more time passed, the harder it pressed against his skin. He was frozen in place. A creaking from the hallway broke his concentration. His direct focus went back and forth between the bottle and the shelf. He stood upright and true, the edges of his mouth advanced to the sides of his face; a smile birthed by pride and excitement, strongly believing something unexplainable had happened. While he continued to dry himself off, he said aloud, as if someone was there hiding in the dark, “I know you’re there.”
Another creak came from the hall.
“Why did you do that?”
Anger resided within him, now.
“I am alive! You are dead! You can’t be meddling with the lives of the living. Move on!”
Daryl surprised himself. His chest heaved. His breathing labored. The towel had dropped and his fists were balled up, all the blood had left his hand. His fists were replaced with white, skeletal balls of anger.
He shook his head and hands, trying to shake off the anger as if to shake off an ant that had found its way onto his body.
The week now took its toll. Exhaustion had hit Daryl. He had flung himself onto his couch without dressing. The thought of using energy he didn’t have at the end of the week made him feel more exhausted than he already was. Daryl laid on the couch, eyes closed, drifting into another realm.
Creaking once again broke the silence.
Daryl ignored it, now believing it to be the wind. Feeling silly about talking aloud earlier.
Daryl finally stood up in anger, and headed toward the sound, exaggerating his malicious steps as he went. It had been the door to his office. The door was ajar, opened only a few inches inward. He opened the door, looking toward the window in case a breeze was pushing the door along. The window was closed. He had shut the door to his office, pulling on all the other doors along the hallway to ensure they were indeed fully closed as well. Now that everything was shut, he returned to the couch to hope for sleep to swallow his reality once more. Daryl thought to meditate. That usually put him to sleep faster than anything else. When he laid in bed, thoughts would run through his mind, keeping him up with “what if’s” or “did I remember to’s” that had to do with his day. Just as Daryl was about asleep, the occurrence from earlier invaded his mind–when he lost his zen and yelled out in anger. “I am alive.” “You are dead.” It repeated a couple times.
Daryl’s eyebrows furrowed and a sour face ruled his expression. His earlier dialogue altered.
“I am dead.” “You are alive.”
Then, another voice; “You are dead.”
The creaking started again. Daryl woke with a jolt. The sudden jump from the couch was both in surprise as it was in anger. Just as he started toward the hallway, pissed that one of his doors or door knobs might be busted, a sudden noise halted his progression.
A slam came from the hallway. It was then remembered that everything was shut. More importantly, the windows were shut. What could be causing it, was a thought that ran through his mind several times.
Daryl peaked around the corner and looked down the darkened hallway. From what he could see, all the doors had opened. Except one. His office door.
Empty thump-ing was heard about his office door. In a sudden moment, the empty noise quickened its pace and moved toward him. As each thump passed an open door, the door slammed shut. Daryl was frozen in place, eyes just about bulging from their sockets, unable to react to the sound of someone, something, running at him. The steps, or what sounded like steps to Daryl, stopped a few feet from where he stood. Instead of steps running up to meet him, a breeze that had rested in the darkest crevices of space had struck him, almost knocking him over. He had to position a foot to keep him from toppling. Daryl’s shivering welcomed more goose bumps to grow, allowing a community to manifest across his body. Continuous blinking, in the attempt to remoisten his eyes, was his only reply to the gust of wind. Just as he regained his sight, he locked his gaze at the end of the darkened hallway. Just as this happened, the knob to his office pop-ed, allowing the door to creak open. The darkness within the office room seemed thicker than the darkness at the end of the hall, even when Daryl knew that the curtain was drawn in that room. The door slightly moved back and forth on its hinges, producing a most hateful, eerie sound. Daryl stood watching the door move as if calling him forth. As if beckoning the living.