The second Anna and I read your comments, we knew we had to see him. Anna’s his cousin, so she and I went over to his house yesterday to visit. Alex’s mom answered the door, and invited us in for lunch. She said that she’d heard Lucas wasn’t doing very well, so I told her everything that had been happening. By the end, her face was white.
“Alex used to talk in his sleep just like that all the time,” she said. “Maybe he still does. The doctors said it wasn’t an issue, so we moved him downstairs. It’s the only way we could get any sleep.”
She told us that for Alex, it all began when he was fourteen. He’d wake up in the middle of the night, voicing the panicked words of the unfortunate. It took his mother a couple of weeks to figure out the significance of what he was saying, but when she heard him sob that he didn’t have any money, please don’t kill him sir, she called a specialist. The doctors simply concluded that Alex suffered from chronic nightmares and that there was nothing to do but let them run their course. In the meantime, they said, it was probably best that his parents not sleep across the hall from him.
What the fuck, right? Of course, we asked her if we could go talk to Alex. She told us his room was downstairs. We walked into the basement in silence, completely blown away by what she’d said. When we knocked on Alex’s door, he opened it and looked at us. When he did, Anna gasped, and I felt her shift beside me. She was gaping at him with wide eyes and clutching her chest. I raised my eyebrows at her, but her attention was focused on Alex. “It’s you,” she said, her voice shaking. “You’ve been protecting me.”
Alex turned around and walked into his room without a word. I grabbed Anna by the shoulders and whispered to her. “What are you talking about? I thought you said it was Lucas!” She just gave me a bewildered look, but Alex turned around. “It is not Lucas,” he said. Alex is autistic but very high-functioning, and his speech is usually disjointed, almost robotic. “I have protecting you from Lucas.”
We stared at him blankly. He looked down sadly. “Not angry with him, please, Lucas, he is trying,” he said. “He is not himself.”
My stomach dropped. We had heard Anna use that exact phrase—several times—in her sleep the night before. I turned to her, and she looked absolutely horrified. “What’s happening to me?” she asked Alex pleadingly. “What are you protecting me from?”
Alex just shuddered and climbed in his bed. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” He gestured at the door. “Leave,” he said simply, and pulled the covers over his face. We tried somewhat frantically to get more information out of him, but he wouldn’t say another word. Communicating with the autistic is not always easy, unfortunately.
We went back to my house in a daze. In just a few sentences, Alex had turned everything we thought we knew about this upside down. We didn’t know whether we could even trust Alex until we walked into Lucas’s room. He was lying on his bed, half-conscious. The phone rested limply near his ear. He was listening to Alex.
We reached for the phone, but he grabbed it and pressed it firmly to the side of his head, shooting us a tired glance before turning over. Even the smallest movements seemed to require a great deal of effort. Anna knelt down next to him and pulled back the covers. He was only in a pair of boxers. “What are you doing?” I asked, but Anna only gasped and pointed. There, amidst the hair and freckles on his leg, were four long, pink scars—scratch marks.
“They couldn’t find a match,” she said breathlessly. I suddenly remembered the night of Anna’s attack, and the blood and skin under her nails, courtesy of one well-placed swipe, shipped off to a lab.
“No, this is crazy,” I said. “This is not right.” My brain scrambled to make sense of this new development. “I watched him talking, in this bed, while you were—“
“I can’t explain it,” she said, tracing her fingers over Lucas’s scars. “I did this, though. You know it.”
“We have to hear this,” she said, gesturing to the phone. We bolted into the main room and picked up the other line. I don’t know what we expected—but it certainly wasn’t Alex’s rushed, panicked voice repeating a single mantra, over and over:
“You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself. You are not yourself.”