As a kid, my hearing was terrible. When I say terrible, I mean really bad. I was actually considered hard-of-hearing and had to be taught sign language throughout a lot of my early school years. I feel lucky now that my hearing has improved but I always remember, now as an adult, how nice the silence could be.
I consistently feel like our brain can go on sensory overload or that our senses can deceive us – and I wish that was the case in this story – however, I learned hard and fast that sometimes the shit you hear is, in fact, exactly what you think it is.
I say this mainly because, as a teenager (and a stupid one, at that), I was always the one who liked to tell stories. I wasn’t a bad kid by any means – I would actually consider myself to be a pretty good guy. I cared for a lot of people and was never cruel or harmful. I just told stories. I liked the attention.
And when you can’t hear, you can find a lot of ways to get attention.
But as my hearing improved, I couldn’t seem to harness the attention I would so easily receive as a kid. No longer could I walk in a room and people make the efforts to look at me so I could read their lips, or make sure that I was in the front of the class whenever I was made to sit through one. I was just kind of normal and I hated it. So I began to tell a few little fibs here and there. I would tell people that I couldn’t hear them or that I heard something, and it always added to the drama of any situation. I would use it to get out of fights with my parents or my brother, and would use it to get out of homework if I didn’t do an assignment. No teacher is going to tell the kid who “can’t hear” that it’s his fault he didn’t hear her say what the homework was – this bought me more of that attention I craved pretty quick.
Now, I don’t tell you all of this to make you distrust me. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I tell you this so you know that I have learned my lesson. I tell you this because I have to be reminded of my mistakes all the time. At least once a week. Minimum. It always happens and probably always will.
But I digress. Let’s get you caught up.
When I was about seventeen or so I had a job working down at the neighborhood convenience store. It wasn’t any big chain store or anything, but it was slightly larger than a mom and pop. You could tell by the way it was set up that it wasn’t really built to be a convenience store, but in the city, real estate is real estate and you take what you can get. I would work a lot of the night shifts. We were close to one of the bar districts, so it was pretty normal to see the drunks stumble in looking for some deep fried garbage that we had kept on the heaters all day, or to buy a giant of bag of cheese curls that they would devour half of before they even made it to the counter to pay. With the night shifts, I would be in the store until around two or three in the morning, depending on when I felt like closing up – I was lucky enough to have been promoted to “shift manager” about four months before, which really just meant that I could finally lock up on my own and be on a shift by myself.
Now, in the city, as you can imagine, there were always homeless individuals hanging around, and every now and then I would have to step out and ask them to leave. They never really got aggressive when I would shoo them away or anything, so it was something I grew pretty accustomed to doing. Like I said, not often, but regularly enough. With this being the case, I grew to know the faces of most of the loiterers who would stand outside the store and beg for change. The majority of them weren’t that bad, and would just sit with their sign, not bothering anyone. I didn’t mind them too much and would leave them alone for the most part. I only had to step up if they would start bothering the customers.
I remember it was a pretty chilly morning, probably about 2:30 in the morning, but it was a weekday so the bars weren’t really slammed. I had a few people stumbled in and buy a few things. I remember there was a guy walking in with a girl, obviously trashed, who still had vomit on the corners of her lips – he bought condoms – it made me feel queasy (that’s not important to the story, it just a detail I recall pretty distinctly about that morning). I finished mopping the floor and put all the cash into the safe before walking around the shop to check for any straggling customers. Once I saw it was clear, I grabbed my bag of street clothes I had changed out of at the beginning of my shift and headed out the door, hitting the lights behind me.
I don’t remember exactly which corner it was, but I know it was one that led into one of the hundreds of alleyways in the city. All I remember is being scared to death but I still stopped walking for two seconds, mind you that this is still damn near 3 in the morning, to light my cigarette (it’s a bad habit, I know). All of a sudden I feel something heavy land on my foot. It made me jump back and I look down to see a woman, crawling out of the alley, wearing nothing but rags. Her dark hair was a mess and her skin was incredibly pale. She looked sick, but not the kind of sick you would expect from one of the homeless around here. She didn’t look like an addict or like she was on a bad heroin binge or anything. She just looked sick. Or hurt. Or both. It was dark out, so the details at that specific moment run away from. Not to mention, I had damn near shit my pants.
She crawls closer to me and I can hear her mumbling. I knew she was trying to communicate with me, but I didn’t want anything to do with this woman. I said something around the lines of, “Sorry, I can’t hear very well. Have a good night.” And tried to walk away. She screamed as I started down the street. I turned around and she was looking up at me, her cheek laying on the cold concrete, her mouth slightly open. She mouthed the words “help me,” keeping her eyes on me the entire time. I looked around for a car or anything to break her concentration, but the streets were empty. It was just her and me.
I wasn’t going to go near her, but from where I was, I asked her what was wrong. She kept her face on the sidewalk and mouthed those same two words again.
I could tell in her eyes that she wanted me to come closer which, in most cases, I wouldn’t even think about doing, but this woman looked to be in pretty bad shape and it didn’t look like she could stand, nevertheless actually harm me in any way. I slowly approached her and asked her again what was wrong.
She mouthed the words again.
“Ma’am,” I said to her, “how do you want me to help you exactly?”
Keeping her face down and her eyes locked on mine, she grabbed the raggedy leg of her pants and tugged them up to show her skin. It looked as if someone had stepped all over her legs. There were small cuts, but lots of bruising. It was clearly swollen and there was no doubt in my mind that it was broken. She grabbed her other pant leg, dragging her face along the sidewalk to do so in a grotesquely agonizing manner. When she pulled it up, you could see that the other leg was just as beaten. Someone had really hurt this poor woman. Once again, she mouthed her message to me, never breaking eye contact throughout the ordeal. It seemed as though this woman never even blinked. It makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it.
Again, I tell you, I’m not a bad guy. I swear. If it were any other time of day, I would have been able to help her, but my feeling of exhaustion from the day mixed with my slight sense of dread held me back. I asked if she wanted me to call an ambulance. She just stared. I asked if she had any family. She just stared. I knew I should’ve done more, but the way she looked at me sent chills down my spine. I said the only thing that my simple seventeen-year-old brain could think to say.
“It’s not so bad.”
She kept staring at me as I backed away from her, eventually turning around and walking as fast as I could without running in the opposite direction, leaving this stranger on the sidewalk.
The next evening, on my walk back to work, I passed the alley where I had seen her. She wasn’t there. I think I remember even checking deeper into the alley for any signs of struggle or maybe anything that would be evidence to a mugging or something, but the alley was actually pretty clean, as far as alleys go downtown. I walked into work and asked my coworker if she had heard or seen anything when she left the shop last night around ten o’clock or so. She said no and asked why. I told her about the woman and she just shrugged.
“Sorry,” she said. “Must’ve happened after I left.”
We got back to our work and, again, I did my checks and locked up the store. I was a little nervous to walk home this night, thinking I might run into that lady again. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to be around every corner. I couldn’t stop thinking about the way she dragged her face across the concrete or the way she crawled along the ground. I couldn’t forget the way she stared at me or the fact that I just left her there. What if she died? That would be my fault. There was nobody else around and nobody else coming. I was the only one who could have helped her. This bothered me for the rest of the evening.
Weeks passed and I had picked up more shifts at the store. I was making a good amount of money for some dumb kid and I had honestly almost forgotten about the incident by the alleyway. I would come into work, do my job, lock up, and leave. Just like clockwork, it was all the same five or six nights a week. I don’t remember how long it was after the incident that it first started happening, but I know she had been out of my mind for a while when it did, so it had to have been a while. I recall walking home, just as always, when I thought I heard a noise. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I just kept moving, but I know I was definitely more alert after that, as you could imagine at three in the morning when you’re walking by yourself. I hear it again, and it sounded like a voice. It was very unclear, so I couldn’t make out what it was saying, but I figured I was probably just tired, so I kept on walking.
Along my walk are these giant glass windows – the kind that look reflective so you can’t see into them – like the ones you would see on some street level offices and such. I never paid them much mind at all, but for some reason, that evening, I turned my head and looked at the reflection. I could see myself and the buildings on the other side of the street, but laying there, in the middle of the road, was the woman; her face on the ground, staring directly at me in the reflection. I quickly jump around to find her, but when I peered into the street, the fucking lady was gone. Just vanished. I look in the mirrored glass once more, to see the streets were empty. I feel my heart racing in my chest, and I’d be lying to you if I played the tough guy and told you I didn’t run home as fast as I could.
I laid in bed that night, staring up at my ceiling, trying to convince myself that it was nothing. I was just being a bit delusional. There was no lady. I saw the empty street. I knew what I saw. Then I heard the voice again, this time a little bit louder. It sounded like it was coming from outside. It was a woman’s voice, but it was still too faint for me to make out what it was saying. I kept telling myself to just go to sleep and to forget about it. Just go to sleep.
I hear it again.
Go to sleep.
Go to sleep.
I try my best to ignore it, but my curiosity and fear made my ears perk up, but I still couldn’t make out the words. It keeps repeating and I turn my television on to drown it out. That works well enough for me and I eventually fell asleep.
That night must have been a Friday because I know my mom was home when I woke up around noon the next day. My television was still on and was louder than it normally was (I always had to have the TV volume up higher due to hearing loss, which is an honest truth. No bullshit about that one. The television was always a tough thing for me to hear, even now as an adult). I walked downstairs and sat in the living room on the couch, next to my mom. I asked her if she had heard any voices the night before and she just smirked. Her response was a joking “Did you?” I told her that I thought I had and she just chuckled to herself, telling me that maybe I didn’t need to be out so late working all the time. I smirked too and focused on whatever show she was watching at the time.
I decided it was time for me to take a shower, so I made my way into the bathroom. Now, for a city home, I was always impressed with how big our bathroom was. We weren’t wealthy, nor was the house itself very big at all, but the bathroom was huge. Almost too big for the house. I was standing in the shower after pulling the curtain shut for about three or four minutes when I started hearing that damn voice again. This time it seemed even closer and this time I could make out what it was saying.
“It’s not so bad.”
You know how they say that you can get a stone in your stomach? Well, this was no stone. This was Mt. Rushmore. I was standing there, naked, shaking in fear. I wanted to turn my head, but I couldn’t force my muscles to do so. Frozen. Again, I hear it.
“It’s not so bad.”
My eyes were watering by this point. I wanted to look away from the shower wall, but I was so terrified of what I thought I would see – the wall seemed to be the only “safe” option.
“It’s not so bad.”
It was even louder now. With one burst of energy, I forcibly crank my whole body around and look out through the translucent shower curtain.
There she was.
Her face lay flat on the bathroom tile, her body quaking, her pant legs rolled up, and her legs still mutilated. I let out a scream louder than I ever have in my life, forcing my eyes to shut, releasing the tears to drip down my face, only to be washed away by the water spouting from the shower head. My mom banged on the door, calling my name, begging me to open up and let her in. I opened my eyes to see the floor bare, just as it was when I got in the shower. I opened the door for my mom, still shaking, and told her everything. She shook her head at me.
“You need to get some rest.”
I yelled, saying it wasn’t rest that I needed and that I knew what I saw. She told me that I needed to stop it and “get some sense.” I pleaded for her to believe me, but even with my obvious fear, she didn’t want to hear it. She left the bathroom and I followed quickly behind her with my towel still wrapped around me.
I went into work that night, just like any other. The girl who was on shift before me was still there, helping out a customer. I pulled her aside after the store was clear and reminded her of the woman I saw weeks ago. I told her that it was really creeping me out and that I would really appreciate it if she would keep me company that night. I didn’t tell her about everything I saw because I knew that she, just like my mother, would never believe me. For some reason, she actually agreed and even offered to drive me home so I wouldn’t have to walk. I couldn’t have been happier to hear her say that.
We kept up with our shifts until hers ended and she went around back to change out of her uniform and into her normal clothes. For the rest of the evening, she sat on her phone or just talked with me about whatever was on her mind. I honestly couldn’t tell you much of what we talked about that night. There was one part of the shift that was pretty routine, early in the morning, like one or so AM, in which I needed to go back into the freezer to restock our ice cream cooler that sat up on the counter. I walked in and I felt the cold air take over. I always loved the freezer. It felt so good towards the end of a shift to just stand in the cold for a few seconds. I hear the door shut behind me as I reach for the box of frozen ice cream cones. It makes me jump, but it was nothing out of the ordinary, so I just shook my head and I think I even chuckled a bit, thinking of how paranoid I was being. Then I heard it.
“It’s not so bad.”
I look down to see the woman at my feet. I jump back and run to the door, grabbing the cold handle and hitting the door with my shoulder.
The door was locked. I started to bang on the door with both fists as I watched the woman crawl towards me. She kept repeating the same words.
“It’s not so bad.”
Why the fuck didn’t I help her? Why the fuck did I say that to her? Why the fuck did I just leave her there?
I’m slamming my hands and crying for my coworker to come to my rescue. Suddenly, the door swings open and I fall onto the floor, scurrying on the ground away from the freezer.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” my coworker asked me. I couldn’t make out words, so I just pointed into the freezer. She looked inside. There was nothing there.
“Seriously?” she yelled at me. “If this is your idea of a joke it’s not funny! Especially since I’m the one doing you a favor. Everyone is always doing you a favor. You don’t appreciate any of it. That’s just how you are. I can’t believe people listen to you at all anymore! You’re not funny. I’m going home!”
She walked around me, still on the floor shaking. I pleaded with her to stay, but she refused and slammed the door on her way out of the store. I was alone. I was scared. I was also very angry. I don’t know where my brass balls came from, but after she left, I grabbed my jacket and I ran outside and down the street, not even stopping to lock the shop. I made my way down to the alley where this whole thing began and I screamed.
“Where are you?! Where the fuck are you?!”
I kicked a trash can, scattering garbage across the ground. I was crying and screaming and I didn’t care who saw me or heard me. I repeated myself over and over for what seemed to be forever, but was probably, looking back it, only two or three minutes until I heard the voice.
“It’s not so bad.”
There she was, back on the cold, hard ground. I walked up to her and yelled.
“What do you want from me?! Leave me the fuck alone!”
“It’s not so bad.”
“Stop it!” I screamed. “Go away! Stop fucking bothering me! I’m sorry! I should’ve helped you, but I didn’t! I fucking didn’t! Now let me be!”
Her eyes were still attached to mine and, for the first time, I saw her begin to smile. Her skin stretched and wrinkled as her lips curled up her face. She put the palm of her hand flat on the concrete and lifted her torso up. She bent her broken leg under her body, letting it crack and pop as her knee found the stone beneath her. I took a step back, horrified. I listened to her bones snap as she lifted herself to her feet. I felt urine running down my leg. I had pissed myself. She took a step towards me, her one leg bent backwards; so hyper-extended that it made her topple as she walked. All the while, grinning and staring.
I wanted to run. So badly, I wanted to run. She took another step.
Tears were streaming down my cheeks and my mouth hung open as she stood only two feet from me. She leaned in and opened her mouth to reveal her grisly smile. It’s hard to describe how she looked at that moment, but I know she was paler now than ever, her lips had no color, and she far too many teeth for her mouth. She leaned in only inches from my face.
Run, damn it. Run.
She smiled, still.
“It’s not so bad.”
And I blacked out.
I woke up, still in the alleyway, smelling of urine, right before the sun came up. I could feel my head pounding, so I knew I must have hit it when I landed. I sat up and looked around. I was alone. Thank God, I was alone. I checked my body for bruises or scratches or bites or anything. Nothing.
Untouched. I stood to my feet and went home.
I quit my job that next day. I didn’t want to ever be near that alley ever again. I never wanted to be near that city again. I moved away about a month after the incident. The incidences have slowed down now, but now and then, I hear her voice at night. Those nights can be tough. Whenever it happens, I just shut my eyes and wait for it to stop. I’ve sort of grown used to it now, as weird as that may sound. My life is definitely very different now. No more swooning for attention. No more bullshit. No more playing stupid games to get what I want.
Now that this is my life, I have learned to make the best of it.
And really, it’s not so bad.