I love my mother, although there are many things about her not to love.
People are often at a loss as to how my mother and father met. After all, my father is what most people would consider a typical, boring businessman. Nobody would imagine that he went through a wild phase in the 70s, obsessed with drugs and music and independence.
That, of course, was when he met my mother. A flower child with the sun wrapped up in her smile, that’s how he describes her. According to him, she hasn’t changed much, even all these years later.
My mother can be wonderful. She is incredibly loving and sweet and compassionate, but she is something of an eternal child. She has no concept of responsibility or growing up. She does not have priorities. She simply… is. Perhaps that’s an admirable trait in a grown person.
It is not an admirable trait in a mother.
My father swooped in and married her soon after he met her. They had me only a few months later. He learned rather quickly that she could barely be called an adult. Yet he loves her more passionately than I’ve ever seen somebody love. They are happy together, and that suits me just fine.
For the most part, my father was a sufficient parent. He took care of me in ways that my mother never could. My mother’s involvement in my life was more as a friend than anything else. But there were still times that her influence was… a little less than wholesome.
You see, my mother was incredibly superstitious.
When I was very young, she taught me all the normal rituals that are a part of every child’s life. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Never break a mirror. If you spill salt, throw a pinch over your shoulder. Never say ‘MacBeth’ in a theater. Never get out of bed at three a.m.
For the most part, they were harmless. Oh, but there was one… one that stuck with me like a bad taste in the pit of my mouth. One that I’ll never forget.
It’s a little embarrassing, but it has to do with my period. See, I got my period before most other girls in my class. I was twelve, but my mother assured me this was normal in our family – “early bloomers,” she said, when referring to herself and her own mother and sister.
I remember the day I got my first period so well. I got it in gym class and my gym teacher found me crying in the locker room, too embarrassed to try to seek out a pad. I actually got sent home early, and my mom came to pick me up and take me to get ice cream. We were sitting in McDonald’s with our soft-serve when she became very serious and said, “Alyssa, now that you’re a woman, there’s something you must promise me. It is very, very important, and if you don’t promise to do it, then I’ll never forgive you!”
That “never forgive you” threat wasn’t new, but I was still young and I would do anything for my mom’s approval. So I nodded with big, solemn eyes and waited for her to continue.
“From now on, whenever you get your period, you have to do two things. You have to change the sheets on your bed, to start – they have to be white. You also have to hang white sheets from every window in your bedroom.”
I was confused by that, but when I asked her why she had given me these instructions, she held up her finger and said, “Don’t ask any questions. This is for your own good.”
When we got home that day, my mother helped me change the sheets on my bed and hang some fresh sheets from the window. It was unavoidable, of course, that I’d bleed through my pajamas onto those pristine white sheets that first night, but when my mom caught me trying to change them in the morning, she slapped my wrist and scolded me.
“You mustn’t change those sheets until your period ends.”
“But I don’t want to sleep on them like this!” I protested.
“Tough,” said my mother with an uncharacteristic harshness. I was upset and a little disgusted, but I obeyed her orders.
For years, I slept on bloody sheets once every month, with ghostly white one covering the single window in my room every night. At first, I thought of it as something I had to do, simply because my mother said it was best for me. As I grew older, I began to hate the ritual. But the few times I tried to talk to my mother about it, she immediately became aggressive, screaming at me until I submitted to her strange will. I was too embarrassed to try talking to my father about it, so I suffered in silence. I didn’t tell anybody about it until I was well into adulthood.
Like I said. I love my mother… but she has her flaws.
By the time I got to college, my period routine had been well and firmly established.
The first thing I did when I saw those red blotches in my panties was change my sheets and cover my windows. It was almost an impulse by that time – everything felt wrong in some way if I didn’t complete this task. That’s why I didn’t think anything of it when I got my first period in my dorm room. I’d started pinning a sheet to the window when my roommate walked in.
“Uuh… what are you doing?” She’d asked.
Lizzy was a great roommate, and we’d hit it off right away. We’d practically become best friends overnight, but I was still reluctant to tell her about my mother’s ritual thrust onto my shoulders.
“I, uh, this is… well,” I started, stumbling over my thoughts as I tried to get something coherent to come out of my mouth, “It’s just… something I do occasionally. I promised my mom a long time ago that I’d keep doing it.”
That explanation sounded lame even to me, but Lizzy seemed to understand intuitively that there was more to the story, more that I didn’t want to share just yet. She nodded and went about her business, making it a point NOT to ask for any more details. I was relieved, but also terribly ashamed.
I realized that I couldn’t keep living the way that I had at home. What if Lizzy saw my bloody sheets in the morning? No doubt she’d think I was disgusting if she knew I was sleeping in my own period blood. God, I could see the look on her face in my mind’s eye…
I resolved then and there to stop with the stupid rituals. After all, I was eighteen at this point, no longer a child. My mother didn’t have to know I’d disobeyed her.
Lizzy didn’t comment when I immediately ripped down the sheet that I’d just been tacking up. I felt a little guilty as I stuffed the extra sheets under my bed, but I reminded myself that it would all be worth it in the end – my life wasn’t always normal, but it could be. I was on my own now, I could have anything I wanted.
And I wanted a normal goddamn period without any of this weird supernatural shit that my mother was obsessed with.
That first night passed with relative normalcy. Lizzy and I went out to a few parties, stayed out until about four a.m., and then crashed at a friend’s apartment. We didn’t get back home until noon the next day, but I was secure in my knowledge that the world hadn’t ended just because I’d done away with my mother’s insanity.
The next night, though… that was different.
I’d let my guard down. I’d almost completely forgotten that I was doing things very differently than normal – it was so easy to forget that hated ritual. When I went to bed, I slept incredibly well and woke up feeling well-rested and alive.
That was until I saw the smudges.
I might not have noticed them right away, but for the fact that my bed faced our window and the light glinted strangely off the smudges. They looked almost faintly pink in the early morning light. A further inspection showed that the smudges were tinged with dried blood.
I traced my fingers to the glass in awe, still drowsy and wondering with idle curiosity which of us – Lizzy or I – had bled on the window. The bloody smudges were somewhat hand-shaped, but for the fact that this hand had unreasonably long fingers. I knew that whatever appendage had made this belonged to neither Lizzy nor myself.
But there was something else that nagged at me, something that broke through my sleepy haze with all the delicacy and grace of a hammer.
See, I tried and tried, but I couldn’t wipe the smudge away…
Because the handprints were on the outside of the glass.
A few moments after my discovery, Lizzy was standing next to me staring at the smudges, her brown hair thrown into a hasty ponytail and her pajamas askew. She squinted through her thick glasses trying to make sense of what she was seeing. What we were seeing.
“We’re on the third floor,” she said, as though I wasn’t already aware of this fact.
“And there’s… there’s no way to climb that wall.” It was true, there were no jutting bricks, no footholds, no pipes on the side of our dorm. It was smooth and impossible.
I remained silent as she studied the glass.
“So how’d it get there?” She asked me.
I didn’t have an answer, of course.
Lizzy insisted on reporting the incident to our RA until I managed to convince her not to through my tears and supplications. I had this strange feeling that somehow I’d brought on those prints, that by shirking my duty to my mother, my guilt had become manifest and tried to claw its way in through the window. This, of course, was pure insanity, but I suddenly felt that everything was my fault. And what was my fault was my responsibility.
I tried to convince myself that I was being unreasonable. The prints were… an anomaly. Maybe a bird had flown into the window and left a weird mark. Well… several birds. That had to be it. I told myself that if I ignored the problem, it would go away.
Still, I had a hard time falling asleep that night.
Eventually, I managed it. The last thing I remember is the numbers 3:43 glowing on the clock next to my bed.
This time, when I woke up, there were no bloody smudges on the glass – no new ones, anyway.
Instead, there were bloody prints all over the floor of our dorm room.
Lizzy saw it before I did – her scream woke me up. I watched her cower against the wall by her bed as I stared at the tracks of blood. They descended from the window and led the way across the floor to my bed.
Lizzy turned towards me and her face went completely white. As if on cue, I rose to my feet and rushed towards the small mirror hanging above our sink.
There were streaks of blood on my face, as though something with long fingers had caressed my cheek in my sleep.
That was the deciding factor in my little experiment. With shaking hands, I tacked a white sheet over the window. There was blood on my bed sheets from my nighttime visitor, but I left them on my bed. Lizzy was too shaken up to question any of this.
We spent the rest of the day scrubbing our room clean. We still didn’t tell our RA.
Lizzy didn’t stay in our room that night – she opted to go stay over at a friend’s place. She told me they were studying all night and she really couldn’t blow it off. She was lying. I didn’t blame her.
I wasn’t planning on sleeping that night, either.
I turned on the TV, pulled out my Chemistry book, and sat in front of the window. I was desperately hoping that I was just crazy – how easy would everything be if I was insane? Another part of me was hoping that whatever nonsense my mother had spewed was true. That the sheets would protect me.
But then there was a darker question. What is it, exactly, they were meant to protect me from?
I got my answer at around three a.m.
It was introduced by nothing more than a shadow cast against the sheet over the window. If I hadn’t been staring intently, I might not have seen it. So many things I might not see if I wasn’t looking. Oddly enough, it makes me want to sew my eyes shut rather than become more observant.
Back to the shadow. It was bulbous, swaying back and forth like a cobra. I saw something rise up next to it and heard it tap tap tap against the window, as though it were confused by the change from the previous night.
It stayed there, a menacing shadow tapping its way into my life.
I swear, it wasn’t of my own accord that I stood up and moved towards the window. There was just… something inside of me that had to see what it was. I thought maybe it would be less frightening if I could see it, could put a face and form to whatever had been injecting chaos into my otherwise dull life.
Sometimes, seeing something is worse than not seeing it.
I approached the window, my hand reaching out tentatively for the corner of the sheet. The shadow had stilled as though it sensed my movement, sensed my apprehension. Perhaps it thought to lure me in through a false sense of security. I grasped the corner of the sheet with the very tips of my fingers, not wanting to get any closer to whatever was on the other side than I had to.
I took a deep breath… and I lifted the sheet.
One glimpse was enough.
Its skin was grey as ash, but streaked with blood that seemed to leak from its very pores. Its eyes were a kind of glaring white. They were set deep in its sockets, surrounded by black bags that made it look haggard and exhausted. Hungry, even. Its head bulged as though its flesh would pop out through the skin like some kind of overgrown zit. Its maw of a mouth was distorted, sagging open to reveal jagged teeth and two long, rolling tongues.
Its arms, in contrast were stick-like but held a perceptible strength, evidenced by the cracks its chipped claws had left in the glass window. The rest of its body wasn’t visible to me – all I could see in the darkness was a lump-like figure lurking under the window.
It blinked at me, first one eye, then the other, as though its muscles and nerves were tangled and confused. It breathed heavily through the tiny punctures in its face where its nose should have been. Though it had no pupils, I could feel it staring at me. Daring me to reach out the window, even just a millimeter, to satisfy my curiosity that it was real.
I yanked my hand back and screamed, letting the sheet fall back against the window, obscuring the thing pressed against it. I watched as its shadow remained for just a moment, its fingers tapping against the glass again. And then, as abruptly as it had arrived, it left – presumably to slither or crawl or leap down the building, I wasn’t sure which.
It was several hours before I was able to wrench myself away from the window and throw myself into my bed, comforted by the bloody sheets that I used to hate.
I called my mother the next morning. I called when I knew she’d still asleep – I thought her grogginess might work in my favor. Until this point, she hadn’t been forthcoming with any information as to these rituals she’d required me to perform. I had no reason to believe she would be now.
Unfortunately, as soon as I demanded she tell me the truth about my period, she was wide-awake. And I was right about her not wanting to give me any more information than necessary.
“Don’t worry about it, Alyssa. Just keep doing what I told you,” she said.
“What, forever? You expect me to just put up with this… this thing outside my window until I hit menopause?!” My voice was shrill and panicky, but only as long as it took my mother to answer.
“No, not forever. One day, it will leave you. Until then, you must protect yourself against it.”
I was breathless. “When… when will it leave? How will I know?”
“No more questions.” My mother’s voice was stern in a way that it almost never was. When I tried to argue, she hung up on me. Typical.
I didn’t know where else to turn. My grandmother could have given me answers, if she hadn’t died a few years prior. My father probably didn’t know a thing about it, not that I’d ever work up the courage to ask him, anyway. I thought about calling my aunt, but she’d never liked me much and I was far too embarrassed to ask her about it.
I was alone, it seemed.
So, I did the only thing I felt I could do. I lived with it. I kept the sheet over my window at all times, not just during my period. I slept on bloody sheets once a month. Unsurprisingly, Lizzy didn’t want to live with me after that first year. From then on, I had a single room. I didn’t mind – it made things easier.
I lived with that thing’s shadow hanging over me until I was a Junior.
That was when I made a terrible, awful mistake.