But now I was awake.
I was cold.
And before I pried my eyes open, I knew I wasn’t in my bed.
I was outside, on all fours, along the spine of my house.
On the roof, the fucking roof.
It was black as all hel , with the winter wind whipping around me, moving dark clouds in front of the moon and stars so I could barely see anything except the faint glow from the windows below that lit up the nearby trees.
My hands and feet rubbed against cold, rough shingles.
It didn’t feel like any of this was real. How could it this be real? I was on the roof!
Why was I up here?
Was this another dream? If I jumped off the edge of my house, would I fal like I fel into the river? Fal and then wake up in Maximus’s bed? Or would it hurt? Would I die?
I tried to stand up but I teetered to the side. My balance was off. The pil s would do that.
I crouched low to the roof and looked around, keeping my fingertips on the shingles for security. There was only one way to get up here and it was the only way down. I slowly crept toward the western edge, taking quiet steps in my bare feet, so careful not to alert anyone below. Once I got to the edge it sloped off a bit and eventually came close to a lower part of the roof that was below my bedroom window. There I could sneak along and get back inside without anybody knowing.
I was near the edge and about to make my way down when I heard something THUMP behind me, like a giant bird just landed from out of the sky.
I didn’t want to turn around. Up until that moment, I had been happy just going with the motions. I wasn’t panicking.
Sure, I was blacking out and ending up on the roof of all places, a place where I could fal off and die, a place where some part of me wanted to go and I didn’t know why, or even worse, a place I had been summoned to. But if I didn’t think about it, if I kept it at the back of my mind and treated all of this like just another dream, maybe I wouldn’t lose my mind. Maybe I could just shrug it off.
But the thump changed everything.
Because I wasn’t afraid before. I wouldn’t let myself be.
And now I was terrified.
I wasn’t alone on the roof. I was up there with something that wanted me there. This was part of the deal all along.
And this fear, the fright that shattered my nerves and made my tongue buzz like metal, it was more real than any dream. Sometimes it was only the strongest, most palpable terror that real y made you feel alive.
I paused, keeping my hands and feet strong and balanced against the roof, and turned my head to face the visitor.
At the other end of the house, lit up by the spotlight-like moon that pierced through a thin cloud, was a… thing.
An infant-sized creature. Black as coal with two legs and two arms. And two leathery wings that sprouted from its furry back. Stormy red eyes. Burnished teeth. A wet, gurgling laugh.
I heard a voice inside my head. A most terrible, horrific, depraved voice. A voice that sounded like it was washed with bones and lit with smoke and fire. It was beyond deep and sounded a mil ion years old, like it had crawled out of the bowels of the earth, before the first insects crawled on its shores.
Jump, it said. Its words reverberated in my head, bouncing around my skul .
My mouth dropped open and I grew increasingly slack, like someone had applied a paralyzing move to my neck.
Jump before I make you.
It didn’t give me much time.
Like a shot, the beastly thing sprang forward, running on two legs first, then all fours, while wild wings flapped. The tips of each wing were armed with what looked like a silver oversized bee stinger and it shone fiercely in the moonlight.
I screamed, then found the strength and agility to turn and leap onto the area below.
I hit the shingles hard. They slid out from under me and I was sliding down the sandpapery slope, my window out of reach. I dug my fingers in and kicked with my feet, trying to stop my descent, until I was almost all off, my armpits digging into the gutter that moaned and creaked beneath my weight.
My bedroom window was slammed open and Ada was first on the scene.
“Perry!” she shrieked when she saw me hanging below, as she leaned out the window.
“Help me!” I cried out, trying to lift myself up and onto the roof as much as I could. My arms and abs strained ferociously under the pressure.
Ada continued to cal my name, not doing anything until my father appeared beside her. I don’t know what he said, I was concentrating too hard on not fal ing to the brick driveway below. I don’t know if it would kil me but it would break my bones in a mil ion pieces. He took one look at me then disappeared, cal ing for my mother.
I heard a slippery laugh from above.
I looked above the window, where Ada was watching me in ful panic.
The thing was there, perched inches above her on the higher slab of roof. She cried out at me for my safety, blissful y unaware of the creature.
Because that’s what it was.
Lovecraft couldn’t have thought it up himself.
It had the body of an overgrown baby but with longer limbs. Pearly claws for fingers and toes.
Bat wings that were marked with veins and crawling with lice.
Its head was slightly too round to be a human’s. It had no ears. No nose. Just solid red eyes that, up close, bulged out of its head like a rat and an impossibly wide mouth fil ed with double rows of shark-like teeth. A familiar smile, now in its original form.
I watched it, afraid to take my eyes away, as my lower body swung beneath me. I was getting tired. It wanted a staring contest and I didn’t know if I could win.
Just when my arms began to slip an inch, my dad appeared back at the window with a rope. He threw it toward me and told me to grab on.
Meanwhile, I could hear my mom scurrying on the ground below, hauling something metal on the bricks, most likely, hopeful y, a ladder.
“Grab the rope, it’s easier,” he yel ed. I looked up at him and I’l never forget it. The amount of pain and excruciating worry on his face was something I never wanted to see again. There he was in his pajamas, hair messed, face red and sweating, trying to save his daughter from imminent harm. Trying to save her from herself. I kept focused on that – on him – not the thing above, and with my last bit of strength I grabbed the rope.
The rough fibers cut into my scraped hands but I gritted my teeth and let him and Ada haul me up until my feet were at the gutter, and I was able to push off and fling myself on the window ledge.
Two pairs of arms reached out, grabbed me around my waist and shoulders, and I was finally inside. I col apsed to the ground, panting hard, aching all over and bleeding from my hands and feet, covered in extra abrasions from the shingles.
I made it.
I was alive.
But I was far from safe.
“Perry, are you listening to me?” my mother asked as she brought the car off the freeway and down a one-way street downtown.
I wasn’t. I wasn’t even aware of where I was.
Oh, right. Heading to the head doctor. Going to see if there was something wrong with the old noggin.
Things were moving slower now. Slower now that I was conscious and taking in the dead winter trees on the side of the street and the glum faces of pedestrians as they faced another grey day. Things were slow. And then they would speed up. Like the morning. I went through on autopilot but had no idea what I did or said.
I kept starting at one place and ending up in another. I was missing parts of my life. Something had happened on the roof last night, but I didn’t know what. My parents were afraid I had crawled up there, wanting to jump. I couldn’t tel them yes or no. I wasn’t suicidal. But I had no answers. Just the truth. And they couldn’t handle the truth.
“Earth to Perry,” my sister chimed in my ear. I tilted my head ever so slightly in her direction and eyed her in my peripheral vision.
She had decided to come along for my appointment, and then we were to drop her off at school. I didn’t think mom would go for it, but Ada pleaded her case of moral support and she relented. I think my mom was relieved, actual y. She didn’t want to be alone with me. Especial y after the whole…wel , after the whole yesterday.
Secretly, I was comforted that I had Ada with me. It made the return to Dr. Freedman and the nasty case of déjà vu more bearable. I felt like I was losing everything. I needed someone in my corner, and at the moment, she was all I had.
I used to have Dex for that. Then again, I used to have a lot of things.
Thinking about him for that brief instance made me sad.
Heart-fluttering like a broken leaf, that kind of sad. I swal owed it and forgot about it. It was better to be angry, if I had to stil be anything.
“What’s wrong?” she asked in a quieter voice. She glimpsed the sadness briefly.
I shook my head and cleared my throat. “Just nervous.”
My mom shot me a quick look. “The doctor wil help you, Perry. Just like he did before.”
Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of, I thought. I knew what he was going to say, what he was going to think and do. It hadn’t been that long. He’d make me talk, pretend to listen, and write me a prescription. I’d continue to look like a raving loon until the pil s squared that away.
I was going to become Dex. He had been on medication, he probably stil was. It was meds meant to keep the ghosts away, and for the most part, they did a good job. I had said before, in a fit of anger, that it was cheating. That it wasn’t fair that I had to deal with them and he didn’t. Now I had that same opportunity to make them all go away.
But how could I do that? I knew now what was behind the curtain. I saw the shadows, the ghosts, the lost ones, the demons. How could I wil ingly go on blindly, knowing they stil lurked and stil wanted me. Somehow it was worse to be in the dark about it. That’s when they’d real y sneak up on you.
Minutes later we had parked and were making our way into a nondescript medical building. The memories – the injustice – came flooding back. The shiny floors that made your boots squeak. The drab yel owing wal s. The ugly faux wood paneling in the elevators.
We got off on the third floor and turned left down the carpeted hal . A few people emerged from one office, chattering to each other. Feeling self-conscious, I pul ed down my sleeves so that you couldn’t see the ugly bruises, scratches and abrasions that had cloaked my body in the last 24 hours.
With my mom leading the way in her tweed pencil skirt, we squeezed past the pack of people who didn’t give us much of a berth. I kept my eyes focused on the floor, not wanting to acknowledge the strangers. Ada stumbled slightly in front of me, apparently elbowed by a blur of shiny maroon.
She rubbed her arm and then I heard a barely audible gasp escape from her lips.
I raised my head. She was stumbling sideways, watching someone over my shoulder.
I stopped and turned around to see. At the very end of the group of people who were now halfway down the hal , was the back of a lavender-haired woman in a stiff maroon bal gown, gliding above the carpet.
Not part of the group. Not even alive.
I looked back at Ada, who had also stopped along with my mom.
“What is it?” my mother asked her anxiously.
Ada kept her expression in ful bewilderment and watched Creepy Clown Lady float away, then she looked at me with wide eyes.