The Presence, by William Rasmussen

The Presence low res

Art by Dave Felton – http://psychiatryalbum.tumblr.com/ – click to enlarge

Almost fifty years ago, when I was just a young man of twenty-four and living in Hawaii, I finally mustered the courage to move out of my parents’ house and strike off on my own.  It was a frightening proposition, but I fully believed things couldn’t be any worse if I were living by myself.  Ha!  Little did I know that within a few weeks of finding my first apartment, I would experience an incident so unsettling that it would scar me immeasurably and haunt me to this day…

I remember feeling so elated back then, pulling myself out from under their heavy thumb, ridding myself of their iron-clad rules, and gaining my freedom.  It was like a breath of clean, fresh air.  I was finally going to have my own pad!

Suzi, the girl who would become my wife within a year, quickly helped me find a place that was affordable yet large enough for her to move into once we tied the knot.  It was a simple, furnished one-bedroom/one-bath apartment, with a small kitchen and cozy living room.  Single-wall construction (since the weather in Hawaii rarely ever dipped into the 50s) and open, glass-louvered windows which ably substituted for air conditioning rounded out the accommodation.

My move was fairly easy, since I had very little to actually move: a little black & white TV, a beat-up acoustic guitar, a portable fan, a few bags of clothes, and some kitchen plates, appliances and utensils, all squeezed like sardines into my rust-decorated ’63 Chevy Nova (courtesy of the moist salt air pervading the island chain).  And within a couple of days I had adjusted completely to my new surroundings, my new work commute, and, for all intents and purposes, had settled into my new residence.

But barely a week after I had moved into my apartment, and after a long day at the manufacturer’s supply company where I was learning the ropes of the construction industry, I pulled my Nova across the gravel-covered parking lot and into my assigned space under the long, corrugated metal-topped carport that fronted my two-story complex, and got a mild surprise.

Suggestively pressed against each other as if they were the only ones around, a tall local guy and, presumably, his girlfriend leaned heavily against the flimsy wood railing lining the walkway that bordered the ground floor units to my left.  Of course, they were standing within feet of the door to my new apartment.  I had only been here a week, and had not seen many of my neighbors, so I had no idea if they were tenants or just visiting.  But as I climbed out of my car and slowly covered the fifty feet or so to my unit, a disconcerting chill caressed my neck and shoulders when I made eye contact with the intimidating stranger.

He was definitely local—Hawaiian, Samoan, Filipino, maybe a mix of them all—dark-skinned, tall, and wide, and could have been anywhere from twenty-five to thirty years old.  I wasn’t a good judge of age back then, but I could definitely tell, by the way he pinned me with his eyes as I neared him and his pretty, young, Chinese-Caucasian girlfriend, that he thought I was intruding.  Being of barely average height, and having had very little experience in the way of grade- or high school fistfights, my stomach began to twist and knot like a barrel of snakes at the prospect of this large, angry local guy confronting me.

But even as I passed by within a few feet of him—warm sweat prickling my forehead and perfectly complementing the steamy evening, right hand clenching my set of keys into a wicked-looking fist—he merely fixed me with a stern scowl and tucked his petite girlfriend deeper into his extreme, possessive embrace.

Fingers trembling from the near-encounter, I fumbled my key into the lock and quickly pushed forward into the relative safety of my apartment, slamming the door and locking it behind me.  Exhaling a sigh of relief, I tiptoed like a burglar over to the picture window facing the outside walkway, and carefully peeled back an edge of the curtain to peek out front.  But they were already stumbling away, uncomfortably locked like disparate conjoined twins in their tight embrace, my unexpected “intrusion” apparently robbing them of whatever fantasy they had been momentarily enjoying.  Good riddance, I thought, happy over their departure.

But my respite would be short-lived, however, as just a couple of nights later, on the heels of this distressing event, I would ultimately suffer the unsettling incident I mentioned at the very beginning of this narrative.

That ill-fated night I went to bed rather late and by myself (my girlfriend tucked safely beneath the sheets at her parents’ house), slipping quite easily into a deep sleep.  I had not seen the threatening man I’d observed just a few days earlier on my return from work in the interim, but to say that he hadn’t been on my mind would have been wholly untruthful.  Nevertheless, I really didn’t think that our brief, silent run-in had worked its way so deeply into my subconscious, like the determined earwig of urban legend, until I found myself panic-stricken, wrapped in the fabric of a horrible nightmare involving just that threatening individual.

To this day I remember jerking awake in the middle of the night in my unlit, shadow-cloaked bedroom, a large, murky, amorphous shape straddling my body, his (I truly believed it was a male figure at the time!) seemingly inhuman strength and superior weight bearing down on me, practically crushing me and rendering me immobile.  But even apart from my enormous burden, for some reason my limbs seemed incapable of movement by themselves, and so too my lips had suddenly become frozen in my hysteria, as if I were now a mute.  Paralyzed as I was, utterly incapable of even twitching my body in an effort to extricate myself from this incredibly alarming scenario, the incident seemed to be much more than merely a horrid dream or frightening figment of my imagination.  It was way too real for me to discount as such!

Lying there, cocooned beneath the sheets and my tormentor’s oppressive body in sweat-soaked misery, I tried to distinguish his face, to no avail, as the darkness and shadows within my bedroom were practically complete.  At the time, I was so certain it was the strange, local guy I had met under inauspicious circumstances a few days earlier, his ominous return under cover of darkness a neon sign that I had definitely wronged him to his way of thinking.  Oddly, my sense of smell could not detect any noticeable scent from whoever it was, nor could I hear any untoward sounds emanating from his subtle ministrations other than my own muffled grunts and futile exertions.  For a moment that seemed exceedingly protracted and surreal, I felt as if I would never escape his clutches nor learn what he was attempting to do to me, or—God forbid!—had already done.

And then just as suddenly as I had awakened to my unbelievable phantasm, I found myself coming around a second time, alone though, the sun trickling like melted butter through the blinds and a flock of mynah birds chirping spiritedly in the banyan trees outside.

Bolting upright in bed as memories of my “nightmare” flooded back, heart beating a staccato rhythm inside my ribcage, I patted and rubbed my chest and abdomen to ensure I was all right while my eyes darted about the room, looking for any sign of my nocturnal intruder.  But he was gone—if he had ever been there at all—and a quick search of my apartment minutes later revealed that nothing was amiss around the place, either.

I padded into the bathroom and, under the harsh glare of a pair of 100 watt light bulbs, meticulously examined the front of my body for any indication that I had been injured or otherwise tampered with.  Thankfully, that inspection disclosed nothing out of the ordinary as well.  Exhaling a sigh of relief, I glanced out my bathroom window, blinking at the early morning sunlight probing my shower stall, and wondered what the hell had really happened to me the night before.

It had seemed so real at the time!  In my sleep-numbed state I was certain the phantom prowler had been the stranger of a few days previous, but in the peaceful light of day there was simply no evidence at all to support my belief.  Nevertheless, the incident haunted me for the next couple of days (although I made no mention of this to my girlfriend), and despite keeping a watchful eye out for the mysterious visitor and his girlfriend, I did not see either of them during that period.

Nor did I ever see them again.

And as the next few days dragged by it slowly dawned on me, like a mathematician finally uncovering the solution to a complex math problem, that although I probably hadn’t been visited that dreadful night by the imposing individual I encountered on my return from work a short while ago, I might very well have been the victim of a visitation, or an abduction, by something not of this world: an alien.  And why not?  One of the very few pursuits my father and I shared when not at each other’s throats was our fascination with UFOs and aliens.  We read literature on the subject voraciously, my father regularly picking up the trashy magazines of dubious repute from the newsstand, the two of us poring over the incredible stories and articles, like excited kids, with discerning, disbelieving eyes.  But not discounting them entirely.  I can still recall the many times as a youngster when the three of us (my mother included) would set out at night in our family car, parking at some dark, out-of-the-way location, to search the cloudless, star-studded sky for UFOs or shooting stars.  And we’d see them—of course, mostly shooting stars, but on rare occasions we’d also notice the lone, distant, white object in the heavens, moving too slowly to be a plane, jet or helicopter.  Suddenly, it would exhibit some herky-jerky maneuver unnatural for normal aircraft, or perhaps climb straight up into the sky at an impossible rate of speed before vanishing altogether.  Oh yes, they were out there—so, why couldn’t they also be here?

This revelation hit me hard, the possibility that I had been visited (perhaps abducted?) by aliens.  But, aliens?  The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was just too wild to even consider!  Or was it?

I didn’t tell my folks—not even my father, whom I considered a kindred spirit on the subject—for fear of having to once again face their harsh judgment, revisit their scorn.  After all, looking for UFOs on a clear night was one thing, but claiming to have actually come into contact with someone or something from outside this world was a whole different matter.  Perhaps at some later date I would confide in them, but not yet, not until I had worked through this, examined all the possibilities.  And I didn’t tell Suzi either.  She came from more practical stock, and at this point in our relationship I didn’t want to unnecessarily burden her with the prospect that her future husband might be delusional.  Not until I had at least explored the situation more fully and, hopefully, resolved the issue.  Either way, it was a decision I’d have to think long and hard about.

Of one thing I was quite certain, though: ever since the incident I felt…different inside.  As if something vital was missing, some spark or part of me that I had taken for granted prior to my late-night “visitation.”  And over the next several days a troubling malaise settled upon me like a shroud, not heavy per se, but carrying just enough weight to make me feel out-of-sorts, off-kilter…and slightly empty, is the best way I can describe it.  But I’d inspected my body from head to toe with my own eyes and in the mirror countless times, searching in vain for any scar or blemish to lend credence to my theory of being violated by otherworldly visitors!  So what was wrong with me?  It was so frustrating!

And as the weeks and months passed by, and I put more and more distance between the incident and myself, I thought my depression would lift.  That time and hindsight would smooth out the harsh details of my nightmarish event, soften the edges of the sharp memory that had carved itself into my mind like a grim memento.

But, alas, my depression never ebbed.

And it never would.

I simply learned to live with it, coming to terms with the fact that I would probably never rid myself of this insidious, oppressive melancholy.  And understanding that what happened to me that horrible night, which undoubtedly triggered my malady, might forever remain outside of my realm of knowledge.

Early the following year, Suzi and I were married (our January wedding not all that strange when you consider that the weather in Hawaii remains warm and sunny most of the year), her knowledge of my mental state vague at best.  She did not need to understand, nor delve into the depths of my mind: I was unwaveringly firm on that count.  Nevertheless, at times I became burdened with such despair, complemented by a feeling that I was somehow incomplete, that I would resort to the services of a professional for lengthy periods of time.  Someone who would hear me out—really listen to me—while I recounted my story, couching my tale in a more plausible format, lest I be labeled delusional or insane (there was no way I would ever reveal my theory regarding what happened to me during my nightmare).

Ultimately, I was diagnosed with chronic depression, and for almost the duration of my first marriage, which lasted close to eleven years, Suzi was warm, affectionate, and understanding about my “condition,” as she phrased it.  But, in the end, it wasn’t my “condition” that drove us apart—it was simply the reality that we grew apart, a common disease that infected nearly half of all married couples.  That, and the fact that she said I never smiled.

I still remember that.

Our divorce was quick and virtually painless, made much easier by the absence of children.  We still communicate once or twice a year to this day.  And, in hindsight, I am so glad that I never told her about those dreadful instances, rare though they were, when the nemesis who first “introduced” himself(!?) to me so brazenly that evening as a presence inside my apartment would return in the middle of the night, slouching in a corner of our darkened bedroom like some nameless specter amid the folds of shadows that crowded around him, leaving him virtually indistinguishable from his depthless surroundings.  Initially, I thought I was merely suffering through a nightmare of what had already come to pass.  But as the situation played out before me in slow-motion, like some bizarre, surreal episode, I realized to my chagrin that I was indeed witnessing another visitation by my nocturnal intruder.

He didn’t appear to me all that often, maybe every year or so, and Suzi never had occasion to observe him; but each time he returned, his antics, or lack thereof, were almost identical: he would stand nearly motionless in the corner, slightly slumped over as if he were infirm, wearing some dark, generic clothing, and effectively hiding his face (and his identity) by furtively turning his head and sneaking quick peeks at me in bed.  I’m quite sure that before my sleep was disturbed he had been standing there as well, staring at me and simply observing me for…for some purpose of which only he was aware, I guess.  And, as if to remind me of how impotent I had been during his first visitation, every time he chose to terrorize me in the island’s early morning chill, I would find it impossible to move anything other than my panic-stricken eyes at him, so powerless had my mind and body become under his flickering yet watchful gaze.

But after many years of this highly irregular routine, I became somewhat immune to his inexplicable pattern of behavior.

Within a year following my divorce, and just after I turned thirty-seven, I secured employment with the federal government, a comfortable desk job arranged by my ex-father-in-law as a parting gift (he had always treated me more like a son than my own parents did), and was transferred to Memphis, TN, on the “mainland,” as we called the continental USA in Hawaii.

My relocation to the mid-south was rather traumatic, as I had no family or relatives living in the immediate area, and I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone to establish friendships on my own.  During this transitional period, which lasted several months, I was reunited with my nocturnal intruder, his presence in the bedroom of my small, twenty-year-old house just weeks after my arrival an unwelcome reminder that I had not left all of my acquaintances behind.  And any hopes I’d entertained of casting off that portion of my life like so much excess baggage was immediately dashed the first night he visited me.  It made me realize he was going to follow me wherever I went, probably even to my grave.

After three or four years of acclimating myself to the mid-south, with its unique culture and traditions, and its wildly unpredictable weather and changes of season, I met a lovely, beautiful, forty-year-old divorcee named Gail.  Her two sons were already grown up, and both had recently left the area in search of more lucrative job prospects.  In my new girlfriend I found a kindred spirit, not only someone as eager to give affection as to receive it, but someone close to whom I could now confide my otherworldly visions.  For she too was battling demons.  But while my demons were of the mind, hers were of the bottle.

Gail was employed as a nurse at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in downtown Memphis, and worked all day with children afflicted with cancer.  A lot of them died; at times it seemed like one or two a week.  Obviously, she took it quite hard, as all of the nurses did, losing these young kids after spending so much time caring for them and bonding with them.  It truly haunted her and her coworkers.  And like a lot of her colleagues, she sought relief from her demons by drowning her sorrows with liquor.  Her particular poison of choice was wine.  Yet it wasn’t until quite some time after we were married that she actually unburdened herself to me about her worsening alcoholism, and why she almost nightly drank herself into a somnolent, addled stupor after effectively functioning all day at the hospital, or together with me on her days off.

But it opened the door for me to do likewise with her regarding my own clandestine troubles.

Being extremely easygoing, she listened to my tale with open eyes and an even more open mind, giving me plenty of time to bring her up-to-speed concerning the irregular calls from my nocturnal visitor, and occasionally coaxing answers out of me with appropriately incisive questions.  To this day I don’t know if she ever truly believed me (and even on those nights when my visitor appeared, I questioned whether she would have been able to see him had she been awake), but I do know that she had no doubts whatsoever about my own personal convictions.  Yet once I had aired my thoughts and fears to her, it seemed that my outlook on life improved dramatically; I suddenly felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I even began to smile again, which pleased my wife greatly, although I knew deep down inside that something integral to me—to my existence—was still missing.  Nevertheless, I relished the improvement, and for almost thirty years our life together was fairly blissful, despite the presence of our unique, personal demons.

Liver failure claimed my wife just shy of her seventieth birthday.  It wasn’t unexpected at all; she had been a functioning alcoholic for more than forty years.  It was just extremely saddening to lose the only good thing in my life: my lover, my best friend, my confidante.  I had no idea how I was going to carry on without her.  She was the Yin to my Yang, and now I felt more incomplete than ever.

Several months after my wife’s untimely passing, I noticed, curiously, subtle but remarkable changes in my nocturnal visitor’s behavior.  Previously, he’d let a year or more go by between visits; after she was gone, however, he began appearing to me every few months.  And as if that wasn’t enough to puzzle me, on his more frequent incursions into my bedroom, he would step out of the darkened corner into which he had tucked himself like some cloaked shape-shifter and edge closer and closer to me over subsequent visits, as if suddenly inquisitive, yet still extremely reluctant to reveal his true identity to me.  In my usual comatose state at those times, I would wonder naively if this pattern was an omen of some portentous event which loomed in my future.  In more lucid moments, my only question was whether or not I’d live to see it.

Three years passed with painfully exquisite slowness.  My depression never lifted (or even abated), but I hadn’t expected it to.  Having recently lost my wife, as well as my parents many years before, I was completely alone.  Telephone conversations with my first wife continued, but a sympathetic ear could in no way replace the physical and emotional contact I had shared with my late wife.  My nocturnal visitor maintained his ever-more-frequent intrusions into the shadowy realm of my slumber, slowly but surely lifting the veil of mystery surrounding his true identity by way of his more-relaxed movements.  Adding a bit of my own deductive reasoning to the mix, I finally figured it all out.

And now my story has come full circle…

It’s late at night, I’m lying in bed in near-darkness, and he’s slouched in the inky recesses of his usual corner of my bedroom, once again mustering his resolve to approach me.  Soon, he’ll step out of that Stygian blackness and advance slowly in my direction.  This whole situation would almost be funny if it weren’t so damned sad.  Wasting all this time putting everything together!  Thinking at the very beginning that my nocturnal intruder was the stranger I’d chanced upon just once, after work during the first week in my new apartment.  Then believing for the longest time that I had been visited, if not abducted, by aliens!  God!  All that time convinced that I was being preyed upon, like some helpless victim, by an entity, or entities, from without, when I should have been more focused on something from within.

He’s finally moved out of the shadows now, edging sideways toward me, but every so often turning to face me fully, validating his identity.  Maybe he’s feeling pangs of remorse, seeking forgiveness over his absence for so long, knowing now that I have so little time.  You see, I’m dying.  Liver cancer.  And it’s spread throughout my entire body.  Kind of ironic, I think, contracting this hideous disease in my liver after my late-wife died of liver failure herself.  It makes you wonder…  But I’ve done quite enough wondering already in my lifetime.

My nocturnal “stranger” has drawn very close, only he’s the furthest thing from a stranger to me now.  Dressed in the dark pajamas I wore the first time I set eyes on him—thinking he was the local guy who had been wrestling with his girlfriend outside my apartment, returning to victimize me those many decades ago—my doppelganger nestles up to me on my bed, his ghost-like presence no longer a threat, no longer a mystery.  Tears are crawling down his almost translucent cheeks.

My only guess is that around the same time I decided to stretch my legs and leave the shelter of my parents’ house, he felt the need to do the same by seeking his freedom from me.  And after all these years he’s returned so we can be together during my final days.  I only regret that my wonderful wife, Gail, didn’t live long enough to learn the secret behind my lifelong ordeal.

And as his spirit-shape flows over and into my body like warm spray from a shower, merging seamlessly with my withering, disease-riddled frame, for the first time in what seems like forever, I feel whole again, complete.  And for the first time in that same forever, and for what little time I have left, I can finally embrace my missing half, and at long last, really and truly smile.

William “Bill” Rasmussen has had over twenty short tales of horror fiction published in both print and online magazines since late 2010.  In addition, his collection, Claw Marks & Other Disturbing Diversions, was released in all digital formats by Crossroad Press in September of 2010; his novella, Infinity Twice Removed, co-written with Mike McBride, was released in HC and digital by Delirium Books in December of 2011; his novella, Turning It Around, was self-published at Amazon in late 2012; and his two-novelette package, The Silent Passenger/Rift, was released in TPB and digital by Gallows Press in September of 2013.  He has a new novella coming out from an unnamed (by contractual limitations) but major small press bookseller/publisher later this year.

Bill is a retired FBI agent who currently resides on the outskirts of Memphis, TN, with his loving and supportive wife. His blog can be found at: http://williamcrasmussen.wordpress.com/

If you enjoyed this story, let Bill know know by commenting — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.

Story illustration by Dave Felton.

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18 responses to “The Presence, by William Rasmussen

  1. From one Kamaaina to another, your story’s setting brought me back to the four years that passed as a day, during my time in Hawaii. A sort of split in a person story, such as in Ursula Le Guin’s, A Wizard of Earth, or Star Trek’s, The Enemy Within…similar, but with enough differences to make it an interesting read. Mahalo “Bill”!

  2. I fully expected the visitor to be a standard nightmare from beyond the stars; when the reveal came, it was far more satisfying.

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