Emily’s sleep was boozy and fitful, and she woke five short hours later. Her lips were cracked from dryness, and her head throbbed with the aftereffects of wine. She made her way to the bathroom and back, which proved enough to leave her both unable and unwilling to go back to sleep. She feared that sleep might bring dreams, and she feared what her dreams might show her.
A glance at the glowing green lights on her microwave told her it was not yet 5AM. Her hangover and fatigue tugged at her, beckoning Emily to let sleep take her once more. She decided to brew some coffee in hopes that the caffeine would help quell her headache and keep her awake long enough to make it to daybreak. Once the sun rose, she was certain she could make it through her day.
A few minutes later, the last drops of the brew gurgled, choked, and spat into the stainless steel pitcher resting on the coffee maker’s hot plate. The smell of fresh coffee filled Emily’s apartment as the tomato sauce had the night before, and for the first time since the horrors of the previous evening she felt something like optimism. Her headache began to subside, and with three hours before needing to log into work Emily decided to spend some of that time on one of her side projects. Immersing herself in work and hobbies had been her preferred means of avoiding problems for years, and this was a morning she needed that more than others.
She opened up a game she was working on. Like her others, it was a puzzle app, the sort of thing people played only half paying attention while riding the bus or waiting at a doctor’s office. This project involved leading a character — a sorcereress — through a series of maze-like dungeons that twisted, rotated and shifted in all directions through the use of levers and switches. The character could use magic called “The Sight” to reveal parts of the path, but only once per dungeon, and of course the dungeons grew ever more complex and intricate as the game wore on. Emily loved these kinds of brainteasers, loved the feeling of success that came from finishing them, and enjoyed creating her own even more.
But the game still needed an ending, and Emily struggled to find one. So far the the sorceress continued deeper and deeper into the dungeons with no sign of escape. The ending could wait for now, though. There were still several dungeons to go first. The hours began to slip by as Emily found herself wrapped up in the world of her game. In what seemed like an instant, day had broken and it was time to log into her support job. Emily yawned at her desk, but that was the only reminder of the night before. She saved and closed all the files for her game and prepared to start her day.
Her phone rang the instant she donned her headset and continued to do so with startling frequency for the rest of the day. Emily spent the hours from 8AM to 5PM in nearly constant conversation with people at varying stages of desperation in their struggles with their operating systems, their antivirus software, and any of a number of other digital maladies. She took a short break in the morning for some more coffee, a half hour for lunch eaten at her desk, and another short break in the afternoon to stretch. Apart from that, she was glued to her seat and her monitor with not a second to blink.
As the day drew to a close, her mind began to wander. The sun began its descent and she could not help but be reminded of the night. The image of the man flashed in her thoughts. She imagined her view zoomed in far more than the binoculars had made possible. He stared right at her as if begging for her help. Or maybe warning her to stay away. All she had been able to see with any clarity was the shape of a man and the clear image of a knife cutting him across the neck, but now her memory played tricks on her. She remembered details of his face that she knew she had not seen. She saw a brown goatee and green eyes, graying hair at his temples. She saw crows feet and a small scar on his forehead. None of this was possible, was it? She had not seen any such things. So why did she now feel like she had?
You’re imagining things, Emily, she told herself. You imagined it all, just like when you were a kid. Just like seven years ago.
Emily began to feel like she had two separate memories of the same moment. One told her she had seen a man die — either by his own hand or another’s. The other told her she had seen nothing of the sort, that while engaging in voyeurism her fragile mind concocted a story more interesting than her reality provided. Which one was true? Could she trust either of them?
Something told her she needed to look again, to study the warehouse in the distance for signs of life if only to prove to herself there were none. If nothing happened tonight, she could convince herself that nothing had happened in the first place. On some level she knew this was foolish. Even if something had happened the night before, what were the chances anything would happen in the same abandoned warehouse again? But she did not care. Any small marker of comfort would help.
Emily fixed herself dinner, opting for something microwaveable. She had neither the energy nor the interest in cooking, and she planned to spend as much time as possible watching the warehouse. She rolled her desk chair to the window and set her meal on a foldable TV tray and then rummaged through the basket to get her binoculars.
Am I really doing this? What do I think I’m going to see?
She parted the curtains and drew the shades. Sitting in her chair allowed her to rest her elbow on the windowsill while holding the binoculars in perfect position. The night was clear and the buildings in the neighborhood began to light up, but the warehouse remained still and dark. Emily ate in slow, methodical movements to minimize the need to look at her dish. The chicken and broccoli were mushy and unsatisfying, but Emily scarcely noticed. Finished with her dish, she moved to push it away when the light came on in the warehouse. The surprise of it caused her to knock the plastic tray and fork to the ground, which she ignored in favor of watching the view.
What unfolded over the next few minutes moved in slow motion. Emily studied the room in the top floor of the warehouse with all the intensity she could muster, switching which hand held her binoculars when the other grew tired. Again she saw dark figures moving, but she realized how little she had seen the night before and was unsure whether she was watching something play out in an exact repeat or another scene altogether. The shortcomings of her binoculars frustrated her as well. Though she was now certain she saw two distinct men, it was not possible to discern more detail than that.
But it happened again, and she became certain it was the same events as the night before. The shock and suddenness of watching the man slashed across the neck was not diminished at all by knowing it was coming. Emily gasped and recoiled at the sight of it just as she had the first time.
Worse, she was more certain than ever she had gone crazy. That was what the doctors had said in so many words the last time this kind of thing happened How could the same events play out again? It was not possible. Did she think she had seen some kind of ghost? These were the questions she could never answer.
Her stomach churned. Her breathing grew short and painful, and again Emily felt the world closing in around her. She leaned against the window, fighting for stability and fighting for air.
Why is this happening? She cursed her mind, its weakness, its inability to cope. She wanted to scream but feared the attention that might draw. At last she was able to corral her breath and collect her thoughts, at least in part. Emily raised the binoculars back to the warehouse and was not surprised to see that the lights were off again, as if nothing had happened.
That’s because nothing did happen, she thought. You’re seeing things. Like before. This is why you live this way. This is why no one can be around you. You thought shutting yourself away from the world would keep it from happening, but you were wrong.
Emily had thought that letting it go, that ignoring her visions, was the only way to move on. They were not real, and she had to accept that. That was what she was told, and she had worked hard to believe it. It was was also why she moved away. It was supposed to be a fresh start, and in a way it had been. Yet here she was again, seeing things, facing the same problems.
But she never quite bought into the notion that her eyes deceived her. How can you ignore what they tell you? If you cannot trust what you see, can you trust anything? Emily huffed and stormed away from the window, knocking the fork and tray as she did. Her emotions swung from despair to frustration to anger.
Calling the police again seemed foolish, a waste of time. There was every reason to believe she was hallucinating, even if she was not convinced of it. If she called back a second time with the same description of a crime with no evidence, it was unlikely to go well. But there was no one else to call either. Her parents were long gone, and there was no reason to believe her sister wanted to hear from her. The rest of her friends existed only on the internet, and almost none of them had the first clue what she looked or even what her real name was.
It clicked for Emily then, and a fresh wave of panic washed over her as she realized what she had to do. Every time this happened — every time she saw things, horrible things, she had made the mistake of telling people about it. No one ever believed her. How could they? What she said made such little sense.
But she had never taken matters into her own hands either, had never taken real responsibility for what she believed she saw. This time would be different. It had to be. If she was truly crazy, she would figure that out on her own.
For the first time in six years, Emily was going to have to go outside.