This story is by Claudia Spiridon and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Belua started as floating lights, decorating the darkness of my room at night or floating beside me as I walked to school.
He appeared after my dad passed away. I was thirteen; alone; scared.
I used to imagine my dad walking towards the sunset and… Turning around, waving towards me. He would always say a few words and I couldn’t hear him but they comforted me. I would imagine him gesturing towards the horizon, his silhouette enveloped in the mellow light of the evening.
Then he would dive. Off the cliff.
Somehow, the idea his death had meaning made me less resentful towards a world that failed to give me any explanation as to why him and why then and why… At all.
It got worse after high school started. My mum was always tired, stressed out. Gone were the mornings smelling like freshly made pancakes and forgotten was the image of a smile on her lips.
The first time I noticed Belua I thought it was tiredness. I went to the ophthalmologist. I got glasses.
He was still there.
Over the first two years of high school, he grew stronger. He manifested, at first, through lights. Benign, if not sweet. I got used to the thought of waking up before the sunrise because of their flicker and I became comfortable with how they hanged around my shoulders at times.
And then he started to morph. He took the image of a radiant silhouette replacing my shadow. He would walk along with me on the streets of the small city I lived in. He accompanied me to the library, made me feel less alone when I had no one to share a thought or word with.
We got evicted from the house. My mum was unable to keep paying for the place. So we moved closer to the city center. Mum tried to put on a brave face and encourage me with quips such as:
“Look at the bright side, you’re closer to the school!” Or she would envelop me in quick hugs and let a whisper nestle in my hair:
“Everything will be fine, darling.”
I wanted to believe her, but the corners of her mouth trembled every time an unsure smile contoured on her lips. At the end of my second year of high school I started having panic attacks.
It was almost as if I ran out of air on a constant basis. And in the worst moments, everything would fade to a black with no nuance and my only instinct would be to let my body curl up in a ball, disappear within the darkness of my mind.
One morning, I woke up to find my glowing friend replaced by the natural shadow a source of light produces. I tried to ignore it, at first – told myself I ‘grew out of it’.
That day I felt sick at my stomach almost every minute, sensing my body wanted to rid itself of… Itself. Almost as a hermit crab that is ready to find a new home when it outgrows its old one. I remember how after the bell rang to dismiss us for the day, I felt a vicious urge to run… And I ran.
I stumbled into the bathroom and keeled over a toilet, throwing up until I couldn’t breathe anymore and I felt my throat hurt and my mouth coated in bitter bile. When I opened my eyes, a black, thick liquid sat at the bottom of the toilet bowl. I could hear my heart pounding, my pulse thumping against my temples. I closed my eyes – took in a breath. Then I heard a swishing sound.
The black mass in the toilet was moving. Almost as if trying to climb the porcelain walls and crawl back into my body, as if it was in excruciating pain to be removed from my insides. I held my breath, hands shaking and tears galloping down my red cheeks. And I flushed.
I stood there for a moment, watching the clear water settle. The splashing sound still rang in my ears and it now seemed to follow the rhythm of my racing heart.
When I turned around and met my reflection in the mirror, I saw him.
Belua was now no longer my shadow. He dragged itself up from the ground across my back, holding onto my shoulders. And he now had features – or something resembling features. Holes, all over the pale expanse of his face. He resembled a toddler, embracing my back and letting his long fingers dig into my shoulders, while his lower body was fused with mine.
I let a scream escape my chest and I frantically tried to take him off me, clawing at my back, breath erratic and body shivering.
I ended up with my back against a wall, my knees close to my chest, hysterically crying.
I never told my mum about him. Every morning, his crater filled face would welcome me in the mirror. He didn’t seem to move or be capable of doing so. He was just… There, clinging onto my back, pressing down on my shoulders like an invisible weight.
The end of the third year passed and I failed two of my classes. My mum was called to the school. I spent an hour in the principal’s office, a puzzled expression on her face and disappointment lacing her every word. I sat there, Belua heavy on my shoulders, unable to explain either of them that… I had no idea what was happening to me.
I had no idea why I couldn’t concentrate on my classes, or why I felt constantly that I couldn’t breathe, or why I contemplated disappearing, or why scratching myself made me feel relieved.
She tried to talk to me. She proposed I see a psychologist. Or a priest – anyone. Anyone that could understand me. I agreed – we shelved the plan until after the summer break.
That said… I am scared.
About a week ago, something happened.
I woke up to the sound of my mum walking through the apartment, getting ready for work. It was a Tuesday – a sunny one. One of those days best spent lazing around the house with a cold lemonade always in close proximity. I layed in my bed until I heard the entrance door slammed shut.
When I got up, the ground seemed to drag me towards it, pull me with an incredible force towards the purple rug under me. I took in a breath but my lungs refused to work, as if my chest was constricting them. I ambled towards the bathroom with unsure steps and I let my eyes fall onto the image depicted in the small mirror.
My eyes widened – my breath caught in my throat – my heart leapt in my chest while my insides turned upside down.
It was him. Belua.
He was no longer attached to me. He was now tall, towering over me, the craters in his face now deeper, darker. And the swishing sound came back to me – the craters were filled with the same liquid that was expelled from my body. Slowly moving around the holes in his face. Making the same splashing sound.
And his hands… His long arms now came around my shoulders and his long, thin fingers were wrapped around my neck. I couldn’t breathe.
All I could do was stare into his dark holes, watch the black fluid move and swish and splash and…
I woke up a few hours later, in my bed. I have no idea how I got there – all I can remember is… The black holes in his face and his long fingers around my neck.
It’s been a week. I still can’t breathe properly and all I can hear is swishing; it rings like an echo in my ears.
I am scared…
All I can think is… The memory of my dad. Walking towards the sunset, pointing towards the cliff, smiling.
It’s warm. It’s the only warmth I can feel. I haven’t eaten in two days. I feel like my power is being stripped away by him.
I can see dad again. He’s… Whispering again. I can’t hear you, dad.
I watch his lips move. Belua’s fingers are now tighter around my neck.
Why are you doing this?
Why me, why now, why…
My dad is now saying the same words again and again. I am pulled closer to him, to the sunset, to the beautiful, gentle light that is enveloping him.
And he is whispering again and again… You know what to do.