Aphelion Issue 268, Volume 25
December 2021
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Window Of Opportunity

by Ethan D. Perritt

I usually play it smart. Double check the stove's off, lock the car three times, make sure I'm muted on a Zoom call. Just in case. It's one of those things - "what if?" You know? Just in case.

Tonight was different.

My therapist called it compulsive. In her therapist-speak, she said: "Normal humans don't lock their door and unlock it and lock it and unlock it and lock it again. When normal people see yellow, they don't count seven sets of seven." And apparently no one hides knives just in case either.

After upping my SSRI dose, my therapist handed me a bullshit pamphlet about exposure therapy.

"Great," I said. Really, I watched the leaves fall, staring out the window.

But there was something more. She wanted me to try it out. Test my limits. She told me to do it in a controlled environment. Like my room. Imagining it made me all sweaty.

"You demonstrate remarkable insight," she said, scribbling on a clipboard. "The only way out is through."

She rambled off more therapist-speak before she described her request. Facing anxiety would get me past it. Nothing could hurt me, and nothing could get inside.

I protested. I knew it was absurd, but it felt real.

But it didn't matter. She invoked our longstanding client-patient relationship and asked if I could do it for her. Social convention said that yes, I had to. I nodded.

I'd do it tonight.

Halloween was the perfect opportunity.

And when tonight came, I did.

I turned the shower on hot and inhaled dinner's scraps while the mirror steamed up. Lighting an incense stick and placing it in a ceramic tray, I smelled sweet smoke. It was my routine.

When I nudged it to the windowsill corner, I had deviated. No more contingencies. I already felt on edge.

Fall air wafted in as I opened the bedroom window. The mildew stench of rotting leaves followed.

Moment of truth.

I left it open, walked across hallway, and got in the shower. My heart thudded as I turned it cold.

I'd taken the opportunity. When did I get to feel better?

With the window I hadn't even gone all the way. My therapist told me to open the screen and all, but just the pane was enough. I stood there trembling and yanked the water hot again. The water trickled down my body. It hissed and spat as it smacked the floor. I swear to God I heard someone crawling in. I leaned past the curtain to look. My therapist told me it's best if I didn't, but I had to. Or else someone really could have crawled in. I mean, what if, right? The bathroom door cracked open as I stared down the hall. Worst was that I could only see part of the window. Just a sliver. On a normal day it'd be fine because all I'd look for was had the window moved? This was different. The window was already open.

I fucking hate windows.

I washed off suds and when I was clean, I stepped out. Believe me when I tell you, drying off and keeping a lookout is much harder than you'd think.

Mapped in my mind was every floorboard that cracked loud. If someone saw me, they'd guess I was a madman.

Always cautious, I darted into my room praying it was empty.

I let myself breathe. Thank God.

The change caught my eye real quick, and suddenly I wasn't breathing normally. The incense tray lay on the floor, ashes scattered. I wanted to go over and pick it up but my gut sank. The room barely smelled like incense. More soap and dirt and rot and metal.

I glanced both ways like I was crossing a street. There was no one here, and the screen was intact. Then how did it fall? There were no winds. I couldn't figure it out.

Time to face reality.

I clicked the window shut.

Here's the thing I hate most about windows. When it's day, they're fine. Just a nice, clear barrier between you and the world. But at night, the glass gets inky. You can't see anything at all, and if you have the lights on, you'll see your reflection.

I thought it was my reflection.

But the shape behind my shoulder moved.

When I whipped around to look for it, the room was empty.

I spent all night wandering the house, looking for it. That thing I know I saw. When I gave up, I slumped in the corner holding a kitchen knife just in case it came back. I locked every deadbolt and never opened the window again.

My therapist looked at me like I was nuts. It's not like they pay them to deal with crazy people.

I tried describing it. A naked, androgynous shape. No bottom jaw, just a barren black hole with a tongue slithering to its sternum. That's the detail I remembered most. The flesh serpent.

Instead of listening, she wrote out a prescription for Chlorpromazine and handed me it. But I knew better. They used to call those liquid straightjacket.

I promised her what I saw was real. I refused some fancy shrink potion.

She sighed and looked at me all disappointed.

I don't get it. Am I supposed to lie?

Whatever. I shook my head and took her prescription just in case.

"If you need help, you can always come back," she said.

"Next week, right?" I lied.

She nodded, but we both knew.

I still see it from time to time. Out of the corner of my eye or in a mirror. It just watches.

But I carry a knife now, just in case.

Because one of these times when I see it, its tongue will coil my throat as its claws rip my back. And I'll stab it. I'll slash and cut. We'll die together.

But until then, I'll stay vigilant.

Just in case.

© 2021 Ethan D. Perritt

Ethan D. Perritt writes horror fiction about those untouchable, unsavory topics. His work has been published in Aphelion Webzine, Schlock Webzine, and Kreative Xpressions. When not writing, he's playing guitar, working on his degree, or communing with the entities that lie beyond perception. He was born in Germany, raised in The Netherlands. Today he lives with his family and dog in Virginia. Reach him on Twitter @EthanDPerritt. He doesn't bite. Mostly.

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