The words on the textbook page blur into opaque black lines as my eyes fixate on one point. My biology professor’s monotone voice drones on despite my apparent lack of interest.
I morph the black lines into words, ones that have been crafted by me and edited by the very best. I imagine looking over the front cover, seeing my name occupy the bottom. My mind conjures up multiple options for pseudonyms. The plush chair I sit at is the only perpetrator for my drowsiness—not a boring voice. I take solace in the fact that a tall mug of coffee sits on my right, its contents full. If needed, I’ll take some. A large TV is mounted on the far wall in front, replacing the chalkboard. Everything I’d need within reach. I brush my perfectly manicured fingers over the page, a small sense of familiarity blooming in my chest as I peer over the words. Checking for mistakes, I’d assured my editor, but in fact, we both knew I wanted a lazy reading day. He was top-notch at his job, and he knew it.
Golden sun rays beat down at the top of my head, bathing me in vitamin D. The window is open; a cool breeze plays on my face gently, occasionally dancing with a couple strands of my hair.
The din of rustling papers and zips on backpacks erupt around me. It’s 3:30p.m. I keep my eyes on my things as I pack up—not looking up once. I sling my backpack over my left shoulder and walk out, hands stubbornly stuffed in my pockets.
The first thing I notice when I enter the house is the stuffy feel of heat. He’s turned it on again.
I go to the thermostat and furiously turn on the AC. I climb the wooden rickety steps at the back of the house, ignoring their squeals and complaints as I go up. The steps wind around an imaginary giant baton, ending in a less-than-impressive tiny room. The roof slants, so I have to duck my head and eventually stoop as I go further in. I’d always thought the steps (not on a close inspection) are deceiving—they meander like an upstream river and lead you to believe there’ll be some kind of fine penthouse holding an overflowing bucket of gold coins at the end. I like to imagine that every time I climb them—despite the fact that I know my hopes will be brutally annihilated over and over again.
Before going in my room, I stand at the head of the stairs, surveying the little attic. There’s no door, albeit there’d be no point if there were anyway—no such thing as ‘privacy’ in a house full of four younger siblings and two active parents.
A little taller than I am now—hair just brushing my tummy, spectacles resting on my nose. I look out onto my bedroom, standing at the head of an elaborate marble staircase. My dress trails out—following two steps down behind me.
My bed had doubled in size; a clean white sheet hugs the mattress that sits on glorious golden bed frame legs. The bed is encompassed in a net hanging from a hook in the ceiling.
I strain my ears. No sound of fighting from any siblings. No sound of parents yelling or any slammed doors. Peace. Quiet. I exhale a long breath, exhaling stress and tightness. Inhaling serenity.
The room has expanded ten-fold, now fit for kings and queens. A floor-to-ceiling window is situated at the other end of the room. I graciously walk over to it, the flats on my feet so airy I feel as though I’m not touching the ground. I look out the window and then down.
Rolling hills of a lush green fill my sight. A fishpond in the vast backyard catches the light, winking at me. Half the pond is concealed from view by a man. A man. I’m almost brought out of this vivid reverie at a sudden bubble of fear at the sight of another human, but I quickly gulp it down, assuring myself that this vision is everything I will ever want.
The tip of my nose brushes the scrubbed window as I lean forward. He’s crouching next to the pond, throwing in what I assume is fish food. His arm throws with certainty that emanates from none other than practiced skill; his shoulders hunched forward in concentration. This pond is no joke to him.
I’m getting impatient—as much as I am fascinated by fish, I’ll no doubt be more fascinated if he turns around. I grit my teeth, knowing that if I say something, my dreamer will pull me out. My patience is being tested.
Eventually, the man stands up and caps the bottle of fish food. He’s wearing a fitted suit. He turns around and looks up. He knew I’d been watching him this whole time.
As his eyes meet mine, a jolt of electricity runs through my body, freezing my smile in place.
His eyes are a dark red, blood pouring from them and dripping onto his formerly-white sneakers. His lips are pulled into an eerie smile; he’s scarily handsome. The blood pours and pours, hitting his shoes and the concrete. Unable to tear my eyes away from him, I cry out when he makes toward the house, about to come inside.
Soft footsteps. Shoes squeak on the shiny marble. Squeak! Squeak! For some reason, I can’t turn around, can’t face my fear, my future. The squeaks get louder, closer, clearer.
I spin around.
—And look down. Brown eyes. No red, no blood.
My head snaps up; heartbeat raising to an alarming rate, thundering in my chest, louder than the insistent squeaks.
I look down. A bright orange toy is being waved in my face. A tight knot in my chest loosens. “Ri, I found it!” Squeak! “Mr. Toddle came back after all! Just like you said!”
My brother gallops around my attic, brandishing his orange mouse in the air like a medal just won at a fair. He turns to me, his sixth sense kicking in when I don’t reply. “Ri?”
I gulp, smears of red and buckets of blood looming in and out of my mind. “Mr. Toddle! I missed him.”
Lucky for me, James, at the tender age of five, isn’t very perceptive of tone yet.
As he rides his imaginary seahorse out of my room and to the next closest room, I exhale.
This time, exhaling my idiosyncratic tendency of getting carried away with my imagination. Inhaling my small room, my wooden rickety staircase, all my sloppy but cute siblings. Inhaling the present.
I peer out of my square window, one just large enough for my head to fit through, and look down at the pond. We have two fish. I look closer, squinting to spot both of them.
Then, I see it. My heart hammers in my chest.
One of the fish is lying upside down, floating peacefully in the water. The other is swimming agonizingly slow. I watch as his body turns upside down with a plop.
Just as I’m about to look away, I see a splatter of blood next to the pond.
A trail of blood leading into the house.