Haunted - A Short Story
Have you ever felt the grip of an obsession? Perhaps it’s a past action or experience, or just a recurring thought. Whatever you do, wherever you go, it follows you. It gnaws at you. It haunts you.
Don’t look at me like that with your eyes wide. It is not me of whom you should be afraid. Would you like to hear my story? Yes, I will tell you what happened that turned a successful businesswoman into a blubbering invalid.
I once worked for a successful marketing firm. During one windy, humid day, I waited for a colleague and friend, Carol, who I was meeting for lunch. I stood outside of the office on the bustling sidewalk, restlessly glancing at my watch every few minutes. A gust of wind blew my chin-length hair into my face, sticking a few strands to my sweaty forehead. I grimaced and wiped the hair from my skin as my eyes fell on my colleague’s bright red hair bobbing in the crowd about twenty feet away. She appeared to be talking to someone, but I couldn’t see who.
I started walking toward her, bumping shoulders with various strangers along the way. As I drew closer, Carol spotted me and shouted, “Oh, there you are!” She approached me with two gentlemen at her left. “Let me introduce you.” she said, turning to them. One, who was standing directly beside her, smiled warmly as the wind rustled his receding blonde hair. His round, mildly-wrinkled face beamed as he reached out his open hand to shake mine.
“Hello!” he said.
I firmly shook his hand as I looked to the other, well-dressed man in a navy business suit, standing in-between but slightly behind them. My eyes found his icy blue gaze peering through his rather shaggy, dark-brown hair. I gasped.
His eyes pierced mine. A shock seized me as if I had fallen into a slushy river during a blizzard. I felt exposed and vulnerable as if my thoughts, past actions, beliefs, everything were laid out for him to see. My embarrassments, my secrets, my lies that I hoped no one would ever see now bubbled up in my throat like a sour meal. I had to consciously prevent myself from retching.
I wanted to run away, hide, dissolve into nothing, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t even blink. I could only stare back. His eyes held mine captive.
“A-are you ok?” Carol asked, now standing to my right. Her strong voice jolted me out of my trance. I forced a smile to both men as I regained my composure. “It’s a pleasure to meet you!” I said to both men with professionalism.
“Likewise!” said the older gentleman with a nod.
The third man’s thin lips curled into a sinister smirk.
“The pleasure is mine.” uttered his raspy, low voice.
My knees buckled and I fell forward. Carol threw out her hands to catch me. “Are you alright!? What’s wrong?” she asked frantically, her brow furrowed in worry. I couldn’t respond.
My ears – my ears! They rang with loud static. An incredible pressure threatened to burst my skull. I clutched the sides of my head and gnashed my teeth as the man’s words echoed in my head:
The pleasure is mine… The pleasure is mine…
My chest tightened as I gasped for air. I felt Carol’s skinny arm wrap around my waist as she reassuringly dismissed the older gentleman and pulled me towards the office building. “Let’s get you inside!” she said.
She walked me into the lobby and sat me down in an overstuffed, burgundy leather sofa. “Take it easy. I’m getting you some help.” she said as she reached for her cell phone in her right pocket. But, my hand quickly snatched her arm. She froze.
“Who…who was that?” I asked in a low, shaky voice. I looked up into her worried, green eyes.
“Jim? He works in the survey department. We occasionally work on the same project.”
“No! Not that one! The other one!”
Carol furrowed her brow. “Jim was the only one with me.”
Panic rose anew within me. My hands began to shake as I let go of Carol’s arm and tightly gripped the edge of the sofa’s cushions, pressing my sweaty palms onto the smooth leather. I knew if I didn’t calm down, I’d be consumed with terror. I forced a smile.
“It’s alright! I’m fine!” I said reassuringly. Whether I said that for Carol’s sake or mine, I do not know. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself I was alright. I continued: “Y’know, I think I’ll skip lunch today. I have so much work I need to get done, anyway.”
Carol searched my eyes for a few seconds. “Alright…” she said hesitantly, “But, at least let me help you to your desk.”
Later, as the hours drew on, I sat silently at my desk. My watch beeped, notifying me that only one hour remained in the work day. But, I ignored it. My eyes scanned the numerous files which littered my computer screen, but the words didn’t hold any meaning for me. It was if they were written in a foreign language. I stared at the screen, struggling to calm my pounding heart while my mind fought to suppress the man’s voice.
The pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine…
Such a simple phrase, perhaps something I might have used during my short life up to this point in time. But now, as the man’s gravelly voice whispered inside my head, every word felt like a parasite gnawing, munching, and eating away my brain.
“No, no, don’t think about it.” I whispered to myself. “Just get back to work.”
The pleasure is mine…
That voice – it was haunting me. It repeated itself innumerable times until I realized something: there was more than one. Two of his voices in synchronization, chanting, “The pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine…”
Then, two voices became three. Three became four.
I bowed my head and tugged at my hair. No, this isn’t happening. This doesn’t happen to people like me. I’m a regular person just like everybody else.
The pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine…
There were more voices.
Suddenly, I jumped up from my chair, dashed out of my office, and briskly walked down the linoleum-tiled hallway, my high-heels click-clacking the whole way. I reached the women’s restroom and burst through the door. Thankfully, there was no one inside.
I gripped the counter, catching my breath from terror. A yellow legal pad and pen sat on the counter by a sink to the right. I ignored it.
I stared at myself in the mirror. My eyes, which were normally brown, began turning an icy blue. I tore my gaze away from the mirror, turned on the faucet, and splashed cool water on my face, hoping to refresh myself. Turning off the faucet, I grabbed a couple of paper towels from the metal towel dispenser on the wall above the legal pad. I dried off my face and looked back into the mirror.
He was there - standing behind me! As his mouth moved, a thousand voices inside my head shouted, “The pleasure is mine!”
I screamed and whirled around. There was no one there. I began to pant heavily, my face twisted into a terrified grimace. Tears rolled down my face.
“Please stop!” I yelled. The voices became louder like a roaring ocean. I grabbed fistfuls of my own hair and began to rip them out of my scalp. The voices roared louder. I turned and pounded my fists on the counter, rattling the sinks. I would try anything to the voices stop! Suddenly, my eyes found the legal pad again. There was something written on it.
I leaned in to read it:
“The pleasure is mine.”
I picked up and threw the legal pad at the closed door. “NO!” I screamed. The voices screamed.
The pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine… the pleasure is mine…
THE PLEASURE IS MINE…
I wildly snatched the pen from its resting place on the counter, wrenched off the cap, and jammed the pen into my right ear, point first.
For the first time that afternoon, all I heard was silence.
A new panic began to set in as I felt a warm stream of blood trickle from my ear down my neck. My inner ear burned with pain. But I was happy that the voice was gone.
I collapsed on the floor, my world fading as business men and women began rushing in. Some said that they had heard screaming. Others yelled “Call 911!”
It was so peaceful – until I looked up. There, his ice-cold eyes bore into mine. He grinned, and my world turned black.
You think I’m crazy. I can see it in your face. Don’t be so quick to judge, or you may find yourself haunted as I am.