An Unreliable Narrator of My Own Life

Before I get even a little way into my story, I do want to say; the dog does not die in this one.

There are so many details that I fear I am forgetting, and so many of which I cannot determine if they are real or not. That very fact will probably result in many waving this away as a hallucination, or the ramblings of a mad woman.

But, although the details themselves are murky, I promise that the events themselves are real.

I grew up on the shores of one of the Great Lakes, and in an area where there is frequently more snowfall than parts of Alaska. In 2017 we got 5 feet on Christmas day alone, and while the Weather Channel found it remarkable, the residents of that small city shrugged and said, “It’s not the worst Christmas we’ve had; at least there isn’t sleet.”

But I digress. When I was 13 my parents bought a house outside of the city, situated on some land and with woods on the property line. The woods technically were part of our neighbor's property, but he agreed to let me and my younger siblings play in it and build forts as long as we kept the trails free of branches and brush so that he could go into the woods on his motorized wheelchair at his leisure.

I want to say I was a fearless child and wandered into the woods at night, deeper and deeper without any care for what might be lurking there. It is true that I did indeed go to the deepest parts of the woods, and I did indeed go on moonless nights. But it wasn’t because I was brave. It was because I was scared.

Of my father. Of his rage. Any monsters in the woods were surely less frightening than my father when he was in his cups. And wolves were less scary than his friends who were getting more and more interested in my life as I began to go from a gangly girl to and into a young woman.

I believed, then, in spirits and ghosts and fairies and magic. I was 13, yes, “too old,” perhaps to “still believe.” And yet. I believed I was a changeling, that my “real” parents had swapped me out and the reason my parents abused me was because they knew. Sometimes I believed that I was a lost fairy princess, and one day my “real” parents would find me and hold me and tell me they loved me and were so sorry that they hadn’t found me sooner.

I constructed elaborate fantasies to deal with the fact that my parents hated me and spoiled my brother. My child and adolescent mind could not square the cognitive dissonance that I was absolutely dependent on my parents for survival and yet they seemed to care very little about it. I tried so hard to win my parents' approval, and yet I was still abused, neglected, forced to starve without supper while watching my brother eat cake.

I was, for all intents and purposes, a “good kid.” I got straight A’s, won numerous awards, took home trophies, and was overall the overachiever. To others, my parents bragged about me. Alone, it was never good enough. There had to be something wrong with me to make them abuse me, there had to be something wrong with this reality. It couldn’t possibly be as simple as the fact that some parents are monsters; my child-brain couldn’t tolerate that.

When we moved, I searched the woods every spare chance I had, convinced there was a portal there to another dimension. Convinced I could find the gateway to the fairy realm and finally be home.

Convinced that my salvation was somewhere in those trees. I would find the answers, I would find love. I would find the reassurance that I wasn’t the bad one. That I didn’t deserve the pain, the assaults, the molestation, the neglect. I needed to find this portal that I was convinced existed, even if the woods was also the home to cryptids. No cryptids could hurt me more than my father had. Nor could they harm me any more than I was already now doing to myself.

On a late September day, I found a tree that had a drooping branch. I climbed up and felt a calm wash over me as I sat down sideways and leaned back against the trunk of the tree. I was close. This tree was important. There was something about it that felt special. There must be a doorway or a gate or portal or something in this area.

I went there every day for a week. But winter was on its way. The first snowfall where I grew up was usually early October. And this year was no different. I waited the squall out, found my long johns, my thermal socks, my hand warmers, my snowsuit, and all of the rest of my snow gear, and went back out the first day it was clear enough to do so.

But I couldn’t find it. Not that day, nor the day after, nor the day after that. I couldn’t find the tree anywhere. It was just gone. I couldn’t find any of the small markers I had left for myself, I couldn’t find any of the landmarks I knew to be around it. It was as if the woods had rearranged themselves.

At the time, I chalked it up to the snowstorm, the wind felling branches and toppling bushes. But then I still couldn’t find it the next week, nor the next, nor again for months. The school year had picked up, I was a freshman and busy with new friends and extracurriculars, and many other ways to make sure I was home as little as possible.

I had not forgotten the tree, though. I searched for it in my dreams. At the time, I believed dreams were visits to other worlds. And I would go to the dream forest and look and look and look. But never found it.

I was out on our back deck in mid-January, ready to chase some deer back into the woods before going out with the family dog, Zero, when I say him. He was hanging back in the woods; I could barely make him out. He was standing eerily still and silent. He was maybe 10 feet into the tree line and did not move at all as I approached, nor flinch when the deer ran past him.

“Hey,” I called. “What are you doing there? Those woods are private property!”

He didn’t respond.

I heard the bell ring, one of those old iron bells was hanging next to the back door. It was so loud, I could hear it even if in the woods. If it was ringing, it was because my parents wanted us kids home. I looked back towards the house, but when I turned again to the forest, the man was gone. The bell rang again. I ignored it and crept toward the tree line. No footprints at all. I saw the hoof prints from the deer, but there were no other prints at all.

The bell rang again and this time it was accompanied by my younger sister yelling my full legal name. “Sarah! Marie! Connel! You get back here or I’m telling mom!”

My parents didn’t spoil her, but nor did they abuse her. She was their little helper, though. Always happy to go along with whatever cruelties my parents dished out. For being five years younger, she spoke like an adult and mimicked my parents when they would remind me of the spurious reasons I was getting locked in the closet for the next twenty-four hours. And so, she felt entitled to scream out and give me the Full Legal Name yell. Each second that I tarried, she would tattle to the parents and suggest the harshest punishment possible. Confused, scared, anxious, and just a little bit excited, I trudged back home.

That night I tried to dream about the woods; I wanted to search the dream-woods for that mysterious man. He couldn’t be mortal. He had to be supernatural. He had to be paranormal. He had to be some kind of otherworldly being. What if he could answer my questions, what if he could take me home? Yes, I was a 14-year-old wanting to find some mysterious entity and ask him to take me to fairyland. I was a delusional child.

Heck, according to the government, I am a delusional adult.

I didn’t find this man in my dreams, though. Instead, I found something that actually terrified me. Some mass of black, liquid void stalked me. At times it was a puddle, and at others, it molded itself into a humanoid shape and chased me. But my legs would stop working, or I would run but it would be as if I was running through molasses. I kept trying to get away, but this thing was always there. I would hide, and it would find me. It never said a word. It never made a sound. It had no face or features. But it filled me with great dread.

These nightmares persisted for weeks, and then months, and then summer came, and I was free to go to the woods without thirty layers of clothing and late into the night. But I didn’t. I didn’t go to the woods for another year. For the first time, the woods were a place to be avoided. I found reasons to be with various friends at all hours, even going to the local amusement park and hanging out in the arcade to “keep my friend company at work” even though I hated that place. I found other places of refuge and stopped believing that anyone would come and rescue me. I accepted that I was damaged, that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and nothing I could do would fix it. Love was conditional, and due to some fundamental flaw, I would always fall short of those conditions. My parents were my parents. I was no changeling, I was no fairy princess.

They were shocked when I announced I’d be moving away, going to college hours away. They asked me who would vacuum when I was gone? Who would cook and clean and who would watch my siblings? They told me I needed to still pay “rent” even if I was living on campus and not with them. Suddenly they loved me. More like they loved all the things they made me do.

I mentioned that I am crazy, right? OK. Just making sure.

I went to college and forgot my childhood. It was as if I was reborn, a new person. People would ask me, as people do when making new friends at college, about home life and families and growing up. I would shrug; my childhood was unremarkable, the same as any other. Nothing good or bad, it was just a childhood.

And I wasn’t lying, or at least I didn’t think I was. My childhood was now a blur, and that didn’t seem odd to me, that didn’t seem unsettling. Surely everyone just had some sort of undefined blob of “my childhood happened” instead of specific memories of birthdays and first dates and middle school dances. Surely that was normal, so why would I ever think there was something wrong?

My parents loved me. When they would say things or do things that showed otherwise, no they didn’t. When my friends from high school would talk to me, if they mentioned something my parents had ever done to me, I didn’t remember it. The monsters weren’t real.

Except the one that started plaguing my dreams again. Only now, I had no context. This nightmare creature was no longer contained in the woods behind my childhood home, now. I lived in a dorm that was only technically on campus. It was called “Ravine Hall” because it was on the opposite side of a ravine from campus. 23 stairs down the one side of the ravine, across a small bit of pavement, and up another 42 stairs to get to it. I loved wandering around along the creek that went through that ravine. But then the nightmare creature was suddenly there when I was in the dream-ravine.

And then he was in dreams when I was in dream-lectures and in dream-restaurant trips and soon he lurked in the corner of every dream I had. I didn’t realize how bad it really was until the first time I stayed the night with my college girlfriend. She said I tossed, turned, cried, whimpered, and pleaded, “Help. Please help.” But she couldn’t wake me up. I was trapped. Even the times when I knew it was a dream, that creature was real. Everything in the dream would feel like a dream except this creature.

I got therapy through the school’s counseling center. Mostly, I went because the one therapist had a dog. And that was important. In one of the first few sessions, the therapist made a remark, I can’t recall exactly what, but she was trying to prod me into divulging whether or not I had a good relationship with my parents. I shook my head. “Do you think they abused me? No, they are good parents and I love them.”

She seemed puzzled by this, and I was equally puzzled by her bewilderment. But she let it drop. Maybe it would have been better if she actually tried to dig in. Maybe it would have been worse. But it would be several more therapists before I found another who didn’t swallow the “my childhood was fine” lie hook line and sinker.

I graduated, somehow. I had a mental breakdown in my sophomore year that required hospitalization. But, to be fair, it was after that good ol’ college girl rite of passage: being roofied and assaulted. I didn’t count that as a strike against my own sanity or reason to suspect anything was going on. True, I picked up an eating disorder along the way, too. But, overall, I graduated with honors and got a great job right away. A miracle, to be sure. This was in the middle of the Great Recession. I also got married and moved even further away. In a sort of strange mischievous attempt at humor, but also a subconscious but unacknowledged desire to separate myself and my identity from my parents, I changed my entire legal name. First. Middle. Last. I was Wren Callaghan now. Sarah Connell, in my mind, was dead.

But the nightmares still plagued me. That creature still stalked me. I was afraid it would manifest in the real world. I made a ritual of triple-checking every door and window before bed and had a nasty habit of waking up screaming. Therapist after therapist could not fix these nightmares. And soon, I started seeing the creature in real life out of the corner of my eye. He would be under the seat in front of me on the subway. He would be sitting on the top of the lamppost outside the apartment. He would be in the back of the mail room. My only safe place was in my apartment. And I feared he would find a way inside, soon.

My husband began telling me that I was going crazy, that I was paranoid. That something was wrong with me. And, he would point out, he would know. He’s a therapist himself.

So, I slipped into madness. I somehow maintained steady employment as a paralegal at a smaller firm, but my true passion was writing, primarily fantasy stories. But they were all happy stories, or at least, stories that did not end in tragedy. Some of them were good enough to be published in magazines. I had friends, went to meet-ups, hung out at the local trading card game store, and spent too much money on Magic cards.

But through it all, I kept going mad. I would find bruises on me that I didn’t remember. Well, I must just be clumsy. I would find notes that I clearly wrote but made no sense. I would come home to packages with things I did not remember ordering. And the nightmare creature was now trailing me like a loyal hound.

The most disturbing of the mundane episodes was finding text messages that I had sent to my husband. I would read them, and in them, he was cruel. In these texts, he called me worthless, told me that I was lucky to even have him, that I was too crazy for anyone else to want, and that he only hit me because I provoked him. I would read these, see the handprint-shaped bruise on my arm, and then… forget. My husband loved me. And if he didn’t; yes he did.

And then he didn’t. For real. He told me I was crazy, that he couldn’t stand to be burdened with me any longer. It was such a weird coincidence that not only a month before that he had finished his PhD. Which I had paid for with my legal salary. Which he’d pursued full-time because I told him he could quit his job and I would cover our expenses; his future was worth it.

Anyway, he had his PhD, a nice new job, and now I was a burden on him. I collapsed. I’d built a house of cards and my attic bedroom was somehow flooded.

My husband left me. But the creature didn’t. He brought me nightmares of all the times my ex-husband had beaten me but I forgot. Nightmares of my parents abusing me, which, surely, they never did? Right? I went utterly mad and was hospitalized for the second time in my life. And that creature even followed me there. They gave me medication for the nightmares. Did you know nightmare meds exist? I didn’t. Wish I had known that way before. But apparently “prazosin” does something to your blood pressure that makes the nightmares go away.

But these meds made the nightmares go away. The creature stayed, even in my happy dreams. He was always there. Always watching. Even if he wasn’t chasing me.

Over the next few weeks, everything came painfully back. Day by day I went crazier as my mind was flooded with all of the traumatic memories it had locked away a decade and a half earlier.

But my adolescent dreams of being a fairy suddenly came back to me, too. And the mysterious figure I had seen at the edge of the woods. And the tree. I dismissed all of them, though, as the hallucinations of a crazy kid who didn’t know yet how crazy she really was.

I was there for several months. But, eventually, I did make a turnaround and was released. I got a dog, Penny. Short for Penumbra. My cats were great, but a single crazy lady in a city needs a little bit of protection, right?

Funny story, most hospitals don’t let you have access to the news or current events. I had to ask my friend to tell me who was winning the primaries by code over the phone. This also meant that when I left the hospital in March 2020 having no idea what “Coronavirus” was.

I digress.

Amidst all the chaos of trying to regain my footing and grasp on reality, my parents both passed away from covid.

I wandered around my childhood home in a daze. I ran my fingers along the seams of the peeling wallpaper and stubbed my toe on the bottom stair to the basement that my father swore he would one day fix and I swore I would one day learn to remember. I drank the crisp well-water from the faucet and breathed in the lingering scent of all the bonfires that had happened in the backyard.

One thing was missing: the bell. But it was gone; my sister said it had rusted over the years and no one fixed it, so eventually, it was just taken down and was now sitting in the garage. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I thought.

We ordered pizza, and my sister said it might be awhile, so I decided to take a walk in the woods, to see if I could find that tree that I was not so sure that I’d hallucinated.

I headed out, Penny with me. I told her to explore to her heart’s content, knowing that she’s a good dog that listens when follows directions and would come back the second I told her to. She ran off without a second glance back at me.

And then I saw it. The tree. It was there. It was suddenly right in front of me. How? When? What? What? Then everything went silent

No, the tree has to be there. That has to be it. I approach, and the crunch of leaves under my feet is the only sound now in the woods. From nowhere, Penny runs back to me and paws at my hand.

I motioned for her to sit and stay. She plopped down with a “glrmph,” which is Penny-speak for, “Fine I will sit, but I don’t want to, and I won’t like it!” I chuckled but continued my approach. It felt real, it felt solid. And it gave me the same sense of significance.

I get the rush of déjà vu except it’s both actually happened to me before and also never happened to me before. I climb up, some part of me has been reliving this day over and over because I know where to put my hands before I even consider where they need to go. It’s like a well-rehearsed stunt scene. I sit on the drooping branch. It was like it was 2002 again, I can hear “My Immortal” play in the phantom headphones over my ear. I can fiddle with the phantom ring I used to wear all the time, I can see the choppy bangs covering my eyes even though I haven’t had bangs since 2014.

I think that this has to be some space outside of time. That maybe I couldn’t find the tree before because it didn’t exist at that second in time. Maybe this is on the edge of a portal or a doorway or gateway just as I had believed. Maybe it wasn’t madness, maybe it was magic. Maybe I already was in another dimension. Maybe…

Should I keep going? Should I try to see if I could keep going? What was left for me in this world? I was unemployed, and still years away from being truly stable enough to hold a job. I had a new boyfriend, but I knew he would one day come to the same realization my ex-husband had; I was a burden. Now more than anytime before. I’d slowly fallen out of contact with my friends and now the only family I had was a brother who grew up to be just as much a drunk as my father, and a sister who decided “Karen” was a career.

No, I shake my head. No, this was just a flight of fancy. The tree is real, yes. But there was a logical explanation for why I couldn’t find it before.

Without looking at her, I motioned for Penny to come over and then jumped out of the tree. But she was not there. She was not anywhere… But wasn’t she…?

“Penny! Here, Penny!” I call. But nothing. I scanned all around me, looking for any sign of her. Instead, I noticed shadows creeping around me. The nightmare creature… it was here…

No, not just a nightmare creature. A horde of them. They skittered in my peripheral vision and danced just out of sight. I have to be hallucinating, this has to be a dream. I must have fallen asleep and I was dreaming. But it felt real.

I have to find Penny and I have to get out of here. I pick up my Walkman and run.

Nope, no time to think about if this is real or not. I have to run, I have to get out of here. I kept calling for my dog and ran back the way I came. "Zero! Zero! Here, boy! Zero!" Or, at least, I thought it was the way I came. I was panting, and my bangs kept getting in my eyes. I chided myself for not clipping it back before I left.

I stopped when I heard a bark. Penny! I called again and whistled. No response. I pull out my trakphone and flip it open, scrolling through my contacts to find my sister. As I was doing so, a dozen text messages arrived. A text from Alice, she isn’t gonna be at band practice tomorrow and wants me to fill her in. A text from Jess, she wants to know if we can hang this weekend, her parents are out of town and gave her their credit card for pizza.

There! My sister texted me just while I was trying to open a text to her. “where r u? Mom & dad r goin 2 return da movies 2 blockbuster. U better not have lost da 1 u rented!” Fuck! I left it at Sam’s… No. Not the time.

I snap the phone back closed and shoved it in my pocket. This time the nightmare creatures were not attempting to hide. They had all taken on a vaguely human shape and surrounded me. Though they have no mouth, they start chanting a nursery rhyme and circle me like some mockery of a playground game. “… ashes, ashes…” They all fell down and became a gelatinous mass.

“Hello, little bird.” From out of nowhere the mysterious man appears. “You flew away.” He cocked his head to the side and looked me up and down.

“I…” I stammer. Stammered. Stammer. “Who are you?”

“Who? Or do you mean to ask ‘what’?”

“Yes, no… what?” I feel… I felt my heart in my chest, and I reach for Zero. Only, he isn’t there.

“I am what you made me. I am what you asked for, I am what you searched for. Until you stopped looking. And I’ve been looking for you now ever since. And here you are, little bird.”

“I…” I needed to run. I want to run. I need to get away. None of this makes sense.

He grins, a soulless, slow grin. “You wanted away from here, yes? You wanted to find the door to take you to another reality? You summoned the gatekeeper. And here I am. Right this way, please.” He bows, and reaches his hand out to me.

That’s right, I tell myself. Told myself? Tell myself. I don’t belong here. This isn’t my world. I can go home now. I can be free, I can escape. I can cast off the pain that has lived in my bones.

I take his hand. It looks solid and whole, but it feels like a skeleton in my hands, and when I look closer I swear I can see maggots crawling on it. No, a trick of the woods. This is my savior. He’s taking me home. He’s searched for me for years, he’s finally found me.

We walked back to the tree, and he pulled aside a bush. There it was; there it is. The portal. I looked… I look inside, expecting to see lilacs and glimmering sapphire ponds and a rainbow across the sky.

Instead, I see monsters with no eyes, chimeras of all kinds with sharp teeth, lumbering beasts snarling, and even more nightmare creatures.

“What’s wrong, little bird? This isn’t what you wanted?”

I back away and shake my head.

“Come on, Sarah. This is your chance to get away.”

I used to think that nothing in the forest could frighten me more than my father. I realized I was wrong. I was very wrong. “No! Stay away from me!”

“Sarah, I’m here to save you.”

“Sarah is dead!” I yell and then I run. It had been morning when I left, but now I glimpsed the moon through the trees. And what felt like only five minutes later, I saw the sun fly up across the sky and halt directly above. Everything was wrong.

I was running through the woods barefoot because I’d just come here from swimming and didn’t bother to find my flip-flops. I was getting snow in my boots because I had been in such a rush that I didn’t zip them properly. I was sweating so hard I threw off my band jacket. It was so cold I untied my college hoodie from my waist and zipped it tight. My long hair got caught on a branch and I had to pull it out. I ran my hand over my head and my short-cropped hair was soaked with rain.

I had to get home, my sister's fifth birthday party was starting soon. I have to get home, it is almost time for school. I have to get home, my coworker is gonna pick me up for my summer job soon. I had to get home, it was almost dark.

I had to get home, a nightmare was stalking me.

The bell rang out! I’d never been happy to hear that thing before, but I could follow it. I can follow the sound of the bell. I can follow it home. And then I can lock myself in my room and cry and hope mom and dad didn’t ask why I was out so late.

“Sarah! Marie! Connell!” My sister calling for me. I am in trouble, but I would rather be in trouble than face the nightmare creatures.

“I’m coming!” I call, hoping my sister hears me. Maybe, if I didn’t come back soon enough, dad would come out to find me. I’d never had hoped my father would find me, but here I was.

I ran into the man. He was suddenly before me and a ricocheted back from the impact.

“Sarah, I tracked you down and showed you the portal. You are now refusing?”

Sarah? No. I wasn’t Sarah anymore. I am Wren, I reminded myself. Wren.

“I don’t want to go. I’m not going. I’m going home!”

“Yes. We are going home.”

“No, not there. Never there. Real home.”

“But that’s not where you belong. You belong in the world showed you.”

“No! I’m not a monster, I’m not a creature like those… things are.”

The mysterious man shape-shifted and I was looking at myself suddenly. He spoke with my voice and looked at me with my eyes.

“Are you sure? If you weren’t a monster, your parents would have loved you. If you weren’t a monster, your husband would have loved you.”

He shifted again.

“You’re good for nothing,” my father said.

He shifted again.

“You’re such a burden,” my ex-husband said.


“I can’t believe people even want to be friends with you.”


“You’re disgusting.”


“You’re worthless.”


“You’re crazy.”


“Everyone would be happier with you gone.”

Again and again he shifted into every person who had ever said anything cruel to me. He repeated them like a mantra, like a prayer.

“Stop it.” I covered my ears and closed my eyes. But he was there, too. Even in my mind I saw him and heard him.

He shifted once more and stared at me again from a copy of my own body.

“It’s time to accept it. You aren’t enough. You aren’t human enough to love. You don’t belong in the human world. You’ve always known this.”

“No,” I sobbed. “No. That can’t be true. I’m human. I’m human. I’m not a monster. I’m not.”

“Poor Sarah.” The creature crouched down and lifted my chin, looking directly into my eyes. “You ran so far away. You tried so hard, for so long to deny the truth. But you have to accept it. That new boyfriend of yours? He’s going to realize it soon and toss you away like the trash that you are. And the next partner, and the next. Man, woman, anyone in between? They will never be able to actually love you, they will all eventually see the monster in you. Look, here.”

He lifted my hands in front of my eyes and I watched, wide-eyed, as claws replaced my fingers. I looked at my reflection in his… my?… Eyes and see my teeth elongate into fangs, and my own eyes change from brown to red.

No. This isn’t happening. I’m not actually a monster, he is doing this to me! This isn’t real, this is a dream, this has to be a nightmare. I’m not a monster! I’m human!

I tried to cry, but it came out as a shriek that sends a shiver down my spine.

The mysterious man has taken his own form again and was laughing wildly. “See? You can’t deny it now! Let’s go home, don’t want you terrorizing people and scaring them.”

Without wanting to, I found myself following him back to the portal. I look inside. Yes. He is right. I belong there. Away from humans. Away from anyone I could hurt. I have to stop inflicting myself on others. I take a step forward, and then another. The man, cackling.

I am half a step away when I feel a tug on my sleeve. It is Penny! She is pulling on it, dragging me away. I shake my head. Penny? Not Zero? Penny… Penny is here… Penny was here… she didn’t want me to leave. She saw me, like this, a monster, and still wanted me to stay?

She let go of my sleeve and barked, and then growled at the man. He hissed back at her. She didn’t back down, though. She snarled and lunged at him. He fell to the ground and tried to wrestle her off. But she bit and clawed and lashed.

He turned into a puddle, like the rest of the nightmare creatures and retreated. But I heard him say, “I will find you again. I will keep searching and finding you. I will lead you to the portal. I will take you away to where you belong, just like you begged me to do all those years ago. I will grant your wish eventually.”

Penny grabbed my sleeve again and she led me out of the woods. We got outside of the woods, and it was nightfall. Though, I could not tell you what day. I looked at my hands. Normal hands. It was a dream… It had to be. I fell asleep or… or something.

I hugged Penny. “Thank you, good girl. Let’s go back.”

We walked back into the house and my sister was packing up the last of the pizza into Tupperware. “Oh, you’re back. The pizza is cold. And our brother ate most of it. I was getting worried. Hey, is that your old band jacket? I thought you lost it senior year.”

“What?” I looked down. She was right. I had lost this twenty years ago. “Oh, uh yeah. Guess not. It was uhhh in the back of my closet…”

“Also, eww. Why do you smell so bad? Did you roll in a dead bird? Go take a shower, you’re filthy.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You’re so gross. It’s a wonder you even have a boyfriend right now. I feel bad for him.”

I wanted to snap back. But I just trugged to the bathroom, instead. I looked in the mirror. My eyes weren’t the right shade of brown, my hair had a tinged of red to it, and my nails were longer than they should be and sharpened to a point. I smiled, and I could not place my finger on exactly what, but there was something off about my teeth.

I saw a flicker in the mirror; a darkness just behind me. I whirled around but there was nothing there. Was it just a dream? A terrible flashback nightmare? Or was it real?

The funeral went as well as one can go. I accepted the condolences of family and family friends who’d all diligently looked the other way when I was a child, and I skipped my meds the next day so I could get drunk before getting in the plane to go back home. Home, the real one. Where I was actually safe. I haven’t seen any of the nightmare creatures during the day since then. But I have caught glimpses of them in my dreams, not often, and not for long. But I wonder, still.

I am certifiably crazy. I am, by all accounts, an unreliable narrator of my own damn life. My therapist could give a more cohesive run down of who “I’ am than I could. I am sure, if I actually told her this, she would say it was a dream and go all Freud on me. Which, to be fair, is what I am paying her to do.

But I can’t explain the jacket. And I can’t explain what happened with Penny. What did she attack? I don’t know. I probably will never know for sure unless that man shows up again and truly does take me away. That’s my story. I understand if you don’t believe it. Heck, I wouldn’t believe it either. Regardless, I felt I had to share. Just in case.