7 Just Want To Be Loved
My mother and I never really got along. Don't get me wrong. She made an effort to appear that she loved me, but she always kept me at arm's length. I tried my hardest to impress her, to please her, but there was always this sense of mistrust in her eyes.
She seemed so sad when she looked at me. As much as I tried, I never could break through the layer of ice she put between us. My father did his best to make up for it, but he was only one man. Nothing can take the place of a mother.
They said it was a form of paranoid schizophrenia. At least, that's what little I gathered when I was younger. They tried to keep as much of it from me as possible. It was probably so I didn't blame myself, but children are instinctively curious creatures.
Adults tend to underestimate kids, and I like to think I was smarter than they gave me credit for. I knew those months she spent in the hospital weren't because she was "sick". At least, not in the physical sense. The bars on the windows were too thick to just keep out drafts.
My father took me to see her for the first couple of days. The doctors eventually forbade him from doing so. It's not like I minded though. She would yell upsetting things every time I entered the room and wouldn't stop until I left.
She screamed that I wasn't her son. That she hated me. That I was a monster. You can imagine how I felt hearing this as a child coming from someone who was meant to love and cherish you. However, I knew it wasn't really her screaming those things at me.
She was my mother no matter what. I suppose that's why I never hated her for it. It wasn't her fault that she felt that way towards me. Hell, she even tried her best to fight it. I guess that meant she really did love me after all, right?
And, really, who would I be to talk? If she was crazy, then I wasn't far off. I suffered from my own neurological disorder about the time of my mother's breakdown. Transient global amnesia, they called it.
Maybe with some mild dissociative disorder thrown in for good measure. One morning when I was eight, I woke with no memory of my past life. I remembered my mother and father, friends, family, and even where I lived, but I couldn't recall a day of my life prior to the moment I woke up.
But I knew it had to be something wrong with me, especially after all my mother had gone through. It could be hereditary for all I know.
My parents and I rarely saw each other after I moved away for college, but my father and I talked frequently over the phone. So when I received the call from him telling me my mother was dead, I was more shocked than saddened. She'd committed suicide the night before.
As I collapsed into a chair, my father told me of how he'd found her hanging in the basement that morning when he noticed she hadn't come to bed. She had been there all night and beside the chair she used was a tear-stained note addressed to me.
I'm so sorry, Jamie. Wherever you are. I should have believed my own eyes. I abandoned you. Can you ever forgive me?
I can't put into words how I felt at that moment. The sudden loss coupled with the haunting apology she'd left threatened to destroy me then and there. My head spun and I nearly fainted entirely before the end of the call.
I could barely function for the rest of the day, and if it wasn't for my fiancee, Allie, I might've fallen apart completely. She was an angel of mercy. She deserves so much better than me.
I was glad that my mother's funeral was scheduled for that week since I couldn't imagine stretching this ordeal out over a longer period of time. Though Allie wanted to come with me, I thought it best that I go alone.
Perhaps it was out of pride that I didn't want to burden her further. Truthfully, it was more likely out of shame than anything else. Airing your family's dirty laundry in front of someone you care about is a worrying prospect. She had to work anyway, and we couldn't afford to miss a paycheck with something as expensive as a wedding looming on the horizon.
The funeral was a rather simple affair, tasteful and befitting a woman of my mother's status. Our family's old church was packed to the rafters with grieving family members and friends, and my uncle read her eulogy with tears in his eyes.
It was reassuring to know that she was surrounded by so many loved ones that day. I'm not ashamed to admit my eyes were red and my cheeks were wet by the end.
The sun had gone down by the time the wake was over, so I followed my father home. I'd already decided that I would stay a few days with him to help with mom's affairs. To be honest, I was more worried about how he was holding up during all this but I apparently hadn't given him enough credit. He was always the stoic type and not even losing the love of his life was going to destroy him.
I still smile when I think of the two of us sitting in the den with cups of coffee chased with scotch, laughing about the time our eighty year old neighbor chased me through his yard with a weed whacker.
Unfortunately, the conversation took a more somber turn as night rolled in. I had casually put my feet up on a cardboard box left haphazardly next to my chair, when my father's expression darkened a bit.
"You might not want to put your feet up on that, kid. It's a bit fragile," he scolded me with a slight dip in the jovialness we shared.
I gave him a curious look before turning a glance to the box itself. It was rather old with fading lettering on the side reading Family Movies in smudged permanent marker. It smelled musty, like that familiar odor unique to every basement in the known universe.
I looked back at him with a smirk and retorted, "Getting sentimental, old man? Trying to remember a day when you still had color in your beard?"
Dad stroked his aforementioned greying beard with a thoughtful expression. I thought it was odd that he didn't immediately come back with a snap of his own. "Actually, it was your mother that dragged those old tapes out a couple weeks ago. She used to record everything you did with that silly camcorder I got her. I mean, until… well, you know."
I didn't know for sure, but I had an idea. "Until she lost it, you mean?"
My father nodded with a grimace. I knew I was being a bit harsh, but the events of the past week had left me a little numb to it all. "Capgras delusion. Not sure if we ever told you. Not that it makes much of a difference really."
He sighed heavily, leaning back in his seat. "She really did love that thing. Took it with her everywhere we went. I swore she was going to be a hollywood director or something one day. I wish she'd kept up with it after her breakdown. It might have helped."
The conversation eventually drifted off to other subjects, but I couldn't stop thinking about the videos. It seemed like such a passion of mom's, like she left these tapes behind specifically for me to watch.
Or perhaps it was my own ego wishing she had. Then there was the fact that I still don't remember a thing that happened before I was eight and my mother had documented our lives up to that point on video. Maybe watching them might help me remember what I'd forgotten. Either way, I knew I had to watch them.
When dad finally decided to go to bed, I wished him a goodnight and took the musty box of video tapes upstairs. The guest room had been made up for me that day and, even in its current state, it gave me a sense of nostalgia. Before I moved out, it had been my room.
However, my parents had the good taste to take down all my cringe-worthy anime posters and angsty teenager memorabilia and turn it into a respectable guest room. Thankfully, they had kept my old tv which had an VHS player hooked up to it.
I smiled at the quaintness of such an ancient, useless piece of equipment still in working order. As far as I knew, it was the only working cassette player in the world and I was glad to have it.
Opening the box was like unsealing an egyptian sarcophagus with far less impressive results. A puff of dry dust filled the air and a smell like wet socks assailed my nostrils. Inside was a small stack of black cassette tapes, all labeled, and a small Panasonic video camera circa 1986.
I greedily dug through the tapes, reading labels like Jamie's First Birthday and Family Day at the Aquarium with accompanying dates. I finally decided to start with Jamie's Birth 3/03/1988. However, when I tried to put the VHS into the player, I noticed there was already a tape in it. A small chill ran up my spine.
My mother had been watching old family videos leading up to her suicide and this was the only player in the house. Could this be the last one she watched? It was a pretty morbid thought that this could be the last memory my mother experienced before killing herself.
I could feel my skin prickle with goosebumps as I hit the eject button and looked at the cassette's label. It once had writing on it but someone had furiously scribbled it out with a black marker. It was difficult to make out anything, but I thought I could see the year 1996 written in underneath the black ink.
The label seemed rather odd, but I couldn't explain why I felt so apprehensive at that moment, and why the year 1996 seemed so familiar. With a shrug, I placed the new cassette into the player and rewound the tape. My finger hovered over the play button for a moment before apprehensively pushing it.
The screen flashed to life with a short burst of static before an image appeared on screen. The scene that illuminated on the television screen was encompassed by a familiar white window frame in pitch darkness. It was obviously the middle of the night.
Outside the window was a pretty standard front yard with a metal fence and hedges, much like the ones outside the house I was in. In fact, they were the exact same bushes, albeit several decades younger. From the position of the window, I could tell that it was the window of my old room. The time stamp read 6/12/1996.
The shot held on the screen for over a minute and, at first, I couldn't see what was important enough to warrant this much attention. It was subtle, but after a few moments, I thought I saw something odd between the trees in our neighbor's yard.
It was too dark to make out any real detail, but I saw what looked like a featureless white mask suspended in the pitch darkness. Probably the only reason why I assumed it was a mask were the two black dots where the eyes should be.
I didn't have much time to examine the mask in any great detail before the screen went white with digital snow. I'm a little ashamed to say that I jumped in fright as static issued from the speakers and the image was quickly replaced with another.
I recognized the location far quicker this time. The camera was angled downward but I could still make out the old hardwood stairs of my childhood home. Whoever was filming was cautiously descending one step at a time with heavy, controlled breaths.
It made some level of sense because it appeared to be nighttime again and they probably didn't want to wake anyone up. However, the strangeness of the entire scene did make me a bit nervous.
When the person holding the camera reached the ground floor, they turned right into a long hallway that ran from one end of the house to the other. I never liked that hallway myself. You could never see the end of it at night and it felt like staring into a black hole without the lights on.
As they turned, they let out an audible gasp and took a step back. With a shaky hand, they lifted the camera to reveal a pitch black hallway that most certainly was not empty.
The poor lighting and even poorer film quality made it difficult to make out precise details but I could trace a silhouette in the inky pool of darkness. Someone else was in the house and it was obvious that they didn't belong.
The outline looked human enough but the proportions were all wrong. The arms and legs seemed too long and too thin, covered in what must have been a large furry overcoat that dragged on the floor. The intruder appeared to be crouching at the other end of the hallway, but by some trick of the camera, its head looked as if it was still inches from touching the ceiling. That couldn't be right. That would mean the intruder was over eight feet tall.
I suppose I was a bit too enthralled by its form to notice the thing move. After a time, the shapeless form that was most likely its head lifted to reveal an amorphous white object beneath a long curtain of jet black hair. Sweat began to bead on my forehead.
Was that a mask? Two black holes for eyes and a gaping chasm that could be a mouth. What looked to be a pained expression knitted in the milky white brow. It was an odd enough sight on its own, but why was the intruder wearing it upside down?
I couldn't tear my eyes from the nightmarish scene. I couldn't even blink out of fear of it bursting through the television screen at me. The room around me faded away and my entire world became those thousand pixels of darkness separated from me by a thin glass screen.
There was a sudden fright building in my chest that normal fear could not explain away. There was something else to it. Something much worse. Something like familiarity.
A sudden and sharp shriek from the speakers broke me from my trance. I'd just barely stopped from screaming myself as I snapped back to reality. I'd recognized the voice that called out from the TV. I was sure that it was my mother's, leaving me no doubt who had been filming this insanity.
It was clear by the rushing images on screen that the camera swung helplessly at her side as my mother ran away from the thing at the other end of the hallway. Moments later, familiar static filled the screen.
I covered my face with my hands and let the sound from the speakers calm my nerves. I felt exhausted. How had I let a video work me up so much? Sure, that thing was creepier than a dozen Pennywises with a heaping helping of Slenderman on the side, but chances were good that it was just some jerk covered in a fur rug and cheap halloween mask.
But then, I suppose it wasn't what it looked like that really scared me. I recognized that upside down mask. At least, I thought I had. I couldn't place it anywhere at first. Then it hit me. Could it have been from before my amnesia? Before that morning I lost my memories and my mother lost her mind?
Could this person have something to do with me losing my memories? In the end, the questions outnumbered the answers and all I was left with was a headache.
Fortunately for my growing migraine, I wouldn't have much time to think on the matter. A minute hadn't passed before the sound of static abruptly stopped and the screen's glow showed an image I hadn't seen in over five years. How could I ever forget those pale blue eyes shining from behind a curtain of untamable curly brown hair?
Her features may have had two or three fewer decades worth of wear but a child could never forget the face of their mother, even after all that time. I had to look away when I felt something wet roll down my cheek. I wasn't even aware I'd started crying.
My mother stared intently into the camera as she appeared to be fiddling with something on the case. I could see nothing else of the room she was in until she pulled back, evidently satisfied with her work.
Even then I could make out very little. The darkness around her held suggestions of a closet and what looked to be a bed behind her only bolstered the assumption. As she sat before the camera performing a last minute inspection of the equipment, I pondered over the strangeness of the scene.
Why would my mother hide a camera in a closet? Did this have to do with the odd intruder? Was she spying on someone? I had an idea but I really shouldn't have doubted myself in the first place. After a time, a sound from behind my mother confirmed my suspicions.
"What are you doing, mommy?" asked a lazy, childish voice from the bed behind her. The voice was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Like hearing your own voice played through a megaphone.
My mother quickly concealed the camera with a blanket and turned a worried smile to the speaker. Across the room, I could see the sleepy face of a much younger me sitting in bed. I'd recognize that dopey bowl cut and those ugly GI Joe pajamas anywhere. For one beautiful moment, I'd forgotten the past week and actually smiled.
"Nothing, baby," came my mother's voice, comforting and confident. I couldn't remember her ever speaking to me like she did in that moment. "I'm just putting away your toys. Lie down, okay?"
Standing to her full height, she then moved to the bed and kissed me on my forehead. Then she was at the light switch, turning it off and closing my door with a soft, "Goodnight, baby."
And that was it. Mom left and I went to sleep. It was such a surreal experience watching such a mundane event after watching a carnival of horrors in a scream mask terrorise my mother. It felt a bit anticlimactic ending here. I knew there was no way I was going to watch myself get a good night's rest.
Not after what I'd just watched. Every worst case scenario I could think of ran through my head at that moment. It was a waking nightmare made worse by the fact that the nightmare already happened.
I considered turning off the VHS then and there. I weighed the benefits of knowing and not knowing but it was clear from the start that I couldn't go on without finding out what had happened that night. My thumb quavered over the fast forward button before pressing it and setting the video to 4x normal speed.
Even with the increase in speed, watching my younger self toss and turn in his sleep was agony. I couldn't keep my mind from wandering to less pleasant outcomes. I tried to focus on watching the shadows cast on the floor by the curtains and solitary tree outside my second floor window, but my eyes were drawn to the darkness beneath my bed. I was sure some monster was about to reach out from void and pull me below.
1 AM passed and I stared at the door, sure a murderer was about to enter with a knife. 2 AM passed and I watched the closet, expecting a giant snake to slither past. Then 3 AM passed and I pressed play. The video returned to normal speed and I watched with a newly feverish intensity.
For a moment, I wasn't even certain why I stopped there but as I focused on the screen, it became fiendishly clear. Until now, the shadow cast across my bedroom floor by the curtains had been calm and motionless. Now they waved in the air as if a wind guided them. As if the window had been opened.
The shadow on the floor twisted into an amorphous mass that I could not define, moving with an alien purpose I could not even begin to imagine. It entered through the window and strode across my bedroom floor on those impossibly long and disgustingly thin legs. It was so tall, it had to crouch to avoid hitting the ceiling.
That damned upside down masked face never looked away from my sleeping form. In its gangly arms, it held something I could not see. Though it seemed to support with this unknown parcel with an almost mother-like aire.
Knowing that this unearthly-looking creep had once stood over me as I slept made bile rise in my throat. As I stared at its disgusting, fur covered form, I wondered how I could have assumed it was human in the first place. Its limbs were too long and thin, and its height was nothing short of monstrous.
Even that strange white mask seemed to twitch as if it was really a face. It could have been my mind playing tricks on me but at that moment, I was sure the thing that loomed over me was nothing natural.
The creature's hand extended towards my sleeping form. Delicately thin fingers wrapped around my small body and it was odd how I did not wake. I didn't make a sound as the thing lifted me out of bed and held me to its chest. I looked dead in its grip, increasing the strangeness of the entire image.
I was so distracted by my reaction that I nearly missed the bundle it held in its free hand. The monster lowered its burden to my bed and covered it in my blankets. At this angle, it was impossible to see just what it was that it left in my place.
My heart nearly beat out of my chest as the thing turned away from my bed with its new prize cradled in its arms. It slunk back the way it had come with slow, measured steps of its emaciated limbs. But as it neared the edge of frame, it hesitated a moment. The sudden halt caused me to gasp audibly and, as if it heard me, the creature turned its head towards the camera.
For a moment, it simply stared into my eyes. Then, as if in slow motion, the grotesque mask's jaw unhinged and there arose the most nightmarishly distorted screech I've ever heard from the television's speakers. I had to clap my hands to my ears in fear that it would burst my eardrums.
I think I screamed myself as the creature's facestretched to inhuman proportions. It was a mercy when I heard its screech replaced by the soothing sound of static once more.
I can't even begin to describe the condition the video had left me. At no point did I notice I was sweating, but the perspiration had soaked through my shirt. My muscles had tensed so tightly that I now felt sore and achy from head to toe. I was mentally drained and I could only tackle the questions that plagued with feeble exhaustion.
How could this be real? There was no way this tape could have been faked, not with my mother and I both playing unwitting parts in this ghastly reproduction. But what else could explain it? What could explain an eight foot tall monstrosity that stole children in the night?
Did this thing have anything to do with my mother's death? Or, even more pressing, could this midnight transient have anything to do with my childhood amnesia? That thought frightened me more than anything else, but as I said, I lacked the energy to even consider an answer.
I'm not sure how long I sat there in a pool of my own sweat, gripping the edge of the bed until my knuckles turned blue. I'm not even sure I gave a damn. I could sit in a trance listening to the digital snow for the rest of my life for all I cared, but it was obvious the tape was not done with me.
Whatever that amorphous creature did to cut the camera's feed had obviously worked rather well. The first thing I saw onscreen after the static cleared was my young mother's face lit by the early rays of a morning sun.
For a moment, I felt safe again, like I was wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter's day. Seeing my mother's face reminded me that not everything in the world was a waking nightmare. I think I smiled a little as I watched her busy herself with the camera.
Who could blame me for my sentimentality after all I'd seen? That moment of self indulgence was the last time I felt like a man. It was the last moment of comfort I will ever feel. In those last few seconds, I could see the purest form of love and concern for a woman's child. Some days, that's the only thing that keeps me going, even though I know that her love wasn't truly meant for me.
She was in the closet again, fussing over the camera she found switched off. It must have frightened her to find it in the state it was in. She had no idea what the thing had done that night and had no idea what horrors could be waiting for her underneath the covers of her child's bed. I think that was the worst part. Not knowing just what that monster had left in my place.
My moment of dreadful contemplation was broken, however, by a soft rustle from behind my mother. I could hear it, but my mother apparently did not. She only turned when she heard the thing speak. The sound of its voice made me gag. I had to slap a hand to my mouth to keep from vomiting.
It wasn't its apparent grotesqueness that sickened me. It was its familiarity. The message was very simple. It simply said, "Mommy? What are you doing?" But it spoke in my voice, and when she turned to address it, it looked at her with my face.
- - - -
I haven't been back to my parent's house since that horrible night but I try to keep up with my father as much as I can. I'm all he has left, after all. It's been difficult, however. These thoughts will not leave me be, and I've found it hard to keep a job.
Not even my dreams are safe from them and I've found it easier to just avoid sleep altogether when I can. Allie left me yesterday, and I think it is for the best. I always knew she deserved better than me, and I finally know why.
Even now I can't help but dwell on the implications of that night. Can I truthfully say that I am the boy who fell asleep that night and not some poor imitation born in the arms of a night haunting monstrosity?
If I was honest with myself, I'd wonder why the real me would not remember a day before that moonlit visit from a nightmare. But then, what does that make me? Am I just like that thing who stole my doppelganger in the middle of the night? Or perhaps I was stolen from another world and exchanged in this one?
The worst thing about it all is just how useless these questions are since I am no closer to an answer than the day I first asked them.
I've began to dream about him now. The thing that brought me here. He perches himself over my bed as I sleep. That pale, upside-down face framed in matted black hair only watched me at first. As the dreams became more frequent, the black creature began to speak to me, but I could not understand the words.
They came to me as whispers in languages I'd never heard before, yet they still seemed familiar. Though I don't understand what he says, I do not believe he means me any harm. However, he still fills me with unbearable dread for I know what he wants. You see, he plans to return for me. He always has. And when he does, God only knows to what horrors he will draw me.
I don't blame my mother, if I can still call her that. Not for how she treated me. Her rage came from the sense of failure she had for not believing her own eyes. For not saving her son. I could never imagine how that must've felt. There's a great many things about this whole ordeal that I do not understand, but there is one thing I know for sure. That note my mother left the night she killed herself wasn't meant for me.