If you know Jack Fordham in Braden County Kentucky, please make sure he gets this message:
I’m not coming back. Please don’t try to find me. I had so many things that I wanted to say to you but I couldn’t for obvious reasons. I didn’t leave this note at the house, that was for obvious reasons also. I hope that one of your friends finds this somehow and gets it to you.
I left because I’m afraid of you. I never thought I would say something like that. You are the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. It wasn’t until recently that each day I stayed, I felt as though I was tempting fate. Last night was the final straw. I suppose it was luck that kept me blind to the danger for so long. You showed me last night that danger only needs to be lucky once.
I can still recall the day we met. The sky was clear. That drizzle came from nowhere and briefly became a deluge. A summer shower of hard, pregnant drops crashing down around us were sent to melt as mist upon the pavement as they sizzled in the summer sun. You wore those mirrored sunglasses. Your face was twisted in confusion with your head cocked, angled distastefully towards the sky.
“Excuse me,” you said as I darted past in a sprint, taking shelter under an awning. I thought that you must have needed directions or something. I told you to come and stand with me under the awning and out of the rain.
You took off your sunglasses and sniffing the air, correctly recognized my cologne. You told me it was one of your favorites. I thought you had pretty eyes and told you so. They were the strangest color of green and gray. We talked for a while and I thought that of all the people that I might have come across that day, our meeting, in the way that we did was so singular and serendipitous. I knew in those moments, we were meant to meet. You suggested we go for coffee and being free that afternoon, I accepted. You asked your phone for directions to the nearest spot. Four years and the image of that day is just as vivid to me as if I’d just seen it in a movie.
It took another two years to convince me to bite the bullet; to give up my rent controlled apartment and come live with you. After I noticed the sleepwalking, I didn’t think things would escalate from finding you facing blankly into the refrigerator to trying to kill me in just a matter of days.
I don’t even know why I’m writing this. I should just follow through with what I’ve decided and never look back. I think I owe this letter to you though. I really don’t think you have any idea, like you’ve said, about the things you’ve been doing. They didn’t always happen … or at least I don’t think they did. They may have and I’ve only just learned it.
Maybe it’s the antidepressants? The doctor warned me there might be side effects. He said I might not be able to get it up, but that didn’t happen. No, instead during the day I feel dead on my feet and at night I can’t lie still. I wake every time you stir and you seem to stir and leave the bed every night now.
That first night, I dismissed all this as a weird dream.
A week ago, you left the bed and I found myself in that warm state halfway between sleeping and awake. The mattress raised around me as you sat up and stood. Though there wasn’t any light, I knew you were crossing the room. I could feel it happening but you were somehow completely and utterly soundless doing it. Even in the space just before the door, where the floorboards creak — there was nothing. The square of light, as you opened the door, revealed your silhouette and as you closed it behind you, the hinges didn’t squeak and the latch gave no signal before the room was black again, bathed in unnerving, brooding silence. It was so thick around me I might have sworn I wasn’t even in our bed anymore. It was only at feeling the warmth of your pillow after you’d gone and breathing the scent of your sweat that I knew I hadn’t gone anywhere at all.
Slowly, I began to hear something quiet, cycling just on the edge of sound. Like a sort of ethereal static — the sound of radiowaves flickering between stations. But from what radio? With all of our podcasts and streaming, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a radio, much less listened to one. I don’t think we even own one, but I know what I heard. As the density and volume grew, I heard it shifting from left to right. My initial thought was that it originated inside my skull. It was coming from inside of me, Jack. I was horrified and the sound just grew to an endless drone and before I knew it, I was waking up to the sound of my alarm.
I opened my eyes and could hear your voice as you translated something to French in your office. The sky outside our window was blushing in the dawn of what looked to be a chilly day and I brushed the whole thing off for a while and got ready for work. You were really involved in what you were doing and didn’t even hear me over the recording that chittered from your headphones as I came in and lightly touched your shoulder. You smiled and I felt reassured as you made your hands into the shape of a heart so I could see. I kissed you on your cheek and headed out.
I got into my car and adjusted the seat forward. It was such an innocuous thing, I didn’t catch it at the time. Today, when it happened again, I realized I’ve been having to adjust my seat on most mornings. It’s been set too far back.
It feels so stupid to ask. The idea that you’ve been coming and going — for how long? For this whole time? Have you been taking my car in the middle of the night? It’s absolutely absurd. You wouldn’t be.
The first time I noticed any of this, I went through that day trying to convince myself I was being paranoid. I felt like some sort of jealous boyfriend.
I told myself everything was fine.
That evening, I came home and you’d ordered pizza. It was there waiting for me. You were knitting something with the news going in the background and as I entered, you called out to Alexa to pause. You asked me about my day. We went to bed and you kissed my forehead before I turned off the light. Nothing about the way we lived had changed. I was sure I’d imagined it all.
Until I felt you leave the bed again. That droning sound filled the vacuum you left behind and replaced all of the natural noises of the house creaking in the night wind. It blotted out the ticking of the clock on the wall. That sound, was the only thing then. It felt almost sentient. Alive. Whatever it was took your place in the room. I don’t know what strange things you might have done that night. Before I could question things enough to react, it forced me back to sleep and again, I awoke in the morning.
It all seemed the same. This happened the next night and the next and finally after a few days of this, I decided I had to know what was going on for sure. I had a cup of coffee just before we turned in. By the grace of caffeine and presence of will, I managed to stay awake. I managed to wait.
I found myself unable to sit up at first, but after you’d been gone a few minutes, I did it. I felt my body working against me as I struggled to stand. Keeping my eyes open seemed impossible, but I did that too. Bleary eyed and scratching at my beard, I found you in the kitchen. The refrigerator door was open and you were sitting on the floor bathed in the blue light of it as the frost billowed out and gathered down by your naked, outstretched feet. The drone of the motor was barely audible over that awful electronic sound bouncing, bound inside my skull.
I’ll admit before this moment, I questioned your fidelity. I wondered about you leaving. What I saw only raised more questions. I thought I was going crazy.
Slowly the sound of the radiowaves subsided and I realized you were speaking. Were you translating something for work? No. That didn’t make any sense. You didn’t have your recorder and in my haze, it took a moment to realize that there wasn’t any audio to translate inside the refrigerator, Jack. It was illogical.
I couldn’t understand what you were saying. It was bizarre to see you there, chanting quietly to yourself on the kitchen floor. You were in a trance, like dreaming, muttering over and over in the dark. That first night I heard it, it was just jibberish. A string of foreign words I couldn’t make sense of.
I made to pick you up by your shoulders, but you wouldn’t budge. I closed the refrigerator door and the chanting ended abruptly. When I turned to make another attempt at lifting you up, you were already standing.
Jack, you slapped me right across the face. If I hadn’t believed you were having some sort of nightmare, I would have left right then and there. We’ve had arguments, all couples do, but you’ve never even dreamed of laying your hands on me. I was shocked, but slowly you seemed to come to your senses then, shaking the sting from your hand.
I just stared at you by the light of the kitchen window, not knowing what to say there in the dark.
“Honey?” You asked, “did I just hit you?”
I told you that you had. We both went back to bed, thinking you must have been sleepwalking or having a weird dream. You wouldn’t stop apologizing, even after I told you I was fine. I think you must have been pretty broken up by it. Dreaming was the only explanation that made any sense at all.
When I woke up, you were already awake before me. The house was chilly and heat swirled from your coffee. You kept apologizing between breaths as you blew to cool it. I forgave you. Over and over, I had.
I kept the strange auditory hallucinating to myself. Your sincerity was real and reassuring. I still believe you. I don’t think you have any idea or control over what you’d been doing any of those nights.
But, the following night, when I woke up you were gone from the bed again. Your spot was all but drained of its warmth. You must have left the bed hours ago. There was no true way for me to tell. This time the noises that I knew weren’t really there were softer. The sound didn’t seem to have as much control over me as it had in previous nights, but I still felt its ominous pull trying to lull me back to dreaming and overpower me. It was easier to get out of bed and it began to fade entirely as I reached the bedroom door. There was a glow coming from the gap at the foot of it. It flickered and shifted. The floorboards creaked underfoot and the hinges issued their usual squeak as I opened it and slowly made my way down the hall.
As I came towards the living room, the sound of static seemed to return slowly. Growing with each step, but it was different now. It was real. It wasn’t coming from inside of me. It was coming from the TV. We’ve had everything digital for so long that I didn’t even know there were channels that still did that. You sat on the coffee table facing the screen. You were a black shadow, outlined in flecks of digital snow and again I heard you muttering. Chanting those same words as you had the night before. Something about all of it was so unnerving that I wanted to cover my eyes. I stood frozen in place, watching you for a while. I don’t know how long. The sound of the static filled the room with confusion and it was difficult to approach you.
“Jack,” I said, “honey? Are you okay?”
But you didn’t reply. You didn’t even turn your head in my direction. I don’t think you even heard me until I walked over and turned the TV off. I should have learned from the previous night, but I hadn’t. This time you hit me much worse. Once in my diaphragm and another swing connected on my nose with a sickening crunch.
I screamed at you as blood began pouring out. I fell to the floor.
“Where am I?” You asked me.
“Buck you.” I said, pinching my nose. From my position at your feet, I told you what happened. I told you I wasn’t going to try to help you next time. I’d let you pray to the fridge, the TV or both of the fucking bathroom toilets if I didn’t get hit or have to listen to you apologize for hitting me.
You cried when I told you that you had to spend the night on the couch. I didn’t want you near me.
This was all so frustrating because you’ve never hit me before and the mystery of it was wearing on me. Worst of all, I didn’t understand the French you’d been sleeplessly slurring well enough to repeat it back to you. You promised to make an appointment in the morning to see someone about your nightmares and somnambulating and dream beatings.
That was two nights ago.
Jack, I’ve already said it, but you are the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to me. This past week has been pretty terrible, but … last night was the worst. You tried to kill me.
I don’t know if you ever made that appointment. I reminded you of it yesterday morning. I feel so lost right now and I can’t begin to explain myself. You have to understand how hard the decision not to come back home has been for me to make. I believe you when you tell me that you have no idea what’s going on, but I almost died. I hope someone can help you, but I can’t do this anymore.
I woke up just like I had all the other nights when you weren’t there. This time was different. I’d asked you to stay on the couch again last night and didn’t expect you to be there.
I heard the buzzing again, but it was more of a nuisance than anything else now, quiet and drained of its power over me. I sat up easily and unplugged my phone and turned on the camera. Every time I’d heard this sound, it had been connected with your behavior. I was determined to record you so I could play it back and you could tell me what you were saying. I still can’t believe I spent all of these years dating a professional translator and I haven’t picked up any French at all. Far off, I could hear your voice at it again.
I’ve been watching this video over and over. It makes me feel sick.
I didn’t realize you were in the room. You sounded so far away.
I turned on the light and saw you standing there in the corner. Blood was dripping down your cheeks and there were dark holes in your face, but the holes weren’t empty. Clouds of darkness swirled in the place where your eyes should have been. Like the lights of a storm ravaged sky, the black forms swirling within were shone intermittently, alight with impulse and electricity.
There was a knife in your hand and you just kept chanting. Over and over again those words came from you and also not from you as they merged with the steadily growing sound of static that filled my head. Then you began speaking to me in English.
“It said I had to take them out, so I did.” You said. You were smiling as you lolled your head around in tiny circles dazically. “Can you hear it too, honey? Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Jack?” I said quietly.
“Shhhh. You have to listen. You can hear it if you listen closer. It will say what you need to hear.” You said. “Just listen. It told me I could see all of them. My eyes were just in the way.”
I was quietly crying then, “Oh God Jack, what’s happened to you?”
You screamed then. “SHUT UP!” you said. “Do you ever just shut the fuck up?”
You raised the knife and charged at me, jumping from a standing position to land with both feet on the bed. You would have put that knife straight through my head if my reflexes hadn’t rolled me from my spot and onto the floor. I shot through the door and ran. I could hear you saying those words in French again behind me.
I toppled the chair in the hall right into your path but somehow you knew and sprang over it like you were doing the 100 meter hurdles. I knocked over the side table in the living room and that didn’t manage to slow you either. The television was on and the refrigerator was open and each time, somehow you were able to avoid whatever I threw into your path and spring over it, not faltering once, like a predator chasing prey.
I grabbed my keys from where I keep them on the table by the door. The mirror above was smeared with blood. Your blood. Your eyes were there on the table next to the spoon you must have dug them out with. Green and gray they stared up from the table, pointing directly at me. For the first time, I could feel them really piercing through me. All the while you were gaining and muttering those awful words. You barely sounded winded by the time I made it to my car and peeled out of our driveway. The seat was wrong but I didn’t fix it until I was miles away.
I just kept hearing those words over and over through my tears as I sat there. My phone was still recording everything. It had been going for almost 10 minutes. I decided to watch the playback then and there, hoping it would tell me something — explain anything about what was going on.
I looked it up word by word. That’s why I’m not coming back. Please don’t try to find me, I’m begging you.
“Couleurs. Peux-tu les voir? Les couleurs. Peux-tu les voir? Peux-tu les voir? Peux-tu les voir?”
Colors. Can you see them? The colors. Can you see them? can you see them? Can you see them?
That’s all you were saying over and over again every time.
Jack, I can’t come back. I do believe you’re not in control of this, whatever it is, but I can’t do it. There’s too much risk.
I do hope someone finds this and reads it to you so you have an explanation. You deserve that.
There’s a few things I don’t understand.
I don’t understand where you’ve been taking my car. I know that’s a crazy thing to say. More importantly, I don’t know how. How could you take my car?
I don’t understand how you were able to avoid all of the furniture that I tipped over. Is it because your entire life was already so practiced at avoiding things you couldn’t see? It was unnatural. Even for someone with as much practice as you have. How could you keep up with me and not trip over any of it at all?
You told me once you didn’t even have a clear idea what colors were. You told me most people born without sight didn’t. You told me that people explained them to you many times, but being blind from birth, the concept was too abstract and relied too much on being able to see.
I can’t come back. I’m too afraid of you, but I’ll always love you.