BY MICHAEL J SEIDLINGER
This is an except from "Falter Kingdom."
I read somewhere that symptoms shouldn’t start until nightfall. I call bullshit on that because it’s one p.m. and I’m hungry and locked in my room. The doorknob won’t turn and, yes, it’s unlocked.
It’s messing with me and getting stronger and bolder and meaner every day. I send everything above as a text message to Becca, who immediately replies with this exclamation point, three of them actually, and then:
“I heard! That’s like such bullshit!”
Duh. I text back, “I’m home with it.”
“Are you okay?”
“See previous message.”
“Wait, like, you’re stuck in your room?”
“Yeah,” and I add, “It’s cold in here.”
Becca texts back, “We need you to meet someone today.”
“Ditch school and help me. I’m clueless with this shit.”
It’s true. I can’t believe it, but yeah, I really do need Becca’s help. But everything I just said feels so fake, and wrong, and nothing at all sincere. But it’s there, so that’s something.
“I’ll leave at lunch period.”
Good. I want to text back, “I’ll be stuck in a room haunted by some demon, waiting for you,” but instead I text, “Thanks.” And again with the “Love you.”
We both text the same two words to each other.
It feels as strange as ever.
But Becca doesn’t ask about the party the other night. She doesn’t even act suspicious. Maybe she’s caught wind of the Nikki thing but she won’t say anything about it. I think it has a lot to do with how she’s reacted to what’s been happening. For being someone so close to me, she shouldn’t have done that, keeping her distance and stuff. But then she’s also skipping school and she never skips school, so . . .
I’m confused. What else is new?
I know you’re there, yeah.
I can sense it nearby, but it’s weird because I can’t get a make on where it’s standing. It feels like it’s everywhere around me. But it’s also not doing anything. It just wants to keep me here, in this room.
Like if I left the room I’d do something stupid.
I look up from my phone and shout, “Are you protecting me or some shit?”
I hear a creaking coming from the floorboards, kind of like how the floorboards creak when I shift my weight from one leg to the other. A low creak, and then there’s nothing.
I get a text from Brad. I don’t read it.
It’s probably just a bunch of “Bro, you got suspended?! That’s fucking wild! You the man!” kind of stuff.
I try the door, still not budging.
I sit on my bed, laptop open, and I start scrolling through blog posts and other stuff. Just wasting time.
Blaire texts me, “Halverson’s a douche.”
I text back, “Yup. Douching it up.”
Blaire replies, “You’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Talked to Becca. She’s on her way.”
I read that text again and again. Something about it . . . how it makes me picture everyone I know soaking in the drama that’s probably happening, and they’re all running around, exaggerating their concern, so that they also get some attention. That’s probably happening. And then I think of Nikki, picture her sitting at a table in the cafeteria, watching as Becca and Blaire make a scene. Everyone knows what’s going on.
And here I am, freezing and stuck in my room.
I get a call. When I look, it’s a number I don’t recognize.
Well then, ignore.
But the number keeps calling. I put my phone on silent. I go online and focus on something else.
This is all getting so overwhelming.
Becca messages me online, telling me that I’m not answering her texts.
“Yeah, getting overwhelmed by things.”
“Gotcha,” she types, “on my way. Father James is cutting us like a huge break. I think he’s going to be the one that sees you.”
“Great,” and then I add, “Yeah, that’s really great.”
Becca asks, “Still locked in?”
“Yup,” I type back. Then I add, “Might have to leave via the window.”
“That’s like so fucked up,” she says.
“It is, yeah. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“But we do know what’s going on though.”
I try to make sense of it, put it in words that would make sense to her: “No, I know, I mean . . . well, it’s just like everything people said about being haunted but it’s also very different.”
Becca doesn’t type anything.
“Let me try to explain.” But the explanation doesn’t come. I type out something that doesn’t make sense so I delete it. I’m at a loss. Then I ask, “Who’s driving you?”
Her reply: “Jon-Jon.”
I should have known. I mean, it’s not a bad thing, I guess.
I type back, “Cool.”
She knows me well enough to know that when I reply “Cool” it means the opposite of cool. She knows my mannerisms but she doesn’t know how I’m really feeling. And that’s what makes me think of Nikki as the real reason I’m going to keep doing this. I’ll break up with Becca when this is all over and Nikki and I are together.
Becca types back, “We’re heading out now. Be there soon, like ten minutes.”
“Okay,” I reply.
I lean back in bed, laptop on my stomach, hands in my pockets to keep them sort of warm.
I wait—wait for something to happen.
I look at my phone next to me; the screen’s lit up, people reacting. People are always reacting.
If anyone’s confused by this, just think of how confusing it is for me. I’m full of mixed emotions. I want it gone but I also know that none of the attention would be there if it weren’t for the demon.
I think, “You are the reason I’ll be remembered.”
I expect something to happen, but nothing does.
I stare at the screen, watching the social media feed scroll with the latest from hundreds of people I follow.
I start to count each breath I see.
Then there’s the sound of someone messaging me.
I blink, realizing I hadn’t blinked in a good minute. Hands out of the pockets, I lean forward and read the message.
“They are outside.”
I look at the name of the sender but the name is mine. It’s my name.
I don’t know what to say, so I say, “Thanks.”
“The door is open.”
I read the message and then look at the door, wander over and give the doorknob a tap, then a slight jostle.
I look over at the laptop, breathing out a sigh that I see as a little plume, a cloud in front of my face.
When I look back the sender appears as “offline.”
I don’t have time to react though because whatever that was, it was right. They are outside. Jon-Jon’s car parked behind mine, Becca looking up at my bedroom window, waving.
I look at the phone and see a few missed calls.
Oh yeah, it’s on silent.
I switch the ringer back on, notice over two dozen missed calls and more than a handful of text messages. I run downstairs, taking along my laptop and the power cord too, because, well, I’ve learned my lesson.
At the front door, I shove the laptop in my book bag and I leave the house without looking. I don’t get a real chance to think about what happened until I’m sitting in one of the back pews of the church, waiting to be seen.
I put all the pieces together. And then it sort of makes sense, but not really. I was messaging myself?
Was that you?
Michael J. Seidlinger is an Asian American author of a number of novels including The Fun We’ve Had and The Strangest. He serves as director of publicity at Dzanc Books, book reviews editor at Electric Literature, and publisher in chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he never sleeps and is forever searching for the next best cup of coffee. You can find him online at michaeljseidlinger.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@mjseidlinger).