Ever since he could remember, Jim always felt as if something terrible was right about to happen. And I’m not talking about a bad accident or anything like that, I mean a true sense of dread, that something really sinister was looming just beyond the periphery of his vision. It was a shapeless type of terror, so vague that his imagination had no choice but to fill in the gaps.
Like the house where he grew up, the main basement was scary enough, and sure, there was always that feeling like someone was chasing him up the stairs. But he’d heard other people have similar reactions, and so it was easy enough to write those goosebumps off as the same normal types of fears that everyone else carried around.
But what Jim had inside of him was something else. Like just next to the main basement there was this really small closet, like a much shorter door. It wouldn’t even close all the way because it had been repainted so many times over the years, and so it had to be kept shut with this old latch that had been nailed on from the outside. On the other side of the door, there was a really creepy subterranean crawlspace, something that city officials might need in case there was ever a serious problem with the block’s sewage pipes.
But there were never any problems, so the door just stayed the way it was, just barely closed, but only ninety-nine percent of the way there, it almost looked like it was really trying to pull away from that nail. And when Jim thought about that door, it was like he could see a pair of wrinkly old fingers pushing through that half-inch or so of space, blindly fumbling around in a weak attempt to unhook the latch from the other side.
And whereas the feeling of being chased up the stairs largely went away the minute he made it to the living room and shut the door behind him, he could never quite shake the feeling that there really was something behind that door, a little old man, a really nasty troll, something straight out of a scary movie, with snow white skin and a razor sharp smile that reached all the way up to his ears.
It wasn’t that he was afraid of an old man or a basement troll exactly, but it was that type of lasting horror that seemed to haunt his everyday, that feeling that he couldn’t stop feeling, like something was just out of reach, ready to pop out at any moment, even though it never did, there was that sense of inevitability, like it was just a matter of time.
As he grew up, Jim would try to rationalize his crippling anxiety, and he did a pretty good job leading a normal life considering that the fear was an ever-present companion. He’d tell himself that it was all in his head, even though inside of his head there was another voice telling him that it wasn’t. When it got really bad, he thought, well, at least I’ll see it coming. If something ever does confront me, I’ll have known it all along. But that only provided a fleeting idea of security, because when he really thought about it, what was worse? If that sniper were real, the one he fantasized about targeting him in his crosshairs from some unseen rooftop vantage point, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to live without the fear, regardless of the certain outcome?
And he tried, he really tried to ignore it, when he closed his eyes to go to sleep at night, he told himself that there weren’t a group of ghostly figures standing around the perimeter of his bed. When he walked home from the train at night, he wouldn’t let himself look down, to see if there really were any eyes peering at him from behind drainage grates leading to the sewers. He just kind of continued living his life, because he really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Whether he wanted to believe in it or not, it was irrelevant, it didn’t change the fact that even though his brain held to that steadfast idea that something evil was just about to jump out and nab him, so far, there’d been nothing. And so it was always this way, such a struggle to make it through days, which, despite his apprehensions, kept getting more and more regular.
Until one day he came home and there was a man sitting in his living room. He didn’t look particularly evil, but that’s where Jim’s mind went immediately, sizing up this smallish guy with a docile enough looking face, he felt certain that there was no other explanation as to this man’s presence besides the culmination of all of his life’s worries.
“Who are you?” Jim asked.
“You know exactly what this is, don’t you?”
“So, all of it?”
“Yeah. All of it.”
Jim sat down on the couch, wishing that he might feel a little relief knowing that it wasn’t all in his head. But there was nothing. If anything, the fear took on a new dimension, crossing a threshold that he didn’t know existed when it was all limited to the confines of his imagination. As he sank into the pillow cushions, the man stood up and slowly started walking toward him, very slowly, each step elevating that feeling of panic, exponentially, even as the space closed between them, it felt like he might not ever get there, that was no upward limit to what he was feeling, that maybe he’d never reach him, that this was it, his new eternity, one of hopelessness and despair, like one of those math curves that goes on forever, getting closer to zero, but stretching on and on without ever arriving.