There was something slithering around my bedroom in the dark, a fragment of nothingness whispering across the walls. I sat up. There it was again — darker darkness on the periphery of my vision, sliding away. I clicked on the bedside light and it was gone.
For a couple of weeks now I had been half seeing this thing. A black spider running across a surface near my hand, a mouse shadow running into a corner, something falling from the ceiling — and always nothing there when I turned to look.
There was something wrong with my vision.
The optician said everything was fine.
So. There was something wrong with my mind.
I could have sought help, but it seemed a trivial matter, the illusion of small shadows. I chose to try to ignore it.
Sometimes I thought it might have been a real spider — one that ran very fast and hid when I looked for it. At other times perhaps it was just a misinterpretation of ordinary shadows moving as I turned my head. After all, the world as we see it only exists inside our minds. What is actually out there — well, I don’t want to think about that.
I began to manage the problem of the moving shadows quite well. When I noticed them, and you can’t not notice movement in the corner of your vision, I trained myself not to look. I hoped to train myself not to see it at all, but it wanted to be noticed, and hated to be ignored. The little black scrap started to scurry across the desk in front of me too fast for me to see what it really was, or to run over my feet and into the corner of the room.
I am not a nervous person, but this was turning me into one. I began to think I saw it even when it was not there. Any little unexpected movement would make me jump. It was like having mice, except that it didn’t eat my biscuits. The only thing for it was to get the exterminator in.
Charlie the exorcist moved around my flat as if looking for the spoor of my infestation.
‘I’m not picking anything up,’ he said. ‘That doesn’t always mean there’s nothing here, though. I’ll give the whole place a good clean out.’
He spent four hours chanting, ringing bells, thrusting smoking bundles of ritual herbs into every corner. The place seemed different when he left, calmer, emptier. I relaxed.
But he had missed a spot.
The shadow was back again that night, flitting past my feet while I was trying to watch TV. The more I ignored it the more often it appeared. This thing meant for me to pay attention to it, which suggested it had thoughts and feelings — a suggestion that I placed firmly out of sight at the back of my mind.
I refused to look at the racing black spot. Then it stopped on the floor in front of my feet. I kept my eyes on the TV screen, but my whole consciousness was focussed on the tiny patch of darkness on the carpet. Even so, when it moved it took me by surprise, darting forward onto the toe of my slipper and up my leg.
I screamed and jumped up, dusting away at my trousers to get the thing off me.
After a minute of noisy panic, I searched for it. I couldn’t see it on me, or on the floor. Running into the bedroom, I pulled off all my clothes and examined myself all over in the mirror, but found no dark marks. I threw my clothes into the bath and ran the cold water until they were drowned. Over the sink I combed my hair through and through and looked in my eyes and mouth for any sign of it. If I had swallowed it what was I to do?
Shivering, naked, my clothes soaked, I stood in the bathroom wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I have never been afraid of spiders or insects yet here I was becoming hysterical over a tiny patch of nothing.
Later that night I was made aware of my mistake. It was not in my drowned clothes or in my hair, but had made its escape into my bedroom when I threw my clothes onto the floor. Now it was running over the walls, mocking me. I slept on the sofa instead, waking every now and then to check whether it had followed me. Whatever it was, inside my head or outside, it was not going to be easy to get rid of it. I could move house, but I suspected that it would be as persistent as bedbugs, hitching a lift in my luggage. Whatever it was, it was mine.
The next evening I sat on the sofa reading a book and watching it out of the corner of my eye, scooting around the room, approaching closer and closer until it stopped by my feet again. Holding my breath and my nerve I waited. I was terrified — a little black dot and it took all my strength not to run away.
It hopped onto my slipper and rested there a moment, then began to climb my trouser leg. I gritted my teeth and did not react. It went out of sight for a second, then popped onto the right hand page of my book. I stared directly at it, a speck of dark awareness focussed on me, nothing but an absence of reflected light.
‘Hello,’ I said.
I held my hand out to it and it zipped across the page, coming to rest in the centre of my palm. There was nothing to feel, no tickle, no tingle of presence, but I swear it curled up a bit tighter and made itself at home there.
Sometimes other people see it on me for a fleeting second. They take it for a spider or other bug.
‘There’s nothing there,’ I say, but there is, always scooting across my skin. My companion. I am still afraid of it. One day it may burrow into my flesh and show its true purpose, but until then I must think of it as a friend. I call it Spot, and try to smile.