Huddled in bed in her dark room, Heather heard the doorbell ring. She had the blinds shut, the lights off and the door locked. From her windows she could see who was at the door, but she didn’t get up to go check. It would have taken a truly Herculean effort, the voices in her head screamed so loud.
They were camped across the street she believed, watching her, studying her, invading her.
This couldn’t be what everyone else, Leon too, experienced. It was just too terrifying. She had called in sick complaining of a migraine headache, and Lorraine had not sounded overly positive at the news. Too much work missed too soon would reflect incredibly poor on the new assistant manager. But she had tried, several days, only the Things were too common. She saw them but nobody else did, she was convinced. They came in and shopped for wine just like a regular customer might have. They looked like regular people, except for the thing she’d found on her desk, which looked like a metal sun ringed by a multi-curved halo of fire. That was in place of their heads. From the neck down they came in all shapes, sizes and races, and they came to the wine shop with a monotonous, soul-crushing regularity, one after the other. They were psychic. They could read her mind and cause a sheering white pain to envelop her. They followed her down the street. She would turn around and see them coming after her, sometimes close, sometimes blocks away, but they were always there, ever since she’d touched that thing on her desk.
Someone was still ringing the doorbell. None of her roommates were home, thank God. Heather couldn’t bear to be seen in this condition.
“Heather!” she heard Leon’s voice and felt a thrill of relief and bashfulness. He’d come for her.
“Heather, answer the door!” he shouted. “I know you’re home.”
“How does he know I’m home?” she muttered to herself.
He knows we’re trying to kill you, came the psychic answer.
You are not leaving your apartment, Heather O’Connor, said another one. You wondered if he would come for you and he did. But don’t you dare go to him.
“Fuck you,” she said.
“Heather what’s happening to you?!” Leon shouted.
Don’t you even think about it.
Leon had come to her, and he knew she was home. He had psychic powers himself. The thought unnerved her.
“I just want to know if you’re okay!”
“I’m not,” she said.
She thought about getting out of bed and going to him, but she didn’t want him to see her like this. She had seen her reflection in the bathroom mirror: pale, puffed cheeks, sickly eyes. She looked like she were under assault.
“Who are you?” she said, tears coming to her eyes.
We are your undoing.
Why not you?
“I’m coming up, Heather. One way or another.”
Don’t you dare.
“I’ll wait here all night for one of your roommates if that’s what it will take.”
He sounds serious about it.
The pain in the center of her forehead intensified, like the sun-orb creatures were cranking it up with a radio-kinetic knob.
But don’t even think about it. We will put you through hell. You won’t even know when he’s speaking to you.
The dark in her room was not impenetrable, but the evening sun forced its way through the slats of the blinds. The light in the hallway was on and visible through the doorframe.
We’re not leaving.
Oh my God, what are they doing to me?
Heather got out of bed, bare feet onto the hardwood floor. She was wearing only a shirt and underwear. She walked through the room to the window looking out onto Haightstreet. Having lived here for so long the view would be entirely familiar to her, except maybe this time she would see Leon, and maybe he would see her too.
Index and third finger between the slats of the blinds and she made space for her eyes.
There he was, tall, dark and handsome, standing in the street staring at the very window through which she was looking. He didn’t exhibit a reaction, so he couldn’t see her through the blinds. He saw her or not he stayed there and stared. Heather felt her weight lifting at the urgency in his face. He really did care about her.
Don’t even think about it, the voice said.
“I’m not,” she replied.
Go back to bed.
“I don’t want to.”
Do you want me to turn it up? I can you know.
A sob escaped her. Tears of pain and frustration began to stream down her face. It was like having an icepick lodged in her forehead.
Leon can’t help you now.
“What do you mean by now?”
I mean what I say. Look at him. He’s afraid for you. Something very important is happening to you, Heather, but you made a mistake in deciding to get close to him.
Leon took his phone out of his pocket and a few seconds later her own phone started to ring. She let it. She would not answer him today.
Leon hung up his phone and seemed to pace in frustration while Heather watched, gathering power, heart and hope, that maybe later he could come to rescue her, just not now.
We’re watching you.
They were watching her.
Leon paced out of view, towards her building. She wondered if he really was going to wait for her roommates. She left the window and walked across her room and made sure the door was locked, then she went to her nightstand, struck with a sudden inspiration.
Outside on the sidewalk Leon’s thoughts and feelings were a whirl of confusion; guilt assailed him, along with the will to protect that which had become precious to him. He would wait all night if he had to. He knew she was home. The Quixotes had infected her too, and she didn’t want to leave her apartment, just like him. But it had happened much faster to her.
“What can I do?” he addressed the air, but there was no answer. The Quixote was not going to help him.
Then he saw the blinds of her window roll up, and briefly, oh so briefly, he saw her, framed by the window pane. She was pale and sickly and, eyes slit and lips pressed together, her face was screwed into a rictus of pain and fear. It was happening to her. Of course it was, and he had facilitated it.
“Heather!” he called out.
Heather’s eyes did not meet his own, and she was in the window only for a flash, then she threw something at him. A small metallic object that clattered onto the sidewalk, rolled there a moment and then was still. When Leon looked back at Heather’s window the blinds were closed again. She was gone.
He went to pick up the object, but as he got close to it he felt the presence of someone else on the street along with him. An invisible, malevolent entity, watching and waiting, but for what Leon did not know.
Leon picked up the sun orb and felt the evil significance of it immediately. It pulsated in hand like an abominable heart. He dropped it to the sidewalk instantly and kicked it into the gutter, followed it and kicked it down a storm drain, where it clanged and bounced against the concrete sides before splashing into a pool of water below.
They had sent another one. They were taking her.
“What is it, Heather?” he said to himself, then he shouted it at her window but there was no answer.
She wants you to leave her alone, the Quixote told him.
“Did you see her? She looked terrible!”
She wants you to leave her alone.
“And what do you want?”
I want you to do the same. You can’t help her.
Leon sat on the stairs to Heather’s building.
“I’ll wait here all night if I have to.”
That’s not a good idea.
Because they don’t want you to have her. They’re going to take her, Leon.
“Take her where?”
To the nexus, of course.
“To the nexus,” Leon echoed, fear in his heart but firm in his mind. He wasn’t going anywhere.
He’s not leaving, the voices whispered into Heather’s ear.
“Yes he is.”
No he’s not. He’s ready to stay here all night. He really loves you.
“No he doesn’t.”
Well, we’re not going to let him see you.
“What are you going to do?”
“Please don’t hurt me.”
Too late for that.
“Let me go.”
One of your roommates is home, Heather.
This brought Heather to pause.
In a few minutes she’s going to knock on your door, and you’re going to answer.
Because we need to take you away from him. You’ll see.
Then the voice disappeared, but the pain in Heather’s head was no less acute. She thought about Leon and what she had just given him, by way of explanation as much as anything else.
Then, just as the voice had predicted, there was a knock at her door.
Also as the voice had predicted, Heather got out of bed to answer it.
When she opened the door she found that her roommate, from the neck up, had become one of them. There was a blinding flash of light, and then everything turned grey.
It wasn’t until some three hours later that one of Heather’s roommates came home, a young man probably about Heather’s age who was a bit on the skittish side. After a few moment’s conversation he allowed Leon to come upstairs to find Heather, as Leon told the roommate that he was worried about her.
The roommate unlocked the door and they walked up the stairs and Leon turned left instantly down the corridor. Another room’s door was open and inside Leon saw another of Heather’s roommates, a good looking young woman, sitting at her window, staring fixedly into space.
Leon knocked on Heather’s door. When there was no response he knocked louder. Still nothing.
“Heather, it’s Leon. Please open the door.”
The two roommates had come to stand in the hallway. The young woman had a smile on her face. Leon forced them out of his attention.
“Heather please. I’m afraid for you.”
Leon looked at the roommates again.
“I’m opening the door,” he said, and the roommates only nodded.
Leon tried the knob and found it unlocked. Slowly he turned it and pushed the door open. The room was dark, but after only a few minutes observing the disheveled bed, the clothes strewn across the floor (Heather was the sloppy type), and the closed blinds, Leon saw that there was something missing. Namely his girlfriend.
The woman who he had seen framed in the window only a few hours ago was nowhere to be found.