Man In A Dark Room – a Zim short story inspired by “true” events

the witchImage: The Witch

Like a battering ram, my heart pummels my rib-cage as if it means to crack it. It alerts me of the unnatural and ominous presence I’m beginning to sense – whatever it is that just jerked me out of my sleep. In the silence, the sound of my breathing is like the bellow of a steam engine. It will only give me away; a siren to broadcast my apprehension to whatever is listening, to whatever stalks the night. I consciously take in every breath until only barely perceptible whistles escape.

Then I hear the patter of feet; the lightest of taps which I can only perceive because of my adrenaline heightened senses. Someone is coming to my door. At this hour? If my instincts don’t deceive me, it should be in the very early morning.

I twist my neck to look at the clock radio on my night stand. In the pitch black, it glares at me in neon red like it warns me – 1:23am. Who could be walking the dormitory corridors barefoot at this time of night, and in this cold?

Even as the thought enters my mind, I know who it is. My intuition has never failed me before – it’s Nora Paripasi.

From the moment I met her in class, from the moment she tried her guiles on me, I knew what she was. How they are always the pretty ones, and how they so readily smile. But what deception it is, for what is a majestic leopardess without her claws?

She was introduced to me by Amara, a friend and classmate. She was to join us for the software engineering lecture. No doubt Amara wanted to set me up with the pretty computer science student. She has warned me more than once against having a lonely engineering career. If she only knew that I would gladly die alone than be saddled with her night-stalking malevolent friend.

When Amara introduced me as one of the top students, Nora’s eyes glowed like hot embers caged behind an empty skull. That’s when the charm offensive began. Her laugh filled the lecture hall like a Mozart chorus; soulful and sophisticated. It came more often than my unfunny disposition deserved.

The more we talked, the more she closed the gap between us. She didn’t forget the touch; just delicate taps on my arm. Then, I would really notice the long fingernails; in bright red like they were dripping in blood. When last were they really dipped in human blood? It took the willpower of a thousand men for me not to flinch. Swimming in a pool of arachnids would have given me greater comfort than her crimson taloned touch.

Her ravishing eyes looked right into my soul to fish out all my secrets. Her cherry, glossy and puckered lips were aimed at me. They spoke an enticing and unwavering promise – you will be mine.

But I was a gentleman, played it clueless even. I didn’t reveal her. I pretended to fixate on the lecture; after all, that is who I am – the bookworm. When I moved away from where she had joined me, to get closer to the lecturer, I could sense her frustration like heat from a boiler. I had foiled her plans; one less patsy to notch on her belt. In one stroke I had proved her impotent.

Now I can sense something else from her; a kind of rage, only bottled up by cold determination. She is very close to my dorm room. It doesn’t feel like she is alone; they all never do.

I can imagine one graceful leg getting in front of the other; for they are graceful, and she is beautiful. I would be a fool to deny her that. I know that she is naked; not as much as underclothes to cover her dignity. I wonder what I will see when she gets into my room. As pretty as she is, and as lush as her young body must be, this does not excite me, for I know what she is.

I turn my gaze to my roommate; sleeping like a log and oblivious. What the witch would have done to him, to both of us, if I couldn’t sense her. Donald doesn’t even as much as stir. I only hear his breathing. He is definitely out cold.

Nora will not have her way with us the way she does with her other victims. How many men she must have enslaved; how much human flesh she must have dined on. Today I will show her a different kind of prey; the kind that is clairvoyant and ready for confrontation.

I lift my hand and search for the light switch on top of my headboard. When I find it, I wait on the ready. Instead of bathe in blood, Nora will bathe in the fluorescent light of a college dorm room.

The sound of footsteps stops. She is right at the door. My heart resumes its race; not because of fear, but from anticipation.

I hear her turn the knob – the faintest of squeaks. It’s almost like she’s being careful. Why would she even bother? It’s only an insignificant few of us who are gifted to see witches in their element. I didn’t give her cause to suspect me; I never give a witch such cause, lest she hound me at night as correction for discovering her. I learned this the hard way after I revealed a distant aunt.

Back then I didn’t know that malign creatures which scurried in the night were to be ignored and not spoken of. I didn’t know that their mistresses valued secrecy above all. I was a child, no more than ten when my aunt diminished my sight as retribution. I’ve had to wear spectacles ever since. I guess I should be thankful that she didn’t take my life.

Nora slowly opens the door. Thank god the janitor neglects oiling the hinges. The door whines like it protests, like it knows what she is, like it warns the residents it conceals. I wait for the door to quit its alarm call. I want to look into her eyes; I want to see all of her. Hopefully, her shame will keep her at arm’s length next time.

I switch on the light. With the simplest of clicks, the room dazzles. But all is outshone by Nora’s naked body. The light dances on her face, shapely breasts and elegant legs like it recognises a familiar lover. Her skin is as radiant as her heart is dark and cold. An enticing creature she must be to lure her prey. I almost wish I could forget what she is; such is her power, to even tempt the wiser.

But her face betrays her. It is frozen in shock. If she was wholly of this Earth, she could have suffered a mini heart attack. If her eyes had bulged out any further, they would have fallen out of their sockets and rolled on the floor, picking up grit as they neared my bed. Her lips are constricted, hiding their plumpness. But her high cheek bones are more pronounced, giving her face an elevated elegance. Her body stiffens like a cornered animal, muscles coiled and mind afire, ready to flee or strike.

We stare into each other’s eyes; neither of us willing to make a move – I, in the warmth of my budget covers, unglamorous, and Nora, bare, statuesque, fearless and defiant. Time stops, and the whole world freezes, waiting on us to thaw it.

There is abrupt movement.

From the corner of my eye, I am surprised to see Donald leap out of bed. A bee sting on his back side could not have given him more vigour or urgency. In the short time it takes me to shift my gaze to his bed, Nora bolts. I hear the patter of her feet; this time louder, faster, desperate. She could be moving at the speed of a race car, and this wouldn’t shock me.

Without a word, or even looking my way, Donald also flies through the door, in nothing but his sleeping shorts. The determination on his face is almost frightening. It is hardened in a frown like a granite sculpture of a face long passed. The certainty of his movement doesn’t hint at a forgiving or repentant spirit.

I am at a loss as to what is actually happening. I thought that if there was to be a showdown, Donald would have been lucky to be a spectator. And now he has been bumped up to the main contestant.

Could he see her? How could he see her? Was he pretending to be asleep? What will he do to her if he catches her?

I now feel like I should pity Nora. One of Donald’s large fists would surely knock out her teeth; her mouth reduced to a ninety year old grandmother’s in one stroke. But that is if she’s as delicate as she looks. Who knows what she is capable of? Maybe she dines with the devil himself on occasion.

The patter of Nora’s delicate feet is drowned by the thump of Donald’s – heavy, without grace, even clumsy. The sound diminishes, until it stops.

Only now am I afraid; not for my life, but of what I will hear. Will there be screams? Will the thud of each deadly strike echo in the halls? Will Nora wake up the following morning with her beguiling beauty erased as if it never existed?

I wait for something, but there is silence. Then I hear footsteps. Not the delicate ones. It is Donald coming back. He gets into our room, shoulders slumped and disappointment riddled all over his face.

“You didn’t catch her?” I ask him.

He shakes his head. Somehow it gives me comfort that there was no violence tonight. Will my pacifism be the death of me?

“The sly witch disappeared at the turn of the corridor,” he says with a frown like he smells foul air.

“What powers do you use for you to see them,” he asks me, with a tinge of excitement in his voice.

“None,” I respond casually.

“I’ve just been this way since I was a child.”

“Hmm,” he says, seemingly unimpressed.

He goes over to his bed. I dare not ask him how he could see her. I have heard enough stories about the sorcery in this country that I’d rather not know.

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