The Phobic: A short story

It was dark in the room, and Nathan Callaghan was tossing uncomfortably in his bed, cuddling within the purple bed sheet. The sliding window beside his bed was wide open and the cool wind was good enough to put someone tired, into a deep sleep.

Suddenly, Nathan heard a voice. He first thought that he had imagined it, but, he heard that again. It was a gentle whisper. Reluctantly, he concentrated on that voice. It was calling his name “N.A.T.H.A.N”. That paralyzed him and he could not move a limb. He could now hear the whisper close to his ears. “Come to me” it said, and whatever it was he was not going to look at it.

Fingers now seemed to probe and stroke him, and it seem to pull him from his bed with an unimaginable force. Nathan was being dragged from his own bed and he tried to grasp the corner of the bed with his hands. “One mighty resistance would do”, he thought, but no. It seemed to pull him to some unknown space. He was being dragged with such a force that he began to shake heavily. It was then, when he opened his eyes, to see his room-mate and friend, Dirk Grant, waking him up.

“You had a bad dream, mate?” Dirk enquired. Nathan was relieved it was a dream. He smiled back at Dirk. Nathan suffered from Phasmophobia, and he had never told his friend about it. He hated consulting a doctor, and had relied on self-care techniques to avoid the phobia possessing him. At the same time, he knew that his techniques were only good enough to outclass a few of his fears. Yet, he wouldn’t consult a doctor. He barely knew that the phobia was slowly controlling him.

Both Nathan and Dirk worked in the same firm and shared the two bed-room apartment. Their room was in the 17th floor, with one corner of the room facing the busy down-town street below.

The radio was playing Early Morning by A-ha. Dirk increased the volume. Both were fans of the 80’s music, and Nathan, now partly cheered asked Dirk, “How are we going to celebrate the Sunday?”. Dirk quipped, “Welcome back! And am I pleased to announce that you clocked your best time in returning from your slumber. As a mark of appreciation may I present you with this memorabilia”. He handed Nathan a Philippines Chiquita banana. Dirk can be daft at times, but, Nathan knew his best bud and would never mind. “You grant my wish!” said Nathan, kicking Dirk’s buttocks.

“Post lunch, let us head to the mall. We shall watch a movie” Dirk said. The mall was across their apartment.

After the movie, the two men decided to take a stroll in the mall. They saw a Polo store and checked-in to purchase casuals. As Dirk were busy checking the clothes, Nathan walked towards the classic collection section. It was lonely, and at the same time he felt somebody was staring at him. He turned his head in that direction. It was a mannequin. He thought, “No, not here please!” But, the mannequin seemed to smile at him. There was a bead of cold sweat falling from his brow. A heavy hand fell on his shoulder from behind. “Nooo!!” he screamed. “What?” questioned the sales guy, who was taken aback by Nathan’s sudden outrage.

The store was partly empty, but, whoever were present was staring at him and Nathan felt embarrassed. Dirk came running to check if something went wrong. “Something wrong, buddy?” asked Dirk. “Er! nothing, I was lost somewhere” said Nathan unconvincingly.

They left the store and both did not speak until they reached their room. Dirk knew that something was wrong, but, he did not dare to ask. So, both retired in their own beds.

It was a bad day for Nathan. “It’s slowly becoming a routine now and everyday could be just so similar” he thought lying in the bed. He could not stop clouding his mind with these vivid thoughts, which seems to overpower him at most times. He could partially understand that his mind was playing a farce, yet, he could not stop these things from happening. Despite his best efforts, he was falling, becoming a prey of his own sub-conscious mind.

Nathan had an unusual childhood. He had lost his parents when he was very young, and was raised by his distant aunt, Mary Stackpole. Now, Mary was a good lady and she was a widower, who took good care of him, as if he were her own son. He was a silent candidate and hence, often bullied by his superior school mates and others. When he was an adolescent, he found a job in the local super market, where he was doing well. One night, his aunt suddenly died out of heart-attack, leaving him low and dry, as there was no-one on this earth who would be considered as his own. He was a loner again.

Often, in nights he would dream of his aunt speaking to him, caressing him, and he would cry late in the night, all alone. Once he had also felt, he had seen someone stooping over his bed side and looking at him. He was scared, but, he could not do anything. Maybe it was aunt Mary. It was evident that the phasmophobic self has creeped into his adulthood. What could he do apart from crying?

It was until four years back, he had moved to this city and be-friended Dirk, and both decided to share the room in this apartment.

The next day, Dirk decided to speak to Nathan. “I presume you are in some kind of a trouble, which you do not wish to share with me. I respect your privacy, but, my intention is to help you. Perhaps I could do something to soothe your worry”. Nathan coughed. “No, mate. It isn’t that. I often face a fit for an anxiety disorder. I was worried whether that would cause any discomfort or inconvenience in our friendship”. He then explained the problem.

After listening to Nathan’s distress, Dirk thought for a while and began to dial a number on his iPhone. A couple of minutes passed with Yes and Okay from his mouth. After the call, Dirk informed Nathan, “I know a good doctor. He is a Psychiatrist. Maybe we should consult him. Perhaps he could be of some help?”. Nathan felt uneasy, but, he could not deny at that moment. “Fine with me”, he said.

In the evening, they went to the doctor’s clinic. It was empty. Nathan looked tensed and felt as if he was the only patient with a mental disorder. The receptionist carelessly handed them a token and with half interest asked the visitors to take their seat. Dirk looked at Nathan and giggled. Before they could take their seat, their token number flashed on the display screen.

They went inside the doctor’s room. He was a middle aged man. Dirk introduced “Hello! Dr. Chandra. This is Nathan Callaghan, whom I was referring to”. The doctor shook hands with both the guys, “Nice to meet you”, he said with a thick Indian accent and offered them their seats to sit.

The doctor listened to Nathan for the next few minutes. He then requested Dirk to leave them alone for sometime. After 15 minutes, Dirk was called inside. He saw Nathan lying in a bed, with a device plugged on his forehead. He then explained Dirk, that Nathan’s irrational fears could be controlled, using sleep medication. If properly followed with physical exercises, he could very well return to normality.

The doctor handed Nathan, a prescription for anti-anxiety medicines. Both thanked the doctor and left the clinic. The next one month passed calmly and Nathan seemed to respond positively.

One night Nathan arrived very late from his office. He parked his car in the basement, which was dead isolated. A slight urgency seemed to force him to rush towards the lifts. All four lifts were randomly placed at different odd numbers and the closest one seemed to be at floor seven. The wait was an agony. Nathan began to scan the area from the place where he was standing. He was in Basement 2 and all the cars where neatly placed in their sections. The fear of the unknown was beginning to grasp him again. Ting said the lift and he got into it and pressed number 17. The lift began to move. “Come-on, come-on, faster” he began to think. He turned back to see his own reflection in the mirror at the back and shuddered. “No, I’am not a spectrophobic”, he thought. He leaned against the mirror ensuring that nothing would grab him from behind.

Another Ting indicated him that he had reached his destination. He opened the door and looked at the lengthy corridor. Not a soul was in sight. It was a long walk from the lifts to his room, which was at the far end of the corridor. He walked unsteadily. Was something following him? he began to wonder. He started to assume voices of light footsteps from close proximity. One of the lights on the ceiling was blinking crazily. Nathan felt like making a dash towards his room, but, he decided to walk swiftly instead. Then he heard it “N.A.T.H.A.N”. “What the…?” he thought, and ran towards his room like a wild thing, without turning his back. Upon reaching the room, he rang the calling bell. “Come-on Dirk, open it” he thought. The footsteps or whatever the noise was, was approaching him fast. The door opened with a click with Dirk wearing only a boxer. Nathan rushed in and closed the door from behind.

“I heard the voice, I heard it say my name, Dirk” Nathan said. “Whoa! Hang on, there is nobody mate, it’s just you and me here” said Dirk. It took a while for Nathan to regain his consciousness.

The next day, they decided to speak to Dr. Chandra about Nathan’s latest fit. The doctor again spoke to Nathan in private. The doctor later assured Dirk that things would return to normal this time. Before leaving, Dirk asked the doctor, ‘Will there be any harm to Nathan?”. The doctor replied, “Hopefully not”.

After a few days, Nathan was on his way to aunt Mary’s old house. The cab dropped him at the doorstep. Ever since Nathan had moved to the city, he had locked the house and given the keys to a caretaker. The caretaker was an old man named John Crawford.

On seeing Nathan at the door step, the old man crackled “How are you doing mister Nathan. It’s been quite a while you’ve been at your aunty’s lodging, ain’t?”. Nathan smiled and thanked John for taking good care of the house, and requested to leave him alone for a while.

Aunt Mary’s house was a small, two-storied, old wooden cottage. It was surrounded by thick shrubbery on one-end, whereas the other-end opened to a small melancholy moor. As he walked towards the door, he knocked a discarded can of beer. “The old man had been drinking on duty” thought Nathan.

As he approached the door, a puff of wind blew from nowhere and his fears seem to spread rapidly across his body. With pounding heart he opened the door, his hands trembling. The room was dark, so he opened the window blinds to allow fresh air and light. In front of him was aunt Mary’s huge photograph. He admitted his aunt was not the prettiest and she looked like an ogre.

By default, he went to his room where he had spent his childhood. He was pleased to see all his items, his cot and his books. In the corner, there was aunt Mary’s picture hugging the little boy Nathan. His heart pounded once more. But, this time Nathan was not afraid and he was too busy exploring.

He could feel that he was not transfixed, and automatically went to the first floor, to his aunt’s room, where she had breathed her last, whilst he was sleeping in his own bed.

The door opened. The air was still. No voice or noise whatsoever. He went to his aunt’s bed and looked around. He could now see his aunt everywhere. His heart was filled with sorrow and he wept. He went to her bed and laid down on it. Deep sleep began to overpower him and he slept.

When Nathan woke up, he was surprised to see Dirk and the doctor seated beside him, along with the old man.

Just after Nathan left to his aunt’s place, the doctor and Dirk had followed him to the same destination. The doctor knew that the only way he could cure Nathan of his troubled mind was to expose him to his very fear. It was an experiment, as a part of exposure theory. Nathan loved his aunt, but his timid nature never had the courage to express the gratitude to her, for all the affection showered by her. So, when his aunt expired, he was locked between the reality of his aunt’s death and the imaginary world of his aunt’s presence. This transfused into his adulthood and the fear of the unknown, only became bigger.

Nathan is rehabilitating faster than expected. He dreams sometimes, for instance, his aunt tickling his ears. But he is not afraid and he continues his sleep peacefully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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