Call And Response, Trial And Error

(Originally posted to the Talk.experience Group November 7, 1992)

7/11/1992 18:27:34 UTC

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Hi. Don't know if this really counts as something worth discussing on here, but I've had some Jolt so I can stay up and recount it as best as I know how. I've been combing through the group and I find it amazing how many people have come on here to talk about things with complete strangers. My parents got me a personal computer for my birthday which was in August, since then I've been trying to figure it out. Has a lot of functions and I can also play some games on here. This is my first time posting on a public board, so please excuse me if my grammar is a little off.

I've been looking through this directory for a week maybe, and I like lots of the stories. Especially the one about the shark attack, I hear sharks won't actually attack you unless you're bleeding but it was pretty scary anyway. My story isn't as scary but it is interesting. It's one of those things that happens once in your life, then you forget it or remember it one day and sit up straight, like "Oh my God, I forgot all about that." I'm writing it here because I want to remember it some day. I don't think it would be healthy to forget about it. My parents take me to my psychiatrist regularly, he's telling me that if I feel emotional I should try channeling my frustration into something. So I'm putting it here for you guys to check out. I found out about this thanks to my friend from school, you know him as Yashar. So thank you for that. Anyway, this is the story.

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It was around June this year and I was at soccer practice. My parents had dropped me off and they said that they wouldn't be coming back because they had to pick my little brother Kevin up, so I would be walking home. This was fine, it was nice out and I live in a pretty nice neighborhood. Not a gated community or anything, but I've read the local magazines and our crime rates are low. So I planned on playing for about 2 hours and then leaving. About an hour in, though, it started to rain so we were called off the field and went under the bleachers to wait it out. Coach told us that if it didn't stop in 10 minutes practice would be over, and most of us were tired enough that we wanted it to be over, so it wasn't that upsetting all things considered.

The rain didn't let up and we all went to the locker rooms to change, and someone loaned me their umbrella. I don't remember who. It was jet black, the kind you bring to funerals. I carried it out and started walking home. It was hard to see because the air was filled with mist, but I was able to make out the street signs if I squinted. Everything was a blur, and the streets were mostly empty. It was only late afternoon but it was so dark it looked like night.

I kept going and I zipped up my jacket. Felt kind of like I was drowning and my umbrella was a diving bell. You see them in old books, sailors used them before submarines. Just a little bit of air in there for the passenger to breathe, but what they didn't know back then is that you can't breathe your own breath forever because with each cycle of your lungs it becomes less oxygen and more carbon dioxide. It was like that, even though I had the umbrella I was still soaked. There were puddles on every corner because there wasn't very good drainage. I kept walking in the direction I thought home was, but it was hard to tell. At this point all the houses and streets looked the same, and I was lost.

I sat down under an awning and took a candy bar out of my backpack. I decided that it would be smart to wait until the rain stopped, I was sure that if I could see better I would be able to tell which way home was. I don't get lost easily, I have a good sense of direction and I know my neighborhood. It's not even that big a neighborhood, definitely not the biggest one in our city. I sat for a while, thought about passing the time with my GameBoy but decided it could get ruined in this weather so I didn't.

It seemed like I waited forever there, watching the rain go on and on, the drops were big and fat and the clouds were full of them. All I could see from where I was was the sidewalk and the curb, everything past that was a gray mess, and the rain went down the gutter in a little river. Finally the rain gave out. By this point it was late at night and the streets were dark. At least I could see the houses now. The clouds rumbled a little more but soon they evaporated and the moon came out. I still didn't recognize any of the streets. They had names I wish I could remember. I had never walked in the city very much, so I knew I had turned around somewhere, or maybe I had walked past my house. I wasn't tired, though, so the night was young. If I hurried, i thought, I could make it back in time for dinner, and my folks wouldn't know anything was up.

These houses weren't any I recognized. The porch lights were on with about half of them, a lot of them were completely dark. Some of them were on hills, located up flights of stairs. This wasn't my neighborhood, in my neighborhood the houses are all located on the ground, the elevation is pretty flat. To add to this confusion, the sidewalk was still very wet and it was reflective, meaning my eyes were bombarded by a light show. Something didn't feel right. The streets kept repeating, so did the houses. Eventually I knew if I walked far enough I would reach a main street or a landmark or something. So I just kept going.

I knew about suburban sprawl or how in lots of suburbs all the houses looked the same. About a year ago I visited my grandparents who live across the state, they live in one of those suburbs where every house is identical and you can only tell them apart by their addresses. This was different, though. Like in my neighborhood, all the houses looked different, they all had different attributes and features. Some were bigger than others, they all looked fancy, but some had patios and some didn't, some had garages and some didn't. One had lawn sculptures, one had a fountain in the yard. It was bubbling but I didn't see anybody around. It was like the street was being generated randomly by a computer algorithm at the horizon, and that these houses were randomized while I walked past them. Some of them didn't make any sense. They were just possibilities stuffed together, like three stories mashed together in an ugly way that nobody would buy.

The moon didn't move, either, or if it did I didn't notice. I was getting tired so I looked around in my backpack for something to eat. I had some Corn Nuts and half a sandwich, I ate both of those. I had a lot of homework to catch up on, but tonight I wouldn't be able to finish it. I'd have to put it off and go right to sleep with how tired I was. I figured that if nothing was wrong then I should be on the outskirts of civilization by now, but the houses kept going and the streets kept going. I made a few turns right and left now and again to see if I could find a restaurant or something but nothing changed.

The only cars out were parked and there was nobody in them. I thought about going up to one of the houses and asking if I could use the phone but when I tried nobody answered the door. I realized maybe these houses were empty. Maybe the whole world was empty, maybe I was losing it. I sat for a while on the sidewalk to collect myself. Whatever time it was, it was late and I felt fatigued.

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After walking some more I noticed out of the corner of my eye that somebody was following me. I could hear their steps on the concrete, I thought I heard breathing but I wasn't sure. I could have asked them where I was, but I knew somehow that they were a threat and that they weren't here to help me. They got closer. I turned around, saw who it was, and then I started running away as fast as I could until my heart caught in my throat and my lungs were going to explode.

They were dressed in a dark trenchcoat and had a hat on, a dark hat. They looked kind of like the man on the Neighborhood Watch signs, that's always freaked me out from a young age. I couldn't see who it was. It was probably a guy, they were moving slowly but walking toward me all the same, and I couldn't see their face. Then I remembered something my friend Cate had told me about a while ago- that when she slept a man with a hat would stand in her room and watch her- not do anything, or even move really, just stand and watch her aggressively. Sometimes he was accompanied by other characters. I think she meant she was dreaming all this stuff but can't be sure. It reminded me of that, and I wondered if I was dreaming this person up.

There were no alleys on these blocks so there wasn't anywhere for me to hide. I turned right and left and right again, hoping I would throw this hat man off my trail, but I looked over my shoulder and he came walking out from the side. He was distant but he was real, and I didn't want to get closer to find out more. It seemed as if he was playing with me, that he knew he would catch up to me eventually because I was walking quick and using all my energy up while he walked slow and leisurely. He knew there was nowhere I could go because I wasn't close to anywhere. Maybe he was behind this illusion or whatever it was.

The hat man (I'm almost sure it wasn't a woman) was around 6 feet tall and his movements were smooth. He glided down the sidewalk without revealing what he was hiding under his coat, which was buttoned from his neck to his waist. Around his waist he had on a belt. I didn't see anything else from where I was standing, he was always about half a block behind me. My throat was dry and irritated, my feet were going as fast as they could, but somehow he always caught up.

I decided that since there weren't any alleys or ravines I could hide in, my best course of action would probably be to go up to one of the houses and beg to be let in, and if they wouldn't let me in then I would break in and find somewhere to hide. I was sure that if the hat man caught up to me he would kill me. So I scrambled up the steep hill in front of one of the houses, it was set back from the street. I knocked over a lawn flamingo on the way to the porch, and when I got there I knocked and yelled. I could hear music playing from inside so I thought somebody might be inside, and my spirits were lifted a little. The lights were on inside, all I could see was through the shutter but I thought that if the lights were on somebody must have turned them on.

The hat man was almost on me by now, he was climbing up the stairs out front, so I decided to make my move and break the window. I picked up a chair that was on the porch and I slammed it into the window, breaking glass everywhere. I climbed in. I realized that the window was open so the hat man could get in, so I looked around for a room with a lock on it. I saw what had been making the music, a CD Player in the corner. Nobody was using it.

Something wasn't right about the house, it didn't feel like anybody lived here. Sure there was furniture and a carpet and lights, but it really didn't have anything human about it, it was as though these items had been set here by something cold and emotionless. I ran upstairs and looked around. Again, something about the house was wrong, the rooms were just slightly wrong. You got the feeling in this house that it had been artifically created. I went back downstairs and slid the couch around until it covered the window. The hat man still hadn't come in, maybe he had given up. I locked the front door and looked for a phone. There was one on the table. I dialed it but all I heard was a busy signal, and I pressed the buttons but they did nothing. This phone wasn't connected. I decided my best bet would probably be to barricade myself in the bathroom until help arrived or the people who owned the house, if there were any, got back and noticed their window was broken. I stopped by the kitchen to look for food but the shelves and cabinets were empty, and the fridge had nothing. When I turned the taps no water came out. At this point I heard someone coming into the front room so I locked the door to the bathroom and hid behind the curtain. Everything was quiet, but I knew the hat man was out there, and he was looking.

I sat there for a long time, just breathing and waiting. I kind of zoned out eventually, the walls faded out and the footsteps faded away and the light went down. I guess the hat man had given up, he wasn't going to bother with me anymore. Maybe this world wasn't his construction. I got sick of sitting there but I didn't want to to go out the door. It was a gradual process. I dissociated from reality and my head hit the edge of the tub, and I stared at the door and hoped I would get out soon. In an hour I slept.

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I woke up the next day on the side of the road. Nobody had noticed me there, but there were people around and this street looked normal enough. It was bright and I was sure I was late for school but at this point I didn't care. I was dirty and exhausted and I wanted to go home and sleep some more. I knew my parents would yell at me. I checked the signs and I knew where I was. I ran home as fast as I could and I was incredibly happy when I saw my house. It looked the same as it had when I left it, although by now it felt like an eternity. It was also distant in some way. I ran up the walk and stopped when I noticed my parents were sitting on the porch. My dad was holding a beer in one hand and looking out into the distance. My mother was sitting next to him on the wicker chair, similarly expressionless.

I went up to talk to them. I waved my hand in front of my father's face but he didn't say anything. My mom asked to go inside and he said she could. I went inside with her and saw my little brother Kevin crying in front of the TV. He was watching some kind of puppet show. Mom put an arm around him and told him that everything would be OK. She told him that they would do anything for him. He kept crying. He was going like a faucet.

My dad came inside and put an arm around both of them, and that was when I realized that something was off. I put my hand through the furniture. I was dead. I was a ghost in my own house. I couldn't walk up to the second floor, my legs passed right through the stairs. If our house had a basement I probably would have fallen into it. I shouted at them, tried consoling them, but they were distraught and crying, and I sat there and watched. I wasn't safe, it hadn't ended, my family was going through trauma and grief and all I could do was stand by and watch. It was a terrifying moment that still keeps me up at night.

No angel came for me, but the hat man did. He saw this grief and came toward the house, hiding his face all the while. I tried shutting the door but that didn't work, my hand went through it. My parents didn't see him, but he saw me and I saw him. We existed in the same plane. My parents and my house weren't safe. Step by step he came along, and then from under the brim of his headpiece I saw his eyes- shimmering flickering things that glinted in the midday light like a hungry cat's eyes.

Then the world snapped back and I was playing soccer again. No hat man, people could see me. I was fine. I wasn't dead, I was alive and it was the same day, and there was no rain. After the game I walked home and thought about what I had been through. I think this is what drug trips are like, out-of-body experiences must be like this. I got home and I wasn't late, my parents weren't grieving and my brother Kevin is as annoying as ever. I feel like this story isn't worth anything because ultimately I never learned anything. Nothing in my life has changed. I feel like an experience as bad as this should make me feel something, make me think my decisions over. Maybe I'm a sociopath. Maybe I'll be the Hat Man when I grow up, maybe I'll become the master of space and time and I'll create realities where I can chase my past self through streets I dreamed up, maybe I'll torture my prey. Or maybe not. Maybe that's all these is to it.

I hope you liked this story, I probably won't post any more stories because to be honest, my life really isn't that interesting and I don't have any other stories to tell.