A young teen struggles with hydrophobia and the death of her former tormentor.
| Why am I still standing here? With my eyes fixed on the empty bathtub, I remained a statue in the doorway of the bathroom. The bathtub that once contained the unconscious (and eventually dead) body of my mother's boyfriend, Heath Reynolds. It was the day of the funeral and the house was crowded with relatives of our family and Heath's side of the family. Some of them attempted to comfort me, to convince me that I could recover from my misery and pain, but my ears did little to listen. I eventually separated myself from the other people to be alone and here I am now, in the open doorway to the bathroom.|
Goosebumps blemished my skin and my heart pounded as my eyes still remained on the bathtub. Why can't I stop staring at the tub? The tub was spotless, but I could still picture his body floating slightly over the water's surface. The image alone was enough to make me feel nauseous inside like food poisoning. I took a step forward, then another step and soon, I found myself walking towards the tub and stopping in front of it.
The tub was spotless, no trace of Heath left on it. I reached out to touch the faucet and upon contact, I pulled my hand back sharply as if due to static electricity. This bathtub, this bathroom, was not where I wanted to be, especially during a sad moment. I definitely did not want to return to the place of my horrid encounter with Heath. So why was I here anyway? Enough is enough, I thought furiously. I'm leaving this room and...
What was that sound? I froze as I heard soft laughter fill the air. It was taunting, laced with mocking tones. Even worse, it sounded like...Heath. No, I told myself. He's dead now. He can't be alive. Yet the laughter continued ringing in my ears. I forced myself to move and turned to rush out through the doorway, but ran into my mother, Azure, instead. She had the look of deep concern on her face.
“Lily, why are you in the bathroom? You look pale,” she inquired while reaching over to touch my face. I pushed her hand away. The “laughter” that had started around me was no longer heard. Only my mother's voice now filled the air.
“I'm fine, Mother. I just needed some fresh air and some time alone,” I replied.
“Yes, it must be hard for you knowing that Heath died from his accident...” Accident my small rear end.
“Mother, that was no accident. Why didn't you tell everyone the truth about him? You had to have known what he was trying to do to me. You've seen the way he used to stare at me,” I chided. She flinched at my words.
“I...I didn't want to cause any more trouble. His family already feels terrible about his death-”
“If you didn't want to cause trouble, you should have stopped him,” I cut in and shoved past her to head back to the living room. I heard her sob quietly in the bathroom before I was out of earshot.
* * *
Lily. . .Lily. . .I tossed and turned in my bed sheets, desperately trying to block the taunting sound of my name being spoken. It was only 10:22pm after a solemn day and a silent dinner with Mother and I was already ensnared in the grip of a nightmare. The nightmare of the bathtub incident.
The water in the tub was warm, yet it did nothing to appease my fear. Sitting in front of me in the water, completely dressed with hands folded in his lap was Heath. The bathroom was dark, the moonlight shining through the window near the mirror and making Heath's hungry expression seem menacing.
“Hello, my dearest Lily. Is the water warm enough for you?” he purred. I shuddered again and pressed my naked form against the end of the tub behind me. My arms covered up my chest so he couldn't see, but his gaze seemed to slide right through them.
“Get out of the bathroom, Heath. Just stay away from me. . .please,” I pleaded, my voice frail. This only made his smile stretch to match the Cheshire Cat's. His brown eyes gleamed in the moonlight.
“Aw, is my dear Lily frightened? I only came to see you since Azure is busy in the kitchen with the dishes. I get to spend more of my time with you, especially since I got you right where I want you, right here. . .in this bathroom,” he spoke, his tone dripping with softness, but laced with lust. I pressed myself further back away from him as his eyes hungrily wandered over me.
“Please. . .just leave me alone and-” I froze when he started to reach for me, his strong fingers curling towards me. I pressed myself further against the tub, but he got closer. Suddenly, I shrieked and lunged at him, shoving him backwards with one hard push. He yelped as the side of his head connected with the faucet loudly, bouncing him back forward and into the bath water. I held my breath and remained a statue in the warm water.
He didn't move. No response.
I saw something red mix in with the water. The faucet had cut a noticeable gash near his forehead. His blood was staining the water scarlet. I started to pull myself up from the water, not wanting to be contaminated by him, not wanting to spend another minute with him. . .
A hand grabbed my arm and slowly, Heath sat up again out of the water. The blood had soaked the side of his face, giving him the appearance of a murderer. He grinned wildly as he murmured, “That wasn't very nice, my dear Lily. . .” A scream erupted from my mouth as he proceeded to move closer. . .
I was still screaming when I shot up from the pillows on my bed. My face was drenched in cold sweat and my hair stuck to my face as my eyes frantically wandered around my bedroom. I glanced at my digital alarm clock. It was 11:36pm.
It was still my bedroom. No one was hiding in the dark. Yet the nightmare felt so real. . .
I shivered and grabbed at a pillow, clutching it to my chest like a little girl's teddy bear. If this kept up every single night, I would never get away sleep whatsoever. Even worse, Mother simply thought that I was just suffering the aftereffects of Heath's death. When will she tell what really was going on?
* * *
It was getting worse. I stopped taking baths, even though I enjoyed the comforting embrace of warm water scented with the smell of pine and citrus scented bath salts. I would even skip showers, optioning to scrub my small frame at the sink instead. At meals, I shivered at the sight of water, in the sink, from the faucet, even from Mother's drinking glass. Every time I looked, an image of Heath's lifeless body always showed up, his blood mixing with the water. . .
High school days gave me no peace either. My friends constantly worried and fussed over me, but I said very little. Classwork became dull, lacking zeal and I found it hard to concentrate. Lunch period was the same. There was even a basketball game with our school's team against a rival school's team on one particular Friday, but all I heard was Heath's taunting laughter over the cheering of students.
Upon coming back home one day, I noticed a stack of books beside an open laptop on the table and my mother sitting quietly in a chair behind it. She looked up when I walked in and shook her head sadly.
“Lily, is something happening to you?” she asked. I rolled my eyes. Now she's trying to play therapist. Was she really blind to my madness?
“You think? I can't stand it. . .” I moaned.
“Lily, you're changing. You shake at the sight of water, your friends have been contacting me about your withdrawal from them and baths and showers are no longer in your routine. What is going on? Are you losing it?” Her voice got softer at the second question.
Lily. . .
I started to shiver again, my eyes widening at the soft, mocking purr of his voice. Mother, however, stared at me in confusion. She tried to touch my shoulder, but I backed away.
“Lily, what's the matter with you? Why are you shaking?”
“Mother, did you not hear him call my name just now?!” I cried out. Her expression did not falter. Rather, she looked more perplexed than before.
“The only voice I hear is yours, Lily. Please control yourself and stop shaking. I'll get you some chamomile tea to calm your nerves.”
I was then escorted to the kitchen and I sat quietly at the table while Mother busied herself brewing the tea. She heard none of his voice, but I did. Why does he haunt me so? Why does she refuse to confirm Heath's provocative behavior around me when he was still alive? Why, why, why?
* * *
Clicking the button labeled SEND, I sent my text message to Mother, telling her to come get me at 3:00pm. Despite my growing unease and fear around water, my friends had convinced me to stay behind and swim a few laps in the school's indoor pool beside the gym. I had strongly refused at first, but eventually agreed since some exercise could help me relax for a while. Plus, it would help me get over my fear slowly.
I closed my locker and looked at myself in the mirror near the showers. My swimsuit uniform fit my shape snugly, but my face held the look of a weary person.
Weary about my mother's constant silence about the truth.
Weary about my inability to move on without thinking about that horrid boyfriend of hers.
Weary about his voice haunting me. . .
I shook my head furiously. Now's not the time to think about such things, Lily! I scolded myself and headed out towards the pool. Some of the lights were off, making the water seem somewhat darker than usual. Diving in, it was lukewarm, but suitable as I vigorously swam a lap and then another. The combination of the water temperature and the exercise loosened my tension slowly and I felt normal once more. Perhaps I can move past this and start fresh.
Unfortunately, the feeling only lasted for a little while.
As I was preparing for a fourth lap, I heard the soft snickering again. I froze mid-stroke, my eyes darting around, but seeing no one in particular. I couldn't see in the water and that further heightened my fear. He couldn't be here. . .not now, not when I was starting to feel better about this situation.
Using my arm, I waved it through the pool water, hoping to distract something, anything or anyone that might be in the water. Nothing happened. . .at first. Then, something grabbed my arm and tugged harshly, dragging me underwater instantly. I tried to cry out, but water rushed in and I coughed, choking on the chlorinated water. My limbs flailed wildly, with the exception of my one arm still being gripped by something. I was starting to lose consciousness when a face appeared in the murky water. A face that I did not want to see ever again. . .
“My dear Lily. . .I caught you. Don't struggle; you'll be with me very soon. . .”
Darkness rushed in and I went under the water.
* * *
“Lily! Lily!” Someone was shouting my name. I was back in my bedroom, tucked in the soft folds. My mother's face was hovering over me while her hands continued to grip my shoulders.
“Lily! What happened to you? The janitor heard some shouting and found you unconscious in the pool and dragged you out. I thought you were going for a swim, not to drown yourself!”
I sat up at the words “drown yourself.” Is that what she thought I did? My face contorted into a scowl as I stared at Mother.
“I wasn't trying to drown myself! I was going for a swim like I told you when everything went dark and he tried to pull me under!” I cried out.
“Who tried to?” Mother was confused once more. I rolled my eyes and groaned loudly. Not this again.
“Heath, Mother. Your disgusting, sick-minded bastard of a-”
My sentence was cut off with her backhanding my face with an angry slap. Tears had sprung to her eyes and my cheek was scarlet with a hand print. Congrats, Mother. That's a nice way of making me feel better, I thought bitterly.
“Don't ever call him that. I don't know what has happened to you, but you are not the same Lily I raised and cared for,” she spoke quietly, but harshly. I simply glared back at her, ignoring the pain in my cheek. She then stood and walked towards the door.
“I have planned to let you stay at home for the rest of the week until you get over this 'idea' of Heath haunting you. If your behavior does not improve, I will be forced to search for psychiatrists that can possibly cure you.”
Without another word, she exited my bedroom and closed the door. I curled up against my pillow, the tears finally streaming down my face. This was not going to stop and she knew it as well as I did. She had to have known about him. Yet, she refused to do anything out of fear that Heath would hurt her too. She was just as vulnerable as I was before and now.
He's never going to leave me alone, I thought sadly and this brought forth more tears. How would my friends understand? How would my teachers understand? How would anyone understand?
A voice then startled me from my thoughts. His voice. . .
“I will never leave you, Lily. You were mine before and you are mine now. I will soon have you forever. . .my dearest Lily.”