Matt didn’t know what shocked him more: to see his best friend drinking, or see the state of his apartment. Almost every piece of furniture was gone; every poster had disappeared from the walls; every inch of filthy carpet had been removed.
“You don’t drink. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you drink.”
“I don’t drink,” said Emilio, and took another long swig of tequila.
“Tell me what’s going on, man. I can appreciate the spartan decor, but where’s your bed? And the appliances? Even the fridge is gone. You were never much of a cook, but what the hell is going on?”
“It was in my way. In her way.”
“Her… way? So… OK. A woman. It all becomes clear now.”
“Does it? How? Please tell me how it becomes clear, because I think I’m going crazy, and nothing is clear.”
Matt heard those words, and the thought that maybe Emilio was thinking about killing himself again returned. A wave of nausea punched his gut without mercy. He had been the one that found him after all. Emilio lifted his gaze from the floor as he shifted on the couch at the center of the living room, the only remaining article of decor. He turned it to face his friend.
“She says you think I’m going to try to… end it all again. I’m not.”
“Then tell me what the fuck is going on! Who is this woman you’re seeing? She must mean something to you, if you’ve told her about… that. You never even told your parents.”
“‘Seeing’? Emilio barked a laugh. It sounded like a large match being struck; humorless. “I can’t say I’m seeing her. I’ve never seen her in my life.”
“So it’s an online thing. I’d believe that, if I saw your computer anywhere. Or your phone. Your number is no longer in service. I hadn’t heard from you in a week. I was starting to get worried.” Matt was horrified to see tears in Emilio’s eyes. They stubbornly clung to him, and didn’t roll down his cheeks. He could see dying light from the window glinting in them. Uncomfortable, he looked away.
“Uh, could we turn on the light? Shit. Emilio, what the fuck? Where are the lightbulbs?”
“I had to get rid of them. They hide her. They’re not the right light.”
Matt looked at his friend again, and almost reached for his phone to call 911. Emilio had lost his mind. He must have. Nothing he was saying made any sense. The worst part was that Emilio was painfully articulate, carefully saying every word, watching Matt as though he knew how he would react. Those drying tears turned his eyes into cold knives. Matt swallowed hard, and tried again.
As the sun set, Emilio got up, walked over to the kitchen pantry, and removed something from it. When he walked back, Matt could see it was a work light. “It started about a month ago, right after we got back from the concert.” He put the work light on the floor, and plugged the cord into the wall socket. He straightened the light so it would face the rest of the room, and returned to his place on the couch, letting his body drop with what Matt knew was exhaustion.
“At first I thought it was the pills we took, but when I sobered up… the night after that, I knew what I saw was real.”
“What did you see?”
“Her shadow. On my wall. The gigantic shadow of a huge woman, on my bedroom wall.”
Matt’s heart jumped in his chest. 911, he thought. 911.
“Stop it. You’re not going to call 911.”
Matt’s eyes widened, but he looked away from his friend’s face, and glued his gaze on the bottle of tequila that sat on the floor. He reached for it, and drank it long. Emilio waited until his friend finished swallowing with a cough.
“I’m not going to call 911, but you know you sound insane.”
“I know,” said Emilio as he looked at the window. “It’s almost time.”
“Time for what?”
“Time for you to meet her.” He got up, returned to the work lamp, and turned it on.
To be continued…