Jayne sat home alone on a Saturday night, staring at the television, trying to laugh or at least crack a smile, making the effort to indulge in what was happening in the city around her without having to actually go out in it.
She was going through some kind of depression.
She spoke on the phone with her good friend, Sarah, who was in a cab between dinner and a night of dancing.
“I’m sorry to be a bummer, Sarah,” Jayne apologized, sighing. “I’m trying to reach out. I’ve been calling people. Everyone is busy. People don’t understand what they’re saying when they tell people they should just reach out.”
“I know,” Sarah empathized. “I’m glad you’re talking to me, though. You can always talk to me.”
“Thank you. I just feel so strange, so lost in my own head right now.”
“I’m sorry, Jayne. Text me if you need anything, okay? I have to go, I’m almost there, but I’m here for you, okay?”
“Thank you. Love you. Bye.”
Jayne listened with dulled attention to the laughter coming from the screen. She rubbed her eyes and got up, heading for the bathroom. Cold meds would help her sleep. Nothing like cold meds after a glass or two of wine. She raised the plastic medicine bottle in a toast to nothing in particular, downed a long, gross, cherry-flavored swig, and curled back up on the couch, letting her friends on screen guide her off to sleep.
There was a knock on her apartment door, hard and sudden, jolting her awake. She was still on the couch. She grabbed for her phone. It was 2:17 a.m. Damn, she had taken too much cold medicine. Her pillow was covered in drool, her head pounded, and she had wicked heart palpitations, exacerbated by being scared awake. Who the hell would be knocking at this hour?
The knock came again. She tried to think as she fumbled to escape from under her throw blanket. This was either an emergency, or this jerk was really drunk. She crept to the door quietly.
Peering through the peephole, she saw a very familiar-looking man. He was looking up and down the hallway as if he was lost, hugging his arms to himself. He didn’t look drunk. He reached up and knocked a third time, then cleared his throat. “He—hello?” he said. He put his ear to the door, as if he could hear her there on the other side of it.
He didn’t sound drunk either. His face and his voice were so familiar to her. Was he someone famous? She felt a knot form in her stomach. Was she dreaming?
“Hello?” he said softly. “Can you help me?”
Jayne took a deep breath and opened the door a couple of inches. “Uh, hello?”
The man seemed relieved. “Oh, thank God. Can I please come in?”
“Do I know you?” Jayne asked. And suddenly, she knew exactly who he was.
“Oh, you probably recognize me,” the man laughed, smiling a big friendly smile.
“Yeah, you’re And—”
“Yep,” he interrupted, nodding emphatically for a long time and then clearing his throat again.
Jayne searched for words. “Oh, okay, cool. Sorry, this is just really strange. Are you okay? How did you get in here?” She glanced up and down the hallway, at all of the other apartment doors he could have knocked on.
“I don’t seem to remember,” he said, scratching his head and shrugging.
Jayne, in her medicated state, had a mounting feeling that something was very wrong. She lived on the third floor. He had to climb two flights of stairs. Could he have been in a car accident or gotten hit by a car, and wandered into the building, confused and concussed? He didn’t look injured. He was neatly dressed, no blood. Jayne was trying to understand. A feeling of fear engulfed her but she wanted to help.
She opened the door fully and let him inside. As he entered, he examined his surroundings carefully, as he had in the hallway. Then he went to the couch and sat down, gathering up her throw blanket over his lap like he was cold. She could see no sign of injury, but his movements were erratic, unnatural.
“Thank you,” he said with a smile.
“What happened?” she asked in disbelief. “You said you needed help. Were you in an accident? Are you alright?” She looked up and down the hallway one more time, wondering if there were hidden cameras somewhere filming all of this, then closed the door.
She was alone in the apartment with this person.
“Should I call the police?” she asked.
“Do you have more blankets like this?” he asked politely, ignoring her questions. “Blankets, comforters, sheets?”
“Um, yes,” Jayne said.
“Can you get them, please?” he asked.
“Sure,” she answered, making a wide arc around him to get to the closet with the extra linens, careful not to turn her back to him.
“All of them, give me all of them,” he said. There was an urgency in his voice that made Jayne want to give him all of the blankets.
“Okay,” Jayne said, not believing her reaction to this insanity, her voice muffled behind the mountain of blankets she was pulling down from the closet. “And then I’m going to call 9-1-1, okay? Or your family? Do you have your phone on you? Can I see if you’re hurt?”
“No, thank you, Jayne,” he answered with a stern voice.
Jayne felt a wave of static electricity cascade over her. She hadn’t said her name. Had she? She peered at him over the blankets she was holding. He was still perched on the sofa, smiling at her, only there was something strange about him now. His eyes seemed to deepen in color the longer she looked into them, like animal or doll eyes, until the irises were like two gleaming circles. His mouth was clenched shut, like there was something concealed in it that he didn’t want her to see. She stumbled backward, hit her head on the wall, and dropped the blankets.
I think I am dreaming, she told herself as she fell flat on her back. Goddamn cold medicine and wine, you idiot.
“Jayne,” she could hear him say calmly and not like his mouth was full of jagged teeth or some other terrible thing, “are you okay? Hey, let’s not worry about making any phone calls, alright?” A long rattling sound like air leaving a tire came out of his mouth as he exhaled.
Jayne, horrified, nodded obediently from the floor.
She heard what sounded like the plop of two shoes coming off and then he appeared over her, looking completely normal again. He bent down and pulled her to her feet, smiling at her kindly through gentle, human eyes.
“Do you sleep on the couch?” he asked her.
“No, in my bed,” she answered.
“Alright, great. Then I’ll set up in here tonight, okay?”
He gathered up all of the blankets she had dropped and placed them in a heap on the couch. He went to the closet, still open, and pulled out some bath towels. As Jayne rubbed the back of her aching head and tried to understand what was happening, he disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a handful of kitchen towels. He added all of them to the heap, arranging them in a big nest over the couch.
“Jayne,” he said, busy placing his new treasures where he wanted them, “don’t forget to lock that front door.”
Jayne woke up in her bed in a panic. She remembered everything. She looked down. Her comforter was missing but she was still covered by a sheet. She felt around her body. Her pajamas were on, nothing out of place, she seemed to be okay.
Oh God, she thought, and rushed into the living room to find what looked like a child’s blanket fortress strewn over her couch and coffee table, with the head and feet of this person sticking out from under either end of it.
She stood there looking at him for a long time. On top of the heap was her shower curtain, and the comforter from her bed. She reached out and gingerly pulled the shower curtain and a bath towel off of the pile. She could hardly believe what she did next, which was go into the bathroom, shower, and dress herself like it was any other Sunday morning.
He stayed on the couch, surrounded by his fort of blankets and towels, for most of the day. He didn’t move but to sit up, and never spoke a word, only breathed audibly—long, wheezing breaths. Every once in a while she would notice that his eyes were gleaming in that eerie way and following her as she moved around the room.
Jayne didn’t know what to do, so she did nothing. Well, she did plenty of things. She cleaned the apartment, checked her emails in the chair next to him, and read her book. She finally left the apartment in the afternoon to get some takeout, asking him if he needed anything before she went. His piercing eyes looked up into her eyes, but he didn’t reply.
When she returned, she found him up and about. He had changed into one of her t-shirts and a pair of her shorts, and was pacing around the apartment, eyes aglow, his breath coming in short rasps now, but otherwise looking like a regular guy dressed in women’s pajamas. The apartment had become filled with a strange musty odor.
“Should I wash these?” she asked, pointing to his old clothes sitting atop the blanket fort. They were regular people clothes, she noticed as she reached for them, and they smelled like men’s deodorant, a smell she had always loved.
“Yes, please,” he said through a full mouth. Full of what, she didn’t want to know.
“Do you need anything?” she asked.
He shook his head and kept pacing.
“Do you want to sit down? I mean, how—how long are you planning to stay?”
He plopped down on the couch again, like a little boy admonished by his mother. “A little while, Jayne,” he said, annoyed. She shuddered when he said her name.
Jayne thought about her next questions very carefully. “What do you want here exactly? What, I mean, who are you really?”
His expression changed from exasperated to warm. “You know who I am,” he answered, laughing. When he opened his mouth, it was black inside and full of sharp yellow-brown teeth that reminded Jayne of a dinosaur skeleton.
She gasped and he seemed to recognize that his face was in its other state and shut his mouth tightly. He put on a serious look again. “I’m not here to hurt you,” he said in a low voice. Then he twisted his mouth into a strange half smile and dropped his gaze to the floor, returning to his catatonic state.
Jayne nodded and walked into the kitchen, opening the food she had brought home. When she turned around, he was standing right behind her. She let out a yelp and jumped back.
“Will you call me Andy?” he asked, his face having returned to normal again.
“Yes,” she replied dutifully, putting her hands down. “Yes. Andy. Of course.”
His body relaxed. “Thank you,” he responded politely, nodding, and they nodded back and forth a few times.
“Are you hungry, Andy?” she asked.
He shook his head no, and turned and walked back into the living room to the—to his—couch, burying himself under all of his blankets.
Jayne did laundry, touching each article of his clothing like it was a biohazard, or an artifact. She felt afraid and confused, but certainly not depressed. She brought him his clean clothes and told him she had to work in the morning. She told him he could stay but he would be alone until at least 5 p.m., and he would have to behave.
Andy nodded, smiling with a closed mouth. Jayne found herself fluffing the blankets around him before saying goodnight.
She locked herself in her bedroom, but something about having the door closed to him made her uneasy, so she left it open. She stayed awake for a long time and listened. She expected to hear his raspy breathing, but he made no sound at all.
Finally, she fell asleep under her single bed sheet. When she woke up in the morning, she was warm under the sheet and her comforter, too.
“Are you sure you don’t want any food? You’re not going to eat anything? Andy?” Jayne asked. It was Monday morning, the sunlight shining in the windows, and she had managed to lead him to the kitchen table and sit him down. She put coffee in front of him, but he just looked at her and the cup and let his eyes wander around the room.
“No, thank you,” he answered politely. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t need anything at all?” Jayne asked.
He closed his perfectly normal human eyes and shook his head no.
She left the TV remote on top of his blanket fort before walking out the door.
Jayne hurried through her work day, unable to concentrate, worrying over her companion and the apartment, even worrying that he might be gone when she got home.
But he wasn’t. He was there, on the couch, in his fort. She was relieved to see him in his regular state, not with the other face, and more bizarrely, just relieved to see him.
Her apartment was spotlessly clean but for the musty odor that seemed to hang in the air over everything.
“Jayne, how are you doing?” Sarah asked over the phone.
“Well,” Jayne answered, drawing in a long breath, “I have a houseguest now. So I’ve been busy with that. I would like you to come over, actually, and meet him.”
“Wait, what? A houseguest?”
“Yes, Andy. It looks like, um, you know, at first I thought it was the actor, you know—”
Jayne continued, “Well, I don’t think it’s really him. Actually, I know it’s not him. He’s not dead or missing. I checked.”
Sarah was silent for a moment. “Jayne. I know you’re going through some things right now. But what are you talking about? Did something happen to you? Is there really someone in your apartment?”
“No, no, I’m fine. And yes. He showed up a few days ago. Knocked on the door in the middle of the night. The night we talked. It’s as if I conjured him up or something. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Sarah spoke very slowly. “You’re saying him and it.”
“Yeah, well, just come take a look.”
Jayne met Sarah on the street. They had a long hug, and Sarah told Jayne that she was very worried about her. Jayne said nothing and led her friend by the hand up the stairs to her apartment. As they got closer to the door, they could hear the sounds of clicking and shallow wheezing, and found the thing that wanted to be called Andy huddled in its blanket fort on the couch, watching them with gleaming eyes and its hideous mouth wipe open, looking like an ambush predator buried in sand at the bottom of the ocean. Her friend stopped short of coming inside, clapped both of her hands over her mouth, and stifled a scream.
Jayne yanked her friend into the apartment, Sarah wrestling furiously to escape her grip. Jayne held her tightly, more tightly than she knew she could, and shut the door behind them.
Sarah threw herself against the door. “Oh my God, Jayne!” she shrieked. “What is that?”
Jayne held Sarah firmly by the arm. “Andy, this is my friend, Sarah,” Jayne said politely. “Sarah, this is Andy.”
“Hello, Sarah,” it said, in its human voice.
Sarah, holding her hands over her face, looked at Jayne. “This is bad, Jayne. This is really, really bad.”
Jayne pointed over to it. “Do you see what I’m seeing or not?”
Sarah saw the seriousness in Jayne’s eyes. She looked back and forth between her friend and the thing on the couch. Shaking with fear, she fumbled with her free arm for the doorknob behind her and, wrenching herself free, booked it out of the apartment.
Jayne chased her all the way outside. “Sarah!” she shouted after her friend. “Sarah!”
Sarah whirled around and pointed up to Jayne’s building. “This is crazy! Jayne, you need help!” Sarah looked desperate, wild, and ready to run and never look back and never see Jayne again.
Jayne tried to stay calm. “I let him in. What can I possibly do now?”
“Him? Or it?” Sarah cried.
People on the street mostly ignored their shouting except for one guy walking by who gave a thumbs up and casually tossed out, “Definitely an it, baby,” and kept walking.
Sarah continued. “That, that thing is going to kill you!” She looked up toward Jayne’s third-floor window and shuddered, her eyes growing wide. Jayne followed her gaze and saw that the thing that wanted to be called Andy was looking down at them from her window. So regular, so mundane. Just a man looking out a window at two people arguing on the street.
“You know what? I will not argue over this,” Jayne said and turned away from her friend.
Sarah clenched her fists against her head. “Don’t go back up there, Jayne. We’ll go get help together, please,” she begged. “Please!”
“He’s not going to hurt me,” Jayne replied and left her friend crying on the street.
It was still standing by the window looking out at the world when Jayne got back into the apartment. “I’m sorry about that. That was rude of me,” Jayne said. “I shouldn’t have done that. I just needed some answers.”
“Did you get them?” it asked her sadly, in its gentle human voice. “Answers?”
Jayne found Andy’s blanket fort empty the next morning and took the day off to wash all of it, every stitch of fabric. She placed each article tenderly back into a big heap, hoping to entice him to return. She had searched—through tears—under the bed, in every cabinet, in every closet, in all of the drawers, behind her new shower curtain, and he wasn’t anywhere.
She was beside herself with fear and shame that she may have driven him away, that Sarah should never have seen him, that he might never return. But the musty smell persisted, even after all of the laundry was done. It was like old, wet wood—the beautiful, sad odor of an abandoned, haunted house. The smell of adventure and danger and youth, that same smell of his hot breath pumping from his ghastly gaping maw. Perhaps he hadn’t gone far.
Or maybe she was losing her mind. She took two strong cocktails of wine and cold medicine on two consecutive nights to see if she could induce his reappearance.
She never heard from Sarah. She called and texted her to check in, but never got a reply. She checked on social media, but there were no new posts.
The anticipation of his return gave Jayne some small comfort. And return he did, finally and suddenly. In new clothes. There was no dramatic knock on the door, no “Can you help me?” nonsense. That weekend he was just back, in his fort, in his catatonic state, wearing his other face, when Jayne got home from an early dinner with coworkers who had no idea what was going on with her. It took every ounce of her self-control not to jump into the fort and wrap her arms around him. His eyes followed her as she approached him, but the best she could muster while still terrified was to reach out and run her hand through his soft, living hair. “Hi, you,” she smiled through tears, happy tears.
“It’s almost time, Jayne,” she heard him say quietly as she threw her purse over a chair and went straight to the remains of the last evenings’ wine.
Time for anything, she thought.
That night she lay still in her bed, mimicking his stillness. She knew he had been coming into her room at night and wondered if he would ever visit her while she was still awake.
Just as she was wondering, he entered her room and sat down beside her. So still, like a doll, she thought.
“Andy?” Jayne whispered.
His head turned sharply in her direction, startling her.
She lay silent for a few breaths. Finally, she asked, “Where were you? Why did you go?” Feeling brave, she added, “What does it mean when your face changes?”
He lifted his fingers to his eyes and rubbed them, then rubbed around his nose. “My face doesn’t ever change,” he answered, shaking his head.
“I see it change,” Jayne replied.
He reached his hand back, drew the sheet down off of her, found her hand, and held it. His hand was cold but soft, like a human’s.
“Do you ever feel alone?” he asked her.
“All of the time,” Jayne answered breathlessly. “That’s why you’re here, right?”
He squeezed her hand gently, brushing his fingers over hers and then letting go. He lowered himself down next to her, his face next to hers on her pillow. So close, so real. His breath was normal, rhythmic. She could hear a heart beating. He smelled for an instant like her favorite cologne, or maybe it was aftershave, a smell she had always indulged in at drug stores and perfume counters, on the train when a man would walk by and leave his scent behind.
What the hell was he? She decided not to care. She reached out and placed her hand on his face. He mimicked her movement, except his hand rested against her cheek like a cold, heavy weight. She took so much comfort in that touch, and fell into a deep sleep.
When she woke up around 2 a.m.—the same time he had first appeared to her the week before—they were under a thousand blankets together, just as she had secretly hoped.
When he sensed that she was awake, he sat up and started moving the blankets off of them, pushing them to the floor until it was just the two of them on the bed.
He heaved a sigh and for a moment seemed hesitant. He turned his face away from her. Then the thing that wanted to be called Andy, that she called Andy, began the wretched mouth breathing again.
Jayne knew it was time, whatever that meant, and clenched her eyes shut, telling herself not to open them for anything. She took a deep breath and held it. With a snarl, it rolled over onto her, pinning her to the bed with impossible force. She felt its teeth graze her nose and mouth as it brought its face down against hers. She screamed and tried to wrench herself free, but it held her down, clamping its hands around her wrists as her muffled cries traveled down its throat.
Eyes squeezed shut, she pleaded,“Andy! Please!” She thrashed to no avail and no response, only feeling the steady, hot breath from its mouth over hers, and the warm trickle of something wet down the side of her face.
“Look at me. Open your eyes and look,” it said.
“No! God, please,” she begged, and some thick, foul-tasting drool fell from its mouth into hers, making her gag as she swallowed it.
“Look at me now,” it repeated. “Look.”
Jayne knew she was going to have to look. She took an age to open her eyes and when she did, her face was an inch away from his regular, handsome face.
It could have been anybody’s face, it just happened to be his.
She could have been anyone to him, but he had chosen her.
Somebody, anybody, nobody. Nothing.
Jayne relaxed her body. He released her wrists and she wrapped her arms around him as tightly as she could, embracing him fully. He embraced her back, burying his face in her neck, breathing in her human scent and kissing her and running his face over her skin.
Yes, this is what she wanted. This is everything she wanted. The tears came quick and hot. He wiped them away gently with one soft human hand, and paused to look at her before changing to the other face one last time.
But this time, when he changed, she did, too, and as their mouths connected—teeth running over jagged teeth, and skin, and bone, and hair, hands and fingers and legs intertwined—she felt a stabbing pain that took her breath away. She became euphoric and with a short, final sucking of air, clamped her wide, gaping mouth around him with incredible force, bit his head off, and swallowed it whole.