Three. Four. Five. I like five; it feels complete. Okay, one more time. Six
"How long does it take to get a glass of water?" my husband calls from the living room.
"Sorry, I'm coming." I resist the urge to rinse the glass a few more times. Cleanliness is not a factorit's the numbers. The completion. The habit. I take a sip of my water and force myself to stop asking if I should just run the water one more time.
I join Sam in the living room and sit in my usual spot: the center recliner. He always lies on the couch to watch TV. It works.
He hits the play button, and we watch ten minutes of reality before the demon sneaks into my mind again. This time I see fire. It sparks from the dryer, blisters the walls, and rushes tsunami-like towards my son's room. It licks at my daughter's curtains.
I see them lying in their beds, unaware of the destruction. I see walls of flame keeping me from them.
"I have to go to the bathroom," I say. Sam pauses the show. The beast in my head laughs with intense pleasure.
I disappear down the hallway, relieved I smell no smoke. I walk back to my son's room first and peek in the door: he lies peacefully on the bed.
The demon points at him, and I follow his bat-like finger: My son lies with his hand against the wall. I know there's an outlet there.
Fear roars in my face; it grips my brain. I tiptoe forward, holding my breath, washed in terror.
I see him, turned over, face blue, finger in the outlet.
I get down on one knee and look across his body. I squint in the darkness. His chest rises and falls underneath the blanket that acts like a barometer I use to track the rhythm of his breaths.
Stepping back, I shut the door with a quiet click and breathe. I go to the bathroom and flush the toilet. I run the water. I count to three. Three is a complete number.
Back down the hallway, I check my daughter. She turns over when the light hits her face and sighs in her sleep. I summon a smile for her and close her door.
"That was a long bathroom break."
"Yeah, I checked on the kids while I was back there."
"Ah. All right, let's finish the show."
Fifteen minutes later, I hear a noise. "Did you hear that?"
"It was a click or something." Like a window opening, my companion suggests. I see my daughter, asleep in her room, and a man climbing in the window. A shadow creeps to her little body, grabs her, stifles her and slips back out. Later I'll find the room empty, the window open.
I try fighting the urge. I spew logic at myself. I would hear her, no one could get in here that quietly. Just as quickly, the demon takes over: If you don't check...
Sam sighs. "Do you want to go check?"
I check the forecast in my son's room: barometer's steady. I check my daughter's room: she fidgets.
"They're fine, you know."
"I know." I don't know. I never know. All day the demon sits on my shoulder; crawls around in my brain; whispers in my ears. He spans all media: pictures, sounds, and videos play on loops in my head. Each different, but forever ending the same way:
Me, alive, my arms empty as I swing from the last shred of sanity I have left, carried away by a balloon of fear.
"Well, it's only got five minutes. Let's watch it and go to bed."
"Okay." The demon looks at me from the surface of my glass. The ice in my water has melted, and I don't drink water without ice. I tuck my hands into my lap and watch the screen.
Reality ends. We chat about the drama, the successes, and the failures. We go to the bathroom. Sam goes to bed.
The shadow on my shoulder and I check on my son's barometer and my daughter's fitful sleep.
I go back to the living room windows. They're sealed. I place my first two fingers around the door lock. It's vertical, but it's not complete. I do it again. Two. Three. Four. Five. I need to feel the metal between them. Eventually I force myself away, tapping my finger on my forehead. It gives me a focus.
I check the stove. The coffee pot. The toaster. I check the stove again.
My daughter keeps turning; my son keeps breathing.
I climb into bed, and my husband's already asleep. My demon swings on my ear lobe like a kid on monkey bars. Did you check the stove?
You could have missed it. You could have missed the light on. I see fire again. Walls of flame. Beds turned to ash.
If you don't check
The rest is always implied: he doesn't say it and neither do I, but we both know how it ends.
it will be your fault.