by Bianca Berman
It wasn’t so much the spot itself that bothered him, but rather the thought of it. Even when he wasn’t looking at it, he could almost feel its presence in the room. A black blot on pure white. He would lie in bed at night in complete silence and look at the ceiling, trying to discern the nature of the spot. Was it mold? A spider? A leak? The more he looked at it, the stranger it became. The more he looked, the larger it seemed to grow. On the rare occasion when he managed to close his eyes, it would still be there, as though it had been carved into his memory, never to be erased.
It was smaller than a penny in size. Miniscule, really. Most people probably wouldn’t have noticed it. Yet at the same time, it’s difficult not to notice something black in a house where almost everything is white and pristine: shiny, white floors (which he washed twice a week methodically), white walls with no pictures on them, one white Scandinavian chair (his mother had insisted that he have at least one stylish piece of furniture in his apartment), a white couch… Gregory Samson had a thing for white. Or maybe he was just too lazy to decorate. He lived alone (not surprisingly) on the top floor of an apartment building. He wasn’t particularly close to any of his neighbors, most of whom were old and hard of hearing, so it was often a one-sided conversation. Although Gregory probably wouldn’t have spent much time with his neighbors even if they hadn’t been old and hard of hearing. He was like that. He kept to himself.
One day, after yet another night of tossing and turning and staring at the ceiling, there was a knock at the door. Gregory’s ears were ringing and his head was throbbing. He set down his copy of Sartre’s “No-Exit” and walked to the door. It was Mr. Peck with his wooden cane and old, moth-infested fedora.
“Gregory, old chap, I’m sorry for bothering you,” he began with a loud, creaky voice that made Gregory cringe.
“You’re no bother at all,” he replied, and forced a smile.
“What?” Mr. Peck asked, bringing a hand to his ear.
“You’re no bother at all!” Gregory repeated, raising his voice and making his ears ring even more.
“Oh, thank you, Gregory. You’re a good lad.”
The two of them stood in silence. The AC was running full blast in the background.
“So what can I help you with?”
“What? Oh, right, right. Could I borrow some of your milk, please?”
“Sure, Mr. Peck. Just a second.”
Gregory walked into his kitchen and pulled the white carton of milk out of the fridge. He checked the expiration date (as he always did) and brought it to the elderly man.
“Thank you, son. I really appreciate it! As always, let me know if you need anything,” Mr. Peck said and turned around to leave, but Gregory stopped him midstep. Something had come to mind.
“Actually, could I ask you to take a look at something?” Gregory asked.
“Of course, son!”
Gregory led the old man through his pale, cold apartment towards the bedroom. Towards it. Their shoes squeaked on the clean floors. They stopped in front of the bed. Gregory looked up and pointed at the ceiling. Mr. Peck looked up.
“What are we looking at exactly?” Mr. Peck asked loudly after a minute of staring at a white ceiling.
“Don’t you see it?” Gregory asked.
“See what? Just a second,” Mr. Peck took his crooked glasses out of his jacket pocket. In addition to having trouble hearing, he didn’t have the best eyesight. He put the glasses on and looked up again. The two men — one lanky and the other a little plump — stood in the white room in silence, waiting.
Gregory couldn’t take his eyes off of the spot. There was a faint buzzing in the back of his mind. As he looked at it, everything around him disappeared: the bed, Mr. Peck, even the moth-fedora. His vision grew cloudy, then sharp, then cloudy again. The room started to close in on itself — getting smaller and smaller as the spot got larger and larger. The spot grew tentacles that stretched out like fast-growing vines. One made its way from the ceiling to the floor and started to make its way up Gregory’s leg. He could feel it wrap around his knee. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead. He could hear his heartbeat quicken…
“Well, I think I’ll get going,” Mr. Peck said nonchalantly, shaking Gregory back to reality. The old man had forgotten why he was even standing in the room. He had already forgotten about the milk.
“Thank you, Mr. Peck,” Gregory said quietly, but the old man was already gone.
He woke up suddenly in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. It was quiet, but the air felt heavy…suffocating. What’s more, he felt as though he weren’t alone. He looked around the dark room frantically: there was nobody there. He drew the blanket over his head and closed his eyes. He could hear himself breathing. No, he was hyperventilating. He tried to shut everything out: all the thoughts, all the images, it. But no matter what he did, it always crept back into his mind. The thought of it always found a way through the cracks and would attach itself to his consciousness like a tick, sucking the life and joy out of him until it was satisfied and dropped off plump, filled with blood.
Then the voices started. They crept through the sheets. First one, then two, then three. They terrorized him through the night:
Look up, Gregory. Look up. Look up. Look up.
Gregory called the handyman the next day. He hadn’t slept at all and his headache had grown noticeably worse. What bothered him most about the spot was that he couldn’t remember how long it had been there for. Or maybe he just couldn’t remember when he first started seeing it. What if it had been there all along? He’d lived in the apartment for five years. Could it have been there all that time? All he knew was that the past few weeks had felt like an eternity. As time went by, the amount of sleep he was getting diminished greatly. If he kept this up any longer, he would simply drive himself mad.
There was a knock on the door.
“Thanks for coming over, Hank,” Gregory said, and let the well-built gentleman into his apartment.
“Geez, you look awful. Not getting enough sleep?” Hank asked and set his tool bag on the floor with a thump.
“No,” Gregory replied.
“You said you wanted me to take a look at something on your ceiling,” Hank said.
“Yes, right through here.”
Their shoes squeaked as they walked towards the bedroom. Gregory pointed at the spot.
“Is it mold?” he asked Hank.
“What, that little dot?” Hank asked, squinting.
“Could be mold.”
“Can you do anything about it?”
Hank thought for a moment.
“I could paint over it. You’ll never see it again.”
Ten minutes, one paintbrush, and fifty bucks later, the spot was hidden. Gregory sat on his bed with a cup of chamomile tea relishing his restored peace. He closed his eyes and absorbed the silence. His mind was perfectly empty…perfectly quiet…perfectly clean and white. His eyes began to close as his body craved the sleep he had been missing.
He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
He woke up screaming.
The spot had returned.
* * *
“Mr. Samson, did you pack your clothes?”
“Yes, Samantha. Thank you.”
“And your medicines?”
The nurse smiled and left the white, perfectly sanitized room. Gregory followed shortly after with his suitcase and coat. He was finally getting out. Behind him, he heard the doctors whispering.
“Do you think he’ll come back?” a young nurse asked.
“Yes…you know how it is with these things. It comes and goes. The treatments only last for so long. And then, we never know whether or not the patient keeps taking their medicines…”
Gregory returned to find his home just as he had left it. The floor, however, needed some polishing. The medicines made him too tired to do anything about it though, so he simply crawled into his old bed without bothering to change and doze off.
He woke up feeling numb as he often did. As an old habit, he looked at the ceiling. The spot was there. Great, he thought, I’m still seeing things. He lay there for a while just looking at it, and was thankful that this time he wasn’t taken over by his emotions. Perhaps the medicines really were helping him. But if the medicines do work, he thought, how come I’m still seeing things? What if the spot was actually there? Gregory approached the problem methodically without letting himself get out of hand. He walked to the closet, grabbed the ladder, and placed it near the foot of his bed. He climbed up and looked at the spot. This was the closest he had ever come. He lifted his hand and carefully ran his finger over it. He felt a gust of air coming through it. A hole? Suddenly he was filled with an overwhelming sense of fear. Fear which he hadn’t felt since the last time he had been home.
He scraped at the edges of the hole to try to make it bigger. Dust from the drywall started to fall on him. As he scraped more frantically, his hair was covered with white dust within minutes. But the process was too slow. He felt that he was losing control, but he had no way of stopping himself. He ran around the apartment in search of something, anything, and then his eyes rested on the hammer.
Giant chunks of drywall fell onto his bed. Within moments, his work was done: he had made a hole big enough to squeeze through. His heart was racing. He couldn’t tell if he was frightened or excited or both. Adrenaline was pumping through his veins.
Look up, Gregory. Look up. Look up. Look up.
He was standing on the highest step of the ladder. He took a deep breath and put his head through the hole.
He was looking into a small, dark crawlspace which he didn’t even know existed. It was big enough for one person to crouch in.
When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw it.
In the small space, there was a video camera pointing towards his room. Next to it was a cup of coffee.
It was still hot.