Monday, December 20, 1999
Bob locked his apartment door behind him. Then he fastened the deadbolt. And put on the chain. Reaching down, he slid the last two bolts into place, and gave the doorknob a small, sharp twist, just to be sure.
Heaving a sigh of relief, he kicked off his black, shiny boots and slipped the red felt hat from his head, tossing it onto the cluttered dining room table, where it sat like a big red exclamation mark amongst the final demand letters and disconnection notices.
Still five days to go until Christmas and already he was exhausted. Every year he promised himself that this one would be the last. This year it absolutely would be, no question. He was getting too old for this shit.
As he sat down on the threadbare sofa and removed his white beard, the feeling of unease that had followed him home crept over him again. Bad time of year to quit smoking, he thought, reaching for the almost-finished bottle of scotch on the coffee table. He drained the remainder of the liquor in one swig and rested the empty vessel on his padded stomach, the glass clinking against the gold buckle of his black patent leather belt.
God, he was so tired. Maybe he'd caught something from one of the hundreds of children who'd clambered into his lap over the last few days. Enough of them had been snotty-nosed. Maybe if he closed his eyes for a moment, just to muster enough energy to get out of the damned prickly red suit...
The bottle hitting the floor woke him with a start. He must have dozed off completely, and now he felt truly awful. Perhaps some aspirin would help.
Bob stumbled into the bathroom, the long legs of his Santa suit almost tripping him as he made his way to the medicine cabinet on the wall. He opened the mirrored door, and then slammed it shut, with a gasp, leaving the aspirin and all the other contents untouched.
Jesus Christ, he couldn't see himself! He looked wildly around the small tiled room. Everything else appeared normal. He held up a hand in front of his face. Nothing -- no red sleeve, no chewed fingernails... He pressed his palm against the deteriorating mirror, and it made a misty halo on the cool glass. When he withdrew it, a few greasy fingerprints remained.
Shit -- maybe he was dead! It was the only explanation. Dead. Oh God oh God oh God... His stomach clenched and he grabbed for the sink with trembling hands. This couldn't be happening.
What if he was a ghost? Could he walk through things? Bob charged at the wall, and there was a resounding crash as he cannoned into it, almost knocking himself senseless. It hurt, and threw his ghost theory out the window. Little beads of cold terror-sweat trickled down the back of his neck. What the hell was going on?
Maybe it was just him that couldn't see -- himself. Some sort of selective hysterical blindness maybe? He needed someone else to see him. Anyone just to smile and nod; acknowledge his presence. He dashed for the door, fumbling with the locks and chain, and finally out into the courtyard of the apartment building.
Nobody was there.
"Hello, anybody?" he yelled, his voice bordering on hysteria as it echoed off the buildings around him. With a small, strangled noise of desperation, he began running towards the street, the adrenaline of total terror overriding his fatigue.
He burst from the car park, onto the sidewalk, and down the road, past his grimy apartment building and the poorly maintained houses of his neighbours. Gathering speed despite his cumbersome clothing, he bolted between the broken-down Ford pickup that sat on blocks, and a rusty Buick, and out into the street.
There, at the corner of the block, was a group of people, walking home from their Christmas shopping, arms full of bags and parcels. He stumbled towards them.
"Hey, you there!" he shouted, waving his arms. The people looked around, startled. One shrugged and they continued walking, a little faster than before. "Look at me!" Bob screamed. He was now only about 20 feet from them, standing in the middle of the road. He should have been a very visible, odd sight, in his red suit, leaping about in the street like a lunatic.
"Where the hell is that coming from?" One of the men looked straight past, or rather through, Bob.
"I don't know, but it's freaking me out." A woman clutched her bags closer to her body, and the group began to hurry off.
Bob stood there, incredulous. They couldn't see him either. God-in-heaven, what had happened to him? He turned and fled into the night.
Continues in chapter one...