The Memory of a Man Named Hank

It was a clear autumn’s evening when the old man first crept into the bedroom where Hank and his wife Debby slept. The old man pulled himself in through the open window, opened to welcome in the breeze into their stuffy, second floor bedroom. That’s what confused Hank the most. No man, young or old, should have been able to pull themselves through that window. Coupled with the fact that he was unable to move his body, Hank slowly relaxed his breath. It was a bad dream, a night terror, and all he could do was ride it out.

The man straightened up as best he could and dusted off his gray suit. His hair was a wispy white, his eyes clouded over with cataracts. Dark hoods ringed his light eyes. His smile was a crack in his face, lipless and ever present, his teeth like the jagged gravestones of a nearly forgotten cemetery.

He shuffled over to Hank. He didn’t move fast and he didn’t need to. Hank couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t cry out to Debby to leave the room. The old man hunched over Hank, a grip like a vice squeezed his cheeks, and he moved his head back and forth, examining the minute details of Hank’s face. His hands were thin and long, his nails yellowed and dirty. His breath was hot and wretched, the stench of old meat on Hank’s face, and he struggled to catch his breath. He would often stop his ragged gasps to swallow his spittle and then continue his poking and prodding of Hank’s face.

Finally, he lifted one index finger, and pressed it to Hank’s forehead. The finger burned Hank like a cattle prod made of liquid nitrogen, a chill so cold it was hot, and the old man’s face broke into an even bigger smile, the crooked, yellowed teeth seeming to stretch back into the man’s skull for an eternity. Then the old man turned and crept out the window the way he came in.

Hank woke the next morning at 7 a.m., rose promptly from bed and began his day. He did remark to his wife while combing his thinning brown hair about his nightmare. “Creepy,” Debbie said, and continued watching Facebook videos on her phone. Debbie was once very beautiful, but had stopped working when Hank and her married. She didn’t need to — Hank made a modest living and Debbie tended to the house, though she rarely did. Hank still found her gorgeous, on the odd occasion she did her hair and put on makeup.

Hank finished dressing in his too-tight suit (it was tight but only until he lost some weight, at least that’s what he told himself) and drove to work in his Toyota Camry. It was tan and had a spoiler, which made it a sports car in his mind. He drove down the street lined with identical houses, NPR on the radio. He walked into the office and sat down. The old man didn’t cross his mind for the rest of the day.

That evening the man crept in through the same window. Once again, he walked across the room and poked his gnarled finger to Hank’s forehead. Hank’s internal struggle to keep his breathing even and his fear down was more difficult than the night before. The old man’s face broke into a smile and once again, he crept out the bedroom window.

Hank once again woke up, went to work, and came home to bed. The old man never left his mind. That evening, he came home and asked his wife if they could close the window for the evening. “Why?” she asked. “You love having the window open when we sleep.” No reason, he replied. She didn’t respond. So Hank closed the window, and tried to push the old man out of his mind. With the window closed, maybe his nightmares would stop.

However, the old man returned. He walked in through the bedroom door, laughing as he opened the door, the usual silent and oiled hinges creaking. He seemed to mock Hank for thinking a closed door and a shut window would be enough to keep him out. Hank laid on his back, the old man crossed the room with his too-wide smile, pressed his long finger to his forehead. He chuckled again and shuffled out of the room.

Hank strived to keep his eyes open this time instead of letting himself drift off to sleep. When he was finally able to move, he threw back his blankets and dashed out of the room. He looked down the long hall and thumped down the stairs. He threw open his front door and looked outside. A dog barked in the distance. The streetlamps gave a soft orange glow to his lawn. There was nobody there. Hank looked around once more, this time to make sure no neighbors saw his strange manic search, then turned and slowly crept up the stairs.

“What were you doing?” Debbie said, her voice full of sleep.

“Nothing,” Hank said. “I thought I heard something.” Debbie replied with a grunt. She likely wouldn’t remember the conversation by the morning.

Each night for a week, the old man crept into Hank and Debbie’s bedroom. Hank slept little and was stressed from work. His usual punctuality at work had seemed to be replaced with forgotten meetings and deadlines.

One night, Hank left his work softball game early, citing illness. Actually, he wasn’t sure he told anyone, he just left the game. No one would miss him. He spent the rest of the evening combing the home for entrances, locking and re-locking every door and window. He told Debbie he needed to wake up early, and as such he was going to sleep in the guest bedroom, so he didn’t wake her in the morning. Once he was in the guest room, Hank barricaded himself inside. He locked the door and window, moved the dresser over the window and the bed against the door. He stayed awake as long as he could but as with every night, he didn’t remember when he had fallen asleep, only that he had. He woke in the dead of night. Hank could hear the old man, first at the window, rattling the pane. Only seconds later, Hank heard the door rattle against the bed frame. Then it stopped. Hank slept soundly for the first time that week.

The next night he decided to do the same. He first heard the sound of the window, then the door, then once again it stopped. Just before he relaxed, however, and settled in for a deep sleep, he heard a chuckle and a creak, as the old man stepped out of the closet. Hank didn’t see him at first, but felt the now familiar tightening of his muscles, and heard the gasps of breath slip between the old man’s thin, cracked lips.

And like every night, the old man crossed the room, smiled, held one long finger to Hank’s forehead, then turned and walked back into the closet.

Hank didn’t sleep for the rest of the night. In the morning, he slouched out of bed and got ready for work. It was a hard Monday — he had spent the weekend with very little sleep, and spent his days worrying about the old man. Even Debbie, perpetually stuck in her own little world, looked up from her B-grade vampire show and commented on Hank’s deteriorating appearance, though he had not told her anything for fear of frightening her.

Hank got in the car, reversed out of his driveway and pulled into the street. Then he stopped. He couldn’t remember how to get to work. He thought it was likely a momentary lapse in judgement brought on by the lack of sleep, and decided to continue driving down the road anyways, but the path never came to him. He could remember the building, the familiar brick and mortar walls and gray cubicles, but for some reason, try as he might, he could not remember the route to his building. He pulled the car over and pulled out his phone, hoping maybe he could simply search the name of his office, but he couldn’t remember that either. He racked his brain, trying to figure out just exactly where he worked.

Finally, he realized he likely had some business cards in his wallet, and after a moment of digging, pulled out a dingy, crumpled business card with his name big and bold on the front from behind an Applebee’s gift card, the address printed below. He drove to work, stayed for 3 hours, then told his boss he was feeling a little under the weather.

“Well, you certainly look it, Hank,” his boss, a thin man with a long nose, replied, and let Hank go for the rest of the day, brandishing his long, skinny arms to shoo Hank away. Hank flinched a little when he pointed to the door with a skinny, crooked finger.

“I’ll call if I’m out tomorrow as well,” Hank said. His boss didn’t reply, just looked back at his computer. Hank drove home. Once again, he couldn’t quite remember the route back. He looked up his own home on a map and drove home. The moment he reached his neighborhood and the perfectly manicured lawns and bushes, Hank remembered the rest of the way home and turned off the GPS.