Wilson Wells, a tall, thin man of sixty-six, paces the floor of his apartment with an increasing level of anxiety. His mouth is downturned as he stares at the people below as they mill about. His fists, balled up against the plated glass windows turn white until finally, he retracts. “No escape…there will be no escape…” His mind reminds him, a simple phrase that nudges his heart into a rhythm of beats like an African drum.
It has been six days, seven hours and thirty minutes since he last passed the threshold of his cramped Chicago apartment. But today, that was going to change. Wilson’s daughter, Peggy, insisted that her father go for his yearly check up and despite his reservations, he wanted to make her happy. Wilson feels on edge, his body surges with aches and pains that assist his rapid heart beat in making him feel like hell. “You will panic You will panic You will panic…” Chant the tribe that is nestled deep within his medulla oblongata as they pound their drums in the direction of his ears.
It had all started five years ago when his wife, Susanne, was killed. She was on her way to work, the same route that she had taken every day, and was struck by a car while crossing a street in the middle of a red light. “Your wife was killed and we don’t know who hit her…I’m so sorry, sir.” The police said as they tried to console him after he had identified her body. And they never did…Soon after, Wilson quit his job at the local insurance agency and pent himself up in the apartment the two had shared over thirty years of marriage. Time passed and their only daughter’s concern grew. This was followed by doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions and finally a diagnosis: Agoraphobia.
A knock shakes Wilson from his heavy thoughts and a familiar voice pervades the barrier between himself and the outside world. “Hey dad, it’s Peggy” He approaches the door with caution but upon turning the lock, he is met with a familiar, crooked grin. Susanne’s grin. She is wielding only a large paper bag which she begins to unload straight away after giving him a gentle kiss on the cheek. Wilson watches her from the foyer, admiring the fact that she knows her way around the kitchen. She embodies the youth and vibrant nature that Wilson lacks, a sorry truth he must face. But he is glad that his wife’s beauty and his tall stature was poured into such a person. She is the only thing he had left in the world…
His feelings of anxiety lessen when he sees his only daughter’s face but the stress still gnaws at him until she speaks. “Dad, I got your mail for you. I…I think you should get it more. This is about three week’s worth and I wouldn’t want anything to get stolen.” Peggy says carefully as she places the last remaining item on the shelf and then comes out with a bundle of mail she has neatly tucked in her coat pocket. Wilson had been weary about making the trip down to the apartment complex’s mail room, especially since it was almost always crowded. His neighbors seemed oddly primitive, beating their chests as they gathered their bundles as their rambunctious offspring leapt from vine to vine.
It seemed every time Peggy came to visit him, Wilson would fall into a trance of bitter sweet nostalgia. His fingers dance along the heavy oak door to the kitchen, brushing against the markings that Susanne used to document their only daughter’s growth from the time she was only knee high. He knew she had a life of her own. She was happy, after all. “Peggy is not you. She is not afraid, she is strong, she is smart. She’ll become more than her old man ever was.” His mind would remind him every time she pervaded his racing thoughts. Oh, but how he wished he could go back to when she was only a little girl! Life seemed so simple then, so perfect, so concrete but now…now he was a mess.
Peggy again shakes her father from his thoughts, tugging gently on his hand to guide him out the door. “You know what Dr. Nash said, dad. You need to take little steps…that’s the only way you’ll get better.” He obliges, taking a step out the door of his apartment, checking the lock several times before making his way down the hall and then out of the complex. The world outside is bright and busy. Everyone is moving in a million different directions and Wilson begins to feel tightness in his chest as if a two ton man is casually sitting upon it.
Peggy keeps a good grip on her father’s arm but feels his body tense as the African tribe pent up his head again start up their rhythmic banter. “Don’t mess this up Don’t mess this up Don’t mess this up She is counting on you…..Wilson is sobered, giving his daughter a smirk that reassures her enough to release him.. The two reach the doctor’s office with ease, and Wilson feels triumphant at once.
As expected, the doctor’s office is completely dead and Wilson is taken straight away. “You seem well, Wilson. Have you been sleeping?” (No) “Yes sir, I have.” “Do you believe that the medication is working towards lessening your anxiety?” (Hardly) “It seems to be working just fine, yes.” “Well, you seem to be coming along very well. You’re in perfect health, Mr. Wells you just need to fall into a normal routine.” The doctor extends his hand and Wilson politely declines as the room closes in on him. No matter what, he could never shake the symptoms…
Wilson feels instant relief as soon as he passes through the doorway of his home. His was a rushed one and the shaking in his hands was becoming unbearable. It seemed that everywhere he went, the world was collapsing around him and the only solution would be to expel all his pent up anxiety in a fit of panic. “How embarrassing!” He thinks, as he rubs his temples rhythmically with his fingers. There is absolute silence despite the rustling of his neighbors above and the occasional hum of traffic outside his window and he looks all around him: Completely alone….
But the aching drum beats in his head say otherwise. There is a presence in the room that Wilson cannot completely put his finger on. He looks all about him, getting up to wiggle the doorknob for the fifth time since his arrival. There is not a thing out of place but an envelope placed on his coffee table. He approaches, Slowly… Carefully. “Don’t pick it up!” His thoughts shout at him, “Stay away, stay away, stay away!” But he shakes it off, reaching out for the note that is rough to the touch and composed of a child’s construction paper. The penmanship is stark and vibrant against the pale pink of the paper and addressed neatly to the man who is has it in his grasp.
Wilson tries to settle his nerves, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s probably just an extra piece of mail that Peggy forgot to give me…it’s probably nothing.” He reassures himself. But the letter gives an unwelcome vibe for there is no return address and a questionable rust colored stain marking all corners. He shudders, opening the unsealed letter to reveal a crumpled piece of notebook paper. The note is short, succinct and frightening….
Wilson reads the words but fails to comprehend. His vision is blurring and his hands shake, it feels as though some imaginary force has him by the throat and his limbs begin to convulse. His breathing is short and labored, oxygen hardly passes down his throat to meet his lungs and his legs feel like toothpicks trying to support his frame. He collapses, the letter crumpled in his hand reading as follows: W i l s o n, I killed your wife. Peggy is next. -x