“When was the last time you took a shower?” the therapist asked.
“Last week,” said Katie. Shame stung her eyes, and the falling of tears could not be fought.
The therapist looked up from her notebook. “Why is that?”
Katie averted her eyes. “I’m afraid.”
“Of what?” asked the therapist.
Katie took a breath. “I’m afraid I’ll accidentally rub the soap onto my body the wrong number of times. Or that I’ll turn counterclockwise.”
“What would happen if you did?” The therapist’s voice was gentle and inquisitive.
“I don’t know,” Katie answered. “Something terrible.”
The therapists jotted Katie’s words into her notebook. When she finished, she asked, “Why don’t you try it?”
“Try it?” The very thought left Katie stunned.
“Yes,” said the therapist. “I think you know, intellectually, that nothing will happen if you turn counterclockwise in the shower, for example. And once you do a little bit of reality testing and you see that’s the case, I think you’ll feel a lot better.”
Katie felt her chest tighten. “But what if I don’t? What if I’m not wrong? What if---”
“The choice is yours,” the therapist interrupted. “But I really think this could be good for you.”
Later that night, the therapist’s words echoed in Katie’s ears. Her hair had separated into greasy strands and she itched all over. She could no longer stand her own smell. Somewhere, she knew that she would have to bathe, and soon, but the terror was enough to make her shake.
I could simply be extra careful, she told herself. I could be vigilant, keep my head about me. She sighed. It has to be done.
Slowly, she approached the bathroom, towel in hand. Just relax, Katie, she repeated to herself. You can do this. She slid her robe off and turned on the water. Once she made sure it was hot enough, she took a deep breath and stepped in.
The steady, hot stream of water against her skin was magnificent. Steam filled her airways. Her shoulders relaxed. She thought it amazing, as she always did, that simply standing under the water could be so calming. She wished she could have simply stayed there forever, but as her eyes landed on the soap dish, she knew what needed to be done.
She took the bar of soap in her hand. Where first? Her chest? Fine. She counted aloud as she rubbed the soap over her skin. “One, two, three, four, five….” Each perfect, clockwise swipe was numbered from one to fifteen. Somewhere along the way, she had managed to zone out. It was a flash of panic that brought her back just in time to end after fifteen. She sighed. Safe for now.
So it was for the rest of her shower. Every time the soap touched her body, it had to do so fifteen times, and she must never turn counterclockwise. Only clockwise would keep her safe, even if it was less convenient.
At last, her shower was nearing its end. Katie knew she should have felt better, but she couldn’t shake a deep sense of disappointment. Here she was, showering, giving herself an opportunity to really conquer at least part of her anxiety. She knew she’d regret it if she didn’t take it. Her eyes drifted down to the bar of soap in her hand and then over to the soap dish. She would have to put the soap down, and normally, she would turn clockwise to do this.
Katie inhaled sharply and closed her eyes. “I can do this,” she said out loud, and she turned counterclockwise to replace the soap in the dish.
The euphoria was nearly instantaneous. She had done something terrifying, something she never thought she could again. Was she still nervous? Of course, but now, maybe the night would pass without incident, and she would see that her actions had caused no harm.
Katie turned off the water and slid the shower curtain aside. One foot went over the side of the tub and onto the bare tile below. As she lifted the other to follow, however, the first one gave way. Katie’s entire body tightened as she found herself hurtling toward the floor. She landed with a horrible smack. Her neck twisted unnaturally. There was a pop, followed by excruciating pain. She tried to reach up to massage it, but found that she couldn’t. Her arm would not move. Nothing would.
Katie lay on her bathroom floor, facing the wall, and with her back to the bathroom counter. Panic set in. What am I supposed to do? she thought. How do I call for help? I don’t want to die. She felt hot tears begin to form as her mind continued to whir.
Then there came a sound. The creak of the cabinet door right below the bathroom counter caught her ear and arrested her mind. It was not the only sound. Something else bubbled under the creak.
Anxiety almost gave way to puzzlement, but all feelings turned to terror as the laughter broke into language.
“She did it!” said a small voice. “She did it at last! Did she think she could get away with it? Turning like that? Doesn’t she know the rules?”
“I thought she never would even try,” said another. “She’s so careful.”
“Let’s not waste any time,” said the first voice.
Katie heard the slap of skin against the wet floor behind her. Two sets of footsteps padded their way to her. All the while the laughter persisted.
“W-wha….” The words would not come, no matter how hard she tried. She had just about given up trying to speak when she felt a number of sharp stabs burrow deep into her flesh. What escaped her was the choked remains of a scream.
“Ready?” said one voice.
“Ready!” said the other.
Before losing consciousness, the last thing Katie heard was the creature’s straining as they slowly slid her over to the cabinet door.
Written by Jdeschene