The day that changed my life started like any other.
I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock shrilly screaming at me to awaken. Blearily, I turned and eyed the source of my current frustration. Not content with being loud and obnoxious, the clock was also lighting up with every beep. Groaning, I put out my hand to press the button on the top of the gadget and heard a plop as the machine fell heavily to the carpet. No, no, no! It was still beeping away, if possible, even more loudly than before.
I tried the pillow technique to drown out the noise. It involved using your top (and thereby favourite) pillow tightly covering your face and muffling the noise to a bearable volume. However, breathing was constricted during this technique - gasping for breath only added to my frustration all the more. I threw the pillow to one side with irritation.
The damn thing was still bleeping noisily away. Even falling haphazardly and lying on its side in an undignified heap, there was no stopping it.
Sighing, I realised the only way I was going to silence it was to either (a) stamp on it until the noise stopped or (b) get down to ground level and press the button.
I decided on Plan B. Plan A would only cost me as I would need to replace the alarm clock. Plan B only involved movement, but it felt like my body was made of bricks as I sat up with my head firmly in my hands. I slithered out of my duvet like a trembling snake and swung my legs over the edge of the bed.
This was it. Crunch time. My eyes were crusted with sleep and my yawns immense. I finally put my feet onto the floor and stood up shakily. I took a feeble step forward towards the offending noise and that was when I stepped on the alarm clock.
Crap! Irritation notched up another degree as I saw the mass of plastic beneath my clomping feet. Plan A after all, then. The noise had stopped, but I made a mental note to buy another alarm clock during my work break. I limped out of my bedroom and into the bathroom, my savage attack on the alarm clock leaving my poor innocent foot strangely painful and achy.
I turned on the light, as was my habit. It was an extremely dark bathroom and saw next to no light. I think that was because the window looked out onto the building next door and no sun could ever penetrate that structure. Cursing and wincing as my foot throbbed, I took a good long and hard look at myself in the mirror located just over a white sink.
I'd definitely seen better days. My eyes were thick with sleep and my skin looked sallow and pale. Must have been the office party last night that had done me in. Too much vodka. Always, too much vodka. And you know what the worst part is? I've woken like this many, many times before swearing the same thing - never again.
'Never Again' is what people always say after a night of heavy drinking. Head pounding, throwing up in a toilet bowl - the vow comes easily. Please let this go away and I'll never touch another drop. I promise. The Oath of the Drunken Damned. It only lasts one day, normally. Two if it's a particularly bad hangover.
Today, I feel nauseous but I haven't thrown up. My throat is dry and my mouth feels like a desert. As I get to brushing my teeth, I wouldn't be surprised if sand started coming out like a sealed pyramid breached by minty freshness. The brushing takes longer than I would have liked. I am staring at myself in the mirror whilst brushing and I go off into a little fantasy world.
By the time I'm back, my mouth feels like a sky breeze. My tongue is zinging with the minty sweetness and I feel more awake. I brush the eye sleep out of the corners and lean closer to observe my reflection.
Brown hair, check. Green eyes, check. Thin and depressingly small features, check. My nose looks like its radioactive, it's so red. Yes, it's definitely me. For a moment, I daydream that I am a famous attractive woman like Angelina Jolie. I bet she never wakes up and sees such an oppressive sight staring back at her.
Stumbling back, foot still aching, I turn on the shower and step in with a small satisfied grunt. The hot steamy water feels amazing on my skin, and after a good scrubbing and rubbing, I emerge to face the day.
My shift at the hospital starts at just after lunch. I'm a receptionist at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. To get to work I use the subway which drops me on the same block as my workplace. It's a crazy busy job and I'm doing a double shift - which means my day ends at just after midnight.
I get dressed, slightly more awake now, and stumble out of my apartment. One of the apartments in my building has official police tape around the door and I curiously walk past - wondering what has happened now. Our building is a target for thieves and some seriously bad stuff happens sometimes. We've had shoot-outs, drug nests, all sorts.
The elevator is located down the hall, and I stumble towards it in a dazed manner. I hit the button on the wall and wait for my ride to arrive. I stand there impatiently, tapping my still aching foot.
I look back at the door covered in police tape. My mind wanders as I think of all the strange things that have happened in my apartment building over the years.
I had only just moved in, nearly five years ago, when I saw my first incident. I had been throwing trash bags down the chute when I saw one of my neighbours - James something - slam shut the door on his heavily pregnant girlfriend. I could see the gleam of metal in his hand - shit, a gun - and I quickly hurried back to my own apartment and called the police. James had realised quickly that his girlfriend was not about to open the door to her violent partner and started shooting randomly around the hallway. He must have been on drugs, his eyes were wide and dilated, and his aim was definitely off. I think he meant to hit the door, but ended up hitting everything but.
The police arrived shortly and there was a short standoff between drug addled man and cops. After a while, James gave up and tossed the gun onto the floor. The cops were on him like flies on a shit heap. Handcuffed and taken away, I finally emerged from my apartment like a butterfly from a cocoon. Some of the other apartments opened up and wide-eyed spectators came out gradually.
James's pregnant girlfriend had opened the door fearfully and talked to the police for some time. It was clear she wasn't going to press charges against her boyfriend. He held a certain power over her, and she was too frightened to tell the cops anything.
Within a week, she was dead, baby and all. James had been charged by the cops and believed it was his girlfriend who had turned him in. He sent his brother, a notorious member of the mob, to finish her off.
That wasn't the last incident in our building. It was the first of many. Crime was getting out-of-hand; the local law enforcement was struggling to maintain order. It was all over the news at the time - reported by our own star April O'Neil - local reporter who got in at the thick of everything. She disappeared from television some years ago, to be honest, she was probably bumped off.
There were the oddities too - the weird stuff that happened every now and again. There were a few people in the block - total oddballs - who believed aliens were visiting New York and using the rooftops to observe humanity. They spoke of shadowy figures and green men appearing and disappearing as if they were shadows or tricks of the light.
I didn't believe in any of that stuff. New York has its fair share of legend, and none of it was ever proved true. There were always myths - crocodiles in the sewer stuff mainly. I didn't pay much attention to it at all.
Suddenly, the 'ping' of the elevator distracted me from my internal thoughts and my mind focused on one thing. Get to work.
Sighing, I put all the mystery and crime out of my mind and made my daily journey as if I were a zombie. At least I wasn't the only zombie - half of New York looked like extras from Dawn of the Dead today. I made my way through the crowds and found myself at the entrance to Lenox Hill Hospital. It's amazing how I can put myself on autopilot and seek this place out without thinking.
The day went as normal, which I had expected. I stopped for a light dinner at five and had an extremely moist tuna bagel, which fell apart as I was eating it. I was on autopilot until I was truly awake - which was early evening. For some reason, the sleepiness just wouldn't lift.
Day turned to night. I felt exhausted when I finally left just after one-thirty in the morning. It was later than planned, but one of my work colleagues had to leave early. She had a bad cold and was leaving mucus all over the office - not a good thing to do when you're supposed to be in a sterile environment. After eleven, Sarah Sneezy was forced home with a "don't come back till you're well" reprimand and I was on my own to cover her shift.
The night was strangely quiet. Unusually I wouldn't brave the subway at this time of night. My first instinct was to call a cab, but my brain was foggy with over-work and I stumbled down to the station with my eyes permanently teared up. Damn it. I hoped I wasn't catching the cold - it had been circulating the office for weeks now, taking out employees like an unbiased lightning bolt landing on the unfortunate few. My head was thumping and light shapes frolicked before my wet eyes. Migraine. Perfect.
The platform was as quiet as I had ever seen it. Checking the digital information screen, it informed me with mocking accuracy that the train would be fifteen minutes. Then, to torment me further, a little clock was counting down my misery, second by second.
I walked around the platform trying to keep warm. It was a surprisingly cold night, and I felt a chill shudder through me. I thought of the phrase, it feels like someone is walking over my grave, and nothing else seemed so fitting, so apt.
I was on my continual fidget around the platform, when I spied a man in a trench coat standing eerily still, simply watching me.
"Hello?" My heart was thumping furiously with fear. He didn't move. He simply stood there silently. The chilling feeling continued to abuse me, sucking me into a desperate emotion that had my flight or fight response kicking in.
No answer. I wondered if he had heard me. If he had, surely he would respond? I edged forward and focused my blurry wet eyes on his image. He was quite tall, at least six foot if not more. I couldn't see his face under the fedora, but I could see two big, bright blue eyes gazing at me intently.
I heard a sudden commotion and turned to see a gang of several youths enter the subway station. My fear intensified as I realised they were drunk, or high, or both. I turned back to look at the mysterious stranger, but the platform on which he had stood was empty. I quickly moved myself to a more shadowy part of the platform, behind a pillar just for good measure.
"Hey, baby!" The voice of one of the youth's echoed around the chilly place, adding to my already blossoming feeling of doom. "We see ya!"
I gulped. Scanning the platform, I tried to find Trench Coat, but to no avail. He had disappeared completely from view, and left me alone to deal with these low life's. Thanks a lot.
I stayed frozen to the spot. I couldn't see the train information from here, but I knew I still had a good ten minutes to go before the next train would arrive. Ten minutes. What the hell would they do to me in that time? I gulped and felt myself breathing erratically. Calm down, I told myself. The little inner voice was logical and reasoning. You have to be prepared to fight or to run. They are high and drunk - their movements will be impaired. Trust yourself. You can do this.
I stayed very still and waited. The youths were making whooping noises and kicking trash cans over. I heard the hissing of a spray can and realised they were unloading graffiti all over the movie posters adorning the walls. Little shits.
"I'm talkin' to you!" Suddenly, a seriously tattooed and pierced young male was standing in front of me. He had jumped out at me from behind the pillar and was revelling in my terror. Both of his hands were on either sides of my head and his face was inches from my own. His breath smelled of bad things - rotting teeth and fish. The alcohol staining his mouth failed to stop the utter reek of his breath. I turned away, horrified.
"Please, let me go?" Was that me? That scared mousey little sound? I couldn't believe that pathetic little noise came from my own mouth.
Bad Breath cackled and kissed me full on the lips to my utter disgust. I felt that horrible mouth close over my own and his slug of a tongue invade my mouth. I retched violently.
Suddenly, his mouth was gone. I had closed my eyes in horror, and cracked open an eye to see Trench Coat standing in front of me. He had a long weapon in his hand, sharp and dangerous. Shit, a frickin' sword! This freak had a frickin' sword in his hand! And that hand ... that hand, it seemed ... wrong. The colour of it. Was he wearing gloves? Maybe green leather gloves?
My mind screamed with the impossibility of the situation. I gawped at my freakish saviour, watching as Bad Breath circled him, trying to get back to me. That was it. I leant over and vomited - and half digested tuna bagel came back up to haunt me. I retched several times until my stomach was completely empty and then retched some more for good measure. By the time I had stopped heaving, my tummy was sore and stretched. My eyes were weeping furiously and I blinked and turned.
Trench Coat was gone. Bad Breath was unconscious on the ground before me, sprawled uncomfortably. I came around the pillar and saw the rest of his gang either groaning with pain or as unconscious as their foul breathed leader.
I stumbled over to a bench and fell heavily upon it. I was crying now, the taste of Bad Breath still in my mouth, even over the vomit. Looking up, the world was hazy and unreal.
There in front of me was Trench Coat. He stood; his hands mercifully free of weapons and walked briskly up to me. Kneeling beside me, he wrapped a green-gloved maw around my own hands.
"Are you okay?"
I laughed suddenly, the stupidity of the question catching me off guard. Of course I wasn't okay.
"I think you're in shock."
No shit Sherlock. I was laughing and crying at the same time. I tried to look under the fedora but my vision was too blurred from the tears. I could see big blue eyes and nothing more.
"Where do you live?"
I snorted. As if I would give him that information.
"What is your name?"
It was becoming annoying. He was questioning me in a cold and calculated manner, like he'd done this hundreds of times before. I coughed and it became a fit. He held onto my shoulders with a firm grip until I finally slumped into his arms.
The last thing I saw before I lost consciousness was his big eyes, the fedora and trench coat, and the two big green mitts. I must have been seeing things, three fingers? Three big green fingers - and, holy shit, were those nails at the end? Those were no gloves ...
And I was gone.