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When I finally recognized and embraced its presence, I was plagued by it. It leeched off of me like a parasite, wrapped around my waist and sucking at the back of my neck. I’m always the only one who can see it. I could have told people about it, but I usually didn’t. This made it grip me tighter.

It crawled into my ears at night and weaved in and out of my dreams. Though, in the beginning, it wasn’t that it was scary. It was more the weight of carrying it around. It tugged at my mind and body all the time. It was a sopping-wet serpent, jet black and radiating with dread.

A couple months later, I sort of got used to its presence. I figured out how to work around it, and sometimes I forgot about it being there entirely. Its grip loosened, until finally, its hold broke, and it resigned to gingerly trail behind me. I would look back to see it following me, or sitting at the foot of my bed as I slept.

After it let go of me, it looked different. It oozed with a slight, odorless, grey smoke as it moved. It had eyes now. They looked like my eyes, and when I looked behind me at it following me, it locked eyes with me instantly. It had a challenge in its glare, as if it could latch back on to me at any point, but it was waiting for an invitation.

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It was present, but without it latched firmly across my torso, I forgot about it even sooner. Several months passed, and I realized I hadn’t seen it in a while. A couple weeks? Maybe four? I hadn’t even really thought about it.

My encounters with it dwindled as more months passed. Sometimes, the thought of it crossed my mind, but I absentmindedly shifted my attention. Sometimes, I would look behind me, see it following me, and watch it stop as I kept moving forward. It would just stare at me. Sometimes, I would turn around, and it would be gone.

Life went on. Things were actually going really well. I was busy. My days were full. The time when it dominated my everyday life was past, though it hadn’t completely dissipated, either.

I would see it in weird spots. I’m at work, and it’s perched up across the room. I’m home alone on a Saturday night watching TV, and it quietly appears on top of my fridge. This time it has my face. The features are exaggerated—the face is bloated and saggy; it has blotchy skin; its eyes are bloodshot; it’s kind of smirking, and some of its teeth are broken or missing.

It gives off a similar, benign energy as when it followed me around and stared, but with an aggressive slant. This time, the appearances are fleeting. It taunts me with a cameo and disappears five seconds later as I blink my eyes. It is hyper-present in a dream that I immediately push out of my brain as I wake up, wash my face, and leave for work.

Sometimes, I still see it in out in public or in my apartment as the jet black serpent, neutrally staring at me from across the room with my eyes with a sort of humor, a challenge. Still, I haven’t had it leech back onto my body, dragging down my spirit and legs as I walk.

I examine its expression, its demeanor, the few jarring appearances with its drooping, daunting half-grin, knowing that given my permission, it might find a home in my body again.

We’ve figured out how to exist with one another. It will be with me, will grow and change with me, as it already has. I see it less often. Some appearances feel off-putting, others I welcome warmly.

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I had a dream, maybe three weeks ago, that it was wrapped around my neck and waist again, but I was an older person. I had a frail body, and I didn’t have the strength I once did to work past its grip.

I woke up, heart pounding, and saw it staring at me in the corner across from my bed.

I shuffled over to it, careful to control my breathing, and stared into its eyes. The bloodshot eyes and sunken face staring back at me had gone from the aggressive, light smirk to a small, open-mouthed frown. We stared at each other, and the look in its eyes had changed. I pitied it. I empathized with it, wanted to console it.

I brought my hand beside its head, and a clump of hair fell out. It looked at me with the same, melancholic expression. I got up and turned around, chugged a glass of water, used the bathroom, and laid back down.

I took the clump of hair in my hand and put it in a metal tin laying in the headboard of my mattress frame. When I looked back, it wasn’t sitting in the corner anymore.

I haven’t seen it since, but I know I’ll see it again.