• You know He’s watching you. He’s always watching you. You won’t ever get away from him, Mari. You tell Velna, the voice you’ve heard for ages, to be quiet, and she floats silently away. Velna’s not a Watcher. You know this because she was with you Here until Argos came to take her There. You remember that day perfectly. You and Velna were talking, as always, about the Watchers. You were the only two who knew that They were always watching. Rather, there was one Watcher for every two children under the age of eighteen. Either way, you and Velna figured out that you were being watched. It was the sole topic of conversation for at least three months. Then, while you moved on with life, Velna became obsessed with the Watchers, paranoid.

    You were going to her house for the weekend to prepare for the annual Renaissance Ball. You’d been lucky enough to find not only a date, but also a beautiful period dress from the early 19oo’s. Velna hadn’t been at school to talk about dresses. You ran your finger across the scanner and the house recognized you, greeting you stonily as the sidewalk started to move forward. You let it carry you into the house, watching the cement turn effortlessly into carpet as you crossed the threshold. You could hear the music coming from the West Wing: Velna’s hall. You stepped off the moving floor and walked down the hall to West Wing. Velna preferred to live old fashioned, so there was no Floating Floor when you reached the beginning of West Wing.

    “Nai-li!” You knew she couldn’t hear you over the music when you reached the door. You felt the vibrations under your feet as you pushed open the door. Velna’s back was to you, and she was shuddering. You didn’t know whether it was because of the bass in the music or the temperature in the room. Velna liked it cold. You tapped her on the shoulder, careful not to step on the train of her white dress. She looked like a princess straight out of the fairy tales you’ve heard about: Cinderella. She turned around, the train of the dress whipping around your ankles before it settled. Though she was smiling, you saw her pain, felt her paranoia.

    She looked exquisite from the neck down, adorned in the neon plastic bracelets and necklaces the two of you had made at ColorFest the year before. It was her face that scared you, made you wonder. It was her face that makes you remember that They’re watching you, that He’s always watching you. Her eyes were sunken and cold, a dim blue compared to the icy liquid blue that they usually were. She looked like a skeleton. There was no color to her cheeks. She was pale, ghostly in her stark white Cinderella dress. The color of her accessories only served to make her look deader, more afraid. “Mari,” she breathed in a tinkling voice. You couldn’t hear her over the music, but you saw her lips moving. You made to turn off the stereo, trying to remember how to turn it off. Things like stereos had gone out of fashion in 2o5o. Everyone listens to the Music In Their Heads…probably to forget that they’re being watched. Velna only shook her head, so you froze.

    “I know who He is,” she whispered, and again you strained to make out the words she was mouthing. You knew what she was talking about, though. It was the one thing she’d talked about, obsessed over, for the past three months. You blinked, nodding for her to go on. Tears splashed down her cheeks, tears you hadn’t noticed in her once vivid eyes. “He’s always watching. I can’t do anything by myself anymore.” Slowly, she was getting louder, getting more psychotic, more manic, more panicked. The music was being drowned out as Velna began to scream her pain at you. “I can’t even breathe without Him knowing how much I breathed and when I’ll let it out! I’m trapped, and I need to find a way out!”

    Her voice lost all inflection as she inched back down to the dull whisper that was muddled by the intensity of the music, a violin tearing across its strings over Velna’s lifeless words. “I remember in Cultural Studies they told us how animals used to get caught in traps. You remember, right, Mariposa?” She only used your full name when she was serious. You nodded, throat dry. You couldn’t have said anything if you wanted to. “They chewed off their limb until they were free.”

    Then, she was laughing, the tears still rolling thick and plentiful down her face. If Velna wasn’t careful, she’d stain her dress. That was the thought that blew through your mind. All you cared about was her dress. How insensitive a child you used to be. Your thoughts quickly turned to panic, though, as Velna pulled out a gun. You knew she had one; she collected antiques. “Nai-li, put it down!” You screeched over the sound of the harpsichord in the background, needing to be heard. Velna kept on laughing and cocked the gun.

    She shivered again as the cool metal touched her temple. I know what she was thinking. She didn’t want to be watched anymore. “I’m gnawing off the useless part of me, Mari,” she admitted peacefully, the tears stopping as a watery smile danced across her lips. The color was finally returning to her cheeks, and her eyes were livid, flashing as she licked her lips for her grand finale. You knew that she had always been a drama queen. She paused the music, and the silence jarred you. You wished it was still playing, because the silence was deafening. You took a step to her, and she pushed the gun tighter against her skull. You froze, a hand extended.

    “To be or not to be? That is the question. Hamlet had it right, you know, Mari? He had it all figured out, but that [********] didn’t have it in him to pull the trigger.” Velna’s voice was edging toward hysteria again, and it was all the more grating when there was no music to calm you. You hadn’t realized that the music had been keeping the tears in your eyes from falling. “He thought too much. All he had to do was kill Claudius, and then he’d have everything: a mother, a wife, the throne, revenge. He just had to keep thinking. He couldn’t pull the trigger because he was scared.

    “He was afraid that someone was going to find out what he was up to. But that’s the funny part, Mariposa: everybody already knew.” Anger. She was mad at a fictional character! “Hamlet had no secrets because of his filthy uncle. He was the Watcher, Mari, a filthy ******** pervert. That’s what Argos is. He’s a pervert who gets off on watching all of our lives go to s**t while he sits back and enjoys the show. Guess what, Mari.” She had no intention of going on until you answered her question.

    “What?” You croaked the word, barely able to stay standing. Your world was caving in, and it was all you could think about. Without Velna, you would be nothing, you were nothing. You forgot, though, that even with her, you were nothing.

    “I’m Hamlet!” Then she was giddy with her discovery, taking a moment to laugh. She shook with glee, the gun quivering in her hand. She couldn’t contain her euphoria as she went on, giggling through the rest of her own morbid soliloquy. “But guess what else!” She paused, as if telling you to answer, but she went on before you could form an appropriately coherent response. “I’m. Not. Scared.” Hatred filled her voice, hatred for the one person who controlled everything about her, hatred for me.

    The gunshot rang out before you had a chance to scream, and blood splattered and stained the Cinderella fairy tale of a dress. You could still see her hysterical smile as she crumpled to the floor. After a moment, you ran.

    Now, you’re here again, walking home. It’s time for ColorFest again, but you plan on sitting home, listening to Velna’s thoughts. She’s not haunting you, exactly, but she’s your guidance. She tells you that I’m watching. She tells you the things that drove her over the edge, but you always tell her to shut up. Don’t you know what I can make her make you do? You really are a horrible friend, Mari, but don’t worry. I’ll get you some day, and you won’t even know I’m watching then. But not now.

    No, for now, I’ll let you believe that the thoughts in your head are Velna’s thoughts. It seems to comfort you, and I take pleasure in knowing that I can toy with your mind. I want to give you comfort, Mari, pump you full of falso hope and security, then pull it all away when you think that I, The Watchman, am not looking. Don’t you ever think that, you silly girl. I am everywhere, and I am everything.

    And Velna is right, my dear, disbelieving Mariposa: I am always watching.