By the time Dean Abernethy was thirteen the thing had been with him full time for five years and he had become quite accustomed to being shadowed by an apparition.
It had seen him blow out candles on six cakes, had diligently watched him sleep through countless nights, had seen him hit a game-winning grand-slam home run in tee ball, had witnessed him struggle endlessly in pain and embarassment over the largest bowel movent of his life up to then. At every notable triumph, every private shame, and every humdrum moment that he experienced, it endlessly, pointless, bore witness.
No one else ever looked at it, but by then he had reason to believe they knew it was there.
The house he grew up in had a large family room, and on the west side of that room was a hallway. This hallway was long and narrow and had doors at regular intervals on either side; a bathroom and two bedrooms on one side, another bathroom and another bedroom on the other, and a laundry room at the end of the hall. There were paintings hung between the doorways and three light fixtures spaced evenly on the ceiling.
Dean's father worked long shifts. Seeing each other had become a rare thing, having to squeeze past each other in that narrow hall of bedrooms and bathrooms even more rare. It happened when Dean was nine.
He and his father, going opposite directions, met in that hallway and were forced to squeeze past each other. The father gave his son's head a quick rub and then went on his way. Dean turned and watched. He didn't know why; it did not seem like something that required much thought before doing. Just a standard domestic encounter, a son watching his father. But as it happened, it became the beginning of a turning point in how he viewed the apparition.
Before going any further, it is important to explain that Dean's father was extraordinarily irritated whenever the paintings in that hallway had become nudged crooked. Suffice to say, Dean had spent a few nights in his room over such offenses.
So they crossed paths, Dean turned and looked. His father, having no obvious reason to do so, angled sideways and slid against the wall around the apparition. It was just as he'd done to get around Dean, but this time had nearly knocked a painting clear off the wall.
"Why did you do that?" Dean asked immediately, looking rather concerned.
"Do what?" His father said, raising an eyebrow.
"Why did you turn sideways just now?"
"Well, son--" his father answered. He seemed to consider it for a brief moment. "--My gonch was riding up. Why? Are you writing a book? Would you like a more detailed description?"
"No. I was just wondering," Dean said, and it was the truth. It seemed like a simple enough thing, an ordinary answer that made sense in an ordinary way. But Dean had seen something in his father's eyes. An unordinary quality in his father's expression that, put simply, did not belong in such an ordinary situation. They looked awkwardly at each other for a moment; Dean's father eventually broke the silence.
"Oh, you're worried about the painting! My boy, they are my paintings. If I want to break them, I may. You may not, because they are not yours." His father spoke with his usual paternal authority, but managed to lack his usual confidence.
"Okay Dad," Dean said, and began walking away. "I'm sorry."
"Not a problem, son. It is good that you appreciate my paintings. I thought I was the only one."
The apparition could not have been less concerned about the situation: As it has done since that night when Dean was seven, it only watched.