It was innocent enough at first. Waking up that morning, I yawned, stretched, and rubbed my eyes– I winced as something scraped against my sensitive eyelids and looked at my hand. A sticker.
A sticker? A weird bar code serial number. How did it get on my hand? Had I accidentally rubbed it off of a shirt? Did any of my shirts have serial number stickers? Shrugging, I peeled it off without a thought, stuck it on my desk, and did my usual morning rituals as I got ready for the day.
When I was back home, back in bed and ready to sleep later that night, I noticed the sticker on my desk once more. Ah, that’s right; that had happened earlier this morning, hadn’t it? And with only that thought in mind, my eyelids began to droop, my mind getting heavier and heavier. I yawned, and drifted off.
Waking up that next morning, I yawned, stretched, and rubbed my eyes– and was met with a familiar uncomfortable feeling. Looking down at my hand, I saw the familiar sticker from the day before. I glanced over to the spotless desk, and looked at my hand quizzically. Perhaps… perhaps I had moved around in my sleep, and my hand picked it back up, somehow. I shrugged. It was easier not to think about it.
Except that wasn’t what had happened. I threw the sticker in the trash can that day. I even gave into the silly worry and checked it before I went to sleep to be sure. Still in the trash, yes. I yawned as I tucked myself back into bed, fading away before my head hit the pillow. I thought I was fine when I woke up the next morning, but went to wash my face and noticed something… a sticker out the corner of my eye, right above my elbow. The same serial number. I went back to the trash can, dumped out all the trash and couldn’t seem to find the sticker. I couldn’t find the sticker I had supposedly thrown away, the one that had somehow made its way back onto my elbow.
I tried everything that I could in the following days. The sticker stopped appearing on my hands. It started appearing on my upper arm, the back of my knee, the back of my shoulders… it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the sticker each morning, and I began wasting more and more time trying to find it. I tried to find better places to throw it away, to hide it. Always within my place. I tried to throw it away outside one time, but couldn’t rest until I confirmed where it was before I fell asleep and wound up taking a trip outside at 2 AM. It became a nightly ritual of sorts. I’d make sure the sticker was where I left it in the morning, and fall asleep immediately after. I was getting so tired as of late. The sticker business was exhausting me. My days passed by so slowly, my mind preoccupied and constantly yearning to make it back home and make sure the sticker was still there, at which point I’d feel even… slower, even more exhausted, so tired I just had to sleep after a long day…
I was running late that morning. I hadn’t been able to find the sticker for well over an hour, and I resigned myself to find it later and salvage what I could of my morning. As I went to wash my face, I noticed the sticker, right there. Right on my face, right on my cheek. Right below my left eye. I leaned in close to the mirror and touched it carefully. The same serial number. How hadn’t I noticed it… earlier? Surely my face was always the first place I'd see, that I'd check.
From then on, it was always on my left cheek, right below my left eye. Yet, I would never find it until later. I’d always check my face first. Second. Third. Periodically as I searched everywhere else. But I’d never find it until I gave up and went to wash my face, and then it’d be right there, almost as if the sticker was taunting me, that familiar serial number already unwillingly ingrained into my memory.
Then, one day…it wasn’t. It wasn’t on my face at all, even after I had given up and washed my face. Nausea began to well up within me. Where was it? Where could it be? I– Oh. I peeled it off of my hand.
How silly. I hadn’t noticed it at all. I stuck it back onto my cheek. There, that was right.
Wait. No. I frowned and took it off of my cheek. What was that?
I shook my head and cleared my mind of troubling thoughts. It was easier not to think about it.
I woke up that next morning with the sticker yet again nowhere to be found. I felt that same sense of unease rise within me once more, I had to find the sticker, I needed that serial number, I needed it, I needed it, I – oh, phew. It was on my other hand this time. I let out a sigh of relief as I placed the sticker back on my cheek, back where it belonged…wai–, wait, wait no, I–
Knock, knock, knock.
My thoughts were briefly interrupted by knocking at my door. Without a second thought, I went to open it and saw my neighbor standing there at the entrance.
I stared at her blankly, a bit confused. She did the same, opening her mouth as if to ask something, maybe what she came here to ask, but instead…
“What…What’s that on your cheek?”
I froze. I had forgotten to take it off before I opened the door. It just felt so natural where it was. But…
“…You, you have something on your cheek too.” I whispered.
“Wait, I do?” Her voice sounded skeptical, maybe a bit of fear. She brought a hand up to her left cheek, touched her own sticker…also a serial number, just a bit different from mine. Her eyes lost their light. Her jaw slackened, her mouth now half open.
“Oh…I do…” Her voice sounded tired, empty. It sounded distant, almost cold, yet with a nagging familiarity as if I'd heard something like it every day. Hearing that voice sparked a heat inside of me.
“So…so do you…” She whispered.
Did I sound that far gone when I told her?
I brought a hand up to my cheek. I knew what I expected to feel. I knew what I expected to happen.
I touched my number gently.
And as my hand fell back to my side, my vision grew dark, even though my eyes were wide open. My muscles were heavy, I couldn’t move. I felt myself sleeping, fading away even while standing. I felt myself walking, without realizing, without my will, walking, walking towards, towards…
I slept, exhausted. It was easier not to think.