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Horror Suspense

Suddenly I was jolted awake in the dead of night by my pulse pounding in my ears as loudly as if I were beating my head against a wall. I wish my subconscious, having woken me, could clue me in to why I was awake and feeling a keen sense of danger. I opened my eyes, and saw nothing. The weather had been pretty bad for our whole trip, with dense, inky clouds blotting out the sky, and staunchly refusing to rain. Combined with the dense foliage of the trees standing close around our tent, not much light could reach us, even during the day. At night, you might as well just keep your eyes closed.

I lay still for a while in an attempt to calm myself. Although I couldn’t sense any immediate danger, the disquieting atmosphere was doing a number on my nerves. Deafened by the sound of my own heart and blinded by the empty darkness, for all I knew the tent could be gone, I could be lying on the forest floor, the fingers of tree branches inches away from my face, there could be a violent carnivorous beast unknown to science standing directly above me, savoring the moment of anticipation before it bites into my neck and feels my blood gushing into its mouth. Raegan was sleeping less than a foot away from me in our tiny tent, but for all I knew they could be gone, or dead, or holding a knife over my chest. All I could do to reassure myself was blindly trust that the world around me was the same one I saw and heard the moment before I fell asleep.

I waited several minutes for my pulse to stop racing, so I could possibly hear whatever woke me up. Eventually the pounding subsided, and I was greeted by absolute, desolate, silence. On previous nights I was struck by just how loud this forest could be at night. The cacophonous singing of bugs in all directions around us, the wind whistling through the trees, the rustling of leaves and scraping of branches and creaking of aging tree trunks, and the buzz of the distant highway. The amount of noise actually made it fairly difficult to fall asleep. Tonight though, it was as if the world outside had just ceased to exist. Could I have been misremembering? I wondered. The loudness of the forest had been so marked last night that it hardly seemed possible, but having no link to reality in my current sensory deprivation, I didn’t feel quite sure of anything. I listened to the silence as hard as I could, straining my perception for anything to reassure me that I was indeed in the same place where I fell asleep. I could hear the blood rushing through my head, and air passing in and out of my nose, I waited and waited for anything, a falling leaf, a subtle breeze, the breath of a sleeping bird, the footsteps of an ant on the taught fabric of the tent, the sound of bark growing, anything I could use to prove there was a forest outside of the tent. I searched to the very edges of my perception for anything that might be sound. At last I noticed a vanishingly faint humming, like that of an air conditioner, or maybe a leaf blower, but so weak and distant that I could only perceive it by focusing all of my attention on the sensation of hearing it. It sounded miles away. It didn’t sound like the forest. Maybe I was imagining it in my desperation. Maybe I had tinnitus.

My patience ran out and I suddenly sat up in my sleeping bag and lay my hands on the inside wall of the tent. I was startled by the raspy sound of polyester fabric scraping against itself when I moved. The sound was deafening next to the vacuous silence, and I winced in pain even as I felt a wave of relief upon feeling the tent exactly where I remembered it being. I felt safer knowing it was there, as thin and flimsy as it was, it offered a degree of protection from whatever was outside, if there really was anything outside.

“Are you awake?”

Raegan’s soft, sleepy voice went off like a gunshot in the tent, and I would have jumped out of my skin had I not been held in place by aversion to the sound of polyester. My blood was pounding in my ears again. Compared to the silence outside my heartbeat was deafening. Compared to my heartbeat, Raegan’s voice was apocalyptic.


I barely whispered, I barely breathed, but still it sounded like I had shouted, and my voice reflected off the walls of the tent and beat against my ears. I felt embarrassed. Nevertheless Raegan’s presence was reassuring. Anything familiar, any link to the reality I knew before I fell asleep was precious to me.

“It’s quiet”

They were whispering now too, though the sound still felt jarring and overbearing. I thought if we spoke too loudly, the tent would collapse from the reverberation.


It felt like I hadn't spoken at all, only just moved my tongue, only imagined exhaling a few molecules of air, but still I winced at the clumsy loudness of my voice. The comfort of speaking to another human only slightly outweighed the discomfort of the sound. I held perfectly still, my hand on the side of the tent, not wishing to make any more noise unless strictly necessary.

“Can you be woken up by a sudden silence?”


We talked slowly and carefully, waiting for the sound of our speech to dissipate fully before speaking again, being careful not to fill the tent with more sound than it can hold.

“Or maybe there was a noise outside, but it stopped.”

I didn’t want to think about that. If there was anything in these woods, it was certain it could hear us as clearly as if it were in the tent, even from miles away. I felt a sound could travel indefinitely, unobstructed, in a silence like this.

I searched for a less threatening explanation.

“Do bugs sleep at night?”

“I think they’re nocturnal.”

“Maybe it got too cold for them.”

“Birds stop singing when they see a predator.”

Clearly Raegan was not interested in finding a reassuring explanation. Their whispering voice was strained and shaky, but was it from emotion, or an effort to speak more quietly than was possible. No matter how faintly we whispered, the sound was harsh, and drowned out the silence of the outside completely, and left a ringing in my ears that lingered long after.

“Bugs aren’t that smart”

I exchanged nuance for brevity for the sake of our eardrums.

“There’s no wind”

Maybe they did sound scared after all. For my part, my pulse was beginning to grow loud again, obscuring the black silence. I ventured a joke to lighten the mood.

“What kind of animal preys on wind?”

The humor was stifled by the grating sound of my breathy delivery thundering in the tent.

“Maybe it preys on sound?”

Now I was convinced Raegan was trying to scare me. Maybe that was their idea of humor. I waited for the ringing in my ears to pass before deciding to play along.

“If that’s true, then—”


I winced in pain as the sound shot through my ears. My head filled with the sound of blood coursing through my body, I was almost shaking but still frozen in place, my hand against the wall of the tent.

I heard the sound of fabric shifting next to me, Raegan was slowly sitting up, and leaned in as close as they could, not being able to see. I began to hear their breath, and feel it on my cheek, and they spoke so faintly, they can’t have been breathing, but in the silence I could make out every horrible word.

“I think… someone’s listening.”

My heartbeat was deafening. I could feel it pounding against the inside of my chest, grasping and pulling on my innards, I felt as if I was being choked. I strained to hear the silence outside, for what felt like an eternity, aching for an end to the terrifying nothingness, and dreading what that end might mean.

Suddenly, next to my outstretched hand, inches away, I heard a raspy, hollow, breath.

October 07, 2023 15:13

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1 comment

Tom Skye
10:31 Oct 14, 2023

Really clever build up of tension good job. Nice work


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