I walked down the abandoned street. The trees stood like skeletal sentries all around, their fallen leaves whispering and ruffling in the winds that seemed to chill me to my bones. The last light was falling away, leaving me alone at the mercy of the silver veiled moon that sneered at me from above, casting shadows of ghosts in the corners of my eyes.
I walked on, wrapping my arms tightly around myself, trying to still the tremors that had less to do with the cold, and more to do with my overactive imagination. I saw a shadow in a path of rustled leaves and spun to catch it before it slipped from my vision. Too late. It was gone. I heard a hiss and slither behind me and spun to face the threat, but there was nothing. I sped my pace near to a run, but not quite.
Shadows and voices played with my head...the call of an owl, the distorted echo of laughter, the snap of a twig close by, the brush of a hand through the ends of my hair. My breath came in ragged bursts as paranoia and terror tightened their grips in my chest. I ran, speeding carelessly down the worn pavement.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, where my last bit of reason sits drinking tea, I know that I'm probably overreacting. “It wasn't a hand”, said Reason, raising the cup to her lips, “It was just a little branch, that's all”, and she sipped.Still I ran. I didn't really care what it was, just that it was behind me now. All I wanted to do was to get home...away from it, and the cold, and the shadows, and whispers....behind a locked door and surrounded by home.
I heard a scream nearby, and my blood turned to ice in my veins. I felt bile rising in my throat, but reason shook my head. It was probably just an animal. Then I felt, rather than saw, the shadow pass over my shoulder like a veil made of frost. Reason was thrown out the window as panic started to choke me. Tears blurred my eyes as the scream started to build in my throat. My chest felt about ready to burst with my heart pounding erratically inside it. My lungs seemed to have stopped working altogether as my head started to swim with the lack of oxygen.
The scream sounded again, only closer than before. I froze. There! I saw something in that rustle of leaves ahead of me, concealed in the shadows. I tried to swallow the air that stuck in my throat, taking a step back as my entire body became paralyzed with tremors. Streams of magma swirled in my gut as I waited for this moment of eternal terror to end.
Too soon! A flash of black and orange burst at me from the shade. I screamed, whatever spell I was under finally broken. My scream echoed back at me as I stared down at the two cats screeching and tumbling in a flurry of teeth and claws on the sidewalk. A calico, sleek and pristine and obviously someone's pet with it's neon green collar, a black cat, scarred and ragged with chunks of torn out fur, a missing right ear, and a blind left eye. They growled and flailed as they fought. Kicking, scratching, and squalling until the calico cat shot out, ran across the street, and disappeared back into the shadows. I felt a strange, airless jerking in my chest and my eyes watered under the pressure, tears running down my cheeks. I was laughing, I realized. I bent forward as my chest constricted and ribs cramped up. I managed to take in a lungful of air as the terror melted away into relief and silly embarrassment. I straightened up, wiping the water from my eyes, the last bit of slightly crazed laughter falling out as I tried to catch my breath.
When I looked up, I noticed the black cat staring at me. His good eye glowing orange with the moonlight reflected in it, and his blind eye glaring through me with a color like liquid silver. We locked eyes for a moment, the cat and I, and, for some reason, I couldn't seem to look away until he did. I frowned at the ground as I started to walk by. I looked back to see the mangy little creature just sitting there cleaning his paw.
Distracted as I was, looking behind me, I didn't see the man until I bumped into him.“Oh, sorry”, I said as I stumbled back after knocking him off the sidewalk. He didn't respond or acknowledge me in any way. He didn't even look at me, just continued walking across the street as if that had already been his intention. I stared after him for a second, then shook my head and continued walking.
I ignored the sounds and shadows, smirking at my idiotic self for letting my mind run away from me before. I felt the burn of eyes on the back of my head. When I turned to look nothing was there, even the man was gone. Where? I have no idea. The little splinter of terror that still stuck in my chest made me wary of the way he seemed to just disappear, but I smiled to myself and said that I was just being paranoid. I heard the wind for what it was, not something dark and sinister lurking in the shadows, just the wind. It wasn't the shuffle of a boot, just the scraping of a dried leaf on the pavement. The chill that ran down my spine, that was just from the cold, night air. That's it. That's all. I'll feel better once I get home. I rounded the corner to my street and walked to my driveway.
My house is a bit away from the crowded neighborhood and sits a little farther back from the road then most houses around here. Tall trees arch over the winding driveway and surround the clearing where the house sits, which is one of the reasons I like it. When you start walking down the path, the world seems to fall away behind you as you enter a beautiful, enchanted forest. Now it feels more like a haunted forest.
As I turned onto the path, I happened to glance behind me. I thought I saw a figure standing at the corner watching me, but when I looked again there was nothing. I took a deep breath, releasing the tension in my throat, and chuckled to myself again. It was nothing. Just a trick of the light and shadows. Nothing more. I walked down the path, the wind blowing through my hair and ruffling through the leaves behind me.
I climbed the steps to the porch and dug out my key to unlock the door. The lock opened with a click and I walked inside, quickly closing the door to the shivers and shadows with a sigh. I locked the door, slid the chain into place, and turned the deadbolt home.
I turned up the thermostat and hung up my jacket before walking into the kitchen. I flicked on the light and walked to the sink to fill the kettle. A tree outside the window scraped against the glass. The shape of it in the shadows, distorted by the glare from the light, almost made it look like a hand. Although I knew it wasn't, it still unsettled me a little bit. I closed the blinds and set the kettle on the stove to boil.
I went into the living room with my mug of chamomile and honey tea and put on some soft, gentle piano music. I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and curled up on the sofa with a book. Every sip I took, I could feel warmth coming back, warming my fingers and toes, and melting away my nervousness. I closed my eyes and listened to the soft music, the warm mug still held in my hands. I hummed and smiled softly in contentment. I imagined drifting on a still and quiet water, full of lilies and sweet flower petals. The sound of birdsong filled the air all around me. I opened my eyes to see them drifting above me, flocks of singing angels smiling down at me from the air. I stared up at them with wide eyes as they laughed, a sound as soft as their feathers. My hands reached up to them as they drifted close to the water, but just before I could touch, something beneath the surface of petals wrapped it's slimy fingers around my ankle and pulled me under the water.
I was jerked unceremoniously out of the sleep I didn't known I'd fallen into. The dream quickly fading from my memory. I shifted in my seat and rubbed my eyes. There was a soft thud as my empty mug fell to the carpeted floor. I groaned and stretched out the kink in my neck, wondering what woke me. I remember something did, a sound, a creak at the door, or a knock on the roof.
I looked out the window to see the wind rocking through the trees as the storm, that had been hovering all day finally decided to move in. The wind probably blew a loose branch down, I decided. Then I heard it again... a bang... somewhere near the front of the house! Maybe near the front door? I slowly stood up and walked to the dark hallway, my socks sliding onto the cold, hardwood floor. I couldn't see very well out the frosted glass window with the darkness behind it. But, in a lightning flash, I thought I saw the shadow of a figure standing there. With a gasp and shiver, I rushed forward and checked the locks, trying to slide the chain, and turn the deadbolt, further than either could possibly go, before slowly backing away. My hands shook as they clutched the edges of the blanket to my collarbone.
I hummed to myself, frowning. It was nothing. Just paranoia and my tired mind playing tricks on me. I walked back into the living room, ignoring the chill at the back of my neck. I picked up my used mug and brought it into the kitchen to wash, the floorboards creaking softly as my weight shifted over them. I dried my mug with the dishcloth and put it away in the cupboard.
Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, the electricity flickered and died. I stood there in silence, waiting for my eyes to adjust and my heart to slow. I huffed out a quiet breath before carefully making my way up the stairs. I knew I had some candles in my room, and a flashlight in my nightstand drawer.
I turned on the flashlight and went to my closet to dig out some candles. I jumped at a booming roar of thunder, then heard the clash of breaking glass downstairs.
I stopped...stopped thinking...stopped breathing. My heart stopped beating, if only for a second. I listened. I listened to the rumble of thunder in the ground. I listened to the creaking of the trees by my window. I listened to the whistling of the wind through the house. I felt the fresh, icy currents race up the stairs and into my room just to chill my back and raise goosebumps on my skin. I walked slowly out of my room, candles forgotten, and shone the light at the stairs as I made my way down.
The third step popped as my weight left it, and sent my heart into my throat. I paused and swept my flashlight across the room. Nothing seemed out of place. I rounded the wall and saw the window in the study bashed in with a dead limb hanging onto the windowsill, and I sighed in relief. My breath coming easy now that I knew what it was. Then I heard the creak of the floorboards behind me.
I spun with my light, choking on air and terror. “Hello, who's there!?” I demanded. I almost felt dumb for shouting, but if there really is someone in my house then I want them to know I know they're here. They would've already known where I was anyway, what with me waving my light around and everything.
I listened, but didn't hear anything else for a moment.
“I know you're there!” I said, “And I want you out of here now! Before I call the police!” At this, I heard a commotion in the hall as whoever it was knocked over the table, the vase of flowers smashing to the floor. I hurried out of the room, shining my light that way to see the edge of their form disappearing behind the wall into the living room.
I hurried down the hall with my back against the wall, and into the kitchen. I quickly swept the room to check that I was alone, and grabbed for the phone. The line was dead. I desperately thumbed the buttons, praying. But, it was dead, and I'd left my cellphone upstairs in my bedroom.
I set the phone on the counter. My eyes were pulled up to the knives sitting there on the counter, and as my hand grasped the handle...it just felt so surreal.
The blade shook in my hand as I walked out of the kitchen and towards the stairs. I was terrified, and I tried to think of that as a good thing. I remembered reading somewhere that terror makes a person dangerous, because you can't predict what they might do. So I tried to think of that as an advantage if I had to face the intruder. There is little more dangerous than fear with a weapon.
I bolted up the stairs and into my room, sweeping the light over the room before slamming the door and locking it behind me. I dove for my phone lying on the bed as I heard the sound of stomping footsteps bounding up the stairs and toward my room.
I dialed 911, kneeling on my bedroom floor as he beat against the door.
“911, what's your emergency?”
“Theh-hare's somebody-in my-h-house.” I choked in panic, sobbing and on the verge of passing out. I heard a crack as the door began to splinter on it's hinges, and I forced my shaking legs to carry me into the bathroom. I closed and locked the door, leaning against it as I slid to the floor.
“He's beating down the door!” I sobbed. “I don't know what he wants! I don't know what to do!” I told her my address.
“Okay, calm down. They're on the way. Where are you?”
“I'm locked in the upstairs bathroom,”
“Are there any windows or means of escape?” asked the woman.
“Do you have any means of defense?”
“I...” I paused as I realized, “I had a kitchen knife, but I left it in the bedroom.” I stood up, thinking I could go and grab it real quick, but then I heard the bedroom door slam open and I went back down to the ground.
“He's in the bedroom,” I whispered into the phone, hands shaking, heart pounding, tears washing down my face. And all I heard was silence.
“Hello?” I whispered into the phone. There was no response. I took the phone away from my ear, but the screen didn't light up. “No. No, please no.” I whispered as I held the power button. The screen came on for a second before flashing the low battery signal and shutting down again. I let it drop to the floor as I stared at nothing for a moment.
I heard a scraping by the door. I stood up and pulled on the doorknob as hard as I could, desperate to keep that barrier between us.
“I called the cops! They're on the way here right now!” I yelled in warning.
The scraping sound stopped, and it was silent.
I waited, and listened for some kind of sound, a huff of breath, a whisper of movement, Anything!
It was silent.
Still grasping the doorknob, I pressed my ear against the door, still, I heard nothing. It wasn't a good feeling sitting in the pit of my stomach.
Slowly, I let go of the door, bent down and picked up the useless phone off the floor, and turned the lock on the door. It opened with a click.
With a soft creak, the door swung out into the dark bedroom. I stepped out into the room, grabbing my flashlight from where I'd left it on the floor.
I walked around my bed, making it an obstacle between me and whoever could be waiting outside the door, as I shone my light out into the hallway.
I felt relieved at seeing nothing. Then I heard an odd whistle on my left, behind the bathroom door. I shone my light over, my breath shaking in my chest.
My bones turned to stone as he stepped out of the shadows, my knife held in his gloved hand, light reflecting in the blade. It was the same man I'd bumped on the sidewalk.
My back was against the wall. I couldn't move, I had nowhere to go. He stepped towards me. I heard the sound of sirens approaching in the distance but, with him only a step away,
I couldn't think they would get here in time.