I wrote this short story back in 2012 when I lived in the beautiful Colorado mountains, and it remains one of my favorites. I tried to get it published in a variety of print media to no avail, and I have since made minor edits to it over the years. I decided to split it into two parts to make it a bit easier on you, my dear readers, and to perhaps elicit some type of suspense whilst waiting for the conclusion. Enjoy.
I opened my eyes.
It was still dark. I glanced at my clock. 12:17. I had to go to the bathroom. I yawned, scooted myself out the top of my tightly-tucked-in covers, and walked down the hallway to the bathroom.
I loved my new place. A cute two-bedroom, one bathroom log cabin at the edge of the forest on an acre of land with oodles of character such as hardwood floors that needed a good refinishing, a wood-burning stove in the living room, and some quasi-tacky southwestern-style linoleum in the bathroom and kitchen, and a tiny one-car garage that was a non-negotiable for Colorado mountain winters. There were lots of windows as well with a tremendous view of Pike’s Peak. I had been here almost two weeks and the silence was blissful.
Much quieter than my previous four-plex with the neighbors from hell whose relentless rudeness forced me out of my own home and to the local Denny’s for some semblance of peace and quiet so I could think effectively and write convincingly.
It was almost a bit too quiet, however.
Especially at night. I have always had a healthy fear of the dark. Probably all of those horror books I’ve read and scary movies I’ve seen, particularly classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, and Psycho; along with multiple-sequel favorites such as the Saw and Final Destination franchises. Let’s not forget cult classics by Dario Argento, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven and other films such as High Tension, The Descent, and Skeleton Key, to name a few. While I most definitely enjoy being startled by such films, the side effects can be rather detrimental.
Case in point. Every night when I go to the bathroom, even though I know I’m alone, my mind races through my own mental compendium of possible horrific experiences, rendering me so frightened to the point of turning on the hall light just in case. Of course, I have to be able to see into my toilet when I lift the lid in case there may be a poisonous snake coiled lurkingly under the seat, a school of piranha who had taken a wrong turn somewhere, or—even worse—a disembodied human head floating in the blue water.
To make matters worse (and to make me look like even more of a chicken than I already am), whilst seated atop the toilet, I, without fail, take my plunger and poke at the shower curtain to ensure there is no axe-wielding maniac, irate and vengeful demon, or sociopathic rapist hiding behind it.
When finished and hands washed and sanitized—one wouldn’t want to pick up some sort of bug, after all—I take care to not look into the mirror, lest I remember the trauma of adolescent slumber party “Bloody Mary” scare-fests, for which I have had much therapy.
As I pass the light switch in the hallway, I glance into my bedroom, turn off the light, and run, leaping into my bed so that whatever might be hiding under it can’t get me. Unless, of course he, she, or it has long appendages that can wrap around my mattress and box springs and secure me for later disposal—or worse—consumption.
Get a hold of yourself. You’re a grown woman. There are no such things as monsters, boogeymen, demons, ghosts, animated inanimate objects, or carnivorous animals adept at lock-picking, I tell myself, to no avail.
I remember a quote by Rod Serling that I have made into a mantra: “There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”
Except for all the bad stuff.
It was now 12:25.
I could get up and watch television but that would involve going into the living room—and turning all the lights on, contributing to my ever-increasing electric bill.
I considered actually looking under the bed. The only thing that should be there is my portable safe with some documents, extra checks, and keys. However, I don’t really know what, actually, is under my bed. I envision myself leaning over the edge, lifting the dust ruffle, and being jumped from behind by a Poltergeist-esque clown with retractable arms or discovering some demonic symbol or visual combination lock to the gates of hell written in chalk—or blood—on the floor beneath my bed.
I pulled the covers up a little higher and clutched one of my pillows a bit tighter.
It was windy outside. I could hear the wind howling like a pack of hungry wolves lounging around my deck, waiting to tear me from limb to limb should I decide to venture outside and investigate any strange noise. The thought of death by wolf attack was sufficient incentive to remain in my warm bed. At least for the time being.
I did have my Colt .357 magnum in my nightstand. I should have kept my 20-gauge shotgun but sold it last year to cover some bills when work was a bit slow. Shotguns are, in fact, much better deterrents. Even unloaded ones. Just hearing that pump action slide is enough to make the average person rethink his or her impeding actions. I’m not sure about the auditory deterrent value for zombies, however, due to the dearth of peer-reviewed quantitative research studies in the academic literature on zombie and other undead operant-conditioned responses to threatened potential violence.
I also don’t think the gun would be that effective against the wolves either. I would probably shoot one and piss the rest of them off, thus ensuring myself an excruciating and bloody demise.
The clock now glowed 12:42.
I needed to sleep. I took two more melatonin tablets I kept on my nightstand for my chronic insomnia, turned up the white noise machine to block out the growling stomachs of the hungry wolves surrounding my house, and finally fell back asleep.
I was awakened at 1:13 by the clamor of what sounded like a slamming door. I was certain that I had locked the doors and secured the windows. It was February, after all. Still pretty chilly, particularly at night. I had already ruled out the wolves as viable intruders but was positive that something had gained entry into my secluded sanctuary. I quietly grabbed the mini flashlight and the pistol from my nightstand and noiselessly slid back out of bed. I perched upon the edge, listening for additional noises.
Another door closed. Maybe the intruder was leaving? I could only be so lucky. He—presumably a he since the vast majority of secluded cabin intrusions in the fictional media are committed by males—probably went into the kitchen for a snack…or a drink…or a nice, long, sharp chef’s knife from my razor sharp Wolfgang Puck block o’knives on the kitchen counter. I shuddered. I gulped (quietly, of course). I then chastised myself for being such a wimp.
Nobody is in the house. I was imaging all of this; letting my overactive imagination work myself up into a panic. It’s just normal secluded-cabin-in-the-woods noise. The wind. The trees. A squirrel. Not bloodthirsty zombies or ravenous canines or anything else out of the ordinary or from the brilliant-yet-macabre minds of my favorite horror authors and filmmakers.
If it was a cute little fluffy squirrel, however, I hope the wolves didn’t ingest it.
I sat on the edge of my bed for what seemed like an eternity but, according to my clock, was only eleven minutes. 1:24. I didn’t hear another sound. No refrigerator humming from being opened. No silverware clanging as the intruder procured a butter knife with which to make a sandwich or a spoon for a nice bowl of Kashi, perhaps. No Close Encounters of the Third Kind melodic beeping of microwave buttons being pushed. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. It had to be my imagination. But I couldn’t let idiomatic silent bygones be bygones. I had to be sure.
I tiptoed to the door, flashlight in one hand, revolver in the other and pressed my ear against the cold wood to get a better sound of the silence. Still nothing. I held the flashlight in my mouth as I gently opened the door, the small but bright beam of light casting ghostly orb-like shadows upon the walls. I crept down the hallway and into the living room, still hearing nothing unusual within my house. There was no light in the kitchen save for the greenish glow of the microwave’s clock. I sighed, turned off the flashlight, flipped on the kitchen light switch, and found no evidence of any late night snacking.
I poured myself a glass of milk, warmed it in the microwave, walked into the living room, checked underneath and behind the sofa before taking a seat, and turned on the TV; however, the last channel had signed off for the night (which was odd given that practically every single station any more operated on a 24-hour basis.) I was, thus, faced with a fuzzy gray screen of white noise, which, of course, reminded me of little Carol Anne’s “They’re heeeeeeeere,” announcement.
Once I realized that poltergeists flock like Canadian geese to children and high-budget horror film directors—and that there were neither in my house—I was slightly less nervous. Slightly.
There isn’t much on at 1:30 a.m. except for infomercials, old sitcom reruns, cartoons (seriously, what parent would let his or her small child watch cartoons in the middle of the night?) and really bad made-for-TV movies, most of which I had already seen. It is truly amazing that one can have 500 channels and not find a single thing to watch.
The warm milk was kicking in. I yawned. I turned off the TV, placed my empty milk glass in the kitchen sink, illuminated the hall light, rechecked all of the doors and windows, turned off the kitchen light, gave my bedroom another once-over, turned off the hall light, and took yet another running leap back into bed.
After that mini workout, I fell asleep rather effortlessly.
I was awakened again at 2:48 by the sound of voices. I was afraid to open my eyes. I tried to see if I could recognize the voices. There were two males and one female. I couldn’t quite understand what they were saying, exactly, but the gist of the conversation sounded somewhat heated, as if they were arguing about something. I feared opening my eyes lest I would see something I didn’t want to see or they would see me watching them.
I listened further. The voices were to my left, as was my closet. I wondered if my earlier intruders had, perhaps, hidden somewhere while I checked the kitchen and watched TV before hiding in my closet waiting for the opportunity to execute their sinister master plan. Whether that be robbery, homicide, mayhem, identity theft, I did not know…nor did I want to know. Perchance, if I remained very still and kept my eyes closed they would leave.
But, of course, I have zero patience. I opened my left eye ever so slightly and was met with a blinding white light. Was I dead? Was I supposed to go into the light where there allegedly is peace and serenity?
Soon thereafter, the discussion ceased, I head another door close, and the phantom voices disappeared.
Maybe now the wolves were satiated. But I doubt it.
I peered toward my closet and nothing looked askew. I felt confident that I was, again, alone. Except for the wolves whose empty bellies sounded as if a tornado was approaching.
I’d love to take a shower. Or a bath. Warm water is always soothing and calming. But Norman Bates. And Freddie Krueger.
I returned to my formerly-warm-but-now-tepid bed and attempted to get comfortable again. It was a bit warm so I carefully untucked one side of my covers so I could free one leg until I remembered the Paranormal Activity movies and how the demon needed a “handle” with which to drag fearful, reluctant victims down hardwood hallways. And seeing how I did, in fact, have hardwood floors—and had not fully researched my new home’s history to see if it was built atop some ancient human or pet cemetery or if there was a picture of a creepy little girl in the crawl space above the ceiling—I thought it best to keep my arms and legs inside the ride at all times.
(To be continued tomorrow…)
“Of all the things you choose in life, you don’t get to choose what your nightmares are. You don’t pick them; they pick you.” ~ John Irving