The Night I Woke Up
California, United States
At exactly 2:13 am, I awoke with a start– or was I still dreaming? – to the sudden realization that someone–no, something was at the door. The grandfather clock in my living room had chimed 13 minutes prior and it was several hours before it occurred to me that it hadn’t chimed since. I didn’t let it in. I didn’t move an inch from my bed. Or did I?–because in mere moments it was peering down at me. I didn’t hear it approach. Or maybe it had been there all along? It was so impossibly tall, 8 feet at least, and peered down through many eyes that seemed to surround and envelope me. I saw it in glimpses: feathers dark like a raven’s, nails sharp as talons, eyes wide and all-encompassing, skin cloaked in shadows. It did not want to be seen. It didn't want anyone to know what it was up to.
Its laughter followed me down the hall as I tried to run on my old knees that barely remembered how to walk. How foolish, it seemed to say. You mortals who worship us by day, then fear us at night. Didn’t you know I was coming? Don’t you know you can’t escape? It took delight in my panic, amusement in my desperate attempts to flee. I ignored the fancy, expensive chair my son bought me three summers ago and thundered down the stairs. The thing met me in the living room, propped against the grandfather clock that had been passed down from my mother, which had been passed down from her mother, which had been passed down from her mother. It leaned against the clock with the familiarity of someone who had lived with it before and grown to love it despite its loud, annoying chimes that startle you awake every hour. It seemed to be mocking me in the way it imitated my habits, the tilt of my head, the squint of my eyes. I had never feared it more.
For it became terrifyingly clear that whatever it was knew me, perhaps better than I knew myself. It has seen my dreams, it’s familiar with my nightmares, and it knows my fears by heart. And here it is to deliver. To show me what it has learned over the years.
Like it’s judgment day.
“Please.” My voice was so soft, so fragile, I wasn’t even aware I’d spoken at first. Not that it would’ve mattered. The thing just surrounded me with its inescapable stare, looking down on me from all angles. When it spoke, the words came from no mouth I could see and the voice grated against my ears until I was sure I could feel blood dripping down my face. I could not understand it. It spoke no mortal language I’d heard.
The thing let me run away. I raced to the kitchen, looking for something with which I could protect myself. I grabbed a serrated kitchen knife and braced myself at the far end of the room, sure that any second the thing would round the corner, tired of this foolish game of cat chases mouse. But the doorway remained empty, and I continued to shake in the corner of my kitchen, knife unsteady in my hand, with no one present to fear or fight.
I felt the eyes before I saw them. Leaping from the corner and scrambling against the counter across from me, I turned around to see it standing where I had just stood, its eyes twinkling with laughter. I held the knife up to protect myself, ashamed of how much my hand shook before me. It did not react at all, save for another painful sound, loud in my ears, that sounded suspiciously like laughter. Oh, mortals, it seemed to admonish. So primitive. So stupid.
The thing advanced first this time, taking what may have been a small step but crossed half of the distance between us and provoked a guttural sound to crawl up my throat. I ran as fast as I could, which I knew from my granddaughters’ joking jabs was not very fast. The thing, in hindsight, wasn’t moving with any sense of urgency at all. As if it knew, no matter what I did, that it would win in the end. I aimed for the backyard, hoping someone or something could hear me from outside.
I made it outside by some amazing feat, and, stumbling on unsteady feet, looked up into the sky, arms open wide, hoping the guidance of the stars could protect me from whatever monster was at my tail.
“Someone, please, hear my call,” I begged, but as my eyes adjusted, I was faced with the tragic howling of a storm, swirling and angry, howling all around me. I stood perfectly in the eye of the storm, but in the sky above me, there were no stars. The moon wasn’t shining her light down on me. It was as though all of space and beyond had closed its eyes to hide and instead, I was met with chilling darkness. As I watched, gaze lowering in defeat, lightning struck my backyard and illuminated the devious face of the thing, now before me in the yard. I tried to back up towards my house, but then suddenly it was behind me, then to my left, then to my right. And I supposed this was it, my ultimatum. No matter where I ran, it would catch me, so what was I really running from? Myself? Time? The inevitable? But if I stood still, and the thing took me away, what then? What would become of me? What of everything I was working on? What about all the plans I’d made? What would become of them?
When the thing took another step, I stayed still. It then spoke to me, voice amplified even louder than before but, to my surprise, perfectly clear.
“Keep running if you’d like, it merely delays the inevitable.”
I tried to look into its eyes, or one of them. They were dark, all-knowing, and chillingly calculated, but I did not look away. “I won’t run this time.”
It observed my shagged shoulders and my dejected voice and nodded. And the world went dark.
They say the stars returned to the sky when the angel took me. They say the clock once again resumed its obnoxious chimes and the storm clouds dispersed into a clear, starry night. All is as it should be. In hindsight, I needn’t have been scared. I should’ve known, the angel was simply taking me home.
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