"A rustle downstairs jumpstarted my heart. I dove back under the comforter, blood pounding in my ears."
The wind scraped the branches across my window screen as I alligator-rolled from one side to the other. First my left hip hurt. Then it was my right shoulder. It was going to be one of those nights – the bed feels like an iron maiden at 2 a.m. but somehow becomes my magic cloud gravity well when the alarm goes off at 6.
The blue glow from the laptop charger rubbed against my retinas. Flinging an arm across my head, I flopped back to the other side, away from the annoying light. Beignet, my long-haired tabby, glared at me, swatted my foot and jumped off the bed. Her rigid tail said I’d moved one too many times.
Dust mites had clogged my throat and coated my mouth with the flat ash of their carcasses. I reached a blurred hand toward the bottle on my nightstand, eager for the cool silk of water. One drop fell between my lips.
The walls creaked and something thumped downstairs. In an old building, the creaks, thumps, and rustles become part of the background, the breathing and heartbeat of the house. Tonight the house was as bronchitic as I felt, full of wheezes and groans.
I squinted at the water bottle and rolled out of bed, shivering as the covers exposed my neck, raising the small hairs down my back.
A rustle downstairs jumpstarted my heart. I dove back under the comforter, blood pounding in my ears.
“It’s just the cat, stupid.” I said, my voice echoing in the dark. I burrowed my mouth into the pillow to avoid feeding the night any more hints about my existence. The wind keened through a cracked window and a door across the hall clicked open-shut in time to my racing heart. Paws padded back into my room. I started to reach my hand over the edge of the mattress to pet Beignet when my mind dredged up a long-forgotten staple of slumber party stories.
There was a girl who was home alone at night with her trusted German shepherd. She always felt safe when the dog was around. He would lie part way under her bed and lick her hand to comfort her when she reached down to pet him.
That particular night, she heard strange noises in the yard and the dog barked and whined at the door. Eventually the noises ceased and the dog settled down. Before bed, she let him outside to do his business. When he didn’t come back to the door within a few minutes, she went outside with a flashlight, calling his name. There was no response and no sound, not even leaves blowing across the grass. Near the edge of the patio, her flashlight caught a pool of something dark. She shone it upward to find the body of her beloved pet, throat slit, hanging from a porch beam.
She ran inside, bolted the door, and locked herself in her room, trembling under the covers. A few hours before dawn, she exhausted herself with her fear and grief. In her fatigue, she rolled over, draping one arm over the mattress. A warm tongue licked her hand.
I yanked my arm back under the covers.
The wind banged a loose window downstairs, and a siren howled in the distance. Ugh…I was still parched. “Go back to sleep,” I muttered. My throat ached in reply. Dammit. I was dying for a drink of water.
I struggled into my robe, one sleeve trying to snake around my neck before I managed to stick my arm through, and clutched it around me as I felt my way down the stairs to the kitchen.
Eyes glowed from a fuzzy blur atop the kitchen table. I pulled the water pitcher from the fridge and squinted in the direction of the table. “What are you doing up there? And how did you get downstairs before me? Weird cat.”
The blur shifted and stretched with a throaty sound somewhere between a growl and a gurgle. It turned the eyes toward me and opened a dark mouth, fangs dripping something black and shiny.
The pitcher shattered across the tiles spreading water and glass across my bare feet. My mouth opened but my throat seized. I fumbled behind me for the light switch.
I blinked as the fluorescents flared white. I was alone in the room. The table was empty. As I picked my way through the wet glass toward the back door to get the broom, I saw a smear of red and a tuft of marmalade fur caught on the pet door.
Outside the wind howled louder.
Forgetting the glass, I pulled my robe close and fled upstairs, bolting my bedroom door. I’d figure it out in the morning.
Finally drifting off to sleep, I felt a familiar thump on the bed. Oh good, Beignet was fine. I put out my hand to pet her. A long forked tongue licked my hand.