What Was That?
Wanda woke with a start, the silence in the room oppressive, her own breathing stilled for the moment, until she established the reason for her sudden awareness. There it was again. What was that? Indistinguishable as far as source, just the most innocuous of creaks, the noise reverberated through her mind as though a jolt of electricity had just been sent through her moist temples, activating her imagination.
There was no escape from the heat. Leaving the windows wide open accomplished nothing but allowing the insects of the night to make themselves at home, so she kept the windows shut and bolted. She considered reaching for her spray bottle, to send out a series of misty offerings, to combat the overwhelming sensation of mugginess, but decided to hold off. The fact that the windows were shut and fastened was only moderately comforting, as she considered the fact that a person who was determined to gain entry, had only to put a boot through one of the glass panels on the front door. It would make a racket, but who would notice or care, in time, in this neighborhood?
The silence was so pervasive, she could feel it, willing the noise to return, still once more for potential classification. But when it came this time, it was more pronounced, it was a notch louder, and it was accompanied by a scratching noise, that positively made the nape on the back of her neck crawl, as though there were a thousand tiny creeping vermin, spreading out in all directions, carrying more than a hint of terror.
When she thought back to earlier in the evening, when she’d left the nightclub with her boyfriend, and that sicko had followed them out into the street, after having been noticed inside, she wondered frantically if he could have followed her back to her house. No, she resolutely refused to see how that could have happened. The car had been parked right there, she and Clark had gotten in, and the creep was left hurling ejaculations after them, falling on the deaf ears of the receding tail lights.
She thought again about her missing keys, and how furious she had been at herself, for such a stupid blunder. She would have to have duplicates made, and she would have to inform her boss that the key to the office was now missing in action. What she had not thought about was where the keys might have ended up, in whose hands they might have fallen. She now wished that this thought had occurred to her, when Clark was asking if she was sure she was OK by herself. Bad oversight.
Would it do any good to call Clark? After all, he was only a half-hour away, across town. Sure, she could ask him to make final arrangements. Knock it off, she told herself angrily, with far more bravado than she was feeling at the moment. She could already read the headlines, and hear the tense voice of the anchor woman in the local newsroom, spelling out the details.
What about Kevin? Her nineteen-year-old son was away at school, not due back for three more days, on Monday at the earliest. He was in the middle of finals, and four hours away to boot. No, Kevin was decidedly not available.
What then? Who was inside her home, at this very second, stealthily making his presence felt, if not defined? If she’d had a cat, this would be the time she would be happy to consider it as a source for the noise, but that was not the case. Was it a mouse? Of course it was possible, in this hole, but then she would have expected the noise to be rhythmic, and ongoing, just as it had been at that dump she lived in last summer. Ugh. She shuddered involuntarily, remembering how frustrated she had been, when she could not get the noise to stop.
Just like now. Those sensations of panic were now throbbing across that part of her brain, igniting the flames of fear and hysteria. Who could she call in the event of a home invasion? The police? Sure, that would work just fine, They would arrive, take pictures, check for prints, and then go hit the doughnut shop. She would be indifferent to the whole process by then. Dead people didn’t much care.
The sound of her own raspy breathing made her aware that she should do something, arm herself, barricade the door, and stand up for herself one last time. She instinctively shifted her weight on the bed, causing the springs to protest, and freezing her again.
Without warning, there was the crash of something hitting the floor in the kitchen, making her heart leap into her throat, and causing her to yip in terror. She had thought it was a scream, but the muscles in her throat were too constricted to allow it to escape. Her throbbing head produced its own rhythmic beat, as she felt herself coming to the end of her thin line of tolerance. Something was about to snap.
Now moving with a swiftness and determination, that might have shocked her if she were even aware of it, she hurtled herself at her bedroom door, seizing a long-empty, heavy crystal vase, with a thin neck, off of her nightstand, and maintaining a death grip on it. She would only get one whack at him and she wanted it to count.
With one continuous motion, she pushed the handle of the bedroom door down and thrust it open, right into the face of the hooded figure, hovering just outside, in the hallway.
“Surprise! Ha, Gotcha! Look at your face, Mom. You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Aren’t you happy to see me? I got out of that Monday final, so I’m home three days early. I didn’t want to wake you... Mom? Are you all right? Why are you crying? Aren’t you happy to see me? Did I do something wrong?”