Gracie wakes up to an unwanted visitor but it's not what she thinks.
|Usually the heater ran during the winter, but Gracie chose tonight to try to fulfill her husband’s ‘save on electricity’ request. |
What a poor choice.
She hid under three heavy blankets, their fluffy bodies tucked up directly under her chin. Still she froze. If the light were on, she knew she’d see her breath in the air.
If only Jeff were home, she’d snuggle with her human heater and have no concerns about the cold. He switched to the night shifts though so he could see the kids during the day and she now slept alone. She missed him. On cold nights like tonight, it especially sucked.
Giving serious consideration to turning on the heater, a clink at the foot of her metal bed frame distracted her. The bed shook and the blankets yanked as if someone climbed up near her feet. Instantly, she grew irritated. Her youngest daughter, Elyse, was notorious for sneaking into their bed at night. She gave a soft nudge with her foot to encourage her daughter to go back to her room. . . but she didn’t connect with anyone.
Gracie sat up and patted around her feet, but no child lay nearby. Her heart leaped into her throat and she turned on her bedside lamp. Pale yellow light illuminated the room. No one was in the room with her.
Maybe Elyse changed her mind.
Rubbing her gown covered arms and wishing the winter would end already, she climbed out of bed to check on her daughter. Elyse wasn’t in her room, but she remembered she slept with her sisters tonight. When she stuck her head in Anna’s room, a grin spread her lips. All three girls snuggled together under a big feather blanket, Anna and Dinah on either side of baby Elyse.
After she closed the door, she turned and faced her bedroom again. The euphoria over her daughters being snuggle bugs faded with every second. Something climbed up in bed with her, but it wasn’t possible for it to be her children.
The shadows surrounding the circle of light cast by her lamp taunted her. Gracie didn’t want to go back in there. Instead, she decided the heater needed to be turned on. She shuffled down to the thermostat and switched on the heater. It kicked on with a familiar click and clack before the smell of hot air hit her. It always smelled like hair or something burning at first, but she didn’t mind. The odor meant the frigid air would warm up.
Something moved in her peripheral vision. A shadow crossed the light extending out of her doorway into the dark hallway. A chill, unrelated to the cold, crept down her spine.
Something was in her room.
She crept to the bathroom doorway and fumbled about in the room until her fingers closed around a familiar bottle. If an attacker hid in her room, he’d be getting a faceful of hairspray! Holding her breath, she shuffled to her bedroom door, the armed bottle held out in front of her, ready to spray them.
Her room was empty!
Looking for any movement, her dark brown eyes scanned the room. She dropped into a squatting position, the spray still held out before her, so she could look under her bed. Finally, her gaze drifted to the closed closet door.
Her heart thrust into her throat again and her hand began to shake. Part of her wanted to call the police, but what was she going to tell them? That she saw a shadow? Heard a noise? Why did Jeff need to be working an overnight shift? No one would be willing to break in with her former military husband in the house.
She fixated on the closet door, tunnel visioning upon the knob. Her free hand stretched towards it, but she paused right over the shiny circle. Time to be brave. For one moment, she thought about hiding out in the living room until Jeff got home. But if she did so, the girls would be alone with whatever was in her room and she couldn’t stay up all night.
No, she needed to open the door.
Swallowing the hard knot in her throat, she gripped the knob and turned it. She threw the door open with the hairspray in attack mode.
The closet was empty.
Her mind couldn’t wrap around the vision of emptiness. Concerned about her sanity, she shut the door and leaned her back against it. She ran a hand through her dark brown hair, fighting back tears.
There had been a shadow, she saw it. But, shadows were not cast by nothing.
Her eyes wandered back to the bottle in her hand and she shook her head. If Jeff saw her now… thankfully, he wasn’t home. The hairspray served her well but it was time for the impromptu weapon to return home.
She strode back to the bathroom and pulled the drawer open, dropping the hairspray in it. Suppressed tears burned her eyes. They needed some water to clear them up. She hit the light switch on, bathing the small restroom in near-blinding illumination.
The handle made its usual squeaky noise when she turned it on and she bathed her eyes in refreshing cold water. She reached over and grabbed the hand towel hanging on the wall and blotted her face dry. Feeling silly and ashamed of her unwarranted fear, she turned to the mirror and gave a sharp cry.
An old man with watery blue eyes and a bald head stood behind her in a hospital gown, clinging to his walker. Her eyes glued on the being. She knew him.
Last week, she won an overnight stay at the hospital after her doctor thought she was having a stroke. Turned out to be what they called a complicated migraine, but during the night, she witnessed the same man being wheeled out of the curtained room next to hers by a volley of panicked nurses and attendants.
He didn’t return.
Terrified of what would happen when she turned around, she needed to nonetheless. Telling herself he wasn’t real, she glanced over her shoulder. No one stood behind her, just the duck shower curtain.
Returning to the mirror, only her face stared out at her. Bracing her hands on the sink, she looked down and closed her eyes. Was she losing her mind?
When she glanced back up, her eyes momentarily reflected back a watery blue. With a stunned blink, they returned to her dark brown shade. Gracie smiled at her reflection; a dark, twisted smile.
Her reflection didn’t smile back.
Favoring her right hip a bit, she shuffled woodenly back to her room, leaving the light on in the bathroom. Her dark eyed reflection pressed her palms against the glass as she faded, a tear slipping unseen down her cheek.
Gracie climbed in bed, crossed her arms over her chest. The dark smile lit her face once more before she fell asleep.