Lights Out

I don’t believe in you. There. I’ve said it.

Of course I don’t believe in him. I don’t believe in ghosts, in monsters, in festering ghouls. I remind myself of that daily, and it’s easy to accept while the sun is up. I repeat it over and over at night, my lips tracing the words as I check the locks on the doors and windows. Checking the locks has become a compulsion. Even my bedroom door must be locked, then checked at least three times. The repetition settles me, and I can turn off the lights and go to bed.

I don’t believe in you.

Sometimes I fool myself into falling asleep for an hour. Usually I lie awake and listen.

The footsteps always start in the hallway, slow and heavy on the worn wood. They stop outside the bedroom door.

I don’t believe in you.

I know I checked the lock. I’m sure of it, yet the doorknob turns with a metallic creak—I’ve never been able to oil out that sound—and the hinges whisper as the door swings open. The footsteps enter the room, muted now on the carpet.

I close my eyes and pretend to sleep. I wonder if it’s possible to choke on my own heartbeat.

I don’t believe in you.

This is when I can’t move, when the dread creeps out from my stomach and tingles down through my limbs, its trail wet and cold like melting ice. It radiates like the aftershock of a spider’s dance down the spine. It paralyzes.

If he were a human intruder, I could fight. I could switch on the light and grab the baseball bat I keep beside the bed. I could crack his skull without hesitation. But how do I defend myself against something that doesn’t—that can’t—exist? Instead, I leave the light off. I stay still.

If the light stays off, he isn’t here.

He comes closer. The world grows colder. He never touches me; he only watches. I wonder how long it will take for that not to be enough.

It’s only a recurring dream, I will reason in the morning. This memory will fade into just another nightmare.

I don’t believe in you.

Eventually he will leave. He will close the bedroom door behind him. It will be locked when I check it tomorrow.

What does he look like? My mind shuffles through a thousand lurking horrors. What will I see if I dare to turn on the light?

I’ll see nothing, because I don’t believe in you.

Bolstered by that thought, I force my body to thaw, and I sit up and reach toward the wall and the light switch.

Another hand already covers the switch. My fingers brush cold skin. It’s dry and flaking, like brittle, rotting parchment pulled tight over bone. I freeze with my hand on his.

He’s been waiting for this.

Ω

Jill Christine  Jill Christine's website lives in southwest Florida with a menagerie of mostly rescued animals and a flock of mostly grumpy characters. When she’s not serving as secretary to her various and vocal muses, Jill is an independent designer, creating collectible plush and soft sculpture pieces for an international market.

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