I spent most of Sunday in a tired haze, vaguely disturbed by dreams beyond recall. At times, I would stop midstride in the kitchen or on the stairs, grasping at flitting sense memories that seemed to come and go with the shifting autumn sunlight.
It must have been my own breathing. That had to be it! I remembered lying in darkness, eyes closed, body motionless, as the sound of my own breathing reverberated in my head.
No, that wasn't it. It had to have been wind of some sort… tainted by cavernous subterranean qualities. It had ebbed and flowed around me as I'd slept, as if I'd somehow lain in some warm, fetid hollow in the bole of a dead tree warmed by rot…
No, that still wasn't it.
Snapped out of my daze, I gripped my freshly made coffee and stared at the shaded room to my right. The hallway sat in complete silence, as did the guest room. Peering at each dim corner in turn, I tried to guess what had caught my attention, but the only thing I managed to acquire was a strange fear of turning my back on the seemingly empty room.
Closing the door softly, as if someone or something might hear me, I frowned and moved on, closing each open door in my house one by one rather than imagine unseen eyes watching me from every afternoon shadow.
A creak resounded loudly through the house. Turning, I watched the base of the stairs, inexplicably certain that somebody was standing up there just beyond - somebody wary that I'd heard them. Heart pounding, I moved toward the steps -
A loud knock on the front door snapped through me, bringing sudden shock and subsequent relief. I opened it with a cautious glare, peering around the edge while keeping my awareness on the steps behind me.
He began talking almost immediately, his stance apologetic, his tone embarrassed. I hadn't seen him in ten years, and we hadn't really been friends… more like group acquaintances suffering through school together. His hair was a little greasy, but quickly slicked back as best as could have been expected, and he looked rather tired as he gave his spiel. The words were different, but I'd seen the intent many times before on the streets, in the faces and tones of the homeless and desperate.
At any other time I would have been annoyed, offended, and a little concerned, but… shrugging, I tipped my head toward the couch and opened the door wider.
Grateful, he immediately took a seat, visibly afraid to touch anything or make a mess. He kept talking at a rapid pace, making apologies and promising he'd be out of my hair in just a few days. I let him speak as I made rounds, ensuring the house was clear with a thorough and suspicious search. It was almost worse, not finding anything… I was certain someone had been in the house. I could still feel it as I studied every detail of each room, hoping to find something moved or out of place…
I stopped in front of the guest room, letting the door swing open before me. It was something… a noise? A hue? It just felt wrong, as if the entire square space was putting on an act, hoping to trick me into entering.
Was it was the light from the window? With narrowed eyes, I began following the dappled grey light over the small bed, along the wall, toward… I blinked several times, unable to find the shimmering patch where the beams should have ended.
Abruptly, my visitor's chatter stopped.
Feeling imminently vulnerable without my shield of sound, I reached in quickly and closed the door.
Returning to the front room, I found him passed out on the couch. I wondered if it was drugs, gambling, or divorce - actually, it didn't matter. He was still a stranger for all intents and purposes, connected to me by only the barest excuse. Had he burned every other bridge before showing up here? In any case, I had to go to work the next day, and I wasn't happy about leaving him in my house unattended. Impressed with my own improvisational skills, I set up a small camera near the television, hidden in many layers of similar black plastic technology.
I awoke Monday morning feeling only more tired. Quickly grabbing a nearby pen, I began writing down the details as best I could - it'd been the same dream, only slightly more intense. There'd definitely been the sound of moving air, a quiet roar whose character changed frustratingly in my memories as I tried to decipher it. The strangest part was that there'd been no feeling associated with it - it had just been a sound, grinding through my head uncomfortably.
But the other sensation had me more perturbed. A methodical impact of some sort had hovered in my awareness as I'd lain dreaming… a noise maddeningly difficult to interpret. The hands of a ticking clock, only louder; a blacksmith's hammer, only distorted; a heartbeat, only more metallic… was it just my own breath and pulse made demonic by nightmare?
Dragging myself out of bed, I groaned and unlocked my bedroom door - and immediately froze, brought short by a crowd of angry stares.
The hallway sat enshrouded in pre-dawn darkness, silent and empty, the ranks of open doors watching me with almost palpable menace.
Flicking the lights on, I proceeded past with caution, looking behind me often. Eventually, I found my visitor still asleep on the couch in nearly the same position. Had he gotten up and opened all the doors during the night? Nothing seemed missing…
Sensing my presence, he groaned and began stretching, his nervous chatter immediately resuming. I listened to him complain about nightmares as he popped two pills from an orange prescription bottle. Drugs? I was leaning towards drugs. He seemed a little manic, but self-aware and apologetic at random. Smiling sheepishly, he told me he'd find some place to go during the day as a courtesy, and I could only shrug with begrudged surprise. So much for my improv camera skills… I felt much better knowing he wouldn't be there all day alone.
Still, I took a moment to email myself the night's footage… but I soon regretted the decision to linger. With each passing second, the house seemed to grow heavier, the very nature of the place tilting on invisible angles and imagined threat. Glancing around nervously as I waited for the email to complete, I found nothing strange with my eyes or ears, but… something was happening, I was sure of it. An animal feeling of dread grew to overpowering strength in my chest as I watched the last of the upload complete.
Finally, I bolted, only barely remembering to lock the door behind me.
The house seemed to watch me go. Or was it something just behind those windows, peering out from darkness?
My strange fears remained even into the sobering reality of work. Passing coworkers seemed just as tired, drained, and unkempt as I was. Was it just Monday? Or were they having strange dreams, too? Peering out of my cubicle, I wondered how I might bring up something like that, and whether they would even tell me the truth. The overbearing corporate environment left little room for real conversation…
Getting my third coffee, enthused that the day was almost over, I glanced at my clock.
I could have sworn it was almost five. Blinking, I tried to focus and recall the vague mix of work and procrastination I'd pulled off so far that day, but it was all a blur. Deciding to kill some time, I logged onto my personal email and began watching the night's video I'd taken, half afraid that I'd see my drug-addled visitor creeping about the house.
I peered past my monitor at first, afraid that someone might catch me clearly wasting time, but the rest of the office seemed overtaken by a deeper-than-usual malaise. The longer I watched the video, the more I stared, studying every little corner of the dark room. Every random shift in the video's quality had me increasingly wary that I was about to witness something horrible; the dread became so strong that I felt a little physically ill, and had to push my coffee away on the desk.
And, still, he just tossed and turned on the couch… passing eleven, passing midnight… I clicked ahead a little bit, but, so entranced, I was burning hours quickly. I hoped that I could reach the five o'clock escape I'd been cruelly denied. After all, I wouldn't really see something horrible, would I? Some emaciated corpse-like thing emerging from the stairs… a mangled ghost creeping past… nah, no way.
I unclenched my white-knuckled fingers and sighed. The video was a bust. What had I expected? I wasn't even sure.
It was in that moment of relieved disappointment that I felt it again.
On the barest edge of my senses, I could hear the fringes of that quiet roar. As I focused my ears, I could even grasp hints of that indecipherable beat… that other deeper, maddening sound…
The realization hit me with a shot of adrenaline. Reaching forward, I turned up the speakers slightly. It wasn't in my head.
It was on the video.
Grabbing for dusty headphones from a desk drawer, I scrambled to plug them in. Just as I moved to raise the volume, the player changed size and threw an error message. Clicking angrily, I played it again, only to find the same result - a few rising seconds of those nightmarish sounds, followed by a playback error.
I threw my headphones down in anger, but there was nothing to be done.
Five came and went as I frantically searched the Internet for any explanation for the sounds I'd heard. Failing that, I stared at my monitor for a good hour, locked in indecision. The soul-chilling realization hit me again every time I started to think about heading home - I wasn't imagining it… there was something in my house!
And so I sit here, spinning idly in my chair, the office dark and empty. I know I have to go back there, and I have to deal with whatever awaits - mortgages don't have supernatural exit clauses, after all - but I think I'll just give it a few more minutes. I'm sure it's just the pipes or something anyway, whatever that means. I'm sure it'll be fine. Still, I'll give it just one more coffee, and a few more minutes…