I opened my eyes. Laid in bed, enveloped in darkness, I heard it again. The same SKRCHH SKRCHH scratching I hear every night. It hasn’t always been every night. I used to only hear it occasionally; in fact, I almost didn’t notice it at all. I would wake up in the middle of the night every so often, maybe once a week. Either to go to the toilet if I had been a tad ambitious with my water consumption that day; or to get a glass of water, having awoken parched, to quell the feeling of heavy sand overwhelming my gums, cheeks, and tongue. I couldn’t tell you when it began, because I couldn’t tell you for how long it went unnoticed. I also could not tell you the first time I noticed it, because when I got up in the middle of the night, I was often still half asleep. But at some point, I did notice it. One night, having returned from the bathroom, I was shuffling through the thick black that remained after flicking off the blinding-white bathroom light. I froze somewhere in the middle of my room, about half-way or two-thirds of the distance from my door to my bed. I heard it.
There was an unusual familiarity about it, as if I had heard it before. I suppose the feeling was similar to one you might feel when being introduced to a twice-removed cousin. Certain you should have met them at any numerous family gatherings or reunions, but cannot, for the life of you, remember where or when. I stood in my room with my weight on one foot, leaning awkwardly to one side with my head cocked. In hindsight, had the lights been on, I’m sure I would have looked like a demented side-show act. But that sound, was it new, or had I heard it countless times before only to be too tired or half-asleep to take note? I was sure I’d heard it before, yet I still could not move. I stood there, paralyzed, for what seemed like hours, as I tried to pinpoint the origin of the peculiar sound. I didn’t hear it again, and went to bed with a sore leg, feeling like a complete dumb-ass.
About a week or so later, I awoke with a mouth akin to the Sahara. I shuffled through the darkness and down the stairs, opting not to turn the kitchen light on as I fetched a glass from the cupboard and half-filled it with water. I poured it down my throat as fast as it flowed from the faucet. I climbed the stairs one-by-one. About half-way up, one of them creaked – CRR EAKK – as I put my weight on it and lifted it off. Had that stair always creaked? Yeah. Probably. I had returned to my bedroom and as I pulled the duvet up, I heard it.
Was that the stair creaking? No, that’s absurd, who would be in my house? I peered out of my bedroom door, cracked it slightly at first, and slunk my head around the wall. I looked into the blackness and squinted, trying to see further through the foggy absence of light. I listened. Nothing. I returned to bed feeling that anxiety I hadn’t felt since the first time I walked to school by myself as a child. I closed my eyes and tried to forget about it and drifted off to sleep.
I almost had forgotten about it. About a fortnight had passed before I heard it again. I had woken up very suddenly in a panicked sweat, and sat upright in bed trying to catch my breath. I wiped my forehead on the back of my hand and ran my palms down my face from my temples to my chin, holding them there for a moment, with my fingers pressed tightly against my face before I smashed them into my mattress as I heard it.
My head snapped sideways. I stared into the dark abyss of my room and tried to focus intently on a most unusual, almost darker, spot perpendicular to my bed – where my closet should be. I squinted. I blinked. I tried to widen my eyes. I wanted to get out of bed, but my legs did not want to move. I felt overwhelmingly cold. Pulling the duvet up over my shoulder, I rolled to face the wall as I pushed dreadful thoughts to the back of my mind. Thoughts that a grown man needn’t worry about. Although, it wasn’t long before I threw the covers off of my bed and swung my legs over to meet the floor. I marched over to my closet, which was now quite visible, and paused right in front of it with my hand inches away from the handle. Was I really checking the closet for monsters? I’m not sure what I was checking it for, but I’m certain the sound had come from there. As if someone, or something, was scratching the inside of the closet door. I threw the door open and saw just what I expected to see: my clothes hanging in a motley of disorganized fabrics and my shoes lying motionless in a heap on the floor. I went back to bed, overcome with that same childish unease I had experienced a fortnight earlier.
These strange occurrences began to happen with increasing frequency, and I no longer needed to pee or quench my thirst to wake in the middle of the night. Too often, I began to wake with a fright, or a sudden jolt of my body, or seemingly from an overwhelming sense of violation, like that feeling you get when someone is staring at the back of your head. I felt more alone than I had ever felt since living by myself. Alone in the dark, every hair on my body reached out into the darkness. My fingers restlessly searched for a hand to hold.
A spine-tingle feels more familiar to me, now, than my own bedroom. You should know that I am still unaware of the source of this peculiar scratching sound. It seems to originate from a different dark corner of my bedroom every time I hear it. Sometimes it seems to echo, bouncing around my room. It’s almost as if it originates in the space directly in the centre of my room, like someone is standing there, holding up a small board of wood and scratching it twice.
Sometimes it seems to emanate from beneath me, which is one of the most unnerving ones, because I can’t help feel like it could be me making the sound. As much as I do not want to, as small as it makes me feel, I always get up, drenched in sweat, and kneel on the floor to check under my bed. Just to be sure. My heart pounding, flooded with adrenaline. Every. Single. Time. There is always nothing under my bed. There is always nothing in my closet. There is always nothing standing in the middle of my room. And there is always nothing outside my bedroom door. You might think this is immature, silly, or that I simply must be certifiable. But you have to understand: I’ve tried to ignore this for as long as I can remember. I’ve tried to make it go away. I’ve tried to not check under my bed, or in my closet, or outside my bedroom door. Nevertheless, the sound still persists. It will not go away. Every fucking night, without fail, for the past two god-damned years. I hear it.
WHY DO YOU TAUNT ME SO? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME? HAVE YOU NOT DONE ENOUGH? LEAVE ME BE, I BEG YOU! DO WHAT YOU WILL, AND THEN LEAVE ME BE!
I open my eyes. Lying in bed, enveloped in darkness. I can hardly breathe. My throat is tight. My mouth is dry. My eyes dart around the room in a panic as I realize I can’t move my arms or legs. My chest feels heavy. I didn’t hear the sound. I didn’t hear the sound! Oh god, why did I not hear the sound?! Why can’t I move?! My lungs feel like they’re frozen in ice, but my skin feels like it’s on fire. I can’t distinguish whether my sheets are soaked with sweat or urine, but it could be either. My eyes are locked on my bedroom door. The handle begins to turn. It slowly swings open. Nothing. Nothing is standing in the hallway to have opened my door. My eyes dart to my closet, but it is still. I begin to look back at my door, but my eyes dart back to the centre of my room. A figure. I try to focus on it, but this figure, this darkness, seems to be blacker than anything I’ve seen before. The more I try to decipher who or what it is, the more the edges seem to blur into the darkness around it. I try to speak, but my jaw tightens and my teeth begin to buckle. The figure looms over me. Is it smiling? I still can’t focus my vision. My heart is thumping. The pressure on my chest increases. This is it. The end. I’m suffocating in my own bed. At least I’m not alone.
Gasping for air, I spring out of bed, sprawled on the floor, coughing and gasping. Drowning without water is the only way I can describe what I had felt. I am plenty wet, however. Trying to regain my breath and get a hold of myself, I slowly push myself up off the floor and sit with my back against the side of my bed. Running my hand through my hair, could it really be over? I crawl to the bathroom. I need a shower; I smell like piss. I don’t know how long I sat in the shower, possibly weeping, I couldn’t tell. I don’t remember getting out, or drying myself, but now I’m standing in front of the mirror. Unblinking. Staring at the red, glistening hand print in the centre of my chest. It won’t go away. I can’t scrub it off. Soap doesn’t work. Toothpaste doesn’t work. Bleach doesn’t work. No matter how red or raw I make the skin around it, this hand print just glistens back at me. Taunting me. Screaming “I’m still here.”
Defeated, I stagger down the stairs clutching the hand rail so as not to bail down them all at once. I fall onto my couch. Looking through the glass at the still and silent night outside, I squeeze a cushion tightly in my arms. I don’t feel alone anymore. I look at the stairs. I look at the kitchen. I look at the glass door. I close my eyes. And then I hear it.