Being a light sleeper had its advantages. Waking up mid-dream to echoes of the night. Listening to the calm melody of the sleepless that so often went unheard and unfelt. Late night drivers darting past red lights. A child crying. A mum singing an old, familiar lullaby. Not wasting a second of excessive idleness to bare consciousness. Just simply being in the moment. On this night, those perks sounded a little less appealing.
Christmas dinner at her parents’ home had left her completely drained. All she wanted was a lasting second of silence and nothingness. No prying relatives. No equally snooping parents. Nor the clamouring toddler they had abandoned in her care. The meal had hardly made up for it, and she wanted nothing more than to fall asleep. But try as she might, her flitting thoughts held her head hostage and had no plans of letting her off at any rate.
She laid awake, ceaseless noises of the night crawling under her skin. A pendulum swinging in the distance. The hum of wires that stretched along walls. Hungry stray dogs howling. Every little sound trickled through each pore of those thin walls in her mind.
She sighed, resigning to the fact that the only present left for her was another restless night. She pushed her sheets off and got to her feet. Standing before the windows, her heavy eyes wandered a little before settling on the full moon that hung low tonight.
Spell bound by its proximity, she drifted to the interlude of the ticking second-hand on her bedside table. Seguing into the rhythm of a fellow insomniac’s feet on the streets underfoot. Rising to a crescendo of…
It jolted her from her reverie.
What… Who was it? The scream sounded almost human, but it shook her with the undoubted feral quality to that unruly intrusion of her quiet thoughts. She could hardly imagine what could have distressed a woman so, if it was even a person at all. The streets gave no clue. No suspicious silhouettes lurked in her neighbours’ windows. Realising she had not a clue where exactly the scream had come from, she turned back to face her room.
She reached into her pocket, but her cell phone was not there. She must have left it in the bathroom when she was ready for bed. Instinctively she turned to her table, first to the clock that said three, and then to her land line.
Then, she caught a glimpse of her grave look in the mirror. Suddenly aware of how silly she might have looked to a stranger, she softened her expression and calmed her panicked breath. Then no more than a couple of seconds later, she allowed herself a smile.
She had not been sleeping well, not at all, for a good few days. It was definitely getting to her. A woman? The scream could just have easily been that of a starved stray animal.
Her clock said it was now past three. Time for bed, Kel. Never trust an insomniac.
She walked away from the phone and over to where her sheets rest, still smiling at her silliness.
But she barely reached it. A second scream had stopped her in his step. This time, the cry was unmistakably human. It was clear, but abruptly cut off, unsettling her heart into a rapid, cadenced beat. It seemed to have come from below where she stood.
That, was where her roommate slept.
She froze, and could feel warm tears fighting their way out of the corners of her eyes. Could she run? She knew fair well that stepping out would only make her easy prey. What was she to do? Turning back and reaching for the phone she had felt so certain she wouldn’t need tonight, her mind dashed through a dozen grim possibilities. Blood coated a number of them.
She picked up the fixed line, her hands shaking as she tried to keep from weeping. The disconnected tone dragged on with loud monotony. Please, she begged to no one as she dialled the numbers. The beeps was jarring. But between the sounds was not quite silence at all. There was something else, something that made her skin unwittingly crawl. She was almost sure that she could hear a noise punctuating each and every single note.
At the other end, it was trying to keep its protruding teeth from chattering against the receiver that was gently slipping away from its slender fingers.