Susan sat bolt upright in her bed, her ears prickling against the muffled silence of the dark house. She thought she had heard… something. Her eyes darted about the room straining in the faint light from her LED alarm clock to make out shapes as her brain tried to identify what sound had jarred her from her slumber and set her heart to racing. She glanced at the clock to see what time it was. The display showed 12:01 AM in bright green letters that seem to sear the darkness.
Was it a creak from the old house settling further upon its time worn foundation? That wouldn’t be unusual; the house was a beautiful Victorian colonial built in 1858 that had fallen into disrepair after several years of being unoccupied. Susan and her husband had bought the home some nine months ago and had been working hard on renovating it. When they first moved in they had to adjust to all manner of creaks and whistles during the night though the amount of noise the house produced had diminished as the renovation proceeded. She’d been awakened by these sounds on more than one night, but never with fear clutching at her heart like this. Susan wished her husband was with her now. Ron was away on a business trip and wasn’t due back for another four days.
Susan concentrated on getting her heart to slow down as a trickle of sweat ran down the side of her face. She reached up to brush it away with only a brief recognition of how odd it was that she should be sweating when the room itself felt so cold. It was getting on to the end of October and the chill of winter was already permeating the autumn nights forcing her to don her flannel pajamas earlier than usual. Susan considered the possibility that it was the sound of the old gas-fired boiler in the basement starting up that she had heard in her sleep. This behemoth of an ancient heating system squatted in the center of the stone basement like some bloated metal spider on its back, its black iron legs stretching up into the exposed beams of the ceiling above as if clinging to it. A window on the front lit up the basement with a wicked yellow and orange glow every time it sputtered into life and the half-growling half-gurgling sounds it produced when in operation were the stuff that children’s nightmares are made of. It didn’t help that the stone basement was just creepy in its own right in the way that all stone basements seem to be and the presence of this antiquated method for heating the house didn’t help to make things any cheerier. They had plans to replace it with a more modern and efficient furnace, but that expense would have to wait until after the winter. She was used to that noise by now as well, though, so she ruled it out as the cause of her distress.
By now Susan had just about managed to convince herself that maybe she hadn’t actually heard anything at all. This was her first time being home alone in the house since they moved in and she’d been having some restless dreams as of late so perhaps, she thought, what woke her up was a product of one of her dreams. She started to chuckle to herself in the darkness about how silly she was being when she heard it again.
This time there was no mistaking the sound and it sent shivers down Susan’s spine while icy fingers of fear clutched at her stomach. It was a cat crying out in fear somewhere in the darkness of the main floor of the house. Susan recognized this cry because she had heard it before from her own cat, Cosmo, whenever he got himself locked in a closet. In fact, this cry had sounded just like Cosmo’s, but that couldn’t be as Cosmo had died just over a month ago. The cry resounded from the bowels of the house again, the plaintive wail of a frightened and confused feline desperate for someone to come to its rescue. It tore at Susan’s heart which was beating against her ribcage once again as she realized the sound had come from a different location than the first, still on the main floor, but somewhat closer. She didn’t know what to do as she struggled with competing emotions of fear over what she knew couldn’t be and the need to find and aid what sounded like her pet in distress.
There was a thud and a watery crash followed by the sound of scrabbling claws on a hardwood floor that was closer still. Susan thought of the vase on the small table near the foot of the stairway leading to the second floor. She realized that whether it was her cat or not, it was headed her way. Trying to contain her rising feeling of panic, she reached over to the nightstand to turn on the light as a low-guttural growl echoed around the stairway. No longer did this sound like a scared animal, but an angry one. Susan could feel the temperature in the room dropping quickly and she gathered her comforter closer around her as she strained to hear what was going on out in the hallway.
She heard nothing for several minutes. No howls, no soft padding of paws on the hardwood floor, not so much as a breath including her own as she realized she had been holding it for the past few moments. She allowed herself to start breathing again with an audible sigh that briefly hung in the air as a fog due to the chill in the room. She listened intently fighting against the deafening silence for some clue as to what was happening beyond her bedroom door. Another five minutes passed according to the alarm clock without so much as a peep from whatever it was that had been making the racket in her home.
The continuing silence was starting to gnaw at Susan’s nerves. Was there something out there in the house or had this all been a waking dream? She believed she had gotten through the grieving process for her pet, but perhaps it had affected her more deeply than she thought. Could she really be just imagining all of this as a reaction to some hidden feelings of guilt? “Only one way to find out,” she thought to herself and steeling her resolve she climbed out of bed and started to move slowly towards the door. It was all of six feet from the bed, but she crossed the distance as slowly and cautiously as though the path were strewn with broken glass all the while staring at the door and listening for any sounds of movement on the other side.
In her frightened state the journey seemed to take hours and when she finally arrived at the door she was somewhat relieved at the complete and utter silence which greeted her. She forced herself to relax a little and reached for the door handle. She grasped the cool brass knob and began to twist the latch when suddenly the air erupted in a violent crescendo of sound and fury as something on the other side began beating against the door and wailing like a cat in the middle of a fight for its life. Susan screamed and leapt back from the door as it shuddered in its frame with each impact, the sound of claws ripping at the wood competing with the hissing and growling of something trying to tear it from its hinges. The volume level rose with the intensity of the attack and a crack appeared in the wood near the bottom of the door as Susan sprinted for the nightstand next to the bed. Grabbing a handle she yanked open a drawer in the stand revealing the revolver her husband had bought in spite of her protests. The sound of wood splintering rang out behind her as she snatched the gun from the drawer and turned to face the door. Whatever was trying to get in appeared to be focusing on the bottom of the door so that’s where she aimed, pausing only for a moment to try and steady her shaking hands. Five shots rang out as she emptied the gun into the door, the sound splitting through the air like thunder and setting her ears ringing. Something behind the door let out a yowl of pain and anger followed by a massive thud as though it had fallen over and the attack on the door abruptly ended.
Susan whipped back around to the night stand and frantically dug through the clutter in the drawer for the package of bullets she knew to be in there. She tore open the box and tried to reload the pistol as quickly as she could in her panic, dropping several bullets onto the floor as she struggled with the gun. Armed once again she turned and aimed at the door, listening for any signs of movement from the other side. Again there was nothing to hear outside of Susan’s own panicked breathing. The bottom of the door was in sad shape with holes from three of the bullets and several cracks stretching midway up its length. Swallowing her fear, Susan again crossed the room to the door holding the gun out in front of her all the while tensed in anticipation of a renewed attack. With a trembling hand she reached out and took hold of the door handle and paused. Nothing. With a deep breath she started to twist the knob slowly until an audible click resounded around the room like a rifle shot, but she still couldn’t hear anything moving on the other side. Counting to three Susan tore the door open with a scream of frustration and fear as she waved the pistol around trying to find something to aim it at. The light from the bedroom spilled into the hallway and failed to reveal anything that wasn’t there normally aside from three fresh bullet holes in the hardwood floor and Susan’s own shadow stretching up the wall opposite her.
Susan stood there shaking in the doorway with tears welling up in her eyes as she looked up and down the empty hallway for anything that might explain what she had just gone through. She choked back a sob and wiped her sweaty brow with her pajama sleeve as her mind raced trying to make sense of it all. She turned to head back into her room when she caught sight of the bottom half of the door. Fear started to rise up her spine again as she knelt down to examine the multitude of ragged claw marks that had all but stripped the finish completely away leaving bare wood full of deep gouges. She reached out a trembling hand to run her fingers down the grooves to prove to herself she wasn’t dreaming.
Suddenly, a crash in the room, the light winked out, claws scrabbling on wood and an angry yowl racing towards her from the bed…