A Haunted Night
It had been a long, strenuous day at work and all I looked forward to was the coziness of my warm bed. I didn’t need alcohol nor amusement – I just needed to lie down, let my head sink into the pillow, close my eyes and slowly drift into the netherworlds of unconsciousness. But fate had other plans that night.
Just as I had turned off the lamp on my nightstand and began the descent down into the place where dreams really do come true, I became aware of something out of the ordinary. It was a presence that was just out of reach of sight and sound; the type you know is there, but you can’t quite figure out why because your five standard senses don’t give you input that agrees with your sixth. It wasn’t in the room with me, that much I knew, but my ears perked up and my heart rate quickened nonetheless.
When I still believed I was going to slip into a deep sleep as soon as the lights went out, I pulled my covers up to my head in that way that one does to combat a cold night. That’s how I sleep best and always have since I was a small child no matter what the weather was like. Now, however, I had to yank them off of me because I had broken out into a sweat and was too hot despite the coolness of the room.
I looked around. There was nothing out of the ordinary to see in the dim bluish light cast by the moon which shone through the window opposite the foot of my bed. The wooden wardrobe and the bedroom’s door with four panels and a long brass door handle were to my right. Now sitting up and wide awake, it was the latter that caught my attention.
Ever so slowly, the door handle began to turn downward. Before reaching its lowest point that would have allowed the door to open, it sprang back into its original position as though whoever was turning it just couldn’t muster the energy to perform the full task. I could hear no sound other than the handle nor see anything else as the hairs on the back of my neck tried to pull away from their fleshy anchor.
For a few unending moments, I sat frozen in the half-sitting position I had taken just a few seconds before. Sweat rolled down my forehead and into my eyes causing me to shake myself from the stupor the movement of the door handle had put me into. I lay back down, always facing the door, and pulled the covers up to my head as a small child does when badly frightened. I could now relate to that child.
Sleep was unthinkable at that very moment. Instead I tried to rationalize what I had just seen. Perhaps it had been a trick of the dim light that had fooled my mind into thinking it saw this phenomenon. Maybe it was just an over-excited mind working itself up into a frenzy. Had I seen any horror movies recently? Had I read any ghost stories? I didn’t think so. Or maybe there was really an intruder and he got spooked because he heard me sit up in bed? These and a thousand thoughts like them went rapid-fire through my mind trying to calm myself and explain what I had just seen.
Distracted as I was with trying to think my thoughts away, I didn’t notice the pale white fingers that had slipped through the gap underneath the door. At least not right away. But when I did, I choked a scream. It wanted out badly, but despite being alone, shame had mutinied my emotions at the last second and suppressed it causing my eyes to water. An observer might have thought I was crying.
What parts of the long, feminine fingers that hadn’t already rotten away were white, blue and bloated. They were pulling on the bottom of the door with occasional breaks in between to drum on it like an impatient boss waiting for an explanation as to why your project wasn’t finished on time. Tap tap tap. These were in no hurry whatsoever though. In fact, the longer I stared at them, the slower they drummed. Tap… tap… tap… Whoever they belonged to seemed to thoroughly enjoy tormenting me. As each finger lifted from the door, I could see bits of festered flesh pull off the finger and stick to the door. The last time my stomach had tried to release its contents through my mouth was after too much wine at my company’s last Christmas party. Tap… tap… tap…
The fingers gave one final drum and unceremoniously slid back underneath the door. At that point, I lay there paralyzed with fear and stared straight ahead at where the fingers had been. The fleshy marks were still there and a couple of loose bits fell onto the floor. A moan escaped from my shock-distorted face as I again began the process of rationalization. This time I had a tougher time of it though because I had seen something that could not be placed into any of the neat categories of reason used for the defense of one’s sanity in such an occasion.
Did I just hear something? What was that? I thought I heard something. A tingling sensation crept up my spine vertebrae by vertebrae as a noise that sounded like a light breeze became audible through the door. It was almost indistinguishable at first, but rose in volume, almost to a feverish, frenzied pitch, but never quite loud enough so that I could distinctly make out what exactly it was. It sounded like whispering, but it could have just been the wind whistling through a door or window that wasn’t quite shut tightly enough.
This notion was taken away from me as I began to make out specific words. "Damned", "hit", "accident" and "you" were just four of them I could pluck out of the ether of what sounded like multiple voices whispering all at once. I didn’t move and didn’t try to cover my ears. My gut feeling told me it wouldn’t have helped anyway. These weren’t spoken words and I knew it. Yet I could hear them as distinctly as I could the windy old woman next door when she talked to me during the daylight hours. Despite that, however, I still had no idea what was being said. Whatever it was just kept repeating these four words in between unintelligible whispers.
The noise crescendoed briefly, then stopped. My pillow had turned into a nasty pool of salty sweat, but I hardly noticed as I stared with red, unblinking eyes at the door. Other than the flesh marks on the bottom of it which were now hardly visible, no one would have ever suspected anything out of the ordinary was taking place. At most, a neutral observer might have called me paranoid or say I had seen too many scary movies. I knew otherwise though.
In that moment, a long-forgotten, distant memory made itself known and sent a shutter throughout my body. It was one I had managed to successfully suppress for many years and it rearing its ugly head did not improve the present situation at all. I was still in my senior year of high school when I was forced to bear witness to something vulgar that pestered my dreams and haunted my waking hours for years thereafter. One morning on the way to school, I… but never mind. I’d rather not.
By this point, I had resigned myself to the surreal events unfolding before me although I had not accepted them. I was still scared to my wit’s end, but the sudden resurrection of a memory better left dead had shocked some sense back into me. After several moments when nothing more happened, I breached the secure perimeter of my comforter and reached for the lamp on my nightstand. Light was the answer. Once I had light, everything would be alright. It was like sunrise at the end of a long, sleepless night and the relief it brought with it that the fight for sleep was finally reaching its end one way or the other.
Fumbling in the dark with a shaking hand, I finally found the inline switch on the cord. Nasty buggers those. Never can find them right away. I felt for the higher end of the switch with my index finger when suddenly a blood-curdling scream that signaled brutal, violent, torturous death sent my hand flying against the lamp on its way back to the safety of my blanket. As suddenly as it began, it stopped. The lamp tipped over and fell off the nightstand landing with a crash on the floor with the sound of shattering glass replacing that of the scream. But I didn’t know which was worse. Broken glass meant no light unless I fully left the security of my bed and approached the light switch next to the door. I could have sworn the scream came from behind it.
I realized with a start that I was whimpering. Given my current predicament, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but as I wasn’t capable of rational thought anymore, that didn’t immediately occur to me. Instead an overwhelming sense of dread washed over me as my mind struggled against the onslaught of rogue memories. The girl should have seen it coming! She shouldn’t have been there at that time! She should have driven away! I certainly wish I hadn’t been. But she was. And I was. She the victim, I the witness. What happened was nobody’s fault. If anyone is to blame, then the girl herself. Certainly the train driver couldn’t have done anything differently. Nor could I have.
Whatever it was that was haunting me started to pound the wall outside my bedroom door, wanting in. At first it was at the far end of the wall, but ever so slowly moved closer until it was hammering on the door itself. Each strike shook the door in its frame sending years of dust flying off it in clouds that maliciously hovered in the air like Agent Orange in a black and white film. I gasped and shook afraid to look, but scared not to. A strong wind that came from underneath the door now accompanied the pounding. I held on tight to my comforter as it seemed intent upon tearing it away from me, although the clouds of dust, remained almost completely still. The hammering continued unabated until I thought it would tear the flimsy wooden door from its hinges. Then it suddenly ceased, taking the wind with it and leaving a deafening silence and a poisonous cloud of dust drifting ever so slightly towards my paralyzed body.
A tear ran down my cheek to join the ocean of sweat that my bed had become. I sniveled and sniffled, but wasn’t sure if I was crying for the girl or for myself. Nothing seemed real anymore. I didn’t understand what was happening or why the full force of repugnant recollection was manifesting itself that night. She had been so innocent and had never harmed a fly. And yet, Providence had condemned her to die in a slow and painful way. It wasn’t over in an instant like the lucky ones, but the final crunch might have misled any bystanders. I didn’t understand it. Such a good person. I tried my best to save her. I really did. I really really truly did. Honestly. But it didn’t matter in the end. It didn’t make a single bit of difference. In fact, my actions may have even caused her more suffering than if I hadn’t intervened, if I hadn’t tried to push her car off the railroad crossing where it was stuck in front of mine, if I hadn’t accidentally moved her car so that the train hit her squarely rather than just hit the front of her car, if I had just let her be hit and not risked my own life…
I didn’t know what time it was nor how long I had been lost in my thoughts. It didn’t matter either. My sobbing figure underneath the comforter next to the broken lamp in the dim bluish moonlight looked like a train wreck. After a while, I opened my eyes and looked around the room through tear-blurred lenses. There were no fleshy bits on the door and the clouds of dust, if there had been any at all, were gone. All was silent and peaceful except for my heavy breathing. I leaned up on one unsteady arm and looked out of the window opposite the foot of my bed. A hazy figure gazed in on me, her long hair disturbed ever so slightly by a breeze I knew wasn’t there. There was no malice emanating from the apparition; in fact, although I couldn’t quite make out her facial features, I knew she was smiling at me. Through my tears and as unnatural as it felt in that moment, I smiled back. At that moment I knew she didn’t hold a grudge against me. I knew my kid sister had forgiven me and still loved me – even after all that had occurred.