Julie jolted awake from the deepest sleep she had had in at least a week. Her eye’s burned as she adjusted to the dim light in the master bedroom. Only the closet light was on, like she had left it. Pain surged through her back as she sat up on the wool throw rug that was next to her side of the bed. As her vision went from blurry to normal she knew this wasn’t a dream.
I fell asleep on the floor. How long have I been asleep?
Her heart thumped in her ears as she climbed up the bed. Her body sunk into the new mattress that she and Ben had bought for their five -year anniversary. “You’ll get the best sleep of your life,” Ben assured her. She knew he had bought the mattress to try to fix a problem that he didn’t know how to fix.
Although he didn’t come out and say it. She knew that he thought that she was the problem. But, she wasn’t the problem. It was the thing. The thing was the problem.
She gripped the headboard and looked out the large window. The darkened street was empty. No signs of life yet. Her eyes scanned the next -door neighbor’s driveway. It had been the last place she had seen the thing.
The green recycling bin with the giant dent on its side was the only thing at the end of the Hopper’s driveway.
She gulped in a breath of cool air as she waited to hear the thing’s moan. The tell-tale groan that sounded like dead branches crackling underneath her feet. The screech that made her freeze in place as dread filled her thoughts. The dead eyes that burned black. The sweat that dripped off of it like earthworms before a rain storm. She looked at the recycling bin, waiting for its shadow to emerge or a snap to echo. But there was nothing
I slept too long. Why did I let myself fall asleep?
She let go of the headboard and raced to the bedroom door. She shut it , knowing that it was too late. She looked around, realizing that the only weapons she had in the house were knives in the kitchen. She didn’t have time to get to the kitchen.
The thing moved too fast. It was already inside of the house.
“Ben, it’s here. I know it is,” she hissed.
She glanced at the spot in the bed where her husband should be, sleeping. It was empty.
“Ben?” she repeated, her voice hardly a whisper.
He has to be at work, paying off that mattress, she told herself, even though she knew it couldn’t be true.
Embedded n the carpet, were chunks of blueberry muffin and shattered glass.
What the hell happened?
She began to scoop up the fan of paper napkins on the floor.
She could hear Ben’s voice in her head, “If you’re going to be up all night, why don’t you make me breakfast in bed?”
At first, it had been a joke. But then it became a ritual. She would stay up all night, watching the thing on her street, making sure that it wasn’t getting close to the house. All night, the thing would move in the shadows. Only appearing when she thought it was gone. It was a game it liked to play. Her eyes would grow tired by the time the light came through the trees, and then she knew she was safe. She’d throw together an array of whatever breakfast items she could find, artfully arrange them on the large wooden tray, put them on Ben’s nightstand and crawl under the covers. She would sleep for half the day, never getting the real rest that the mattress promised. The first night Ben had joked with her but two weeks later, he had begged her to go to the doctor.
Her hand passed underneath the bed. She felt something warm and thick. It wasn’t the ice -cold orange juice that she had poured into Ben’s favorite blue striped glass. Sticky like syrup. She lifted up the bedskirt. A metallic scent that reminded her of spare change. The pool of blood snaked under the bed.
It was so much blood. Whatever had been under the bed was dead. Or it was dying.
She rose to her feet and looked down. Streaks of blood covered her grey pants.
I must have killed it. Whatever it was. Whatever the thing was. I killed it. No more sleepless nights. No more Ben telling me that I was foolish and that it was all in my head. I’ll show him when he gets home. I’ll show him that it was real. That it was stalking me each night. That it got closer and closer to me until I snapped. I’ll show him everything.
She looked down at her sticky, red hands and opened the bedroom door. She listened again. No moans. No breaths. Only the hum of the heater.
Ben will be proud of me. I finally stood up to it. He told me I wouldn’t do it, but I did. I didn’t let it win.
Her legs wobbled as she stumbled over the pair of work boots in the hall.
The sign that Ben was home.
“No, work boots in the bedroom, my dear.” he had promised after the fifth time he tracked mud onto the new area rugs.
She shook her head and gave the bed one more glance, as if she could make him appear.
“Ben?” she whispered into the darkened hallway.
She knew it had to be closer than before. She flung herself into the bathroom. Her hand shook as she locked the door and found the light.
The cool light flickered around her as a small moan echoed in the compact space.
She bit her lip.
It’s not over. I have to finish this. I can’t have another sleepless night.
She pulled back the yellow gingham patterned shower curtain.
The deep moan vibrated against the tile walls, almost knocking her off her feet. It was a different sound than before. It wasn’t a death rattling snore or a crackling or air like she had heard before. This was the final moments of life. This was bargaining and wishing for more time. This was desperation.
Her body swelled with rage as she reached down and picked up the breakfast tray.
Ben blinked as he continued to moan in the tiny yellow tub.
He was the thing that was keeping her up all night.
The tray cracked against his head and gobs of blood splattered against the tile wall. She smiled as she listened again for the moan.
The silence was beautiful. She knew she’d melt into the mattress. It would be the best sleep of her life.