The best part of being an assistant store manager is not having to get up early, every morning. The work day doesn’t usually start before ten am. Today was one of those days but tomorrow wouldn’t be. Lying in bed and thinking over the grueling hours spent cleaning aisles and stocking shelves, I try to imagine how tomorrow might go. Myself and the actual store manager are meeting with her boss, the manager of our district. The meeting was set for 8am.
Who the hell flies all the way from Texas just to get up at dawn for a meeting? I thought. That’s just stupid. Especially when our store doesn’t even open until 11. I give a little eye roll in protest and then glance at the clock again.
I have to sleep tonight. I must. This will probably be one of the most important meetings ever. If the district manager likes me, I might get promoted to my own store. If I show up haggard from tossing and turning all night, she’ll think I was out partying or something. Or, worse, if I don’t sleep at all, I might yawn while she’s talking.
The agitated feeling that comes from knowing that you’re only keeping yourself awake started to creep in. I pull the covers up to my chin and roll onto my side. Closing my eyes, I try to clear my head of any thoughts and just focus on my breathing. I learned a long time ago that counting sheep just doesn’t work and usually involves zany adventures of said sheep. I’m pretty sure that whomever came up with that idea was just making a joke that got taken too seriously.
Great. Now I’m thinking about sheep standing one on top of each other, trying to reach the moon. With an exasperated grunt and a quick flip back onto my back, I stare straight up at the darkness of the ceiling. Go to sleep! I tell myself. Just clear your mind.
The house is silent, dark, and warm. The heat retained from the August day is just bearable enough to not warrant the air conditioner. A whirring sound comes from somewhere in the kitchen. The sound of the refrigerator (while humorously frightening when I first moved in) is a comforting noise of normality. To be just over 30 and finding yourself afraid of the refrigerator can be kind of humbling.
I start to feel that hazy feeling. That gentle sinking that comes right before you drop out of consciousness and into a new world. Finally! I allow myself one last, brief, conscious thought as I accept that sleep has finally come. I begin to dream of being on a giant staircase, the kind you’d see in a huge mall or metropolitan train station. This massive building has two staircases, one on each side of an open area, far below. The stairs are leading up to a sort of balcony, over which you can look two, maybe three stories to the ground. The air is cool around me and I’m walking up them, peering over the ledge. I have a sense that I’m looking for someone, or looking out for them.
I begin to climb a little higher, taking steps slowly and deliberately so as not to make any noise. An eerie sense of unease starts tingling at the back of my brain and I recognize at once that my skin is starting to turn to goose bumps. I lean over the edge to get a better view and to see how far I’ve come. As I’m gazing down at the tiled floor,
A hurried and almost child-like whisper resounds so close to my ear that the tickling of the breath wakes me, “The evil is coming.”
I fling my eyes open at the darkness around me and sit straight up in bed. Now the goose bumps of my dream are real and I can feel the raising of the hairs on my arms and at the back of my neck. My eyes fling from dark corner to further and darker recess, trying to locate the sound of the voice. Straining, I can hear some crickets outside but the house remains silent. Tentative and a little shaky, I raise my hand toward the lamp next to my bed.
My resolve to turn on the light falters slightly as the unnerving fear slithers through my mind, What if I touch something? I steady my hand and regain my confidence, reaching for the light, I remind myself that it’s all in my head and this is no new thing. I flick on the light and take another swift glance around my room and through the door to the living room.
Nothing. There’s nothing there. It was in your dream, I tell myself, but, knowing that, I’m not at all convinced. I sit back against the headboard a little, still listening so hard that I think that I can feel my eardrums working. No sounds or voices come to me in the light of the bedside lamp. I glance at the clock, 1:30. I had slept for a little bit but not much. I start to relax my back, allowing myself to slowly sink back down into the comfort of the bed but then I hear it. Footsteps on the wood floor of the living room. Only three or four footfalls but made in quick succession, pat pat pat pat.
I jump upright again, gripping the blanket so hard it leaves creases in the fabric. Now I’m faced with the all-too-well-known dilemma. Get up and prove to yourself that you’re just crazy and it’s all part of your sleep disorder or stay here and wait for the potentially real intruder to come and kill you. What’s it gonna be? I ask myself. I take a slow, but deep, breath and let it out low with my lips shaped in an oval, like a lamaze trainer. Just do it. I slowly roll back the blanket and turn in the bed to place my feet into my slippers. The only time I take my eyes off of the doorway is to make a quick check for monster arms that may be reaching out to grab my feet as they descend.
Nope, no monster hands. I slide my feet into my slippers, still watching the doorway, and slowly raise myself off the bed to creep toward the door. I could be a fucking ninja, I almost whisper. Silently, I peer around the edge of the doorway to the living room, lit softly by moonlight and the parking lamp down the road. Nothing so far. I slide my hand slowly up the wall to where I know the light switch will be found and, after just a brief hesitation, flip the light on. Nobody there. I continue to the other rooms in the house, the kitchen, the guest half-bath, and the storage room that’s supposed to be my office. There’s nothing and no one. No sign of intrusion, locks, still protecting me from the outside world, are turned in their place and the house lights glare back at me as if I had interrupted it’s solitude.
This is silly, I tell myself. I start to flip off the lights, working my way from the farthest end and back toward my bedroom when a sharp knock sounds from somewhere near my bed, stopping me dead in my tracks.
Nope. Not sleeping tonight. Haggard look for the morning meeting it is. I grab a book and settle in on the couch for the remaining hours leading up to the comfort of dawn.