And now for something completely different...A story I just wrote, inspired by one of my biggest fears, but otherwise entirely fictional. If you're easily frightened, please be aware that this just may do the trick for you. But don't let that stop you from reading it. Just maybe don't read it by yourself, or in the dark, or even at night. Regarding the story's ending, don't hate me for being vague – just use your imagination. That's what stories are made for anyway.
The sound – whatever it was – awakened me instantly. Which is saying something, since I sleep deeply and wake slowly.
I couldn't tell exactly where it originated, except that it was not in this room. Downstairs? The kitchen? It could have been a rattling pan. But who rattled it? Are the cats playing around in the sink again? I knew I should have rinsed off those plates before going to bed.
Listen. Wait. Maybe it will happen again. And it does.
What is that?
Not a pan. Most definitely not a pan. But something metallic. The tea kettle? The salad tongs? A carving knife?
A carving knife. I don't know how I know, but I know what's made that sound. Something – someone – has lifted a carving knife from out of the stainless-steel sink, scraping it ever so softly against the side, and set it back down again.
Set it down? But why?
And there it is again. Now they've picked it up again. This is not good.
"They" – really? – "they"? Who exactly do I think is down there? An intruder? A psychopathic killer? Really, my imagination is kicking into overdrive again.
Because it's probably just the cats doing something stupid. Come to think of it, I didn't rinse the carving knife either. It still has the smell – and obviously the taste – of chicken on its blade. That's what it is. The cats are licking the knife and it's jostling around in the sink.
But that doesn't explain what I heard last night.
It wasn't so loud last night. But the noise was similar. No, it was the same. Never mind that I hadn't used the carving knife last night, or that it wasn't even in the sink at the time. Was it? I can't be sure.
My mind is awake, alert, aware. But my body is slow to follow.
I get out of bed, creep over to the chair, and slip on my t-shirt. Trying to avoid all the places in the floor that creak with the slightest movement, I stoop down and reach under the bed. The bayonet is right where I left it.
What kind of idiot keeps a Spanish-American War-era bayonet (no rifle, mind you – just the bayonet) under their bed for protection?
Don't ask. It's sharp, and it works. At least it would if I ever needed to use it. Which I may right now.
Don't even think like that! It's nothing, it's the cats being stupid. I'm sure it is.
A creak below. The first floor of my house is all tile and linoleum. There's nothing to creak. So what was it?
The stairs creak. It's an old house. Everything creaks. Not tile, not linoleum. But the stairs do creak, every bit as much as the floors up here do.
Someone is on the stairs.
This cannot be happening. These are the kinds of things that good fiction – or at least passably good fiction – are made of. This doesn't happen in real life.
It would be too risky to invade a home that's occupied. Wouldn't it?
I haven't made any enemies – at least none that I know of. So it can't be personal. This doesn't make sense. Why is there someone on my stairs? There can't be!
But there is. A second creak confirms my worst fear. Someone is on the stairs, and they're coming for me.
Slowly, so as not to make a sound, I slide the razor-sharp bayonet from its metal sheath. The light from the moon coming through in a sliver from the window reveals a faint glimmer at the bayonet's tip.
I set the sheath down, and brandish the bayonet, as though I actually know what I'm doing. I don't.
I've watched a lot of crime shows on television, and horror movies, but nothing in the realm of the unreal has prepared me for this reality.
Another creak. Ten stair steps below, my fate approaches. I am not ready for this. But I can do nothing to stop it.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. But then, how was it supposed to be? No one ever said that life is fair, or happy endings are inevitable.
The creaks are coming faster now. I must have betrayed my presence somehow, and they – whoever they, or he, or she is – they know I am awake, and that I am waiting for them. And while this gives me pause, it gives them confidence.
The door knob turns slowly, and the door opens inward. Even in the dim light, the face that stares back at me from the doorway is clearly seen.
And I know. This is a fight I cannot win. I acknowledge this fact as the bayonet slips from my hand and hits the floor with a thud. And I brace myself for what I already know is coming.