The power had gone out, and so Rose was sitting up in her bed illuminated by an LED candle whose radiance had much to be desired. At least she had the candle. It had been purchased some years prior as sexual set dressing: a mood enhancer, a barely functioning 99c store impulse buy to create the illusion of romance. She had bought it in a feeble effort to resuscitate an old relationship that had been sitting on the shelf long past its sell by date, an attempt at recreating a desire that had long since left her. So the LED candle had not served its primary function of providing a backdrop to a coital encounter but in its secondary function of providing light (really its primary function if you thought about it) it met expectations, just barely, though certainly did not exceed them.
It was 10:30 at night, or rather it had been 10:30 when the power had gone out which was maybe 10 minutes ago, though Rose could not be sure. Rose was never good at keeping track of time. It could have been 15 minutes or 5 minutes, but certainly no more than a half an hour by her reckoning. 10:30 at night was a good time to go to sleep, but Rose didn’t feel tired just then. She weighed her options. Her phone was down to 10% and, without an ability to charge it, she was hesitant to turn it on again in case there was an emergency. On the other hand, if she went on her phone she might be able to find out how widespread the power outage was and when it was estimated to end. An unfortunate problem was that her phone’s battery was constantly draining. Even if she were to just turn it on quickly to check the electric company’s website she might be left with a dead phone in the middle of the night in an apartment by herself, which scared her a little more than she let on. It was very, very dark. The night was very, very long.
Holding the LED candle in her lap, she attempted to read a book but was not terribly successful. The little candle provided only enough light to enable her to discern the outlines of shapes in her room, see her own hand in front of her face, and so on, but did not function quite well enough to let her read by it, especially since she wore glasses that reflected the glare. She grew antsy. The antsiness became a kind of fidgeting. The antsiness had not yet become full-blown anxiety but it was teasing at the edges. She turned on her phone. It was 10:43. She turned her phone off.
Carrying the LED candle with her, Rose walked to her bathroom, placed the candle on the counter, and began to brush her teeth. She looked into the sink because she could not look into the mirror. Well, she could look into the mirror but she did not want to. Mirrors at night unnerved her. She couldn’t say why. The antsiness was becoming anxiety. Rose could feel her chest start to tighten and her heart beat a little faster and she desperately, desperately did not want to have an attack in the middle of the night with no lights on. She hated her anxiety. It was like being possessed, it was like being another person. She had only had 3 genuine panic attacks in her life and all three times there had been other people there to help her through them, other people to help remind her that she was only having a panic attack, that the panic attack would end soon, other people to remind her of where she was and who she was and give her something to focus on other than the attack.
There was no one here. She forced herself to look up into the mirror and saw…
It was her own reflection. That was all. That was all it would ever be, right? Right. It was just a mirror. It was just a mirror in the dark. She was Rose. She was in her apartment. This was her sink. The little candle was just bright enough to show a few spots on the mirror too. She needed to clean it. That was all. It was a room. It was an apartment. It was Rose. That was all.
It wasn’t, said a part of her brain
She ignored it
Rose washed her face, the warm washcloth going around and around in tiny circles on her chin as she forced herself to watch her reflection to make sure her face was really clean. It was too dark to see if it was really clean, but she needed to be sure that her whole face was clean because she didn’t want to break out anymore than she already did. She needed to get her makeup off, she needed her face clean before she went to bed, or she would wake up with a zit. She needed to be clean. Satisfied, she rinsed the washcloth, folded it lengthwise 3 times, and draped it over the faucet. She had to pee. The candle flickered.
Rose noticed the candle flickering and began to get a bit worried that the years old battery would finally die. It was a watch battery or something of that size: one of those tiny round ones, not the kind she would have like a triple A. She turned over the candle and looked at the bottom. The battery compartment had to be removed by screwdriver. It was a very, very small screw. Her tool/ ketchup packet/ menu/ tape/ pen/ battery drawer was very, very cluttered. She didn’t think she had a screwdriver that size even. Or maybe she did have one in one of those glasses repair kits someplace but she didn’t know where that was. She knew she didn’t have one of those tiny batteries so it was kind of a moot point. Thinking about the tool/ketchup packet/ menu/ tape/ pen/ battery drawer though reminded Rose that at least at one time it had been the tool/ ketchup packet/ menu/ tape/ pen/ battery/ FLASHLIGHT drawer and, carrying the LED candle, she walked to the kitchen. Peeing could wait. If the candle died it would be hard to do much of anything, but if she had a flashlight she could do a heck of a lot more.
Rose’s bedroom had only a small window which looked out onto an alley; the living room on the other hand featured a sliding glass door off to one side which lead out to a balcony overlooking the rest of the complex. It was through the living room that Rose walked, flickering LED candle in her hand, as she made her way to the kitchen. She felt a breeze and turned, noticing two things as she looked through the glass of the door. The first was that the rest of the apartment complex was just as dark as her own apartment was. This proved to her that what was happening was in fact a power outage and not some kind of failure to pay her power bill, which had been an anxiety that was lingering in the back of her mind for no reason in particular because she had all of her bills on autopay. This was rather reassuring. The second thing she noticed was that the sliding door was ajar, which produced quite the opposite effect.
Questions. “Had flies or moths or ants or mosquitoes come through the open door?” was a question that she might have been asking herself were it not for the other question that needed answering more pressingly:
Did I leave the door open?
That day she had, most assuredly, watered her plants on the balcony. She remembered very, very clearly watering the plants. But maybe that was yesterday. Was it yesterday? If it had been light out she could have looked at the plants and seen how damp they were and determined when, in fact, she had watered them. But it was not light. It was very, very dark. Being that it was very, very dark, and seeing as Rose was now not as sure as she had been a moment ago that she had watered the plants, she began to feel quite a bit more uneasy. It was today. No, it was definitely today. Today she watered her plants. Yes, she very clearly today watered her plants because yesterday she didn’t get home until after dark and she very definitely remembered watering her plants when it was light out. Perhaps this morning? Had she watered her plants this morning and left the door open all day?
She began to worry that perhaps her cat had gotten out if she had left the door ajar all day after watering her plants, but that other question, the bigger question, was pressing against her chest making it harder and harder to breathe:
Did I? DID I? Did I?
If she had left the door ajar after watering her plants it could have been this morning, it could have been yesterday afternoon, it could have been any time at all really and she would have to deal with the consequences like maggots in her garbage can or a cat on the loose. Cats and flies and plants. She could deal with the consequences of leaving her door ajar all day. But the other question, the bigger question, the question that she did not want to even utter aloud, even think was
What if I didn’t?
This was a question the answers to which, the consequences of which, chilled her to the very core. It was at that very moment, mulling these very, very dark thoughts that the LED candle decided to flicker and go out. Like in a movie.
Rose smacked it and the light turned on again. She felt she was running out of time. She walked over to the sliding door which she closed and latched. Then, walking a little bit faster, but not so fast that she tripped on a pair of shoes she had left on the floor by the sofa, she made her way across the living room to the kitchen and turned to the tool/ketchup packet/ menu/ tape/ pen/ battery drawer that she hoped was a tool/ketchup packet/ menu/ tape/ pen/ battery drawer/ flashlight drawer, opened it and rummaged around inside. In the very back, under a roll of masking tape, was a flashlight. It was not the kind of flashlight that a nightwatchman would have. It was not the kind of flashlight you would take camping. It was not the kind of flashlight that would be particularly useful in a blackout. It was silver, about 3 inches long and half an inch wide, and attached to a keyring. But when Rose hit the button, it turned on. The light it gave off was surprisingly strong, and by the size of it the little flashlight looked like it took regular batteries. Before she lost the LED candle for good, she turned the flashlight off, twisted off the back, and looked inside: 2 triple A batteries sat nestled inside a housing which could be removed. Rummaging in the drawer again Rose miraculously was able to retrieve 2 backup triple As. She now had light. She had light and she had a backup in case the light went out. This was good. This solved the original problem. The original problem of going to the bathroom but the LED was flickering and this was why she was going in the kitchen and here we are, was solved.
But there was another problem. The problem of the door. And who opened it. She had to pee. This had not changed and now with all of the anxiety her bladder was feeling even more full. She had to pee. She turned the flashlight on and carried it and the LED candle to the bathroom with her. She put the candle next to the sink, pulled down her underwear, lifted the XXL men’s T-shirt she wore as a nightgown and sat down on the toilet, the flashlight in her hand. She heard dripping. She hadn’t started to pee and still she heard dripping. It was probably the faucet from when she washed her face before. Leaning over, half waddling, she twisted both handles on the sink tightly, and then waddled back over to the toilet releasing her clenched kegel muscle and starting the flow of urine. Then she clenched again, stopping the flow. The dripping sound was still there. And it was louder. She released the rest of her urine in a rush, wiped with her one free hand, then put the flashlight between her teeth as she pulled up her underwear. Putting the flashlight next to the sink with the LED candle she washed her hands quickly, dried them on the towel, grabbed the flashlight again, and swiftly walked to her bed. Which she found occupied...
By her cat: Captain Reginald von Flufferpaws. The Captain, or Reg, as Rose alternately referred to the brown and black tabby, was not curled asleep at the foot of her bed as would be expected of a profoundly lazy cat of its size, but was instead perched on the pillow next to hers, a pillow that would have been occupied by a girlfriend if she had one, or a boyfriend if she had one, which she had neither. Under ordinary circumstances, Rose did not like Reg in her bed. He had been known to get fleas when he got out. He had been known to paw at her face in the middle of the night while she was trying to sleep. He had been known to cough up a hairball or two on that very pillow upon which he now sat. But these were not ordinary circumstances, and under these circumstances, the circumstances being the very, very dark and the door that was left ajar by persons unknown, Rose was deeply, deeply grateful that her cat was both in the house and in her bed. Unfortunately, the cat was not the only thing in her bed that had not been there a few minutes before. There was also quite a lot of blood.
The quite a lot of blood belonged to a mouse, a dead mouse by the look of it, which was now casually resting on that pillow next to hers, that pillow that should have been occupied by a significant other but was instead occupied by a morbidly obese cat and a dead mouse. As horrifying as the scene was, Rose was grateful for two things: first that the mouse was indeed dead, as a struggling mostly-dead mouse was somehow more horrific to her than one that was well and truly deceased, and the second was that the mouse and all the blood seemed to be entirely confined to the side of the bed that she did not normally sleep on. Still, all the sheets most certainly needed to be changed, and somehow the mouse needed to be disposed of and, oh yes, it was still very, very dark and all she had was a flashlight and an LED candle on its last legs. Oddly, the appearance of a bloody dead mouse in her bed put Rose at ease. Well not quite at ease. It put her in a new frame of mind which was
Oh god I need to get this disgusting dead mouse off of my bed and change my sheets and when the hell has Reg ever caught and killed a mouse before, he is too lazy to get off of his fat ass to do anything
This frame of mind was rather preferable to the previous state which was
Oh god it is so dark and I am alone and did I leave the door open and what if I didn’t leave the door open and what was that sound and oh god what am I going to do.
This new state of mind gave her a very concrete purpose. There was a mouse. This mouse needed to be removed from her bed. There was quite a bit of blood on the other pillowcase and the corner of the sheets. The sheets needed to be changed. She had purpose.
Rose took the flashlight and walked back to the kitchen, confidently now that she had light which was bright enough to illuminate the whole way. She went to the cabinet underneath the sink, retrieved a trash bag, closed the cabinet, and walked back to her bedroom. Hand inside the trash bag, she picked up the mouse, then inverted the bag so as not to touch the little creature with her bare hands. Then she stripped all the sheets on her bed, mulled the possibility of just washing them at a later date, realized that mouse blood was probably very difficult to get off light blue sheets, and stuffed them and the pillowcase into the trash bag with the bloody mouse. Carrying the bag back to the kitchen, she weighed her options of what exactly to do with it. It was very, very dark outside and she lived on the second floor. She was not entirely confident about making it down the stairs and out to the dumpster on the other side of her building on her own. On the other hand, she did not want to leave the bloody trash bag inside the house because she was quite certain that the mouse would begin to smell sooner or later and she did not want to wake up to the stench of decomposing mouse. She looked at the sliding door.
The door was, blessedly, still closed. She opened the door and placed the bag outside, closed the door and latched it once again. She could deal with the trash bag in the morning. She needed to put new sheets on her bed. First she needed to wash her hands, which she did very thoroughly and then turned the knobs on the handles tightly so they wouldn’t drip. It was then she realized she hadn’t heard the dripping in a while. Now it was all coming together. The dripping was coming from the mouse. The cat must have carried the mouse and blood must have been dripping and ew… blood must have been dripping there must be a trail of blood somewhere but at any rate the dripping dead mouse was done with and that was that. She had left the door ajar after she watered her plants, a mouse had gotten in, the cat had killed the mouse. That was it. That explained everything. Isn’t it nice when everything is explained?
Walking to the hall closet, Rose got out fresh sheets and fresh pillowcases. Thankfully, she liked to sleep with just a bottom sheet and a comforter in a duvet, and since she didn’t have any significant other to speak of, the duvet was entirely on her side of the unnecessarily large king sized bed when the mouse incident had occurred and was thus spared from any blood. This made things much, much easier. The bed made, the mouse taken care of, her teeth brushed and face washed, Rose found she was now ready for bed. The whole evening was quite trying and she had gotten herself in such a tizzy about nothing. Sitting propped up by her pillow, Rose turned on her phone. It was 11:15. She was down to 5%. She was quite sure that she had had 10% only a while ago but the damn thing sucked juice like nobody’s business. She could have checked the power company website, she could have called her best friend just to say hi, she could have done any number of things. Instead, Rose tapped the Facebook button, hit “What’s On Your Mind” and wrote:
“Power’s out! UGH! And The Captain decided today of all days to catch his first mouse, the jerk.” She completed the post with an emoji of a face rolling its eyeballs. She hit “Post.”
The LED candle flickered and went out again.
Rose smacked the candle hard, and in doing so dropped the phone she was holding on the other side of the nightstand. It was no use anyway: the little candle was done. Whatever, she didn’t need a candle she had a flashlight now. Besides, she was rather tired and was going to go to sleep anyway. However she should probably have the phone handy just in case. Shining the flashlight in the direction of her phone, she could see it had fallen between the nightstand and the wall. She tried to reach for it with her right hand while holding the flashlight in her left, couldn’t quite reach, and then scooted the nightstand forward as she stretched as far as she could and grabbed the phone between her fingers and brought it to her lap. It was off. And it would not turn on. And now her arm hurt. Sigh. Whatever. Time for bed. She put the flashlight on her nightstand as she lay her propped up pillow down onto her mattress and rested her head upon it. Then she took her glasses off and placed them on the nightstand next to the flashlight. Unfortunately, in doing so she knocked the flashlight off the nightstand with her hand. It dropped to the floor, rolling ever so slightly beneath her bed, and turned off. It was dark. Very, very dark. But Rose was tired. Rose did not need a flashlight, she did not need a candle, she did not need a phone. Rose had already brushed her teeth and peed and washed her face. It was fine. She closed her eyes. And opened them again.
She had to pee. This always happened to her. Whenever she lay down in bed she always felt the need to pee again. She knew that she couldn’t possibly really need to pee again after a half an hour but there it was. She tried to ignore the sensation of having to pee as much as she could. She would just go to sleep. She had to pee. She had to pee. She HAD to pee. She mulled the idea of just peeing in her bed, which was completely preposterous. She had JUST changed her sheets. And she was an adult. And that was gross. Ugh. Frustrated, she threw off the comforter and reached her over the side of her bed. She felt the hardwood floor, the corner of her nightstand. She could not feel the flashlight. It could not have gone very far, so she reached further under her bed, further, further. Something hard and long and a little warm was right at the tip of her fingers but she couldn’t get a grasp on it. Rose had already over stretched her shoulder trying to grab her phone, and she knew that it was pointless to try to keep reaching. She would only end up with a kink in her neck and a shoulder that was even more sore than it was now.. She gave up. Her glasses wouldn’t help her anyway, so she didn’t bother trying to put them on. She still had to pee.
By now the very, very of the dark was only… very. Her eyes had adjusted sufficiently that she thought she might be able to make her way to the bathroom unassisted. It was connected to her bedroom after all. She knew the layout of her own house. Hesitantly, she brought her legs over to the side of the bed and stepped down. Walking slowly, her arm out touching the bed, she walked around her room and then, reaching for the wall, walked toward the direction of where her bathroom should be. Where it wasn’t.
This didn’t make any sense. How could she have gone the wrong way? Her apartment only had a living room, a kitchen, a hallway, a bathroom, and her bedroom. The bathroom had two doors leading both to the living room and to her bedroom. This made no sense. She felt like she was falling. She had the distinct sense of a person not quite upright. She also felt warm, warmer than she had before, warmer than she should on a autumn's night like this one. It felt harder to breathe. She reached out to one side with both hands, leaned forward and walked until she felt wall. This seemed to take far longer than was possible. Instead of feeling the wall she felt something soft. The soft something was moving. She moved her hand away from it suddenly and tried to grab anything else. There was nothing there. Waving her arm in a great arc all she could feel was wisps of soft somethings. Her leg hit something hard and she reached out to grab anything to break her fall. She grabbed hold of something soft and heard a rattling. The rattling was unsettling at first but then immediately put her in a better frame of mind. It was the rattling of a hanger. She was in her closet. How could she have forgotten her walk in closet? She had gone into her closet instead of her bathroom. So silly. The soft somethings were her sweaters, the hard something she had it was her luggage. She had been getting ready to pack for her trip next weekend. The strange thing was, as moved her arms along her sweaters, feeling their softness on her limbs, she didn’t remember her closet being quite this large.
Rose’s closet was right next to her bathroom. Wherever she had been before now she knew where she was. She only needed to leave the closet and follow the wall for about a foot, foot and a half, and she was be there at the bathroom. Grasping hold of the door frame, which she was finally able to do after furtive grasps at air, Rose placed both hands firmly on the wall and crab walked to the left until there was no wall and she knew she had reached the bathroom door. She stepped inside, found the toilet and peed again. She didn’t bother washing her hands. Finding the door frame again she scooted along the wall in a circle until she found her bed again. Finally it was all done. She got into bed, pulled the covers on top of her, and closed her eyes.
Sounds. Creaking sounds, clicking sounds, dripping sounds. She was aware of every sound. She couldn’t sleep. And yet… she didn’t want to open her eyes. There was something about the dark of closed eyes that was more comforting than the dark of the Dark. She pulled the covers on top of her head. What was it about covers? They made her feel safe. She felt foolish. She heard sounds again. Light tapping sounds, dripping sounds, the sound of her own breath, her heart beating in fear. What did she fear?
Rose did not believe in ghosts, nor did she believe in monsters. There was no such thing. No such thing. She had been at times afraid of intruders: of robbers and rapists and killers in the night, but those thoughts didn’t occur to her then as she lay in the dark. No, all she could think of was monsters: monsters under the bed, monsters in her closet, monsters creeping in the dark. But she knew monsters weren’t real. She knew that. She knew they weren’t real. So what did she fear? She feared the sounds. She feared seeing a monster. If she saw a monster, which she knew very well could not be real, there were only two possibilities: either her entire worldview regarding the supernatural would be upended, forcing her to question all she had ever known about the existence of God and demons and heaven and hell and aliens and everything under the sun, or she was mad. Mad isn’t a proper medical term. Mad wasn’t a very good way of talking about mental illness. There were other more proper words that she could have used besides mad, but in that moment she didn’t think “oh I hope that I don’t have a psychobiochemical disturbance brought on by one or many quantifiable psychiatric conditions,” she thought,
Oh god I hope I’m not going crazy
To be fair, this is what most people think when they believe they are hallucinating.
That was the real, real problem. Was she hallucinating? Had she lost time? How couldn’t she remember when she watered her plants? How could she lose her own bathroom even in the dark of night? Were the sounds really there or only in her brain? It was maddening. Both maddening in that it was irritating and annoying and also it was, quite literally, driving her mad, unhinged, crazy.
There isn’t anything there
No there isn’t
She couldn’t stand it. She spoke to the darkness,
“Hello? Hello, please don’t kill me. I’m not bad or anything. It would be really uncool for you to just kill a person trying to sleep in the dark.”
You are talking to the nothing of the dark
Well… what of it
Who are you talking to now?
There ya go. You’re crazy.
I’m just saying, you are talking to yourself, you are jumping at shadows, you are hearing things…
Just stop it. Go away.
I’m your mind. I can’t go away
“Just STOP it,” she shouted aloud
For a moment there was nothing. No sounds. Not even her own breathing.
Rose tossed and turned fitfully for what seemed like ages until finally she fell into an uneasy sleep.
She dreamt of claws. She had fallen into a pit of claws: scratching, tearing, pulling. She was falling, falling down, down, down into the pit, into the claws, unable to climb. Falling, scratching, tearing. There was no light, no air, just the pulling and scratching and tearing and falling. No air, no sun, no light. Only claws.
Rose awoke, covered in sweat. The clock on her nightstand read 4:30. The clock was on. The power was back. It was over. She looked at the clock again to be sure. It was too early to wake up. She fell back asleep. She did not dream.
When at last she awoke for the second time, the clock read 7:15. Rose rolled out of bed, with some difficulty as apparently Reg was sleeping on top of her her left arm, which was tingly and asleep, and stepped over to look through the little window in her room. It was barely light out. Darn that daylight savings time. The ground in the alley was slightly damp. It had rained. Of course it had rained. It had rained and that was all. It had rained and that explained it. Everything made sense again. In the pale light of the October morning all the worries of the previous evening had seemed childish and nonsensical. Everything made sense. Everything always did. Everything was ok. She walked back to her bed to retrieve her glasses and plug her phone in. The floor at the foot of her bed was wet.
Dammit, the roof is leaking. I am going to have to put in a call to the apartment manager. I hope I don’t have water damage anywhere else
These are daytime thoughts. Daytime thoughts are logical. In daytime everything made sense. She was happy it was daytime. She needed a cup of coffee. The door to her bedroom was closed. She hadn’t remembered closing it, though with all that scrambling around in the dark she must have. She opened the door and was hit by an incredible stench that made her nauseous. Hadn’t she taken the dead mouse outside for this very purpose?
Oh god are there more mice?
There must have been. This must have been the problem. She looked under the couches, looked in the kitchen, looked in the hall closet. There was nothing there, nothing that could give off a stench of that enormity. Perhaps the smell of the mouse outside was so strong it was filling the room. Rose walked over to the sliding door. The door was closed. The door was closed but it was not latched. The ground in front of the door was wet. There was no bag outside the door.
Rose opened the door and peered around on her small balcony. There was no bag.
Perhaps it got windy and…
She tried to think daytime thoughts. Logical thoughts. Daytime. She walked over to the edge of her balcony and peered down, expecting to see the bag at the bottom, tossed by a wind, by the rain, into the bushes. It was not there.
Maybe the gardener got it
The gardener doesn’t come on Sundays
It was then she noticed that there was a rock sitting on the lip of the balcony railing to her right. It was then that she noticed there was a piece of paper underneath the rock. It was then she noticed there were stains, ominously red stains, on the edge of the paper. Rose stared at the paper, at the rock, for a long time. Too long. If anyone had walked by just then they would have thought she was a statue, or an actor practicing those overlong freezes they do on the stage to create the illusion that no one was there. A bird called and, like magic, she was able to move again. She walked over to the rock and, not wanting to touch it, used a stick she had found on the ground next to her to roll the rock off of the piece of paper. There was writing on the paper. The writing was very, very small and almost unintelligible. The words were written in a reddish brown.
The words are written in blood
This was not a daytime thought. She thought it anyway. She had to squint to read the scratchy writing, which was so small it brought to mind crib notes from an AP Biology exam. The note said:
That was all.
For some reason, not immediately obvious to her, Rose smiled. Was it the incongruously polite nature of the strange message? No, when she had a moment to gather herself, there was only one thought which had popped in her head:
Oh, it’s only a monster. I’m not crazy after all.