I sit up in bed alert. I’m sweating, and my breathing comes in quick, short gasps. My long, thick curls stick to my neck, and I can still feel his large hands covering my mouth preventing me from breathing.
The outside lamp casts an orange glow through the blinds into the dark room. I stare at the shadows around me. I put my head in my hands and wait for the fear to pass, and I’m afraid. Afraid of what hides in the dark, what always hides in the dark. Secrets.
Matt, my twin brother, snores in the next room. The walls pop where the house settles in the night, and I jump. An owl hoots amidst the night songs of the crickets, and a twig snaps under the foot of someone outside. My heart rate accelerates, and its boom-boom-boom echoes loudly in my ears.
I want to listen closely to make sure that I’m not imagining the footsteps, but I can’t hear anything other than my heart and heavy breathing. Matt’s snoring breaks through the symphony of my fear playing in my ears. I take a deep breath and mentally count to ten. It’s something Dr. Finnegan tells me will help when I’m upset. My breathing calms and so does my racing heart.
I strain my ears to hear. There are more footsteps. He’s here. He’s coming after me like he said he would.
I consider waking up my brother or even my aunt and uncle, but I don’t know what I would tell them. The truth is out of the question, and I don’t want to wake them at three in the morning when they have school and work in just a few hours. I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around them. I have to do something. I have to make sure that he doesn’t kill me.
I grab my cell phone off the nightstand and dial a number I haven’t called in almost a year.
“Hello,” Christian answers.
“I need you.”
“Alex?” He pauses. “What’re you doing calling me in the middle of the night?” His speech is still somewhat slurred from sleep, but he sounds angry.
“I need you.” I close my eyes to keep the tears at bay.
“Can’t Matt help?”
“I don’t know.”
“This is crazy. We have school in a few hours.”
“I think there’s someone in the yard.”
“What?” He sounds more alert now.
“I heard someone walking in the front yard.”
“You sure it wasn’t just an animal?”
He pauses, but I hear more movement on his end. I feel bad for waking him, but he’s always been there for me.
“I’ll be there soon,” Christian says, and the phone beeps. I stare at it and listen to my surroundings. I sit still and hold my breath, eyes still on my phone. The footsteps are closer to my room now.
I slide out of bed, pull my curls back into a ponytail, walk to the door, and quietly open it. The hinges on the wooden door squeak, as I pull it open. I flinch hoping I haven’t woken anyone. Matt snores in the room next to me, and no one comes rushing down the hallway to see what’s going on. I manage to slide through the door without making any further noises. I feel my way along the hallway in the dark using my cell phone as a light to guide me until I’m past everyone’s rooms.
As I wait at the door for Christian, I want to look out the peep hole, but I’m afraid of who I’ll see. That’s when it hits me. I just sent Christian to check and see if there’s a murderer in my front yard.
Tires crunch on some loose gravel in the driveway. I’m shaking. The engine’s cut, and I hear a door open and shut. I finally peek out the peep hole, and in the dim light of the street lamp, I see Christian walking onto the porch.
I hurriedly open the door to keep from making any unnecessary noise. He steps in, and I shut and lock the door quietly behind him. I wrap my arms around him, and after a minute, he holds me back. I melt into his embrace like I used to and cry.
“It was a dog.” His body is stiff against mine.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper into his chest.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
He pushes me away from him. With tears still in my eyes, I grab his hand and lead him into the den to our left.