The wind picked up, pressing hard against the house and rattling the bare branches of the neighborhood trees. Her eyes snapped open to stare into the darkness, uncertain what had brought her awake. She could hear wind chimes dancing in the distance and felt the tension in her shoulders lessen. She must have been dreaming, but the gauzy haze of her waking mind couldn't remember anything specific.
Scanning the room, she tried to discern any reason for her uneasiness. Other than the wind, everything was calm and quiet as it should be.
She closed her eyes in an attempt to slow her scattering thoughts. An early morning class required she be rested and didn't want to waste her time on irrational worries. Outside, the wind gusted again, the trees shook and the chimes clinked. For a moment, she could hear the crunch of dry leaves as if someone was walking just outside her window.
Her breath caught in her throat as her heart stuttered. One eye opened and she strained to listen. The wind, the trees, the chimes; they all became so loud. With each gust she heard it; the chaotic rustle and crackle with each measured step.
Could it just be the wind playing games with her tired mind? Being home alone every night, it was easy to become spooked by shadows cast by familiar objects or noises out of the ordinary.
Her twin bed was pushed flush against the wall beneath the sill. Rolling onto her back, she stared at the shuttered blinds, feeling the sensation of someone standing behind them, waiting. Taking shallow breaths, she held still to remain silent. The wind stilled, and she strained to listen for any movement in the leaves. There was nothing but the deepening silence of the house.
Knowing that she wouldn't be able to sleep without knowing, she sat up slowly and leaned toward the window.
"Nothing will be there," she whispered, and pulled the edge of the blinds to look out with one eye.
If something was there, it would have triggered the security light, but still, her anxiety nagged at the corner of her mind. Her room overlooked the driveway and an old cottonwood which grew on the other side. The tree cast a long shadow from the moon across her window. As she suspected, nothing was there.
Releasing the blinds, she fell back onto her pillow with a sigh. She rolled onto her side and looked at the time. It wasn't even midnight. She still had time to fall asleep and be fresh for class.
Laying on her back, she stared up at the ceiling fan which sat motionless at the center of the room. The wind had calmed to a slight rustle through the night. Her eyes grew heavy as she listened to leaves skittering across the concrete outside.
Closing her eyes, she tried to clear her mind. The sound of someone walking through the leaves kept replaying in her mind and the worry lingered. The wind would gust. Stray leaves would skitter across the concrete, and then it would begin. Heavy footfalls crunching and shuffling through the pile of leaves just outside her window.
No one had been there, but her ears told her otherwise. Her worry nagged at her until she finally sat up again, braver this time. If she looked out one more time and saw nothing, she would know it was just her mind playing tricks. She pulled back on the edge of the blinds and looked out into the night.
Standing within the shadow of the tree was a deeper darkness in the shape of a man with broad shoulders. His head turned in her direction as soon as she saw him, and she dropped the blinds back into place, gasping. The thump and rustle of the leaves began as the stranger approached her window. She rolled silently down to the floor, landing on her knees and putting the bed between herself and the wall. Her heart pounded as she rose up on her knees to peek over the lump of blankets to the window. She couldn't see anything through the blinds but had the feeling that he was there, standing right up against the glass.