And Other Stories



It was the middle of the night, and everything was dark. The wind was shrill against the window, making a noise that might have been eerie if it wasn't so familiar. The sounds of pouring rain complemented it, and Rachel was content to just listen to it. But it didn't lull her back to sleep, and so she sighed and got up. Her mouth was dry, and so she'd visit the kitchen, stepping slowly through the dark home.

Her eyes had already adjusted enough to avoid stubbing her toe on anything in her room, which was easily the biggest hazard. Still, she maintained caution, practically creeping through the hall. She passed her sister's door, and could just barely hear the radio from within. A monotone woman's voice, listing off numbers with no apparent pattern, on and on. Apparently it helped her sister sleep, but Rachel thought there was something vaguely unpleasant about it. So, she didn't linger to glean the night's lucky numbers or whatever it was that station was actually for.

Someone else was in the kitchen. Unease welled up in Rachel's gut, as she stared at the figure, standing there in the dark. That lasted for all of one second before she recognized her sister, feeling more than a little silly for being jumpy. She didn't live alone, after all. "Oh, you're up too?" Rachel spoke with a quiet voice, softer than was really needed to avoid waking anyone else. Her sister turned her head, looking a bit startled. "Oh, yes," she replied, her expression changing to a nervous smile. Rachel just nodded, and walked over to the sink to run the tap. She grabbed a cup, and looked over at her sister. They were identical twins, but it obviously wasn't like looking into a mirror. Her sister, Raven, had much longer hair, and was noticeably thinner. Their fashion senses were close enough, though Raven didn't have any piercings. That wasn't where Rachel's attention had gone, though.

Raven was holding a packet of ground beef. She could only really tell by the shape, in the dark, but there wasn't much in the fridge to guess. She took a long sip from her cup, but then had to speak up. "Hungry?"

That brought a bit of a laugh out of her sister, who nodded. "I guess you could say that. Honestly, I feel a little ridiculous, now that you're here to see me."

Rachel shrugged. "Well, it is a bit late to be making burgers. Or early. Dark, anyways. Do you want me to hit the lights? It's fun to traipse around in the dark, but cooking in it would be a bad idea, I think."

"No, that's alright." Raven opened the fridge, and Rachel squinted in the sudden light. The meat went back in the drawer. "You're right, it's too late, and it was a silly urge anyways. I think being seen by somebody else knocked it right out of me. So, thanks, really."

"Sure thing," Rachel paused, tapping her fingers on her leg. "But if you're hungry, you probably should eat something, though. There's nothing embarrassing about having to eat. And, uh..." Rachel trailed off, trying to think of a way to put a thought into words.

Raven tilted her head. Rachel couldn't quite read her expression, after the fridge had been opened, and her eyes needed to readjust. "And...?" The voice was almost a little teasing, trying to coax Rachel into finishing her thought.

"I don't know how to put it. I am probably about to make an ass out of myself. But, I wanted to say that..." Rachel hesitated again, moving her eyes around the room as she reached for the words. "That I want to be supportive, I guess, if you need it. And reassuring. I mean, you eat more than me, but you're skinnier. If you're doing something to make that happen, I..."

Raven seemed taken aback by that, and a silence settled over the room for a few seconds. "Are you saying you think I'm bulimic?" Her voice sounded confused, but not offended, and Rachel counted her lucky stars for that.

"I guess that is what I'm saying. I mean, I wasn't thinking that for sure, I just thought it might... You know." It took a little strength of will to make eye contact and hold it, even in the dark. Once again, there was a moment of silence before the response.

Raven laughed a little, and put her hand over her mouth. "Okay. Thank you. I'm glad you voiced that, and I'm glad you wanted to reach out and help. I mean, you're wrong and all, but I genuinely appreciate that. And I'm here for you too, if you ever need it. As is, I think the culprit is metabolism not being entirely genetic, maybe me getting a bit more exercise. No purging here. And I mean, I'm not that thin, right?"

That last question hadn't sounded particularly serious, but Rachel still answered it with an emphatic shake of the head. "No, not at all! You look good! And definitely healthy. Just forget all of this, other than that genuinely nice part you pulled out of my nonsense. I don't suppose I could blame this on it being, what... Three AM?" The microwave clock was more or less right, she was pretty sure.

"You could probably pin it on that. The Witching Hour forced you to voice a well-meaning but flawed suspicion. The horror movie demon got tired of spinning heads around or making people stab each other and decided to force awkward familial interactions instead. Truly depraved." They both snickered at that, as Rachel rolled her eyes. "Okay, that said, I'm going to head back to bed. Before we keep each other from being able to fall asleep again at all, or something. Night, Rachel."

"Yeah, that's a good idea. Good night, Raven." Rachel waved her sister off with a big smile, got another drink of water, and tried to shove thoughts about demons out of her head. Nightmares weren't really something she was raring to deal with, especially not after her sleep had already been interrupted. That was easier said than done. Easier thought than not. She headed to the restroom, and brushed her teeth again for good measure, but didn't manage to exorcise the body-jacking phantoms from her mind. "Damn it, Raven," she muttered, without real blame. Her own fault for watching horror when her mind liked to latch onto spooks and spectres and cling tightly.

She almost expected the radio to intone "six six six" as she passed Raven's room by, but no, coincidence wasn't out to get her. Nothing sinister or suspicious lurked behind a staticky "one nine seven nine one", so far as Rachel could figure. That might have been a bit reassuring if she actually needed reassurance she wasn't about to be haunted by some three-toed abomination, really. That would have been exactly the sort of thing a malevolent but dubiously present entity would do, in a scary movie. But it wasn't a rational feeling to begin with, so there wasn't much point.

Rachel got back to her room, crawled into bed, and pulled a big puffy blanket over her. It didn't take her long to fall asleep again, which might have been surprising if she was still awake to be surprised by it. The rain and wind had taken her focus away from monsters and lulled her back to sleep. That sleep was soon interrupted by a noise. Rachel's eyes opened, and she looked toward her door, which was opening with a long, slow creak. The noise stretched out, like whatever opened the door had been trying to avoid the noise and failing entirely.

Rachel tried to sit up to look at her door, but couldn't move. She couldn't open her mouth, or crane her neck. Her heartbeat started to pick up, as she willed herself to move to no avail. She could see the doorway, in the dark, and couldn't turn her head as she saw movement. She couldn't make out much of the hallway, but there seemed to be a shifting, darker spot by the door. It seemed to start to grow.

Her eyes focused on it, and she saw it wasn't growing, but approaching. It was a thing, a silhouette clambering into the room. It moved on all fours, with spindly limbs that seemed to be too long for it, bending at awkward angles as it made its slow approach. Its progress was unsteady, jerking forward and staggering one moment, then almost flowing towards her in the next. Rachel wished she could tear her gaze away, shout, pinch herself, or do something to ignore the hallucination and just wake up. It wasn't real, she was still asleep. She lowered her eyelids a little, but couldn't bring herself to shut them.

The thing made it to her bed and unfurled itself to a standing position. It loomed tall and unsteady for a moment, before bending forwards and placing its hands at the foot of the bed. The hands were pale and dominated by five fingers, each three times too long for the palms. It leveraged itself further, almost seeming to stretch out as much as it dragged itself towards her. Its head was obscured behind a curtain of thick, dark hair that trailed back far enough to dangle off the bed. One of those hands lifted up, and set itself down beside her head, outside of her vision. The other hand lifted up, and the thing jerked, unsteadily. Its head moved to the side, and Rachel glimpsed a tapering, curved neck. The hand started to approach her, achingly slowly, posed as though it would place itself on her chest, her neck, her face. The fingers were long enough to touch each at once.

She felt the palm press down onto her chest, a heavy weight settling there. The fingers all bent upwards from the hand, bending down again and touching only the fingertips to her, almost like the legs of a lopsided spider. The touch was light, insubstantial, and didn't spread out the awful pressure on her chest at all. It picked up its other hand and seemed to fall further towards her, though the weight on her chest didn't shift. Its head was now much too close to hers, and that second hand hovered above her head. But it didn't touch her, instead reversing back to the veil of hair. The fingers bent backwards, parting the hair and pulling it to the side. A thin-lipped, wide mouth was exposed. It wasn't smiling or grimacing, simply pulled taut and neutral.

That sight lingered for a moment, before the lips parted and revealed two rows of long, misshapen teeth that caught the paltry light. They weren't crooked or broken, but curved and bent in ways like blown glass. They were each tapered to a point or points, and the two rows fit together perfectly despite their shapes. Then it opened its mouth further, the teeth gliding apart effortlessly. The mouth opened steadily, and the teeth almost seemed to elongate and sharpen as it happened. It didn't stop, even once the jaw was open wider than it should possibly have stretched. It yawned wide and huge, the teeth bristling with even more spikes and points as it grew. Rachel could only watch, breathlessly.

She realized she really wasn't breathing. She tried to gasp in a breath or pull something through her nose, and it was a struggle. She screwed her eyes shut, and forced herself to take in a breath. She wanted, desperately, to shriek with that hard-fought breath. But she didn't manage that, try as she might. Her breath simply left in a shaky exhale. She kept her eyes shut, focusing entirely on breathing. She didn't feel the thing atop her move, or hear it react at all. Those hideous, impossible jaws didn't close down on her. Nothing happened but her breathing.

Eventually, after what seemed like ages, the weight lifted off her chest, and she could breathe normally again. She took a few moments to breathe deeply, and found she could move again. She shifted her head slightly, tested her fingers, and tried to ease her nerves. Slowly, she cracked one eye open. She saw nothing but her room, with a little light from sunrise trickling in past her curtains. She heaved a sigh of relief, and sat up a little in her bed, drawing her blanket tightly around herself.

It was all a hallucination, an awful trick played on her by her unconscious mind. That much was obvious. She had known it while it was happening, even if it had seemed so disturbingly real. She had thought she was dreaming, but that wasn't entirely right. Thinking more clearly, it wasn't that hard to figure out what had happened. It must have been an episode of sleep paralysis. A nightmare playing out while she was awake, before her brain let her body move again. Nothing to be afraid of, except possibly a future episode.

But still, she couldn't help but scan her surroundings for anything amiss. Nothing was out of place. Her room and the hallway hadn't been ransacked, and everything was more or less as she remembered it was when she had gone to sleep. No signs of lanky demon things going bump in the night. Again, Rachel sighed in relief, turning her gaze up at the ceiling. A nasty feeling settled over her as she did.

There wasn't anything perched on her ceiling, ready to pounce on her as soon as she looked. No, it was simpler than that. She could see the hallway. She had been pretty sure she had closed the door when she had gone back to sleep. Rachel put a hand to her forehead. "No, no. Fuck no. I am not going to play mind games on myself, I'm not." She laughed a little, an empty affair, and sighed. "Fuck sleep paralysis."

She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, and committed to an early morning. Going to bed early and sleeping in the next night sounded much more likely than getting any more rest now. She crawled out of bed and got dressed in something more than pajamas. She stepped out of her room, and then eyed her door for a moment. She shut it, listening for the click of the bolt when she let go of the handle. For good measure, she pushed it without turning the handle, and the door didn't budge. She stood there for a moment, and then turned around with a shrug. She probably just hadn't quite closed it, in the middle of the night.

Everything was silent, and it was a little eerie. Still, she wasn't going to make a racket for her benefit, as she walked down the hall and into the kitchen. Once there, she grabbed her mug from earlier and rooted around in the cupboard for cocoa mix. Finding some, she put the tap on hot and let it run for a minute before adding it to the mix. It wasn't boiling water mixed slowly in with the powder, but she had to wonder who ever actually made it that way. She grabbed a spoon, stirred it up, and then sipped at it for a couple minutes. It helped more than a little, even if she felt a tiny bit like a little girl for it.

Her thoughts turned to ideas for an actual breakfast, and finding something quiet to do until everyone else woke up. She followed the hot cocoa with some plain water, then stepped over to the fridge. There wasn't much in it; eggs, bacon, a big pot of leftover soup, assorted vegetables, apples, butter, milk, and the water pitcher/filter thing. She couldn't exactly pilfer the bacon in good conscience, and so eggs it was going to be. Maybe starting a groceries list would be a productive way to pass a little time. Briefly, she considered writing down what she could remember of the nightmare she had just had, but dismissed the thought. She wanted to forget it, and imagined that writing it out would fix it in her memory more than it would prove therapeutic. Sleep paralysis wasn't a big deal, anyways, Rachel was pretty sure. She took two eggs out of the carton, shut the fridge door, and got on with her morning.

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