And Other Stories


It had been a long day, and Rachel was having trouble staying awake. She had managed to stay up, talking with her family and half-watching the television, and held out just long enough for dinner—and dessert. It was still too early to be going to sleep, but it was close enough, and Rachel let everyone know she was off to bed. She brushed her teeth, stepped into her room, closed the door, shut the curtains, changed into pajamas, brushed her hair, hit the lights, closed the door, crept into her bed, and closed her eyes. She didn't fall asleep.

She rolled over onto her other side and buried her face into the pillow, but it didn't help. Neither did flipping it over. She tried to force it, staying still with her eyes closed, but it didn't take. She still felt tired. She reached to look at her phone, but thought better of it just before clicking the light on. Blue light or whatever. She got into as comfortable a position as she could, and tried simply letting her imagination wander. She followed whatever stray thoughts came next, lost track of time, and finally drifted off.

She woke up to a wave of sound, a boom and rumble she could feel as she opened her eyes. She saw something move in the corner of her room and almost scrambled out of her bed before she realized there was nothing there. Only her eyes adjusting as she recognized the silhouette of a standing lamp. She closed them again for a moment, and tried to dismiss mental images of lanky limbs and impossible jaws. She opened them again, looked around her room, and saw nothing out of place. The door was still shut, too. Nothing to be afraid of. Just her room, and the familiar patter of rain and whistle of wind.

She almost jumped again when a bright light stabbed her eyes, illuminating the window for a moment. The roll of thunder following shortly after startled her, even though she knew it was coming. She sat up in her bed, drawing her poofy blanket close and taking a deep breath. "This is stupid. I like storms." She spoke quietly, but her heart was pounding. She was calming down already, but getting back to sleep would clearly need to wait. She wasn't sure what time it was.

Lightning flashed again, and this time she had been ready for the flash, but not the silhouette of a slim, awkwardly bent limb swinging quickly outside her window. She clapped a hand over her mouth, and sat silently for a minute. She must have just imagined that. She couldn't make anything out past her curtain with the lights out, as much as she stared. She shook her head, and hesitantly climbed out of her bed. She tiptoed to the window, heart beating fast as she gently grabbed the curtain. As stupid as it was, her every instinct was screaming at her that there would be a monster ready to pounce as soon as she drew it aside. Slowly, slightly, she did so.

She saw her yard, a familiar view even with little light. A moment's investigation more and she saw a long, thin tree branch, hanging low and swaying in the wind. It looked ready to fall off. She wanted to laugh a little, to ease the tension upon discovering the culprit, but she didn't feel relieved. She still felt uneasy. Even staring at the mundane explanation for her scare, the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up. She looked out at the rest of the yard, to try and convince herself there was nothing out there to suddenly leap out onto the window, but that wasn't it. She felt like she was being watched.

She closed the curtain, and the feeling didn't abate. She looked around her room, her eyes a little better adjusted to the dark, and didn't see anything out of place. She stood still, still feeling tense, and waited. Everything inside was still and silent, compared to the motion and noise of the storm just beyond her window. Finally, there was another bolt of lightning, and it revealed nothing monstrous coiled in the shadows. She sighed in relief, a noise cut short by the loud crack of thunder. That one sounded closer. She stepped back over to her bed, and picked up her phone. It read 3:33 AM.

Rachel groaned and sat down. Of course this was going to be a lasting sleep cycle hiccup, why wouldn't it be? She turned her phone back off, and saw something move in the screen's reflection. She flinched, and quickly looked around the room, but yet again didn't see anything out of place. Or anything much at all. She looked back at her phone and couldn't see the reflection of her own face in the dark, much less anything else.

She groaned, set her phone back on the end table by her bed, and laid back down. She was getting sick of her mind playing tricks on her. She shut her eyes and let the reassuring noises of pattering rain and wind calm her back down, and eventually lulled her back to sleep.

She stirred awake, and barely opened her eyes for a moment. She sat in her bed for a minute before finally deciding to get up. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, and then checked her phone. It was 10:01 AM. She had slept for quite a while, which was probably for the best. She hadn't left herself a phone alarm, although there wouldn't have been that much point if she had. No work, no school, not much of any regular obligation. It wasn't exactly lockdown anymore, but it was some kind of limbo.

She got up and went to the restroom, sticking with pajamas for the moment. She opened the cabinet behind the mirror and grabbed the toothpaste and toothbrush. She started to run the tap when she noticed something moving in the reflection. She turned her head around, and didn't see anything. She sighed, and started to turn back around. She stopped, halfway through. She could see the mirror again from the corner of her eye, and there was something there. It was a dark spot, vaguely in the shape of a person. It looked like it was standing behind her. Without moving her head, she could see just well enough to know that it wasn't actually there, but when she focused on the mirror the figure was still there.

It was moving, slowly. Rachel tried to stay perfectly still and quiet, as the silhouette crept along. After a few moments to observe it, she realized it was trying to hide behind her. Or hide from her in a blind spot. Not that it was actually there, she reminded herself. The water in the sink gurgled gently as it trickled down the drain. Rachel snapped her head back to the mirror, raising up her hands to confront—nothing. Of course it was nothing. There wasn't a smudge or a bug on the mirror's surface, but she tried not to think too much about the hallucination. She started brushing her teeth already, since she had let enough water go to waste.

She walked down the hall and into the kitchen. Raven was sitting at the table, and looked up from a plate of pancakes. She shot her a grin, and Rachel smiled back. "Good morning. How'd you sleep?"

"Not great, unfortunately. I woke up in the middle of the night again. I didn't have a nightmare this time, but..." She hesitated, and then shrugged. She didn't need to mention that her mind played a few tricks on her as she was waking. It wasn't anything to worry about. "Did you sleep through the storm? The thunder got pretty loud." She stepped over to the counter, and got a plate from the cupboards.

She glanced over at Raven, who was looking at her. She grabbed a fork. "Oh, did it storm again? I didn't even notice, honestly. Maybe I just didn't hear it over the radio. You know, since you're having trouble sleeping, you could give that a try. I'd let you borrow my radio."

Rachel nabbed a few extra pancakes Raven had left sitting next to the stove. They were still warm; she had woken up with good timing. "I appreciate the offer, but I think I'll be alright. And I don't think I'd really care for a long list of random numbers read by a creepy emotionless voice."

She sat down at the table, and Raven handed her the bottle of maple syrup. "Come on, the numbers thing is actually soothing. And her voice isn't creepy. But, your poor taste aside, you could always just listen to something else. If you find something that isn't too energetic it could probably still help."

"Maybe. I guess I'll keep it in mind, but I think I should see if this sorts itself out tonight. It might have just been the storm. Or maybe my brain decided I'm supposed to wake up at 3 AM each night." Raven shrugged, and Rachel returned the gesture. Then she turned her attention to the pancakes. They were pretty good.

When she finished, Raven was helping herself to more pancakes. She got up, washed off her plate, and left it in the empty rack to dry. The bowl of batter was sitting in the other side of the sink, not even rinsed. She shrugged and walked into the living room, and watched her reflection move in the old, slightly curved TV screen. Something shifted behind her, and she whipped her head around. Raven was standing a bit behind her, holding her plate in one hand. She raised an eyebrow. "Okay, okay, I'll cop to atrocious manners. But I wanted to ask, should I save you any of the pancakes? I'll probably make some more whenever mom and dad get up."

"No, you can help yourself. Is there anything you want to watch?" Raven shrugged, and Rachel almost thought a pancake would slide off her plate. None of them did, but Raven seemed to realize she was being ridiculous and took a seat on the couch. Rachel turned on the TV, settled into her favorite chair, and flicked through channels with the remote until she found something interesting. There wasn't much else to do.

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