And Other Stories


Rachel woke up to a pounding sound. She kept her eyes shut, not wanting to open them to see some nasty figment of her imagination. But it was just drums playing out of the radio, she realized. She cracked one eye open, and nothing was lurking in her room. She sighed in relief. As if on cue that sigh was joined by reedy woodwinds, and she fumbled to shut the music off.

She was tempted to close her eyes again, but grabbed her phone to see the time. It was 1:01 PM. Rachel groaned, and made herself get up. The motion didn't quite sit right with her, and her stomach felt sick in some vague way. She got dressed and made for the kitchen to get some water and hopefully head off the headache that was starting to brew.

Everyone was in the living room, as ever. There wasn't really anywhere else to be. Rachel couldn't help but wonder how long things were going to drag on, and tried to shake the feeling it would be forever. Maybe that was what was messing with her. It definitely wasn't helping.

She tried to let the thought go as easily as it came, and made for her chair. She mumbled out "Morning." She expected a chorus in response that was about as eloquent, but instead got a few stares.

Her mother broke the awkward silence first. "Are you feeling alright, Rachel?"

"Uh, yeah, I'm fine. Why? What's there to be worried about?" Rachel was pretty used to seeing her mother acting concerned over every little thing, but it was a jarring way to start the day.

Her dad answered. "You were asleep for like fifteen hours, Rachel. I'm not an expert or anything, but it's a little worrying. I know it's probably just because you couldn't sleep the other day, but we wanted to ask. Y'know, in case you think you might be sick or something." He opened his mouth to add something, but ended up just shrugging.

Well. That made sense. She hadn't really thought about it, but it must have been that long. Even waking up in the middle, that was a while. "I think I'm okay. I'm pretty sure I'm not sick. Definitely not with, you know. I've just had a messed-up sleep schedule lately. Unless I pull this again I wouldn't be too worried."

Her dad nodded. "Yeah, okay. Sounds good."

Raven looked up from the mug she had been sipping from. "Honestly, I'm almost jealous. I wish I could have slept in that long. So, did the radio help?"

Rachel shrugged. "I guess it must have. Honestly it was a bit of a mixed bag, but I probably just need to find a better station." Setting aside that it had woken her up once, if that hadn't just been her mind, it had been easier to fall back to sleep with music to focus on.

"I'm telling you, the numbers station is perfect for falling asleep. But I'm glad it helped a little, at least." Raven took another sip of what had to be either coffee or cocoa. "Honestly, it was a little weird falling asleep without it. Oh well."

"Do you want the radio back?" It really wouldn't make sense to give Raven sleeping troubles for something that barely helped her own.

Raven shook her head. "Nah, I'll be fine. If you want to see if another station works better, go for it."

"Alright." Rachel leaned back in her chair. Somehow, she still felt tired. Maybe she had just slept too long. She looked over to her mother. "Sorry I was worrying you."

"Oh, no." Her mother shook her head and smiled. "It's not like you had any control over it. I'm just glad you're feeling alright."

"Yeah." Rachel smiled, but her heart wasn't in it. She felt like she was lying, almost. She shoved the thought out of her head. There was no point dwelling on if she was developing some kind of sleeping disorder. Besides, it wasn't like it was that rare for her sleep schedule to get all screwed up. "Well, anyways. What's going on?"

Raven shrugged her shoulders. "Not really anything. You know how it is."

Her dad piped up. "Well, we got our first snow. Only just, but it's something. Better than another rainstorm, anyways."

Rachel got up from her chair to look out a window. Sure enough, there was a dusting of white on the lawn. "Huh, finally. I guess it really is December, then." It felt weird to have a December not overshadowed by snow and holiday craze. But it wasn't that uncommon for the first week to be green, and as for the holidays... What would really be the point? She went back to her chair, and turned her attention to the television.

It was another strange, aimless day. It was worse for how late she started it. She wasn't sure if the time was rushing by or stretching out beyond its welcome, but there was something up with it. She needed to think of something worthwhile to do, probably. Some way to get her life moving again, not just a pointless slog through the disorienting morass that was this not-quite-lockdown. Things couldn't go back to normal fast enough. Well, they were going to have to. Twenty-twenty one was coming up.

Rachel laid down on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. She wasn't very tired. But if she stayed up until she was tired, her sleep schedule would be even worse. But she had found another decent station on the radio, and lowered the volume, so maybe if she focused on it long enough... Eventually, Rachel managed to drift off.

But she didn't manage to stay asleep for long. She kept waking up, going to the kitchen for water, heading to the restroom, and then back to her bed. It wasn't like clockwork, but it was irritatingly regular. The fourth time Rachel found herself stirring, she didn't want to get up. She kept her eyes shut, and focused on the soft sounds of music. She could fall back to sleep if she really tried, dry throat or not.

Then she heard the creaking sound of her door swinging inward, agonizingly slowly. She screwed her eyes shut tighter. She wasn't going to watch. She would ride out the bout of sleep paralysis without any hallucinations. She made sure to breathe evenly, and tried not to pay attention to anything but the music. She kept her eyes shut as she heard the floorboards groan, as she felt her bed shift underneath her as if under new weight, as something tickled her forehead, and as that all-too-familiar pressure settled once more on her chest. She wasn't going to entertain her semi-waking nightmares. But when a gust of hot, humid air hit her face, carrying a putrid smell with hints of iron, Rachel couldn't help herself.

She looked up to see that pale monster staring right at her. Its eyes were massive, held wide open and bloodshot, and boring into hers. Rachel's breath hitched in her throat, and her gaze lowered down, towards the jaw. It was too wide, bent at an unnatural angle as though it was distended, and gaping wide enough that it could fit most of her head. It was lined with more teeth than should have fit in it, long like knives and twisting like screws. A tongue was lolling out of one side, and it slavered. The whole head bobbed and shuddered, shakily letting out another rank breath onto her face. One of its hands was on its head, holding a bundle of black hair out of the way, the spindly fingers almost like a net. The other was pressing heavily on her chest.

The hallucination was too awful, and Rachel couldn't bring herself to shut her eyes. She knew it wasn't really there, but the idea of leaving that monster to do whatever it wanted was too terrifying to bear. But she couldn't manage to breathe in, either, and something had to give. She tried to lift a finger under the blanket, and it moved. She twitched her foot. A sudden panic washed over Rachel. She could move, and she still couldn't breathe.

Rachel tried her best to pivot her weight, pushing her right arm into the thing's side, her forearm thumping onto something through the blanket. The weight on her chest let up a little, and then she kicked her legs wildly, striking something hard enough to hurt but wrenching that weight off herself. The thing hissed and its face shifted, flowed and distorted in the brief moment before Rachel threw her poofy blanket at it. She sprang off of her bed, awkwardly rushed to her door in a panic. She slammed it behind her, and ran for the next door. She barged into Raven's room, shutting the door behind her quietly, to hide.

Her heart was hammering in her chest, and she tried to ready the words to explain to her sister what was going on. But Raven wasn't there. Her bed was empty, unmade, a blanket tossed aside. Rachel desperately cast her eyes around the room, and couldn't see her. The room was lit softly by a couple nightlights, enough to be clear that the closet was shut, notice nothing was lingering in the corner of the room, and to make out the pentagram on the band poster above one of the nightlights. Horror welled up to mingle with the terror, as thoughts of that awful monster having already devoured her twin played through Rachel's head.

But as her rapid breathing started to slow back down, Rachel began to calm. This wasn't really happening. It was another nightmare, her imagination being especially cruel in tricking her. But she was lucid enough to figure that out, and so the nightmare was going to end soon. It would be okay. Everything was fine. She leaned against the door, bringing one pair of fingers to pinch herself.

Then the door was wrenched open behind her and Rachel barely caught herself from falling. She quickly spun around, facing the monster looming in the doorway. The sliver of its face she could see under all the hair was seething, lips snarled open and teeth grinding together. Its arms were bent more times over than should have been possible, and its pallid skin looked like it was bubbling. After a moment of shock, Rachel caught her breath and her eyes instinctively went shut as she shrieked at the top of her lungs.

When she woke up, she was in her own bed, swaddled in her poofy blanket. She was staring up at the ceiling. The moment of waking up seemed to stretch on for minutes, before she looked over to her door. It was shut.

Rachel sat up in her bed. She felt a little sick, and had something of a headache. She groaned, and rubbed at her forehead with one hand. The radio was playing an ad.

"Okay." She mumbled it to herself, but it made her feel a little better just to say anything. "Maybe I do need to talk to somebody." She sighed, and massaged her forehead a little bit more. Then she felt around for her phone from the bedstand, and squinted at the screen. It read 8:48 AM.

Time to start the day.

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