I don't have time to write an actual short story for today, working as I am on Of Killers and Kings, so I thought instead I'd share with you what happened to me last night.
For context, I'm writing in the mountains of northern California, in a cabin I rented from some acquaintances. It's a very nice place, with amazing views of peaks and mountain ski slopes visible from the huge living room windows, and the temperature drops to single digits at night while remaining sunny in the 40s during the day.
I've been here for a week now, and I've had trouble sleeping. That happens to me sometimes, especially in new places, so it's not too much of a surprise when I jolt awake in the middle of the night because a gust of wind or a creak of the ceiling makes my half-dreaming mind believe there's someone else in my room.
But as soon as I'm awake, I remember where I am, so I just turn over and go back to sleep.
Last night, I woke myself up screaming. As far as I remember, I've never done that before. I had the usual...I hesitate to even call it a 'nightmare,' because it's more like that sense of unease you get as you're falling asleep that jolts you awake.
But when I woke up, I saw very clearly something pale--the size of a large dog, or so it seemed to me--dash across the shadows of my bedroom.
I screamed, which was when I fully woke up, and scrambled for my phone light. Of course there was nothing there, but now my heart was pounding and I was way too keyed-up to go to sleep. I ended up moving from the large, open room upstairs to sleep in a smaller room downstairs, which had no big windows and a door I could easily lock.
It didn't take me long to figure out that I hadn't really woken up the first time, I'd just dreamed that I had, and then dreamed that I had seen a figure running across the room, and it was my panic at that dream that woke me up. A dream within a dream, if you will. But that didn't help my emotional state much, and it was another hour or two before I could fall asleep.
Only today, when I told my brother over the phone about last night, did I recognize a few other things that have happened since I've been here.
The first thing he asked me was "All right, so have you seen any dead animals around the property recently?"
I laughed and said no, and then halfway through realized that wasn't true. Two days ago, a bird ran into those wide picture windows in the living room and killed itself.
Then he asked me "Are there any secret doors or passages in the house?"
No, of course not. Except...there is a whole added wing, kind of like an additional house unto itself, that has remained locked the entire time. I don't have the key. It's where the cabin's relative stays when he visits during the summer, and the property's owners said he likes to leave it untouched during the rest of the year. I haven't seen what's in there, and indeed couldn't if I wanted to.
After telling me that if I were the protagonist in a horror movie, I should be running for my life right now, my brother said one final thing: "What a crazy thing to happen on Halloween."
Honestly, I'd forgotten that it was Halloween. And I remember the time when I turned on my phone for the light last night: 12:01 AM local time.
P.S. Hilariously and coincidentally enough, every word of this account is true. I realize that I lie and embellish with fiction all the time, as is my job, but every part of this is 100% true. This really did happen last night, my phone really did say it was 12:01, there really is a locked wing of this cabin in the mountains, and so on and so forth. No joke, everything is true.
P.P.S. If I am living in the plot of a horror movie, me waking myself up screaming would be the break into Act 2, where all the characters and setting have been established and now actually spooky stuff starts to happen. If unseasonal early snows block my way to the airport, trapping me in this house longer than I'd planned, then you will know that I am indeed trapped in a horror movie, so just go ahead and resign yourselves to my inevitable death.
"Then he felt a reaction from his cores."
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