It happened again. I stayed awake this time to make sure. Until now I thought I had been waking up in the middle of a nightmare. I had my suspicions; some things weren’t right.
It had been going on for the last week now, every morning I wake up and things are different. The clocks have been reset, or the television has been turned on to an empty channel. The heating has cut out and the air feels icy… not just cold but sharp and clear.
It was easy at first to put these occurrences down to any mundane factor, but still the feeling has persisted, it has built and grown ominously like some fungus that has attached itself to my awareness.
Something was happening in the night while I slept.
I hadn’t been able to get shake the thought, it had been a weight bearing down on me from the back of my mind. Grinding my neck down to a stub until my chin rubbed my chest and wore it thin. Grating on my conscience until I felt insane from the irk of it.
I had been scared. I could feel as though I had been sleeping through terror, but I resolved I would stay awake so I could know for myself. Last night, I went to bed as usual. I kissed E and wished her a good night.
“You too” she said “Sleep well” and rolled over, closing her eyes and drifting off soon after.
If only I had done just that.
I lay there with my eyes open while they accustomed to the dark and the room turned murky grey from total black. I traced the still shadows of the bedroom while my mind drove on endlessly like a car with a full tank of petrol and no one at the wheel.
I tried to think about what I might expect to see, and what course of action could I possibly take, but my thoughts often drifted aimlessly… towards bills, birthdays and memories that only ever resurface unbidden while you find yourself awake in bed while the small hours whittle away. I found that as my eyes grew heavier and the soft caress of sleep brought me closer into a warm embrace, I came increasingly to the conclusion that I was imagining everything. I was thinking that perhaps it was stress or maybe I was just getting older and my brain was getting tired. I should try to get it from my mind, take a break and go away somewhere, if it carried on happening maybe I should get some help. See a therapist or even a doctor.
I carried on like this, the first hour went by as slowly as a whole night, but after that I found that time jumped in intervals of fifteen or twenty minutes. I can’t be sure that I didn’t drift off for little pockets of time, as absent and as unfocused as I was. I can be sure however, I was awake for what had happened next.
Cutting across the darkness from atop the dresser, the knock-off alarm clock radio I bought off eBay, a beacon of the awake-world while tiredness fogged my eyes and sleep swaddled my thoughts. I stared at it all night while the minutes peeled, the gloomy red figures on the face last read oh-three-two-six in the AM when I blinked heavily, and then they jumped.
I opened my eyes and the electric clock read midnight, I flashed my eyelids suddenly as if to dispel some trick that had overcome them but there the figures remained.
The numbers kept blinking into existence on the face of the clock, it felt like they were winking at me from across the room. I felt the dread return to me in a rush, the night air had taken on a different tone, like it was heavy with watchful hostility.
Emmy shuffled underneath the sheets next to me and turned onto her back. I could feel her legs straightening, and then slowly and with an unnatural steadiness she began to sit upright. As far as I could tell she wasn’t using her hands for support, she just sort of… raised herself up like a drawbridge.
When you’ve been married to someone for this long, used to sleeping next to them in the same bed every night for years on end, you come to know the very minute details of their body. How exactly they move every muscle, you know almost instinctively how it feels when it’s them next to you. And at that point, it did not feel like my wife was laying next to me in our bed, but like it was some moving model of her.
The air grew heavier, stifling with pressure that squeezed all the oxygen out, starving my brain and forcing my heart to work overtime. I felt that the only way I could stop myself suffocating from the terror was if I stayed statuesquely still. I held my breath and singled out my heart begging it to slow its storming beat.
E got out of bed, her feet hitting the floor like dead saplings, and shuffled over to the television. She hovered there for a moment. I could hear some vague movements, the floorboards creaked under her, her fingernails scratched against her silk nightdress.
And then, I could hear a faint whine, like the electrical feedback that comes when you turn an appliance on, as if you can hear the current spark into life and race along the circuits. It went as soon as I heard it but was followed by a weak crackle of static. Distant voices hummed, distorted and tinny, like the ghost voices borne on an unwelcome signal playing out through unwitting speakers.
Had the TV been turned on?
Suddenly everything made sense to me. E was sleepwalking. I remember she told me when we first started dating that she used to do it when she was a kid, she must have started doing it again. I had been going out of my mind thinking that weird things were happening in the night but E had just been messing about in her sleep.
I felt my blood turn warm again, my muscles thawing as relief washed away the terror that overcame me. I had stayed up all night, driven insecure by the thought, the feeling, that something was wrong, and now I had caught my wife sleepwalking and turning on the television.
With a smile on my face I turned over to my back, eyes wide open.
The television was off.
In its dead, black screen I saw the reflection of my wife.
Her eyes glowed, white and black static buzzed in them, like a screen that had no signal. Her mouth hung open agape straining her sallow grey cheeks, making her whole face look gaunt and narrow. She teetered unevenly on the front of her feet, but her head remained fixed in one place. I couldn’t tell what she was looking at, but it felt as though she was staring right at me in the reflection of the TV screen.
Immediately I shut my eyes and huddled back onto my side, pulling the duvet tight over my shoulders and pretending I was asleep. My heart had exploded into action, I could feel it ready to jump out my throat, it thundered so loud in my ears that I was certain she would hear it. I struggled to control my breath to stop me choking on panic and whimpering in fear.
I could hear a light brush against the carpet, as if her toes were just skirting over it, and then she was next to me, looming just inches from my face. My eyes were screwed tight, but I could see the terrible light emanating from hers. The pulsing wash of white noise static and the soft jumble of voices resonating loudly. Her breath which usually played warm and sweet on my skin, was non-existent
Eventually I could make one voice out over the others.
A strong, harsh intonation with a thick accent, counting down numbers slowly in an endless cycle
And over and over again.
Soon I felt myself being lulled to sleep. My terror remained but it felt as though a stronger force was washing over me, dragging me down into slumber.
I slept entirely without dream and woke up in the morning as usual.
Emmy slept next to me, her body was warm, and her breath came and went gently, she felt like herself again.
Across the room the electric clock on the dresser winked at me, the red figures on its face blinking – 00:00
The clock re-set itself again. The TV tuned to static, and I’m soothed by those ghost voices on that… dead channel. I realize that this morning, for the first time since it all had started, everything feels normal.
Now it’s me who’s different.
I can hear it, sense it, calling me.
It has been growing all this time, seeping through the tiniest hole found in the time of this electric clock. The voices of the dead-beyond-time as one. It has been growing, and now it’s ready. It wants me to pass it on. It needs me to.
But we won’t do this just yet.
The voices still have so much that they need to tell me.
Even with the little that we know so far, it’s clear that E and I won’t need to carry on here once we’ve passed the voice on.
Then we’ll go to join the dead-beyond-time. Others will follow eventually. We know it.
Connor Greenaway is a 25 year old miscreant from the concrete beehive of South London. He plugs things in for a living and submits short fiction to obscure magazines with his spare time. He has recently appeared in the Halloween 2018 anthology ‘Bloody Ribbons’.