It was a bleak day at the turn of autumn.
Thunder roared portentously in the skies overhead, while a torrent of rain drenched the yard and turned it to mud.
The wind had just picked up. It took hold of the trees and shook them until a fresh layer of soggy leaves had littered the dampened earth. The wind’s eerie whistle filled the apartment and brought with it the sharp bite of coldness.
A streak of lightning greeted her at the window – a quick flash of white in a blue sky that was gradually filling with sunset colours. It was gone as soon as it appeared and was soon followed by another low roll of thunder.
She shut the window and shuffled back to the couch for a nap. There were few things more soothing in life than falling asleep to the soft pitter and patter of rain against the window. Even the roar of thunder and crack of lightning could do little to ruin that.
It was some hours later before she awoke. The dancing light of the muted television set flickered and bounced off the leather couches and shiny picture frames. A quick glance at her phone told her that it was only a few minutes past ten – a little too early to turn in for the night, but much too late to feel productive. It was the perfect time for a late night snack.
She flipped the lights on in the kitchen and reached for the refrigerator door. The bulb overhead flickered for a moment and then plunged her into darkness. The landlord had promised and failed a thousand times to fix that. She flipped the switch on and off again, but there was only darkness. She noticed then that the television set in the living room had also gone out.
She checked the lights in the hallway, but they didn’t come on, either. The storm had ended while she slept, and there had never been a blackout at her apartment before. What could have suddenly caused the lights to go out? Had the whole apartment building lost electricity? Or was it just her?
She returned to the kitchen and began to fumble through the drawers for a candle. She was almost certain she had stashed one away there in case of an emergency.
Suddenly, the lights flickered again, and then came on full flush. She shut the drawer and breathed a sigh of relief.
A low growl in the pit of her stomach reminded her of her errand, but the sudden sound of scratching and scraping down the hall gave her pause.
She was home alone. There was no one else in the apartment – or was there? A stab of fear pierced her heart. The flickering lights filled her with more dread than mere annoyance this time, but thankfully, they did not go out.
The scratching and scraping paused for a moment as though it too had held its breath, and then it began again with renewed vigour. It bore a striking resemblance to the sound of someone trying to force a window open, and at three floors up, there couldn’t possibly be a good reason for that.
The scratching and scraping continued.
She could stand in the kitchen or she could investigate and prepare to defend herself, if necessary. One foot in front of the other brought her down the hallway and to the bedroom door. For a moment, she hesitated and then with a last call of courage, she flung the door open and flipped the lights on. There was no one in the room.
Still, the scratching continued at the window. It was louder now, and seemingly more vicious. She took a deep breath and opened the blinds, but there was no one there. There was only darkness and the silhouette of dancing trees and waving branches at the edge of the yard.
The scratching persisted.
Where was it coming from? She followed her ears to the culprit and laughed at her paranoia and suggestive imagination. It was only the music component system trying to recover from the shock of the lights going on and off. It was changing and checking each disk inside.
“Stupid,” she muttered to herself as she left the room. Her relief was palpable.
On entering the hallway, the lights began to flicker again, and even through the rapidly changing state of light and darkness, she noticed that the knob on the front door was turning. She took a step back, and gasped as she was plunged into complete darkness yet again.
The shadow of a tall man in a hooded shirt appeared in the doorway.
The lights then flickered to life and illuminated the face of the intruder. Again, she laughed at her paranoia. She had watched one too many suspense thrillers of damsels in distress.
It was no serial killer or deranged psychopath – not this time. Only her roommate watching her curiously from the door.
Originally published November 9, 2015 on Alexis Chateau.