Night Watch

by Kelson Vibber

I awaken to silence. The storm must have passed while I was asleep. The only sound is that of my breathing — and someone else. Someone else is in the room.

I open my eyes and look in the direction of the sound. Pale moonlight shines through the translucent curtains, filling the room with a faint glow. I can see everything clearly. There is nobody there.

I close my eyes again, and I can hear someone breathing, right there next to the dresser. I get up, out of bed, my eyes still closed, and I cross the room. The sound is still there, I’m coming closer. . .

It’s gone. I reach the dresser and the sound is gone. I open my eyes, and everything is exactly as before. I wonder what time it is as I climb back into bed, and I look at my alarm clock. The red LED display is dead. The power must be out.

I get up and go to the door, and I try the light to see if it’s the power or just a fuse. The light’s dead too. I am about to go back to bed when I hear a noise in the hall. A loud thump on the floor, as if someone had dropped something heavy.

I reach for a flashlight from the table beside my bed, then curse myself for forgetting to replace the batteries. I creep to the door of my room and silently open it. I peer out, unsure of what I will see.

I see nothing unusual in the gloom. Down at the end of the hall, I can see the far wall of the dining room with its window. I walk along, looking around to make sure no-one is there. When I reach the dining room, the light is better, since the curtains are very thin.

I feel thirsty. “Well, I’m here,” I think, and walk into the kitchen, get a glass, and fill it from the water cooler. As I drink the water, I get the feeling I’m being watched. I turn slowly around as I set the glass down, looking— but no-one is there. I don’t see or hear anything unusual. Just the kitchen, lit by the blue time display on the microwave. But I feel very uneasy.

I hear a popping sound in the living room. Perhaps it is just the building settling after the storm, due to changes in air pressure, humidity — but perhaps not. I go in to check.

Nothing odd. Nothing odd at all. Except that the curtains are wide open. I recall drawing them before I went to bed, I’m sure of it. Well, almost sure. I walk up to the window and look out at the sky. There is a dark mass of clouds lit slightly from below by the city lights off in the distance, while nearby the sky is clear. The stars shine brilliantly, like tiny jewels glittering in the darkness. Light from the half-moon illuminates the damp world below with a pale, colorless light and tinges the nearer clouds with silver. An oval-shaped puddle in the driveway reflects the moon at its very center, so that it gives the impression of a pallid, cosmic eye.

I shudder at this last thought and turn away. I carefully do a circuit of the entire house, minus the bedrooms, to make sure that nothing’s been moved, then return to my own room. The alarm clock is buzzing and displaying 12:03 in flashing numbers. I hastily turn it off and search for my watch, with the idea of resetting the clock. Then I remember the flashlight batteries are dead.

I go into the hall, return to the kitchen, and find the drawer with the batteries. As I am pulling it open, an icy hand grips my shoulder, and I spin around to see — but there is no-one there. I hastily pull out two batteries and return to my room. I change the batteries in the dark, and only when I have the flashlight working again does it occur to me that if the clock is on again, then the power is on, and I could have simply turned on the light.

In the interest of prolonging the life of my new flashlight batteries, I turn on the room light, after first silently closing the door. The bulb flashes brilliantly for a moment, then burns out. No light, no night vision. I resignedly turn on the flashlight and look at my watch. It is seventeen minutes after two. I set my clock, then set the alarm again, and scribble a note to remember to replace the bulb during the day tomorrow.

I climb back into bed, ignoring a nagging thought: Why did the microwave clock still have the time? I do the best I can to get to sleep in spite of the storm that once again rages outside.

March 1994