The Witching Hour

Jim hadn’t been sleeping well recently. After a few weeks of always feeling miserable, he’d started getting out of bed when he woke in the night, making his way back when he felt tired again. He sat at his desk surveying what he could see of the living room. The cat lounged on the rug, illuminated by a single light emanating from under the kitchen cabinets.

At first the cat had been confused by the new routine, but he’d quickly adjusted and now spent this time meditating in much the same way that Jim thought he should be. But his mind was a blur and his spirit was restless. Tonight, he was worrying that exhausting himself to sleep might not be a sustainable idea. But at least it was peaceful tonight. Quiet, except for the whir of the AC units right outside the window.

The other week, there’d been a guy talking on the phone outside during Jim’s ritual. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing. Personally, he tended to not do much during this time other than just being awake. He kept all the blinds closed, turned on very few lights, and was quiet. The deep watches of the night always seemed like a time it was best not to draw attention to yourself.

And so night after night, he’d sleep until he could sleep no more. Then he would sit until he could sit no more. Then he would return to bed, hoping the next morning would somehow be different.

The gentle humming from outside the window lulled him to drowsiness. He was just thinking it was time to head to bed when the cat got up.

It looked straight at him. No, just over his shoulder. The cat slowly arched its back, and lifted its tail. Hackles raised, and in perfect silence, it bounced sideways at Jim, looking over his shoulder all the while. Just inches away from his legs, it turned and sprinted back across the room. Then it started again. With each pass, the performance got more and more unsettling. Resolving to ignore it and go to sleep, Jim started to stand. Then he noticed the humming. It wasn’t the mechanical sounds of a fan blade. It wasn’t the familiar sound of air being pushed through vents. It could be mistaken for that, but with growing dread, Jim knew that it wasn’t.

As he turned around, the cat sprinted off to hide somewhere else in the apartment.

There was nothing waiting behind him, except the blinds he’d closed just after sundown. The hum seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. He’d always hated having the blinds open at night, but he felt drawn to them now. He’d always been careful to mask his movements at night, but now he moved quickly and carelessly. The humming seemed to grow in intensity as he yanked the blinds open. And then it stopped, and he was frozen in place.

There was something out there, just past the AC units. He searched, though his senses failed him. The silence was absolute; the darkness oppressive. He searched, though something in him was now panicking. Whispering to run, lest even the subconscious mind be heard.

Then, at last, he saw a shadow. It sat motionless, darker than even the darkness around it. The form was indistinct, though it seemed to be hunched over something.

His eyes adjusting, Jim could just make out an upturned hand, with a glowing cell phone slipping from its senseless grip. The whisper in his mind was growing more urgent. The night was to be respected.

The shadow shifted slightly, and his inner voice cut off. The air was heavy and still around him.

The hum started again as the shadow drew itself up. And turned. Now the voice in Jim’s head returned, screaming and begging him to run. But he could not. With a sound like rushing wind, it rushed towards him. Just as the window permitted light to leave the apartment, it was powerless to keep darkness out.


April 17, 2020