The house seems bigger tonight; the dark pushing itself up against the windows. I roll down the blind, but I have to look away from my reflection as I do. I don’t know why, it’s just this feeling I have at night – that a face will appear against the inkiness and it won’t be mine.
With the blinds down the kitchen clock ticks louder, and the table and chairs seem to take up more space than usual. I flick off the light and step into the living room, shutting the door tight. Everything is as it was five minutes ago – the throw over the chair is rucked up around the cushions, the tv guide is thrown on the floor and the Sky box is flashing where it’s recording a program for dad. But everything has changed too.
A silence hangs over the room; it’s a heavy, late night sort of silence that makes you keep checking behind you to see what’s there. It’s a silence that makes goose-bumps rise on your arms.
I should have gone to bed earlier. I promised mum that I would. I do this every week. It’s the one night they leave me alone. I feel fine when I’m heating up the pizza, and watching telly. It’s only when everything’s off, when the house is quietly breathing and I’m standing in the living room trying to find the courage to open the door to the stairs; it’s only then that I hear the moving upstairs.
Creaks at first. The house settling, I think. I put my hand on the doorlatch. All I have to do is click my thumb down and I’ll open the door on the yawning darkness. But I don’t.
Then I hear the footsteps. On the landing above. Knocking noises as things are moved about, dragged across the floor. My mouth is dry, but my palms are sweaty. I glance over my shoulder again to check the living room. The sofa looks back at me. I look away.
My heart is beating faster. I put pressure on my thumb and the latch lifts up. I pause, straining my ears to listen, hearing the pounding in my head. I suck in my breath and then yank open the door. Blackness tumbles out and my hand is scrabbling around on the wall for the light switch. The dim glow of an energy bulb reveals the worn carpet of the stairs. And nothing else.
I take a breath again and start climbing up. I leave the living room light on for mum and dad. And it means I don’t have to run to the other side of the room and turn it off. I go up with my back to the wall so that I can see the top and bottom of the stairs. And my wild heartbeat is back. The skin on my arms prickles. The landing is lit and I can see the gaping doorway to my room. Why do I never think to leave my light on?
The moving is coming from downstairs now. The chinking sound of the springs in the chair as somebody sits down, the clunk of a mug set on the table, of plates clinking together in the sink. Five more steps to the top.
Footsteps across the room towards the stairs.
The latch clacking.
I run the last two and throw myself into my room, slamming the door shut and flipping on my light switch. I wait for the blood to stop racing around my head, for my breathing to slow down.
I imagine a weight against the other side of the door, of being flung aside of... of what? Ghosts? Maniacs? Darkness?
I change into my pyjamas, my senses heightened to every noise of the house. I climb into bed and pull my duvet up so it almost covers my head. I lay awake watching the door. Light from the landing pokes in around the edges. I would be able to tell if those gaps widened even slightly. I watch the handle. I’ll see straight away if anyone begins to turn it.
The crunch of gravel outside and light floods into my room with the whirring noise of a car engine. Light and sound are abruptly cut off as the car engine dies. There are thunks as car doors are closed. My mum laughing.
I let out a long breath, feel my body slowly relax. I roll over and close my eyes.
And of course, that's when it takes me.
I am in the room when my parents peek on me and I can hear the first anxious beats of their hearts as their voices call my name. But the weight of me is fading and I am spreading, spreading, stretching my long darkness into the house, consuming the light. Darkness becomes me, and I become darkness as beneath me my parents roll back the duvet, staring at only at the faintest impression of where I lay moments before. I expect my sheets are still warm. Darkness is cold, and darkness is hungry and I drift out into the embrace of it, into the stillness of it. Watching. Waiting. Hunting for the shining silence of lonely houses to fill the greed.