You wake again in the middle of the night and for the moment don’t remember which house you’re in. You’ve moved only three times in forty years, but still, you can’t remember which house or when. The shadows don’t help you and turning on the light is a thing you cannot bear.
You slip quietly from the covers so as not to awaken whomever you might be sleeping with. Nothing stirs in the bed and you stop yourself from breathing a sigh of relief. Breathing sounds so loud in the head, as does thinking, as does the shushed pumping of your heart. But sometimes these noises are all the company you have.
You pad out to the landing, lean, and stare into the dark below. Your tired eyes dream movement into dust and shadow.
You return to bed but someone has taken your place. The old man stares back, blinking for focus. It always surprises you how you’ve aged, but this was the face in the mirror today, almost your father, but clearly you.
“You should get up,” you say, whispering so as not to wake the someone who is not there.
Together you walk the hall, stopping at a half open door. Your middle-aged self wearily raises his head from the desk.
“How long do you plan to keep doing this?” you ask. He rubs his eyes, gets up, and joins you.
As three you descend into the deep well of your house. You can hear the hiding child crawl from under the table, scoot behind the sofa, scratch around the chairs. You get down on your knees and tell yourself, “You don’t have to do this anymore.” And he comes out of the dark and takes your hand.
At the open door the boy waits behind you as the rest are out and gone. He gazes at that dark sheen beneath the maples where the panther holds blood in his mouth and flesh between his claws.
You would tell him a tale with no worries if you only knew one that was true. Instead you fill yourself with no air, shove him forward, and go.
WRITTEN BY STEVE RASNIC TEM
ILLUSTRATED BY RICHARD SAMPSON
Steve Rasnic Tem is the author of Deadfall Hotel. He went to college at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Virginia Commonwealth University. He got a B.A. in English Education. He also studied Creative Writing at Colorado State University. He is married to author Melanie Tem.
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