I still remember the day I assembled this bed, it wasn’t too long ago after all. The old mattress needed to be thrown away, so I told myself I could as well change the whole thing.
A queen-size, as if there was anyone else who was going to stay and sleep in it with me. I guess I was hoping for a better future.
I wish I could say I also remember the first night I slept in it, but I don’t think I do. I believe everything was normal at first, I guess I just crawled under the covers, on the right side, took some time to get used to the new bed, then slept. For sure, I slept better than I had been able to do in the previous weeks, without any wayward spring trying to lodge itself into my back.
I really can’t say how long it was before I had the first sign that something was wrong.
I woke up in the heat of the night without a reason, and immediately reached out to press the light button on my alarm clock. 3AM.
It was while I was rolling on my back again that I felt, rather than notice, the weird depression of the mattress under me, inclined toward the empty side of the bed.
I sighed – how could it be that things lasted so little nowadays? – and I touched that area to try and understand what was broken, but there was nothing wrong in the mattress itself, it was as if something was pressing on it on the other side, as if someone was lying there next to me.
My blood chilled, as if the covers had been pulled off me at once, or had just stopped existing. It was a nightmare, what else could it be? That someone had broken into my house just to lay next to me on my bed seemed quite unlikely.
Except I knew I was awake.
Not knowing what to do, I slowly turned on my side, clutching the covers as if they had been a lifeline preventing me from drowning. I pulled everything with me, covers, sheets, bedspread. No resistance, nothing holding them.
That reassured me at least a bit, enough to prompt me to action. I grabbed the alarm clock with one hand and pointed toward the left side of the bed, pressing the light button in the process. It didn’t show me anything that shouldn’t have been there.
I took a deep breath, only then realizing that my heart was hammering in my chest. As if to seek a confirmation of what I was seeing, I touched the now bare mattress with my free hand, and I immediately regretted doing so.
There was no one there, that much was true, but the heat of whoever had been still lingered.
I spent the rest of the night roaming my house with an umbrella in my hand, looking for the intruder or at least trying to understand how they had got in. I was too angry, too scared even to feel ridicule, or to consider what good that makeshift weapon would have done me if there really was a felon hiding somewhere. But I didn’t find anything, neither an intruder nor an explanation.
I wasn’t sure what had happened, or why. The whole thing seemed to make no sense at all, and I tried to seek shelter in the excuse that it had been a nightmare, alternating it to some attempt to rationalize it all somehow. I might have rolled to the other side of the bed, then woken up after moving back to my usual position. That would explain the lingering heat, maybe even the depression in the mattress, which was still getting back into shape.
I pretended to believe my explanations and went back to my usual life, even if I must admit the first thing I did the next day was changing my lock.
A few days, and nights, passed, uneventful. Actually, a full week went by before once again I found myself awake at 3AM without a reason.
The previous episode was not prominent in my mind then – I had done my best to prevent that – so my first reaction, after looking at the clock, was to close my eyes and try to get back to sleep.
I was in that limbo between being awake and asleep, when even the most common noises hold something sinister, when I heard it.
Shallow, panting, as if coming from someone whose lungs weren’t working properly.
A breathing that wasn’t mine.
I held my breath. I wanted to be sure it wasn’t some weird echo, but that certainty brought no consolation. I still heard the unmistakable sound of inspiration and expiration. I could imagine a chest inflating and deflating erratically, lifting the covers right next to me. I could imagine it, but I couldn’t see it, because the bed was empty. This time not even the mattress betrayed the presence of a possible invader.
I stood motionless, frozen, repeating to myself that there must be an explanation, that the sound I was hearing was just the wind, or a figment of my imagination.
When the breathing stopped, I didn’t even dare reaching out to my clock to see how long it had lasted. I just lied there in the clutches of a primal fear until, in spite of everything, sleep won me over.
In the following days I started finding all kind of excused to avoid my bed. A nice film on TV late at night, some work to be done urgently, everything that could allow me to drag my nights on without feeling like a superstitious coward. I couldn’t admit to myself I was afraid of something that could not be real.
I fell asleep in my chair, on the table, over the laptop, wherever my resistance to sleep finally gave up.
After one week I was irritable, aching all over, and most of all tired. Tired enough to decide I had to stop being an idiot and go back to sleep in a bed I had spent almost half my monthly wage on.
And for a while it seemed to have been the right choice.
I spent there several quiet nights, with no unusual event, or at least none while I was awake to see it.
Then, exactly fifteen days after the second occurrence, my eyes sprang open on the darkness of my room when it was all too clear that the sun was not in the sky at all.
As usual, I touched the alarm clock on the nightstand until I was able to light up its quadrant. The LCD said it was 3:00, and right then it seemed to me the most ominous thing I had ever read.
Even though nothing I could feel was happening, a cold shiver ran through my body, and the hairs on my arms stood up as if electrified.
I rolled on my back, so slowly even I wasn’t sure I was actually moving, then kept rolling, turning toward the never-empty-enough other side of the bed.
In spite of the fear that already had me in its clutches, I couldn’t help jerking back when the stench hit me, as violently as a slap on my face.
Even now I can’t really describe it, not well enough to make someone who hasn’t smelled it understand. A mixture of charred flesh and rot is the best I can come up with.
It was the only manifestation that night, but it was enough to make me spend the hours still separating me from dawn cowering on the floor, uncaring of the cold making my limbs shiver. Leaving would mean passing the bed, and the idea alone repulsed me.
In the morning, with the sunlight dispersing my fears, I examined the whole room, once again finding nothing. The bed was clean and as fresh as it could be, considering I slept in it every night. No trace of that stench or its origin could be found.
I burned everything. Covers, sheets, bedcover, even my pajamas and the pillows. Everything but the mattress. In my folly, I had bought a queen-size one as well, and I couldn’t afford another.
I didn’t know what else I could do, what else I could think. Atheist as I was, I still asked for a priest to come bless my house. A specific room of the house, actually, but I refrained from telling him or giving him explanations. I told him I had moved there recently and didn’t know when the house had been blessed last time. Then again, the priest seemed more interested in my donation than in the reason for my call.
For good measure, I also looked for an expert on paranormal, and it was no easy task finding one that didn’t seem to be a character straight out from a B-list novel.
The one I finally deemed as the most reliable put on a decently-convincing pantomime, assured me he had ridden the house of some evil presence, asked for a fee that made me regret I hadn’t just bought a new mattress, and left.
In the meantime, I had bought myself a cot.
Unfortunately, there was no other room in the house where I could place it but the bedroom, but at least I wasn’t going to sleep in the same bed as… who? what? I had no clue.
I slept badly for days.
I can’t say whether it was because of the makeshift bed or because of the fear that the thing would manifest again, even if I knew it was not going to happen. Not because I believed in the reassurances of the mage or the power of the prayers. Because it wasn’t time yet.
I knew it was going to be on a Thursday, like every time before. And, I’m not sure out of what bravery or recklessness, maybe just the strength I got from being exasperated, that Thursday I decided I would stay awake to witness the whole event and understand once and for all what was happening to me an why.
Instead, I woke up abruptly in the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling. The restless sleep of the previous days must have taken its toll, in spite of my good intentions.
I didn’t look at the clock, I knew the time.
I didn’t even look at the bed, not right away.
Not for a second, though, I doubted that my night-time visitor wasn’t back. That would have been impossible, as I could clearly hear its breathing, mixed to something else. An undistinguishable rattle, as if it was trying to clear its throat, or expel some mucus. A low but rasping, annoying sound.
It went on for a while, until I found the courage to turn my gaze.
Since I had planned to stay awake, I had left the light on, and I immediately wished I hadn’t.
It was lying on the bed, on the bare mattress. I know it had once been a man, but what was left of it had nothing human. It looked like a skeleton badly covered by mostly charred flesh and some viscid, unnamable fluids. It had no clothes, and in some points I could see blackened bones peeking from gashes in that fetid flesh. And its eyes – clear, normal eyes – stared at me, fixed on me even though that poor excuse for a face was turned to the ceiling, as remnants of lips trembled as if to speak, but never produced any meaningful sound.
My brain registered all this in a split second, before my body decided to throw itself out of the cot and start to run.
I crossed the house faster than I ever did, wasted no time to change from my pajamas, and grabbed the car keys from the small table by the front door without ever pausing.
I only have confused, disjointed memories of what happened after that. A flash of light, a loud crash, then flames, the smell of gasoline.
A few images, still too many.
I wish I could delete them from my mind. I wish I could delete them from my life.
Most of all, I wish these words of mine could reach you. I wish you could really hear them, rather than perceive them only as a panting breath and an undistinguished rattle.
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