Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
I awoke to the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance. I smiled to myself, relishing the quasi-rational excuse to sleep in. I could see light through my closed eyelids, and hear the seagulls squawking nearby. If it wasn’t about to rain, I would probably encourage myself to get up and outside to do some yard work. Spring was finally managing to punctuate a particularly long and snowy Maine winter. I had things to sweep and rake and plant outside, but it would have to wait for another Saturday. I stretched my legs out while cozily snuggling further under the blanket. I swept my feet across the foot of the bed but was impeded by a firm object blocking my path. Slightly annoyed but not at all surprised, I pushed my cat over with my foot so my tall frame could take advantage of the full length of the bed. She reacted to this rude awakening by standing up, stretching her muscles and settling back down for more sleep.
I should probably mention that sleep doesn’t come easily to me, and when it’s disturbed I can be pretty unpleasant. I’ve had a problem with insomnia for as long as I can remember, and take medicine to help me sleep. It works pretty well, and I always try to get enough sleep at night so I don’t fall asleep driving and hurt someone. These current pills seem to make me more forgetful than I used to be, but I can live with that. Not being able to sleep is worse.
As I was drifting back towards unconsciousness, my ears suddenly registered a muffled noise coming from somewhere. It was a monotonous beeping, like that of an alarm clock. Knowing it wasn’t mine, I lay still trying to ignore it, patiently waiting for its owner to wake up and turn it off. After about 10 minutes, I rolled over on my back and groaned, accepting the fact that I wasn’t going back to sleep. So much for cozily napping with my cat during the thunderstorm.
The sound was, as I was now clearly aware, coming from my neighbor’s apartment above me. I lay staring at the ceiling for several more minutes, silently hating him, and finally decided to get up. I sleepily walked into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, my bare feet quietly padding on the old wood floor. I took a shower and sat down at my kitchen table with a steaming cup of coffee, carefully sipping it. As I quietly sat trying to finish waking up, I realized I could still hear the alarm from upstairs. I looked at the clock. 10:11. The alarm had started at nine-thirty. Jesus, that guy must be capable of sleeping through anything. If the alarm is loud enough for me to hear it, it must be blasting in his ears up there.
Maybe he died, I thought with a wicked smile. Or, as I continued to postulate, he’s a jerk who went out of town without turning his alarm off. Probably that one.
I finished my cup of coffee and stepped out my front door, fully intending to yell at this guy if he was home. I clomped angrily up the wooden stairs leading to his front porch. When I reached the top, I could see through the window in his door that his apartment was dark inside. I peered in the window and examined the lifeless interior. I knocked and waited. No answer. I knocked again twice, both times receiving no indication that anyone was home. I walked over to his window and, upon trying to open it, found that it slid up easily.
I leaned down and called in, “Hello?” No answer. I called once more, louder. I listened for any sound coming from inside, but there was nothing apart from the beeps of his alarm. From my position at the window I could see into his bedroom and that his bed was unoccupied. I debated for a moment and decided I might as well pop in and turn the alarm off. I’d come this far and the damnable thing was sitting roughly 20 unimpeded steps from me. He’ll never have to know his privacy was violated, I reasoned.
I opened the window as far as it would go and climbed through. I stopped and listened to make sure I wasn’t about to be chased out by a frightened guy with a bat. Nope, still nobody home. I went into his bedroom where the alarm was blaring and saw clothes scattered on the floor. Dude’s kinda messy, but that’s not that unusual I suppose. I walked over and turned the alarm off. Ahhh, silence. My ears rang as they adjusted to the newly silent apartment, the peaceful sound of ocean waves caressing my ears from the open window. I took a curious look in his bathroom and saw more mess, bottles and things lying around on the counter and floor. Kinda looks like someone was looking for something, or packing in a hurry.
As my eyes finished scanning the room, I suddenly felt something soft touch my leg. I jumped back with a frightened shriek, only to find a cat looking up at me inquisitively. Sheesh. Thing just took ten years off my life.
Given the rushed state of affairs in the apartment, I wondered if the guy remembered to feed the cat before leaving. I went back to the kitchen and found the cat’s food bowl overflowing under a pile of food. The bag of food was sitting overturned next to the bowl.
Something in the back of my mind gnawed at me making me increasingly uncomfortable. The longer I stayed in here, the more I risked being caught in my breaking-and-entering foray. My curiosities and samaritan duties now satisfied, I climbed back through the window, closing it behind me. I leaned against the balcony rail, enjoying the satisfaction of having successfully completed my stealth mission.
Man, this b*****d is lucky, I thought. His balcony has a nice view of the ocean over the neighboring houses and treetops. I surveyed the dark clouds looming in the distance, now noticeably closer than before. I’d almost forgotten the encroaching storm. As if on cue to remind me, a crack of thunder echoed across the sky, interrupting the quiet. As I listened to the rumble get quieter and quieter, the same sense of unease I felt before came creeping back, although this time I couldn’t pin it on a fear of being caught. It was quiet. Too quiet. I kept listening for several seconds, fully expecting to hear some kind of noise. Given that I’m in the middle of the city, I should be hearing all manner of sounds right now. I strained to hear a car, a dog barking, music playing, people talking, anything. But there was none. Not even birds, which I found disturbing. Just the roar of the ocean. And the thunder. How long had it been this quiet? I didn’t notice it before.
I’m pretty introverted and also work from home, so I can go days without talking to another human being, and when I do it’s usually the cashier at the grocery store. But this was unnerving. Right now all I wanted was to hear someone’s voice.
I called out to no one in particular, “he-Hello? HELLO?” My shaky voice echoed through the trees and nearby houses. There was no response. The only contact with life I’d had since waking up was with two cats. Loneliness was beginning to soak into me like cold water, and a sound like static on an old television invaded my ears as the panic rose in my throat.
And that’s when I heard it.
Or rather, stopped hearing it. You know how sometimes when you hear a noise go on long enough, it seems to fade away into the background of your subconscious even though it’s still there? Like a loud smoke detector chirping, or locusts in a forest, or the noise of an electric fan? Only when the noise stops do you become aware of it. Maybe that’s what happened. Or maybe my mind blocked it out to protect me from the dread I’m feeling. It doesn’t matter now anyway.
I slowly began backing away from the balcony rail, my mind reeling, until I bumped into the damp vinyl lounge chair behind me. I didn’t hear the sound of the chair’s legs scraping against the wood as I collapsed into it, my legs finally giving way beneath me. My stunned mind desperately tried to explain the noise away as something else, replaying it again and again from where it still lingered in my cloudy memory, burning like ash, making my eyes water. But the sound was undeniable.
It was the city’s emergency alarm. The one they use to alert you of some impending disaster. When I finally accepted that, my memory made a connection. The emergency weather bulletin that came on as I was drifting to sleep last night. Something about a major storm and massive ocean swells.
As the sobering reality washed over me, the static in my ears was reaching deafening levels. But it wasn’t my panic. It was the ocean.
My memory quite often fails me, but usually not quite so colossally. Not with such… finality. A sick feeling of regret tore at me, leaving me in my final moments with only my eternal yet fleeting remorse, and the shame at being the cause of my own demise.
I slowly got up and walked over to the edge of the balcony to look in the direction of the ocean. A monstrous, unforgiving wave was colliding with my abandoned neighborhood.
My heart sank. I was alone.
Credit To – herbalcell
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