31 Jan The Thing on the Roof
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"The Thing on the Roof"Written by
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Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
It was a cool, tree-rustling night. The last hopeful rays of the sun’s descent faded slowly into darkness. A whistling breeze rushed through the windows of my room and outside, the numerous chimes that surrounded our house began to twinkle like alarms disregarded. My room was built into the roof of our house, my ceiling consisting of two walls meeting at a point – creating a disabling prism that prevented anyone standing to their full height. My bed lay in the farthest corner in the room, the entrance of which was an opening in the floor. From this opening, a long wooden ladder stretched to the ground, standing abruptly in the center of the main hall. Though walking in my room required either bent legs or a hunched back, the room was spacious and long and possessed a certain comforting aura, which was accentuated with the gentle pattering of rain that had just begun.
The rain drops, merciful compared to the heat of summer, tapped against the slightly open window panes like tiny fairies asking to come inside. Down stairs, muffled voices escaped the television, which my father was meant to be watching, and trailed up to my room. He had almost definitely fallen asleep in front of it. A lack of unfiltered tennis commentary provided evidence for this. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep with the device still on, I got out of bed to put an end to it’s rambling. I knelt over to make my way to the ladder when a sudden noise startled me. A scuttling on the roof. A possum, no doubt. They always caught me by surprise. As I lowered myself down from the highest steps of the ladder, the floor of my room came into my eye-line. Beneath my bed, I watched a hairy, sleeping mass of cat stir at the same noise that startled me. Thy shall not disturb.
The ladder creaked like it always did as I descended into the dimly lit hallway. Walking quietly around the corner towards the flashing of the television, I was surprised to find the lounge room completely empty. The door at the back of the room, leading to the front yard, had been left open. A strong wind was gushing in, creating a vicious symphony of chimes in the garden. No one had yet locked up the house for the night. I walked over to the door first, the black night staring back at me, like the entrance to another realm. The chimes just outside, rattled in the wind. I closed the door and bolted the lock. Then I turned to the television remote, lying on the ground like an abandoned toy, and switched off the power. Silence filled the room.
Concerned by the negligence of my parents, I walked over to the door of their bedroom.
“Mum?” I called out.
Slow, heavy snoring was given in response.
I rolled my eyes and headed to the back door near the kitchen, where the chimes hanging beneath the patio crashed into each other like toddlers attempting percussion. The wind howled goodbye as I pulled the door shut.
Upon returning to my room, I greeted my cat who had finally awoken. “Poor thing,” I thought. She would love to go exploring on a night like this. But Minim had been brought up a house cat and would remain one for the entirety of her insect hunts and self-induced comas. As I got back into bed, the rain continued to patter gently on the roof, not more than a meter above me. I picked up a book and began reading, as Minim peered up at the window closest to my bed, fascinated by the sudden drops of water.
A while later, the rain suddenly increased in pressure, followed by a crack of lightning and then subsided back to it’s pattering shower. Soon after, three consecutive bangs sounded from above, like huge drops of hail. Minim reacted instantly. Her eyes widened and her tail flared as she ran over to the edge of my bed. I lowered my book and peered over to the far end of my room where the noise had come from. Except for the rain, there was a moment of silence before a scuttling noise interrupted the break. It was similar to the noises that the possums make, only each step was separated. It was as though something much larger was walking along the roof. Minim started pacing back and forth with her ears erect, trying to figure out where the thing on the roof was headed. But then it stopped. I went over to the window nearest my bed and looked out from the opening. The moon was still quite bright, allowing me to distinguish the shape of the chimney top, the television antenna and most of the right side of the roof, where the noise had come from. But I saw nothing else. No possums, no birds and certainly nothing larger. As the rain had become more adamant, I decided to close the window completely and did the same with the other. I assumed a possum had fallen onto the roof and misjudged its steps. They often did this, and Minim was naturally over dramatic. Once again, I returned to my bed and continued reading. Outside, the wind slowly settled, along with the metallic notes of the garden chimes. Minim however, much like the persistent rain, remained in a seated position looking up to the roof – her tail lazily sweeping the floor.
I had barely read a page of my book when I heard another three bangs on the roof. They were softer this time, travelling down the right side of my ceiling – like something trying not to make a sound. Minim’s ears perked up as she rose and ran back towards my bed. I knew it was probably nothing, but there is something unsettling in seeing a cat on alert – the descendant of apex predators, cowering at a mysterious noise. What could be more terrifying than a capable feline?
I crouched over and crept beneath my restricting ceiling, back towards the window. The pane of glass only offered my reflection, so I lifted it open to view the roof, the sound of rain rising to a crescendo as I did so. The moon had been overpowered by clouds, presenting both the television antenna and chimney top as undefined silhouettes. But there was something more. An additional silhouette, further along the roof. It was right on the very edge, like a huge gargoyle perched on the gutter, guarding the house. I squinted through the small gap of the window like a bird watcher. It was a humanoid shape – a large shape. Hunched over with it’s elbows brought into its chest, it’s fingers strained in claws. I moved away to retrieve a small flashlight I had in my drawer. When I returned and directed the light onto the roof, the figure was no longer there. I carefully searched the surface, moving the light over the television antenna, against the chimney top, and over the water glazing the tiles. Nothing.
I was unnerved by this, no matter how bland my imagination was. I quickly shut the window and drew the curtains. It was getting late and the rain made it even harder to peer into the night, so I knew I couldn’t trust what my eyes had just presented to me. I would continue reading until my worries were forgotten and I had fallen asleep. But then, of course, the most unfortunate thing happened. Quite possibly the worst thing that could happen to a paranoid teenager who had been left to lock-up the house on his own accord and just witnessed an unsettling, hunched figure on the gutter of his roof. The most inconvenient thing. I had become desperately thirsty.
I could not go down stairs. Not tonight. Images came to my head as I imagined the treacherous journey to the kitchen. The shadows would torment me like Snow White lost in the dark forest. The lights wouldn’t work and I’d be caught in a sea of black. And that hunched figure on the roof. That vague, distant figure – what if it somehow got inside? I was brought back to reality when my cat obliviously strode across my stomach and hopped onto the floor. Beneath the covers, my lower back was sweating into the sheets, not at all helping my burdening thirst.
Taking a deep breath, I threw the covers aside and crept over to the ladder. The accompanying creak with each step was exaggerated in the still of the night. I could hear the garden chimes in the front yard getting louder again as the wind increased. The hall light flickered. I stopped in my tracks. It flickered again. And then, without a sound, it gave up, leaving me unprotected in a void of black. The chimes menacingly clashed outside. I walked with haste to the kitchen, stubbing my toe on a chair. My hands fumbled for the light switch on the wall. The kitchen light cast down a glowing safety net. An oasis of light.
The gentle tick of the dining room clock echoed calmly through the house as my heart settled from the predicted torments. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and positioned it under the tap. It wheezed and coughed before the water ran. Everything sounds so much louder at night, as though the house can finally speak and be heard. Feeling my stomach squelch at the sight of the pantry and dreading another kitchen trip, I decided prevention was better than cure, so I brought out the bread and peanut butter. As I made my sandwich, I listened to the gentle ticking of the clock. Until something interrupted it’s flow. A tapping noise. It was coming from the window beside the back door. It sounded like the end of a branch hitting the glass, only there were no trees anywhere near this window. I walked nearer, but all I could see in the window was the reflection of the room. The window was tall and long, making up most of the back wall. The noise was moving against it. Closer towards the door it came, then it scattered along to the other side. It lifted slightly and then rushed back to the door. I could see it moving. Sometimes it pressed against the glass. A large hand maybe. Or a head. Whatever it was, I knew it could see me clearly in the light of the room, as I stared back helplessly at my own reflection.
The light switch to the patio rested temptingly beside the back door. I’d have to get closer to the window if I wanted to turn it on. The tapping persisted, travelling back and forth faster and faster along the window. With adrenaline sweating from my pores, I made my decision and raced to the light switch. It flicked on. The patio was lit up like a stage and the performer revealed.
It was Minim.
I sighed in relief. But it quickly turned to dread as I wondered how she got outside. And then I felt it. Like a subtle reminder, the unwanted epiphany. Simple, but chilling.
A breeze. Cold and icy on the back of my neck.
Why was I feeling a breeze?
I slowly turned and peered down the hallway, into the lounge room where the door leading to the garden stood wide open.
In complete terror, alarms rung inside my head. I listened to the wind crashing like waves, the chimes wildly screaming outside, the rain pelting down like flaming arrows of war, all while the door remained seamlessly and innocently open.
I began to walk. Cautiously and insecurely. One shivering step after the other. Through the shadowed dining room, all the way to the lounge room. My hand reached up the wall and flicked the light switch. The lounge room was showered in light. With my eyes wide and my skin tingling, I walked silently over to the open door, facing it. I stared into the pitch black frame of night, trying to make sense of it. The wind pushed against me as if telling me to move away from this blank and sinister void. I could hear the chimes that hung just outside the door clashing like a warning, completely hidden in the dark, and the relentless rain muffling all of my thoughts. I wasn’t familiar with this door, I hardly used it. My eyes trailed to the switch beside me on the wall. I wondered if it were for an outdoor light. I reached up slowly, the chimes bashing wildly in the storm. The switch turned. The outdoor area lit up, and there, right before me, I saw it. The figure I saw on the roof. It was standing right there. Facing me. Not more than a meter in front of me. It’s grey skin clung to its malnourished skeleton. Its back hunched over it’s tall spine. A strained grin was pulled across its face bearing its human teeth and eyes pulled wide like they were pinned open. But possibly the most sinister thing about it wasn’t how it looked, but what it was doing. It was holding a long branch. And with it, it was hitting the chimes.
Clash. Clash. Clash. Grinning straight at me, striking the chimes methodically. My heart dropped. It had been less than a meter in front of me this entire time, watching me stand in the doorway, with nothing separating us.
Then, this thing standing in front of me calmly stopped hitting the chimes. It’s deadly, lunatic smile remained. I was petrified. It dropped the stick to the ground and ever so slowly bent it’s knees, lowering all the way down to a squatting position while keeping it’s daring eyes attached to me. It pulled its elbows into it’s torso, it’s fingers shaping into claws, looking straight up to me, unblinking. In this gargoyle position it remained, motionless. I wanted to close the door but I couldn’t move. I needed to call for my parents but I was afraid to make a noise. I just stared back with my eyes wide. My heart thumped in my chest, begging me to run. The creature remained there, unbelievably still. The rain trickled down its bare skull and washed over it’s open eyes. Not a single cell on its body twitched. The muscles in my face ached in shock. We stood there staring at each other. The seconds turning into minutes, the open doorway standing as the only thing between us.
And then, the garden light. It flickered. It flickered again. And then, darkness. Complete darkness. I took a step back. My eyes darted around the rectangle of black in front of me. I knew it could see me lit up in the lounge room, but I couldn’t see anything. What was it doing? Was it about to jump into the room? The rain continued. I stood, staring into the night. I was about to yell. Something, anything in defense. When slowly, something in the the center began to grow. First a spot, a grey spot. Then, a nose. White teeth appeared and wide eyes. The creature’s face was passing through the line of night and entering the living room. Just it’s face. Nothing more. The rest of it’s body was covered in the darkness behind it. The face hovered there. Smiling with it’s human teeth, water dripping from it’s chin. It’s eyes still wide and locked on me. It’s pupils were dilated, the whites lined in red. I lost all sensation. I couldn’t feel my limbs. It’s teeth were so human-like and perfect against it’s blotched and wrinkled skin, it was as though it had stolen them from someone else – ripped them out, never to be returned. I had been staring back for so long, the haunting face remaining so still, that the situation began to feel like some kind of dream. All until, movement returned. Very slowly, the haunting face began to retreat. All the way, submerging itself back into the darkness, until the tip of it’s nose disappeared into the night. The rain continued like a soundtrack against the un-telling door frame. My senses returned and I pounced for the door, slamming it shut, so fiercely that the walls of the room shook. I bolted the lock and jumped away panting, finally breathing.
“What are you doing?”
I jolted and turned to the voice.
It was my mother, standing in the hallway.
“Do you realize how late it is? Stop opening the doors, and go to bed.”
* * * * * *
Ever since that night, I always remind my parents to lock up the house before I retreat upstairs for the night. Sometimes when it’s raining, always when it’s raining, I will hear those creeping footsteps on the roof and that certain clashing of the garden chimes. But only ever when it rains. You see, this creature is smart. It blends in. It creeps and explores and plays, all under the disguise of a storm. Whatever it is and wherever it came from, I can only assure you that it doesn’t want to be noticed.
Rather, it just wants to observe.
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