I’m not sure if I wake on my own or it’s the strange sound that stirs me from sleep. These things are hard to discern, especially when it comes to topics relating to the mind. I can’t quite place the noise. A potato pulled over a cheese grater, back and forth, over and over again? At 2 a.m.? This continues for a good minute. It is such a strange sound.
My wife is dead to the world in the bed next to me, she doesn’t stir. The room is tenebrous, the new moon jet. All I hear is this repetition. I don’t raise my head or open my eyes, I squeeze them tighter and hold my breath hoping to hear this peculiarity better. It halts with an uncomfortable suddenness as if whatever was making the sound now knows I am listening.
It emanates from the hallway outside the bedroom, only a few feet from the open door. I don’t hear any sound for the short duration I lie there awake, ruminating on what I heard, trying to solve this mystery. I fall asleep a short time later.
Rising out of bed the next morning, I rub my eyes and mash my hair down with the palm of my hand, playing with the cowlick I know is there because it is everyday. I walk out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. After a long urination and a few shakes, I flush. Still groggy and out in the hallway I remember…I remember that sound.
That sound, it came from this direction. I begin to look around. In the absence of the noise it is hard to conclude this mystery. Then I move my feet as my eyes peer down.
There in the grey and blue wool rug, which is swirled in majestic patterns like waves at sea, swells building atop each other, are marks cut through the wool piling. In my dozy state, I bend my head and stare. It looks like fingers ripped through the rug. Two sets of hands, five fingers on each with claws at the ends of their tips, had pulled through the looped fibers to leave these marks.
Maria comes up the stairs with her cup of coffee in hand and stands next to me, looking at the rug with puzzlement and curiosity. Her long brown hair falls upon her tanned shoulders, tickling freckled skin with gold tips. As my mother notes, she has birthing hips. These subtle comments are reminders that we are in our mid thirties, have been married six years and produced no children for my mother to coddle. I think my siblings have filled that need and then some.
After six years of marriage, Maria tolerates my eccentricities, at least feigns to tolerate them. My vivid imagination gets the best of me, and some of these flights of fancy translate into my stories and writing. I prefer the word eccentric, others could describe me as odd, off, a daydreamer.
Lilith joins her and sits at attention. Long black fur drapes down her neck and parts around a short white patch that emblazons her chest. She has tufts of hair that jut out from her ears stuck in eternal static cling. She looks like a fraggle with a white muzzle showing her age. She yawns and smacks her mouth and pants looking up at us waiting for any kind of cue.
Pawing at Maria’s leg for her to pay her some attention, Lilith leaves four scratch marks on her brown muscular quads. Her summer tan has already begun and it’s only May.
She finally speaks, pulling my mind back to earth.
“What are we staring at?”
“The rug. The marks.”
“Where did they come from?”
“They look like hands, like fingernails having clawed at prison walls after insanity sets in.”
“Oh, Jesus. You and your imagination. Writers can make something from nothing. Can’t anything just be simple. It’s the dog. The dog. She rakes at the rug. It’s just Lilith. She comes out here in the night and pulls at the rug.”
“But they look like hand prints. They are a perfect five on each hand…”
“Paws. Paws. Not hands. She pulls multiple times. The claws are side by side. It makes it look like that. You need your coffee.”
“Paws, hun. Paws.”
I shrug my shoulders. I see hands.
I’ve never owned a dog before and all the quirks associated with such animals are anomalies to me. Mother never liked animals. Her favorite saying about any creature other than human was, “I like (insert animal here) at a distance, where I don’t have to touch them.” Trust me, this explains a lot of my quirks. My wife, Maria, on the other hand, grew up with dogs, so the things I find strange and peculiar about Lilith is old hat for her. This apparently is normal according to her. She tells me if dogs were wild, they would rake at rocks, trees, and the ground to keep their nails from curling. This is all so odd to me, but makes sense. It’s all a learning experience for me. I jot down notes as she educates me, she rolls her eyes. It might come in handy in some strange story at a later date.
The night is still, and a bit of light ekes from outside the window above my head. A dusky pillar of grey light cuts through the onyx darkness. I open my eyes to see a shadow move through the light. It is black and on all fours, with long draping fur. It moves at a comfortable pace. Lilith.
I hear it again. That raking sound. Claws through the carpet. I smile and fall back asleep, laughing in silence at my previous ignorance.
The marks are there the next morning. They cut through the wool pile like paths following children running through a wheat field. I have my coffee and vacuum the house, they disappear as the roller brush moves over them.
A few days later Maria leaves with Lilith to visit her mother for a while. We all get along, but let’s just say, I enjoy my days at home better. I say I’m staying to work on a few stories with deadlines coming soon. I could do the work at their house, but it bothers my concentration. I dig into work after a short while, and spend hours in my office writing with the brass shaded light shining a dim orange glow across my desk, the rest of the room nothing but a melanoid cave.
Wagner composes as Tristan und Isolde drifts through the room. I rub my eyes and lean back in my desk chair. The room is warm and I’m comfortable.
I wake three hours later, my neck is cricked from leaning back in the chair. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I hear it over the music. It travels through the floor as if it is directly overhead.
“Lilith! Knock it off. You’re going to ruin that rug.” I mutter this last part to myself as I shut off the computer for the night, backing up my files.
Upstairs I walk over the rug in the dark hallway, I scuff my feet back and forth across the soft wool, dispersing the marks that I cannot see, but know are there. Flipping the light on in the bathroom I come out into the hallway brushing my teeth, and look at where I just scuffed up Lilith’s handiwork. Nice smooth surface. Spitting out the frothy paste into the sink, I rinse my mouth out and slip into bed.
In the middle of the night I hear it. The raking. That sound. It grates on me. Like it is inside my skull.
“Lilith. Knock it off. Lilith!”
It continues. Rough and methodical. And then it dawns on me. My wife is gone. The dog is gone. It is just me in the house. Just me.
Dread overtakes me. It’s a sick feeling, as if I want to vomit. It fills my body. I turn into a little boy again, stuffing my head under a pillow, leaving myself a little cave of air in fear of suffocating. I lie there, staring into nothingness, and I hear the sound pulling through that carpet, muffled by the down feathers stuffed over my ears.
And then it stops.
It’s so quiet my breath sounds like screaming in some cavern deep below the earth. I inhale and hold. My heart beats in my ears. And I release. Nothing. Although terror grips me, I fall asleep. When I wake up the next morning, I step out of bed with trepidation. In the hallway, I find the rug is fine. There are no marks. I guess it was all just a dream.
I call Maria. She laughs at my overactive imagination and chides me for being foolish. She’ll be home in three days.
Eventually, the daylight fades and twilight consumes the sky, devouring all luminescence, and replacing it with shadows and silhouettes.
I stay up late again writing. It is well after midnight when I go to bed. Lying there under the covers, I drift off asleep, only to be awoken a short time later. I hear it, again. It is there. Grating. Scratching. A furious sound. I flick on the light and step out of the bed. I stand in the room, and the lamplight penetrates but a few feet into the hallway. I can’t see the whole rug, only the edge closest to me, like there is a line of demarcation, a large silk curtain of coal that sound hides behind. It stops. I want to investigate, but I don’t. I have to walk into that dark hallway to flip on the lightswitch.
I slip back into bed and leave the light on.
When I wake the next morning, the light is still on. In the hallway they are there, screaming at me. Mocking me. Reducing me to a frightened irrational person.
It can’t be. They shouldn’t be there. Instead of the usual pattern though, across the width of the rug, this is the whole length. Six feet long. Furrows plowed through that rug.
I drop a few shots of whisky in my coffee and call Maria. I sound insane. She reprimands me. Her frustration at me oozes through the phone. She tells me to grow up.
I get out of the house. Run errands. I’ve just been cooped up too long.
Hallucinating. No. Not hallucinating. I’m not having a LSD trip. Just stressed, that is it. Stress.
I walk through the door of the house a few hours later, and I notice it immediately. The rug in front of the door, under the kitchen table, in front of the sink, it’s there. Its there. All there. Marks everywhere. All there.
Rugs in the living room. There.
My office. There.
They are all the same. Fingers, pulled through the pile, leaving little valleys in the material like plows through dark soil.
I grab a bottle of whisky and go down to my neighbor’s who is a friend of mine. I drink until I pass out on his couch. He won’t kick out a drunk friend. At least I have a place to sleep that night.
Groggy and hungover I stumble out of their house the next morning. The sunlight is bright and cuts through my vision, hurting my head. I almost wish for night already, but then I remember the strange occurrences that I would be coming home to.
My hand grips the doorknob but I stop, and lean my throbbing forehead against the woodgrain of the door. I find a bit of courage and walk through, keeping my hand on the knob and my body half in half out as I peer inside. The rugs. They are all normal. No marks. No claw marks. They are normal. All normal. The house is the way it should be.
Walking in I immediately go to the sink and fill a glass, gulping down the pint of water and then another, my slaking thirst obvious through the pounding heartbeat that pumps motor oil in this state of dehydration. Standing in the living room, I look for any signs on the rugs, but they are gone. All gone. Nothing. The house is back to normal.
Moving up those stairs, one step at a time, gingerly lowering my foot onto each tread, I peer over the top step as I rise above that threshold and the rug that started it all, that grey and blue rug, it is clear of any molestation. There are no marks.
Relieved, I move to the bathroom, turn the faucets for the claw foot tub and steam all surfaces in that room. A hangover staple, hot bath. I sink deep into the warm waters and allow it to envelop me. I close my eyes for what feels like a few seconds.
I awake to that noise. That raking. That insidious noise that has plagued me. I move up with a startle and water cascades over the rounded edge of the tub, spilling onto the tile. Launching myself out, my left foot hits the floor, that white subway tile floor, and I go backwards, my head striking the hard ceramic surface.
I see black. Beautiful violent explosions of magnificent colors fill my vision. Its an electric light show of flowers blooming in the darkness. Fireworks erupt into powder puff emulsions of neon lights flashing in an atramentous abyss. The show culminates with one eruptive orgasm of psychedelic iridescent luminosity.
The world begins to come back through the smoke left from this mental firework show. I inspect the back of my head. Fingers enter my vision stained red. I see the crow at the window, raking its beak against the cedar shingles on the side of the house. The crow that is making the sound. No rug. No hands. No dogs claws. Just a crow. I chuckle. I wince.
And then it all goes dark.
My head is throbbing. It hurts. The back of my head is sticky with blood, and my hair is matted to my scalp. I know it is much later. It is dark. How long have I been on the floor? I’m cold. I stand and a dizziness causes me to grab for the doorframe and the room tilts sideways. My legs are floppy under me. They feel disconnected from what my mind tells them to do.
I stumble into the bedroom, and lie down on the bed, crawling under the sheets. I’m cold. I’ve been lying in water for hours on a tile floor. I don’t care about the blood on the pillowcase. I’ll buy another. I just want to get warm.
I can’t go to sleep. I might have a concussion. I just need to get warm. To rest a bit before I search the house for my phone. That’s all I will do. I’ll just take a second to warm up before I move. I can’t fall asleep. I won’t…I won’t.
I wake a while later. My head throbs and it feels like an ice pick has been inserted into the back of my right eye. I was already dehydrated and now I have blood loss. I must get up and call Maria or 911, somebody. Sitting up, I feel dizzy and fall back. The room spins, and I lose consciousness again.
I hear it. It rips through the fabric of that wool. It is such a distinctive sound. Maybe Maria came home.
“Maria? Is that you? Lilith? Maria?”
The sounds comes across the room and finds my pulsating skull. It is so violent this time, like hundreds of hands ripping across that fabric. And then it stop suddenly. I steel my breath and wait. Nothing. I begin to rise and then it comes back.
One long swipe, pulled slow. Its protracted this time, like each fiber of wool is catching and being yanked from the rug. I can tell it is coming down the rug in the hallway toward the room the way the sound grows louder.
It goes quiet, and I bring my leg back into bed, as if somehow the covering of sheets will protect me from this unseen terror. I search the bedside table, blindly, and I knock over the lamp. It crashes to the ground, and I grope with a suffering pain behind my skull. I search the table for anything. A flashlight, my phone, anything. But all I find is the immeasurable stack of books which weighs down my nightstand.
Then I hear it. Again. Slow. Methodical. A long pull through the fibers of the rug, but this time, it’s in the bedroom. I can hear it only feet away on the floor, coming towards the foot of the bed from the other side of the room. It gets louder, like a zipper pulled towards your chin. I duck down in bed.
It is as if a pall has been thrown over the room, refusing to let any light in, preventing me from seeing my terrorizer.
My sluggish heart is now racing. My head is pounding. I am petrified. My skull is afire.
It is louder this time. It is…different. Different material. Different location. I roll over and close my eyes, I feel it. The sheets become tight on my body pulled from the other side of the bed. I can feel the vibration of the movement transfer through the mattress to me.
The sound is next to me. It moves towards my pillow. The sound grows louder. It moves towards me across the sheets of my bed.