Brianna Coleman is losing her mind. At least, that’s how it seems to her. There’s no other explanation for it, there can’t be… Her mind stops there, refusing to follow that train of thought. For the fifth night in a row, she sits up in bed, wide awake at three in the morning, every nerve taut as a wire and her whole body trembling uncontrollably. She runs a shaking hand through her dark brown hair, tugging against the knots she’s been fighting for years; it seems that the stubborn tangles reappear not five minutes after every time she brushes it. Blinking rapidly, she takes a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. It almost works. Just as she’s thinking that maybe she’ll actually be able to fall asleep at some point tonight, a faint scratching so soft that she’s half convinced she imagined it reaches her ears. She freezes, a thrill of fear like ice in her veins, not even daring to breathe.
The room is utterly silent for just a moment. She imagines that this must be how it would feel to be inside a photograph; nothing moving at all, time stopped forever on one specific moment, not a sound to be heard. Before the mere seconds of tension and fear can stretch into minutes, the scratching comes again, louder and more insistent. She stifles a whimper as it rises in the back of her throat, covering her mouth with both hands. Not again, please not again… It’s exactly the same as the past four nights. Sometime after midnight, she’d start to hear the scratching just outside her window (because of course, it wasn’t enough like a bad horror movie already) and it would happen again every few minutes, just loud enough to keep her awake and terrified. Then again, maybe she’s just going crazy and there’s really nothing out there. Her bedroom is on the second floor, after all. Or maybe she did fall asleep without realizing it, and these are just recurring nightmares…
Possibility after ridiculous possibility races through her mind, each one more unlikely than the last. Her thoughts continue to spin faster and faster as tries to avoid falling into hysteria. Every time she’s nearly convinced that it’s only her mind playing tricks, her admittedly fragile logic dissolves in the face of the noise from outside. Exhaustion drags at her still-shaking limbs, but she can’t sleep. Instead, she drifts in and out of waking nightmares, all of them dark and confusing and full of monsters that don’t attack, but simply sit and claw away at the walls. Finally, it’s too much. A high-pitched scream brings her back to full consciousness, and after a dim moment of confusion, she realizes that it’s her; she’s the one screaming. Some small part of her brain tells her to stop, but she can’t. Sheer terror envelopes her, and it’s all she can do to scream, the sound ripping its way out of her already-raw throat. After that, it’s a blur of disjointed images and sounds. She vaguely remembers her mother coming in, asking desperately what’s wrong, and her brother staring at her from his doorway with his blue eyes impossibly wide as their mother guides her downstairs to the kitchen. Eventually, she manages to convince them that she’s perfectly fine, it was only a bad dream. She almost believes it herself. A fleeting scrap of memory shows her mother kissing her forehead and going back to bed, while she stays downstairs, shivering under a thick blanket. She doesn’t sleep that night.
The next morning, nothing seems as bad as it did before. Bright autumn sunlight burns away the shadows of the previous night, and she can almost think that it was a dream, but part of her knows better. She’s in the backyard, raking leaves for her mother, and feeling almost cheerful for the first time in days. Music plays from the two tiny speakers in her ears, calming her the way it always does. Bright colors adorn the trees, and the air is crisp and cool, but not cold, just the way she likes it. She’s decided to try to forget about the whole incident for today, and perhaps sleep on the couch tonight.
However, that’s not quite what happens. As she pauses for a moment, leaning on the rake to catch her breath, her eyes happen to drift towards the house and her heart seems to drop into her stomach. There are claw marks covering her window frame. She stares at it in disbelief for a moment, a hint of the paralyzing fear from last night creeping back. Blinking several times, she looks up again, hoping that she was wrong, that it was a momentary illusion, a trick of the light, anything. To her surprise, it works. The marks are gone. She’d been so sure a second ago… Shaking her head in an attempt to clear it, she returns to her work, turning the music to an almost deafening volume to drown out the tiny whispers in the back of her mind telling her that she’s losing it.
She expects the hours leading up to midnight to be some of the worst she’s ever experienced. They do seem to drag by, every second a tick closer to the horrible unknown. They aren’t, however, as terrifying as she thought they’d be. It’s almost peaceful as she lies on her back, staring at the ceiling through a haze of exhaustion. At the moment, she really couldn’t care less if there really is a monster or not, and she doesn’t give a damn whether or not it comes for her again. She really just hopes that it will allow her to sleep for a bit first. The peacefulness, though unexpected, is such a wonderful change that she doesn’t notice that it’s well past midnight and there has been no scratching. She also doesn’t notice when her eyelids start to close; in fact, she doesn’t notice anything else until past noon the next day.
Brianna wakes up utterly confused. When did she fall asleep? How did she fall asleep? Maybe the monster actually left. This thought cheers her slightly as she drags herself out of bed, refusing to acknowledge the other explanation that a small but persistent voice in the back of her mind keeps saying – maybe there never was a monster, and you’re insane. As she moves to leave her room, she glances in the mirror and groans out loud. Her dark, curly hair seems to be giving its best impression of a lion’s mane, there are dark, bruise-like shadows under her eyes, and she’s never seen her skin this pale before. In short, she looks like a zombie. Rolling her blue-green eyes at her reflection, she sighs and decides that she can’t be bothered to do anything about it right now. Ignoring a few strange looks from her mother and brother, she grabs an apple when she walks into the kitchen, slumping down in a chair and announcing through a mouthful of fruit that she’s having a lazy Sunday, and if anyone needs her she’ll be in her room. Judging by the looks she’s getting from both of her family members, this announcement is the equivalent of her having grown a second head. They’ve noticed how strangely she’d been acting lately, and here she is, as though nothing were ever wrong. It’s unsettling, to say the least. Her mother asks if she’s feeling all right, then decides not to push the issue when Brianna simply gives her confused, blank stare.
The day passes far too quickly as she drowns her still-racing thoughts in countless hours of various movies and television shows. Before she knows it, the sky outside is black and her mother is yelling up the stairs at her to ‘go to bed already.’ Slight apprehension blooms in her stomach as she does exactly that, pulling the covers tight around her as though that will protect her. She isn’t sure why, but she’s afraid. The peacefulness of last night is a distant memory; the pressing darkness outside is a malevolent force again. Distantly, she wonders if maybe the creature (or perhaps a passing bout of insanity, whichever it was) is gone. As soon as the thought crosses her mind, she dismisses it. It’s never that easy, nothing in life is. Why would that change now? With a sigh, she resigns herself to watching the numbers flash by on her digital clock. 11:30. 11:45. There it is, midnight, she thinks to herself, the moment of truth. There’s no amusement in the soft laugh she gives to this thought. Then it’s one in the morning, and there’s still nothing apart from the awful feeling that something is wrong. Even as tired as she still is, she can’t sleep. Her mind begins to wander down twisting paths and rabbit holes of strange ideas for lack of dreams. She doesn’t pay much attention until one thought hits her like a truck.
Have you ever played a video game where you have to sleep to recover? It has to be safe in order to do so; otherwise, the game won’t allow you to sleep. You’ll get a message saying, ‘You cannot rest here. There are monsters nearby.’ Or something of the sort. Perhaps it’s nothing but an insane connection found by her half-conscious brain, but there is no logical reason that she can’t sleep right now. In fact, over the years, there have been many times something like this has happened for absolutely no reason at all.
That video game message seems to loop over and over again in her mind. You cannot rest here. There are monsters nearby. How many times has it been that she just can’t seem to get to sleep? Dozens, perhaps hundreds. In a suddenly hyper-awake state, she remembers every single one. There’s still no scratching on the wall outside, but she can practically feel something out there laughing silently at her.
Afterwards, she could never say why, exactly, she did what she did. She could never explain what drove her to leave the relative safety of her bed and slowly approach the thin purple curtain covering the window. She could, however explain in perfect detail what happened next; she’s sure that she’ll never forget it for as long as she lives. With her heart pounding and a sudden determination to know the truth, she reaches out, her fingers trembling so badly that she can barely move the curtain aside. When she finally manages it, her exhausted, fear-muddled brain tells her that it’s only her reflection in the glass, pale white with what is frankly becoming stark terror. It takes her a moment to realize that no matter what, her skin would never be that pale, a color better suited to newly fallen snow. She doesn’t have a maniacal grin or eyes that burn with madness. And she most certainly doesn’t have teeth that look capable of tearing off her arm with no trouble at all if their owner were in the mood – unfortunately, this seems to be the case. The monster less than two feet from her stares directly into Brianna Coleman’s eyes as it slowly and deliberately drags claws like diamond down the window pane. With a horrible shriek, four thin white scratches stand out against the clear view. She can’t move, the hideous thing before her won’t let her. When it finally breaks eye contact, Brianna screams for all she’s worth and collapses to her bedroom floor.
No one else ever sees it. Of course, her mother is confused as to how she got scratches like that on her window, but endures her daughter’s rants about monsters and claws and apparently video games with infinite patience. Brianna learns not to talk about monsters anymore.
About a month later, she wakes up from a nightmare, one of the many she’s had since the incident. The room is freezing and the curtain flutters in the nighttime breeze. It’s only after she’s closed the window that she remembers that she never opens it anymore. Carved into the glass is a new message: DO THEY BELIEVE YOU? She fights off tears as she reads it, knowing that the creature has been back, taunting her with this. No one ever will believe her. She’s not crazy after all, but she might as well be. Because the only proof she has to offer is the memories of a girl half-dead from sleep deprivation and a few meaningless scratches on a window pane, and something tells her that the monster’s work is done; it destroyed her. Brianna Coleman will never see a monster again. She doesn’t need to.