I woke up in my bed, cocooned in warmth and comfort. I was in the perfect position – the one you can spend most of the night looking for in bed and the one you absolutely loath to leave in the morning, certain that you'll never be able to find it again. Your entire body is limp and relaxed and the comforter over you is snug, but not constricting. You're lying right on the mattress's sweet spot, free of lumps and dips, and the temperature is toasty warm.
Even before glancing over at the glowing red numbers on the clock radio beside my bed, I knew it was still in the middle of the night, seeing as the room was pitch black, impossible to see a hand in front of my face. I was about to close my eyes and go back to blissful sleep when an upsetting realization hit me – something had woke me up. I have no idea what, some sort of out of place sound made its way through the deep layers of sleep to my unconscious mind, rousing me.
Without moving a muscle, I strained my senses trying to comprehend what it had been. Seconds and eventually minutes ticked by. There was the faint sound of wind from outside, the occasional and familiar low creek and groaning of the house settling, and finally my own rhythmic breathing. I was just about to give up and surrender back to sleep when I heard it. It was only for a moment, at the very edge of my hearing, and then I lost it – breathing at a rhythm different than my own.
All of a sudden sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. Fear focused and sped up my thoughts along with my heart rate.
The only other people that were supposed to be in the house were my parents, most likely sleeping down the hall from me. There was no reason for them to be in my room, in the dark, at this time of night.
Did someone break in? If it was a thief, the safest thing was to probably fake being asleep until he at least left the room. But what if he was something else? An escaped convict, a psychopathic murderer...
That is the problem with being in the dark – when the mind doesn't have enough information to work with, it fills in the blanks. The human imagination can be infinitely more frightening than reality.
I made a conscious effort to calm myself, at least a little. Panicking would only keep me from thinking and acting smartly. I sort of succeeded. I strained my senses once more wanting some sort of confirmation that I wasn't alone – maybe I simply imagined the breathing.
But I hadn't.
Over several minutes I heard light breathing various times. It always seemed to come from my right, at the opposite wall of the door. All right, there was a stranger in my room, but at least I knew where he was. But what do I do...
Unexpectedly, I heard a new sound, louder than the breathing. It took me a few moments to place it – the sound of claws on hardwood floors. And I didn't own a pet.
It wasn't a person ... It was something. How the hell did an animal get inside my home! Surprisingly, the idea of facing an unknown and potentially dangerous animal generates a completely different, more primal type of fear than the thought of facing a human. I never before realized that there existed such a numerous and diverse selection of flavors of fear. Lucky me.
I heard the breathing again. This time it was from a different spot. It was moving ... coming closer.