MAY AWOKE WITH A START and sat straight up. The room was dark but for a sliver of moonlight that shone in through the blinds, illuminating the footboard of the bed. She peered about, puzzled and irritated by her sudden wakefulness, and listened. Somewhere outside her window, a raven was croaking. The alarm clock on the bedside table read 3:11AM. What the in hell was the bird doing cawing at this time of night? Its guttural, raspy cry sent shivers down her spine.
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’…
The raven croaked twice more and at last quelled its cries. May dug her head back into her pillow, her heart full of trepidation. The words of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven drifted back into her mind, but the poem remained there incomplete. It had been too many years since she had last studied it to be able to recite a full verse. She drew the comforter closer to her, yearning to feel its warmth swallow her suddenly cold body.
She drove the eerie poem out of her mind and allowed her thoughts to return to the events of that day. She was not sure if she was ready to embrace Brian’s proposition. Josh was a nice enough man, funny, handsome, and modest. She found herself smiling despite her reservations. Though friends had introduced her to men before with the sole intention of setting her up with them, she had never found them interesting enough. Office dwellers. Computer nerds. A loan officer. One was even a funeral director. What her friends had been thinking with the last one, she would never know. In any case, the men were too safe, lacked spontaneity and a spark for life. Josh appeared to possess what these men had not. But did she want to risk a failed relationship with him when her cousin was his best friend?
She had not been a big sports enthusiast before moving here, so she was unaware of his popularity, though his name sounded vaguely familiar. Brian had told her a couple of years ago that his friend was the big shot of the Southampton team, but Josh did not act that way. He seemed normal, grounded.
Soon, her thoughts grew fleeting, and as she began to drift back into the dark void of sleep, a bang from downstairs swallowed her, penetrated her every cell. She sat up with a deep gasp of air, startled. She gulped and realized that the roof of her mouth had gone bone-dry. She froze and listened. The sound seemed to have originated from the kitchen, given the resulting echo. Silence now enveloped her like a thick blanket.
She threw off the quilt and tiptoed towards the window. She knew that the temperature outside was not ideal for sleeping, being in the single digits on the Celsius scale, but she would rather someone heard her should there be a burglar in her parents’ home. She disengaged the locks and slid the glass panel across the frame. An icy breeze filtered into the room and she narrowed the space through which the wind could enter. An inch was all she needed for neighbours to hear her scream.
The raven croaked again. She wanted to shout at it to shut the hell up—she did not need this ominous addition to the already tense at-mosphere—but if there was in fact an intruder, she did not want them to know that she was up here unless it was on her own terms.
Anxious now, she peered at her bedroom door. The cat had likely knocked something off the counter, maybe a bottle of beer that she had forgotten to clear away.
“‘Tis some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door’,” she whispered, Poe’s words failing to flee her mind, in an attempt to distract herself. “‘This is it, and nothing more’.”
This did not relax her nerves.
No, it was just the cat.
She considered returning to bed on that thought, but now that she was awake, her mind would not rest until she investigated. Because her parents were attending a conference in London and were spending the night, she would have to face this sound alone.
“‘And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door’…”
No, not so faintly. It had been a loud bang, too substantial, now that she thought about, to be just a beer bottle.
She crept towards the doorway and flicked on her bedroom light. No sooner had she opened the door did she make sure to reach into the hallway to flick that light on as well. Better to be safe than sorry.
© Lindsay Mawson 2010