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You’re awoken from a dreamless sleep by a dull thud from the hallway. Your eyes snap open and fix instantly on the door. What made that noise? Breathing hard, fear beginning to twitch in your mind, you realise with a shiver that you’ve kicked your duvet off in your sleep.
You quickly grab it, pull it around you and unconsciously begin to tuck it around yourself tightly as you curl up, leaving no part exposed. You become a warm, safe ball coiled, leaving only a small gap between the duvet and mattress so you can see out, pillows becoming shields between your head and the wall. You are briefly reminded of your childhood, hiding from imaginary bogeymen. But this feels more palpable, more dangerous.
Another thud. This time, it seems louder, deeper, coming from just outside. Trying to keep calm, you run through all the things it may be. It has to be the pipes in the wall, which have been groaning for weeks now, with ever-increasing frequency and urgency (they were never this deep or this loud).
The blind in the bathroom, left to flap by an open window (you double-check all the doors and windows each night). Perhaps it’s your parents, returning late and drunk (they’re away on a cruise for another week). Your cat, prowling through the house at night (you put it out that evening). Despite all your desperate reassurances, you feel the fear turn to panic, and you pull the duvet tighter around yourself, reducing your field of vision to a thin chink.
Another. The loudest yet, just inches from your door. Your churning brain conjures images straight from your childhood nightmares - masked psychopaths, giant spiders, shape shifting creatures, amalgamations of bone and gristle, twitching their way across the floor, scrabbling with twisted limbs for the door handle, then scuttling in with a burst of speed, claws grasping for your quivering body.
Another. Your breathing is hoarse and shallow now, mere gasps in a suddenly dry throat, lungs closing up, stomach churning and roiling, eyes wide and fixed. Your blanket is still tucked vice-like around you, your body pinioned underneath its futile protection, just inches of cotton between you and whatever is about to burst in, eyes burning, talons gleaming dully, to claim its prize.
Suddenly, in a flash of realization, you realize what the source of the noises is the old, falling-apart bookcase in the corridor. One of the legs must have given way, and the tilt is tipping books one by one onto the floor. As you listen carefully, you can hear the quiet riffle of the pages as another tumbles to the ground. There ought to be one last thud and… yes. Silence once more descends, and with it, a soothing calm.
As you sink back into sleep, you glance around the room, still snugly cocooned, seeing the vague shapes becoming defined as your night vision improves. Your desk, chair and television all emerge out of the murk, imposing good, sane reality on the void of night. Then, just before you shut your eyes, you see something that makes the bottom of your stomach drop away into nothingness.
There, on the floor, is your duvet.
Your screams are muffled.
Credited to foreverandever