I heard a noise downstairs, soft, almost imperceptible. The sound of air shifting from one place to another. A quiet exhalation? Something was down there, taking up space that should have been empty. The cat was sleeping at my feet, the dog stretched out on the floor below me. My husband was beside me, snoring peacefully, the heat from his body warming the small of my back.
I got out of bed as quietly as possible and moved slowly, one foot after another into the hall, my socks sliding along the cold, hardwood floor. I crept down the stairs, my body tightening, breath catching, with every creek and whine of the floor boards. The thick smell of cigar smoke rushed to meet me on the landing and my mind flashed to an image of my father: face crinkled with laughter, it is dusk and he’s sitting in a large wicker chair painted bright yellow. The evening is warm and his shirt clings to his body, a circle of sweat outlining the shape of his belly. Still smiling, he lifts a cigar to his mouth. Behind, the river flows languidly and I know it must be late summer.
I listened to the soft rustle of the cigar’s burning paper, the gentle pop of lips as rings of smoke floated up through the darkness of the room below me. “Come down here,” an unfamiliar voice, deep and distant like the first slow rumble of an earthquake. I felt pulled as if attached to a long rope, as if I were an anchor, the voice slowly reeling me in. Down the stairs. Across the room. I stopped a foot away and stood right in front of where he sat in the deep, worn leather chair that had once belonged to my husband’s grandfather.
“It’s time to die, Claire.” And my mouth went dry as the scene around me burst suddenly into a painful, bright light.
And then I woke up and decided that I should stop reading about serial killers right before I go to bed.