They Come At Night: A Short Story
THEY COME AT NIGHT
They come at night shortly after Jessie has fallen asleep. We’ve been married six years, together for nine, and until they started coming, it was always me who fell asleep first. Now I have to wait for the shouting to stop before I can even think about sleep. Sometimes they shout for hours, and all I do is listen, too frightened to move or breathe. Jessie sleeps through it all, always does, curled up in a peacefully unaware ball, and I just lie there. They come at night, and they are getting closer.
Our house is one of a handful, scattered on the edge of town. Out front, there is a small dirt path which leads to the main road; a smooth, undulating wave of tarmac that will send you to sleep if you drive on it for long enough. Out back is a different story. Behind the house is not quite the land that time forgot, but rather, the land that time wanted dead. Even at the height of summer, most of the leaves on the bushes out there are some shade of brown or red, all curled back and pointed away from the house as if they had been scorched in a wildfire. There always seems to be one bright, early evening star that appears out back, too, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why it does not track along the sky like the rest of them. That star seems to peer into the house, an evil shimmering that fills me with this old-fashioned feeling. I do not think that it has anything to do with the shouters, but it unsettles me nonetheless. Even with the curtains closed I think about it sometimes.
Beyond the half-acre yard, there is a river — I guess it has a name, but hell if I know it — and beyond that, uneven patches of pine trees and eventually marshland. There is one, lonesome pine — Jessie calls it the Wayward Pine — on our side of the river, which is always sickly-looking, despite having a prime location in a dog leg bend by the water.
I don’t go out there much. There is something rotten about that whole yard and about the Wayward Pine, and when I say there is something rotten about it, I mean there is something rotten about it, in its roots. To tell the truth, it is not the tree that bothers me, or the perennially dead bushes, or even the peering star, it’s that they come through that way at night. Their voices echo off the pines and every night the shouting gets louder and closer. What do they shout? My name. They shout ‘Jacob!’ They shout it over and over and over, the way a search party shouts the name of a missing person, only I’m not missing, but they still want to find me. I do not know who they are, but I believe that they will hurt me once they get here.
00:53, November 29, 1985
I can never remember when they stop shouting, it is as though sleep erases the memory. I am not afraid during the day, or when I wake up, but if I can keep track of when they stop, maybe I can tell if they’re getting tired of their game. Tonight they were still out beyond the pines, in the marshland somewhere. There are men and women, and the only thing they shout is ‘Ja-cob!’ two syllables drawn out like they were searching for me. Every time one of them calls my name it’s like a firework goes off in my chest, hot and painful. I do not breathe or move because even though I’m terrified, I want to hear every one of them. Is that sensible, or just sick?
The women are worse, because I imagine them as banshees all dressed in white, with white hair, white eyes, ghostly white skin and long fangs. That image always gets my heart racing and I want to wake up Jessie, turn on all the lights, turn on the TV, but I never do.
01:31, November 30, 1985
Tonight I thought they wouldn’t come, I almost made it to sleep, but then a man with a low voice, which carried over the river and came belting through the glass, called out. He called my name at least five more times, along with several other men and some women, whose shouts seemed to make blood go shocking around my brain in electrified waves. They were still out in the marshland, but tonight they sounded more desperate than ever. I wonder where they go once they have given up? To their homes, I suppose.
01:45, December 01, 1985
I went to the window tonight. They sounded closer, still on the far side of the river, but now my name was clearer. My own name carried clearly and loudly across my half acre, to stab me in the ears and then in the guts. We keep a few electric lanterns out back just because, but they really only light the first couple dozen yards or so. Whatever is out past the reach of those lights, can stay hidden unless the moon is full.
They have torches, at least, some of them do. Not electric torches, but more like, Jesus, like burning stakes? They are just yellow dots moving between the closer pines, but they are nearer now than they have ever been. Tomorrow I’m calling the police. I’m putting an end to this before they come onto my property.
01:00, December 02, 1985
Police said there is nothing they can do unless there are people on my property. It is not against the law to shout a man’s name, they said. What about disturbing the peace? I asked.
I tried to wake Jessie this time, to get her to listen, but by the time she came around they had stopped. She does not know about the diary, would probably think I’m crazy writing it all down like this. Their torches were burning right opposite the Wayward Pine tonight.
01:25, December 03, 1985
Two nights in a row now they have stuck to the riverbank, and they do not shout, but I see them, even now, standing facing the house, the tops of their heads lit by flickering firelight. They are not moving. There are eleven of them, all standing in a row, burning stakes reflecting in black water. Silent now, but close enough to see, to see that they are real and that they have found me. I will not wake Jessie, she will be too frightened.
23:35, November 26, 1987
My husband, Jacob Epstein, disappeared on the night of December 04, 1985. This was his diary. I found it under a chest of drawers in our bedroom. Tonight I cannot sleep.
A lot of the best thinking time comes when you’re inside a kind of sensory cocoon. For me, that means the shower, or more often, in bed, where ideas are free to flex and mingle in the dark, regardless of how terrible or gross they are. This story is one idea which had been tapping on the bedroom window for some time.
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