things that go bump in the night

a vignette by Anjali Jain, ’21

Timmy sits cross-legged on his bed. It’s too dark to see the bright rocket ships zipping across the quilt, but when he stretches out his fingertips, he can feel their shapes, the neat rows of stitching that hold this little universe together.

He feels the midnight coolness on his skin. Outside the little window, the wind slices through the trees, and they shudder and hiss in peevish protest. Soon enough the gust fades away, leaving the murmurs of the heating system. It shifts through the walls with gossipy whispers and whines.
It is restless.
Timmy stares at the digital clock. When he blinks, a glowing 12:04 is imprinted on his eyelids. His legs prickle with the first needles of numbness, but something in him keeps him from uncrossing them. The pillow touches his back, just a barely, as if he’s a ghost hovering there.
Echoing the idea, he hears the lonely whooshing of the cars, a mournful, empty sort of howl. Once in a while there’s the high piercing screech of brakes, but mostly just a deep humming that makes Timmy imagine wheels pressing deep into the earth, sending echoes far beneath the pavement, past the dirt and bugs and flower seeds and dinosaur bones and whatever else he can imagine.
Timmy imagines things sometimes. They soak into his sleep. But now he can’t remember the dream that woke him.
Silent, the clock burns Timmy’s brain with 12:09.
He is restless.
He makes himself still. His eyes still wide open, he focuses on the low rumblings of the washing machine down the hall, churning in on itself. It chugs along with iron determination, but each mechanical growl is succeeded by a soggy, sloshy splatting of fabric, limp yet hard to ignore.
The machine falls almost silent then, and it’s just him and his breathing. The sound is flat and soft, even but with something raggedy underneath, and he realizes for a mad little moment that it’s trapped inside of him, that he can never be rid of the sound.
He remembers bedtime, his mother smoothing the covers on top of him, the light smack of a kiss on his forehead, the prim click of a finger switching off a light. He remembers the old song she sang, like she always sings, in a voice that was smooth and low and cracked on the edges. The one with the owl and the cottonwoods, the one she never finished because sleepiness blurred the words together into something sweet and round, falling together in a jumble as his mother closed the door. The line of hallway light on the floor shrank to nothing, and he was asleep.
Now Timmy stares at the electric blue 12:12. He can’t hear his parents’ burbling chatter or cavernous yawns or glissandos of laughs. He can’t even hear them breathe.
His stomach growls like an ugly alley kitten.
He is not afraid. There are no shadows to flinch at, no way for a monster to tell what is a bedpost and what is a little boy’s dangling leg. The darkness is the only solid thing.
The washing machine has fallen into a high and fragile sort of silence.
Then its ending sounds, something between a beep and a ping and an aaa. Three staccato tones, a little screechy, a little desperate.
Faintly comes the rumbling of a train. It too fades away.
The wind sticks around, whistling softly to itself. Its high, breathy sound is steady and sure, and it sends a few plasticky things skittering across the pavement with bumps and rattles. It’s gentler with the trees now, too, and their rustling has quieted to a whisper. With a long but toothless roar, the wind curls itself around the house like a dragon around its treasure, and guards Timmy from the night.
12:28 says the clock, but Timmy doesn’t see it. As the wind settles, he slouches until his head, and not his back, presses the pillow.
12:34, and he is covered by the quilted rocket ships, soft huffs of breath lifting them up on his shoulders, bringing them home to the dark.


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