Elise looked out of the window and watched the tree line at the edge of the field. The air was still and nothing moved in the moon light. But something had disturbed her. She listened intently and heard nothing except her own breathing.
She crept into the hallway, unsure of herself. There must have been something. She checked her daughter’s room. Empty. As it always was. She took a moment for the inevitable sorrow to seep away before shutting the door.
The old farmhouse creaked as she made her way to the stairs. It had a life of its own, like an old sailing ship adrift and long forgotten. Moonlight sifted in through cracked and broken windows. A draught caught at the hem of her nightgown, tickling her as it fled up the stairs and out of the hole in the roof.
Dread wrestled with anticipation when she reached the top of the stairs. Whatever it was, it was down there. She peered into the gloom 13 steps below her, phlegm catching in her throat and adding a rhythmic rasping to the night.
She pulled her hand from the wall and stepped forward. The darkness of her shadow clung to the peeling wallpaper, the shadow taking a moment to peel from the yellowed print to catch up with her.
Elise floated gracefully down the stairwell, her feet unmoving and her hand hovering inches above the railing. Behind her, the paper peeled away revealing charred plaster – cracked and broken. At the bottom she settled onto the hardwood floor and turned toward the kitchen.
The cold floor on her feet woke her. Elise lay on her back in bed, the covers kicked off, every light blazing, drenched in sweat and staring into the face of darkness. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t close her eyes. She couldn’t turn away from the cloud that hung over her.
It was a swirling mass, oppressive with a weight that threatened to crush her. She struggled for breath, against the force that held her still, against the terror that consumed her. It was an evil thing – no, it was evil. It reeked of stale death.
Down it came, settling on her. It enveloped her, oozing between her toes, over her skin. She screamed again and when it was done, when she fought to draw a breath, her aching lungs drew it inside of her. Her body jerked and she arched her back, impossibly, for what might have passed as an eternity. Then she collapsed.
It was late when the sun finally woke her, afternoon at least, and she was groggy. The lights were on and Elise began to shake as memory overcame sleep and dark bile rose in her throat.