Michael came home from the library that night as he had done every night that week. As a senior in college, he had gotten used to putting off having fun in exchange for studying. He was determined to graduate with honours and was well on his way to doing so. He lived off campus in a small apartment by himself with his cat Jack. He had gotten Jack for his 13th birthday and had practically grown up with Jack. Living alone in the apartment was dry after having spent his first year in a dormitory with plenty of friends his age. However he had decided that to really be able to focus on his work, he would not have roommates. To make it less lonely, Michael had brought Jack up to live with him. He liked the feeling of being in control of his surrounding and yet not being completely alone. Michael would occasionally go out with his classmates but not as often as they would.
The year was half over at this point and classes had ended so that the students could prepare for Christmas exams which were coming up soon. Michael had spent many days and nights at home studying and tonight was no different. As usual he had divided his day between his various subjects and tackled them one at a time. He understood that he was less focused the more tired he got and so he studied the harder subjects in the morning, the easier ones later in the day, and his elective courses at night. He did not drink coffee until he got to college, at which point he soon became practically addicted. He drank so much coffee to help him stay away and study that his urine smelled of it when he went to the bathroom. This being his final year, Michael was putting an especially large number of hours into attaining the best grades he could. He would stay up for as many as 20 hours per day and get only four hours of sleep. To make matters worse, when he did finally get to bed, he would be so twitchy from the coffee that he would lay there awake for a few more hours.
After several hours of studying and occasionally attending to Jack, Michael finally decided to wrap things up and go to sleep. He made sure that Jack had food and water to last until the morning and that his litter box was clean. He brought Jack out to his cat-bed in the living room and headed back to his own room. Setting aside his books, he slid into his bed. He lay in bed staring up at the ceiling thinking about his studies. He tried to get his mind off of his school work by looking around rapidly in an attempt to tire his eyes. He stopped when he heard a loud cracking sound.
Michael was used to noises in this old building. The building had been around for many years and was in a state of disrepair, which is how he was able to afford such a large apartment on his own. Even so, Michael was always uncomfortable when he heard the noises because they were so unnatural. There were cracking noises, squeaking noises, bending noises, and various other types, all of which would occur in very unnatural ways. There was one night where he would swear he heard a creaking noise actually moving around the house. He knew it was not Jack because Jack was too small to make that kind of a noise. Another night, he heard a thumping noise in the living room and thought that it was Jack jumping off the couch but was surprised to see Jack lying on the desk in his room. Over the past couple of years, Michael had slowly built up a nervous dislike for the apartment but had accepted it since he had no other choice. He needed a place of his own and could not afford much. He decided that since all they were were just noises, he would force himself to ignore them and keep this place until he graduated, which was now only a few months away. This turned out to be easier said than done. Except for him, there were few other residents, and the security was sloppy at best. It was not difficult for anyone to enter the building, and this was not the best neighbourhood. On top of all that, there were some red neon lights across the street which shone ominously into parts of Michael’s flat, throwing horrendous shadows around. Even worse were nights with full moons. Those nights were the worst because the everything would take on a creepy blue glow which in parts would blend with the red neon lights to form a most grotesque look. Overall, Michael had felt really torn about the place. On the one hand he needed privacy to study, but on the other hand, he would have liked to have several roommates to reduce the foreboding and creepy feeling this old place gave him. That’s one of the reason that he brought Jack to live with him. Jack was company and quite brave at that. Being a cat, Jack was not afraid of noises, lights, or shadows. Quite the contrary, Jack welcomed the novel breaks in what were usually boring days, and delighted at the thought of what kind of vermin was causing them.
His ears pricked up as he did what he always did when he heard a noise in the flat. He lay perfectly still, breathing as slowly and shallow as possible in order to pretend that he was not even there. He was a reasonable and rational person and knew that there was nothing there. As a scientist, he had calculated the odds of there being some kind of crazy person in his apartment, let alone a monster were ridiculously low; he had better odds of winning the lottery. Still, the darkness, the coloured light, the shadows, and the noises all built up to quite a terrifying experience that even the most brave and logical person would have difficulty to simply set aside. Michael listened closely to determine the nature of the noise, and attempt to figure out where it was coming from. The large cracking sounds was followed by a thump which was in turn followed by a sort of beating sound. He could not be sure, but he suspected that the beating noise was coming closer. He closed his eyes hoping that the sooner he fell asleep, the sooner he would lose consciousness. After all, when he is unconscious then he is not afraid. If the noise is nothing, then he will awaken in the morning just fine. If the noise was in fact something, then the worst that would happen is that he would awaken briefly just before dying. Either way it was better than the torment his mind was putting him through. Or maybe not. He opened his eyes. The thought that a large creature or person could enter his room while he is oblivious and completely helpless forced him to leave his eyes open. He considered turning on a light to dispel the shadows and allow him to get some sleep in peace but that would require moving and moving would require disturbing the balance that he was currently a part of; a balance where nothing was occuring. He glanced at the clock. The glowing red digits read 5:42am. This was getting ridiculous, it was very late and he had to get some sleep. He could no longer afford to lie there awake, afraid of the dark like a silly child.
Michael wracked his brain for a solution. He was a smart person, how difficult could it be to think of a way out of this silly mess? He decided that he would reach for the small 3-stage desk lamp and turn it to the lowest setting. That would be sufficient to put him at ease without making him feel like a little boy who needs the lights on. But how would he do this in the dark? His bed was in an unlit part of the room as was the corner of the desk with the lamp on it. He did not need to get out of bed, but would have to sit up. Suddenly a thought struck him. He would turn the tables. Instead of being scared by some unknown, and probably non-existing monster, he would be the one to scare it! He would count to three, no five, no ten. On ten, he would jump up as fast as he could, flailing his arms wildly, and making the most horrible noise he could conjure. That would catch any monsters off guard and give him the second he needed to reach for and activate the light. If there was nothing there, then all that would occur is he would feel a little silly and go to bed. If there was something there, then he would catch it by surpri
se and have the advantage. Michael steeled himself for his plan. He counted to ten, then eleven, and twelve. When he got to 30, he chided his cowardice and was thankful that he did not have any roommates to witness this show. By the time he got to 75, he was determined to do it on 100. As he approached 90, he took a deep breath. On 95 he thought that he might abandon the plan since he had not heard any sounds for the past several minutes but it was too late. By the time he had finished that thought, he had reached the count of 100, and he sprung into action. He pounced up as fast as his muscles could flex, and waved his arms like a madman. He shouted and screeched through several different variations of noises from a loud popping noise, to a high-pitched squeal, to a rolling, gurgling yodel. As he did this, he tapped once on the touch-activated base of the lamp and just as quickly slammed himself back down into bed. The whole thing lasted about three seconds. Michael was not staring at the slightly lit ceiling. He lay as quiet as before trying to listen for any noises. He heard nothing. He glanced quickly out of the corner of his eye and saw no movement. The room was barely lit but it was enough. He saw no monsters or madmen and felt a wash of relief flow over him. He closed his eyes and at some point drifted off.
The next morning Michael got up and went through his usual routine for the day. He hopped in the shower, got dressed, and prepared breakfast. He poured some food and water for Jack and got himself a big cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal. He called for Jack and ate his cereal while checking the news on the television. A few seconds later he called out to Jack again and finding no interesting news, turned off the television. After a few more minutes, he finished his cereal and called Jack again. He was starting to worry because Jack was as used to his routine as Michael was. He looked around the kitchen and living room. He searched behind the couch and in all of Jack’s hiding places. He checked the litter-box and the bathroom on the way to his bedroom. There was no sign of Jack anywhere. Michael entered his bedroom and looked around but found nothing. He looked under his bed and behind the desk; still no Jack. He opened the closet doors and collapsed backwards. Jack was lying there in the closet on his side, in front of a small hole in the wall. Michael prodded Jack to wake up but knew the horrible truth. He picked Jack up and found him to be quite cold. Hoping that whatever happened to Jack had just occurred, but knowing that it was too late, he jumped in the car and rushed Jack to the animal hospital. Michael pleaded with the receptionist to get a doctor and paced impatiently in the waiting room, holding Jack in his arms. A veterinarian came out and inspected Jack. With no more than a glance and brief touch, he confirmed to Michael that Jack was indeed dead and had been for several hours. Michael was crushed. The doctor asked Michael if he knew what had happened but Michael was at a loss to explain the death. He was told that they can do an necropsy to find out if he would like and Michael agreed while biting back tears. He left the hospital and drove home.
He slumped back in his couch and waited for the phone call. He did not study at all that day, and could not have cared less. He simply lay back on the couch waiting anxiously and soon dozed off. He fell asleep and had nightmares the entire time. He dreamt of horrific monsters and giant rats clawing and biting at Jack in slimy holes and sewers. He dreamt of crazy humans attacking Jack while he was tied down to his bed by invisible chains, helpless to do anything but watch.
Around midday, Michael awoke with a jolt. He was covered in a cold sweat and quickly remembered what had happened. He felt a pain run through him when he realised that Jack was dead for real. He threw himself across the couch and reach for the phone. He answered it, dreading what the vet might tell him of how Jack died. It was indeed the vet who was calling with the results of the necropsy. He told Michael that Jack did not suffer and died quickly, that Jack was not poisoned nor injured. Michael was relieved to hear the doctor tell him that Jack’s death was more or less natural. He dropped the phone in abject horror however when the doctor told him the ultimate cause of Jack’s death: last night, Jack had experienced some kind of shock or trauma that had caused him to have a heart attack.