Number Twenty-six

“Let me innnnnnnn.”

The scratching at my bedroom door with the hoarsely whispered words left me cold and trembling.  I didn’t think I was asleep.  I felt awake.  My bladder as strained with fear, threatening to release itself.  I scrubbed at my hair, feeling it stick up at all angles.

Scratch. Scratch.

“Let me innnnnnnn.”

Wrapping  my arms around my knees I held on tightly, panic flooding my brain while warm liquid flooded the crotch of my gray pajamas.  I couldn’t think.  Should I run?  Should I smash out my bedroom window and hurl myself through it?  What then?  Where would I go?  I was in my pajamas!  What if I broke something going out the window?  It would hurt… a lot… and I’d be stuck in the parking lot below.

“Let me IN!”  The whisper became a demand.

Oh God!  Why?  What was happening?

“Why?”  Laughter crowed through the closed door, followed by a mocking repetition of my thought.  “Why?  Why?  Why?”

Bang!  Bang!  BANG!

The door shook in its frame from the pounding.  Slapping my hands over my ears, I turned toward the window, the distant street light illuminating its pane like a ghostly mist.  If I hung by my arms, as low as I could before letting go, I could make it.  I might twist an ankle but I would still make it.  It was only two stories.

“QUIET TIME IS 9 PM TO 9 AM!”

I froze, one foot on the floor, leaned forward to stand upright.  Wait, what?  My black framed glasses glittered faintly from the bedside stand.

“LAUNDRY SNEAK!”  More laughter, this time low and more of a chuckle, sounding almost perverse.  “Now it’s your turn.”

Standing all the way up I faced the door, a semblance of reason reasserting itself in my mind.  I had to be asleep.  This couldn’t possibly be real.  I had heard about lucid dreaming.  Maybe I was just stuck between awake and asleep?

“Storage bin twenty-six.”

“Huh?”  My voice was a croak in the darkness, nearly as frightening to my ears as the voice on the other side of the door.  Cold sweat popped out on my forehead as my mind scrapped the lucid dream idea.

I had done laundry before bed, later than usual.  It had been ten-thirty at least and I had taken advantage of the lateness to poke around the storage bins down there, getting a nosy look at some of the things my fellow apartment dwellers thought they needed to hold onto.  Most of the stuff was what I would call typical; bikes, toys, patio furniture and grills.  

One bin, number twenty-six, was empty, very dark and, locked with the most amazing combination lock I had ever seen.  It was easily the size of my hand and had over 200 numbers on the dial.  Fascinated, I had lifted it, feeling the weight and spun the dial a few times.  It spun like a top, smooth and fast with almost no sound at all.  The numbers on the dial were silvery white and seemed to glow in the dark, a fact I found interesting since the basement was generally very dark.  Even the bare light bulbs, that required intimate knowledge to locate and pull their strings for lung-easing illumination, couldn’t possibly give enough light to charge those little numbers.  

As I had stood there, playing with the lock, the darkness inside bin number twenty-six suddenly seemed exceptionally dark.  Darker than the farthest corners where there was no light.  I eased the lock down and backed away.  The washing machine’s spin cycle was just screeching to a halt so I left bin number twenty-six behind.

“It’s your turn.”

“My turn for what?”  I took a step backwards, toward the window, picturing myself hanging and dropping to the asphalt below.  Dream or not this was too freaky to stick around for anymore.  The sweat on my forehead felt like drops of lead, not rolling down, just staying right where they were born.

“It’s your turn to own the lock.”

“I don’t want it.”  Another step toward the window.  I didn’t want anything that came to me from behind a closed bedroom door at three in the morning on the breath of a voice like that.

“Tough.”

To hell with trying to carry on a lucid conversation.  I turned and reached for the window, intending to slide it open and drive my fist through the mesh of the screen.  I never heard the door open or close.  I never heard footsteps or felt them come toward me.  I watched my hand rise heavily through the darkness to grasp the window and discovered the giant, silvery white lock in my fist.  I stared stupidly at it.

“It’s your turn.”

I was no longer in my bedroom.  I was in a darkness so thick I could barely see my own limbs.  Around me I could see shapes, some squarish, others lumpy and sort of round.  I could see frames and mesh.  I looked at my hand, the one that had been holding the lock.  It was empty.

“Quiet time is 9 pm.”  The voice was casual now and came from outside the confines of my location.  

A soft snick reached my ear followed by the nearly silent whisper of the big combination dial spinning like a top.  I moved forward, straining to see the creature.  It was male, dark hair stuck up around his head like he had just scrambled out of bed.  Dark eyes, a little squinty without the normal glasses that were still sitting on the bedside stand where I had left them.  His gray pajamas were wrinkled, the bottoms damp in the crotch.  He looked down, evidently aware of my gaze and laughed.  “I guess I need to change.”  He sighed.  “Oh well, at least I’ll see another sunrise.  Eh?”  He banged the flat of his hand against the chicken wire tacked to the storage bin.  “This stuff is the next best thing to shackles.  Just wait, you’ll see.”

Screams clogged my throat, jamming my speech.  I tried to talk but only heard rasping coming from my mouth.  I couldn’t move.  I wanted to grab the chicken wire and rip it from the flimsy wood frame.  I wanted to grab that man who looked like me and smash my fist into his face.  I wanted to do a lot of things.  I couldn’t.  My entire being felt wrapped inside something very tight.  My limbs stopped existing.  I was held in place, pulsing heavily and darkly.

“I won’t be visiting you,” the man said.  “I will be using the laundromat.”  He turned to go, pausing to give me one last look and patted the chicken wire again.  “Good old number twenty-six.  I hope you enjoy the lock.”

He pulled the little strings on all the light bulbs as he left.

 

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