By Jess Charle

Every morning at 3:00AM, my mind jumps away from unconsciousness, and I awake, my eyes trying to adjust to the heavy night around me.

Every morning at 3:01AM, I shift, wearily, in my bed, rolling towards the nightstand beside me, and reach begrudgingly for my phone. I click the rectangular button on the side of the device and groan at the time.

Every morning, at 3:02AM, my cat, Freddy, hears me and rises from his spot on the couch. He stretches lazily before silently padding through the living room, and into my bedroom, jumping on the bed with a heavy, quiet plop. He meows at me, and I sleepily reach out to pet him.

Every morning, at 3:05AM, I throw my legs wearily over the side of the thick mattress, careful not to wake my sleeping partner. The soft carpet greets my bare feet, and I stand. Freddy mews and weaves around my legs as I shuffle past the bathroom and the small hall to the garage before reaching the kitchen.

Every morning, at 3:08AM, I flip on the lights. I squint in the sudden brightness that encompasses me, making my kitchen look foreign and forgotten in the early hour.

Every morning, at 3:10AM, I top off Freddy’s bowl, and pour myself a glass of water from the tap. My dry throat greets the liquid with appreciation.

Every morning, at 3:12AM, I turn off the light before walking back towards the bedroom. My feet leading me from memory down the hall, as my eyes slowly adjust once more to the black.

Unlike most mornings, yesterday, at 3:13AM, I stopped as I approached the bedroom. My blood turned to ice in my veins, and my heart thumped loudly against my rib cage. Something wasn’t right. I replayed my morning, from waking till that moment, standing, still as a statue, listening to my blood rumble through my ears as I tried to pick up any alien sounds around me. I thought through every minute, trying to separate this morning from all the other identical mornings before it, trying to figure out why pure terror was now inching up my spine like cold sharp fingers.

I envisioned my walk down the hallway, on my way to the kitchen. Something had been off. The hall was so dark, and my brain still heavy with sleep, but I had noticed something. A small alarm had been triggered deep in the back of my skull, and I had known that something was out of place. Something was not where it should’ve been. I had passed something. I had seen something.

Sweat beaded along my forehead as I turned, slowly, back towards the kitchen. My hearing cleared, and I could hear Freddy greedily chewing over his bowl. Freddy. Surely, Freddy would’ve been acting differently if there was something off?

I took a hesitant step forward into the darkness, too far now from the hall light, which sat on the other side of my bedroom door, to utilize its comfort. I was painfully aware of the loud creaking that each of my footsteps made against the old wooden floor. I reached the hallway, and turned slowly, towards the garage.

The door to the garage was closed. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Relief washed over me. It had just been my imagination.

I laughed out loud at my own foolishness, and walked back to the bedroom. I crawled in bed, and grabbed my phone once again off of the nightstand: 3:19AM. I placed my phone back down, not bothering to turn off the screen, and closed my eyes as I rolled onto my back. I breathed in, stretching my limbs out under the cool sheet, relishing the four hours I had to continue sleeping.

My mind began to drift when it came to me. There had been something off. My heart stopped: there had been a white, ghostly face in front of the door to the garage.

My eyes shot opened, the bedroom barely illuminated by the light of my phone screen which had not yet turned off. I caught sight of something in the open closet, and there, outlined by the doorframe, was a tall, gaunt man. His face was barely visible in the dim light. He stared at me, and I stared back, my eyes locked in his dark steely gaze. He looked lifeless, staring at me without fear or concern, his expression completely blank.

My phone screen dimmed and the room fell into silent darkness.

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