I startled awake. It was cold in the room and goosebumps covered my bare torso. My wife’s chilly hand was clutching my forearm and I turned to her, panic constricting my chest. Her short red hair was messed from sleep and she had slight bags under her eyes as she stared over my shoulder towards the doorway. Even in the silence of the late hour her whispered warning was barely audible.
“Jeremy, there’s someone in the house.”
I blinked several times and, just like every night for the last seven months, my beautiful wife disappeared from beside me. I reached my hand out to touch her unused pillow and sighed heavily before withdrawing my arm.
It always felt so real; the fleeting moments when my brain was struggling to pull itself from dreams into the painful reality I, barely, existed in. I closed my eyes and heard her voice again.
“No, I heard someone. I’m scared.”
I shouldn’t have brushed it off that night. I should have listened and called the police or something. Anything besides getting up with a frustrated, exhaustion-induced sigh, and storming away from her to check out the noise from downstairs. I shouldn’t have called out to the cat once I got into the kitchen, making my location known. Shouldn’t have joked about calling in the SWAT team. Maybe then I would have been there to protect her from the man that crept upstairs. I could have taken the bullet that ripped through her stomach when she got up to see why I was just standing in the hallway. I should have done a lot of things.
I rolled over so my back was to the spot she had always slept in. I squeezed my aching eyes closed and willed myself to go back to sleep. It worked, surprisingly. I began to doze off again. Until I felt a cold hand on my back.
“Jeremy, there’s really someone in the house,” Claire’s voice called in a frantic whisper. My eyes snapped open. She never said those words that night, or touched my back. I prepared myself to turn around and face the hallucination as a floorboard outside of my closed door creaked. I looked towards the door with breath frozen in my lungs as the door handle slowly turned.